Aesthetic Pacification

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

“Militarism is closely intertwined with the interests of U.S. capital. U.S. leaders are not misguided when they impose sanctions against some poor nation or launch a war. As dreadful as the consequences may be for the victims, such aggressive measures have been remarkably effective in achieving the aims of Western elites: control over the labor, resources and markets of other nations. No challenge to the political orthodoxy of the free market can be tolerated and no corner of the globe can be allowed to remain free of from plunder and exploitation by private interests.”
Greg Elich

“The US’s psychopathology of strength, dominance, hatred of difference, driving America into a cul-de-sac of ideological hardness and inflexibility, rather dead than red (even when red is not around), is like a locomotive rushing downhill, no brakes, almost, beneath the toughness, craving oblivion.”
Norman Pollack

“Something in narration escapes the order of what it is sufficient or necessary to know, and, in its characteristics, concerns the *style* of tactics.”
Michel de Certeau

I have been thinking a lot about the ways in which political propaganda entrenches itself, and how aesthetic values shift, and aesthetic propaganda (which it is, but more below) entrenches itself. There are class segregation, certainly, in that elite Universities assist in artist careerism, and there are also ideological (all of these over-lap) niches, and niche markets, and increasingly certain, not all, niche artistic mafias operate separately. As this new first chapter in the official permanent war saga starts, I see this increased punishment meted out to those who dissent. While everyone, in a way, realizes that Obama and Clinton are both far to the right of Nixon, fewer people see that branded alternative journalism is now to the right of where the Wall Street Journal once was, say, forty years ago. Such a blanket statement isn’t quite right, but the basic impulse of that sentence is true. Now in terms of art and culture, with the now complete disappearance of the avant garde, any kind of avant garde, there remains only specialized niche producers with their niche target audiences. And the revisionism starts with the de-politicizing of the artist.

Statue of Shiva, outside CERN, Geneva.

Statue of Shiva, outside CERN, Geneva.

There are two currents running through both journalism and artworks today. One is the branding. The second is is a nakedly dishonest re-writing of history. They work together, of course. There is an intellectual sectarianism, too. In literature, in theatre, in poetry to some degree, and in fine arts, there are very well defined mafias at work. They manufacture codes to communicate with the novitiates. There are words, or behavior, and certainly values (expressed as commodity loyality, brand loyality) and now such style codes have subsumed actual thought in many places.

In journalism, I think these structural dynamics are newer. I’ve mentioned VICE before, but a writer (sic) such as Danny Gold, as an example, is deeply reactionary. If Obama is to the right of Nixon (and he is) then Gold is to the right of some Hearst tabloid hack from the 20s, and no amount of cool coding can change that. He reminds me a bit of another bilious reactionary, Marc Cooper. Both spend great amounts of time on attacking leftists for, well, left politics.

L'Eclisse (1962), Michelangelo Antonioni, dr.

L’Eclisse (1962), Michelangelo Antonioni, dr.


Gold is not unlike Nick Kristoff, too, but it’s the VICE version. Meaning, the manufacture of the brand targets a younger audience, more garage band and less Bono. What is insidious with faux journalists like Gold is that they create empty rhetoric. Empty ad copy. Words like *progressive*, as a way not to say socialist. And not to say liberal, because the connotation for liberal is now too negative. Its all about brand. There are other versions, more academic, more grounded in the style codes of higher elite (expensive) education. Words like *agency* are stuck into the middle of a sentence, for no apparent reason. And it’s tricky, because these meanings, these marketing strategies are ever changing. *Progressive* meant something else five years ago. But then the meaning of meaning has shifted. Outside of the most rigid scientific context the idea of meaning floats above our heads like Zizek’s signifiers. Empty, gaseous, and reactionary.

But, back to branding in art. The point is that heterogeneity is being subsumed by an intellectual and ideological flatlining. Everything is everything else. Running sideways across all of this, I sense, is a new return of Puritan moralizing.

Phillip King

Phillip King

There is an almost meta register in which the American public (and increasingly Europe and other places) are existing in purely delusional space. The reality of what bombing human beings means has no traction in their consciousness. It is simplistic to say that everything is like a TV show, but its true. It is horrifyingly true. It is not true all the time, and it is not fully true, but it is usually and mostly true. People feel no brand identity as strongly as they feel that identity forged to their favorite TV show(s). They do not think they exist in these shows, but they position themselves in such a way that a tacit encouragement for their lives to start showing features of these shows or films. They try to shape their environment to function as a series would. They look to friends for good Neilsens, they fear mid season cancellation, their boss is perceived much like a network executive, and so on. In another way, they adopt behavioural patterns that imitate characters in Hollywood film and TV. This is nothing new, but it has intensified. There is also this sense I get of, again, franchise association. People who love the Coen Brother’s films will associate in some degraded mimetic fashion, their value system as a reflection of their shopping expertise vis a vis Coen Brothers movies.

The irrationality, the contradictions in all this, is partly what is driving the escalation in violence throughout the society. Now American society has always been violent. Always. But the violence is now untethered from cause. People are, and cops especially, increasingly violent for no apparent reason. No stimuli is needed. And the consumption of violence breeds the need for more. New medical shows now show in close up, in agonizing detail, every drop of blood, every bit of splintered bone or tumorous growth. The autopsy is now the most consistent narrative trope in Network TV dramas. Hands down. If aliens landed today on earth, and watched people for a few weeks, they would go away convinced that the primary occupation of mankind was forensics and that we suffered some form of death obsession.

Eva Besnyo, photography.

Eva Besnyo, photography.

We are the new pharaonic Egypt. Medical TV is our version of Canoptic jars. This is not real death, however. Real death is kept at an absolute distance. The fact that American soldiers, if killed, are returned home in secret serves as an example. The media, that great world of democratic free speech is prohibited from photographing military corpses, not even the coffins. This deformed Puritanical anxiety is the same kitsch emotion (superficial emotion) that drives much of the new branded white pseudo hipster journalism. From a Danny Gold to Laurie Penny to Molly Crabapple, there is always a stance of superiority bought at the expense of those deemed insufficiently hip. But vibrating just below the surface is a voice suggesting the opposite. I find a lot of Hollywood comedy draws from this same dynamic. Seinfeld or Adam Sandler or Seth Rogan, are all members of a club to which they assume everyone wants to join.

Now, one of the problems today in trying to critique culture, or maybe just aesthetics, is that of an enforcement of the constant “now”. Jonathan Crary writes quite cogently about this. For the very idea of intentionality is dismissed, and as Jameson points out, it is very hard to do this because of the very success of the critique of instrumental reason exemplified by the Frankfurt School thinkers. And by Freud in an odd sort of way. In philosophy the ascension of a Zizek speaks to the very same mechanisms of reactionary politics and self branding as a tool of Puritanical punishment. And that punishment is reserved at every turn for anything suggestive of radical or socialist thinking. In other words the mechanisms of branding entail at the foundational level a demand to respect the status quo. Everything dissident is derided as perverse or is called Stalinist or authoritarian or just old fashioned. Anything that asks for historical vision is called a-historical. Anything socialist is called Capitalist, anti racists are called the real racists, and so on.

Pablo Palazuelo

Pablo Palazuelo


I find that all artworks, contain a relationship to death, and included in that is contemplation of the infinite, either macro or micro, and there are countless ways of approaching this. If art is kitsch, one of the things it does is to remove anything that engages with cosmic forces, with questions of eternity, with looking backward to our beginnings or looking forward to what might be. Kitsch is about right now. Now I might argue that any artwork that actually raises a sense of awareness, even if fleeting, about the cosmic implications of our existence, is also, inescapably political. I have made the case before that abstract art is often, if not usually, more political than the overtly message oriented themes of, say, a Diego Rivera (and I think Rivera is very good). There is also the uncanny. The uncanny is a sense of something familiar, that, probably, we have repressed. Or, we have forgotten. Great artwork, even good artwork, is trying to remember. There is a built in politics of liberation attached to memory. Which is why corporate kitsch is always either about removing memory (now now now) or it is about creating false memories. The very idea of a mystery is linked to the cosmic. To the impossible. Most artists I know are fascinated with CERN and the Hadron Collider. Why? Because of the sheer practical pointlessness of it, but much more, because it is directed at what is mysterious in our existence.
Canopic Jars, found Deir El Bahri, Upper Egypt.  21st dynasty.

Canopic Jars, found Deir El Bahri, Upper Egypt. 21st dynasty.

The sense of infinity usually overlaps with the uncanny, and/or with Utopian dreams. Irony, this rise in a post modern ironic, is essentially a way of neutralizing an awe and wonder at the world. It is an intellectual cannibalism. The commodifying of things has, in a sense been replaced by branding. Much anti commodification artwork is there to build brand. In any case all of it removes mystery and memory, and certainly the dream life of people, and of Utopia. That is what it is does. If the Imperialist project of the ruling class is to CONTROL EVERYTHING, then promoting work that suggests there is ONLY our specialness (meaning the ruling elite), and our unique talents and beauty will be standard. Work that asks too many questions, aesthetically, is removed. When innovation is rewarded, what is meant is the opposite.

A certain quality of meditative attention is an implicit question; the infinite, and eternity are all gathered under the aegis of immaculate detail and craft. The opposite, a craft, meticulous or otherwise, without memory or without dreams is artist as simply technician. The contrived attempt for *weird* effects also is a way of removing the uncanny. For the genuinely uncanny can never be planned for, and attempted, consciously. The one link in artworks from antiquity through today is that of seeking the unknown, a revelation, a recognition of the infinite, and perhaps that is best or at least most clearly realized in contemplations of mortality. The obsessive splatter films and zombie films, along with all else they are, are also ways to crowd out reflections of mortality. The vampire, that product of bourgeois hysteria, is also in its overdetermined way, a stand in for the genuine spiritual dread of our own death. Fear and trembling is now the cruel superiorities of Jerry Seinfeld or Lena Dunham.

Ian Stephenson

Ian Stephenson


In theatre, one can go back to an avant garde in Germany after WW1; the writings of Piscator and Toller say. Now they shared similarities while politically taking somewhat different paths. This was still, all of it however, an answer to the naturalism of Ibsen and Chekov and even that outlier Strindberg. As Raymond Williams wrote; “Sexual liberation, the emancipation of dream and fantasy, a new interest in madness as an alternative to repressive sanity, a rejection of ordered language as a form of concealed but routine domination: these were now seen, in this tendency, which culminated in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, as the real dissidence, breaking alike from bourgeois society and from the forms of opposition to it which had been generated within its terms.”

Now, Piscator’s Fanen (Flags), a sort of Brechtian epic about strikers and labor, is today, in spite of an intelligence applied to its staging, largely forgotten and feels like something of a relic. Why? Well, one, the writing lacks that attention to the cosmic, if that’s how we want to describe it, and its finally a *message* melodrama. In England at this time there was mostly George Bernard Shaw and a bourgois cynicism. In Ireland there was, however, work of some lasting merit in O’Casey and even W.B Yeats. Today this works seems in some ways more radical than Piscator or Hollar. But it was Brecht with whom a certain confluence of factors collided. I still find Baal and In the Jungle of Cities his best work. But Brecht is a special case and worth an entire posting to try to tweeze apart. My point here is that in Brecht, in Baal, one hears the hallucinatory echos of Buchner, while by the time of Mahagony, that has gone silent, replaced with didactic oration (of course the inclusion of Eisler changes everything). One of the continuing problems with the left today is their failure to look past artworks that just serve as echo chambers for their preferred political rhetoric. In painting its the crappy community center murals everyone feels compelled to applaud, or it is the never ending endorsement of overtly political message. The day a socialist openly endorses Genet or Pinter or Beckett as great playwrights, or prefers Rothko over Rivera, then I know progress will have been made.

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons


The left today, is often guilty of falling prey to the accommodation demanded by the logic of the Spectacle. The tacit rejection of much of the Frankfurt School has to do with their emphasis on the subjective, Freudianism, distrust of proletariat organizing (elitism) but most of all, their preoccupation with art and culture. Of course, the Trotskyists out there are simply stuck in a vocabulary of 1918, and what Russell Jacoby called a ‘dialectic of defeat’. Nothing is ever socialist enough. So they can agree with attacks on Chavez by cretins like Danny Gold because to them, Chavez wasn’t a *real socialist*. I can’t count the times people have said to me, ‘oh, if you were a real leftist’. I’ve no idea, finally, what they mean. Except that it is a form of delusional thinking.
Boesendorfer Piano, limited edition #225. Design Hans Hollein, 1955.

Boesendorfer Piano, limited edition #225. Design Hans Hollein, 1955.

Now on the other hand, it is time for radical voices to stop whispering or looking to be reasonable. The people in Serbia are not fooled by U.S. rhetoric, the people In Iraq certainly are not, nor in Rwanda and Ivory Coast and Haiti and Yemen and Venezuela or Guatemala. It is therefore important to know who your enemies are, if you are looking for social change. But it also important to start seeing the aesthetics of politics as well as the politics of aesthetics. In the First World, there is a need to develop aesthetic resistance to the overwhelming effects of a business culture. A business culture in service to the ruling elite whose desire for control is absolute. The aesthetic codes of, for example, the Coen Brothers are reactionary. They are regressive, and they culminate in a belief in and for the status quo. The form, the intentions, the lack of dialectic movement in narrative, and perhaps most of all, it is what ISNT there that is most telling, all of it contributes to their marketability, popularity, and superficiality.

Lewis Baltz, photography. 'Anechoic Chamber', France Télécom Laboratories

Lewis Baltz, photography. ‘Anechoic Chamber’, France Télécom Laboratories

The Coen Brothers are to film what, in a certain sense, Jeff Koons is to fine arts. They are a franchise. That Godard hates Coen Brother movies only adds to their appeal for many. If Roz Krause can call Koons repulsive, this, too, only assists his reputation, because popularity is its own justification these days, and because, well, Koons is nothing if not IRONIC. But its an ironic whose operative nature works quite differently, I think, than say Warhol did. But let me return to the Coen’s here, too. Coen Brother movies are not exactly ironic (even the comedies). They function, however, as if they were. True Grit was a Jeff Koons gold polycromed homage to Jeff Bridges, but Bridges as if he were not quite John Wayne. Koons makes a statue of Michael Jackson and there is no depth there, it IS Jackson, only the real subject of Koons is always Koons, and the second topic is the manufacturing process. Koons is about how Koons makes Koons. The Coens are about how they feel about film history. Not ABOUT film history but how the Coen’s feel about film history.

See, anyone who makes a movie is reflecting something about film history. This is true with any artform. They are also, to a degree, making a statement about how the artwork is made, and about the labor value and cost of production etc. What Koons does is simply frame the cost and process as art. In so doing he erases the history of Jeff Koons. Certainly there is no unconscious, and no memory. In Hollywood today, there is an increasing stridency to the comedies, and an increasing bathos to the drama (if that were possible). The dramas, however, allow for this chronic addiction to violence. The Coen Brothers make movies, and this is to their credit, that are not orgies of violence. What they are, however, are mean spirited and cruel. True Grit was not an homage to either Wayne or Bridges. It was an unpleasant homage to the Coen’s own brand. Everything is brand.

Hu Qinwu

Hu Qinwu

I can hear someone somewhere say, oh, but wasn’t Shakespeare a brand? And the answer if, of course, no. Was Brecht a brand? No. Is Beckett? Well, no, although it gives the appearance of it. The employment now of the Beckett image is perilously close to that of Che or Mao. That does not change the fact that Beckett is undeniably the end point of something that began with Ibsen. What sustains Beckett though is the meticulous language, the extraordinary attention to both memory and Utopia, even if he doesn’t believe in Utopia. It is work of rigor. So was Strindberg, and so was, in fact, Ibsen. Piscator far less, and that is the problem. Artwork without rigor, regardless of how radical the *message* is too easily open to neutralization by a system of homogenizing and ironic co-option. The form must rise to the level of autonomy, somehow, in order to survive being turned into a kitsch trinket. The mechanisms that absorb artworks, and those are numerous and diverse, actually, still cannot absorb great work no matter how many t-shirts are made out of Rembrandt self portraits. For in a sense, Rembrandt (if we are using that example) is not reducible to any of his parts. One can only take a familiar component, a familiar image or painting, and sell it on a t-shirt; but that is not Rembrandt, for Rembrandt’s depth and complexity resist that. Koons is already a t-shirt. Koons’ work does not have to submit, it already is. If we use the Coen Brothers’ work, the question would be is there any single film, or is there as an entire oeuvre, anything resistant or subversive or destabilizing in their work?

“The common consent to be positive is a gravitational force that pulls all downward. It shows itself superior to the opposing impulse by refusing to engage it.”
Adorno

The smiley face subjective, the constant enforcing of strategic thinking, the insistence that to be too critical is ‘not useful’, has rendered the populace mute in the face of endless horror. When some, unable to endure more, speak out they are usually shamed, ridiculed and scapegoated. They are not being useful. This position, in narrative, is often masked. The superficial cynicism or meanness of the Coen Brothers is actually just a fragile patina that obscures their basic smug contentment. Their world is one where every meal is a ‘happy meal’.

The Coen’s only make genre films. Everything is a gloss on other films. If I were to single out the most, at least, ambitious of their dramas, I might end up with Inside Llewyn Davis, The Man Who Wasnt There, A Serious Man, and No Country for Old Men. In each there is a strange sort of quality to the narratives, which seems to revolve around an absence of the uncommunicable. Now, I have a certain sympathy for each of these films. But there is at the heart of all of them something dishonest. A certain tricking of the audience’s engagement. The failure of narrative is presented as a failure of the audience to ‘read’ the film, the film is just too good for us.

Awoiska Van der Molen, photography.

Awoiska Van der Molen, photography.


In The Man Who Wasn’t There, Ed Crane, the character played by Billy Bob Thornton, is presented as a sub-everyman (“I’m the barber”). The voice over is both a parody of a noir device, and a way to suggest that its ok if nothing is actually happening on screen. Shot in black and white, by Roger Deakins, the neo James Cain story is a deconstruction of work from writers such as Cain, Goodis, and Cornell Woolrich. The central device is a variation on the ‘wrong man’ theme. The problem is, there is so little there that we are left to (and meant to) contemplate the cleverness of individual scenes. Critics (like Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian) suggest the Coen’s world is both familiar and unfamiliar, and that they therefore achieve something unique:

“As in so many of the Coens’ films, an entire universe is summoned up, partly recognisable as our own, and yet different, a quirky variant on real life with its very own fixtures, fittings and brand names.”

Man Who Wasn't There, 2001, Coen Brothers.

The Man Who Wasn’t There, 2001, Coen Brothers.

This is the heart of the problem, and a very revealing sentence. The world of this film is not our own. It is a world made of up signifiers from other films. It is a film about the style of the film. Even the black and white is a device that screams for attention. And Deakins work here is heightened, without much of what, say, one can find in L’Eclisse, the 1962 Antonioni, in which there are reasons for the architectural fixation of the camera, for it reflects a brutalism of the soul. Here, this is just Deakins showing off. One can imagine screen shots serving as perfect advertising imagery for shampoo. It is also, for all its insistence on crime and the subject of death, an agonizingly shallow text in which the crimes and transgressions serve merely to allow for yet another style cliche. Clever/cute observations on hair, from *Ed the barber*, are the stuff of 90s commercials. The blankness ala Chiat Day, the ad hoc camera affectations, all of it, finally, is predictable and numbing. If I asked anyone, and I’d love to ask Bradshaw, why exactly this film was so brilliant, Id be curious to know the answer.

One of my very favorite photographers is Awoiska Van der Molen. There are very few photographers of her weight and sense of the cosmic. In one sense she serves as another example of what deep looks like contrasted with shallow. For there *is* a difference. Here is a recent excellent review from Sean O’Hagan: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/26/photography-awoiska-van-der-molen-sequester-canary-islands-landscape-nature

Veronika Voss (1982) Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dr.

Veronika Voss (1982) Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dr.


The Coen’s recieved a huge amount of adulation for No Country for Old Men. As a kind of disclaimer here, this is a book I have a certain attachment to, and respect for, and one, as it happened, that I read in one night while sitting at the Warsaw Airport Hilton, in the lobby, where I was stranded. Perhaps that was the perfect place to read it. But there are scenes in that book of such chilling cruelty that it’s hard to find the comparison. And part of the reason is that Chigurh, the proto-demon who ravages all in his path, a sort of colonial ghost, Indian killer, and Puritan all wrapped up in one, stalks the landscape of the book as an Old Testament curse. He is described by McCarthy economically, mostly it was his pale blue eyes. This minimalist vision was clearly the European conqueror, the scourge of Manifest Destiny, returned. So what do the Coen’s do? They cast a brown eyed Spaniard. Of course.

The strange absent elements in the Coen’s work is not that taciturnity of character, or voicing, that one that might find in Hemingway. For it doesn’t come out of the moral tensions of their work, and that’s because, well, they have none. These are astoundingly empty films in the end. Often well made and I think on balance they are highly competent technical film-makers. But even that, as is the case with Deakins work on The Man Who Wasn’t There, the sense of looking, that sense of deeper scrutiny you find in Antonioni or Bresson, is missing. Another film shot in B&W, as an exercise in dissecting nostalgia was Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss, (1982), and shot by Xaver Schwarzenberger. It is a spin on the Sunset Blvd theme, but it is inextricably tied into post war German society, to the spell of American culture, and of moral cleansing. Compare the sense of dread, of moral sickness, or failure and disappointment in that film, with the Coens work. In A Serious Man, the Coen’s perhaps come closest to actually making a movie about something. Its failings are familiar to us from all Coen Brothers work, but at least there is a sort of odd purpose to the elliptical narrative, and more, to the witholding of the central character. Its possible the ironic title is actually self-analysis, and if so, that might serve as their smartest bit of product. Larry Gopnik is another of the Ed ‘the barber’ Crane characters in Coen Brother films. I desperately wanted this film to be better than it was. For watching it, I kept thinking, this is being driven along by exactly what is so often missing in their work, the uncommunicable, the fleeting meaning that lives in the interstices of story. But even here the final scene resorts to a goofy unseriousness. These are guys who just cant handle the real. That impulse to destroy even their own work is mirrored in the passive aggressive nature of so many of their characters. The gratuitous nastiness. It is there in every film. Still, the brothers clearly are more at home in a small mid western city, the Jewish tract home end of it, than they are in the Southwest, amid Mexicans, narcotics, and preening Texas machismo.

Kenneth Armitage

Kenneth Armitage


That the Coen Brothers are the most respected filmmakers in America today speaks to the shallowness of the society at large, because they have yet to make a single memorable film. I would wager they are, if one polled mainstream media critics, the number one film artists in the country. Given that Speilberg is aging, and P.T. Anderson is too operatic. Even mainstream America is suffering insulin shock from Wes Anderson’s work, and that leaves only Linklater, and honestly I’d sit and watch all thirty years of the Coen’s before I sit through another Richard Linklater film. And yet, it may be that Linklater is soon to take the populist baton from Joel and Ethan. And honestly, who else is left in American film? Darren Aronofsky is essentially a hack, David O. Russell an elevated hack, and David Fincher a talented hack with elevated ambitions. Cronenberg is Canadian, and has made fascinating work (Videodrome is a small Dickian masterpiece) but most recently has taken to high brow literary adaptations with disastrous results (well, stooping to Bruce Wagner for a parody take down of Hollywood is just, so, well bad on so many levels I don’t know where to begin). I despise lists, and I refuse to indulge one here, but Tommie Lee Jones might be the most interesting American director working right now, with two pretty admirable films made (The Homesman, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada). If not Jones then certainly Todd Haynes, whose Mildred Pierce is a far more radical re-thinking of noir than the Coen Brothers managed. In fact Mildred Pierce might have been one of the best films in the last five or six years. Or ten. Lynne Ramsay (who in fact is Scots, but whatever) is interesting, as is Kelly Reichardt. Both may develop and produce work of importance. The allure of Hollywood is a sickness, though. And its not an easy minefield to navigate, to employ a cliche. And that is the effect even thinking about Hollywood has on me. I start writing in cliches. The first feature of Alexandre Moors (Blue Caprice, 2013) and the remarkable Mister John (2013) by Irish husband and wife team Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor were both exceptionally good films. And I’m writing here only of English language films. It is interesting that Mister John is here compared with Antonioni. http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/interviews/quiet-irishman-mister-john
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), Tommie Lee Jones, dr.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), Tommie Lee Jones, dr.


