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.”

Primal Crimes

Li Hui

Li Hui

“If it were possible to find a method of becoming master of everything which might happen to a certain number of men, to dispose of everything around them so as to produce on them the desired impression, to make certain of their actions, of their connections, and of all the circumstances of their lives, so that nothing could escape, nor could oppose the desired effect, it cannot be doubted that a method of this kind would be a very powerful and a very useful instrument which governments might apply to various objects of the utmost importance.”
Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon;1787-1791

“It is not when one has taken everything away that nothing is left, rather, nothing is left
when things are unceasingly shifted and addition itself no longer has any meaning.
Birth is residual if it is not symbolically revisited through initiation.
Death is residual if it is not resolved in mourning, in the collective celebration of
mourning.”

Baudrillard

If one looks at narrative today, there loom two questions, it seems to me. One is the role and nature of genre, the second is about crime. The third might be, is there even any narrative out there?

And perhaps there is a fourth question. And it is about the deteriorating ability and interest in actually reading complex narrative. The term complex is one in need of discussion, but more on that below.

I had a fascinating conversation with two friends the other day. The topic was the loss of curiosity in the most recent generations of the West. I’ve written about this of, but I see very few people under the age of 30, who read anymore. Not the way I think of reading. This has been a theme of this blog; the loss of pedagogical resistance to the Empire. For the resurgent fascism, and its acceptance by the U.S. populace is linked to the collapse of education, but specifically, to the collapse of a certain humanism. To art and culture. Education in the technical fields is excellent, but narrow, and increasingly even more hyper-specialized. The real casualty in this is curiosity. It is a generation without curiosity. My friend, a highly literate musician, graduate of a conservatory, says his children don’t know who Bach is, don’t recognize the name Stanley Kubrick or Velazquez or Jose Marti. But more, they don’t want to know about bonsai, or Chinese history, or Arab architecture and design, or about boat building, or medieval poetry, or colonial history.

I often get criticized for ‘meandering’. I wanted to clear that up. I like to ‘meander’. The instrumental logic that leads to specialization is constantly reiterated as effective, as cogent. In fact I dont believe it is. I believe there is plenty of that, anyway.

The script in place for Western media and Hollywood is stunningly racist, militarist, and Imperial. I watched an episode of Scandal, because I try to watch at least one episode of successful shows. In it a character appears who is described by another character as a “freedom hating crazy leftist dictator”. This freedom hater is from an unamed South American country. The character himself says (I paraphrase), “I know your government thinks I am something between Castro and the devil”. Such cliches, such propaganda is not even perceived as propaganda by the creators. It is their reactionary value system. And these are people who would describe themselves as liberal. Villains are routinely Russian, Arab, or Chinese. Almost daily one can see Russian villains with cartoon accents.

Jan Van Imschoot

Jan Van Imschoot


Gilbert Mercier wrote this week…“In the US, real talent and hard work have little chance of success. The time of Ernest Hemingway and Jackson Pollock is long gone. Now all it takes to become rich and famous is a pretty face, a famous derriere, a busy sex life and a knack for publicity…This cultural race to the bottom is not only helped, but partly instigated by the major US media outlets.”

The U.S. supports the Gaza genocide. And the U.S. media in knee jerk fashion supports whatever the state department and Pentagon tell it to support. But genocide is an American tradition after all.

John Marciano wrote: ” L. Frank Baum, author of the much-beloved Wizard of Oz, then editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, who stated: “The whites, by law of conquest, by civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians…. [We] had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up … and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”
Torture and violence were also visited upon Filipinos during the American imperial war in the early 20th century; Vietnamese, highlighted by the most-publicized atrocity of that war at My Lai in 1968, and the deaths of some 3.8 million people; Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans, with hundreds of thousands killed in the 1970s and ‘80s; and at Bagram, Afghanistan; Abu Ghraib, Iraq; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The list of crimes is endless.

It is perhaps worth reflecting on the nature of narrative as it exists in the culture industry today, and also how that interfaces with this erosion of curiosity.

I watched the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, the new AMC series centered around the origin story of Microsoft and the relationship to IBM. Texas in the 80s. Its a remarkably well photographed show, and features a killer sound track, but, mid way through a first season, a season that I thought highly of, in some ways, I realized I felt the narrative become more and more neurotic. There was no primal crime. And when there is no crime, there is a strong tendency to deteriorate into melodrama.

Now, the fact that the culture industry instinctively realized the importance of violence has meant that they would and could eroticize this violence, the death, and repeat it. In a sense the TV cop show and hyper violent military narratives have actually eliminated true narrative, and replaced it with violence porn, the constant unending repetition of murder and death. It effectively removes the primal crime from the other direction in a sense.

Malone Psychiatric Hospital, built 1927, location restricted. Abandoned. * photo by Opacity.us

Malone Psychiatric Hospital, built 1927, location restricted. Abandoned. * photo by Opacity.us


Helen Pashgian. At LACMA.

Helen Pashgian. At LACMA.


Of course this is simplistic, but only because there are substitute tropes; there is power, and there is the sensory trauma of the inordinary. “The train smelled like the inside of an old man’s hat –smelled of darkness, hair, tobacco.” Blau quotes that line from John Hawkes. For there is, besides power, age and age is only a step away from death. But in our ever more sanitized society these things are inordinary. The more killing and plunder that occur in real life, the more carefully contained and controlled they are in media. Shakespeare and Marlowe, and Kyd, and Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Hemingway and Eliot and Melville all wrote about murder and death and disease. For that is the negation of the untruth. Today there is a huge anti-Freudian tendency, and its reflective of these same sanitizing trend. Freud has perhaps never been more relevant. From Syria to Gaza, the narrative being written reflects the delusions of power, and of sadism. But MFA programs do not turn out Dostoyevskys or George Eliot or Juan Rulfo. There is no Jean Genet, there are ‘gay spokespeople’. It is what Sarah Shulman called the gentrification of the mind.
Pan Jian

Pan Jian


Violence porn effectively removes the dignity of a single life, there can be no tragedy in a world of surplus populations available for extermination. But most of all, it removes the actual viewer as a person. The product is watching you, it is harvesting attention. If each artwork recreates the coming into being of the individual, the human, and stories of crime reflects our innate rivalry and aggression, the sense of lack suffered by the time we, as very young children, recognize our reflection in the glass or mirrors around us, then the reified story-code is only a mental mechanism, easily forgotten because it was never attentively watched or read to begin with, which serves as a sort of cultural Big Mac. These products are not functioning in at all the same way as one has come to assume. And the Lacanian focus on repetition is then given material proof in the undeviating sameness of today’s film and TV. The compulsive repetition of murder and mayhem means there is no viewer. There is only the consumer, the harvested eyeballs, and stimulation, blanketed manipulation. Its a bit like attaching electrodes to a dead frog and turning on the current. There are only electrified frogs, not people, snatching flies out of the air. This the primary truth of hyper violence in cultural kitsch. But more, of course, is that a degree of titillation is imposed — and transferred, often. Meaning, the wet T shirt contest scene at the bar, with brave young soldiers having a bit of fun, is followed by the sound of an alarm…or phone call…EMERGENCY….the ‘threat’ is arriving, from ‘out there’ and those soldiers must respond…and kill. The camera then follows the same eroticized caressing of the breasts in wet t shirts to the wet gun in wet hand (metaphorically speaking, the wet part), to the spreading wetness of blood on the various corpses. The caressing camera. There are of course a hundred such examples. Young couple in bed, the killer arrives and slashes the woman (of course, because patriarchy is always preserved) and next scene are two cops examining the dead girl, often naked dead girl, with casual disinterested touching of what is now just meat, but the scene still retains the echoes of the lover’s caresses — now replicated by police as part of the legacy of violence; the erotic caress is replicated as the blow from a policeman’s baton.
Oliver Laric, "Kopienkritic", at Skulpturhalle Basel

Oliver Laric, “Kopienkritic”, at Skulpturhalle Basel


It is the camera creating the narrative linkage here, without recourse to having to actually have a narrative. The camera connects the young lovers naked sex activity, with the naked corpse now being fondled by a forensics team. This product operates the way advertisements operate. It is interesting that there are now so many close up graphic scenes of either operations or forensic autopsies. These, I suspect, express a desire for what is hidden, that is kept from us. The viewer is the corpse, or terminally ill patient, and we sense there is a hidden cancer in us. One could extend this speculation to see the body-politic being dissected for the tumor or malignancy within. The ruling class is operating on us. It is they who see, or surmise something that needs surgical intervention. As such things are always overdetermined, the body on the table is the sick world where only the ruthless surgical scalpel, wielded without hesitation, can clean out the sickness. Even military grammar reflects this; surgical strikes. Either way, the operation is what matters, not the outcome for the patient.

I am reminded of a brilliant short scene in David Hare’s film Weatherby (1985). After a young man commits suicide in a woman’s home, the police arrive. And in searching for a motive, a young uniformed policewoman re-enacts the last minutes of the dead man’s life. She walks dispassionately and blankly through the motions. Its a gorgeous scene, and resonant with multiple meanings. But one of the meanings is to comment on the gaze of the viewer, and its duplication in the gaze cast upon the uniformed policewoman by the other characters.

Weatherby (1985) David Hare, dr.

Weatherby (1985) David Hare, dr.

I should add parenthetically that David Hare’s quiet disturbing examination of Thatcher’s England is among the most neglected films of the last thirty years. Set in a small Yorkshire village, the strange young man’s suicide becomes a vector of sorts for the violence done by Thatcher’s government. It is the kind of small politically acute, and relentlessly questioning film that has become far rarer today.

The couple in bed, making love is quickly the disinterested and jaded police and forensics team probing the naked corpse. It hardly matters if its really naked, anyway. Because the camera is voyeuristic, and undresses it. If one compares this to the treatment of both crime and nudity with Stranger At the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie), where the crime is helping define the narrative. Rather than the narrative allowing the viewer to consumer the crime as it might read a porn magazine. The crime is an expression of an entire sub-cultural frame, and hence is connected at an interpretive level with the history and politics of gay men in France, of vacationing, of salaried workers taking summer off, and of desire. This is a basic truth of film-making I think. The camera must always be aware of what is out frame, as well as what happened in the past. What is impossible to photograph. The famous shot of Rita Hayworth, stretched out on the deck of the sailing vessel in
Lady From Shanghai. It is Welles’ homage to Hayworth’s beauty, but it’s not voyeuristic. Why? The first answer is because the camera is not a secret peeping Tom, and the scene is about what else is going on. The truth is of the scene is that you cannot take your eyes off Rita Hayworth. You should, there is much to see, but you cannot. Even a god could not. There is nothing titillating about it, though. The character Hayworth portrays is fully aware of God looking down upon her. One could take any of Pasolini’s films, or say, Bruno Dumont in L’Humanite, where the perspective of the camera is very important, for its a part of the policeman’s anxiety, his confusion, his obsession. The camera is reproducing a character’s moral panic.

Matthias Weischer

Matthias Weischer

The camera is, finally, the arbiter of narrative in cinema. Everything follows the camera. In Dreyer’s Ordet, the repression and rigidity of the characters is enhanced and expressed in the restrictive camera. In each exterior scene the camera pursues, something, much as the characters pursue — and when inside the architecture replaces the camera. The sexual restrictions become architectural restrictions. In Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette, the camera’s sensual exaggeration mocks the emotional minimalism of the characters. Everything they want to feel, but cannot, is found in the dreams of the camera. But the camera is not caressing, it is excavating the performances, as it excavates class tensions, and sexual tensions. In this, the murder takes place at the end. All things move toward the inevitable. Except the audience never knows for whom that second shot is intended. For Fassbinder, it is enough that there IS a murder (or two). It is there in the room, and throughout, from the beginning.

Chinese Roulette (1976) Rainer Werner Fassbinder dr.

Chinese Roulette (1976) Rainer Werner Fassbinder dr.


