Richard Estes

Richard Estes

Several things have bounced around in my head this week. One is that I think it is hard for critical thinkers, for analysts of culture and of society, meaning politics, to know when perspectives change. When a corrective sort of response becomes something other then intended. I was reminded of Marcuse’s essay on tolerance.

“Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence. The toleration of the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda, the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment for and training of special forces, the impotent and benevolent tolerance toward outright deception in merchandizing, waste, and planned obsolescence are not distortions and aberrations, they are the essence of a system which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence and suppressing the alternatives.”

What is radically evil. Now, I wrote about snark before, months ago, and here Gawker (Tom Scocca) came out with a very interesting article on exactly this topic.


And both of these topics come together in a culture that is driven by a profound denial of the society around them. I think what strikes me, and this was touched upon in the privilege debate, and that is that the real enemy, the victimizer, is left out of the discussion. The ‘radical evil’ is left for later. First, other people and things need to be assaulted or critiqued. The Gawker piece was pretty sharp, and efficiently outlined the cultural effects of snark, even if not quite getting at the causes.

Takashi Kuribayashi

Takashi Kuribayashi

But what I am getting at is this quality of masking that goes on in the hyper branded reality of day to day life. Laughter masks aggression, and perhaps it always has, but it is an acute phenomenon in this culture. Agreement masks the darker aggreement of the lynch mob. And snark, well, this is a slightly more multi faceted phenomenon. But before getting to snark, there are questions having to do with aggression. My personal and anecdotal sense is that the United States of 2013 is a far far far more angry society than it was in 1961, when I was ten years old. Far angrier. But then the contradictions of Capital are more acute, the economic ruthlessness of the ruling class, and the deeper and more predatory power of corporations is more intense. In fact, corporations, on a day to day basis, are among the worst culprits for increasing anger. The basic lack of a human face, or a privately owned business that knew their customers on a first name business, the sense of insult that so much technological labor saving has caused, on multiple levels, is hard to quanitfy. One could acquit one’s honor, even if just symbolically, with face to face confrontations. As the corporate model grew, so did the excuse of professionalism. Im just doing my job. I don’t ask questions. I do what I’m told. To cause disruptions was a sign of not understanding the ‘reality’ of things. It was always a sign of immaturity. Agreement walks with mature, among the virtues. As Gawker points out, disagreeable attitude is one thing, but a disagreeable fact quite another.

Of course the working class has a right to be angry. Im angry. The destruction of unions, of infrastructure, and the eroding of the social safety net makes almost everyone angry. But, my sense, increasingly, is that anger is often targeting the wrong people. This is not quite the same thing as scapegoating. The search for a sacrificial victim is something humans have done since they first formed groups. Today, it might actually be the case that the scapegoating mechansim, structurally, and otherwise, has stopped working its logic out to the end.

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

There was a nice scene is a small New Zealand film (Tracker) about the British, a Boer veteran (a cynical anti nationalist) and a wrongly accused Maori laborer. Its a perfectly enjoyable small piece of history, a film about colonialism, about the distortions of “home” and about white narrative making. At any rate, there is a scene between the Boer (Ray Winstone) and the Maori (Temuera Morrison), who has been captured and is being returned to the British. Winstone starts to answer a question the Maori asks him, but he stops. He won’t finish it. The Maori says, it is a bad thing to leave a story unfinished. It is a wound on the soul (or to that effect). It is actually a small but memorable brief scene. Because it is true. There is some connection between being put on hold by an automated answering system, and the repeated interruptions to our private narratives. The society presents entertainment narratives on TV all the time, as part of “series”, and more often than not the show is cancelled before the first season even ends. There is no recourse. It is like being disconnected after waiting twenty minutes to speak to customer service. Nothing to be done. No person, no human, no way to tell your story. So our own stories are interrupted, or disconnected, and the stories of others are interrupted or stopped. Soon, one begins to expect it, and its a little bit like dumping your girlfriend before she dumps you. Because you are afraid she will. You stop listening when not listened to yourself. Now of course to describe network TV as “our stories” is perhaps a bit disengenious, but nonetheless, the fact is that the idea of story itself has changed for everyone, at least to some degree.

In one way, it seems under Capital, that as hard as it is to love, it is harder still to receive love.

Rene Girard, in an interview, said this:

“We must establish first of all that there are two kinds of sacrifice.