It is important to see in Hollywood film, that it is remarkably rare to see films that are not so mediated by studio interests and values that they don’t turn out as simply pure propaganda for the ruling class. Either that or valentines to the Pentagon or to U.S. police departments (increasingly the same thing as the Pentagon). But to go back to L’Eclisse, and see it now, there is such an acute aching desire that activates that film, and perhaps in varying ways it activates all of Antonioni. The spatial distances of that film, far more than L’Aventura or La Notte, are part of the dying of the possibility for love. The financial markets, the coldness of Alain Delon even when trying not to be, and Antonioni’s sense of searching for presentments, portents, amid the congestion of modern Rome. The film is about both the aliention of business, the soul killing surrender to money, and of the spaces of memory, and all of this is just off screen, just behind the walls, just in the next room of the cafe.

The duration of scenes, the patient wary observer of the strangness of each house, each street, is what invites the viewer to share in the dream. Is there any such moment, even one, in any Coen Brother’s film?

John Kirby

John Kirby


The most disturbing aspect of contemporary culture and art is the branded populism that cloaks itself in high brow rhetoric. Where once Adorno and Horkheimer could analyse Astrology columns and soap operas the better to extract structural and ideological meaning, today the critical thrust has been subsumed by institutional ratification of kitsch, of seeing in junk a subject worthy of analysis not because it reflects larger socio-political issues, and spiritual ones, but because it is now the standard for culture and art. When Susan Sontag wrote her essay on Camp, deeming it an elite appreciation of junk, it was done (however simple mindedly) within a larger critique of interpretation itself. In other words the lyrics of Madonna are treated less as revealing of ideological codes than as simply poetry. Part of what drives this is, of course, the acceleration of domination, of neo liberal control of thought, but it is also from another direction the idea that these are popular artforms. The missing ingredient in mainstream analysis of culture is firstly, Marx. Second, and equally important is Freud (and probably Debord and Lacan and etc). But it is primarily the ignoring of how this crap is produced and who produces it. The backdrop of white supremacist neo-liberal Capitalist ideology is just erased. That backdrop actually contains all discourse. That is what is being forgotten. And because of that there is a growing accommodation to the status quo. The unstated but assumed correctness of U.S. Imperialist narratives is rarely questioned. One can argue over racist or misogynist issues from within this contained realm of discourse, because token debate is allowed and even encouraged. But to suggest that, say, a hit show like Homeland is bad, that is an acceptable, if minority opinion, but to analyse it as pure Imperialist propaganda, as political crypto fascist, well that would result in open attacks and ridicule.

Some Thoughts on Theatre

Gerhard Richter, "Kafka".

Gerhard Richter, “Kafka”.

“But after all, it is perhaps to this inhuman condition, to this inescapable arrangement that we owe our nostalgia for a civilization that attempts to venture elsewhere than into the realm of the measurable”
Jean Genet

“The thinking that aesthetic presentation can open up for us is thus not meant to explain and, by extension, to explain out of existence, what in fact remains irreducible, singular, and resistant within the work. Rather, learning to think aesthetically, to think with and through the work of art, means learning to see what exactly the enigma or riddle is. Thinking means remaining open to what threatens to make thinking impossible.”
Gerhard Richter

There was a debate of sorts this week in social media on solo performance, i.e. one person shows. I have always had a certain aversion to one person shows, although there are many I’ve admired. But I think there is an important distinction that has to be made. Theatre cannot exist without two characters. Two voices. Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape is often held up, as it was in this debate, as proof that one character shows are theatre. And it’s a great example because it’s not one character. One actor is used, but there are many voices. In a sense it is an interrogation of one character shows. Now I know of solo performers who adopt many voices during the course of their peformance, and yet, I would still maintain a crucial distinction exists. In Krapp’s Last Tape the other characters are the younger version of Krapp. As such, the actor is carrying on a dialogue with his ghost. When a solo artist changes voices, no such dialogue is really possible. So am I suggesting that residing with dialogue is the essence of theatre? In a sense I think I am. I say *think* I am because I am not entirely certain that such a formula, or any such formula, can really hold up. But for now, I think it is worth thinking about the effect of dialogue as a marker for what I consider theatre. Now even in the best one person shows there is a missing prism through which the autonomy of the play must pass. So, let’s discuss firstly, what is meant by *autonomy*.

Before that discussion, there is another factor. In solo performance there can be no *off stage*. That is a tacit admission by the solo artist. That portal to unconscious or allegorical experience is eliminated. Nobody and nothing is elsewhere. Only the audience exists, and is being spoken to directly, as it were. Within this direct lecture there can be mini-playlets acted out, but the frame for them never changes, because there is, finally, only a single voice. The popularity of one person shows is, besides the fact they are cheap to produce, that the discomfort of the *off stage* is removed. That aperture to the mystery of spoken narrative is removed. A sermon is not theatre. A lecture is not theatre. And solo performance is not theatre, for exactly the same reasons. At this juncture Adorno enters the argument. And to do justice, even in the abbreviated short form of a blog post, I have to delve back a bit to both Tragedy and to Kant.

Nancy Baron, photography.

Nancy Baron, photography.


For Adorno, the aesthetic experience of nature followed upon aesthetic experience and the sublime, not the other way round. For there is a basic terror associated with nature. The domesticated bourgeois experience of *nature* is one associated with Sierra Club brochures, camping trips to National Parks, and picnics. It is not the primal fear of survival against immensity and mystery. And it was Kant who said the sublime was born of a recognition of the power of nature, a power so vast that the principal response was fear. It is only from the vantage point of safety that one can *appreciate* the beauty and grandeur of, say, a volcano or tornado.

“Thus, for the aesthetic power of judgement nature can count as a power, thus as dynamically sublime, only insofar as it it considered an object of fear”.
Kant

It is here that *reason* is introduced as a measure for evaluating the force of nature. Now Adorno sort of altered Kant to the extent that he looked at this tensions in light of the conquest and domination of nature. And he then historicized this experience of wonder at nature as a relatively modern experience. I’m not sure this is quite what he intended, but the point is that the aestheticizing of nature began, systematically, in the 18th century. For Adorno, the music of Beethoven was the perfect exemplar. I believe that Adorno continued to theorize about art in light of his basic aversion to the comfortable vantage point. Nothing in art that produced comfort was worthy of respect.

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter

This was what Adorno saw in modernism. A dialectic that contained both fear and the absorption of that fear, coupled to freedom and to submission. This was the reconciliation he wrote of continuously. If Adorno firstly saw this in musical terms (dissonance), it extended to all mediums. The experience of the sublime had subsumed a pre-modern memory of fear, of portents and signs, of the irrational and of myth, and on the other side: reason. This was art’s autonomy. It reconciled man and nature. The missing link in kitsch, in the cheap cruelties of modern mass culture is exactly that fear goes missing, is forgotten. Adorno saw the modern forming part of a unity with Capitalism. It was the particular historical forces triggered by Capital, and those triggered that helped create Capital, that *manufactured* modern aesthetics.

But back to theatre. The comfortable managed vantage point is always going to be one that, in a sense, pacifies the destabalizing elements. This has nothing to do with message, though. The message, say, of an anti-war play can serve the ideological purposes of its opposite if presented in familiar and comfortable form. Those lounging at the bar after a Lincoln Center show that attacks racism or poverty, are only reinforcing a belief that such things are being dealt with, for, after all, they say, didn’t we just see a play acknowledging this? Democracy is great isn’t it. In the solo or monologist performer the legacy of fear, of the unknown, of the sublime is pacified by not allowing for a dialogue. It is never what happens on stage, it is always about lives off stage. And in addition the monologist is somehow enacting the role of him or herself, and in ways that — to me anyway– cant help but feel branded and cultic.

Cantemir Hausi

Cantemir Hausi


But here I think several other things surface. The theatre takes, obviously, all kinds of forms. There is street theatre, and there are dance forms that incorporate narrative. Noh drama is played out in a way that serves as a good example. Or Kathkali. They reside on the intensely ritualized end of the spectrum. One might suggest the monologist is at the other end of the same spectrum. But there is a point at which this idea collapses. And it might just be the nature of most monologists in the West today, meaning Europe and North America mostly. There is strong tendency toward confession and narratives of identity. The other side is sort of agit-prop for various liberal positions and easy to accept bromides asking for racial and sexual tolerance. Rarely does text matter much. The art of writing recedes and performing is foregrounded. There is a weird sort of toxic taste to monologues that I associate with Dinner Theatre quality celebrity impersonations (A Dinner with Abe Lincoln etc). Now performance art per se is, I think, doing something completely different. Or is that true, really? Bob Flanagan is doing something different and there are a dozen others who are exploring the idea of their own body as an installation. But the scripted monologues, Wallace Shawn or Spalding Grey, or Anna Deavere Smith, are ‘acting’ in the sense of characters, and of text spoken aloud. At some point, performance art is destroying the idea of text. Monologists, or whatever one wants to call them, are speaking but they are not reciting a text exactly, and they are erasing the idea of playing anyone but themselves. Creating various masks or voices is just parlour game skill. But then one begins to inch into stand up comedy. What was Lenny Bruce? What is Marina Abramovic? Bruce in retrospect was a kind of Dada political performer who defied conventional category. Abramovic is nothing but a brand. At best it seems to me, most monologists serve as agit prop, politically narrow concerns are railed against, or they are kitsch impersonations, or they are combinations of both of them. The text as something memorized, formally, and then performed in character serves to distance us from the informality of the everyday. Improvisation actually kills the spontaneous, for it is pretending to be natural. The philistine intentions with, for example, Shakespeare, when one hears directors say they want to make the language natural or everyday. They want actors to be erase the poetic unnaturalness of this language. In so doing the ritual space of theatre is mediated by the vulgarity of the normal — except nothing is really normal. So this is the fabrication of a normal. It’s a bit like saying one wants to dehydrate water.

"Bright New Boise", by Samuel D. Hunter. The Wild Project, 2010.

“Bright New Boise”, by Samuel D. Hunter. The Wild Project, 2010.

Theatre in its foregrounding subverts the idea of a stable identity, or of cheap impersonations. And this is the real point of all this. And of tragedy. So at this point, its good to return to Adorno and Kant. I have for a long while suspected that one of the barely submerged influences on how Americans are educated about art, in public schools, can be traced back originally to Kant and his ideas on taste and morality (well, perhaps more directly to Puritanism). Without spending undue time on Kant here, the germane aspect is the Beautiful was moral by virtue of being beautiful. This is a wildly reductive reading of Kant, of course. But as school children I remember being taught art history under an umbrella of morality. The good citizen was moral and the good artwork was moral in precisely the same way.

Peter Uwe Hohendahl says, from his book on Adorno, :“..the turning point in the history of aesthetic theory, the loss of the concept of natural beauty at the moment when the successful bourgeois revolution is completed; while Kant at its beginning still realizes the artificial nature of social arrangements, including those in the sphere of culture.” Adorno built on Kant to a degree that would make Kant unrecognizable to himself, but the point here is that Adorno was redefining and making historical the idea of nature and by extension natural beauty. But Adorno also critiqued Hegel on the subject of beauty. Adorno, Hohendahl points out, saw art and culture as historically and socially mediated and the artist as “a tool for the production of the artwork”. He resisted ideas about genius, and in a sense was a precursor for Derrida in some of this, but the main thrust for this post was that in the early 1800s there began certain trends in how to see culture and art. One was to look for authenticity, much pronounced later, and the other was to realize a kind of freedom in the artwork. All art of importance (and this needs to be talked about) is extralogical. It is not conceptual, and while this is more easily grasped in modernism, it is likely true in other ways for all cultural labor. For Adorno, the sublime (and tragic) is work that emancipates (and kitsch does not) because it releases or allows for mimesis, and this too, though, is dialectical. The sublime and its emancipatory capability is linked to the activation of Nature in the subject. Kitsch, the culture industry, is offering on the whole something very close to simple advertising. They ask for identification; to see one’s position in society, a society of oppression and domination, reflected back to one. This is of course very complicated and Adorno’s most contested idea was probably “truth content”. But I want to try to stick to theatre here. The realistic or naturalistic play is, in 2014, inherently dishonest. Im not sure it wasn’t dishonest when Ibsen wrote it. But I suspect Ibsen was not actually very naturalistic at all. Certainly Strindberg was not, nor Shakespeare, and it is only by the mid 19th century that anything like a formal set of rules for representing *reality* were in play. What distinguishes Strindberg from minor playwrights of his time is that Strindberg was never looking to duplicate anything like an everyday *reality*. Strindberg searched for the transcendent in the everyday, and it was the everyday from which he fled, it was the everyday which tormented him. This year’s MacArthur recipient in playwriting is Samuel D. Hunter. I’ve not seen productions of his plays, but I’ve read them. And even in the photos of the productions it is clear that this is essentially TV. It probably falls into the prestige dramady category. Adorno said “The sublime marks the immediate occupation of the artwork by theology”. Hunter’s Bright New Boise is about theology, or rather ‘faith’, which is discount theology. If in solo performance there is nobody to talk back or to listen, so it is in kitsch where the ritual is erased, the off stage removed, and dialogue goes mute. Even in twenty character plays the dialogue is missing. Another way of saying this is that the naturalistic theatre of representation does not aspire to the sublime because what it is doing, its operation, is as a machine for normality.

Giambattista Tiepolo, "The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew:" 1722.

Giambattista Tiepolo, “The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew:” 1722.


The theatre of representation hangs it’s dialogue on a scaffolding that establishes the limits of experience. The break room in a crappy Hobby store (Bright New Boise) cannot become or inform an actual relationship that exists for tens of thousands of minimum wage workers every day. Kafka was a clerk, too. Melville a customs inspector, and Genet a hustler and thief. In each case something of that reality emerges from their work. It would exist in their work even if they wrote about surfers or card sharks. The unnaturalness of all life in Empire goes missing. The construction of reality has always to be questioned; so that the play reaches backward beyond the individual subject’s history. If the stage is treated as the site of mimetic sacrifice, abandon somehow, then it naturally is linked to suffering and memory. Today’s kitsch playwrights, the one’s rewarded for their service to the status quo, are never in touch with suffering. They are at best in touch with complaints. This is bourgeois ideology. Thomas Bernhard wrote a couple of short plays in which only one character spoke, but he put a listener on stage, too.

To follow Adorno just a bit longer, it is important to mention his ideas on truth content, and to do that means discussing his ideas about *enigma*. For Adorno, the enigmatic in any artwork is there not to be understood, or deciphered, but to expand the experience of it, to stimulate that part of us that is linked to, but not identical with memory. Like Calasso, there is always a reminder of the transitory or fleeting qualities of art. As Hohendahl says, with art there is no answer. There must, however, always be questions. In that sense the artwork is to remain a riddle. But there is, as always with Adorno, a contradiction. For the enigmatic must be engaged with, and what he calls the “truth content” is, in one sense, the solution. At the same time that it also can never serve as such. This is why Adorno stressed that there was a convergence of philosophy and art. The meaningless world is illuminated by what remains incomprehensible. In terms of theatre, the example that Jan Kott used in his analysis of King Lear (and which I have referenced several times) is perfect. And it cuts to the essential meaning of theatre. The empty stage with blind Gloucester and Mad Tom, both climbing a non-existent hill, is a truth that can find expression no place else. Its a theatrical truth. There is no capsule explanation for it. The inability to describe factually the experience of illumination means such work makes for a bad commodity.

Bertrand Fleuret, photography.

Bertrand Fleuret, photography.


“Artworks stand in the most extreme tension to their truth content. Although this truth content, conceptless, appears nowhere else than in what is made, it negates the made.”
Adorno

Now it is unsurprising that Adorno has come under attack over the last couple decades. And especially in the U.S. For one of the implications of his aesthetic theory is any work that engenders mass agreement is to be distrusted. This is because of the fatalistic aspect of art. The aesthetic experience of art must point beyond itself, and in that moment there is a tacit failure of the work; there is no agreement in great work, no collective applause for it. The paradox, if that’s what it is, is that by its revealing of something that cannot be articulated outside of itself the artwork opens up possibilities that mere enjoyment close off. In terms of theatre then, it’s only logical that the commercially popular work will be the most suspect. This is perhaps more true now than even fifty years ago. And here there looms a few additional questions.

Marcia Myers

Marcia Myers


“The context that is invoked to enforce the ideas and practices pertaining to *consensus* is, as we know, ‘economic globalization’.”
Jacques Ranciere

Ranciere has pointed out that psychoanalytic structure of narrative (primarily he means film) has changed since the 1940s. Today the idea of innocence or guilt has been subsumed by a growing global police apparatus. He cites Antigone as, per Lacan, a heroine no longer read as an expression of human rights and liberal piety, but as the harbinger of the secret terror just beneath the surface of the social order. In other words the primal crime that drives narrative is now more intimately fastened to a growing sense of fear that is a sort of collective recognition of how consensus is manufactured; that human beings have become the ‘population’ and that morality is reduced to fact. This is the world of facial recognition technology, which doesn’t work, but which doesn’t matter, and a universe in which everything one does is catalogued. Theatre is economically of little consequence today, in comparison to film. Therefore it exhibits an acute form of condensation. It is very hard to subtract the false, the untruth, in theatre, and far easier to allow it some life in film. The medium of film is more forgiving of lack of unity than theatre. For film is more than closely linked to media and corporate control of information. So if we take this back to ideas about solo performance, and why I feel distinctions are crucial in describing this form, it is because the originary space of theatre is one in which someone must be listening, in person, on that stage. Without that, the narrator too easily is manufacturing consensus. The ‘broken promise’ to which Adorno and Horkheimer both alluded, is also inseparable from the unrepresentable, in the sense that a future community was always there in art’s appeal; and that today the conquest and co-option of all life, the extent of social domination, has meant that the mystifying nature of what is called post modernism is really just the acceptance of that promise being broken, it is further, a new rewards system for those who embrace the lies.

Noh stage, Miyagi Japan.

Noh stage, Miyagi Japan.

The narrative laid out for (today, I think) climate march is one that hides the cooperation with parties connected to 350 degrees, everyone from USAID to countless NGOs with connections to the U.S. State Department, Maddie Albright, and Wall Street. The climate march is kitsch theatre in this sense. The terrors beneath the surface of the social order are mystified. Now I mention this because culture must not remain mute. This is in no way a call for street theatre, although that would be just fine, actually, but a call for an aesthetic resistance. The more careerism drives young artists, the more really autonomous work is made invisible. I should return for a moment to this idea of *autonomy*. An artwork is autonomous not because it is made under conditions of freedom. Tom Huhn wrote this on Adorno and autonomy:

“Art is at once both autonomous and a ‘fait social’. As he (Adorno) puts it, the artwork’s autonomy consists of resembling – but not imitating – the society of empirical reality.”

Then he quotes Adorno (a well known quote): “It is by virtue of this relation to the empirical that artworks recuperate, neutralized, what once was literally and directly experienced in life and what was expulsed by spirit.”

The Maids, By Jean Genet. (Living Theatre, 1965) photo by Mark Anstendig.

The Maids, By Jean Genet. (Living Theatre, 1965) photo by Mark Anstendig.

In other words art respiritualizes society by reproducing what was earlier killed off by *spirits* destruction of experience (Nature in one sense) by means of concepts, and instrumental thought, measuring and weighing and cataloguing. And by alienation and reification. But here is a crucially important point, this respiritualizing takes place via mimesis, and not mimicry. Huhn writes: “To formulate this in regard to autonomy would be to understand the artwork’s initial autonomous stirrings – that is, mimetic impulses – as directed entirely against society, and yet the work’s mature, achieved autonomy is one fully at home within society.”

Adorno believed that primal mimesis, if we want to call it that, achieved significance, in its expression, by discarding what it deemed as false or untrue. For the purposes here, I will just try to lay out the reductive simple version; the value of art is in a spiritual awakening, but that awakening or revelation or whatever one chooses to call it, only happens through a process of internal integrity. A process of vetting mimetic material for signs of falseness. The practical meaning of this for artists is one must learn to get rid of cliche and sentimentality and magic thinking and junk science and most of all the narrative expressions, or images that co-conspire with the repressive actions of totalitarian societies, and to fight off commodification, since it participates in all of the above. Great artists don’t have to be philosophers, they simply must learn to sift down through the jumble and chatter and fraudulence of daily life, to hear something integral and honest. Adorno said all art is in movement against society. That unless it is, it is junk. Kitsch. Propaganda. And narcissism.

Jonas Burgurt

Jonas Burgurt

As Tom Huhn writes; “It is specifically the entirety of external reality’s spell that the artwork mimetically opposes – this logic is directed in particular against the spell of that reality rather than its material constituents.” That spell, for Adorno, had to be opposed. Opposed but recuperated later. It is what left Adorno, in his dialectic, to still see art as an enlightening force. The artwork mimetically produces itself by producing its requirement. This happens on levels that are buried, usually, anyway. So, when I have said all stories are crime stories, all stories are travel stories, and all stories are about homesickness…this is because all art reaches backward in the exact degree to which they project or imagine another, different future.

There are myriad forms of the sensible. The contours of tension in mimesis, from its originary impulse, to it’s later grasp for self-identity, make all of this almost infinitely complex. The discourse on culture in the United States, and largely throughout Europe, too, but most obviously in the seat of Empire, is one in which only the most shallow, most familiar, and most domesticated is allowed survival. The gentrification of consciousness, an already colonized consciousness. The single most common response today, I find, whenever anything of a serious nature comes up in discussion, is the response that minimizes, the voice that tries to suggest this is all too familiar. It is the desire to pretend the unfamiliar IS familiar. That the disruptive happened before, nothing came of it. It’s all so ten minutes ago.

Anthony Goicolea, photography.

Anthony Goicolea, photography.


I wonder often at why it is not more obvious that the solo performance, the one person *play* is not experienced as a deficit. That the missing texture of the symbolic listener is not felt more. My suspicion is that the society at large has forgotten the role of the listener. Partly because of electronic recording, and more significantly electronic surveillance, the individual’s relationship to his or her own voice has changed. People certainly speak less to their neighbor, they know fewer words, and they are less interested in hearing the world around them. But then that world around them is falling silent. For all the talk of noise pollution, the natural world is falling mute, and when it’s not, people increasingly plug their ears, literally, to listen instead to their iPad. The phenomenon of blocking out the sound of the world around you is one rarely talked about, but the implications for theatre’s future are profound. The music of language found in the medieval Italian of Dante, or the English of Donne and Milton and Shakespeare, or the French of Flaubert and Rimbaud, the German of Goethe, the Spanish of Cervantes — that kind of density is gone, likely forever. People don’t hear what is said around them, they re-narrate based on guesswork, previous communications, and all of it based on film and TV. The natural world, the sound of rain and oceans and tides moving in, the distinction between summer winds and autumn, or the specific bird song (when there are any birds singing) is lost.
Bernard Faucon, photography and mixed media.