The construction of studio film today is based on alibis. Denounce racism, as a way to express racism. Ideas of adjustment and normalcy are promoted. Im just an ordinary average guy, is a way of exceptionalizing the average, and turning it into its opposite. Boyhood, as Armond White rightly points out, ultimately confers importance on the central character’s normalcy. The camera is pseudo documentarian, meaning it tacitly imitates the conventions of verite. Normalcy is a movie, a familiar movie. Its like false modesty. But such films are so utterly without intelligence, that their popularity should not be a surprise. The white privilege of the family Linklater gives us is never questioned. Why question what is normal? Again, however, this takes me back to the idea of crime. Because at this point the genre conventions of mystery and detective narratives, even police procedurals, have superseded other readings. In other words, one almost has to read these films firstly through the filter of genre. Crime is the return of the repressed, in narrative anyway. And the more writers and film-makers try to distance themselves from genre, the more insufferable their work becomes. But that is a tricky idea because in a sense everything is now a genre. And especially a crime story. In the excellent Mister John, there is no clear crime. It is a crime movie without a crime. Or we think there is no crime. But the narrative is constructed as if it were a detective story. The businessman arriving in Singapore is not a Knight Errant, not a man with a code — but the camera treats the story as if it were a murder mystery. There is no crime but we suffer as guilty anyway. But this is movie that actually IS about death, about mortality. Crime show murder and killing is never about death, its about the killing. But its about the killing as if killing were a sporting event. In Mister John, the brother’s death is not normal, because death is never normal. Everyone dies, but each death is exceptional. In Moby Dick, the killing of whales is the projected violence of the entire society.
Robert Lostutter

Robert Lostutter


“In particular, our sentimentality toward animals is a sure sign of the disdain in which we
hold them. It is proportional to this disdain. It is in proportion to being relegated to
irresponsibility, to the inhuman, that the animal becomes worthy of the human ritual of
affection and protection, just as the child does in direct proportion to being relegated to a
status of innocence and childishness. Sentimentality is nothing but the infinitely degraded
form of bestiality, the racist commiseration, in which we ridiculously cloak animals to the
point of rendering them sentimental themselves.”

Baudrillard

There is now, in Hollywood narrative, the never ending small adjustments or corrections that serve as an alibi for the great untruth of the product. This or that problem or mystery is solved, thereby reinforcing the backdrop against which this all takes place. The presentation of solving something prevents the narrative continuation, and hence the status quo remains something like a state of nature. Once the solution is presented, these films have nothing left to tell.

Nicole Phungrasamee Fein

Nicole Phungrasamee Fein


The false transparent now infuses discourse. Obama is transparent. This is uttered even as more and more is kept secret. The transparent means only the ungrounded. You cannot know transparent if you do not know real density. The truly opaque screen no longer hides, it de facto questions. The glass window reveals nothing, for there is nothing to see, much like airports where one can look out the large windows and see nothing of what is actually going on. You dont see your own plane. We dont see or know where the electricity lines run beneath our streets, or the water pipes. Its a secret. Politically, one can read and see a good deal of what isn’t going on.
"Halt and Catch Fire". AMC TV 2014

“Halt and Catch Fire”. AMC TV 2014


But let me return to the idea of narrative and melodrama for a moment. And to space. For the space of the new Hollywood melodrama is one defined by previous movies. Hollywood executives do not experience the real world. The exploration of the world does not take place, largely, by those making movies today. The world is only made of references from other earlier movies. The p.o.v. of studio film and TV is that of someone staying at 5 star hotel.

The greatest virtue of Halt and Catch Fire is the consistently strange amber and gold tones of the night scenes. Everything looks like a Rut Blees Luxumberg photo essay. But more, it provides the gnostic patina needed as a corrective to the corrosive banality of computer manufacture. Try as the show might, the revelation of a talking Mac falls far short of real revelation. What keeps our attention is the perversity of Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) and his pathological lying. Writing code is not dramatic. It is unsettling however.

Genre is the recognition of structural similarities, and conventions of location and style. One knows it’s a western because one has seen other westerns. It is a culture of inexhaustible sampling. Cutting across this is the inability for mimesis. Adorno’s ideas on mimesis borrow from both Freud, and Nietzsche, but also from Kierkegaard. He saw it as a mode of human conduct (Zuidervaart). Putting aside the originary mimetic impulse, the later process preserved Art, or vice versa. Art, and mimesis, dialectically give voice to the real objectivity of the world. But this only happens through a series of stages of negation. What Adorno called ‘expression’ and the language of nature, of the world, is, as he says, mute without artistic acts. Art seeks the appearance of the whole in the particular (Zuidervaart again). This is what is so lacking in modern film. Expression is treated as magic. As an irrational personal subjectivity. It is divorced from historical suffering, and from the material world. It creates only a semblance of ‘a’ world.

“Truth content always points beyond the immanent aesthetic make-up of art works towards some political significance.”
Adorno

Jeff Brouws, photography.

Jeff Brouws, photography.


The import of artworks is a sort of social function, not a political impact. It is never the message that matters, but the interpretation and the interpretive process of the artwork; and this interpretation is linked to both mimesis and autonomy. Without going too deeply into this (since I’ve done so several times on this blog) the point here is that the rational is now the irrational. Instrumental thinking leads one toward the sentimental and trivial. For Adorno, the crucial element in aesthetics was to develop a sensitivity to art, that only via deep philosophical engagement can one find an adequate base from which to both experience and create art. This sort of discussion is, today, sneered at. So bad is most art instruction that students reject the complex and turn to the empty new populism of consumer culture. Artworks are negations of the untruth of an irrational society. But this negation is, in the artwork, is not a simple matter. I’ve heard students say they are sick of Shakespeare. This is almost certainly the result of poor instructors. Art is an expression of suffering, both immediate and historical, and always a rejection of the status quo. There can be no decent art that reconciles with a system of domination.

It is better to accept emptiness that to seek out optimism. Of course the self consciously nihilistic is only another form of optimism. That is the alibi, again. When there is no story, it is almost always replaced with fake optimism or hope. The idea of artistic hope is the real nihilism. A film about emptiness (of any sort) almost always is really about ‘hope’ springing from such emptiness. The logic imposed reads ‘why make anything, create anything, if there is no hope?’ The answer is, that is why you do. In Hollywood, such an existential stance is always rejected, for without a branded hope, the studio is not helping create a good consumer.

Stanley Kubrick, photography. 1951

Stanley Kubrick, photography. 1951

At the end of Middleton’s The Changeling, Beatrice says to her father:

“O come not neer me sir, I shall defile you,
I am that of your blood was taken from you
For your better health, look no more upon’t,
But cast it to the ground regardlessly,
Let the common shewer take it from distinction,
Beneath the starres, upon yon Meteor
Ever hang my fate, ‘mongst things corruptible,
I ne’re could pluck ti from him, my loathing
Was Prophet to the rest, but ne’re believ’d
Mine honour fell with him, and now my life.”

This is language very much too dense, too knotted with pain and expansive feeling for much of today’s audience.

Adam Lach, photography. Swiebodzin, Poland. World's largest statue of Christ.

Adam Lach, photography. Swiebodzin, Poland. World’s largest statue of Christ.

A footnote of sorts to my last posting. It is important to understand that the driving force of western Imperialism was facilitated by PR, by marketing. Theirry Mayson wrote: “Theodor Herzl was an admirer of diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, British imperialism theorist and founder of South Africa, Rhodesia (to which he gave his name) and Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). Herzl was not a religious Jew and had not circumcised his son. Atheist like many European bourgeois of his time, he advocated first to assimilate the Jews by converting them to Christianity. However, taking up the theory of Benjamin Disraeli, he came to the conclusion that the best solution was to engage them in British colonialism by creating a Jewish state in present day Uganda or Argentina. He followed the example of Rhodes in buying land and building the Jewish Agency.
Blackstone managed to convince Herzl to join the concerns of dispentionnalistes to those of colonialists. For this it sufficed to consider establishing Israel in Palestine and multiplying biblical references. Thanks to this simple idea, they recruited the majority of European Jews to their project. Today Herzl is buried in Israel (on Mount Herzl) and in his coffin the State has placed the annotated Bible that Blackstone had given him.
Zionism has thus never had the goal of “saving the Jewish people by giving them a home,” but the triumph of Anglo-Saxon imperialism by associating them with it. Furthermore, not only is Zionism not a product of Jewish culture, but the majority of Zionists has never been Jews, while the majority of Jewish Zionists are not religious Jews. Biblical references ubiquitous in Israeli public discourse, reflect only the thought of the believing part of the country and are primarily intended to convince the U.S. population.”
The ideas of racial segregation and eugenics was a primary driving force for the early Israeli state, and the connections to South Africa are hardly accidental. But the US has reached a point where this is not seen as particularly bad. That the Israeli settlers resemble American settlers on Native American land, is often mentioned by Israelis themselves. This is the new conservative history, and the result of people like Niall Ferguson and Samuel Huntington before him. Anyone wanting to discount Freud, need only examine the current Israeli state and remember National Socialism. Or look at Gaza and remember the Warsaw Ghetto.

“It is absolutely wrong to think that the problem posed by Israel concerns only the Middle East. Today, Israel takes militarily action anywhere in the world poviding a cover for Anglo-Saxon imperialism. In Latin America, Israeli agents organized repression during the coup against Hugo Chavez (2002) or the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya (2009). In Africa, they were everywhere present during the war of the Great Lakes and organized the arrest of Muammar el-Qaddafi. In Asia, they led the assault and killing of Tamil Tigers (2009), etc.. Each time, London and Washington swear they are not involved.” Thierry Mayson

L'Humanite (1999) Bruno Dumont, dr.

L’Humanite (1999) Bruno Dumont, dr.

Eighty four year old Fidel Castro said this week, that the holocaust in Gaza marked the emergence of repugnant new fascism. It is the first fascist movement to develop with the full assistance of the marketing. Its branded fascism. The Israeli state has, for decades, controlled the narrative about its own creation. That control is slipping away. Perhaps this is the irony of an audience that cannot read narrative.

George Steiner once said: “Use a language to conceive, organize, and justify Belsen; use it to make out specifications for gas ovens; use it to dehumanize man during twelve years of calculated bestiality. Something will happen to it. . . Something will happen to the words. Something of the lies and sadism will settle in the marrow of the language.” And today, one bounces between the open racism and belligerence of Netanyahu (and various other Likud psychopaths) and the tight lipped sadism of Obama (and troll like minions such as Nurland, Power, Rice, and Biden). Paul Street quoted Macbeth for his short piece on Obama — “Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold.” (Macbeth, 3.4.93) For all these are spiritually hollow men.

Phil Greaves writes: “The historical record of Western-GCC-backed insurgencies in the Arab and Muslim world provides copious amounts of evidence to show that invariably the United States and its Saudi partners have always utilised, fomented, and sponsored reactionary forces to meet geopolitical ends, particularly when subverting or attacking nationalist governments that refuse to abide by the Anglo-American capitalist order – with disastrous consequences for the countries in which the fundamentalist proxies are set upon.”

The master narrative has not slipped as far in U.S., but it is slipping some. For a variety of reasons I thought of John Water’s comment about Wizard of Oz (speaking of L. Frank Baum) saying he wanted to make the sequel, where Dorothy returns from Oz and keeps talking about it, so they put her in a mental institution and give her shock treatment.

In Chinese Roulette, the cook’s son Gabriel, asks the gas station attendant, in a quiet voice; “Have you ever been in hell?” The attendant simply answers “Yes”.

We are at that place collectively. There is nothing to parody. There is only insanity left. As Artaud said, madness or slavery. In this week police shot yet ANOTHER unarmed young black man, this time in Ferguson Missouri (St Louis), dead fish are showing up in record numbers along the north Pacific coasts, there are massacres being carried out in three places all of which use U.S. made weaponry, and all are occuring because of the United States foreign policy. The permafrost is melting in Siberia and creating giant inexplicable holes some thirty meters across. They call them ‘Dragon’s Mouths’. Ebola is the new branded fear, and even its name is racist. Why not just call it Bongo Bongo from the Congo. It is the medical version of the black teenager in a hoodie.

“I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes, my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic
shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.”

Neruda (Bly translation)

The Wizard of Oz, 1939. MGM.

The Wizard of Oz, 1939. MGM.

Uncancelled Stamp

Marco Tirelli

Marco Tirelli

“It is not in the form of the spoils that fall to the victor that [refined and spiritual things] make their presence felt in the class struggle.They manifest themselves in this struggle [of the oppressed] as courage, humour and fortitude.They have retroactive force and will constantly call into question every victory past and present of the rulers. As flowers turn toward the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives to turn toward the sun which is rising in the sky of history.”
Walter Benjamin
Letter to Gershom Scholem

“Architecture is cultic, it is mark, symbol, sign, expression.”
Hans Hollein

“Art is reparative, its intention is to restore psychic health, and its proposal — anticipation — of autonomy, is not an idealistic, self defeating illusion, but a means of articulating just what health means.”
Donald Kuspit

“The Germans are beating us at our own game.”
Joseph De Jarnett, Superintendent, Western State Hospital, Virginia. 1934 (Richmond Times).

It seems that children are the latest target of the new authoritarian states. The blatant naked war crimes in Gaza are disproportionately against children. In the U.S. the Obama administration is making plans to repatriate the refugee children who have crossed the border and are now sleeping on cement floors in make shift immigrant shelters in Texas and Arizona. What is the message here? In Gaza schools are bombed, and hospitals and journalists killed and harassed. The message of the Israeli state has always been controlled by Israel. That control is eroding.