Both forms are shown together (and I am not sure anywhere else) in the story of Solomon’s judgment in the third chapter of 1 Kings. Two prostitutes bring a baby. They are doubles engaging in a rivalry over what is apparently a surviving child. When Solomon offers to split the child, the one woman says “yes,” because she wishes to triumph over her rival. The other woman then says, “No, she may have the child,” because she seeks only its life. On the basis of this love, the king declares that “she is the mother.”

Note that it does not matter who is the biological mother. The one who was willing to sacrifice herself for the child’s life is in fact the mother. The first woman is willing to sacrifice a child to the needs of rivalry. Sacrifice is the solution to mimetic rivalry and the foundation of it. The second woman is willing to sacrifice everything she wants for the sake of the child’s life. This is sacrifice in the sense of the gospel. It is in this sense that Christ is a sacrifice since he gave himself “for the life of the world.”

What I have called “bad sacrifice” is the kind of sacrificial religion that prevailed before Christ. It originates because mimetic rivalry threatens the very survival of a community. But through a spontaneous process that also involves mimesis, the community unites against a victim in an act of spontaneous killing. This act unites rivals and restores peace and leaves a powerful impression that results in the establishment of sacrificial religion.

But in this kind of religion, the community is regarded as innocent and the victim is guilty. Even after the victim has been “deified,” he is still a criminal in the eyes of the community (note the criminal nature of the gods in pagan mythology).

But something happens that begins in the Old Testament. There are many stories that reverse this scapegoat process. In the story of Cain and Abel, the story of Joseph, the book of Job, and many of the psalms, the persecuting community is pictured as guilty and the victim is innocent. But Christ, the son of God, is the ultimate “scapegoat”—precisely because he is the son of God, and since he is innocent, he exposes all the myths of scapegoating and shows that the victims were innocent and the communities guilty.”

Donovan Wylie

Donovan Wylie

These are the factors involved in storytelling. They are not the only ones of course, but it is interesting to sort of re-examine what the idea of story means, and why, perhaps, the unfinished story can be collectively problematic.

A society that refuses to come to terms with its history of violence, and that insists on a continuing identification with the victimizer, is lodged firmly within an idea of its own entitled redemption. One of the things I’ve noticed amid the current resurrgent racism in the U.S. is that white men, far more than women, but certainly not entirely men, have constructed a de-facto blind redemption for the powerful. The U.S. in this version of things is not exploiting anyone but rather is a force for good. And this goes deeper than just the vulgar neo-con political script. The Imperialist project is easy enough to point toward, but domestically there is a renewal of the scapegoat narrative. Only now, innocence and guilt are relative, and deemed, finally, unimportant. Post modern scapegoating.

The identification with the aggressor is embedded into most Hollywood film and TV narrative. Which, in the unfinished story allows for, or creates even, the sense of the naturalness of aggression.

Gregor Erhart

Gregor Erhart

But, I think its useful here to go back over Jameson’s excellent analysis of Joseph Conrad (in particular Lord Jim). For, Conrad is, and not just for Jameson, a sort of fulcrum or borderland in classic novelistic narratives of the mid 19th century, and of modernism, and, most interestingly, as a prophetic glance forward toward modernism, and post modernist expressions of genre. For Conrad allows of existential, mytho-critical, psychoanalytic, and even Nietzscian readings. But is also relevant for something that arose in the long comment thread of the previous post, and that is the metacommentary of Conrad’s work (or any work). For it was my point before, and is now, that there exists a tendency in much criticism today to minimize the idea of textual art, of writing, to mere craft. And to lump it, not exactly wrongly, into the “expertise” basket, the better to dismiss it. For in Conrad, the idea of description changes. As Jameson points out, it probably was changing already with Flaubert. But in Conrad the density of the text, the richness of the sentences, suggests something well beyond mere description. The fascinating part is that image, in fiction, in all descriptions, carries with it an ideological meaning and history.