Bernard Faucon, photography and mixed media.

The theatre remains a contested space and medium. Partly because it is the economic poor relative to film, but also partly because the theatre is civic, in theory anyway, and today the increasingly isolated and atomized citizen is uncomfortable in an audience with live actors. Stand-Up comedy is fine, and popular. So are one person shows. Stand Up has become a laboratory of displaced feelings of schadenfruede. It is also, oddly, a medium for field testing eccentricities. It certainly serves some service for cultural barometrics, but it is also masturbatory. The one-man or woman show is almost like the champagne version of Stand Up’s Old English 800.

Anna Deavere Smith, "Let Me Down Easy" 2009.

Anna Deavere Smith, “Let Me Down Easy” 2009.

Adorno is criticized for his pessimism, as is Freud, and it seems to me that anyone not gripped in a pessimistic melancholy is simply not awake. On the cultural front, the sense of deafness, and blindness, and of a waking dream is all that I see. Today, theatre in the United States is in the hands of deeply ignorant people, philistines, and they pander to and cater to a partly imaginary audience, and partly real, but really in the sense that they themselves created this audience. In 2009 PBS, in conjunction with Bill Moyers, presented Anna Deavere Smith’s one person show, “Let Me Down Easy”. The ad copy advertised that Smith played 20 (TWENTY!!) different parts in this *play*. Golly gosh — twenty parts. Now apparently this is the stuff that goes down easy at Public Broadcasting. Smith is another MacArthur recipient, and was nominated for a Pulitzer (though I think you’re not supposed to know, although I was told I had been a nominee too, which always struck me as too pathetic to put on my CV) and is a multiple Tony winner. Does anyone remember what “Let Me Down Easy” was about? Is anything in the text memorable? I suspect all that anyone remembers was that Ms Smith played twenty different characters.

I want to mention Gerhard Richter here, for Richter is one of those rare painters who can articulate what he’s doing. He is also a cogent cultural critic. Richter pointed out that in Adorno’s pessimism there is a promise of redemption, but that Adorno pulls the rug out from beneath you at the last second. Adorno’s promise of redemption, as Hohendahl says, is based on recognizing that redemption is impossible. This is that final sacrificial stage of the dialectic for Adorno. The artwork dies as it points toward redemption. As Jameson said of Adorno’s idea of ‘truth content': “…it seems at least minimally possible that it cannot be philosophically described, since it is inscribed in a situation of well nigh nominalistic multiplicity in which only individual works of art, but not art itself, have their various truth contents…”. This is correct in a sense, but then ‘art itself’ is only a shadow stand in for all culture. Great works….per Adorno: “The understanding of works of art, therefore, besides their exegesis through interpretation and critique, must also be pursued from the standpoint of redemption, which very precisely searches out the truth of false consciousness in aesthetic appearance. Great works in that sense cannot lie.”

The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter  (Peter Hall production 1965 with Vivian Merchant and Ian Holm)

The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter (Peter Hall production 1965 with Vivian Merchant and Ian Holm)

Among Richter’s favorite painters is Barnett Newman. I always find this revealing, for it is Newman who, perhaps even more than Rothko, desired to respiritualize discourse. It is easy to misconstrue this today, in a system of secular vulgarity and under which only the most pathological religious expressions take place. Another way of saying ‘spritiual’ is simply to say serious. For never has any culture in the history of the world so embraced and adored the trivial and unserious as does the U.S. Empire today. So, redemption, truth content, autonomy, and mimesis. How do these come forward as the rapacious system of authoritarian mediation of daily, hourly, life? The trivializing of Imperialist conquest and murder, the orientalism of even much of the left, and certainly of all corporate sponsored news, is growing. The same way in which corporate news creates their narratives, currently its the bombing of Iraq, again, is the same way that corporate PR people create a narrative for the Climate March in NYC, and it is the same way a narrative is created for cultural commodities. Real anger is channelled into reformist band aids via an increasingly corporatized NGO realm. There is such a deep need in the public today for agreement and consensus that narratives are created as if they had existed for a long time, even if they are made out of thin air. Sometimes this takes the form of revisionist histories. Peter Handke is to receive the Ibsen prize:
http://www.cna.org.cy/photoinfo.asp?id=1a78b5df758f4cdd84d1f13a7d083495
Now, never mind that Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter was on the same committee to defend Milosevic (as was I, and Ramsey Clark and many others), nor that the U.S. state department propaganda on the Balkans has been factually refuted for more than a decade. It doesn’t matter, for what matters is a narrative that allows the public to indulge in a faux outrage about a history they clearly know nothing about. Handke’s integrity deserves special commendation, and respect. The rewriting of the Balkans has taken place by institutions funded by the U.S., and NGO’s dependent on U.S. business financing. Essentially they are asking you to believe NATO. The current declarations on Srebrenica are created in isolation, framed as scientific, and promoted by corporate journalism and by NATO and NATO friendly NGOs. And gradually they come to serve as the official history. The long shadow of U.S. propaganda infects everything. It is a simulacra of history, a phantom marketing device and increasingly inimical to the truth, to material history. In the end it is more validation for Capitalism and Empire. Allowing small truths to exist the better to squash greater more important truths. It is the new Brave New World.
Original production of "Kaspar", by Peter Handke. With Klaus Peymann.

Original production of “Kaspar”, by Peter Handke. With Klaus Peymann.

Existential Zombie

Faust the opera, set design Rolf Sachs, Staatstheatre Wiesbaden 2007

Faust the opera, set design Rolf Sachs, Staatstheatre Wiesbaden 2007

“Autistic barriers are erected in order to avoid the pain linked to the traumatic awareness of the gap between self and object. They would appear to involve an overly-narcissistic relationship between the infant and one or other of the parents, a relationship based on the illusion of continuity.”
Prof. Didier Houzel

“Frances Tustin’s (1986) description of autistic barriers took this a step further.
She showed that the autistic manoeuvres which are triggered in order to counter
the experience of the intolerable gap between self and other not only highlight the
traumatic trace of primitive experiences that have not been transformed but also
create an obstacle to any new attempt at transformation and symbolization.”

Prof. Didier Houzel

“The US military operation in Fallujah, largely justified on the claim that Zarqawi’s militant forces had occupied the city, used white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and indiscriminate air strikes to pulverise 36,000 of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes, killing nearly a thousand civilians, terrorising 300,000 inhabitants to flee, and culminating in a disproportionate increase in birth defects, cancer and infant mortality due to the devastating environmental consequences of the war.
To this day, Fallujah has suffered from being largely cut-off from wider Iraq, its infrastructure largely unworkable with water and sewage systems still in disrepair, and its citizens subject to sectarian discrimination and persecution by Iraqi government backed Shi’a militia and police. “Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies,” observed The Guardian in 2005. Thus, did the US occupation plant the seeds from which Zarqawi’s legacy would coalesce into the Frankenstein monster that calls itself “the Islamic State.”

Nafeez Ahmed

“We are unknown to ourselves, we gentlemen of knowledge”
Nietzsche

On this week of the anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. nine eleven that is, there remains the reflexive bathos of the official media for the state, meaning all corporate mainstream media. It is automatic and seems to almost intensify as Obama and the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs draw up plans for what is essentially a permanent state of war.

The average American, whatever that is, so lets say huge chunks of the U.S. citizenry, cannot begin to imagine what life is like for the average Iraqi. Imagine if instead of three thousand dead, there were several million dead. Over a third of New York City lets say. Imagine homes from Battery Park to Washington Heights, from Long Island City to Long Island itself in rubble, radioactive rubble. Imagine only limited electricity, and water. And imagine most of all an occupying army of foreigners. An army with a green zone in central park, taking up the entire park and serving Pizza Hut deep dish pizza and Starbuck frappacinos, and with a bowling alley and video games. And you, the average New Yorker, having no access to any of that but instead being subject to constant random searches and detention. Imagine your libraries and museums destroyed. The New York Public library gutted, and the Modern looted. That is life for the average Iraqi today.

Robert Standish

Robert Standish

In one sense, this resembles life for the very poorest communities in the U.S. already. The black and brown communities have a de-facto occupying army in the form of the domestic police force. A police now militarized and openly discriminatory. A police force who can do whatever they want. A police force of almost total impunity.

The U.S. empire however is one in which conquest means fragmentation. I keep using the word destablize, and that’s because U.S. foreign policy intentionally looks to do exactly that. It works well for the eventual reconstruction projects of Halliburton, Carlyse, et al.

“Contemporary US intervention does not seek to secure and take over the existing military and civilian state apparatus; instead the invaders fragment the conquered state, decimate its cadres, professionals and experts at all levels, thus providing an entry for the most retrograde ethno-religious, regional, tribal and clan leaders to engage in intra-ethnic, sectarian wars against each other, in other words – chaos. Even the Nazis, in their expansion phase, chose to rule through local collaborator elites and maintained established administrative structures at all levels.”
James Petras

The U.S. since Reagan, has intensified its saturation bombing, its shock and awe, and it’s wholesale destruction. This is a campaign of creating failed states. Its not Empire building. It’s control certainly, but it’s a peculiar 21st century logic predicated on failure, on control of the global masses by way of control of limited resources. It is designed to build states of permanent scarcity.

Xing Danwen

Xing Danwen

I was thinking also of the solidifying of this idea, a cultural position, of “knowing yourself”. It’s almost a religion today in the West. In particular though in the U.S. I knew this young woman once who always was judging people according to how much, in her opinion, ‘they had worked on themselves’. I think this is a fairly common notion. This woman went to every group available; children of alcoholic parents, survivors of physical abuse, various 12 step meetings, and a shrink. There were probably a half dozen others I cant remember. She was herself close to totally dysfunctional. But she had graduated from an Ivy League university, and imagined herself a writer. She couldn’t write, but did have a sort of preternatural sense of what the next niche market in publishing might be. But, the bedrock stance of such people is the idea of a self you can sculpt, like a lump of clay, into a “person”, an identity, a high functioning adult member of society. And the way that you sculpt, that you ‘work on yourself’, is by various therapies, and self improvement schemes, based usually on surface self affirmation, but which is almost always self training in how to fit in. How to adjust. This is what is behind the idea of ‘making your life work’. And the best working life is the one with the largest bank account. That is the baseline.

David Hepher, Hoxton Gallery.

David Hepher, Hoxton Gallery.


Now, it occurred to me this week that the image of the theatre is actually still the prevailing model for the narration of our lives. The actual medium of the theatre, of drama, of playwriting, is waning, and maybe at its lowest ebb in a couple thousand years; but that idea of a stage remains. In a sense we perform our role, on the stage in our mind. And we have also, an off stage and a green room (a dressing and preparation area). We rehearse our lines, our role, and it’s tried out in small ways, in our own version of a bus and truck tour of the provinces, until it’s determined to be ready for one or another opening night.

Robert Louis Stevenson, circa 1880.

Robert Louis Stevenson, circa 1880.

There is a theme emerging in mass culture these days that might be described as ‘dead inside’. It is Zombie existentialism in a sense. I wrote last posting about HBO’s The Leftovers, which in one way was a Christian tinged ‘dead inside’ trope. This hues very close to the post apocalyptic genre, one that includes everything from the original Mad Max (a film oddly pervasive in its influence) to Night of the Living Dead, up through BBCs The Survivors, or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days. There seems a split though; because the post apoco-genre usually pits the survivor community against the attacking hordes. The Walking Dead on AMC now is a good example. The other though, more interesting sub branching is the everyone is already dead idea. The Leftovers was the Christian version, and these seem to foster the trend toward ‘return’ from the dead themes (The very good French series The Returned) and Resurrection. One has to see this I think in terms relating to crime narratives, and the rise of the Knight Errant as PI, the Sam Spade urban man of integrity, because the search there was for truth. Sam Spade or Phillip Marlow have become Rust Cohle. From Knight Errant to internal zombie. One of the failures, and perhaps really the only failure, of True Detective was in the final two episodes. The heart of darkness, that which has rendered our inner lives dead, cannot be made literal. And it was. The heart of darkness is not a creepy old guy with a shotgun. Same as the final episode tended toward (not completely, mind you) a redemptive optimism. Rust was a complex ‘true’ detective, in that he was looking for ways to fill his own void, his personal lack. But the existential zombie, the dead-inside idea seems increasingly in the Zeitgeist.

There are two things going on with this; one is an adult population now mimicking the autistic processing of information and stimulus. And there are now at least four shows (including the new Chasing Shadows, a UK crime show) with Asperger’s sufferers as primary characters. Obsessive and hyper focused, as in The Bridge, and in Chasing Shadows, they actually are the perfect compliment to the puzzle solving put before them. The other trend is the emptiness of the everyday. My experience, anecdotal, with Aperger’s sufferer’s is that they cant wait to tell you about their condition. There is some sort of pride in this condition, and a sense of actually having superior powers of analysis. In a sense, in the most instrumental world of the 21st century, they probably are an adaptive evolutionary stage. But therein lies the problem. The instrumental. I had an self proclaimed Aspergerite tell me the other day that neurotypicals (sic) are ‘so slow’.

Claerwen James

Claerwen James

It’s worth mentioning again how World War Z included Arab/Palestinians as marauding infectious zombie-ish invaders, ripe for extermination. No safeguard is harsh enough. The Last Ship this season was a curious cartoon recruitment film for the Navy, but it did feature this idea of survivor vs. foreigner. And as seems often the case, the survivor community is in some way ‘special’, or elite. This is the general given. The studios and networks, Im’ not sure, realize just what overdetermination is occurring within these sub genre formulations. But my point here is the dead inside philosophical pseudo zombie is now a prototype. The Existential Zombie. For it links up with this ‘working on yourself’ idea. The sense of societal malaise that seems to be driving stuff like The Leftovers and Resurrection, or even period poaching like Penny Dreadful, are suggesting some search for redemption. True Detective to its credit did not search for redemption. Well, not per se. The literary ancestors probably include the much neglected Robert Louis Stevenson novel (his last) The Ebb Tide.

Allow me a somewhat long expert from the opening page:

“Throughout the island world of the Pacific, scattered men of many European races and from almost every grade of society carry activity and disseminate disease. Some prosper, some vegetate. Some have mounted the steps of thrones and owned islands and navies. Others again must marry for a livelihood; a strapping, merry, chocolate-coloured dame supports them in sheer idleness; and, dressed like natives, but still retaining some foreign element of gait or attitude, still perhaps with some relic (such as a single eye-glass) of the officer and gentleman, they sprawl in palm-leaf verandahs and entertain an island audience with memoirs of the music-hall. And there are still others, less pliable, less capable, less fortunate, perhaps less base, who continue, even in these isles of plenty, to lack bread.
At the far end of the town of Papeete, three such men were seated on the beach under a purao tree.
It was late. Long ago the band had broken up and marched musically home, a motley troop of men and women, merchant clerks and navy officers, dancing in its wake, arms about waist and crowned with garlands. Long ago darkness and silence had gone from house to house about the tiny pagan city. Only the street lamps shone on, making a glow-worm halo in the umbrageous alleys or drawing a tremulous image on the waters of the port. A sound of snoring ran among the piles of lumber by the Government pier. It was wafted ashore from the graceful clipper-bottomed schooners, where they lay moored close in like dinghies, and their crews were stretched upon the deck under the open sky or huddled in a rude tent amidst the disorder of merchandise.
But the men under the purao had no thought of sleep. The same temperature in England would have passed without remark in summer; but it was bitter cold for the South Seas. Inanimate nature knew it, and the bottle of cocoanut oil stood frozen in every bird-cage house about the island; and the men knew it, and shivered. They wore flimsy cotton clothes, the same they had sweated in by day and run the gauntlet of the tropic showers; and to complete their evil case, they had no breakfast to mention, less dinner, and no supper at all.
In the telling South Sea phrase, these three men were ON THE BEACH. … Not long before, a ship from Peru had brought an influenza, and it now raged in the island, and particularly in Papeete. From all round the purao arose and fell a dismal sound of men coughing, and strangling as they coughed. The sick natives, with the islander’s impatience of a touch of fever, had crawled from their houses to be cool and, squatting on the shore or on the beached canoes, painfully expected the new day. Even as the crowing of cocks goes about the country in the night from farm to farm, accesses of coughing arose, and spread, and died in the distance, and sprang up again.”

It is one of the masterpieces of 19th century writing, and keenly appreciated by some (Nabokov for one) but mostly consigned to the oblivion of being the pessimistic adult work of a beloved writer of children’s stories. The image of dawn on the South Sea beaches of an island riddled with influenza and the sound of coughing, is indelible. Also, that Stevenson wrote as perfect an English prose as one might ever find. But it is a story of outcasts, of the ‘dead inside’, the man without meaning.

Emile Hyperion Dubuisson, photography. 'Siberia'.

Emile Hyperion Dubuisson, photography. ‘Siberia’.


But let me bring this back to this idea of our interior thinking being a kind of theatre. This is not an original idea, obviously, for the internal theatre, the one in our heads, is a very old idea. I think there is some primordial spatial, structural impulse that ends in the creation of a performance space; a stage. I don’t know if cavemen acted out their inner lives, or gave instruction that was linked to ideas of their own identity, or if they just saw everything as a collective. But clearly I think there is a natural linkage between groups, our interior thoughts, and a stage.

I think all great writing takes place on, or presumes, some kind of stage. Perhaps something becomes a stage when a performance takes place on it. But defining a performance is as impossible as defining a stage. Here is where allegory needs to be introduced and discussed. Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama (Der Ursprung des Deutschen Trauspiels) was on one level, probably the most important level, about allegory. It was also because of Benjamin’s prose, an allegory itself. It is a highly discomforting book. I read it the first time when I was in my early twenties. When I re-read it (the first re reading) I was forty and it seemed a very different book. Benjamin had a complicated almost mystical set of ideas about language. One cannot read him and not start to contemplate the very idea of alphabet formation, of oral histories, and of symbol. For Benjmain, symbol is not greatly different than allegory. But it is in allegory that Benjamin saw the fable of mankind, of knowledge, of identity. And that there was something unconscious in all language and all symbol. And that it was, as I wrote a couple postings back, a sort of surplus unconscious, a by-product of all writing. For now, though, this matters because it is related to the idea of a stage on which each individual acts out his or her personal drama. A drama that is, however, shaped by history.

Calasso, a perceptive analyst of Benjamin, quotes Kafka:

“The leopards break into the temple and empty the sacrificial vessels, this is repeated time and again; in the end it can be foreseen and becomes part of the ceremony.”

Antonio Lopez Garcia

Antonio Lopez Garcia


In a very real sense the rise of global capitalism, and with it, now, a resurgent fascism, is erasing allegory. The fetish of the ‘self’ has meant that the self has no stage, that space is totalized or essentialized, or however one chooses to describe it and that it rejects narratives of any complexity. But it also has created a backed up unconscious stream that is spilling into public discourse as a kind of violence. The master narrative is not only one that valorizes empire and white supremacism, but it is one inextricably tied to the new manufactured reality of electronic mass media. There are other implications, for example the political economy and class bias of dyslexia research: http://monthlyreview.org/2014/09/01/the-political-economy-of-dyslexia/

Let me quote from Strauss’ essay:

“The medicalizers have no explanation for a whole range of established facts about real reading. Here is one: proficient reading is not a process of accurate word identification. How do we know this? From observing and analyzing real reading. Real readers who are proficient at reading for meaning do not look at fully one-third of the words on a page. Real reading is not pronouncing words presented individually on flash cards; this is not a communicative event. Real reading means reading authentic text—language generated by an author with the intention of conveying meaning. Only in such cases is the reader’s goal as it should be: to make sense of the print. And making sense of the print now includes taking into account that the text was composed by a human agent who composed the text purposefully. What is this author trying to say? That is a communicative event.”

and a bit later…

“So all the brain imaging research, genetic research, and pathology research on reading is fundamentally irrelevant, because it is generated by and interpreted within an unsalvageable theory of reading. All the proposals about how we need to drill kids hour after hour on letter-sound relationships are entirely counterproductive, because they take the focus off meaning.
So why is this preposterous pseudoscience in the media, in the classroom, and in the laws passed by Congress? What is the big difference between medicalized reading and the alternative?
“The big difference, the one that really matters, is this: the ideas and opinions of the medicalizers are in power; the ideas and opinions of their opponents are not in power. And, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the ruling ideas of society—the ideas that are in power—are the ideas propagated and promoted by the ruling class.”

Trine Sondergaard, photography.

Trine Sondergaard, photography.


This is relevant to the ways in which allegory is being removed by insisting on an instrumental reading. This also diminishes mimetic engagement with narrative. So on the one hand is a culture of self-help, of therapy (though not the traditional Freudian or psychoanalytic kind, because that, as I continue to read EVERYWHERE, is out of date and old fashioned), and of self improvement as an ideal. Americans have always been about self improvement, however. But more on that in a second, and on the other hand we have a society that trains its youth in the absolute most instrumental and mechanical ways for the most instrumental and mechanical ends, and one that also enforces a master narrative of conquest and white superiority. In one way its a society of twelve step colonialists. And across this runs what I think is a subtle adaptive impulse, one that has at times anomalous by products. People are less and less able to process complex narrative. They seem less and less able to integrate into coherent wholes the sum of the parts of their daily lives. And most clearly, things like allegory are soon going to be the vestigial tail stumps of human reasoning. But there is also, attached to loss of allegory, the deeper wound of a removing of the personal stage on which to process the world via a mimetic re-assemblage of stimuli and story.
Brook Andrew, mixed media. 'Dakar',  from original postcard.

Brook Andrew, mixed media. ‘Dakar’, from original postcard.

When Walter Benjamin was interned, not long before his death, by the Nazis, at a camp in Nevers, he spent much of his time organizing to start a magazine at the camp. “Of the highest quality” Benjamin is alleged to have told his camp-mates. It was to try and get certain privileges. He was eventually released from that camp to make his final march toward southern France, and an escape from fascists. He was of course to finally commit suicide. Benjamin never stopped thinking in allegory. His own life is an allegory. His secrets formed part of the construction of this allegorical document. At the end, still writing, even on the margins of newspapers, Benjamin wrote the three vices of the political left: a blind faith in progress, in strength, and in the party. Now, this seems relevant here because of the over-all lurch toward a corrupt form of science and technological thought by the entire society, including the left. Science and progress. That iPads are progress, that cell phones are progress, are things most would not question. Even on the left. And today the new green left (or maybe its the old-ish green left, I don’t know) are no less enamoured of much of this instrumental thinking even as they advocate all manner of Luddite correctives. But, I want to return to allegory. To the inability to recognize it or experience it. Two recent Hollywood films provide ample evidence of the loss of allegory. The Giver and Divergent are both quasi sci-fi, dystopian novels with teenagers as the faux target audience. Today teenager is everyone. So called ‘young adult novels’ tend to be read by a lot of adults. Both can be lumped into the The Hunger Games basket, because the theme seems to about fighting conformity and totalitarian governments, by creating identical movies that conform absolutely to previous models. The Giver is, if possible, even worse than Divergent. So reductive and illogical is the premise that no amount of suspended disbelief can help one. The logical inconsistencies are numerous, but the fundamental problem is with the concept of history itself. It is a commodity here. A ‘thing’. And freedom is merely the escape over the walls of the city. But the real issue here is the way in which freedom (sic) and life and individuality etc etc etc etc are represented. They are montages of stock Reuters photos or CNN footage of Tiananmen Square, or the Berlin Wall coming down, or just generic crowds cheering. Real life is stock photo clips.
El Aura (2005), Fabien Bielinksy, dr.