“De-Arabizing the history of Palestine is another crucial element of the ethnic cleansing. 1500 years of Arab and Muslim rule and culture in Palestine are trivialized, evidence of its existence is being destroyed and all this is done to make the absurd connection between the ancient Hebrew civilization and today’s Israel. The most glaring example of this today is in Silwan, (Wadi Hilwe) a town adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem with some 50,000 residents. Israel is expelling families from Silwan and destroying their homes because it claims that King David built a city there some 3,000 years ago.”
Miko Peled

Palestinian refugee camp, 1948.

Palestinian refugee camp, 1948.


In Iraq the U.S. encouraged the looting of museums and the offices of culture. The history and identity of Muslim culture is being wiped out across the middle east. The next generation in Gaza is being wiped out. There are precious few social services for the young in the United States. The cultural memory of black and latino communities is being erased through heightened policing, and the threat of arrest and prison. Israel holds almost 25% of the adult male population of Gaza and The West Bank in prison. Hundreds of Palestinian children are held in Israeli prisons, too.

“In 1958, a decade after the Nakba, the Israeli authorities destroyed 27,000 books, most of them Palestinian textbooks from the pre-1948 period, claiming that they were either useless or threatened the state. The authorities sold the books to a paper plant.”
Evan Jones

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/reports-and-publications/5367-full-report-on-the-condition-of-palestinian-prisoners-in-israeli-jails

Eberhard Havekost

Eberhard Havekost


The message in mainstream media in the U.S. (interestingly, far less so in Europe) is one that works to de-contextualize the ethnic cleansing, and to constantly beat on the single theme of Hamas and rockets and “terrorist”. It is much more useful to imagine Gaza as a group of nasty keffiyeh wearing Osama bin Ladin types launching *Soviet* missles (both more evil and less effective missiles) at the democratically modern white people of Israel. Gaza is dark, Gaza is Detroit and Watts and Bedford Stuyvestant. Gaza is the Mexico/Arizona border and East L.A., and Stockton CA. The same theme migrates to the U.S. media when they describe black on black crime. The landscapes of the United States increasingly, in places, resembles Gaza and the barren highways between Israeli settlements and Palestinian lands. A scorched earth zone, militarized, stark and stripped of life. The drive between housing tracts in Southern California or Arizona looks much the same.

As William James Martin wrote, and it is exactly what is scrupulously absent in mainstream TV or print media:
“What would you do if you were Hamas, and your offices were being ransacked and destroyed, and your people killed.? And what would you do if the population of Gaza were living under a brutal siege, unable to export their agriculture or the products so their labors, with foodstuffs embargoed allowing only a bare subsistence, with electricity and fuel limited, and potable water in short supply, and with building and rebuilding of destroyed structure from two previous wars with Israel, as well as this one when it ends, impossible because of the Israeli siege?”

But here is the point at which it is important to introduce the idea of race. For race is, essentially, only an idea. An idea applied to biology to shape a value system, a biological ideology in a sense. For Israel, the narrative was the Jew returning home to the land of King David. Never mind thats a fictional King, but its the story that counts, right? Zionism is, itself, not inherently a Jewish project. There was a long tradition of Christian Zionists (and that seems to be regrouping in fact), and it was only in the late 19th century that Theordor Herzl and a small group theorized a colonial project in Palestine. Early Zionist writer Viktor Jabotinsky wrote:

“[It is the] iron law of every colonizing movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf. Or else–or else, give up your colonization, for without an armed force which will render physically impossible any attempts to destroy or prevent this colonization, colonization is impossible, not “difficult,” not “dangerous” but impossible!… Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force.”

Marco Tirelli. La Galleria Civica di Modena.

Marco Tirelli. La Galleria Civica di Modena.


The truth is, the entire narrative of ‘return’ for Jews was just a story, a useful one, but certainly one with little historical basis. The Nazi death camps, the European fascism of WW2, provided the narrative engine and a kind of material reference for the return. That said, the return to the land of King David (sic) is still interlaced with the idea of race. The state of Israel is racially defined — and religiously and to a far less extent is it culturally linked to Hebraic culture and learning, for it is in many other ways antithetical to Jewish thought and culture. Much like the U.S. though, a mythology had to be manufactured. The symbols of ancient Herbrew religion, the menorah, the star of David, etc were employed to re-affirm the validity of this Arab land belonging somehow, by God’s decree almost, to the Jews and Zionists. And the shadow cast across all this is race.

Eugenics arose in the mid 1800s. The idea appealed, in different stages, to the far right, the left-ish, the liberals and eventually back to the far right and Hitler. The modern incarnation though could be argued to have arisen in California in the 1920s. The Rockefeller family loved the idea. They funded it.

Edwin Black wrote; “California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the Twentieth Century’s first decades, California’s eugenicists included potent but little known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate and Polytechnic benefactor Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, as well as members of the California State Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.
Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America’s most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics’ racist aims.”

John McCracken, at Zwimmer Gallery

John McCracken, at Zwimmer Gallery


The idea of racial purity is pernicious wherever it arises. And this is because there is always a race better than other races. Why have the discussion otherwise. By the early 1950s, the topic was re-purposed as population control. And even today, the enviromental liberal will espouse the same theories.

“It now seems strange that men who had been conspicuous in the eugenics movement were able to move quite painlessly into the population establishment at the highest level, but if we reflect that the paymasters were the same Ford, Mellon, Du Pont, Standard Oil, Rockefeller and Shell are still the same, we can only assume that people like Kingsley Davis, Frank W. Notestein, C. C. Little, E. A. Ross, the Osborns Frederick and Fairfield, Philip M. Hauser, Alan Guttmacher and Sheldon Segal were being rewarded for past services.”
Germaine Greer

The point is, the Zionist movement, and the subsequent state of Israel were aligning themselves with many of the same people who funded the eugenicist work that Dr Rudin, Nazi colleague of Mengele, practised at the concentration camps.

David Hacohen, an early Israeli labor leader, and eventually director of the Office of Public Works and Planning, wrote in 1969, reflecting back on the early years of Israel.
“I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there.… To pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes, to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash the Arab eggs they had bought; to praise to the skies the Kereen Kayemet [Jewish Fund] that sent Hankin to Beirut to buy land from absentee effendi [landlords] and to throw the fellahin [Arab peasants] off the land–to buy dozens of dunams from an Arab is permitted, but to sell, god forbid, one Jewish dunam to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild, the incarnation of capitalism, as a socialist and to name him the “benefactor”–to do all that was not easy.”

Child detainees, Brownsville Texas immigration holding center. 2014

Child detainees, Brownsville Texas immigration holding center. 2014


There is an interesting article by Dr. Sachlav Stoler-Liss, in Nashim, A Journal of Jewish Woman’s Studies and Gender Issues. On the topic of the early Israeli predeliction for eugenics.
“… Dr. Meir addressed the following words to parents:
Who should be allowed to raise children? Seeking the right answer to this question, eugenics is the science that tries to refine the human race and keep it from decaying. This science is still young, but it has enormous advantages. . . Is it not our duty to insure that our children will be healthy, both physically and mentally? For us, eugenics in general, and mainly the careful prevention of hereditary illnesses, has a much higher value than in other nations. Doctors, athletes, and politicians should spread the idea widely: Do not have children unless you are sure that they will be healthy, both mentally and physically.
Other doctors discovered connections between the Zionist movement, Social Darwinism, and eugenics. Dr. Binyamini explained his findings that Zionist schoolboys were taller, stronger, and tougher than their counterparts in other countries or in non-Zionist Jewish circles mainly as the outcome of a Darwinist process whereby only the strongest and healthiest Jews accepted Zionism. Non-Zionist circles were considered the decadent part of the Jewish world. Such views were quite common among Israeli doctors of that era.
In the view of the medical profession, then, the healthiest route to the formation of a strong new nation was to hold the proper Israeli mother responsible for producing only high-quality offspring.”

Dr Stoler-Liss teaches at Ben Gurion University and has written a good deal on related topics: http://bgu.academia.edu/SachlavStolerLiss

This of course was a strong current in U.S. thinking as well. And one that gained favor in both penal sciences and in the care for the mentally challenged. As recently as last year it was revealed that the California prison system sterilized women inmates without their consent. Race and class. The invention of race coincided with the Imperialist project of European powers. The fact that science lent itself so easily to the most barbaric ideologies, and practices, is only more proof that the instrumental logic of the West is predicated upon domination. Bill Gates is the latest apostle of social engineering, which is always, really, about a privileged few retaining that privilege. The class interests of all colonialists is the same.

Interesting to remember the Zionism worked very hard to stem the appeal of socialism.

“[T]here must be complete fusion [between the Jewish proletariat and] the Russian proletariat, in the interests of the struggle being waged by the entire proletariat of Russia.… [W]e must act as a single and centralized militant organization, have behind us the whole of the proletariat, without distinction of language or nationality, a proletariat whose unity is cemented by the continual joint solution of problems of theory and practice, of tactics and organization; and we must not set up organizations that would march separately, each along its own track.”
Lenin, 1918

The carnage in Gaza is the logical conclusion of all projects of dispossession. All colonial enterprises end in an ethnic cleansing, or in concentration camps.

Race. An illusion, but one useful to a system bent on control.

John Chiara, photography.

John Chiara, photography.


Here is a useful review, of sorts, on Harun Faroki. http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/jul/25/harun-farocki/?ref=journal_p1_post_readbtn

Harun Faroki died this week at the age of 70. Here is a short overview of his work.
http://www.rouge.com.au/12/farocki.html

Harun Farocki, 2009

Harun Farocki, 2009

There is a new branded populism that I detect to be on the rise, at least in the U.S. It is the valorizing of kitsch by an appeal to the success (financial) of any artwork, though usually of film. And it feels as if it is the last re-entrenchment of white entitlement. It fits in seamlessly with all ideas of exceptionalism. Richard Linklater’s highly praised film Boyhood seems the new model for this white entitlement. What accounts for the nearly unanimous praise this film has received? First, I think, there is the gimmick of shooting it over a twelve year period with the same cast. This provides a fall back proof of seriousness. See, see the commitment, the patience. There is a quality of post modern sentimentality about it. White confusion. White neurosis. And the pull of the film is in this cheap emotional identification. What is actually at stake in this narrative? Very little. But it re-assures the audience about the system in which they live. It is self consciously “real”. But as Novalis once said, this is a form of romanticizing that “gives noble meaning to the vulgar, the dignity of the unknown to the known, the semblance of infinity to the finite…”. Donald Kuspit’s essay ‘Deadministering Art’ (from which I am borrowing heavily) touches on more than I think he even realized. For not only is this the state of fine arts, painting and installation art, but increasingly these terms can be applied to film. And Kuspit of course is paying homage to Adorno in this essay. And Boyhood is the definitive apologia for what is in reality a horrible system of inequality and oppression. The magnitude of exploitation and angst is reduced to what is little more than an Ozzie & Harriet family pseudo-drama.

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin

Linklater’s meandering loopy narrative is being perceived as “subtly complex” (The Guardian), and I reminded of the same fawning adulation handed down to Malick’s Tree of Life. At least Malik registers as insane, at least often enough, to be interesting. Linklater is just tedious. Middle brow. But the more important matter is how these narratives of entitlement, of the suffering of bourgeois identity, are connected to the fabric of violence and fascist thinking. It is easy enough to point out Zero Dark Thirty, or Homeland as proto fascist police state validation, but I’d submit that Linklater is expressing another kind of equally virulent totalitarian vision. Now, totalitarian is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Richard Linklater. Linklater made Dazed and Confused when he was already almost forty. Its probably more excusable as a film if the director were 23. For it is this very preciousness, this sort of vapid confessional cuteness that is so troubling, because it masks a latent sadism. But it is the sadism of the narcissistic and puerile white man/child. It is exhibitionistic in a sense, too. Look at my problems. Look, look.

But its more than that. It is the inability to read allegory. And even, to experience the implications of metaphor. Malick puts ACTUAL dinosaurs in his film. And anytime a film begins with cosmic explosions, something is probably wrong. The implication of a cosmology probably needs to be realized by metaphor, not the literal depiction of the big bang.

Linda Connor, photography.

Linda Connor, photography. Death Dancers, Ladakh.


There is another problem in material like Linklater’s, and it is the fact that on a very real level the film erases history. Linklater has spoken of the effects of 9/11, though without specifying exactly what those effects were. But given the attention to the duration of the shoot, the sense of appeal to ‘history’ that this structure implies, there is actually precious little historical content. Only the most generalized banalities are allowed to encroach at all on the innate importance of this mushy subjectivity. In fact everything in the film feels generalized, and one can only conclude that the overwhelming favorable response to the film has to do with the safety and security of generalized emotion. And it is exactly at this point, in the generalized orthodox engagement with the sentimental that something can be seen of the totalitarian sensibility. For in place of depth, the viewer is given a thin veneer of place holders for feeling, for grief or suffering. In lieu of the tragic we get the boring, but it is a very particular sort of boring. One might say the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are *boring*, and in a sense, they are. But the slowness, the precision of Straub and Huillet is a strategy to dig more deeply. There are no revelations in Linklater. There is only more boredom. But this bypassing of history, in a film predicated upon its gimmick of real time aging, of time passing, becomes propagandistic by virtue of what ISNT there. In the great Charles Burnett film, Killer of Sheep, the sense of time (the film too seven years to complete, not by choice but by the challenges of finance) feels like a burden, a form of suffering that is born of a struggle for survival. The director doesnt need to say anything, we see the days and years pass without authorial comment.