There is increasingly, by the time of Conrad, a literary impluse to look upon narrative, the writing of narrative, as part of a decoding of these ideological traces, and of an investigation of, at a micro level, what is the life of sentences in relation to one another. Now one of the reasons for anyone bothering to write a book of fiction, has to do with the embedded history of the story. Even in invented lanscapes, there are historical trace elements, or residues of material life. Conrad wrote of the sea, as did Melville, and as later did Bowles of the desert. And certainly contemporary novelists such as Robert Stone, and before him Hemingway, or even Robert Louis Stevenson, found a portal to, for lack of a better word right now, the unconscious, in landscapes that were more naturally isolated (island locale is another related example). Or the absolute (as Bowles put it). For such landscapes, serving as both narrative containment, and of metaphysical symbolism, are highly attractive to the modernist mind. But it is in such landscapes of clarity that questions of form can be more clearly inspected. The ideological is there as in relief, or in a psychic petri dish, to be dissected. Or, as anti dissection, to be ignored. And, as Jameson adds, the ‘penetration’ of the Imperialist west into such empty spaces, and the resonance of the various responses, is part of the weight of Conrad as an artist. Adding even more, this is again, why narrative is always in some fasion a political narrative. But it is not political in the sense that it can be easily read through a concluding message. For Conrad, the message, the resolution of story, was always highly ambivalent. And not just ambivalent, but almost illegible. Among the reasons Conrad serves as a transitional figure, if not a structural fault line (Jameson) is because his work is always ammenable to a genre reading. Adventure story, sea story of courage and heroism, dealing with honor and cowardice. It is at this point that one sees how, right away, the contemporary narrative of non-completion is also one of obscured content. Or of solipsistic content. Novels are written about the writing of novels of heroism and courage and honor.

Wilhelm Sasnal

Wilhelm Sasnal

There is a strain of Marxist critic who will want to know why a question of honor matters at all to those of us under advanced Capital. And I’m not sure I can answer that without appeal to the poetics, and the metacommentary. If one looks at Hollywood commodity film, the kistch narratives of genre; whether of sci fi or western or rom-com, the ‘natural’ world is one drained of material history. Increasingly all genre resembles science fiction in the sense that sit coms take place in worlds as imaginary as does Gravity or The Walking Dead. The latter zombie fest is not unatural because Zombies do not in fact roam the streets, but because the streets they roam in this show have also never existed. The pre modernist narrative of, say, the 19th century, was still able to harken back to fictional unity, to production of story that inhabited a world where storytellers still might serve a role, and be observed, and by extension, however tenuous, have purpose. The mass cultural post modernism of Hollywood tv and film does not even ask their narrative to end. There is a clearly liberating potential to the unfinished, the fragment, but this is not that kind of unfinished. These are narratives predicated upon a rejection of structural coherence. The resulting incoherence is only contemptuous. The audience doesn’t matter. The profit for the network and its sponsors does. And the new post modernist ironic that manufactures a literary style based on fan appreciation of kistch, is really the production of a simulacra of style. It is the image production and text production that isn’t really positioned anywhere. Radical art disunifies, but it does not disunify by never caring, by a contempt for the reader or viewer.

Pneumatic Plague, Manchuria, 1910

Pneumatic Plague, Manchuria, 1910

But there is something else about Conrad. Something observed by Edward Said and Jameson both, though in different ways. And that is that the creation of points of view in Conrad, his somewhat experimental shifting of perspectives, is inseparable from the materiality of language. Or, they are created through a dialectical relationship with speech, and text, and with the history of each. In other words, per Jameson, it is thinking that has discovered the symbolic. For in Conrad the ‘meaning’ of the writing is unclear because Conrad has not planned a message. The decoding machine at the center of his fiction is active, but not in pursuit of narrative theme or message. There is an end. The narrative concludes. But the plot is almost always revealed to have been an illusion. Or, as in Nostromo and Outcast of the Islands, not quite the plot you thought you were reading.

I go into all this because I believe that there is something that can be called art, an art of writing, that is not as simple as craft. I am far from sure I can place the border between these ideas, however. In Conrad, the colonial imagination is present in every description of jungle or ocean. Conrad is useful in how class is revealed, how modes of production and buisness take place, and there are also a number of additional questions of literary legacy, including the influence on Sartre, and of Camus, and finally how Sartre saw Genet, and derealization (this all per Jameson). Sartre’s description of Genet, today, has an eerie similarity to what has happened to three generations raised on television. And indeed there ‘are’ similarities, but there are also differences. But let me return to scapegoating, and try to tie this into this discussion on Conrad and writing.