El Aura (2005), Fabien Bielinksy, dr.


In Divergent, the girl heroine (resembling most of the time a Southern Cali high school prom queen, and always with freshly blow dried hair) is part of a Brave New World of total conformity, and one without real sexual urges. Divergent seems, actually, to be almost entirely about the state and its rulings on reproduction and sexual activity. But it never rises to even the level of a discussion about ‘desire’. Now, ok, this is a movie (I hope) meant for teenagers, no doubt girls, as there just isn’t enough actual violence to cater to boys. Also its about girl ‘empowerment’, meaning these days learning martial arts. Both are sub literate exercises in stupidity. So stunningly awful that one does wonder what is going on in the brains of the people involved. Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep et al. The point is that neither has any potential to serve as allegory. There is no elsewhere. There is no there there in fact. There is only references to earlier film and photography. The amusing part of The Giver is that all knowledge is kept in a library of old books, and its all very Harry Potter and the library mostly resembles an old British gentlemen’s club. The signifiers for knowledge is colonial nostalgia.

A final note on an Argentine film from 2005. I only saw it this week. El Aura (Fabien Bielinsky dr.) is a story of an introverted epileptic taxidermist who day dreams of the perfect crime, and then takes a hunting vacation in Pategonia where he stumbles into a real crime. If that isn’t a pitch that open doors for you in Hollywood I dont know what it is. It stars Ricardo Darin, and apparently there is a law in Argentina that you cannot make a movie without Ricardo Darin. Still, this solemn and slowly developing story, set against the stark Patagonian landscape, has a certain disturbing quality — it reminded me a bit of The Hunter(2011), (a much better film finally) in that the real story is the one that cannot be told, because we as a society, have forgotten it. And nature is now something hard for many to even conceptualize. In this, the bloodless inert taxidermist is not an anti hero, but an irritating confused moralist who causes endless amounts of pain for those around him because of his incapacity to act. Clever but souless, the final image is one of accusation. Had the writing been better, only slightly, and the criminals more than cardboard, this might have been a great film. As it is, there is still a strangely haunting quality to it.

I post two paintings by David Hepher. Hepher is a quasi photo realist, although not exactly, and mostly paints the facades of council flats and tower blocks. The endless repetition of same is disturbing, and their scale somehow resists ever quite grasping what one is looking at. The brutal architecture is juxtaposed to the meticulous detailed painting of it, and in each same block is revealed difference, but a difference mostly of wear. The rain stained cement, the worn dirty curtains, the assaultive greys create talismans of a sort. Some of his earlier work was more illustrative (like below) but still effective, and others more abstract and somehow less effective for it. It is the neutral eye, or the appearance of it, that provides the power in his best work. They are insescapable somehow. Also interesting to compare to John Riddy’s photos of the same subject, or Rux Blee Luxemburg’s or Michael Wolf. Or the paintings of Driss Ouadahi.

David Hepher

David Hepher


Hepher may not be a major artist, but I think the integrity of his vision is worth applauding. It does raise questions however in terms of what the viewer is taking away from such paintings. It is partly an investigation of the trivia of modern life. In this way not unlike what Adorno focused on after he came to Los Angeles in 1944. For in trivia is to be found something closer (even if satirized)to the primal impulse of all culture. Here is the stage for historical memory.

Roberto Calasso suggests the truth of myth, that looking around us we find ourselves in our own myth. And that we recognize, therefore, the familiarity of all myths. This is only another way of saying that all the world’s a stage. And that nature, however it is analysed scientifically, remains terrifying. Our inner lives practice the mimetic narrating of our own myths. This is not the established kitsch and bathos of 9/11 memorials, but the terror that resides in a subtle recognition of history as it appears in those grey hostile tower blocks, and in all the rest of the detritus of modern daily life.

John Riddy, photography.

John Riddy, photography.

A Disenchanted World

Katie Paterson, 'Lightbulb to Simulate Moonlight', Haunch of Venison Gallery, London.

Katie Paterson, ‘Lightbulb to Simulate Moonlight’, Haunch of Venison Gallery, London.

“This house is far away, it is lost, we inhabit it no more; we are, alas, certain of inhabiting it never again. It is however, more than a memory. It is a house of dreams, our oneiric house.”
Gaston Bachelard

“Important works of art are the ones that aim for an extreme; they are destroyed in the process and their broken outlines survive as ciphers of a supreme, unnameable truth.”
Adorno, Sacred Fragment,
Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron

I want to write about aesthetics more, because I think often there is such a huge neglected political aspect to this topic, and because far more than pure political science, or left dissident criticism, hardly anything is really written about it. When I started this blog, my intention was to write a good deal more about the practice of writing, and the poetics of theatre, of film, and painting. But it’s been increasingly difficult to separate these topics. Adorno wrote about the state of aesthetics fifty years ago: “This abstract and largely mechanical derivation of aesthetics from pre-given philosophies seems to me to be the essential reason for the fall of theoretical aesthetics.” As Andrew Bowie cogently put it, “…if philosophy cannot learn from art, and if its job is just to tell us the truth about art in the same way it does other issues, then ultimately we wont need art anyway.” But I believe we do need art, and rather desperately. In an age of instrumental logic, of almost cultic worship of science, of a science mediated by political forces, society will completely lose touch with how to narrative our lives to each other and to ourselves, and will increasingly forget how to engage with the impulse to create, and will suffer the further deterioration of our imagination.

But, I happened this week to go out to the cinema. I was with my wife. There was not much showing, so we decided, well, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is likely better than Hercules. I think perhaps five minutes into this film our heads turned simultaneously and we looked at each other. It was horrifying. Not just was it infantile, for that almost goes without saying. No, it was worse. And it was worse in ways that I think I need to approach in a very roundabout fashion.

One cannot talk aesthetics without bringing in Adorno. Not today. You can’t. And like so many seminal thinkers, there is a lot of mis-reading of Adorno, reductive reading. And in a sense, this is predictable because he is very difficult. And I have had arguments going back years and years with people about how to read him. But for the purposes to today, I want to start with something I’ve not written about, but which I have taught a good deal, and that is writing for the theatre.

Youssef Nabil, photography. Cairo 1997.

Youssef Nabil, photography. Cairo 1997.

And I want to begin with a couple ideas about dialogue. I used to use an example:
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The first man says “Do you have a banana, I’m hungry”.
The second man says, “No, why would I have a banana, get the fuck out of here”.

Thats the worst version.
Second version:
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The first man says “Do you have a banana, I’m hungry”
The second man says nothing. The first man finally leaves.

That’s a bit better.
Third version:
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The SECOND man says “No, I have no banana, why would I have a banana. Get the fuck out of here.”

That’s the best version. Why? Well, version #1 is obvious, rational and without mystery. Version #2 at least leaves us with an unanswered question. There is a question raised. Tension. Version #3 however is best because someone is answering unasked questions. And by so doing a huge leap takes place. One has bypassed the usual asking of questions which can be answered, and are often answered because of visual evidence. One has skipped the asking when the question is not answered. And one has gone straight to an assumption of previous questions, and suddenly there are several layers of history both revealed and obscured. I think that Pinter probably grasped this better than anyone. It was his primary genius in fact.

Tim Eitel

Tim Eitel


I have spoken a lot about the uncanny. And it is because I think the uncanny is directly linked to mimesis and the non-identical. The uncanny is at work whenever something isn’t answered. Or rather, it is there if the question is legitimate. The above painting by Tim Eitel is, I think, a good(ish) painting. It is not a great painting. It want’s to be uncanny…but I am not sure it is. Eitel is a very talented painter. He studied in Germany, and now lives in Paris. He works from photographs. In a sense, Eitel is doing his own version of the Chiat Day syndrome, albeit doing it very well, and with enough intelligence to offset some of the self conscious “uncanny”ness. This particular painting could be a poster for Songs From the Second Floor, for example.

Jameson said, speaking of Adorno:
“Yet the form of the sentences must now also be seen as a form of philosophizing in its own right.”

Part of Eitel’s problem is that he is not technically convincing. Not enough. It is as if the painter’s tecnique is akin to the actor for the playwright. Better technique, say that of Borremans, and a qualitative change takes place. Not even Beckett could stand up under Steve Martin and Robin Williams. The paintings of another young German, Stefan Kurten, are far more unsettling. Kurten works often with gold pigment, and he paints more architecture than Eitel, and indeed is doing something rather different. But for now, I post one of his paintings, below.

Stefan Kurten

Stefan Kurten


This is a disquieting painting because it seems to about something idyllic, and yet the sky is wrong, there is an indeterminate light, and then that gold. The gold is just unnerving. The painting is answering questions unasked, if one wants to push that model. It is imposing something on the viewer, much as a real estage agent might. The viewer is being pressured. In Eitel, by contrast, there is something just the tiniest big smug. Comfortable. And again, I do think Eitel is a decent artist.

But to return to Adorno, and to Jameson, one of the problems with the culture industry is that is now so effectively assimilates all rebellion. All attempts to create radical vision is quickly (as Jameson puts it) ‘registered’ and catalogued and made into a ‘style’. The style is then marketed in mass. This however is mediated to a degree by genre. And one of the potential escape valves for co-option is genre. Genre is already a registered style in a sense. The radical ‘western’ is still a western. The accommodation can only partly take place with any particular work because there is this prevailing category of genre. The best genre work today, in film anyway, are those that work off of subtraction. They simplify, and remove as a strategy. There is more to say on that, but for now..there is another aspect running alongside this, and that is the economic. The corporate interests eliminate the independent economic subject. The artist is bought out whether he or she wants to be or not. Jameson suggests that a kind of fetishism is the only possible result of the Utopian impulse.

Elio Ciol, photography. 'Mongolia'

Elio Ciol, photography. ‘Mongolia’


In Pinter’s The Caretaker, the triangular dialogue in Act 2 is a constant repetition of unfinished conversation, but it ends with, as Pinter often did, a long(ish) monologue by ‘Aston’. For all this elliptical dialogue must find a way to be recuperated. The monologue does nothing to resolve the plot, if one can say there even is a plot. But what it does is restore the sense of legitimacy to the scene. Memory may be faulty, Pinter makes clear, but that is how we re-form our lives in the end.

Because there is nothing resolved, the audience is left with an uncanny and disturbing, or haunting sense of their own memory of the play just witnessed. Jameson (discussing Adorno) says only when a subject enters the force field of late capitalism does the mimetic occur, that it is a relationship between private property and personal identity. That the mechanisms of Capital, of property, of instrumental logic all serve to diminish the subject, or his inner life anyway.

Adorno says, in Minima Moralia: “…the will to live finds itself dependent on the denial of the will to live…”. This is not as simple as man-as-robot, however. For it is dialectical. The forces of advanced Capital, monopoly capital, are all in the service of standardization, and this encroaches on, in fact it is foundational, subjectivity. We think in the language of monopoly, and of Corporate restrictions, we think in terms today, of financialization.

Gregor Erhart, 1520 AD

Gregor Erhart, 1520 AD


This discussion at this point turns to the ideas of the ‘Culture Industry'; the most well known term, probably, in all of Adorno’s works. And one that has always met with resistance by the American public, and in U.S. academia. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the rise of marketing as a science in the U.S., and because of the deep Puritan sediments layered beneath the business friendly Anglo-Protestant values system, the very idea of manipulation was countered by a kind of manufactured populism. This populist trend was also (and is also) married to the American resistance to class analysis. Now, Jameson points out that Modernism by the 1950s was hegemonic in U.S. academia. And this is true, but it’s also not true. For there was a hidden class bias operative in this throughout.

There has also been the emphasis, in this new populism, on amusement, or even pleasure. And here is where a deeper analysis is called for. Kitsch, the products of mass culture, do not provide pleasure. They provide some kind of enjoyment, perhaps (there is a whole discussion, obviously, to be had on the nature of pleasure and links to sexuality). But one of Adorno’s crucial points was the austerity, even monasticism, of genuine engagement with culture and art. As he said: “In the Culture Industry, jovial renunciation takes the place of pain that lies at the heart of ecstasy and asceticism alike.”

It is the ideology of intellectual pacification that runs through all mass culture that must be resisted.

Alexey Viktorovich Titarenko, photography.

Alexey Viktorovich Titarenko, photography.


But back to the uncanny.

“This recalls Freud’s dictum that the uncanny is uncanny only because it is secretly all too familiar, which is why it is repressed.”
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

For Adorno (per Jameson) there is an active hatred of art by those whom is excludes, and because of this resentment the excluded demand validation for mass cultural amusements, and further, those who even grasp all this but reject the sacrifice of denying a shallow momentary happiness in lieu of that deeper spiritual regeneration of society itself. In a sense, this is the position of a fascist mentality.

Freud wrote, on the uncanny; “Yet we expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’ certain things that lie within the field of what is frightening.” Anthony Vidier points out that ‘uncanny’ is extremely difficult to pin down, and hence finds itself translated in an unusual ways in various languages. Sinistre, etrange, de mal aguero, lugubre, etc. But in non of these languages is uncanny directly synonymous with fear or terror. Nor with the grotesque, or disfigured. It is too close in conceptual structure to things which are familiar. In German of course it is unheimlich, and the English uncanny is derived from ken, or beyond knowing. The canniness part is simply skill. But it is in German that the deepest resonance occurs. For the uncanny is always linked to home. And home is always linked to exile, to homelessness, and to memory. The uncanny is the deep memory of a lost home. And the experience of the uncanny reminds us of that lost home, the one to which we feel guilt for having forgotten. Certain colors are associated with the uncanny, amber for one. Amber light is the direct expression of that petrified sap in which is lodged lost life, and lost memory.

This is what the Frankfurt School, as a whole, saw in their critique of anti semitism. It is a class analysis, for everyone is promised happiness, and that is what Adorno came to call the *broken promise*. One cannot have real happiness until everyone can have real happiness. This is why art and culture have such marked political significance. Now in the United States, historically, the resentment has been directed most acutely at those whose ancestors were slaves. Black culture is the most potent expression of genuine happiness that it’s possible to find, and it accounts for the dramatic efforts of the ruling classes to commodify, neutralize, and destroy it.

Lassse Lecklin, photography. Iceland.

Lassse Lecklin, photography. Iceland.


The uncanny is connected to a term I’m going to invent, ‘deep memory’. Because the familiarity of the uncanny image is not a familiarity one can access. One cannot sit and concentrate and try-to-remember. Now, it is possible that this is simply the repressed material of childhood. And likely a good portion of it is. But I suspect it is more than that, and it is that part of repressed material that interests me the most, and which I think artists make use of, and to which I believe culture is linked.

There are probably two levels of uncanny. The Pinter play mentioned above, operates on the lesser uncanny level. The play itself is a masterpiece, but the uncanny is tied to the mimetic re-narration of the play itself. The audience is questioning his own experience of spoken text, and there is an examination given on ‘listening’. The uncanny resides therefore in a brief temporal space, even if the deeper layers of meaning continue. There is in the deeper uncanny something that is allied to the tragic. A work may be deeply uncanny and not be tragedy, but it will bleed into the tragic impulse to some degree almost always. The German Romantics were often deeply uncanny, and Von Kleist might be the culmination of this branch. His essay on marionettes remains an indispensable text for understanding the links to myth and Dionysian mystery, the uncanny as revelation. The uncanny is always, on both levels, a mystery. This is why narrative that opens us to the experience of something uncanny is always a story of crime, or primal crime. Architecture is often uncanny, and for reasons similar to tragedy. The sense of our forgotten homes is evoked very acutely in certain buildings. Piranesi’s Carceri are exercises in deep uncanny. Kafka, of course, is the modern giant of the deep uncanny. There is an spatial aspect to the uncanny, and it is partly linked to vertigo. John Martin wrote of Pirinesi, that one always feels as if measuring these spaces from on high. It’s not a rational response, but then this is where guilt begins, and this is also partly an aspect of the *broken promise* We desire to remember where our exile began, but we cannot, and there is a feeling of betrayal attached to this. For it is not only ‘my’ forgotten exile, it is ‘our’ forgotten exile. To get to the forgotten past is akin to navigating a maze, and here that quality of claustrophobia common to the uncanny becomes another artery of the forgotten, of the irretrievable.

Ziad Antar, photography.

Ziad Antar, photography.


Tied into this discussion is the theme of the passing of modernism. Whether that dissipating of energy turned into something called post-modernism, I’m not sure, but probably I fail to see what post modernism actually is. For it seems to be more about what it is not. It is not epitaph, but simply caesura. The pause before the Fall. Everyone today lives in the shadow of transnational corporate business. For this vast realm of devouring insensate destruction not only destroys people, and landscapes, but it eats the inner life of those it leaves alive, and its most malignant form is found in the erasing of both social and individual history. It sucks out memory and reduces it to pixel ash.

The uncanny as mystery, is also I think inseparable from exile, from the experience of homesickness. I think that in Western societies, European and North American primarily, that homes are overdetermined in dreams via the window. Windows, or perhaps only the windows of the second floor, are always somehow the site of both erotic transgressions, and symbolic of religious calling, or communion. Now I’m clearly speaking of a bourgeois identity formed in the late 17th century, but advanced qualitatively in the 18th, and on into the 19th and 20th. The window can be open or closed, curtained or not, and it is at a distance. I’ve always felt a certain unnaturalness to large ground floor windows. They are exhibitionistic to a degree, and more, they are an emblem of class, the owners gazing out over the factory or fields. Today, the erasure of these experiences, the reflective meditations of daily life, especially in childhood, are no doubt more inimical to individual autonomy than can be grasped. The architecture of mall, of office building, of surveilled public space is designed and policed in such a way that people are being drained of their inner lives. The escape from the great panopticon uses up the entirety of people’s waking hours. For never before, at least in the U.S., has the invasion of personal space, of privacy, been so extensive. And that invasion is policing dreams as well. Perhaps there will be a poetics, an uncanny of the mall escalator, but I somehow doubt it. Anthony Vidier wrote, on the topic of structural uncanny, and here on the reflections of Walter Pater, and ancient Roman homes…

“..Pater makes clear, this homeliness was established firmly on its ability to ecompass and overcome death. The foundations of the house were deeply embedded in the catacombs, the villa’s subterranean double, that provided resting places for the ancestors of the Cecilii. The immediate spatial connection between the abode of the living and that of the dead sustained the air of authenticity, of ‘venerable beauty, that permeated the whole estate…The heimlich had finally been reconciled to its apparent opposite in a spatial order that provided rest for both living and dead.”

Elvis in elevator, photographer unknown.

Elvis in elevator, photographer unknown.


So, any narrative fiction, or playwriting, must remember it’s own homesickness. All authors write only their own life. In the end. It can be called Crete, or Denmark, or Uruguay, but my work for example is always Los Angeles. And the United States. But this ‘where’ identity is often masked, sent outward. One of the great geniuses of poetics and writing in the 20th century was Charles Olson. I cannot quite understand his neglect. Many lesser poets have been revived and canonized, but not Olson. If one wants to learn to write, an essential book is Call Me Ishmael, his study of Melville. I mention Olson because he is the great surveyor of space and land. The catacombs beneath our lives, beneath everyone’s life, are often ignored. Melville told Hawthorne he dated his life from his return from the Pacific. The Pacific was the dopelganger of the plains, for Americans. In Russia it is the steppes, and Siberia. There is an urban form, too, of space. It more directly turns downward. Toward the catacombs. They create a vertical maze. In those less urban, the horizontal is dominant. The horizon. For the horizon is most clearly seen at sea or in the desert. The horizon is more mausoleum. It is always a maze, though.

Olson quotes Dostoyevsky:

“Even negation has not come from me. Everything has always been petty and spiritless… Indignation and shame I can never feel, therefore not despair”.

Stavrogin. For Olson was writing on The Possessed. In Dostoyevski there is primal crime. Olson said plot was a ‘broken stump’. The poetics of space are always there, of course. Elvis in an elevator is heading for the underworld. Perhaps. Yet, that trip in today’s fiction rarely if ever takes place. Hell has been banished, kettled, deported. This is one of the questions that surfaces with all discussion on aesthetics. Olson felt ancient Sumer, the Summerian world of 3300 BC, was a center of wisdom and it produced myth and allegory and symbol. Somewhere along the way, things got forgotten. The purpose of symbol forgotten. Perhaps, but for sure, *something* was lost, forgotten, and someone had to be blamed for this loss. Inventory doesn’t add up. Fire that intern. The sense of the allegorical has evaporated. Those elsewheres only infrequently occur now, and they are under surveillance. It may well be that the electronic panopticon has reached a state where it damages even our inner monologues.

Let me use an example, that only partially explains any of this. Non representational painting or abstract art as it is often commonly called, reached a place of exhaustion very quickly with the New York School of Pollock, Rothko, DeKooning et al. It was replaced with various secondary schools of color field, hard edge, etc. And none of these is very well defined. Minimalism was another reaction, in a sense. Today, a work like the one below by Bernard Lokai is worth at least trying to talk about:

Bernard Lokai

Bernard Lokai

Lokai is the son of Czech parents, but raised in Germany and a student of Richter. He is often associated with what is called The German New Wave that includes Bruno Kurz, Blinky Palermo, Imi Knoebel, Rosemarie Trockel, Albert Oehlen, Neo Rauch, Kippenberger, and even Stefan Kurten. And further back Beuys, Kiefer, and Richter himself. Now, this is on the one hand a painting about painting, or a painting ‘of’ painting, a painting of abstract expressionism. But it is unnaturally cut off, framed, interrupted, and thereby re-defines the entire idea of touch, or action painting. The point here is that the goals are very modest I think. The grand transcendentalism of Rothko or Pollock is adumbrated, made into something intentionally derivative. And that is not perjorative, it is a perfectly valid strategy. It is also done with confidence, with a pronounced authority of technique. And this is a way into the discussion of Adorno’s ideas on truth content. The internal integrity of a work is paramount in this case. The Lokai certainly possess that, even if it is achieved by way of reduction of ambition. The work of his teacher Gerhard Richter provides a certain clue to evaluating Lokai. Richter purposefully changed styles a dozen times, from photo-realism, to glosses on Warhol, and throughout a tendency to incorporate ready made materials. This all suggests a project directed at sampling to focus on the very notion of ‘style’ as regressive in itself. Lokai is periously close to illustrating an Abstract Expressionist painting. The Bruno Kurz below better, a better version of, if that’s fair, what Lokai is doing (and Lokai does a number of things, other than what he did here). The Kurz, even if working off derivitive material, is not illustrating, for something adheres to his painting that destabilizes. It may not be doing more, but at the very least I think it’s clearly working on that level.

Bruno Kurz

Bruno Kurz


Here Jameson is perhaps the clearest of all Adorno critics, with Zuidervaart anyway, on the topic of truth content. For many works can have great internal integrity, and still only be expressing the untruth of society, or false consciousness. Jameson mentions Adorno’s critique (extensive) of Wagner’s music. That Wagner’s chromatic colorations are both exquisite integral expressions of something Utopian, AND expressions of the disintegration of the classical musical vocabulary itself.