In Linklater there is the basic vanilla pablum of ‘family’ presented as if it were a probing metaphysical dissection. Oh, we have our difficulties, that’s life. It is hallmark greeting card level kitsch. And it reinforces the most regressive idea of *family*. The latent misogyny is obvious. This is white people with small problems of identity, or desire, or career. It is, as a whole, an affirmation of bourgeois life, a fantasy about “childhood”, and it manufactures an ersatz version of childhood as if it were a lifestyle choice. It is the worst kind of dishonesty.

Marco Tirelli

Marco Tirelli


On another note:

I did want to mention the work of Marco Tirelli. I only became aware of Tirelli a year or two ago. Tirelli is someone whose meditative pieces run counter to the noise and disposibility of much contemporary work. There are always questions that arise in Tirelli.
What is on the other side? Like Durer, he paints through, not around, in a sense. Tirelli lives in the mountains of Umbria, in a quite remote village. There is that sense of quiet in his work. Of stillness. There is no noise, no chatter. It is interesting to compare him to an Agnes Martin, or John McCraken. Now I like McCracken, at times. He has made dreadful junk, but at his best he creates glossy very effective and luminous pieces. But they are loud. McCraken is always loud. Martin is very focused, and that focus is sustained in her work. I find her work somehow less enthralling than I do certain other minimalists; say even Dan Walsh or more minor artists like Matt Connors. I dont mean minor in any negative sense. Connors is extraordinarily effective at what he does. Now a Dan Walsh is quite seductive. I dont always trust my seduction by him, but I am seduced all the same. Someone described Walsh as tantric. And actually I think that’s a good description. The rhythm of pattern is emphasized in surprising ways. The surface is inviting. Walsh is rather remarkable, actually, in that one continues to be surprised each time one returns to a specific work. In Martin I find a kind of subtle hubris, or arrogance. Martin is very clear, very concise, but she is making work that she knows will be looked at. Tirelli is doing something else, and really so is Walsh I think. They are not the same, of course.

“You knew that there were mountains and woods and a world out there yet you could not see them in the almost total blackness… and by shining a torch out into the darkness, you could see the complete division of light and darkness. The church fathers described God as light, but I began to conceive of an all-enveloping God not as light, but as darkness.”
Tirelli

Marco Tirelli

Marco Tirelli

Someone once said to me, at a gallery opening, of the work on display; “Well, if it was wrapping paper, Id take that one”. Snide, but also not exactly untrue. There is a subtle a very fine line between art and wrapping paper (I guess you could say). And yet that distinction is profound in its implications I think. Part of it has to do with the entering into a relation with the whole, with reality. If an artwork is experienced merely as escape, then in a sense it is reinforcing the prevailing reality. It is not rebelling against it. I am not sure, for example, if Agnes Martin’s paintings do more than massage and offer respite. Tirelli is creating something that, at least, aspires to autonomy. And autonomy is a very illusive ideal, and rarely met, and perhaps never met. It is the impossible. But it is there when you look at Tirelli…or Luc Tuymans, Michael Borremans, Koen van den Broek, Susan Frecon, the late Raoul De Keyser, Serban Savu, R.H. Quaytman, Helmet Federle, Rudolph Stingel, Anselm Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, and Alberto Burri. There are a dozen more. I am mentioning only, really, contemporary painters, and off the top of my head. Donald Kuspit says autonomy is more illusion than a positive reality.

Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh

This illusion is not completely an illusion, though. The autonomy of the artwork is where the unconscious, the repressed material, resurfaces. The return of the repressed. It is that psychic space in which the “aspiration toward the infinite” (Baudelaire) is expressed, or felt. For the artist, this is the impulse to create in the first place. Each creation is partly, as Adorno says (and Kuspit quotes) “reenacting the process through which the subject comes painfully into being.”

As proof of the notion that work must now flatter the audience, there is this : http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/scourge-relatability

Why is Boyhood earning near unanimous praise? Because it presents a cleansed white world of neurotic concerns, solvable, in which no history intrudes. To think Linklater thought about this pap for twelve years is pretty staggering. Adorno said “without a heterogeneous moment, art cannot achieve autonomy.” There is nothing heterogeneous in Linklater. His trick is, however, to present a work that pretends to be. A Marco Tirelli is trafficking in the currency of dreams. As almost distrubingly quiet as his work is, there is something secret or at least hidden being pointed toward. It is its own small rebellion. Walter Benjamin wrote in his essay on postage stamps, that only the collectors of cancelled stamps “have penetrated the mystery, for cancellation is the occult part of the stamp, its nocturnal face.” Linklater is the uncancelled stamp. This is hugely important area for aesthetic resistance, if that’s what we choose to call it. Benjamin also wrote of the comb (which Calasso discussed) which was, each morning, the first dispelling of the residue of dreams. The Mother’s job.

Katsukawa Shunsho, woodblock. 18th century.

Katsukawa Shunsho, woodblock. 18th century.


The world of Richard Linklater, of most of the culture industry, is the well groomed face of Empire. Hair combed, teeth brushed (how few studio films show people with bad teeth) and a smile and firm handshake. The dreams have been removed, the night terrors scrubbed away, and hosed off those white tiles and down the drain. In which the uncancelled stamp can present its ‘scalloped edge’, and the white walls of galleries and star-architect’s projects can shine, and like the wedding dress or ocean liner, or endless reality TV show, continue to keep the lights on, the constant presentation of *now*. Benjamin wrote: “In ancient Greece, people knew of places that gave access to the Underworld. Our whole waking life is a land where at certain points we descend into the Underworld — a land full of scarcely visible places out of which dreams flow.” He added that our prehistory is found at night, groping in darkness. Today it can be the industrial city streets, or the remote wilderness. But these portals to the archaic are sites of antagonism to the status quo. They are unpoliced, secret, and illogical.

Education on The Killing Floor

Markus Amm

Markus Amm

“…two principles of coherence: a proclaimed coherence, of scientific appearance, which asserts itself by proliferating outward signs of scientificity, and a hidden coherence, mythic in its principles.”
Pierre Bourdieu

“So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. “
William Deresiewicz
New Republic, ‘Dont Send Your Kids to Ivy League Schools’.

“No erotic activity can be associated with cruelty.”
Bataille

Everything today is measured in instrumental terms, in the authority of technological expertise. The professional ownership class, mostly white, now operates from a subjective perspective that is essentially risk management. Your life is viewed much the way a stock portfolio is. Cost/loss evaluations are done in real time while considering each daily decision. Now this week, I continued to think about education in light of the pogrom in Gaza by Israeli fascists, the strange Russophobic propaganda surrounding the even stranger shooting down of a Malaysian Air commercial jet, and the continuing reality of mass incarceration (and for a number of people I know well, this is an acute reality).

Pietro Roccaslava

Pietro Roccaslava

“There are virtually no bars in the facility; the cell doors are made of perforated sheets of stainless steel with slots for food trays. Nor are there guards with keys on their belts walking the tiers. Insteand guards are locked away in glass enclosed control booths and communicate with prisoners through a speaker system.”
John Irwin writing about Pelican Bay, super-max prison.

The society that even ten years ago would channel sadists and the maladjusted into the Army, or failing that, into penal guard or security work, now seems to have a surplus. They find work in private security, and often just work in unrelated fields.The natural born sadist is going to be happiest, though, in an authority role without restraints…i.e. the prison. Although domestic police are running a close second in terms of impunity.

“The morally reprehensible killing of children in Afghanistan, Gaza and Iraq is part of a larger problem, one that haunts the late modern period, which is the rise of neoliberal totalitarianism by which I mean an economic and cultural system that is sutured in its allegiance to money, profit, power, inequality, greed, militarism, the punishing state and self-interests. The new global capital societies such as the United States have replaced the social contract with a defense contract. Zombie politics now rules as the living dead function as parasites on their respective societies, engulfing them with the fog of war, corruption and death. How else would one explain bringing Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Kristol back to life on the mainstream airwaves? Like George Romero’s zombies, Cheney and his ilk proliferate like a lethal virus out of control.”
Henry Giroux

Mussolini Party Headquarters, 1935.

Mussolini Party Headquarters, 1935.


So at the top are elite Universities, who have shaped themselves to best adhere to the values of the new totalitarian state. A level of fear runs through what is supposed to be an exercise in learning, in thinking, in moral growth. At the bottom the state has created a carceral system more extensive than any in history, quite possibly. And administering these houses for the surplus poor are the very most damaged psyches in search of a uniform and authority over someone, anyone. Fear again. The tensions, the contours of all this are drawn in fear and anxiety. But fear and anxiety breed a sado masochistic personality, a character armouring that reduces emotion as a too high risk factor, compassion as inefficient. The mythologies of the West today are almost entirely about domination. The fascist value system starts to seem a very effective way to reduce risk. The insecurity of the white fading affluent class is expressed, increasingly, in a search for ANYONE to punish, to stigmatize, to rebuke and control. Honduran children at the border, black teenagers, latino teens, the poor, the homeless, and ungrateful wives or girlfriends.

Here is an interesting breakdown of American support for Israel. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/israels-actions-unjustified.html

The highest level of support came from those with post graduate degrees. I’ve no idea of how tuition cost equates to support for Israeli aggression, but I’d bet it followed logically. At the educational bottom end of the population I am sure you find a high percentage of anti-semites. They probably hate Israel in the same way they think Jews are a worldwide conspiracy connected the Federal Reserve as described by the Aryan Nation or Ku Klux Klan.

Markus Schinwald

Markus Schinwald

What are the dots being connected between what Deresiewicz describes in the Ivy League, and the acceptance of the Gaza pogrom? Post graduate business departments have waiting lists, as do law schools, while classics departments are empty. Risk, this is a story about risk. What Randy Martin called “the financialization of daily life”; the reliance on calculations modelled on economic theory, that human relations are micro managed as one might manage transaction costs and arbitrage. The reading of geo-politics is tinged with career risk aversion, where one cannot afford to make enemies with Israel. There is also the identification with power, and with that arrogance (called confidence) that the racism expresses.

Martin sees the grammar of finance (securitization, derivatives, leverage, etc.) as metaphors for a psychological geography: risk management on Wall Street becomes the securitization of self. Ideas about ‘inflation’ are projected outward. These mental reflexes are shaped by a cognitive mapping that sees developing countries as both risks, and as potential assets to be leveraged. The de-territorialized labour force is not just the result of a logic of maximum exploitation, and of control of risk for ownership, but a psychic configuration of the world. The world, though, becomes homogenized, generalized, bundled in a sense. Military solutions are financial solutions, too. Its nothing personal, really. So support for Israel is just good economic policy, or the perception of it anyway. And in a sense, the surplus domestic population (in the U.S. in particular of course) is a source of value, as social property in a sense for the financialized Capitalist ruling class. The prison boom is doing several things at once. It is making use of the surplus population, and it is valorizing the belief system of elite superiority (the poor are just hopelessly poor, they cant help it), as well as salving the sado masochistic psychological profile of the affluent classes overall. The Palestinians are just like the losers in U.S. prisons.