Everything from the Milgram experiment, to Hannah Arendt’s essay on Eichmann, have been used to reinforce the truth of at least part of Girard’s theories. For the purposes here, I want to look at two things; one is the sense that mimetic desire trends toward the replication of desire throughout society. Everyone becomes a bit more like everyone else, because we all want more or less what other’s want. And two, that narrative as expressed by the culture industry, serves an ever more stripped down and similar feeling prose. And in film, accompanied by similar image styles. And that the heterogeneous narrative, only possible when prose reaches or rises to the level that the reader must engage on a mimetic level (more on that in a second) functions as a sort of antidote. Now, dont hold me to what I know is a highly simplistic model here. But…I think that even the political left today, has forgotten that culture serves to issue metacommentaries, and that from within such dialogues the sense of liberation can exist. The language of revolt can only serve as opposition if it IS oppostional. The language of the opposition becomes a mimetic replication of authority if it fails at this, no matter what it is ostensibly saying.

Adolf Eichmann at conclusion to his trial. Jerusalem, 1961

Adolf Eichmann at conclusion to his trial. Jerusalem, 1961

“Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. The late Herman Kahn spent a lifetime making nuclear war palatable (On Thermonuclear War, Thinking About the Unthinkable), and this strangelovian phoney got very good press. ~

In an excellent article entitled “Normalizing the Unthinkable,” in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of March 1984, Lisa Peattie described how in the Nazi death camps work was “normalized” for the long-term prisoners as well as regular personnel: “[P]rison plumbers laid the water pipe in the crematorium and prison electricians wired the fences. The camp managers maintained standards and orderly process. The cobblestones which paved the crematorium yard at Auschwitz had to be perfectly scrubbed.” Peattie focused on the parallel between routinization in the death camps and the preparations for nuclear war, where the “unthinkable” is organized and prepared for in a division of labor participated in by people at many levels. Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. “Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone.”
Ed Herman
from Triumph of the Market

I think that one of the insidious effects of the culture industry, of The Spectacle, has been to make oppositional forces forget that culture is humanizing, and emancipatory, and that the dream of utopia is, perhaps always, born of the creative imagination. If mimetic desire is correct, it is only the one dimensional form of mimesis that results in rivalry and violence. Now Lacan suggests perhaps rivalry is an unavoidable by product of separation from our mother, but even if only partly correct, there remains the distinct imagination and creative life of children. Today, the language of snark and sarcasm is linked to the first register of mimetic desire, to the cheapened rivalry of resentment. And the mask of sympathy is that, a mask. The vengeful crowd is behind every reflexive aggreement. Click like. Its for their own good. Its just my job. This is the culture of aggreement, but not of spontaneous agreement. I think the default setting is snark. Put down. Agreement must be signaled by authority. There is no authority needed for snark and disdain. That’s de facto agreed upon. Conspiracy theorist……har har har. On the left, or with liberals, don’t dare question climate change, for example. Because a lynch mob appears. These same people will not find the energy to get indignant, even, about child servitude, say, or depleted uranium and consequent birth defects. There are only certain pre approved subjects, and this is true even within sub groupings. And usually with a target audience. Pussy Riot is no doubt a USAID or state dept narrative. But there is an intended audience. This isn’t even about the veracity of the story. For the story has no end. Its neither true nor false. Does Pussy Riot whateverhernameis ever leave prison? Who knows. The point is that 2 million men and women are in prison in the United States but magically a lone Russian ( pouty cute not surpisingly) girl artist (a hated category among US citizens) is being cheered. Snark is the falsification of empathy in a sense. Its not just the flip side, its the negation of human feeling. Its a manufactured posture. And the flip side is really this secondary kitsch compassion. The sympathy. Pussy Riot sympathy.