“Yet the very splendor of that technical breakdown, whose tendentially atomistic logic releases all kinds of new ‘productive forces’, is itself a figure of the relationship between his ‘moment of truth’ and the regressive position of the subject in a bourgeois society that has already begun to anticipate its own limits.”
Jameson

But whatever one concludes from the individual assessments of particular artists, the point for this posting is that a seriousness attaches to work that strives for an expression of suffering, that gives voice somehow to those usually rendered mute. Now, the uncanny and deep memory are critical in all this. As are the ideas of the universal and particular. For this is where culture is both cause and effect, and demand art be evaluated, and experienced, in light of both the social totality and the individual.

There is something particularly depressing in today’s populism. One senses, intuits, the dishonesty in glossing over all manner of analysis to rather focus almost exclusively on the commercial success and on the enjoyment principle of any particular work, and on trivializing of the entire idea of culture itself. And that latter point is the real heart of the matter. Generalized and emotionally cheap reviews of this or that work allow for, and give permission for a wilful blindness. It is when no dialectical analysis takes place at all; where everything is just another item on the cultural supermarket shelf.

Jean Christian Bourcart, photography.

Jean Christian Bourcart, photography.


The scripts for 99% of Hollywood film and TV are written in ways that sustain the ideological backdrop of the system. There is no depth, and there is no history. There are only advertisements for the status quo. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the third or fourth (who’s counting) in this franchise, has effectively removed even the tiny bit of social criticism that existed in the original. It is also stunningly humorless (more on that in a second) and entirely mediated by CGI. That this digital soup is no longer read as such is perhaps the most depressing aspect of the entire experience. The ‘Apes’ speak a sort of inconsistent pigeon english, much like *natives* spoke in Ramar of the Jungle fifty years ago. The apes represent the masses; ignorant, easily led and manipulated…unlike the white heroes, the humans, those who *should* be leading. That the ‘bad’ ape is named Koba only reinforces a residue of old time anti communism.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014. Matt Reeves, dr.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014. Matt Reeves, dr.

As inconsequential as earlier versions of this franchise might have been, they managed to keep track of the ironic reversal of man/ape that was the mainspring for the original 1974 film with Charlton Heston. There was a certain wit to that film, and at least there was Roddy MacDowell. Here there is no such wit, if for no other reason than the apes are not apes, but something else, and guns have replaced cunning and animal instinct as a subversive marker. This is just hack junk, and while I saw it in 2D, not 3D, I can only imagine how much more oppressive it would have been. There is no space in such films, and like Avatar and Spiderman, it is a world drained of nature. This is nature as one experiences it on an iPad.

Real nature, is being destroyed. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/03/bernie-krause-natural-world-recordings

Miroslaw Balka, "How It Is" installation at Tate, London 2009

Miroslaw Balka, “How It Is” installation at Tate, London 2009


I suspect that Miroslaw Balka’s installation at the Tate Turbine Hall, a couple years back, was intuitively about the lost uncanny. That Balka is Polish Catholic makes sense. For guilt and atonement seem to somehow intrude on the mysteries of repression. The Balka piece is very effective. The Polish Catholic religion is punishing, it is dark, and while Spanish and Italian Catholicism is equally tortured, the northern Catholics tortured soul is one without color. At the top is a photo of Katie Paterson’s ‘Moonlight’ piece. Working with technicians and science geeks she commissioned a bulb that gave off the same light as moonlight. While close to a junior high school field trip to the science fair, where you see this at one of the booths, it is also curiously unsettling and sort of comforting, as well. And in that sense, it possesses it’s own sense of uncanny. I wanted to end with a comment about a film from Australia. Mystery Road. It is bone simple genre narrative (subtracted genre) about a returning indigenous cop, “abbo copper”, to the outback nowhere town in which he was raised. A teenage aboriginal girl is found beneath an overpass on the highway. The troubled cop goes looking for the killer. Race prevents anyone helping him. He overcomes problems. Its aboriginal noir, or High Noon in the outback. Somehow, however, it’s surprisingly poignant. In the same way The Hunter (2011, David Netheim dr.) managed something similar. The shadow of ethnic cleansing, of colonialism, of white settlers and violence hangs over the entire landscape. Aaron Pedersen is rather stunningly good as the indigenous policeman, too.
Mystery Road, (2013), Ivan Sen, dr.

Mystery Road, (2013), Ivan Sen, dr.


If one watches enough network and studio material, it is hard not see the bankruptcy of real imagination, and not see the truly insane infantilism at work. First of all, a quick survey of exactly what is on TV is pretty telling. So called “Reality shows” dominate scheduling. A quick check of saturday nights revealed (my quick head count) twenty six reality shows. For Monday, I saw sixteen. That is a saturation level. That means the vast majority of air time is devoted to the most inane content free exercises in humiliation and cruelty. Of course these are also very cheap to make. So marketing will push them in all ways possible. But moving along to quality programming. One is given either the very crudest police state narratives, or military narratives, or comedies. That makes up roundly 80% of prime time. The prestige products though, in the end, are most telling. I wont burden you or myself with any detailed coverage here, but only to say the failure of narrative is connected to all the points above. Take HBO’s latest, The Leftovers, based on the Tom Perrota novel. Now Perotta is a Yale grad, erstwhile disciple of Tobias Wolfe, and later a prof at Harvard. The white elite. This is the MFA mafia from Ivy league programs. The show, roughly based on the book, is about the rapture…essentially. Its a very white rapture as God and HBO would have it. One of the creators is arch hack Peter Berg, a director with great ties to military Pentagon approved Imperialist war propaganda. There is no real story, beyond one day a lot of people disappear. There is a pseudo classical sound track, and a credit crawl replete with fake frescos. The entire first season, and yes I suffered through it, is about exactly fuck all nothing. There are plenty of homilies about family, and sentimental teary eyed remembrances of the departed, but in the end, this is perhaps the ultimate example of non narrative. There are odd behaviors, of course. A cult, dressed in white, whose program remains obscure. My guess is that somewhere in this was meant to be an examination of guilt and faith. *Faith* being a word I really really hate…but anyway; the problem is that not much feels at stake. The town cop has a dad in the loony bin. Ok. And…? So maybe down the road all this grand bathos is stitched together. The problem, the core problem is that none of it possesses an urgency, none of it is mysterious in the right way. The mystery of banality is not compelling. Why one’s fuel pump blew today, and not tomorrow, is not interesting. It blew..because of planned obsolescence. But that’s not a narrative. Investing the fuel pump failing today with some mystical significance is what you get in The Leftovers. There is no history evident, this is the post modern facsimile movie town. The landscape is generic, and even the few oddities are carefully cleansed of anything that might offend. There is a horrible creepy ur-whiteness to the whole thing. The narrative? It is nothing, but nothing decorated with self conscious seriousness and a not to subtle idealizing of white family life. Honestly, Walt Disney would love it. Jerry Fallwell would love it.
Michael Tsegaye, photography. 'Ethiopia'.

Michael Tsegaye, photography. ‘Ethiopia’.


“Style is the imprint of what we are on what we do.”
Rene Daumal

In the early 1800s, Calasso described the bourgeoisie as being sick with history. Some connection to the past, in the courts and among the intelligentsia had been lost. The literature of the French noble class was trivial, the language itself had lost it’s depth, no great works of art were being written. Today, there is this massive edifice of pop culture, and the society is sick with with a kind of intellectual starvation. That anyone can watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes without feelings of revulsion is proof of some final stage of bourgeois sickness. I suspect it is deeper now, and the white supremacist feelings expressed in police action, in criminal courts and across the communities of poverty were at least once masked, mediated by some phantom adherence to vague moral beliefs. No such mask exists today. This is (to borrow from Adorno) a dis-enchanted land.Pockets of resistance exist. Collectives, and independent farms, and yet the environmental crisis cannot be halted. There are worker’s organizations, and left parties, but U.S. militarism, the Imperialist march to murder even more, has no rational basis any longer, even for them, also will not stop. The photo of Hillary hugging Kissinger may become an iconic image. The corruption of the flesh matches the corruption of the soul. But those pockets of resistance must start to build a culture, for they often lack, more than any other thing, imagination and aesthetic awareness. Those who are repulsed by the glut of Hollywood junk, often simply reject all culture along with the kitsch culture. It is rejected in toto. There is, even in such groups, the residue of science as the primary solution. Even in places rejecting technology, instrumental thinking prevails. There is, as Marx said, a progressive and a regressive side to everything. Some of the logic of resistance demands Enlightenment values as a corrective to new age sophistry. In other cases, there is a marked cultural deficit. It is the least recognized area of authoritarian colonizing.

When to Scream

Rogier Van der Weyden, 1446. detail, The Last Judgement. Oil on wood.

Rogier Van der Weyden, 1446. detail, The Last Judgement. Oil on wood.

“You have to hand it to them. The United States media machine is unequaled at producing and disseminating misinformation. It begins in the bowels of the State Department or White House or Pentagon and is filtered out through the government’s front organizations, otherwise known as Mainstream Media (MSM).
In 2014 the U.S. has succeeded in demonizing Vladimir Putin and Russia, precipitating a New Cold War that may yet become a hot one. The evil empire is back. The White House has made proficient use of mass media propaganda to get the job done. First, they’ve controlled the narrative. This is critical for two reasons: one, because it permits the White House to sweep the February coup in Kiev into the dustbin of American memory, never to be seen again. Second, it has allowed it to swiftly assert its claim that Russia is a dangerously expansionist power on the edges of a serene and peace-loving Europe. In other words, the omission of one fact and commission of another.”

Jason Hirthler

“Indeed, it is most significant for our discussion that the beginnings of cinema coincided with the giddy heights of the imperial project, with an epoch where Europe held sway over vast tracts of alien territory and hosts of subjugated peoples.”
Ella Shohat, Robert Stam, “Imperial Imaginary”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Mark Twain

“In the current state of things, the electoral successes of the extreme right stem from contemporary capitalism itself. These successes allow the media to throw together, with the same opprobrium, the “populists of the extreme right and those of the extreme left,” obscuring the fact that the former are pro-capitalist (as the term extreme right demonstrates) and thus possible allies for capital, while the latter are the only potentially dangerous opponents of capital’s system of power.
We observe, mutatis mutandis, a similar conjuncture in the United States, although its extreme right is never called fascist. The McCarthyism of yesterday, just like the Tea Party fanatics and warmongers (e.g., Hillary Clinton) of today, openly defend “liberties”—understood as exclusively belonging to the owners and managers of monopoly capital—against “the government,” suspected of acceding to the demands of the system’s victims.”

Samir Amin

I was thinking a lot this week about Samir Amin’s essay in Monthly Review. http://monthlyreview.org/2014/09/01/the-return-of-fascism-in-contemporary-capitalism/ And I wanted to think about this topic of fascism in light of media and culture today. The video of (alleged, and more on that in a minute) the beheading of journalist James Foley (and now the Sotloff follow up sequel…though it might have been a prequel, we aren’t sure), was representative of a new cinema of violence that is the currency of political discourse today. And secondly, I wanted to discuss writing, and art in light of all this.

“the virtual library of videos and other imagery the U.S. generated, images widely viewed (or heard about and discussed) with no less horror in the Muslim world than ISIS’s imagery is in ours. As a start, there were the infamous “screen saver” images straight out of the Marquis de Sade from Abu Ghraib prison. There, Americans tortured and abused Iraqi prisoners, while creating their own iconic version of crucifixion imagery. Then there were the videos that no one (other than insiders) saw, but that everyone heard about. These, the CIA took of the repeated torture and abuse of al-Qaeda suspects in its “black sites.” In 2005, they were destroyed by an official of that agency, lest they be screened in an American court someday. There was also the Apache helicopter video released by WikiLeaks in which American pilots gunned down Iraqi civilians on the streets of Baghdad (including two Reuters correspondents), while on the sound track the crew are heard wisecracking. There was the video of U.S. troops urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. There were the trophy photos of body parts brought home by U.S. soldiers. There were the snuff filmsof the victims of Washington’s drone assassination campaigns in the tribal backlands of the planet (or “bug splat,” as the drone pilots came to call the dead from those attacks) and similar footage from helicopter gunships. There was the bin Laden snuff film video from the raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan, of which President Obama reportedly watched a live feed. And that’s only to begin to account for some of the imagery produced by the U.S. since September 2001 from its various adventures in the Greater Middle East.”
Tom Engelhardt

Christophe Jacrot, photography.

Christophe Jacrot, photography.


So, given the rather obvious need that the imperialist West, the U.S. and it’s lackies, have for an enemy truly worthy of 3D technicolor splendour and A-list production values– the only kind that might whip up public opinion in favor of more war, the IS appears right on cue. The Foley video of course raises a lot of questions. First off, it looked like an out-take from Act of Killing, the pseudo documentary made last year starring former Indonesian death squad leaders. In fact both videos are oddly well shot, edited, lit. Most IS stuff is closer to those soft core porn channels you get in Hotel rooms.

Klavdav Sluban, photography. "Trans Siberia.

Klavdij Sluban, photography. “Trans Siberia.

“In historical struggles one must distinguish…the phrases and fancies of parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality.”
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

The damaging influence of pop-politics, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the faux alternative press, are useful to look at, I think, in terms of Marx’s 18th Brumaire. The invention of a discourse free from discussions of class now towers over all others, and it frees up a new branded anarchism that appeals to the hyper alienated bourgeois of today. Sample leftism. This is hipster anarchism. And its appeal isn’t hard to understand, at least for Americans and British white lads, for it is class deficient. This harkens back to basic notions of state and authority, or power. Now I’m always a tiny bit suspicious of the word ‘power’. I use it myself, but with caution. And this is because it is too vague and abstract. It sounds metaphysical. But it also goes back to ideas of the State. And this is too big a topic for this posting, but Marx is often misread in terms of his ideas on the transitional state. Lenin was very clear, however. The anarchists rejected this for…well, anarchy. Now, its true that a certain fetishizing of the industrial proletariat occurred with Marx and Engels, but the real relevance for today is that anarchism too often is simply gleanings from back pocket paperbacks of Foucault. Or not even.
rider
The point here is that class is a determining factor in Western society. In the Arab world, it is the relationship to colonialism. Now these new execution videos demand a certain glance backward, for film was born at the moment of Imperialist/colonialist power, the zenith in a sense of European colonial power in the form of the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K. The democratization of reading was growing as was the idea of leisure reading, and the Penny Dreadfuls and Dime novels were largely occupied with white superiority, and with the evils of Asian perfidy. I’ve said before that the faux journalists of VICE, their so called conflict journalists are nothing but 21st century versions of Sax Rohmer or H. Rider Haggard. Or Henry Stanley Morton, or Kipling. The cinema was always shaped (just to what extent is an interesting question) by European values, by Imperial values, and narratives on film were narratives of colonial achievement for a generation or two or three raised on adventure stories and unquestioning allegiance to Empire. So, these videos appear and become a context free bit of voyeuristic violence porn propaganda. But…

“First, Europeans were encouraged to identify not only with single European nations but also with the racial solidarity
implied by the imperial project as a whole. Thus English audiences could identify with the heroes of French Foreign Legion films, Euro-American audiences with the heroes of the British Raj, and so forth. Second, the European empires (what Queen Victoria called the “imperial family”) were themselves conceived paternalistically as providing a “shelter” for diverse races and groups, thus downplaying the national singularities of the colonized themselves. Given the geographically discontinuous nature of empire, cinema helped cement both a national and an imperial sense of belonging among many disparate peoples. For the urban elite of the colonized lands, the pleasures of cinema-going became associated with the sense of a community on themargins of its particular European empire (especially since the first movie theaters in these countries were associated with Europeans and the Europeanized local bourgeoisies). The cinema
encouraged an assimilated elite to identify with “its” empire and thus against other colonized peoples.”

Shohat and Stam

Sui Jianguo, "Mao Suits".

Sui Jianguo, “Mao Suits”.


The issue of the relationship between theatre and film is significant, here, I think. For indeed the elites of the colonies were to find a certain solidarity at the cinema, in the shared experience. And one can already sense how much better suited was film for these secondary pacifications, than theatre. Theatre has always been too immediate, the stage space too destabilizing, the sense of memory too acute. Cinema, and perhaps photography in another manner, represented technology. So that in another fashion, the cinema was about progress, and photography was about a narrower side of progress, the cataloguing of new specimens for analysis and dissection. In narrative the colonial project was always heroic, as was Manifest Destiny in the New World. So today, we share in the new narratives of domination, of savages at the gates to civilization, the hordes sweeping down from…well, some distant place, the steppes, the deserts, the pirate seas, the swamps and jungles. Its all the same. Gunga Din becomes Fort Apache becomes Zero Dark Thirty. Or shows such as Tyrant and Homeland replicate the colonial narrative anew. While also validating the U.S. military project. The IS videos of Foley and Sotloff feel very western stylistically. The body language of the executioner is Western. Perhaps that is the result of the target demographic. Or…the auteur wasn’t Islamic at all. We cannot know. What is clear, however, is that these visual cinematic statements are not hugely different from Lives of the Bengal Lancer or Zulu, in the sense of how they are read. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the subjective in relation to technology, and in turn to militarism and conquest. The p.o.v. is often today that of the security guard screening surveillance feed, or of drone pilots and their joy sticks, and of fighter pilots. The pilot replaced the cowboy in a sense, and to extend this, the drone pilot has replaced Top Gun. This is where I think the front edges of the bourgeois class starts to cannibalize itself. At least allegorically. The pilot and cowboy looked down. The drone pilot doesn’t. There has been a curious erosion of the heroic even in mainstream entertainment. This is possibly the result of the blurring between advertising and entertainment. Advertising has repeatedly worked at selling an idea of ‘ordinary’ as extraordinary. Marketing campaigns that promote insurance salesmen as heroes, in fact almost anyone as a ‘hero’ has started to wear down an already pretty well worn cliche even further. This intersects with technology, with the growing disconnect that many in the public experience in daily life. Narratives in film and TV, but in prestige fiction, too, now must find avenues that attract readers and viewers — and in terms of fiction this means an increasing reliance on irony. That insurance salesman becomes an “inside” joke. Protagonists serve as only props to sell the joke.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer, (1935) Henry Hathaway dr.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer, (1935) Henry Hathaway dr.


There is another aspect coinciding with the release of these videos. The quisling press, not just the Washington Post or New York Times, or Los Angeles Times, but again, things like VICE, and The Daily Beast, Salon, and journalists such as Natasha Lennard and Molly Crabapple (if she is even a journalist) and Laurie Penny, and blog sphere types like Sam Kriss; all of them wax indignant at any question of authenticity. It is interesting that the posture of “no nonsense” has traveled from its origins in ‘dont try to fool me’, the hard bitten country worker, honest, stern, sober…and no nonsense (even Puritan or Quaker) to today’s version which is ‘accept authority, DONT question, just accept official stories. These are the people who cry, in the name of ‘no nonsense'; ‘oh another conspiracy theory’…because today to question authority is equated with the feminine, with weakness of mind, lack of experience, and of being some sort of fucking hippie. A dupe.

Jacqueline Humphries

Jacqueline Humphries

This is really an interesting cultural journey, because I think I am right when I suggest this particular sub phylum of quisling can be traced back directly to Viet Nam and the student movement, and anti war protests. The anti establishment types that included hippies, were labeled as commies, lumped in with Black Panthers and civil rights protesters, and called names equating the long hair with weakness, femininity, and lack of clear headedness. Molly Crabapple is no different, really, than George Will, for they both hold up authority as a form of innate perfection. They distrust and fear the ‘native population’ of anywhere. They favor, whether saying so out loud or not, assimilation of all kinds to the white ideal. These are the bourgeois clerks and doormen of Empire. And they enforce the reading that to question authority is to be weak of mind. Calling someone a conspiracy theorist is the new scarlet letter. New age hippie pussy wimp malcontent. Weirdo. Lacking in “common sense”, and this is the real doubled down trope here: to question authority is weakness, to accept it is common sense and common sense is masculine and tough minded and logical. Reasoned. These people always fancy themselves as very reasonable. So along comes two obviously “odd” videos. And we are asked to accept at face value what is clearly very unclear. Perhaps the journalists are dead. I have no idea. But at best what these videos show is a re-enactment of a beheading. And in the end, I can’t even say that. I have no idea, none. I can only look at things such as timing, the audience, the sense of spectator politics today, and the need for Imperial western governments to continue fomenting war, and the historical role of film.

This is the Society of the Spectacle in 3D.

“One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is itself divided. The spectacle which inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle while simultaneously absorbing the spectacular order, giving it positive cohesiveness. Objective reality is present on both sides. Every notion fixed this way has no other basis than its passage into the opposite: reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and the support of the existing society.”
Guy Debord

Walt Disney in his offices, Main Street, Disneyland, 1950s.

Walt Disney in his offices, Main Street, Disneyland, 1950s.


Whatever might be true, Debord reminds us, is only a part of the false. For the Spectacle allows no time to reflect on itself. And the grammar to contemplate is itself part of the illusion, and part of the endless divisions and separations of political world cinema. World TV. Human relations are reified, and even when not, their appearance is.

But I want to add a brief comment here on a Guardian editorial by Slavoj Zizek. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/01/rotherham-child-sex-abuse-difficult-questions
Now if one could find a more reactionary editorial, I would be surprised. Just take, as an example, the mention of Ciudad Juarez. And compare Zizek’s take with the late Charlie Bowden’s here:
http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/9/1/charles_bowden_2010_intv_murder_city
What Bowden understood clearly was the role of NAFTA, and the U.S. war on drugs, the DEA and FBI and Homeland Security, and more, a long history of neo colonial domination of Mexico and the systematic exploitation of the entire population. How can one even mention Juarez and not mention NAFTA? But Zizek’s really alarming Islamophobia, his off handed (yet convoluted) attack on anti-racism, and in general a stance that defines ‘respect for others’ as ‘mere respect for others’. Zizek’s rhetorical tactics should be obvious by now, but I fear they are not. Zizek intends to be confusing and contradictory, that’s his brand after all. But when one adds up his points, the realization is that Zizek is counter revolutionary. And what does this suggest of the liberal Guardian?

To understand Imperial narrative, Id like to provide another example:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/03/nato-plans-new-military-outposts-to-stop-putin-just-don-t-call-them-bases.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=cheatsheet_morning&cid=newsletter%3Bemail%3Bcheatsheet_morning&utm_term=Cheat%20Sheet

There is so much wrong just in the opening paragraph that one gets dizzy trying to comprehend it all. The claim of Russia invading is pure fiction, just outright lying. Writing as if NATO were independent from the United States. But it is more, the tone and backdrop, the assumed real from which this sort of propaganda springs that is worth examining. It is relevant, too, in a sense for discussions of culture, and of art. Journalistic prose operates differently, of course, than fiction. But today, there is precious little difference. Eli Lake in the above op ed is writing fiction. And in a sense, this is what I wanted to get at here. I mentioned last posting the idea that narrative must reach backward. This is not quite the same thing as remembering history. It includes historical consciousness, of course, but it is also both a question of form, and of searching for something lost. Without looking back a narrative moves forward without having to locate anything, without having to claim anything as legitimate. Even in painting, and I wrote about this with the Abstract Expressionists, the gravitas felt in Rothko or Newman has nothing to do with innovation or originality, it has to do with recuperating something lost. But I need to be more clear, if I can, about what is meant by form here and about the nature of loss. Lacan suggested something of what is lost in post structuralist thinking, and in all instrumental logic, in his idea that what actually defines the subject is the gap between signifier and subject. That is the negation Adorno insisted on, and it is the allegorical space of Benjamin. It is also where mimesis operates. It is not the signifier that matters, finally. The misreadings of Lacan are huge (and led by Zizek in fact) and they do so exactly at this juncture.