Joan Nelson

Joan Nelson

It is useful in trying to neutralize the ideological backdrop to discussions, taking place in western societies, on the subject of Israel, to be reminded of basic intentions of the Zionist project from its inception. Remember, whatever progressive elements existed, they were still highly nationalist and essentially racist. Arabs did not participate. The dream of *Greater Isreal* remains a core value for the Israeli state today. http://mohsenabdelmoumen.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/greater-israel-the-zionist-plan-for-the-middle-east-by-israel-shahak/

There is something else at work in the strong identification of white Westerners with the state of Israel. One thing is that Israeli society can express the racism, the hatred and bigotry toward Arabs, Africans, Muslims, without the same fear of condemnation as an American. Israelis are the ventriloquist’s dummy for white educated and affluent hatred. The white citizen of the U.S. is every bit as racist, and may even be anti semitic, but will still strongly support Israel, and sort of suspend awareness that Israel is a *Jewish* state. The Israeli arrogance, the open superiority and indifference to the opinion of others is admired, is processed as a sign of strength, or vitality and personal authority. The fact that Israel is the recipient of billions in aid is rarely mentioned. There is a cognitive cut-off about the US-Israeli relationship. I suspect in fact there is a lingering subtextual contempt for Israelis as well, even among the most ardent supporters. Admired but resented. Admired and indentified with, strongly, as a surrogate voice to express their own bigotry. But also resented because underneath all this PR a good many people know Israelis consider them scum, treif (טרײף), and it is exactly in this grotesque sado-masochistic dynamic which most Americans experience as familiar, that this relationship plays out. The Bataille quote at the top is a reminder that sado-masochistic eroticism requires a recognition of who it is creating the pain. The fascist, says Bataille, rightly, is to exclude, reject, and obliterate the other. The Nazi, wrote Jean Amery, was focused on a murderous self realization. The fascist is destroying life, not sustaining it. There is no joy in Israeli destruction, even though many of the settlers and the Army engage in highly choreographed displays of mock pleasure at the death of Arabs. But like the US citizen and his or her identification with Israel, there is the residue of hatred and resentment as well. So it is with Israelis themselves; whose swaggering belligerence disguises an emotionally reptilian core-self. And I am again reminded of Klaus Theweleit and his study of the German friekorps. There the violence was an act of protecting boundaries of self from contamination by women. Here the violence is directed at contamination by people who they see as vermin. As once the Nazi’s saw Jews as vermin. Untermensch.

http://electronicintifada.net/content/ending-zionism-feminist-issue/13631

Krzysztof Wodiczko

Krzysztof Wodiczko

Reich saw Capitalism itself as both cause and effect of emotional un-health. But what seems to occur in societies as they trend toward the more authoritarian is a dynamic of paternalistic power and sexually charged grovelling before that punishing father. But this dynamic is short circuited when it reaches its apex; for the fascist is the killer of libidinal release. Self realization through murder. For the U.S. this is the logical end point for the Gunfighter Nation (Slotkin) and for regeneration through violence. Except the instrumental class thinking stops even that dynamic so that what one is left with is a series of substitute gratifications based on the bureaucracies of power and state violence. An execution this week in Arizona, by lethal injection, lasted for an agonizing hour and a half. The bureaucracy of instrumental rational murder. The very thing that executions once counted on, in Girardian terms; the sacrificial victim, even that is erased by a hyper rational junk science of barbarity. A small room of witnesses sat impassive watching 90 minutes of agony, much as they watch their favorite cop show on TV, and impassive as those crew cut snake eyed soldiers in air conditioned cubicles in Nevada who move their joy sticks around and direct Hellfire missiles to obliterate distant faceless *enemies*.

“Repression is a historical phenomenon. The effective subjugation of the instincts to repressive controls is imposed not by nature but by man. The primal father, as the archetype of domination, initiates the chain reaction of enslavement, rebellion, and reinforced domination which marks the history of civilization. But ever since the first, prehistoric restoration of domination following the first rebellion, repression from without has been supported by repression from within: the unfree individual introjects his masters and their commands into his own mental apparatus.”
Marcuse
Eros & Civilization

Barbara Ess, photography.

Barbara Ess, photography.


One feels that with the death of Pinter, there are only a scattered few cultural voices (Peter Handke is one) that have a direct public voice of resistance. The phenomenon Marcuse describes, the historical fact of repression, and the cycle of rebellion and re-domination is expressed, often, in illusive ways. Barbara Ess makes photographs with a pin hole camera. They are strange unsettling images, monochromatic and unclear. They demand a search at the most essential level. The subversion of technological expertise is part of the experience, but it is also the sense that something uncontrollable has taken over and will not yield to analysis. They remind me a bit of Trevor Paglin, in the sense that what is being photographed is impossible to photograph, and also averse to the gaze of the spectator. Something else, something foreign, alien, and perhaps hostile to the lens is in the act of being found out. That is maybe the single most indelible quality, that whatever one makes of each image, a secret has been revealed.

Tel Aviv University is offering a year’s free tuition to students who have taken part in the recent assault on Gaza. I began this post with the topic of higher education. In the U.S. in particular, of course. There are countless articles and journalism on the crimes of Israel, on this horrific vicious attack on Gaza, and on the decades long illegal settlements and the violations of international law. But what I want to understand, maybe because, finally, what I most write about is art, is how the culture of Western societies has come to this end game of nihilistic violence.

British sailors, Haifa, 1918.

British sailors, Haifa, 1918.

The role of education in the West today is certainly germane. Historic amnesia is a crucial issue, but perhaps specifically it is the forgetting of the history of colonialism. Of white Euro and North American Imperialism. It simply does not register in those Ivy League schools, as a general statement. Colonialism is not a good topic for the career minded. The culture industry spews out an endless idiotic infantile stream of product; corporate manufactured and featuring one or another of the well paid court eunuchs. Risk averse, instrumentally logical, and focused on securitization of self. That murderous self realization that Amery described, banal and emotionally cut off, was also what Reich described, and Adorno and Horkheimer. The clerks for Empire. What has changed, on one level, is a aggrandized image for those clerks. Advertising makes insurance salesmen heroic, makes obedience and conformity heroic. Duty means doing what you are told. Professionalism often means nothing more than doing what you are told. The reality is drastically different of course. And this cognitive dissonance is causing psychological eruptions of instability. ‘Going postal’ is now a part of the lexicon. Its been internalized as the cost of doing business. You might lose your shit. Kill someone. But hey, its a tough world out there.

The narrowing of vision, the closing off of listening, the infantilizing of emotion. These are the characteristics of the citizen of the U.S. The image I continue to return to, though, is this bureaucrat, the guys with spread sheets, figuring out annual savings for cutting bathroom tissue size. The non creative anal retentive closet sadists of Empire. Those who ordered the veterinary cocktail used in those cheap plastic tubes with the Wal mart plungers at the Arizona death house the other night. Science is under late capitalism is under attack. Genuine serious science exists, but it is often so dependent economically on a variety of nefarious funding sources, that this compromise effects the results.

Beta Medhane Alem church, 14th century. Ethiopia.

Beta Medhane Alem church, 14th century. Ethiopia.


The propaganda machine that is the U.S. government has created certain mythologies; foremost among them is Israel. But there are many other examples, the Contra *freedom fighters* (any socialist or even socialist leaning government is called Stalinist and totalitarian), and crazy insane cultish leaders of black Africa, the backwardness of Muslims, the *strongman, caudillo* South American leaders, etc. It is important at this point to understand the Zionist project, and how it fits into this propaganda. Zionism, the *eratz Israel* project was from the start a militarized state. The surrounding Arab states were angry, and Israel created an image as the plucky underdog, while at the same time creating a mini Sparta with military training and values at its center. The goal of expansion was always there. The early settlements were described as defensive outposts. But the goal of taking over the land of Samaria and Judea (Biblical lands belonging to Jews, according to Zionists anyway) was the actual understood goal. Throughout the 70s and 80s the settlements grew, on Palestinian land, at a rate of about 9%. As far back as 1968, the radical ultra nationalism found expression outside Israel as well, when Meir Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League in NYC, later accused of various acts of domestic terror. Kahane immigrated to Israel and became a leading voice for expelling Arabs from the Biblical land of the Jews. Again, this was government policy, a planned dispossession of Arabs and a confiscating and occupation of their land. The 19th century Zionist project was based (as were many others in Europe) as a deeply nationalistic and ethnically pure, linguistically uniform, and religiously hegemonic ideology. It was never really democratic and while that was the way it was marketed (much like the plucky underdog image) the fact is that there were no Arabs involved in shaping policy, no Arabs on kibutzes, and no Arabs in any influential economic position. One of the more fascinating paradoxes (if thats what it is) is that early Zionists feared assimilation far more than hostile Arab neighbours. In this sense, the principle of Zionism was defensive, hostile to socialist ideology because the appeal of socialism to educated and middle class Jews was siphoning off potential members from its pool of adherents.
Brian Alfred

Brian Alfred


After the Rabin assassination in 1995, the Israeli government took a terminal turn to the right. The Likud and the settler movement were now fashioning a policy that escalated the expansion, and the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and eventually some sort of total enfeebling of the West Bank. There is no way out for states based on exclusion, and on religious orthodoxy and racial purity. None. It eventually reaches critical mass.

Ilan Pappe, a dissident Israeli now in England said in an interview: “Hamas was not created by Israel, but it was empowered and enhanced by Israel as a counter force to the Fatah in the 1970s. Israel has provided it space and allowed it to generate resources with the hope that it will bring down the power of the secular national movement that began to intensify in the occupied territories…The ceasefire was an Israeli-Egyptian dictate to Hamas to accept the status quo, which it, and the people of Gaza, found unbearable. It included also a suggestion of expanding the warden community of the mega prison of Gaza and including in it the PA [Palestinian Authority] police.”

During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. fashioned *agreements* that Milosevic couldn’t accept, that nobody could accept (and Jamie Rubin, Clinton’s main flunkie at the time, even stated this as the intention). The same sort of political theatre has taken place in Israel for decades, as the main trope in *peace negotiations*. Meanwhile as the various acts of this political performance unfold, the settlements grow, the suffocation of Palestinian life intensifies, and every now and then a military incursion is implemented and another few thousand of the unwanted population are murdered.

Walead Beshty

Walead Beshty

The artwork that finds an approach, a navigational posture that avoids the decades of associations that are forever being narrowed is the work that in its negation provides some respite from the endless battering of the new hyper alienated. It’s not easy to think past the absolute barbarism of this week, however. Still, comprehension requires it.

“The ghetto, in short, operates as an ethnoracial prison; it encages a dishonored category and severely curtails the life chances ot its members…recall that the ghettos of early modern Europe were typically delimited by high walls with one or more gates which were locked at night and within which the Jews had to return before sunset after having dispatched their economic functions, on pain of severe punishment.”
Loic Wacquant (quoting in part Louis Wirth’s The Ghetto, 1928).

Adorno wrote…“The understanding of a fleeting musical passage often depends on the intellective comprehension of its function in a whole that is not present…”

Jan Fabre

Jan Fabre


All aesthetic experience is reciprocal. In the same way the erotic libidinal release of tension in sado-masochism relies on the reciprocal relation of both participants. Those Nazi clerks, whose self realization was predicated upon the introjected domination and aggression of their masters, but which was stopped, the circuit breaker flipped, in their own emotional and psychic cul de sac are mirroring the advanced reification of the culture industry today in which the repetitive sameness of product curtails aesthetic experience, relegates this abridged experience to either shallow intellectual reflection, time coded, or simply an appreciation of style, but in either case it is a one way ticket. If Adorno (and Benjamin) were correct, that the shudder was the first aesthetic experience, and goose bumps the first aesthetic image (per Adorno) then subjectivity marked an evolution from naked anxiety, and to the start of an organizing relation to the other. Assimilation, inclusion, not domination. This assimilation is linked to the erotic in its reciprocal quality, and to philosophy. It is something Wittgenstein was drawn to, through the complexity of grammar and language. Even minor art can be convincing. And it is that quality that separates this convincing aspect that allows for radicalization in the experience. Great art simply convinces more powerfully. Today, in the U.S. there are over 2 million men and women locked up, thousands in solitary for long periods (http://solitarywatch.com/). In Gaza there is, as Pappe put it, “a mega prison” which is the site of industrial level slaughter this week. Hospitals, schools, apartments with entire families wiped out. Learning aesthetic comportment, as Adorno put it, allows for the comprehension that transcends what it wants to grasp. This is the lesson not yet learnt by many cultural critics on the left and right. Aesthetic resistance is only one form of resistance, but today in a society so saturated with media, image, and very well honed narratives, it might be more important than conventional thinking would allow. The very things that convince, that transcend categories, are the things that provide a space for deeper compassion. The radical perspective is connected to primal mimesis, and if culture is ever to provide awakening (which may or may not lead anywhere, that cannot be known) it has to submit to an aesthetic comportment, and that is the primary lesson that should be taught at those elite Universities. For without that, we as a culture will simply slide on the blood of the innocent, ever deeper, across the killing floor of Capital. For the ruling class owns and builds the machines of death. They make a profit off the blood spilled on streets across the world. The bland clerks, the talking head peddlers of disinformation, the colorless bureaucrats that turn off water to the poor in Detroit, Gaza, Haiti; these are the non-reciprocal. The reptile-self realizes through murder.
Ridley Howard

Ridley Howard

Goldwater’s Eyes

Baihrava, Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with total destruction.

Baihrava, Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with total destruction.