Steven Assael

Steven Assael

Recently in St Louis the police came and stopped a local Church from handing out free hot meals to the homeless. They lacked a permit. Again, I mentioned the same thing last posting. This in the shadow of recent food stamp cuts. What is the story here? I wonder if its not possible that a population brought up and conditioned to accept the fact that many narratives don’t end…that interruption is a likely outcome of all stories…is one that stops thinking in terms of consequences? I realize I have said something like this before, but I hadn’t quite connected this failure to grasp repurcussions as part of a training in narrative. On a sort of symbolic level, the creation of domestic war zones, is not just about flying bullets or police SWAT teams roaming the neighborhood, it is about a damaged landscape of ruins and unfinished public works. Do people internalize the idea of the highway overpass not being completed with a sense of their own life narrative not having a possibility of completion? I see in the faux left, the Zizek followers, that upon the death of Mandela, that he be described as a “bitter old man”. That compromised reality of the ANC is animportant topic, the neo liberal destruction of Africa, almost all of it, but acutely South Africa, is a real story, but one that won’t quite get told, and Mandela was a force for genuine change and was labled a terrorist by the U.S. and Thatcher, and the Queen (after all, she just adored Ian Smith) and was derided for his friendship with Qadaffi. He was the symbol of opposition to the Empire. He may not have been a revolutionary in the sense Troskyists want, but the fawning laudatory “official” public ceremonies this week will include the erasing of his story. Steve Biko wont be mentioned, and I doubt Qadaffi will. The complex history of colonial rule in Africa wont be. So, that on the one hand, the story will not be a story. Mandela will be a marketing emblem. The left will forget the victimizer and pick apart imperfections of those, like Mandela, who just are never good enough.
Yutaka Takanashi

Yutaka Takanashi

Great artists are picked apart as well. Or erased. Story is, these days, being changed into non story. Memory comes to feel unfinished as well. Forgetting. There are subtle lines between adulation and hagiography, and cultural hostility. Hermeneutics matters, but so does the memory of culture, the experience of the artwork. This is my feeling when someone says, oh, that Shakespeare, I don’t care about Kings and Royal courts. It is the same hostility to cultural and artistic memory. And snark bleeds into academia, it is the post modern sensibility and it has helped shape the subject position of the left, I think, which has suffered too much defeat. Social change comes out of communities where snark is least active. Attitude, first cousin to snark, is just a sort of unsuccessful snark. Attitude is provincial snark.

The U.S. government now seems mostly in the business of creating chaos and theatres of war. Rebuild them, but not well, and bomb them again. Baghdad or Detroit, Kabul or Newark, Sana’a or Oakland. The business of destruction is big business. And the psychic landscape lurches foward without a narrative that can find its completion. If narratives (as Girard suggests) are transformative for the author and the reader, then stopping the journey of both serves to stop that transformative moment. Artifical demographics…an extended adolescence…has leaked into psychic formation at the basement level. Political analysis, increasingly, feels like the dry bloodless vision of the boardroom, even when it is attempting to tear down boardrooms. Girard says myth does not resist mimetic rivalry. Scripture does. But then he’s a Catholic. Still, the introduction of the pardon is, in fact, what changed the narrative of revenge and scapegoating.

Roberto Calasso ends his small book on art (Literature and the Gods) with this;

“Literature is never the product of a single subject. There are always at least three actors: the hand that writes, the voice that speaks, the god that watches over and compels. Not that they look very different: all three are young, have thick snaky hair. They might easily be taken for three manifestations of the same person. But that is hardly the point. What matters is the division into three self sufficient beings. We could call them the I, the Self, and the Divine. A continuous process of triangulation is at work between them. Every sentence, every form, is a variation within that force field. Hence the ambiguity of literature: because its point of view is incessantly shifting between these three extremes, without warning us and sometimes without warning the author. …Every vibration of the word presupposes something violent, a palaion penthos, an ancient grief. Was it a murder? Was it a sacrifice? It isnt clear, but the world will never cease to tell of it.”

Mark Power

Mark Power

Shifting perspectives. An off stage and an on-stage. An elsewhere, and a present. The unseen and the illegible. The forgotten. The erased. That text carries around a relationship to an ancient grief is done both independent of the plot or theme, and intertwined with it, though often in mysterious ways.

“The poets mind is full of myterious laws…” said Proust. I think the bureaucratization of art is a fatal virus to the creative. It is hard to speak to people more interested in an instrumental ordering of things. Artists have revolutionary impulses, but are not revolutionaries. They contribute to revolutionary awareness, however. But all sides will in the end attack them. The poet, in any medium, provides that shiver, that shock, the small but profound awakening. Coomaraswamy called it, literally, an “aesthetic shock”. This is what the pre Socratic poets wrote of when they wrote of the oracle, the diviner and sleep. The sleep of oblivion. Across this is the technological forms of social domination. For, as Deleuze says “modernity is defined by the power of the simulacrum, by the free circulation of images without truth”. So the final frontier for control has been reached in one sense. And this is the abridged narrative as the normal, the state of surveilled present as the normal, and the instrumental logic of domination now the currency of even the opposition to the state. Everyone speaks a language freed from truth, from poetry, and from mystery. The revolution will be declared and strangely sound like a phone marketing message. Debord was right that the Spectacle now sells desire, but its the simulation of desire. The appearance of desire. Is it desire? Or is it memorex? Debord retained a confidence in the difference. Deleuze less so. As Matt Potolsky points out: “Real criminals take their cues from movies and TV, which in turn obsessively fictionalize true crime stories”.