Mayumi Terada, photography.

Mayumi Terada, photography.

We cannot ever be one with this ‘other’, the identity fails, is incomplete, and language (for Lacan the unconscious was structured like a language) is partly connected to this. The result is a topic of much debate and theory. For the purpose of this post, the significance is in a kind of surplus meaning, or surplus unconscious, that cannot be accounted for, in the same way we cannot be what we say, or what we write (primal mimesis). Identification is failed. Writing that pretends to success is the stuff of kitsch, and (my political point, here) it is the stuff of Empire and domination. Description becomes command. For this inability to account for the failure to merge results in a drive to compensate. Whether this is the result of a primary Oedipul desire is almost beside the point. For Lacan this gap, this surplus meaning, was the “real”. I’m not at all sure about this, but Im not sure Lacan was sure. Either way, the problems with most post structuralist thought is to not see this as a mimetic question, one that entails the desire or need to reach backward.

One could not, I don’t imagine, accuse say a Kafka of writing narrative that functions as command, or a Dostoyevksi, or Herman Broch. Or Sebald or Thomas Bernhard. For the contours of form in the work of these writers, however varied their topics, is not just raising questions, or expressing uncertainty, but is also asking something about the forgotten collective history of humanity; those archaic traces both Freud and Adorno refer to and credit in the formation of all allegory. The kitsch narrative of your average MFA writer, however, tends toward — via form — something less expansive, narrower and in usually saturated with the ironic. Or that peculiar post modern ironic. Even the flat fetishized ‘concrete’, free of ideas, ends up ironic. For the neo-provincial mind, white mind anyway, of today is always ironic. A generation has matured unable NOT to express itself ironically.

Christian Hellmich

Christian Hellmich


These works of fiction, those on the NY Times best-seller list, are work that is not only, usually, about the bourgeois view of the world, they are in their form expressions of what Debord referred to above; they function as this false ‘real’, they play their part in continuing the illusion.

There is much more to say about writing, the Lacanian ‘outside’, about the narratives of the state. Bill Blunden recently wrote:

“In 2006 journalist John Pilger spoke with Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a CIA officer who supervised agency operations in Latin America back in the 1980s. Pilger queried Clarridge as to what gave the CIA the right to overthrow foreign governments, Clarridge responded[lxxvi]: “Like it or lump it, we’ll do what we like. So just get used to it, world.” There you have it. When they want something they take it. Native Americans can attest to the veracity of this statement. This, dear readers, is the mindset of the ruling class, the true face of empire.”

Binu Bhaskar, photography. "New Delhi".

Binu Bhaskar, photography. “New Delhi”.


But I wanted to finally return to the narratives being applied to the new resurgent fascism. The IS narrative is designed to feed a larger strain of western narrative that suggests only the United States, and its minions, can solve such scary problems. The beheadings are the cinematic teaching aid, the better to zero in on the malignancy of all Arab culture and society. The lip service of the war mongering paternalistic left (Crabapple, Penny, et al) is about tolerance, but it really only promotes the deep superating wound of racism, and the rising new Colonialism.

Phil Greaves wrote, on the topic of Western narratives on Israel;

“Only a crude revisionist or devout partisan of the highest order is able to analyse the historical and present policies of Israel and its imperial backers and come to any other conclusion that the full expulsion and expropriation of the Palestinian people and their land is the desired end-goal.”

But this is obvious if only because Zionist leaders have openly said the same thing for decades. There are so many examples. The breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Haiti and Aristide, and of course the continuing NATO expansion and the various ‘color revolutions’ in the former Soviet republics. But none of this makes it into the Spectacle. Because the narratives of the Spectacle no longer have to be seen as factually correct. The narrative, the manufactured reality is the more real. The consumption of these narratives is what matters. They provide comfort, distraction, and the opportunity to shop for self definition. These are the new(ish) social rituals of culture. Art is being erased, in terms we once thought of it. The worship of success has meant that the creation of any cultural product or artifact is geared for immediate popularity. If something is too difficult, or perceived as somehow *unsuccessful*, it is the kryptonite for the culture shopper. The hipster class desires nothing so much as agreement with the status quo, even if it’s best to disguise that fact in the trappings of independent taste.

There is a lot of great work out there, but the audience for serious work has shrunk. Taste is conditioned by the most regressive psychically stultifying tendencies of mass media, by Murdoch owned propaganda machines and believe me, FOX does want the public to take culture seriously.

Fabian Marcaccio

Fabian Marcaccio


There is a recognition, though, too, by the ruling class, that social unrest is growing. The constant repetition of zombie films and TV shows, of alien viruses and even, in the opening episode of the very odd Amazon produced TV series, Hysteria, a sort of auto-generated , ah, hysteria starts to strike the population, suggests an intuitive understanding of this. These shows and films are both expressions of fear from the class making them, but they find a welcoming audience too that senses there is something truthful about the center no longer holding. The cause of these crises is always from ‘out there’, it’s never caused by class tensions, by exploitation, or inequality. NEVER. It is always a bromide about scientific corruption (a bad apple) or corporate hubris, greed or some other banality. The new quasi-vampire TV series (from a comix, of course) is The Strain. There is one telling image, however; once a victim, infected, starts to turn, he or she loses their genitalia. In one episode the fledgling vampire’s penis falls into the toilet. It’s possible that white America has never quite so fully expressed its masculinity panic this well. But the fact is that life for tens of millions on the planet is much like life as a zombie. In the U.S. today, something like 80% of the population teeters on the edge of poverty. The working class no longer can imagine owning a home in most big cities. Unions are a thing of the past. The working conditions of Ciudad Juarez are increasingly those of most U.S. cities. That rich americans resemble drug cartel leaders is not surprising, and the appeal of vampire films is, I suspect now, that the bourgeoisie desire the chance to be blood suckers, too. Cartel bosses send their children to elite schools, same as American political elite, media elite, Saudi princes and Israeli gangsters. Money is respected. Nothing else. I saw recently a home for sale in Venice CA. It is a home originally bought as a Sears, Roebuck & Co.’kit’ house. A mail order pre fab bungalow. Today it is going for 2.5 million. And by today’s standards it’s a beautifully built house. Hardwood floors, spacious, lots of light. It originally sold for a couple thousand dollars. In the 1940s, or 30s, this was what one might expect. A livable affordable home. A unionized worker could probably afford it. But that time is long past.
http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/09/1923_sears_roebuck_kit_house_in_venice_asking_25_million.php

A final thought. William Burroughs wrote a small book, really a compilation of bits and pieces, called Roosevelt After Inauguration. The final chapter is “Sects and Death”. He starts it by writing “I postulate that the function of art and all creative thought is to make us aware of what we know but don’t know we know”. I think most artists I know, the serious ones, agree with this. Burroughs then says the role of the church is to keep us in ignorance of what we know. But a paragraph later Burroughs writes what he considers a central need for all cults…
“Make enemies. If there is one thing a cult leader needs, it is enemies — real or imagined– from which to deliver his flock.” Create emergencies. Create commando squads to go deal with the emergency. The capitalist Imperialist United States is today a cult. It is the James Jones of nation states.And media is the Jones sermons blast over loud speakers throughout Jonestown. And the kool aid, the now famous kool aid, is, I guess, anti depressants, those 250 million people now addicted to anti-depressants, and the thirty million pain killer script written by doctors.
The Strain, FX, 2014. Created by  Chuck Hogan, Guillermo del Toro.

The Strain, FX, 2014. Created by Chuck Hogan, Guillermo del Toro.

The walls are closing in. And the inmates are starting to wonder if its scream time yet (sic). What did Russell say, if you sat in a bath and they raised the water temperature a degree an hour, you would never know when to scream.

The Dreamer who Dreams He is Waking Up

Agostino Bonalumi

Agostino Bonalumi

“We live in an age in which violence and the logic of disposability mutually reinforce each other. For example, unarmed and with his hands raised, Michael Brown was not only shot by a white policeman, but his body was also left in the street for four hours, a reminder of the same treatment given to the low income inhabitants of Katrina whose bodies, rendered worthless and underserving of compassion, were also left in the streets after the hurricane swept through New Orleans. The disposable are the new living dead, invisible, and relegated to zones of terminal exclusion and impoverishment. The disposable are the unknowable, invisible, and powerless marginalized by class and race and forced into ghettoes that serve as dumping grounds for the poor, inhabited by armies of police dressed like soldiers inhabiting a war zone or what Joao Biehl calls “zones of social abandonment.”
Henry Giroux

“The sociology of culture is inseparable also from criticism (aesthetics) because the social origin, content and function of a work of art can only be fully understood by examining the internal formation of a work, that is, the way its meaning is structured. Thus sociological examination of the text and content of a work of art cannot limit itself to questions of fact and absolve itself from questions of evaluation.”
Gillian Rose
The Melancholy Science, An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor Adorno.

“…Four essential features of schizophrenic personality. First is a preponderance of destructive impulses so great that even the impulses to love are suffused by them and turned to sadism. Second is a hatred of reality which, as Freud pointed out, is extended to all aspects of the psyche that make for awareness of it. I add hatred of internal reality and all that makes for awareness of it. Third, derived from these two, is an unremitting dread of imminent annihilation.”
W.R. Bion

I was thinking of a remark made on social media about the U.S. penchant for looking to brand themselves in particularly fantastical ways. And that this somehow rather seamlessly fits into the white paternalism one sees in Western media when they address the poor, whether in Ferguson, or Gaza, or Iraq, or Appalachia. The poor are the white man’s burden (even when white), unless of course, they are just so flawed they must be exterminated. But this idea of self branding is linked to the western notion of identity. And that is linked to this perspective the affluent class has on the poor. The culture industry promotes ideas of rugged individualism, especially in the U.S. So, suburban families buy SUVs with off road tires and high intensity fog lamps, and special industrial kitchen stoves, or extreme diving watches. All of these consumer fetishes. That SUV is likely never going to go off road. People of course tell themselves it’s for safety. And fair enough I suppose. But that’s not the point. The point is the almost surreal level of identification people express with their commodities. Its the process of reification, achieved now over decades and decades.

This raises issues of style and aesthetics. For embedded in this debate is the feeling that the poor don’t deserve the luxury of aesthetic choices. Oh those black teenagers spending two hundred dollars for new Nike trainers. The fault is with Nike, not with those poor teenagers. If you are poor, and I can testify to this, as you grow up, developing aesthetics, developing taste, and a sense of personal style is also a liberating avenue for countering the oppression you experience daily. And no, its not illusory. Nobody complains if Bill Gates buys a thirty thousand dollar Audimars Piguet watch. But if a young basketball player buys that watch, he is seen as immature and irresponsible. The underlcass has always been the font of creativity.

Plague dolls, circa 1895. Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science.

Plague dolls, circa 1895. Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science.


All that said, the idea of personal branding is pronounced. And it exists not just in commodity purchases, but in behavior and the construction of values and morality. The compulsive consumerism in the lives of the poor is a reality, and increasingly it is shaped by marketing campaigns directed at people that logically can’t afford the product. But that is because part of the marketing is seeking validation from the poor. ‘Street cred’ and all manner of appropriation of underclass style occupies ever larger chunks of brand research.

The focus on rugged individualism, self made men (sic) at the same time erodes narratives of solidarity and cooperation. Hollywood has never developed narratives of cooperation unless during war, and even then its a secondary theme. But this begs other questions about narrative, and the legacies of 18th and 19th century novels. For this was the formation of the bourgeois identity. I often think too much is made of this because there are other factors at work and because its a highly complex question, but certainly the trope of individuality was foregrounded by the mid 18th century.

Jeffrey Smart

Jeffrey Smart


The idea of the narrator’s voice, links to reification and to how that voice is shaped by branding and consumerism, and then thirdly, is linked to theory, to thought. To philosophy. All these words are now so abused that it is actually difficult, increasingly, to use any of them. The absolutely pernicious influence of academic practice in theory and criticism and philosophy is systemic, and far reaching.

I will return to that in a moment, but the other issue I wanted to touch on here, for it is related as well, is the disappearance of storytelling. Having watched this week almost a dozen “indie” films from the last two years, one thing leaps out as a common denominator…and that is an absence of writing. Some of these films had ideas, in a generalized sort of way, some were visually intelligent, but in none of them, including the single one I thought had value, was there any actual writing. Nobody spoke much, and when they did, they said very little. And it wasn’t the manner of saying little, of expressing ideas through inarticulate characters, it was simply, I think, the inability to write. And this inability, as often happens, becomes a sort of faux virtue under cover of ‘style’. When playwrights such as Franz Xavier Kroetz write characters who say little, who are profoundly inarticulate, he is ‘saying’ a good deal through a very sophisticated theatrical vision. When independent (sic) directors remove dialogue, there is a pretense to the Chiat Day style code, to that arch loss of affect that serves as both comedy and mock tragedy, and making empty seem like existential profundity. There is empty and there is empty, and these were “empty”. Allow me a brief digression here; this blunted affect or diminished affect is usually associated with either schizophrenia, Aspergers, or anti social personality disorder. All are linked to issues of empathy. I just find it intriguing that a symptom for the loss of ability to both read and express empathy has now been absorbed into performance and narrative to such a degree. An interesting side bar to this is a paper edited by Iqbal Ahmed, M.D. of the A.P.A., who said that Mexican American, and middle eastern minorities in the U.S. diagnosed with schizophrenia showed far less blunt affect or flat affect than white Americans. In cultural expressions the result of the ‘new empty’ is that the actual narrative, the storyline in almost all of these films, suffers, becomes generalized, homogenized. The best, Kelly Richardt’s Night Moves (not to be confused with the great Arthur Penn film) at least captures a sense of the suffocating isolation of a generation on the margins who cannot find words to express their anger.

Night Moves, 2014. Kelly Reichardt dr.

Night Moves, 2014. Kelly Reichardt dr.


This is not exactly elliptical, but rather a kind of paratactic storytelling, for in the Reichardt film, the order of events is clear enough, but in each location, there is no explanation, only a kind of isolated moment that serves as one of the constellations around which this one event, the one event of impact, occurs. And in that sense it is very effective film-making. Still, by the end, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance becomes a bit closer to “empty”, than enigmatic. It is a film, nonetheless, that is haunting in many ways, and like many films shot in the Pacific Northwest, it takes advantages of the wet greens, browns, and lack of sun. This is a world of damp rot, emotional and physical. It ranks as among the best films of the year, probably.

I think the crucial thing in all this, and that links it all together, is to try to start seeing and reading cultural works in how they relate to, are created by, and how they reveal the society around us, that we live in.

Giuseppe Penone

Giuseppe Penone

There is a general failure today in most cultural writing to recognize the way authority and domination is expressed in the form of artworks.

“The unsolved antagonisms of reality reoccur in the work of art as the immanent problem of its form.”
Adorno

A crass example might be Avatar, which even if one put aside the neo-colonial content, expresses a certain authoritarian aspect by virtue of the grandiosity and excess of its technique, its ambition, and its cost, not to mention its hegemonic distribution. The validation of global power is built into every aspect including the gimmick of 3D. The gratuitous exaggeration of production cost, and the bloated self importance of the mise en scene is self validating. Now there has arisen, I think, a new set of rituals that define the social use of art. And it is not hard to see the class antagonisms of much cultural product today. What is significant, I think, when discussing art (per Benjamin) in the age of technological reproduction (which in many ways today means film and TV) is not just in the inherent realism of film, but the way in which narrative is rarely mentioned. Adorno’s debates with Benjamin continue to define much of the discussion of culture today, and I think it is worth looking at this in terms of reification. For Adorno saw the commodity character of artworks not from the position of the relations of production, but from the position of the ‘forces of production'; which meant that the entirety of human sociality was defined by the totality of an abstract labor time, then not just the artwork has been turned into a commodity, but people as well. The dominant mode of production affects all commodities, not just artworks. In some sense, inequality and privilege are built into all art today. The rituals, or social uses in a sense, are connected to the ways in which artworks serve as accessorizing for those shopping for product. The viewer and film both validate each other. Popularity earns more popularity, and dissemination and circulation of image is part of this new attention economy. The difficulty is that as narrative erodes the image loses meaning.

Tomasso Masaccio, Chapel Brancassi, 1420s.

Tomasso Masaccio, Chapel Brancassi, 1420s.


The vast majority of indi film coming out of the U.S. is utterly emptied of meaning. The films serve to confirm certain visual cues that are read as meaningful in the most rudimentary ways, as generalized and self evident beliefs. They have only basic relational meaning, if that. The vagueness is celebrated as hipster existentialism. They operate almost entirely free from historical meaning. The relational meaning functions as universalizing. It substantiates the subject position of the filmmaker. Usually white, affluent, and capitalist. The flip side of this same coin is the infantilizing of what little narrative there is. This is the JR Tolkin aspect, the Hobbitization of storytelling. The real message of Tolkin films, and Harry Potter is both nostalgia for Empire, but also to manage all the little children in the world (the masses).

The question of reification and of subjectivity as they pertain to narrative is important here. Adorno’s essay on Kafka is a good example of his belief that “subjectivity is the correlate of reification”. Kafka’s subjectivity serves to, per Adorno, reify itself. The subject becomes an object. But this can only happen through mechanisms of style. This is the art of writing. Kafka constantly subverts the expectations of progression. Progress is turned in on itself. The trend toward imbuing blankness with existential meaning is probably one of the unfavourable legacies of Beckett’s influence. But it is in just such comparisons that aesthetic resistance must reside. For Adorno, as real events seem ever less meaningful the artists intention then becomes more illusory and of less importance. It is only through an elevated style that narrative can sustain meaning. In Kafka, the fantastical magical thinking and narcissism of the petit bourgeois is revealed, and the novels serve as interrogations of a manufactured ‘reality’. Which leads one back, again, to film today.

Ron Gorchov

Ron Gorchov

The reified society dictates the ways in which narrative work or create illusion. That illusion is inescapable seems a given, but one often forgotten, in a sense. Another way of saying illusion is to engage with the very complex question of mimesis. If science seeks to reduce and control nature, or the world, and magic and religion to merge with nature, or to at least fuse subjectivity with nature, then art imitates itself and thereby (per Zuidevaart) seeks the appearance or experience of the whole in the particular. The image or story has absorbed elements of reality, of experience, in an effort to re-experience them and reflect upon them. The whole is untrue, and in a society of nearly total reification, this means the artwork must overcome the increasing fungibility of words and image, which are, as Samir Gandesha puts it: “the result of a historical process involving the progressive penetration of exchange value into ever remoter spheres of society via *rationalization*”.
Hamish Fulton, photography.

Hamish Fulton, photography.

The reliance on repetition in the culture industry is part of what needs to be broken down. For repetition today is now a kind of new mythos. This is the kitsch journalism of VICE, the marketing of lifestyles, and the endless fawning at the feet of authority. It is the same repeated as if new. And if one is only looking at new indi film from the U.S., one sees the additional fact of shrinking experience, that what is being repeated isn’t even actual, the solipsistic third generation dupe of experience is now part of the system of psychological colonizing. When Dialectic of Enlightenment was written in 1944, Adorno and Horkheimer saw the journey of spirit, of Enlightenment as a “ruse of reason”, or what Gandesha calls a “sacrificial logic”.. The conquest of nature was only, really, the conquest of subjectivity. The role of sacrifice has evolved, but it provides no re-stitching of the fabric of the social for the social is dimmed beneath the weight of its own flotsam and jetsam. The clutter of consumer culture. The profound ugliness of daily life, even for the ruling class, is part of a miasma that covers the entire globe. Clearly, the narratives of privilege that circulate daily via government propaganda and Hollywood entertainment, as well as the new entertainment-journalism, feel ever more desperate. In Vedic mythology, even the Gods felt desperate, and today it is Jim Cameron who imagines himself a transcendental god. There is no better 19th century example of a narrative that stops time, and crystalizes the subject, than Moby Dick. For in Melville the journey of spirit, that which provided the alibi for domination, stood exposed. The Pequad crosses the equator, and crosses back again, but Nature itself is indifferent, and infinite. As Charles Olson said of Melville; “History was ritual and repetition when Melville’s imagination was at its own proper beat.” History is always ritual and repetition, only the specifics of advanced Capital have served to create empty ritual, and hence only empty repetition remains. Melville is the great poet of space. The one American writer who fully accepted the weight of guilt and violence. Olson said myth had become fascism, but Melville saw the prairies, saw the genocide, saw the whaling industry as the great symbolic monster of all industry. Melville was a direct link to Shakespeare and both to the King James Bible. But the grand theatre that is Melville was an echo of Shakespeare, and of the empty desert of Job. The puniness and emotional immaturity of American culture today is one in which execution is carried out by remote joy stick, or lethal injection. The final ruse of reason in a sense. The Enlightenment ends in the disposition matrix. Or in the shattered children of Gaza, or in the deformities born in Falluja. My Lai, El Mozote, and now the applause from white America at the sight of blood soaked babies.
Herman Melville

Herman Melville

In Sufi mysticism, Junayd, 830 BC, says that God is “the isolation of eternity from organization”. For early Vedic thought, the very act of breathing was infused with sacrifice. Baudelaire said “superstition is the resevoir of all truths”, but then that truths reappear like (per Calasso) the traces of crimes. Narrative evaporates unless it reaches backward somehow. Both Adorno and Benjamin saw this in Kafka, and Adorno said both terror and isolation were not themes, but the aesthetic experience of Kafka. There is always a crime in narrative. Without it, there is a strong and maybe irresistible turn toward melodrama. Which means the disproportionate emotional response to the ordinary.

“All the films I find worthwhile end up with a scenario, just as Malraux said, Death transforms life into destiny. Every bad film begins with a scenario and ends with a copy of the scenario.”
Jean Luc Godard

Athens, Kolonaki, (financial district), 2013. Adam Lach photography.

Athens, Kolonaki, (financial district), 2013. Adam Lach photography.


In Melville’s personal copy of Cervantes, he wrote only a single note in the margins, on a page in which Don Quixote says a knight errant without a woman is like a tree without leaves. Melville wrote “A god like mind without a god.” Melville never forgets the horizon, or the bottom of the vast Pacific. The traces of crime, of transgression, rather than the reflexive cruelty of disposible lives in kitsch films and TV. So the discourse must resume with questions of education. The new culture of snark is deeply embedded not just in media, but in Academia as well. Henry Giroux recently pointed out the snide superior tone of most book reviewers, and in peer reviewed journals. This snideness appears, of course, in almost all reviewing. The bottomless stupidity of Emily Nussbaum at the New Yorker, or any of the Huff Post critics, and all the rest, are basically predicating their analysis (sic) on sarcasm and attitude. The effect of this, or one of the effects, has been to diminish genuine humour. Less and less is actually funny. Laughter is more and more hysterical, and smiles more frozen. The face of brutality looms in both Obama and Netanyahu. The obsequious cruel servant in the face of Cameron, and the sneering overseer of the plantation in Rahm Emanuel. There is no breadth of feeling in these faces. Only, like in the countenance of Donald Trump or Bill Gates, a kind of petulant narcissism. But a narcissism without much confidence, for in their eyes is the stye of panic, of fear. They are coming, the people are coming, and they want to take away what I stole from them.