“The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bed-
room;
It is so — I witnessed the corpse — there the pistol
had fallen.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

“…we now know that a rejuvenated CIA has run a full-scale torture program, kidnapped terror suspects off global streets, and still oversees drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen. In addition, it continues to resist Congressional oversight of its torture activities. As yet, the Agency, tasked with “vetting” a 6,000-page report on its “interrogation methods” prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee, has refused to allow the release of any part of the account. Even Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chair, often considered the “senator from national security,” was moved to offer an extraordinary denunciation on the floor of the Senate of the CIA’s interference with committee computers.
Recently, the Washington Post reported some leaked details from the report the committee has been struggling unsuccessfully to get released, including information on a previously undocumented form of CIA torture: shoving a prisoner’s head into a tub of ice water or pouring that water all over a person’s body. (Immersion in cold water is a torture method I first came across in 1984 when interviewing a Nicaraguan who had been kidnapped and tortured by U.S.-backed and -trained Contra guerrillas.)
We don’t have anything like the full story of the CIA’s involvement in torture, and the CIA is only one agency within a larger complex of agencies, military and civilian. We can’t dismantle what we can’t see.”

Rebecca Gordon

“Dwelling in the proper sense is now impossible. The traditional residences we grew up in have grown intolerable: each trait of comfort in them is paid for with a betrayal of knowledge, each vestige of shelter with the musty pact of family interests. …The sleepless are on call at any hour, unresistingly ready for anything, alert and unconscious at once.”
Adorno

“In 1944 we lived near Tel Aviv market. One morning my wife saw a young man go around talking to all the women selling produce. Some he left alone, but others had paraffin poured on the vegetables and their eggs smashed. My wife, who had just come from South Africa, couldn’t believe it. “What’s going on?” she asked.
It was simple. The man checked if the produce was Hebrew or Arab, and destroyed Arab produce. Now, this behaviour was still on a small scale and some Zionists were still talking like left wingers. Zionist publishers printed Lenin and Trotsky, for example.
But the antagonism to the Arabs remained central. No Arab ever entered the kibbutz movement, the so called “socialist” collective farms. The majority of Jewish-owned land belonged to the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution forbade Arab tenants. This meant in whole areas the original Arab populations were driven out.
When I left Palestine in 1946 Tel Aviv, a city of 300,000, had absolutely no Arab residents. Imagine arriving in Nottingham, a similar sized town to Tel Aviv, and finding no English people.”

Tony Cliff

I was asked this week about culture, at a dinner with my wife and two friends who are violinists. Both teach, naturally enough. Both were talking about the growing lack of seriousness about the arts. In one sense, art must always have moral gravitas to be any good. The vocation of artist, of whatever sort, is a choice that entails moral courage. Now, that sounds sort of like inflated rhetoric, and one can certainly find almost infinite examples of moral corruption in the arts. However, that moral underground currency also still exists. It’s just that such work, any serious work, tends to be marginalized and made invisible if possible. Andrew Levine had a piece at Counterpunch on the “liberal media” (meaning everything that is not FOX News), and in particular NPR (and here it is useful to remember Curtis White’s essay on the ‘middle mind’). Levine writes:

“Nevertheless, on Morning Edition, it was taken for granted that Team Obama is on the side of the angels, and that Putin is a new Hitler. Hillary Clinton said so, after all, and she is always right…But why is there not more outrage? The short answer is that no matter how out of sync with reality the bipartisan party line is, and no matter how dangerous it may be, liberals are still cutting Obama slack — and moving on.This, as much as any structural property of the media system, is what enables corporate media — and NPR, which is corporate in spirit, even if it is technically something else — to do “a heck of a job,” as George W. Bush, said in praise of “Brownie,” Michael D. Brown, the man in charge of “emergency preparedness and response” in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
As a Fourth Estate, NPR and other “quality” outfits plainly are Brownies, one and all. For informing and enlightening, they get a C-plus on a good day – like George Bush at Yale.”

Now, this is all rather obvious, but it is worth looking at in light of one of the bloodiest weeks in recent memory. As Israel continues its use of various illegal weapons (which appear to be variants of DIME, and also of white phosphorus, and its worth noting that Israel has been employing DIME {dense inert metal} since as early as 2004) in densely populated areas. (The extraordinary Dr. Mads Gilbert of Norway who works in Gaza, has written on this several places, including a suggestion there are new versions of tungsten bombs now being used).

In Israel we have a society that can stand on the hillside and watch war crimes as if they were TV has probably reached a nadir of moral failure.

Of course, the U.S. is exactly as morally bankrupt. Detroit is the domestic Gaza in one sense. The vast U.S. prison system is Gaza in another sense. The Zionists on the hill in Sderot, watching war crimes carried out across their horizon, are much like the American public watching water being turned off in the homes of the poor in Detroit. The police choking an unarmed man to death in NYC, on Staten Island, is not a lot different than the IDF soldiers shooting young Arab men. SWAT teams kicking in doors in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Albuquerque, or Philly is much like IDF forces kicking in the doors of Palestinians. And both are like the U.S. Marines carrying out house to house searches in Mosul or Baghdad, after kicking in the doors. And these kicked in doors happen daily, multiple times, across the planet. And in each case the jackboot of authority is Western, and usually from the U.S.

Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler


But the culture of the West today is one that trivializes, and it is, to put it simply, such trivialization which undermines the sense of moral purpose, for compassion, and for the outrage in plain view of inequality. Seriousness scares the new fascist, a fascism anchored, cognitively, on trivial and infantile amusements. It is the U.S. which orchestrated a coup that removed Jose Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected, from the Presidency of Honduras, and replaced him with the thuggish and corrupt Juan Hernandez, and this almost totally unreported story is the obvious cause of a flood of traumatized children fleeing north to the U.S. border, where they are met with holding pens, concrete floors to sleep on, and reams of invective from both parties and the mainstream media. And where Obama hurries plans to send them back home. But it is simply another story, placed alongside an op-ed (The Guardian, July 19 this year) from a member of Pussy Riot decrying the evil that is Vladimir Putin.

During my dinner discussion the other night, the topic of “encouragement’ came up. And I have said this before, the culture of ‘constructive criticism’, of reducing the creative act to self help therapy. What this is, really, is a cultural flat-lining. Whatever you do, you are OK. Well, almost whatever you do. Because seriousness is not OK. Lighten up. Don’t fixate. It’s not healthy. The drive to be an artist means you don’t need encouragement, nor do you need constructive criticism. You simply need criticism, and instruction from those who know more about whatever you are trying to do. The narcissism of art as therapy is, strange as it may sound, perfectly in line with all thinking predicated on self interest. The Ayn Rand culture. Everyone gets a winner’s ribbon, you get a commendation for just ‘trying’, just participating. Because you are taking part in the Spectacle. There will be winners, and losers…and well, a lot more losers, but that’s the natural order of things.

Pedro Calapez

Pedro Calapez


The artist studies his craft, he studies the history of his art form, and he develops a discipline. He or she does not need to be encouraged. The artist is driven in part by an oppositional stance vis a vis the status quo. Creating is, in many ways, in and of itself, a form of protest to the world as it is.

Frederich Engels wrote that today’s society “breeds hostility between the individual man and everyone else.” That was in 1845. I said in the last posting here, that today everyone who is not of the ruling class is an outcast. Must function like an outcast, and as a criminal. The new growth industry that is prison building is a material expression of an inner state, an interior architecture that reinforces the idea of separation, isolation, and containment as part of an equation that starts with security. The trivial, the making everyone the same idea contains, of course, a contradiction. Everyone is the same, except for the winners. The winners are different, but THAT difference is alright. It is alright because it is viewed as a dispensation from God, somehow. Security is linked to a structure of control over (per Loic Wacquant by way of Max Weber) “the elaboration of legislation, the enforcement of public order, the armed defense against external aggression, and the administration of hygienic, educational, social and cultural needs.” This model is taken for granted. All the way down to cultural needs.And it is worth noting the ways in which ideas of morality are connected to the production of and manufacture of culture. And how all of this is linked to a destruction of difference, of creatitivity as an idea.

Abandoned Southwest Florida resort. Mila Bridger photography.

Abandoned Southwest Florida resort. Mila Bridger photography.


Adorno, following upon the quote at the top, said “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home”. He was suggesting that consumer goods, so abundant, and so disposable at the same time, creates a paradox, that one must have ‘things’ to survive and not fall into desperate dependency on the system, but at the same this need leads to, as he put it, “a loveless disregard for things which necessarily turns against people, too.” The ethos of disposability has most certainly, in the ensuing half century since Adorno wrote this, turned against people..though especially the working class. People are as trivial as cell phones or a new track suit. In fact, the fetishizing of certain “things”, new cars for example, has pushed the perception of individual human value even further down the scale. Advanced reification.

One of the many factors that mediate memory is the constant production of new technologies. The memories of standing in line to cash a check at the bank, or going to the library and using the Dewey decimal catalogue, are not experiences (along with a thousand other relatively banal experiences) that will passed on to the next generation. Each new technology isolates one generation from the next. When Adorno wrote of the morality of letting go of this false identification with home, with home as the titular site of identity, he was examining the atrophy of the sense of private life, of traditional parameters for the bourgeois individual. And he knew quite acutely the difficulties of finding a way to exist sanely within a society of property relations. But the fact of consumer abundance, the faux choices for shopping, are also now, additionally, eroded by bank ownership of everything you *think* you own. The fact is, when you go to buy a new car, you are not being sold a car, you are being a sold a ‘deal’ for buying a new car. You are buying financing. But that aside, I think the point I’m trying to get to has more to do with the trivializing of human relations.

Kikuji Kawada, photography.

Kikuji Kawada, photography.


The U.S. prioritized military solutions from WW2 onwards. It found enemies wherever needed, from communists in Central America, to Muslim radicals in Afghanistan, or Iraq. It has armed wars, often on both sides, throughout the world. It has its primary sub contractor in Israel. This is extreme alienation quotient in modern Western life. Violence. The loss of memory, the mediation of a reified relation to house and home, to residing anywhere, is shaped by the constant need for violence. The ultimate distraction, the ultimate expression of disposibility. The architecture for many in the West, when viewing the attack of Israel on Gaza, the clearing away rubble with bulldozers, and the clearing away of people, the building of a fence, is that of re-decoration. Time for new drapes, new tables and lamps. Disposible. You can always go buy new Palestinians if you end up not liking the settlers.

Moshe Dayan in Viet Nam, 1965

Moshe Dayan in Viet Nam, 1966

In the U.S., there is a particularly carceral tinge to this cognitive architecture. Loic Wacquant as described the judicial garbage disposible that are the American courts. The penal and medical are linked historically, in their purposing as solutions to social problems. Wacquant calls penalization the “technique for the *invisiblization* of the social problems of the state…” All of this as purely structural mapping is traced back to this bourgeois idea of home and identity. When suburban tract homes seemed to metastasize across the American landscape, it was as nothing more than sort of breeding pens for livestock, who are kept pacified by various commodities, or really, by whatever it is they want to buy. As more and more people were and are unable to buy much of anything, the model has shifted, and the resurgent tropes of disinfecting the landscape and the society take over.

The theatre of repression, as Arline Mathieu described it, is the increasing reliance on medical justifications and explanations for poverty. Poverty is called, or labelled homelessness. The focus is on the mental health of those left homeless, and the implication is their medical condition created their *desire* to be homeless. But again, homosexuality, prostitution, drug addiction, have all at various times, come under the medical umbrella. In this theatre of repression the doctor on-call is the state authority structure. The decorator moving out those tacky so ten minute ago homeless riff raff (or Palestinian, or urban black teen, or latino, or south Asian, etc). Clear out the garbage. Sanitize what is left. Re-purpose the junk (gentrification) as stylish, and the garbage is invisible. On a global stage, we could well get into the mental mapping of other nations and cultures as they exist for the West.

Rachid Koraichi

Rachid Koraichi


Now, this is not to say that large swaths of the populace in the West today are any longer buying their pay-TV subscription. And one of the trends is to make everyone’s life the latest reality TV show. This is the representation, the manufacture of ideological backdrops for daily life, the constant amnesia producing mechanisms of the Spectacle. And still, hundreds of thousands of people are out in the streets protesting. The conclusion is that people both reject, and embrace the illusions of identity. The fact that Israeli war crimes are so obvious is the only reason for the relatively large protests. But in fact, the liberal college student who thinks “Battle of Algiers” is really cool, will support Israel because the media and Hollywood have done their best to invest these monsters with “cool”, and the FLP suddenly is stylistically similar to Irgun or the Stern Gang. A friend who teaches at a liberal arts college in the US had a student, a girl student, squeal…”Netanyahu is a fucking rock star”. The same confusions exist with Rwanda, of course, and certainly the former Yugoslavia. Style matters, not political history. Keith Harmon Snow clarifies African propaganda and plunder : http://libya360.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/keith-harmon-snow-the-plunder-and-depopulation-of-central-africa/

So, the strange Alice through the looking glass world in which Netanyahu and Kagame and Museveni are allies, even cool allies, is the world of historical revisionism, and it is a revisionism that actually has no text. The inscription of support is written on the amnesiac citizen who barely knows his own congressperson. The Serbs are monsters, Milosevic an evil “butcher”, and yet of course there was no evidence of this. What there was in place of evidence was a marketing narrative (operative in TV shows most noticeably). The most common response I get when the topic of Milosevic comes up is something like this; ” well, ok. but he did *something*, it cant all be made up” and so on. The lesson is: if you use propaganda, saturate the market.