Baurdrillard saw in hyperrealism a manufactured simulacra that served to reinforce the idea that only ‘certain’ things are real (the President, the government, etc). In the U.S. the culture of toursists and collectors and hobbyists look to recreate an infantile version of daily life. It is the society of mimetic desire shorn of magic. And it is the society whose oracles cant finish their sentence.

Essex County Jail, closed, Newark NJ

Essex County Jail, closed, Newark NJ


  1. Molly Klein says:

    Interesting that Mandela now is under attack from the lib-prog-left pundits and not Zizek. For some reason Zizek’s posturing and wealth do not spark reactions like those to Brand; instead the assault moves bizarrely from Brand directly to Mandela. This kind of discourse has somehow made them similar spectacle products equivalents, action figures and t shirt logos as targets for the wised up snark. All actually informed politically committed communist critique of the ANC compromise is erased and the power of its grievance (the shock doctrine’s success in South Africa) is coopted for this personalized racist attack on the image of Mandela. It’s all cinematic, a sketched biopic… Bitter old man…but not Mugabe..,.black elites…futile revolution…better off on the plantation

    Funny Girard and Calasso are my two favourite reactionaries (smiley). I have often especially been reminded of Girard in trying to understand these media effects; the powerful aggressor as aggrieved victim, always understood always innocent, whose triumph and well being is self justifying whereas the others are judged by conclusions (retroactively the ANC struggle is delegitimized because in our instant now writing there is ‘failure”, with the victimizer as you say always erased)…this aggrieved aggressor is at the centre of these reworked action and swashbucklers and historical films…evidently the ostensible posture of this kind of spectacle toward it’s tale is over riden by the sheer mesmerizing and memorable quality of these endlessly repeated images. The Passion of the Christ comes to mind all the time now …we can speak of a post-Passion style of blockbuster comix superhero; Dark Knight, Iron Man, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen are postPassion, and more and more we have to understand them as a single stimulus, broken into parts…the prism over Hero refracts and these are isolated traits and images but they are producing together and effectign audiences together not discreetly. All Celebrity, with all these attributes, like various avatars of a divinity.

  2. Molly Klein says:

    Everyone becomes a bit more like everyone else, because we all want more or less what other’s want.

    This Girardian perception strikes me suddenly as the big ephiphany behind digitality. Is this what you were getting at in art vs spectacle – – this mimetic instinct/impulse is realized in hyperreal spectacle, a spectacle that all of reality duplicated, already industrially imitated, so it diffuses or preempts the mimetic impulse as socially bonding -= the ‘triangular desire’ that glues us socially and requires (religious) sacrifices?

    That thing about prechristian vs christain sacrifice, the guilty scapegpoat versus the innocent proxy,. is really intriguing …did you see Patrice Leconte’s The Widow of Saint Pierre? There is some connection also to mythologies of violent revolution that are being revived in vitiated superhero form now too

  3. John Steppling says:

    working backward……….I like how you just put that. Girardian = digitality/mimetic, maybe not realized, but sort of almost realized. Thats where I dont think I have quite grasped something…..and i dont know what. The hyperreal does preempt…..thats perfect. Preempts as socially bonding. And this is somehow why even the scapegoat function is short circuited. Its incomplete. This idea of incompletion really fascinates me now. The po mo zizekian floating subject…or whatever…all floating all the time…and so yes, the spectacle is always incomplete. The mimetic cannot achieve traction, sort of. Because mimesis is dialectical, right? And the hyperreal isnt.

    but Passion of THE christ……as Iron Man. I like that, too.