The essence of sacrifice is substitution. The mimetic is both substitution and sacrifice, as well as projection. The horror of our age is that it seems as these complex social mechanisms disappear, there is corresponding violence erupting.

“No man has ever felt another man’s hand undoing the invisible bridle that is around his neck. Nobody has ever been totally freed from being used by other men.”
Roberto Calasso

Joe Andoe

Joe Andoe


Exchange value. The endless cycles of profit. Of taking more than the other guy. But once more is taken, it is immediately not enough. The joke in Poland when I lived there was, if your neighbour gets a new car, you dont pray to God for a new car yourself, you pray to god that someone steals your neighbour’s fucking car. It was Benjamin, in his book on German Tragic Drama, who referenced ‘the dreamer who dreams he is waking up’. The history of Western metaphysics was forgetting (one thing both Adorno and Heidegger agreed on), that a compulsive forgetting was the only thing that allowed the nightmare to continue. The sacrifice of a goat means you get an eternal ‘one’ goat. That was the idea. When compulsive forgetting overtakes myth and all ritual, you get only the Panopticon, the NSA, and the dead letter box. Under an electron microscope, with light microscopy, one can get images of ultrastructures, the nano structure of a biological item. Yet the world still ‘sees’ less and less. Hears less and less. And my sense is that the deepest infection of all is the one of improvement. Of development. This is the realm of constructive criticism, self help, self betterment. One cannot imagine the idea of improvement unless one first hates oneself. And/or is hated. One leads to the other. Substitution. Repetition. The lie of NGOs, and charities, of all grants and awards. The lie is that first, the unsaid truth, is that you are in need. You are in NEED of charity. Of help, you NEED help. YOU cant do it yourself. THEY cant do it themselves. THEY NEED ME, US. There is something profoundly unsettling in the cruelty of Israeli bombardment of Gaza this last two weeks. Wanton, genocidal, and in that face of terror resides the flip side of improvement. The one that has decided, I DONT NEED any help. I am BEST. I am CHOSEN. Real improvement comes out of sacrificial sharing. Improvement is the wrong word, the correct word is cooperation. That’s all. Cooperation. Of course, we are made in rivalry, in separation, and that’s where I cant quite get on board with a lot of my Marxist friends. The infant is both innocent and perfect, and already terminally fucked up. Its both.
Daniel Ludwig

Daniel Ludwig

Adorno wrote:

“Between ‘there came to me in a dream {es traumte mir} and ‘I dreamt’ lie the ages of the world. But which is more true? No more than it is spirits who send the dream, is it the ego that dreams?”

The tenor or tone of the bourgeoisie today is somewhere between Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad. This is the snotty snarky white people who long for Victorian class clarity, and also find validation in their paternalism toward minorities. Ah the pleasures of knowing your servants adore their job. The lower working class, the temp worker class, resides within a mixture of Captain America and Ice Road Truckers. There is privilege embedded in all of this. Or a desire for it. And to return to the top, and reification, there is such a strong instrumental logic at work that one ceases noticing it. Everything is a problem, and everything needs a solution. Rugged individualists solve problems. If that means crushing those beneath those big after-market all weather all terrain tires, then so be it. Lacan believed every answer by the ‘other’ was unsatisfactory. Freud suggested children are forever unsatisfied. I wanted to end with a quote from Paul Verhaeghe, who wrote a quite good book on Lacan and Freud and the Oedipus complex.
“On Freud’s classic theory it is the father who forbids the child to enjoy the mother. In Lacan’s first interpretation, it is the mother who is forbidden to enjoy her child. In his last theory he indicates how this prohibition is the product of social construction; in fact it is only a camouflaged replacement of something far more fundamental, namely the impossibility of jouissance in itself. Within infant research and attachment theory, the focus is on the regulating character of the mirroring, the idea of prohibition being implicitly present in the very idea of regulation.”

Genia Chef. 'Odysseus and Calypso'.

Genia Chef. ‘Odysseus and Calypso’.


This is the paradox of lost prohibition. Increase in anxiety. It would be interesting to revisit some of Reich in light of this, but I think there is a depth to the truth here. I remember David Foster Wallace’s short essay when he said he felt his generation were waiting for their parents to come home so they could force the kids to stop the party. These are idle day dreams of privilege, finally. Frat boys. Still, anxiety creeps through everything and everyone.

Mapping the Underclass

Carta Marina (detail) 1539, by Olaus Magnus, map of Scandinavia.

Carta Marina (detail) 1539, by Olaus Magnus, map of Scandinavia.

“Institutionally, social services developed out of the bourgeoisie’s need to stabilize the forces of capitalism and white supremacy. US industrial capitalism’s tendency to consolidate and monopolize threatened to undo the white supremacist system of African chattel bondage. The Homestead Act of 1862 was in a way a “social service” legislated in response to the displacement of white farmers and the inability of industrial capital to provide full employment to the white proletariat. This Act gave government subsidies and land allotments to White Americans and European immigrants, provided they settle West of the Mississippi river. To pave way for White settlement, the US government brutally displaced the Indigenous nations in the region.”
Danny Haiphong

“I can think of no street in America,
or of people inhabiting such a street, capable of leading one on towards the
discovery of the self. I have walked the streets in many countries of the
world but nowhere have I felt so degraded and humiliated as in America.”

Henry Miller
Tropic of Capricorn

“The Chartist working-men, on the contrary, espoused with redoubled zeal all the struggles of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Free competition has caused the workers suffering enough to be hated by them; its apostles, the bourgeoisie, are their declared enemies. The working-man has only disadvantages to await from the complete freedom of competition.”
Friedrich Engels

“This boy rows as well without learning as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.’ He then turned to the boy. ‘What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?’ ‘Sir,’ said the boy, ‘I would give what I have.’ Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr Johnson then turning to me, ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind: and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has, to get knowledge.”
Boswell’s Life of Johnson

The topic of education seems to be coming up a lot recently. And I think its probably time to approach the idea more fully. I remember while teaching at the Polish National Film School, in Lodz, I once asked at a faculty meeting ‘what are we trying to do here?’ There was a long awkward silence after that question. And that is because it is assumed we all know, all teachers somehow magically know what they are trying to do.

The history of the Chartists in England, in the first part of the 19th century, is useful to re-visit now I think. The debates over “really useful knowledge”, the wisdom of allowing the working class to even open a book, were much debated. But there were debates around the idea of free schools, that teaching neednt focus on the development of practical knowledge, that which was supported by business owners, but rather on political science, philosophy, and the arts.

Victor Neuburg wrote: “Among outright opponents of the idea of charity schools was Bernard de Mandeville, author of the Fable of the Bees, which included in its 2nd edition in 1723 an “Essay on Charity and Charity-Schools”. ……… the points he make are that (a) the poor do not need any education; (b) if they have learning, they become too proud to work; (c) education makes servants claim higher wages while at the same time they do not want to do servile work; (d) though it might
be reasonable to teach reading, the teaching of writing cannot possibly be
justified. De Mandeville’s thesis was a sociological and economic one: no nation
can be great without vast numbers of ignorant people to do the drudgery.”

In the House of Commons in 1807, a speech was given declaring education for the working class would teach them to despise their lot in life. John Stuart Mill, later in 1867, was carrying on this debate when he spoke at St Andrews University:
“Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.”

I mention these points because the debates today about public education tend toward financial concerns, tax subsidies, and less often about what might be the essential point of teaching anyone. The fear of the lower classes learning ‘too much’ has been operative since the late 1600s, and is operative today. The first system of graded education for children, from six to fourteen, was in Scotland in the early 1820s under David Stow. There was a limit placed on this and all subsequent systems, and that was, the kids were to return to work at age fourteen. The teaching was basic reading and writing, and a few practical skills. Education has always born the imprint of class. When the mainstream media today frames discussions of Ferguson Missouri, they do so (and so does the ever offensive Bill Cosby) in terms of the failure of the poor to raise themselves by their bootstraps. Why can’t they speak “proper” English? I know that when I went to school, the clear message was to NOT strive too high. The education was degraded and, more, the education in socializing was non-existent. I knew nobody expected anything of me. And I was white. My family lived on food stamps often, but we still had some advantages that many never get.

Michael Raedecker

Michael Raedecker


I’ve always been fascinated with maps. When I lived in London for a short while, I used to visit this great map store and even purchased a huge map of Antarctica, which I had on my wall there, and later on a wall in my loft in L.A. One of the things one realizes about maps is that they contain an ideological imprint. From the early 17th century onwards cartographers were bent on creating a scientific standard of geographic knowledge. One that showed a standard relational model of the natural world. But of course what this really meant was to create ‘rules’ which everyone would agree upon (everyone meaning European Imperialist powers). This meant *other* mapmakers were going to be marginalized (as were their societies) and that this new standard was going to tie the mimetic imagination to a ‘standard’. As J.B. Hartley wrote; “(this)enabled cartographers to build a wall around their citadel of the *true* map”.

What is the white map of places like Ferguson, Missouri? In what way is ‘space’ in general taught today?

“Twenty years of disinvestment and impoverishment as Ferguson became a majority Black city have taken a visible toll.
As soon as you pull off the Interstate into town, there is a strip mall that stands completely dark. Payday loan companies have set up shop on almost every corner. The notice for a free adult clinic on Saturday hangs from the sign of a business that has been closed for a while.
The ditches that line the streets to help alleviate flooding from the Mississippi River were carefully built and reinforced with concrete a long time ago, but they’re overgrown with brush thick enough to block adequate drainage–even though the town is just minutes from the riverbanks.”

Trish Kahle

Jan Luyken, "Burning of David and Levina, Ghent 1554.

Jan Luyken, 1694, Evangelist Matthew beheaded, Naddavar, Ethiopia, AD 70.

I have often wondered at how artworks, fiction and theatre and film shape our sense of mapping the world. We are very dependent now on maps to coordinate our spatial thinking. I know I have driven around central Norway where I live at the moment and thought, I’m sort of lost, I have to look at a map when I get home to understand how I ended up on the other side of the lake. Now, I’m not really “lost”, I just don’t have a clear picture of a map in my head. I often feel I cannot understand fully where I am until I have consulted a map.

Additionally, of course, there is the largely ignored legacies of earlier cities and landscapes. The role of colonialism plays into this. And colonialism is not taught. And having grown up in Los Angeles, I think I, personally, developed a very skewed sense of city space. Edward Soja for example calls Orange County (just South of LA country, north of San Diego) a simulation of what a city should be. He calls O.C. an *exopolis*, and a simulacrum. A decade earlier Mike Davis wrote the definitive history of El Lay in City of Quartz. He was also the first to analyse the new fortified city, the securitized urban space. And Davis, like me, is a native of Los Angeles. What I am interested in here, though, is the sense of inherited biases, and assumptions, and the constant thrum of Hollywood product. So in a sense we have both an intensification of authoritarian spaces, and building, an amnesia regarding colonialism and Imperialist history, as well as, really, all historical forces of building and mapping and depicting that building. Third, there is the shrinking narrative.

David Thorpe

David Thorpe

Now in a week in which resistance formed against openly racist police, and militarized police, in Ferguson Missouri, it is worth again examining how not just maps, but how narratives are constructed in the advanced (sic) West and how those narratives play a role in how people relate to and build the world around them.

“The sense of entitlement exhibited when white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot the young Mr. Brown combined the impunity of racial privilege with a pathological indifference toward the person of Mike Brown, his family and his community. Whatever the personal failings of Darren Wilson, it was in his official role on the Ferguson police department that he murdered Mr. Brown. Around the country the appearance of the police as invading armies in poor communities of color is because that is what they are. As the late Huey Newton put it nearly a half century ago, the police aren’t in poor communities to protect property because poor people have no property to protect.”
Rob Urie

Johannes Kahrs

Johannes Kahrs


The affluent class looks at Ferguson as a place with only potential property, perhaps at some future date we can develop this area. This is a homogenized and generalized landscape. The wealthy whites who view Ferguson tend to view it from afar. That distance is built into the sense of foreigness it holds for them. It would be interesting to survey Hollywood film and TV to see of all the cop shows produced in the last twenty years, or thirty, and count the number of scenes of *ghettos*, and of poor, black and latinos living in these areas, how many are filmed at night. And compare that to how many times trailer parks with poor whites are filmed at night vs day. I would guess, and this is only my impression, that ghettos are mostly filmed at night and as shadowy threatening landscapes. Trailer parks are mostly shot during the day, or least its sort of evenly split between day and night. Now, one could also ask how many times are cities themselves, in crime drama, shown at night? And odds are in crime narrative the night wins out over the day. But the inner city, the ghetto, is exclusively, almost, filmed at night. The association is with the heart of darkness, with threat, with the unknown. For most of white America has not been to black neighborhoods very often, if at all. The night is also more erotic. Illicit sexual adventure takes place at night. So, perhaps its the quality of night being depicted.

And here is might be worth remembering the Frankfurt School critique, at large, of the Enlightenment. The idea of scientific practice was one carried out without regard for the purposes it served (to paraphrase Horkheimer). Of course under the driving force of Capitalism, science became increasingly mediated and by extension so did University research, and government funded research. Horkheimer wrote: “the world of objects to be judged is in large measure produced by an activity that is itself determined by the very ideas which help the individual to recognize that world and grasp it conceptually.”

Andrew Holbrooke, photography. Limestone Correctional, Alabama, 1995.

Andrew Holbrooke, photography. Limestone Correctional, Alabama, 1995.


The cultural drive over the last thirty years has been one of acute militarism. Research is linked to the Pentagon, funding is linked to war and weaponry. So, cutting across this production of space is the eye of the conqueror. If 17th century cartographers saw through the eye of God, the digital mapmakers of today see through the literal lens of surveillance and stealth. The city today is completely surveilled, except in its frontier regions, the poor ghetto and barrio areas. The slums. So, these un-digitalized areas are generalized, abstracted, and peopled with demons and pathogens. The colonial overseer is now called “officer”, or social worker. The bureaucracies of power all see the poor as a problem, not a problem because they suffer, but a problem to those viewing them, because of the discomfort they cause. No more telling remark was ever made by the ruling class than by Barbara Bush when the topic of body bags was raised: “… why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that…”. She of course also said the Hurricane Katrina homeless and refugees, being kept in the Astrodome; “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

Again from Trish Kahl’s excellent piece at Socialist Worker:

“The city of Ferguson, just north of St. Louis, has a population that was, as of the 2010 Census, 67.4 percent Black and 29.3 percent white. Yet whites account for five of Ferguson’s six city council members, and six of seven school board members (the seventh member is a Latino). Out of 53 officers in the Ferguson police department, there are three African American.”

Robert Siodmak, directing Criss Cross, 1949.

Robert Siodmak, directing Criss Cross, 1949.

The role of the University and arts education is now reaching a point of complete stasis. Total paralysis. MFA programs turn out a certain kind of bland technically proficient writer, or business savy brand oriented fine artist. They produce mostly narratives of collaboration with the establishment. For writers, though, in particular there is the question of the entertainment industry looming above all of it. One doesn’t make money writing for theatre, or writing poetry. At best you might get a nice teaching gig at the end of some small limited success. Which brings me back to the idea of education over all. For the arts, the answer is really to start alternative spaces of learning. No grades, no credentials, and no tuition. The hegemonic role of popular culture in all discourse is clear, and many people (including myself) have written about it. A few interesting deals get made (Nic Pizzolato and his True Detective series and subsequent deal with HBO is one) and a few interesting things even get filmed, but not many. And even the ones that are of some interest (lets say Halt and Catch Fire, True Detective, The Divide, The Knick, and a few from the UK such as The Honorable Woman) are mediated by the context in which they are produced. The golden age of American film, the 1940s, was still, even then, a period in which studios dictated the terms of what was being made. But its difficult not see a difference between, say, Out of the Past or Criss Cross, and True Detective. What is that difference? This is a very complex question but it sort of leads to the heart of the culture industry question. Those noirs from the 40s, and some on into the 50s, and even later work such as Who’ll Stop the Rain or Point Blank, were not radical because of the content of the narrative, but were radical because of how they were filmed. By their form. And this isn’t a technical issue, or not completely anyway. It is something more difficult to describe, and more subtle at times. Criss Cross for example is a pretty boiler plate script, but as directed by Robert Siodmak, and with Burt Lancaster in the lead, the film’s erotic energy, its odd elliptical plot, and more, the strange rhythm of the editing, the framing, the raw beauty of Lancaster, all contribute to force an almost hallucinatory tragic final frame, a ‘pieta’ that underscores the fatalistic drive of a simple armored-car-heist-gone-wrong story. There is no great psychological exploration. Its fatalism is driven by all the things absent in the script, and in the filming. As much as I admired True Detective, and as well written as I think it was (with a few odd cringe worthy moments) and as well filmed as it was, there was not really the same sense of tragic weight. The hand of the HBO brand was always there. And I am the first one to single this show out as exceptionally well photographed, and at times singularly so. But, something was missing, something prevented one from the disquieting and disunifying experience found in the Siodmak.

Criss Cross (1949), Robert Siodmak dr.

Criss Cross (1949), Robert Siodmak dr.

Directors such as Siodmak and Tournuer, Wilder and Lang, Ulmer and Preminger, came to the U.S. from Europe, primarily Germany, and they came with educations that familiarized them with high brow conceits, with classical training in composition and more, with a deep distrust of the state and of authority. Most significantly, came a philosophy about narrative, and about the unconscious. Ulmer had been an assistant to Murnau, but probably all of these German-Jewish emigres (not all were strictly speaking Jewish, but most were) owed a debt to Murnau and UFA, the German state film studio. The camera created a subjective expression that was the voice for the narrative. Even when ‘voiceover’ was used (as it frequently was) the real narrator was the camera. When comparing to most neo noirs of the 90s and onwards, where plot conventions are foregrounded, and psychology is reductive and explanatory, these early noirs were strangely metaphysical. There was no default realism to Laura, or Angel Face, to Detour or Out of the Past. These were hallucinatory subjective worlds of acute paranoia and fear. And casting the longest shadow over this fear was the idea of a punishing irrational authority. Leonard Cassuto made the connection to Dreiser’s An American Tragedy as the link to hardboiled fiction. And this is an astute observation. But there is something else that runs through all the noirs, and that is a feminine sensibility. It is a feminine subjectivity in a sense, and while not sentimental (as some have suggested) it is part of the subjective fabric of mourning and melancholy, of loss, that is also present in Dreiser. And it is class related as well. These films are always about a vulnerable working class fighting the structures of authority.

For even in True Detective, which had the virtue of depicting a landscape of genuine American poverty, the narrative pov is not that of the impoverished. It remains, although mediated, identified with with those who hold the power. These are still cops. I’ve always felt much of the bourgeois feminist criticism of noir, of femme fatals misses the point of the feminized male protagonists. For again, the real narrator isn’t the narrator, it is the camera, and in that sense, those 1940s noirs lent themselves most acutely to auteur analysis. One could argue that neo noirs like L.A. Confidential are far more misogynist and defined by hyper masculinity. The shift from subjective to inauthentic realism occured mid 50s, and was solidifed by the end of the 60s. But I want to return this to another aspect of these narratives, and that is the default setting or backdrop of authoritarian space.

For without a grasp of the colonial perspective of popular culture today, pedagogy cannot really advance in the arts.

Joe Rehison

Joe Rehison


“What psychoanalysis suspected, before it became itself a part of hygiene, has been confirmed. The brightest rooms are the secret domain of faeces…No science has yet explored the inferno in which were forged the deformations that later emerge to daylight as cheerfulness, openness, sociability, successful adaptation to the inevitable, an equable practical frame of mind.”
Adorno

This was Adorno’s almost prophetic critique of Lacan, before Lacan existed. Adorno suggested a kind of almost prehistoric intervention that neutralizes the opposing forces of our psychic development. One that is an apriori triumph of submission to collective authority. A process immune to knowledge. He felt a great distrust of exuberance, and saw only self embalment. The mirror phase may well now be short circuited before it begins, so deep is the patterning of authority, and the insistence on mental retreat. The new culture industry product has completely colonized the narratives of today’s Western societies. There is no questioning of the social environment we live in. Our maps are the maps of a digitalized depthless perspective in which pathological brightness and loud noise have succeeded in elimating the space for calm reflection. The constant *dead now* is reproduced every nano-second. Films like Criss Cross feel different because, partly, because of the faces in them. All great film directors intuitively grasp the significane of the human face. But in an era adjusting to the new biometric surveillance systems, to botox and other plastic surgery, to steroids and photoshop, the human face is disappearing. Pasolini, Antonioni, Fassbinder, and those German emigrees, filmed a vanished world, a place where pain passed over a countenance like dark clouds over a sunny picnic. Faces that betrayed secrets. And perhaps this extends to the movement and gestures of the actors. Lancaster possessed a physical grace I find hard to imagine today. Brando had that as well, the young John Wayne.

Peter Kayafas, photography. Telega, Romania 2005

Peter Kayafas, photography. Telega, Romania 2005


I wanted to try to link together some of this, and its useful, I think, to return to maps. The ethnocentric map is a well known concept, meaning putting your nation state at the center, or from a system that enlarges your own territory. Maps also includes subtle vocabularies or codes for relating comparative importances. Even basic tourist maps will provide *points of interest*, meaning places to shop, or worship authority. Maps are only another medium for sustaining social dynamics, social rules, and hierarchies of power.
And this is true, and maybe even especially true, of scientific maps. So to extend this understanding of cartography to, say, Ferguson Missouri, one sees the simple profile of most impoverished areas of the country. Discount everything, including food and medicine.

Here is a list of businesses in Ferguson;

Michael Ray Charles

Michael Ray Charles


Church’s Chicken
Nike
Cricket Wireless
Popeyes
Curves
RadioShack
H&R Block
SONIC Drive-In
Jones New York
Steak ‘n Shake
KFC
Subway
Little Caesars Pizza
U.S. Cellular
McDonald’s
Walgreens

This is a grim list. The jackals of franchise buisness. Compare to any upscale neighborhood in the country, predominantly white, and the differences are clear. That such poverty, such acute inequality, can exist side by side, often, with wealth, is something missing from entertainment narratives, largely. Oh, those MFA programs turn out fiction about the poor, but my sense is that usually this is a poor that occur in a vacuum. But perhaps it is more than that, because these are generalizations. It is the less than obvious codes and grammar of privilege, of paternalism. And there are also an awful lot of MFA writing programs out there. The problem with most arts education is that is emphasizes innovation and originality. D.W. Winnicot said, “originality is impossible except on the basis of tradition.” And there is more freedom in sonnet form than in free verse. More in sonata or any other strict structural form. But there is no ‘originality’, its now am empty term. It is worth noting that dissent does not fall under original. The admonition in early schooling for cheerfulness and friendliness is part of the inherent sadism of the Puritan patriarch. Later, there is the admonition for being original AND friendly. And throughout all of it is the mandate for sociability. Keep your mouth shut, smile, and accept any and all suggestions. Success means learning not to make waves. Tradition recedes ever further behind us like some road kill in the rear view mirror.

Salo, (1976), Pier Paolo Pasolini dr.

Salo, (1976), Pier Paolo Pasolini dr.