Matthias Grunewald, early 1500s.

Matthias Grunewald, early 1500s.


But let me get back to this idea of a cleansing of the poor. Where sixty years ago, black people were still being lynched in the U.S., today they have returned to a place in the cognitive mapping that suggests they can do without water. But the re-decorating of the house includes the idea of subjugation to the authority (which is dressed up in the neo liberal free market tuxedo). Ayn Rand again. Individual as heroically responsible. That word, *responsible* is the ugliest word in English. The disinfecting means taking out of sight. Relegating to TV shows. But it also conjures up certain images that resonate with Christian millennialism, and this is hardly an accident. The cleansing of society is in preparation for the second coming. This was a hugely popular part of Nazi mythology. The Third Reich was after all, to rule for a thousand years. The kitsch Christian symbology at work these days in pop culture seems unlimited. There are of course Jewish and Hindu millennial systems, and even Zoroastrian millennialism. In fact Zarathustra is likely the first to lay out this notion of tribulation, armegeddon, and Rapture. The point is, the ideological class divide is given a sort of pseudo-religious vibe by breaking out a lot of arcane jargon and validating the craziest of Christian extremists as somehow worth taking seriously.
Nahum B. Zenli

Nahum B. Zenli


My own experience in the U.S. the last few years (when I have popped in, because I cant live there anymore) has been that the average white male is now, in a sort of accumulative dissolution of mental faculties and emotional deprivation, a knotted ball of anger and seething resentments. And it seems to extend to the left as well.

During the Viet Nam war there was an effective and vibrant anti war movement. Today, I think there are probably close to as many people who object to U.S. military adventures, to the Imperialist project to dominate, but what seems missing on one level is the cultural expression of it. Of course there is also a far more draconian system of policing, and surveillance. And those two factors are obviously intertwined. The rise of the totalitarian status quo is partly about destroying art and culture. I remember Robert Bly and Ginsburg, Merwin, Stafford, and a dozen other poets doing readings. Bly in his Nixon mask, and I remember the sense of an anti establishment vibe to rock and roll, and I remember radical theatre experiments, often pointedly political, and today I feel none of that. It feels as if in place of the radical artist we have JayZ and his Israeli start up company, or Scarlett Johansson pimping her Israeli soft drink. James Garner died this week, and I remember him taking part (though I was only 12), with Brando, James Baldwin and others on the march on Washington in 1963. Garner once said even when Reagan was head of the Screen Actor’s Guild, he had to be told what to say, like a puppet. Garner was a deceptively good screen actor, effortless and expansive. His death feels somehow another marker for the end of a certain time.

Bread and Puppet Theatre, 1972,  Protest march against Viet Nam war.

Bread and Puppet Theatre, 1972, Protest march against Viet Nam war.

It is in even these partial and rather simplified memories that the effects of a system of control are starkly revealed. The subtle never ending wearing down of small acts of refusal and resistance. The cost has been increased for any dissent, and it’s just much easier to back off, and I don’t blame anyone for that. Bly was interviewed and asked about the Viet Nam protests, and about that era. He said:

“Galway Kinnell and I sometimes joined to do a series of readings. Once in upstate New York we gave three readings in one day, flying from Albany to Syracuse to Buffalo. That night we ended up at a diner. Suddenly a drunk in the diner, not knowing anything about us at all, said, “You want to know what I did during the Korean War?” “Well, what did you do?” “I was a rear gunner. We were coming back from a bombing raid, and the pilot for some reason flew right down the main street of this little Korean town. I had some ammunition left. You know what I did? I lowered my guns and shot every Korean I could see walking on either side of the street. What do you think about that? Why did I do that?”
That’s what that time was like. Old stuff came up.”

Whatever one wants to call it, the collective psyche, or the Zeitgeist, but there is a feeling of a deep hollow starving soul out there today. Old stuff is *not* coming up, its being pushed down further and under necessarily greater pressure. The horror of what Israel is doing this week feels like that demonic monster that rises at times to make the hell realm material and palpable. The crimes of Empire. This stuff drives many mad. The artists I knew when I was young are mostly gone. Either insane, or their souls died. Sometimes perhaps we don’t know we’ve died. Perhaps this is one partial reason for the persistence of Zombie images. The walking dead.

It is a culture in which the authority structure both consciously, and almost de-facto, encourages vigilantism. This is the public shaming, and often the vilification takes more physically abusive forms. The dread and alienation of what passes for middle class life, in the modules of conformity called houses, finds easy outlet in a lynch mob mentality. (County Fairs across the country now feature a sex offender stall where visitors can, while eating cotton candy, browse for registered sex offenders living in their neighborhood. Suffice it to say hundreds of clerical errors have been recorded and mistaken identities are common. Not to mention the fact that a single offense from thirty years ago, often of a minor variety, stamps the convicted for a life of flight). Snitching is now institutionalized, as I wrote last posting. It is within “sex offenses” however that the frayed model for familial unity is most threatened (in the abstract). There is titillation too, of course. But mostly, it is the as the role of symbolic sacrifice that the sex offender most clearly fills. In California there is a proposition under consideration to house sex offenders in a “Sex criminal zone” in the Mojave desert. The allegorical implications make one’s head swim. This is penology as risk management, too. As Loic Wacquant writes; “This new policy toward sex offenders…prioritizes the retribution, incapacitation, and stringent supervision of entire categories of convicts defined statistically through aggregate probabilities of deviant behavior. In this regard Megan’s Laws and kindred measures fuse the instrumentalism of the *new penology* of stochastic management and selective neutralization with the emotion driven ferocity of punitive populism.” Market failures, make them into market successes (private prison construction remains a growth industry). The disposible population is placed out of sight, and yet can be utilized as slave labor and used statistically to fill up beds and therefore create more financing of prison construction projects. Not to mention ever enlarge the bureaucracy of punishment. Additionally, the infusion of Christian apocalyptic imagery. Cast them into the empty desert to wander alone, beneath the furnace like sun, serves to legitimate a populism of vindictive never ending punishment, without even bringing psychiatry into the loop.

Mayakovsky. Photo by Rodchenko.

Mayakovsky. Photo by Rodchenko.

This is Biblical logic. The privileging of victims’s rights is only another artery of this Puritanical repression and regulating of the marginal classes. If Adorno was right, the cheapening of experience connected to the cheapening of commodity life and home would turn against people, there are no better examples, probably, than American penology. And in particular the moral fervour targeting anyone involved in any way with a sexual offense. It is worth adding that the depiction of rape and battery of women in Hollywood film is popular because its an attractive young woman assaulted. Her clothes usually torn. The story lines built around a sexual assault or rape are by far the most popular in cop franchises. This creates an atmosphere of fear, belied by the statistics that suggest released rapists have the lowest specialist reoffense rate of any offender (tied in fact with murderers). But the need for misogynst surrogacy in narrative has created an entire fictional world of constantly re-offending sexual predators. The serial offenders are actually the Hollywood executives that constantly recycle these fictional myths.

The lack of political consciousness, of an avant garde of radical rejection of establishment values would and could create narratives in which someone besides the *victim* of the crime or the cop were the protagonist. The shallowness of this sentimental kitsch reflects the maudlin consciousness of forgetting, and the deification of warrior cop.

Push that material down further. Push it down and keep the lid on. No matter what.

“the hell of America’s unacknowledged, unrepented crimes that I saw in Goldwater’s eyes
now shines from the eyes of the President
in the swollen head of the nation.”

Robert Duncan

“the staff sergeant from North Carolina is dying—you
hold his hand,
he knows the mansions of the dead are empty, he has an
empty place
inside him, created one night when his parents came
home drunk,
he uses half his skin to cover it,
as you try to protect a balloon from sharp objects. . .”

Robert Bly
The Teeth Mother Naked at Last

Do Ho Suh

Do Ho Suh

The Lair of the War Gods

R.H. Quaytman

R.H. Quaytman

“In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; it was her Triumph of the Will that reputedly cast Hitler’s spell. I asked her about propaganda in societies that imagined themselves superior. She replied that the “messages” in her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on a “submissive void” in the German population. “Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked. “Everyone,” she replied, “and of course the intelligentsia.”
John Pilger

“If place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.”
Marc Auge

During this week of Israeli ethnic cleansing, its good to be reminded that the those trying to resist occupation, or invasion; those fighting against colonialism and Global Capital are usually portrayed as villains, as malcontents, as terrorists. They are the trying to expel the West, after all.

In 1948 a letter was sent to the New York Times, signed by a number of Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein (who is seen as the main creator of the text) and Hannah Arendt.

It begins:

“Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.”

Ordensburg Vogelsang. SS training center, built 1930's.

Ordensburg Vogelsang. SS training center, built 1930′s.

Ultra nationalist and violent, the same anti human force that is seen in all displays of fascist thinking and behavior. The squashing of dissent, and the feeling that even near random imprisonment or even extermination of those who are not *us* is acceptable and even, often, necessary. But there is something else lurking, too, and its as if one has to approach these issues from a global systems point of view, or global/historical interconnectedness. For there is a constant refrain now that crosses all methodological and aesthetic and ideological realms, and that is ‘utopian dreaming is a failure, a misguided ideal in architecture, or politics, or social planning’. Just in the last week, for whatever serendipitous reasons, I’ve come across several articles where mention was made of utopian building projects that turned out dystopian, in ruins, in squalor and despair. The subtextual meaning is always, Utopian thinking is naive and unrealistic. One story was the fascinating La Vele de Scampia, a housing project that began building in 1962, in the north corner of Naples. The architect was Francisco Di Salvo, and it was hailed at the time as a radical new solution to slums, disorder and housing shortages. Within a few months there were already problems, lack of state support and encroachment by the Neopolitan mafia (Cammora syndicate). By the earthquake of 1980 the final nail in the coffin that ‘The sails’ had become was hammered home, and soon squatters were taking over damaged apartments, but more, the mafia had taken over whole blocks of buildings. The area became among the more notorious slums in Europe with high incidence of drug sales and violence. Another Utopian dream revealed as illusion. But of course, its not the fault of the dream, its the fault of a world global system of capital, its the fault of a system that breeds ruthless drug crime organizations and valorizes violence (and reproduces capitalism), that breeds and creates inequality and desperation. But the ‘common sense’ response is, oh, those foolhardy naifs who imagine social planning will ever make a difference. What we need is the creation of wealth! Which means, creation of wealth for the few.
La Vele di Scampia, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

La Vele di Scampia, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.


Tobias Zielony did a fascinating photographic essay of La Vele de Scampia, and I use two of his remarkable photos in this posting, but the accompanying text, by Shauna Thompson reveals the problematic interpretation of such failures.

“Zielony’s photographic series, Vele, alludes to the legacy of this place: the failure of a utopian architecture that has literally and figuratively crumbled into a dystopian reality that is at once both nightmarish and banal—the hubris of a government that would insist upon an architecture with social goals in a place where social problems were largely unaddressed. A nine-minute photo animation of a combined seven thousand single images offers a shifting, hallucinatory portrait of the place and some of its inhabitants, while a parallel series of photographs depict still moments of the same.”

The failure is not with Utopian architecture, or rather not per se. The failure is very precisely with government failure to address social problems. There is a subtle implication (and I’m being overly harsh with Ms Thompson) that a government with social goals is deluded. Most readers and viewers of this exhibit will come away thinking, oh, another naive Utopian dream doomed. And they will no doubt assume it is more proof that what is needed is a free market, where the poor can become rich and build their own ugly McMansions. Except that never happens. Today there is a tacit cognizance that society is indifferent to your wants. That society is cynical. But it is true that most Utopian model cities have come out of architects themselves not sensitive to historical formations of community.

That said, Zielony’s photographs are quite compelling and haunting.

'Scampia', Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

‘Scampia’, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

Here from the catalogue to Zielony’s show in Naples, at Galleria Lia Rumma Naples: “If you’ve seen the movie Gomorrah, you won’t have any difficulty recognizing the location of Tobias Zielony’s photos: Le Vele (The Sails) in Naples. Denatured by modifications to the original plans, obstructed by management failures, excessive housing density and insufficient services facilities, the monumental buildings are to be demolished. Three of them have already been razed to the ground. The remaining four “sails” are in an advanced state of degradation. Only about a hundred families still live in buildings which have now been reduced to ghostlike ruins”
Fritz Stern (and Hobsbawm) saw the early 20th century as period where the past was being re-imagined, and viewed as (in Stern’s phrase) as a “springboard to the future”. History was being invented, posited, as an era bathed in amber light and with Volkish medieval style codes. The final expression of this was National Socialism.