    I have to think on this more. As for Mandela. Here you have a figure that befriended castro and quaddafi and the PLO…..and so the assault by the neo liberal west decimated the revolutionary potential…its very complicated. But fucking god…….the fact that Cheney and the queen hated him is enough for me. But like MLK, he will emerge whiter and avuncular…..already the endless “he was so forgiving” trope is being laid out. Spectacle. T shirts. Right.

    Zizek’s piece on mandela was shocking. Really.

    anyway, i shall ponder more on girard. And yeah, like Ricoeur , another reactionary catholic that i like (Wills and Girard hung out and went to church together a lot……)…..but Girard really understood something very deep, something very profound about myth and this triangulated desire. Fassbinder wrote a play, when young, on scapegoating. “Pre Paradise Sorry Now”….(also a critique of the Living Theatre)……but I think this is also so connected to the rage in the west. The anger and frustrated rage……the mimetic goes off the rails somehow…..is incomplete.

  4. Molly Klein says:

    I feel like my brain is itching from this…Girard, mimetic, hyperreality,m and something that Flusser essay elaborated…

    In DOnald Lowe History of Bourgeois Perception he does this same kind of chronology as baudrillard and foucault but based in Merleau Ponty and he catetgories these eras as hierarchizations of the senses…the Bourgeois era is the dominance of the visual (and cartographic perspective) but then he sees a post bourgeois era, corresponding to foucault and deleuze’s (very french, but like Marcuse’s) notion of the post bourgeois era of the advanced welfare state and the “society of controlled consumption” where he sees media undermining the dominance of the visual with audiovisual saturation and overstimulation. But I’m not sure that’s right

  5. traxus4420 says:

    followed (most of) the last thread and have been wanting to comment but haven’t had time…c’est la vie, though on the subject of the aggrieved aggressor trope, i just saw spike lee’s terrible oldboy remake, undoubtedly a mercenary project but depressing anyway. i bring it up because it’s a revenge thriller and you can see how the story is tweaked for american audiences – this unconvincing psychologism and redemptive moralism is inserted as justification even as the grand guignol melodrama is made even more absurd. u.s. films seem to depend on this set of pat justifications for the violence (hodgepodge of xian & self-help narratives of victimization – see eva illouz’s work for a good critique of this – the trailers preceding oldboy were like self-help proverbs repeated over violent images in different fantasy genres) even as like molly says they kind of don’t matter in terms of the experience of the spectacle. but they’re included nevertheless, just like the WMDs or the evil of al-qaeda. i think a degree of false consciousness (plausible deniability) about enjoyment of violent spectacles of degradation is still necessary to make them appeal to ‘mericans. something a bit catholic about it in effect even though puritanical on its surface.

    a tangent, but have either of you seen the aesthetic travesty that is american horror story? i’ve been watching some of the first season and suspect that even though branded as horror the real appeal of the show has to be all the scenes of people sassily telling each other off. it borrows from contemporary horror film the suspension of audience sympathy – the protagonists are a liberal-ish yuppie couple and the politics of the show are obviously conservative – so there’s no clear point of identification, it’s just switching constantly. everyone’s always hyper-indignant about something. the foreclosure of mimesis is very apparent here – history (typically the core of the haunted house story) is constantly being shuffled around and rewritten, everything is either exploitation of a headline (abortion, school shootings) or borrowed from horror film. anyway, interesting example of how narrative causality isn’t necessary and actually a barrier to the constant mobilization & remobilization of affects, beyond identification.

  6. Patrick L. says:

    “In the U.S. the culture of tourists and collectors and hobbyists looks to recreate an infantile version of daily life.”

    Tourists, collectors and hobbyists: Obama, Cameron & the Danish PM at today’s *memorial service* for Nelson Mandela:


  7. john steppling says:

    oh, there is a lot to say here, but Patrcik….YES……taking a selfie at Mandela’s memorial. Stay classy guys. And michelle pouting, it was like a high school football game, but even less dignified.