Narrative today, both journalistic, in fictional prose, or in playwriting or screenwriting is having problems with ideas of self. Jameson wrote about the ‘death of the subject’, and others have posited more post modern versions of this. But I think there is a confusion in this, and in this context I can only scratch the surface as it relates to the above posting. The post modern notion feels a good deal like apology for the totalitarian state. Ideas of “lifescripts” (sic) is pernicious in many ways because it conflates group identity, as in service of creating templates from which one — self– can shop for an indentity choice. Class and labor are removed from this discussion. But it is fed into by the more regressive gay and feminist thinking in which the world is divided into queer and straight space. Such sophistry is the province of those who can afford such intellectual pirouettes while at University. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has been quite perceptive on this, and it relates to mapping and a trained learning of space. Her comments about ‘unlearning privilege as loss’ and the need to recognize the luxury of ‘choosing’ marginality as if on an identity vacation are much to the point here. For this is the new University of careerism and social precautions. The socially adroit will sample oppositional postures, but they are far removed from Ferguson, Missouri. I find that the artworks, the narratives and painting that come out of these elect institutions are rarely being written to keep the author sane. Of course there are exceptions, and work such as Breece D’J. Pancake from over thirty years ago, now, was an like an exposed nerve, the effects lingered like a tooth extraction gone wrong. But there are few Pancakes around.
Judith Eisler

Judith Eisler

The idea that Jameson put forth, the death of the subject, is worth an entire posting, but one problem it seems to me is the fetishizing of technology and mechanical reproduction. For that reproduction hasnt at all eliminated the distinctive brush stroke (his example, or one of them). It is only distinctive in another way. There has also been no liberation from anxiety. The problem is that feelings are not ad hoc eliminated, but are part of a systematic intensification of societal domination of every kind.

Jameson does then contradict, or not quite contradict, his earlier statements :

“The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating not so much in its own right but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp: the whole new de-centered global network of the third stage of capital itself. This is a figural process presently best observed in a whole mode of contemporary entertainment literature — one is tempted to characterize it as “high-tech paranoia” — in which the circuits and networks of some putative global computer hookup are narratively mobilized by labyrinthine conspiracies of autonomous but deadly interlocking and competing information agencies in a complexity often beyond the capacity of the normal reading mind.”

Head On (2004), Fatih Akin, dr.

Head On (2004), Fatih Akin, dr.


This much I think is true. The issue is one of prescriptive and descriptive I think. The *waning of affect* is correct if we compare Rembrandt with Warhol, but far less true if we compare Rembrandt with Daniel Ludwig, for example. It is true enough however that today’s Western population can no longer make sense of their inner life, and consequently have an increasingly difficult time making sense of the state of the ‘other’. This is why I continue to suggest the collective now mimics one end of the Autism spectrum. Though Im also inclined now to see it as something far less complex than autistic processing. The waning of affect means the loss of allegory. In a culture of sampling, history is always solipsistic. The blurring of high and pop culture has resulted in everything becoming genre. And I’m not sure, in the end, this is regressive. The problem with the new subjectivity is the myth attached to it, the ‘family of man’ ahistorical which becomes, in different forms, a kind of fascism (and this was close to Heidegger, actually). The individual still suffers, and *difference* includes class and history. And no further proof of that is needed than Ferguson, Missouri.
Wolfgang Petrick

Wolfgang Petrick


It is at this point that Althusser makes very cogent points, that ideology creates *a* subject, the one of the shrunken inner life, the one who has trouble understanding the world unless comparing it to Breaking Bad. As Judith Butler put it: “Power, that first appears as external, pressed upon the subject, pressing the subject into subordination, assumes a psychic form that constitutes the subject’s self-identity.” This is not ever a total subordination, because everything is dialectical, and additionally it happens in degrees, incrementally. But the crucial aspect of this, for aesthetics and pedagogy, is the idea of negation. The whole is untrue, said Adorno. Those master narratives Lyotard and others (Derrida for one) found so obsolete, culturally, are only to be refashioned as narratives of negation. There is work, even in film, that is doing this. The Turkish/German production, Head On, directed by Fatih Akin (2004) is one recent example. Stranger at The Lake, Blue Caprice, A Prophet, Mister John, and Dogtooth. There are others, certainly. Aesthetic resistance matters, and without it, the slippage in critical judgement means that mass culture will intensify their adoration of junk (Boyhood, Zero Dark Thirty, The King’s Speech, etc) and fawn over the surrogate imperialists at VICE who pose as journalists, or from the likes of Laurie Penny and Crabapple on the branded left, those exclusive white kittenish hipster reactionaries. The sclerosis of much of the longtime left, especially in matters of art (see Proyect on film) is now painfully obvious. The death of the subject is rhetorical. We wouldnt be writing and reading this blog for example, if it were literally true. What was always a myth was really the implied superiority of a certain class.

All Stories are…

Joseph Seigenthaler

Joseph Seigenthaler

“As ever, then, the imaginations of urban life in colonized zones interacts powerfully with that in the cities of the colonisers. Indeed, the projection of colonial tropes and security exemplars into postcolonial metropoles in capitalist heartlands is fuelled by a new ‘inner city Orientalism’. This relies on the widespread depiction amongst rightist security or military commentators of immigrant districts within the west’s cities as ‘backward’ zones threatening the body politic of the western city and nation. In France, for example, postwar state planning worked to conceptualize the mass, peripheral housing projects of the banlieues as ‘near peripheral’ reservations attached to, but distant from, the country’s metropolitan centres. Bitter memories of the Algerian and other anti-colonial wars saturate the French far-right’s discourse about waning ‘white’ power and the ‘insecurity’ caused by the banlieues – a process that has led to a dramatic mobilization of state security forces in and around the main immigrant housing complexes.”
Stephen Graham

“Stories..every day they traverse and organize places; they select and link them together, they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories.”
Michael de Certeau

Whenever a mainstream critic says a character or a theme is worn out, they tend to mean the opposite. For these writers, the people at places as divergent as Variety and VICE, the LA Times, or New Yorker, the reality is that in almost every instance they don’t know what it means to call something a cliche.

But I wanted to focus a moment on VICE, because they represent a new faux journalism, and therefore their betrayal is far worse. For their branding, the style codes employed, are all regressive. The orientalism, the overt masculinity, the cartoon machismo of their *field* correspondents, who of course have the same credibility as those CBS dorks embedded during the Iraq invasion. The self labeled “conflict journalist” is to journalism what the WWF is to real sport. Its news-tainment. The prose is close to Sax Rohmer. The deeper problem with this Murdoch owned faux news organization is that their political positions are decidedly pro Imperialist. Go back to their piece on the Balkans.

http://www.vice.com/the-vice-guide-to-travel/the-vice-to-the-balkans-part-1

Never mind the egrigiously patronizing tone, virtually every single historical observation is factually incorrect. This is frat boy pretend journalism. It is racist, it is sub-literate, and so astoundingly patronizing to anyone not white and western as to be the very definition of colonialist. It is also vividly narcissistic. These are the people who one day will run banks, or become start up CEOs or some other functionary of empire, proto capitalists, secure in their privilege. This is kegger journalism, and the flip side are the more hair chested conflict hacks. If central casting had to come up with a cartoon version of clueless westerner hanging with *authentic jihadists*, VICE could provide them. These are the merc protected wanna be’s of the Newstainment industry. Remember, Murdoch runs VICE. Murdoch, you think Murdoch allows dissent? Allows anti Imperialism to have anything like an effective voice in anything he owns? The conflict journo is always accessorized with the proper *field hair* (per Letterman) and at least some native drag tossed in. The hyper masculine is always self feminizing.

The deeper issue is the ideological mechanisms at work. For even if they were factually correct, the problem would remain.

Tang Sancai-Glazed Horse; circa  618 AD to 906 AD

Tang Sancai-Glazed Horse; circa 618 AD to 906 AD


All colonial settler states are based on the violent dispossession of the native peoples – and as a result, their fundamental and overriding aim has always been to keep those native peoples as weak as possible. Israel’s aim for the Palestinians is no different.”
Dan Glazebrook

The faux activist journalists at VICE are really just appropriating the stories of the third world to then commodify and sell as part of their lifestyle webpage. The default setting for all western journalism today, from the NY Times to WaPo to VICE is the same; it is the inherent superiority of the white western world. And given that, its not surprising that there is a tacit agreement that U.S. military intervention (and by extension NATO) is somehow just necessary.

“Amidst the global economic crash, so-called ‘homeland security’ industries – sometimes more accurately labeled by critical commentators the ‘pacification industry’ – are in bonanza mode. As the post 9/11 US paradigm of ‘Homeland security’ is being diffused around the world, the industry – worth $142 billion in 2009 – is expected to be worth a staggering $2.7 trillion globally between 2010 and 2012. Growth rates are between 5 and 12% per year.”
Stephen Graham

The business of security is part of this default setting. The current police response to Ferguson Missouri after a police murder is an example of transferring the war zone to the domestic landscape. Never mind that half of the technology one sees trotted out in Hollywood film and TV is almost useless, the narrative is what matters (http://www.notbored.org/face-misrecognition.html). And some of that high tech equipment serves to give a sophisticated gloss to the exercise of basic brutal force. So just like VICE, the selling of a threatening underclass which, whether in Detroit, Missouri, Iraq or Nigeria, is in need of pacification. Today’s architectural projects, from new airports to new malls, from the Olympics to financial summits, the first order of planning is the installation of security systems and personnel. There is a two way migration here, too. The U.S. prison system, largest in the world, is now the model globally, while the U.S. created conflict zones are now the model for U.S. domestic control apparatus and deployment. The pernicious part of this is the narrative eliding of context in the new infotainment business. The reductive narratives of Empire. These are the presentation of the most lurid aspects of war zones and conflicts, and the erasing of the historical record, because, well, history is so boring.

Roger Herman

Roger Herman

Michael de Certeau wrote about the celestial eye of medieval painters. He rightly suggests that today, the imaginary totalizations are increasingly hard to escape — the panoptic sense of space that today’s population of the West operates in effects a kind of blindess. The architecture of today’s star architects and their prestige projects is one in which (as I’ve said) the human perspective is removed. De Certeau calls this an opaque or blind mobility. We walk around and do not see. This is the manufacturing of a space cleansed of heterogeneity. Class and political community are not included. The relevance this has for the new surveillance society is seen in the ownership class and their semi-conscious panic. The entire basis of algorithmic and biometric surveillance and security technology, while ineffective, still plays a role in directing the ocular organizing of the world, both on a minute by minute basis, and in imaginary geographies.

This is an instrumentalization of not just systemizing information, but of predictive thinking.

“However, this ‘captured’ face image is only of use if it can be matched with an identifier. It
requires a database of face images with associated identities. Unlike fingerprints or DNA
samples, which are only collected when there is a reasonable level of suspicion of a crime, face
images are routinely collected in society by a variety of institutions, such as when we apply for a
driving licence, or a passport, or a library card, etc. It is the most common biometric in use by
humans to identify other humans. Indeed, in any western society, if one would somehow cover,
or be seen to attempt to disguise one’s face, then there is almost an immediate assumption of
guilt. One could almost say that there is an implicit common agreement to reveal our faces to
others as a condition for ongoing social order.”

Lucas D. Introna and David Wood

Matthew Monahan

Matthew Monahan


It is worth pointing out that surveillance can be broadly broken down into two major forms. One is salient; observable and conspicuous, the visible, a cop with a radar gun, or any uniform taking down information. The other is silent, hidden, passive in a sense, and whose operation is often secret. Now facial recognition is based on a template, and geometric one, and there are obvious implications (assuming these technologies work, which they don’t) in how people will learn and adjust the reading of faces. One can imagine the atrophy of subtle facial readings by other humans. The look in someone’s eye starts to have less importance.

But back to mainstream criticism, which isnt really criticism, it’s reviewing. And in this context reviewing is consumer advocacy. The critic is trying to, essentially, predict the show’s popularity. He or she may or may not contribute to that popularity, but more often the role of entertainment reviewer is to validate the shows that reflect what is perceived to be the consensus thinking of the public. Increasingly this means to avoid anything not flattering to the demographic targeted by the show or film. Reviewers for fiction or poetry are in an entirely different realm for the audience for new novels or poetry or even such rarified mediums as dance or symphonic music is very small. For fine arts the situation is not terribly different, but more incestuous. Galleries and curators dictate to a large degree the success of new artists. These reviewers are often nothing more than interns. Often not even paid. Some, the star reviewers, those with a brand, are widely read and compensated. But gone are the days when a Pauline Kael could invest reviewing with something like an independent intelligence and knowledge. Even a Roger Ebert stood out, even if not exactly visionary, he still cared about the idea of film as art. And he was unafraid, usually anyway, to take unpopular positions. Today the group think of reviewers reflects the consolidation of corporate media. The message of VICE covering the middle east or Balkans is really the same message as VICE reviewing movies; and the New York Times or Hollywood Reporter or New Yorker or Huffington Post about anything. The ideological underpinning is identical.

The Balkans still looms as the trial balloon for expansion of NATO, and for creating client state-lets that serve as business opportunities for the West. Madelaine Albright and her bid for Kosovo telecom (from which she eventually pulled out) and Wes Clark’s mining interests in the region are not material covered by VICE or the New York Times. The break up of the former Yugoslavia was naked western aggression. Here is a link to Ed Herman’s 2007 in depth analysis of what happened. http://monthlyreview.org/2007/10/01/the-dismantling-of-yugoslavia/

The linkage of VICE, Hollywood, film reviewers, and the FRY may seem remote, but stories are how we organize our sense of the world, and even of our daily lives. So a direct connection actually exists, for this is how propaganda works.

Richard Holbrooke, Kissinger, Bush, awarding Kissinger prize to Gabriela von Habsburg, grandaughter  of the last emperor of Austria and Georgian ambassador to Germany.

Richard Holbrooke, Kissinger, Bush, awarding Kissinger prize to Gabriela von Habsburg, grandaughter of the last emperor of Austria and Georgian ambassador to Germany.


There is a reason the U.S. state department spends tens of millions of dollars every year on propaganda. The vultures that descended on the new mini states of the former Yugoslavia are the same ones plundering Africa, Iraq, and Haiti. I mention the Balkans because it probably still stands as the single most successful government PR campaign in modern history.

But nothing of U.S. foreign policy is really secret.

“As providence has it, Mr. Bush likely launched the last large-scale U.S. land war in the Middle East. U.S. funding and development of al Qaeda in the 1970s and 1980s could have taught that proxy militaries have a propensity to eventually fight their own battles. Through the CIA current U.S. President Barack Obama funded and developed the Syrian opposition that has now morphed into Islamic State. This leaves al Qaeda, Islamic State, neo-Nazi thugs in Ukraine and a few remaining dictators as the residual representatives of U.S. foreign policy in current U.S. conflicts. Lest this seem less than evident, while the U.S. undoubtedly ‘deserves’ these ‘partners,’ they aren’t likely to (mis)represent U.S. interests as enthusiastically as sequential U.S. Presidents and militaries have (mis)represented them….Finally, to U.S. President Barack Obama’s dim blather about ‘who we are’ as a people in the U.S. U.S. foreign policy in my lifetime has included grotesque slaughters against the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Iraq and ‘lite’ wars in Panama, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria and now once again Gaza. Domestically the U.S. has the largest overall prison population and the greatest percentage of the population in prison in the world. Mr. Obama himself has claimed the rights of absolute monarch to kill citizens and non-citizens alike at his whim without evidence. In Iraq the U.S. resurrected the Abu Ghraib prison and ran it pretty much as ‘one of the worst dictators in world history’ Saddam Hussein ran it. And as events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri illustrate, America is a racist, quasi-fascist open-air prison for poor people of color. This is who we are as a people Mr. Obama.”
Rob Urie

 Andrei Tarkovsky. polaroid photograph.

Andrei Tarkovsky. polaroid photograph.


So it is not fringe rhetoric or conspiracy theory to state the obvious. As Mr Urie says, the government dimly blathers about abstractions such as patriotism and freedom, but says nothing. And huge chunks of the populace accept this because they have been trained by faux news services, infotainments, by Hollywood narratives of militarism and white superiority, and by the billion dollar advertising industry who colonize consciousness at almost every level of our existence. They accept and will defend these lies. They embrace the familiarity of denuded language and endless homilies. One of the greatest fears of the public today is that someone might call them crazy, or a conspiracy theorist. They fear for their professional lives, and they fear being ostracized by their friends.
Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt

“police forces are getting militarized globally, and global military organizations such as the UN “peacekeepers” can be used for police purposes when they come back home. Police organizations in Europe are being gathered into multinational military structures like the European Gendarmerie Force (EuroGenFor, or EGF). Brazil’s favelas are undergoing a “pacification” process administered in large part by former UN “peacekeepers” who have been recalled from Haiti. In general, soldiers from all over the world return from occupation missions overseas, habituated to urban warfare, to serve at home in newly militarized police or private mercenary forces such as Xe (formerly Blackwater).”
Gilbert Mercier

What is to be understood in the Ferguson police reaction, and the original murder, is that the new U.S gendarme has absolute impunity. This was true to a degree even when I was a kid. In my youth, which included a decades long interface with the criminal justice system and with cops, it was understood that the police had total and absolute power. They could and did plant evidence, they could and did beat you. I’ve had both happen to me. And I had the slight advantage, though poor, of being white. It was a given. Cops were to be feared and avoided. The roll call of Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Kendra James, James Perez, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner…are the product of a new escalation in police executions. The difference between my youth forty years ago, and today, is the lethality of police aggression. Forty years ago a cop might beat you with night stick, kick you, break your arm, but he didn’t kill you. Not as often anyway.

“The War on Drugs and the War and Crime carry a heavy price tag. A generation’s worth of “wars on crime” and of glorification of the men and women in blue have engendered a culture of law enforcement that is all too often viciously violent, contemptuous of the law, morally corrupt, and confident of the credulity of the courts. In Chicago, police ignored witnesses, dis counted testimony, as they bustled the innocent onto Death Row…Those endless wars on crime and drugs – a staple of 90 percent of America’s politicians these last thirty years – have engendered not merely 2.3 million prisoners but a vindictive hysteria that pulses on the threshold of homicide in the bosoms of many of our uniformed law enforcers. Time and again, one hears stories attesting to the fact that they are ready, at a moment’s notice or a slender pretext, to blow someone away, beat him to a pulp, throw him in the slammer, sew him up with police perjuries and snitch-driven charges, and try to toss him in a dungeon for a quarter-century or more.
The price for decades of this myth making and cop boosterism? It was summed up in the absurdity of the declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2000, that flight from a police officer constitutes sound reason for arrest. Actually, it constitutes plain common sense.”

Jeffrey St.Clair

Christian Houge

Christian Houge, photography.


Stories, the narratives of the culture industry, have affected not just a mentally numb public, but it has shaped the self image of the American cop. The steriod epidemic among cops is widely known, documented, but rarely reported. The steady diet of police drama in which heroic police violate all civil liberties and basic evidentiary protocol has provided the white affluent class with the mind set of the fascist. This is joined at the hip with the also constant fear mongering. The demonizing of the poor. The criminalizing of everything.

“The truth of the matter is that Michael Brown was murdered for walking in the street while black. The cop who shot him several times, even while he begged for his life, committed murder. He was not in any danger, except perhaps in his own mind. As the police response to the protests against the murder proved in a very graphic way, this cop was part of a force whose first response is to weaponize on as grand a scale as possible. The fact that a fair number of US residents seem to support the cop and the department he belongs to is evidence of a very disturbed society. It is not a society that believes all of its members deserve the same justice. In fact, it is a society that seems to consider its poorer members as something approaching savagery.”
Ron Jacobs

Dan Holdsworth, photography.

Dan Holdsworth, photography.


Stories. The stories told and re-told nightly in kitsch entertainment product. The public that supports the police is one that perceives poor neighborhoods, of any color, but especially black, as strange frontier regions from which only the thin blue line protects them. This is a manufactured mythology. But it is part of the same fabric of myth found at VICE, or FOX News, or CNN, or the Washington Post. It is exactly the psychological ligaments connecting the valorizing of Quintin Tarantino and 24 with State Department propaganda about ISIS and the Ukraine. It is the same story that was told about Milosevic and those non-existent rape camps, or with the Israeli settler/colonizer as victims of dastardly Arab malfeasance, or babies torn from incubators or yellow cake or those evil socialist dictators in Latin America. This is why even when VICE tells the truth (accidently, or on purpose) they are lying. Because you cannot, finally, separate the ideological frame from the picture within the frame.

I have said all stories are crime stories. But all stories are also travel stories, as Michael de Certeau points out.
“Every story is a travel story — a spatial practice.”This is why the deterioration of culture is so significant. Stories are a labor that transforms the map into the tour (per de Certeau). The ever more reductive stories of Empire are now transforming public space into distinct class segregated areas of fear or safety. The imaginary totalizations of the public exist in a dialectical tension with that propriator class that helps actually build the material world we live in. New buildings in that sense reflect the stories being told. Gentrification of old neighborhoods reflect this same narrative.

Leandro Erlich

Leandro Erlich, photography.

“The map, a totalizing stage on which elements of diverse origin are brought together to form the tableau of a ‘state’ of geographical knowledge, pushes away into its prehistory or into its posterity, as if into the wings, the operations of which it is the result or the necessary condition. It remains alone on the stage”
Michael de Certeau.

On early atlases as on the theatre stage, there were several forms of knowledge coming together in a ritual space. Euclidean geometry, the observations of people, handed down, or immediate, coupled to historical knowledge, cultural inheritance, formed something in which people experimented with a practice. Perhaps this is why theatre remains so disruptive and why it is always so quickly suppressed. One has to be able to see the building of a bridge as theatre. It inhabits this space where cultural memory meets instrumental logic. But is creates a new space. Or dams, or even roads.

Roman road, Tall Aqibrin.

Roman road, Tall Aqibrin.

All stories are crime stories, and all crime stories are travel stories. Or all stories are travel stories, and all travel stories are crime stories. It is probably both. It is obvious, if one steps away from the regressive pedagogy that is bound to the master narrative, that Shakespeare understood this, for his stage is alive with several registers of meaning. Genet, Pinter, Beckett; this is the essential intuited poetics at work. I believe it can happen in film. Maybe this is what mise en scene really means, I don’t know. Pasolini, Bresson, Dreyer, Fassbinder, Antonioni, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Tarkovsky, and perhaps a few others. This is a society in general that has lost that sensitivity. The ability to deeply place these vectors of meaning. If space is being rendered opaque, but marketed as transparent, then a certain sensory shut down is bound to follow. The culture industry then doubles down on the pornographic, and the literal. Today’s kitsch film is without subtext. To watch, say, Django Unchained is to see what the disappearance of sub-text means and feels like. There is no uncanny in Tarantino, just as there is no uncanny in James Cameron or Speilberg or anyone working in Hollywood features.

Ron Jacobs has a telling post script that I shall end with:

“Missouri has an especially racist legacy. The last of the slavery states, it was a launching pad for numerous raids into Kansas by slaveowner militias hired to turn the vote in that state in favor of the slavers. It was from Missouri that raiders went to the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas and burned it to the ground. This led to a guerrilla war that involved John Brown and his band. Symptomatic of the US’s racism is how so many history books cover that war. John Brown’s campaign is consistently labeled as murderous, while the actions of the raiders is often portrayed as a response to Brown’s tactics. This is despite the well-documented attacks on Lawrence, including one known in history as the Lawrence Massacre. The coverage of the Michael Brown murder in the mainstream press suggests that the actions of those who carry on the raiders’ task (in this case the Ferguson police) continue to be excused for their violence.”