Odd Nerdrum

Odd Nerdrum

There was the focus on progress and the future, but a specific future, seen in Le Corbusier and Van der Rohe, as well as, in another way, in Scandinavian design and architecture (per Barbara Miller Lane), but its important, I think, to see how significant The Bauhaus was, and in exactly what way.

“I begin here not with a French apartment tower but with the Bauhaus, the school that was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The Bauhaus can be looked upon as the fountainhead of the modern movement in Germany and in the Scandinavian countries. I show … the cover of the first Bauhaus Manifesto, from 1919. It is a cathedral. It is actually a Romanesque cathedral. The text that accompanies this image talks about a new architecture, which is going to create new ideas of community. In fact, the cathedral itself was described in Bauhaus publications as the “cathedral of socialism” or the “cathedral of the future” or the “cathedral of freedom.” Here and in other places at the same time Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, summoned contemporary artists to join in the “cooperative work” of “kleinen fruchtbaren Gemeinschaften, Verschwšrungen, Bruderschaftern . . . . BauhŸtten wie im goldenen Zeitalter der Kathedralen!”, to join, that is to say, in small communities or brotherhoods such as those that built the medieval cathedrals. So the “cathedral of the future” in the Bauhaus Manifesto was a metaphor for a temple to secular regeneration after the war, for the creation of small new communities, led by artists, that would then be the basis for spiritual regeneration.”
Barbara Miller Lane

Now, as I’ve said before, I think LeCorbusier is often misread, or read reductively. Pre WW1 architecture in Germany, and really, in all the arts (though in different ways and to differing degrees) was linked to Protestant symbols borrowed from Medieval building and painting. In Scandinavia, there were various threads from Denmark, Norway, but perhaps most important were the Finnish art nouveau architects like Eliel Saarinen, and painters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela. There’s was a northern mythology of primitivism and pagan kitsch and this was possibly as influential to German design as anything in German speaking countries at the time. All this is just to say, The Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists (and the Russian Revolution) radically altered ideas of the relationship between communities and space. What they had rejected so concisely was almost as significant as what they created.

Danish National Bank, Arne Jacobsen architect, 1966

Danish National Bank, Arne Jacobsen architect, 1966

I think that it is worth being careful about the use of the term Utopian. Perhaps that is really my basic point here. Adorno saw authentic or important art making apparent the oppositional tensions of society. They manifest something that is hidden by the ideological appearances and contradictions of daily life. Hence, through their negation of a false essence they posit a possible alternative. The specifics of the alternative matter less than the fact its an alternative. This is partly their Utopian capacity. Now I am being very simplistic in this description, but for the purposes of this post, I think it matters to see that one of the trends in mass culture and political propaganda (and they increasingly overlap) is the erasing of the idea of Utopia. And even further, to erase ideals of any sort. The later Scandinavian architects and designers reclaimed something of a quiet austere sense of simplicity, even in their larger projects. Arne Jacobson is a kind of cliche at this point, in some respects, but revisiting his best architecture you find its suprisingly good. And for all its monumentality, its never authoritarian. To note that distinction is important.

The erasing of Utopia is both cause and effect of the rising authoritarian values and an increasing acceptance of pure fascist politics in the advanced West today. When there is nothing in this imagined future but the false memory of cheap national chauvinist mythology, then the badly educated populations of the West are finding their only consolation to dreary emotionally nullifying wage slavery by dreaming in images of a false memory. The new Albert Speers are cybernetic, and the Spectacle is immaterial, and Hollywood continues to manufacture false memory. Perhaps it does that before all else.

Helsinki Central Railway Station. Eliel Saarinen architect. 1919.

Helsinki Central Railway Station. Eliel Saarinen architect. 1919.

The de facto dream is then the only remaining channel to provide self worth, a sense of the heroic and of power. All the DC and Marvel comics are only latter day versions of the those war god symbols incorporated into Nazi design and building, into the entire narrative of German resurrection and Triumph of the Will. And this is the essentially the same visual grammar used by all late 19th century north European architects and designers, as well as painters and writers.

The real problem with Utopian city planning is that it often, or perhaps usually, neglects the historical and the relations forged in daily life between the populace and things like buying food or clothing, access to health care, etc. The problem is often that Utopia is a-historical. But why is that? Partly, it is the Spectacle itself, the entire vocabulary for architects has been cleansed of alternative thinking. Past a certain point, history is torn down in the same way the slums are cleared away. For the shanty towns and favelas and ghettos of giant global cities are the repositories of history. History and memory live in these places.

Carel Willink

Carel Willink

“If we try to apply these thoughts to the fields of architecture and urban planning, it seems that the speed and spontaneity of our changing societies makes a programmatic determination of spaces practically impossible. Thus we have to fundamentally question the idealised condition that architectural practice takes as its starting point; this neurotic tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation of architects. Instead of reproducing the institution’s spaces of control, we have to face the absence of expectation of programmatic control.
One example: we know already about the demographic transitions taking place in Latin America, where a very significant decline in the nuclear family is generating a need for a much broader diversity with respect to rooming schemes. But architecture just keeps on reproducing (on a large scale) homes and housing for traditional nuclear families. And at an urban level, public policies, governmental structures and developers are continuing to define our production of space.”

Michael Rojkind

In a sense, what Rojkind describes in architecture is true in narrative, in film, in all art. The reproduction of tropes of control, of spaces of control, and the imposing of norms for behavior, and setting of values. The narratives for Hollywood today are simplified to the level of Dick & Jane readers. And the kistch War Gods of Nazi mythology are completely at home in this programming of the people, and in the most basic vernacular. This is the Hollywood template, and the new worship of the military and police is always in service to these Gods. Now, what Marc Augre called “non spaces”, in his view of super modernity, is really most public space today, at least in the U.S. Airports, highways, malls, sports centers, even super markets. In each case, history is absent. The airport, or train station and bus depot are all expressing temporality. You cannot stay past your travel date. Your shelf life is short. Nobody waits at any travel hub for more than 24 hours. You are given a ticket number, a seat number, and a time. And you are watched. In the U.S. the effects of automobile orientation is profound. And the gas station is now an iconic and even romanticized symbol of an ersatz freedom of movement. And indeed, at ground level, the gas station possesses something far less controllable than airports or train stations. I suspect that part of the American pathological love of the car is linked to the very real, albeit small, sense of autonomy that driving provides. Yes, the roads are often just blasted space between check points, but the sense of vision that driving provides is real.

Pat de Groot

Pat de Groot


These non spaces however reflect something inner as well. The interior non-space of the post modern citizen. The gaping maw or hole where the shrinking ‘self’ used to be is compulsively filled with electronic gadgets and activity, and programmed leisure time, and ‘entertainments’ of distraction, repeated at a hyper pace. Only in the inner landscape featuring deep cavities of a black nothingness, can the War Gods come to rule. The non-spaces shorn of history, and where every single wall is filled with advertising, is an ahistorical non-memory. You have nothing to remember, no relational history. Only the possibility to purchase. Buying is conquest. If I can buy that iPad, I can eventually buy a person to run it.

The corporate mainstream media today are like the town criers in their kitsch volkish villages for pagan war gods. The level of depravity that accepts the death of infants and children is hard to calculate. Most Americans defense of Israel is not an expression of love for Jews or Zionists, its a hatred of Arabs and Muslims. This is the culture you get when all that is left of Utopian dreams is Disneyworld and a trip to the Super Bowl, or the belief that maybe one day I can become like Donald Trump. The mind of today’s Israel is shaped by thugs, Avigdor Lieberman, the former Baku radio personality and Moldavan nightclub bouncer, turned racist demagogue leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular nationalist party, a man who at different times, has suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, Beirut, and Tehran, and asked for the expulsion of all Arabs from the Jewish State. The problem is that Lieberman is actually pretty much dead center on the Israeli political spectrum. Bibi Netanyahu, the also thuggish Prime Minister, a ruthless pitiless and crude man, whose vulgarity is only matched by his arrogance, no longer even pretends to struggle with questions of peace. Israel intends to implement the final act of its ethnic cleansing of Gaza and the West Bank. They care little for International sentiment (I mean as long as the Rolling Stones still perform in Tel Aviv, and Jay Z and his wife fraternize with these fascists http://blog.4ziononline.org/uncategorized/music-mogul-jay-z-invests-in-israel/#.U8U2Hvl_tA0) because they are the sub contracted goons for U.S. power moves in the region. They have immunity from any repercussions. They are much like the New Orleans police department after Katrina, or the Albuquerque PD all the time, or Sheriff Joe in Arizona. The U.S. media, Hollywood, has glamorized Israel for decades now. The very word ‘Mossad” is spoken in hushed tones.

Pilgrimage Church. Neviges Mariendom. Gottfried Bohm architect. 1963

Pilgrimage Church interior. Neviges Mariendom. Gottfried Bohm architect. 1963

Merleau Ponty said “space could be to place as the word is to being spoken”. Meaning real spaces and real places are operating in dialectical relationships of becoming and ceasing. The Western trend toward hygienic and sanitized space, where even leisure takes place in what feel like clinic space, and where fun is only more work, and where this desire for clarity and scientific rationality ends in ethnic cleansing and the incineration of children and women. The sound track for U.S. society today is the crying of children. Israel is the same non-place of post modern fascism. The same violence of U.S. society. The same vast moral nowhere. Israeli violence is simply tricked out in different attire as the Israeli Defense Force, but its identical to U.S. and its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The destruction of community, at both micro and macro levels leaves the individual in the role of outcast. In the era of global capital, everyone but the ruling elite is a scapegoat. The outcasts wander in search of survival. The culture of surveillance, where everyone must think like a criminal, where the only rewards offered are to be snitch or to shame someone else, has become institutionalized.


http://www.truthandaction.org/ny-dhs-will-pay-500-rat-fellow-citizens-buying-legal-goods/

In a sense the art of today that has value is that which demonstrates an integrity that defies consumerism and commodification. For this quality is the building block of community. It is important to think dialectically about this, however. The problem with almost all confessional art is that it privileges the creator in opposition to the group. The fact that an artwork becomes a commodity is really beside the point. The crucial factor is more in the potential for liberation that art provides, and that means liberation from the prevailing values of the Gods of War, the totalitarian and authoritarian vision that is most immediately traced back to Leni Reifenstahl.

Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl, dr. 1935

Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl, dr. 1935

“Spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture” wrote Eric Fromm over fifty years ago. The cultic deification of the artist as seer is the shadow side of creativity. The valorizing of fake Shamans (Abromovic comes to mind, with her endless re-enactment of submission and obedience rituals as natural) and the constant reinforcing of conformist thought, of group-think, is all too prevalent. The best art is one that taps into lost memories, the real archaic traces of what has been forgotten. Again, of course, there is the imitation memory at work. The creation of false memories, where in a sense the entire culture is participating in a recovered memory show trial or 12 step intervention. There is a constant tendency toward breaking apart the group, and replacing it with a unified collective ‘self’, not a collective, but a collective mind of one. And now, with almost no community left, the struggle is to navigate through the resentments and pettiness of the privileged 20%. For as Reifenstahl said, the intelligentsia are the vanguard of conformity. Of adherence to the War Gods. The new Volkish primitivism might be electrified and computerized, but it serves the same purpose it always has. It is the idealization of an imagined primitive purity. It is self help and new age and organic tempeh burgers. It is the ideological means to actually ridding the world of the actual breathing people in those areas of privation and struggle. It is a false memory. How happy are the faces of those poor black village children. They have nothing, but they are so happy. Le Corbusier wanted to purify the eye but build toward equality, while Netanyahu wants to purify his country, period. So does David Duke, and so did Adolf Hitler.

Le Corbusier, Russian peasant house, 1928.

Le Corbusier, Russian peasant house, 1928.


The town center, as Jacques Goff suggested has been re-purposed as the re-ordering of time. This new sense of controlling time is critical to the experience of these non-places. I am reminded of what Adorno said of Kafka: “Only that {Kafka’s oblique perspective} allowed the writer to deal with a monstrousness that would have struck his prose dumb or driven it mad if he had looked it straight in the eye”. The horrors of this weeks assault on Gaza is beyond words, and even the graphic images of dead children is a crime too extreme to allow for conventional processing. In a letter to Benjamin, Adorno said the ‘web of space and time is incompatible with what is expressed in Kafka, and other great artists’. However, it is through them we are able to return to nightmare of fascist war Gods, to retrieve the memory of suffering. Barthes cited Kafka’s own comment in answer to a question about image, in which Kafka said “My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” This is one of the paradoxes, or the negative dialectics of culture. There are several ways of not seeing. The mass culture that allows a form of numbness, of sleepwalking, and then there is the third eye, the one that sees most deeply when eyes are shut.
Akseli Gallen Kallela

Akseli Gallen Kallela