    Ok……..You know I intend to write some on this film “Gravity” that is out. Sandra Bullock, directed by the endlessly awful Cuaron….late of Children of Men. What struck me was that it was like a prospectus for a film. There were no characters, and that of course is a huge discussion, but there was only Bullock, who is on camera 100% of the film I think….and her litany of acting indicators. She cries, she laughs, she is a little girl (most of the time), she is serious, she is scared, etc. But its all just indicated. What any first year acting student is told, FIRSTLY, to not do. Because its just kitsch..its this dishonest and sort of cheesy set of attitudes. And it was as if the actress knew very well her audience. She winked at us, she was in a movie, about other astronaut movies, and it owed set ups to Dark Star, and Kubrick and a dozen other things. And because we knew at the start that Bullock gets 2 million a film, that she cant possibley die………all the tension is artificial. And we know this and it doesnt matter because it is the checking off of required filmic items. Oh, out of oxygen, oh, tether is cut, oh fire in the cabin, oh, space debris. And then since there is nobody in space, she talks to herself. Now one can actually imagine a Tarkovsky-like treatment of silence in space. A sort of meditation on lack of atmosphere and air etc etc. And that has a sort of existential appeal……but this is very far from anything like that. I mean it resembled an commercial for women’s underwear or sports bras or something. And it proves George Clooney can smirk in space. Anyway….the point was, per this thread, that I was really struck with how there was nothing accumulating. No emotional accumulation, no narrative accumulation, no analysis of character …..and in a sense having very little back story was for a nano second sort of promising, but then one realized it was just a luxury advert for hair gel and undies . Nothing moved our reading of it forward. Bullock just ticked off her “faces”….happy face, sad face , flirty face….puzzled face…etc Thats it. In total, that was it. But..BUT….Cuaron knows to present it with appropriate “prestige:” framing and with this mock existential ambiance. Including the “indomitable spirit of man” finale. So….without accumulation, you had LESS than nothing. There was no story to interrupt.

    Traxus…..yeah, the pyschologism….exactly. This of course is rampant. Even in Gravity the bullock character has to mention a dead child. Indicator for pain. But the psychologism is this very cheap sort of pop psych self help level idea of psychology. And because, as you say, rightly, it is set against this backdrop of needless violence……hyper graphic, slo mo, and sadistic…..scored, it seems, more and more with very sort of
    trendy anti dramatic music. Lest the audience think its not serious or something. Dramatic scoring per the 50s seems now reserved for TV rom coms. Anyway, this idea of suspending judgement………to enjoy………here http://inthesetimes.com/article/15963/homeland_season_3_episode_11_a_very_brody_homeland/

    this is in theory a sort of vaguely lefty publication….I mean not really…but Sunkara is involved….anyway………its amazing, a weekly episode review. Of the most fascist pro Mossad and pro military show on the air. But thats the contradiction. The suspend disbelief or whatever, while also identifying with the product. The active NOT SEEING, while actively identifying with the commodity. “its one of my favorite shows”……and the reviewer complains its not “diverse” enough. Too many white men. But she has exactly no interest in what the show is saying. None.

    Molly…yes, see, I dont know that I fully grasp all this at all. I feel that I wrote is correct, but it clearly is like an introduction to something with deeper implications I think. Im not sure its the dominance is undermined……….but I think its mediated….its affected in some way but this austic-like processing….or the encouragement of that. In a sense, the Cuaron is another example of this. Bullock exaggerates her ‘mood’, makes big faces….indicates. Lest we are confused by any ambivilance. And meanwhile, one scene doesnt really connect to the previous scene. One could take Gravity and cut and re assemble the scenes in almost any order and I doubt many people would notice. And because half(more) the time bullock and clooney have space helmets on….their faces cant be seen, really. They are talking to themselves.

  8. on gravity – critics were giving it all this credit for being ‘avant-garde’ because of this premise: “Now one can actually imagine a Tarkovsky-like treatment of silence in space. A sort of meditation on lack of atmosphere and air etc etc.” because that’s how it’s sold in the trailer, but what i think they really meant was that in IMAX 3D the spectacle completely overwhelmed these flimsy narrative/character elements (well, and because it’s not 2 1/2 hours long and about a superhero or frank miller/zach snyder’s ancient greece). i saw it on a regular screen and was annoyed and bored most of the time. but i think it’s typical now for critical opinion (especially on the pseudoleft media/lifestyle sites) to be overdetermined by hype & depend on easily readable signs.

  9. john steppling says:


    I was really struck with how everyone speaks to other disembodied voices. Its odd. There are no real discussions. Or human conversation. Just these talks over speakers….and through head sets, or Bullock talking to herself.

    Its just digital space. One of the things that made Kubrick so interesting, still, is that he filmed these hand painted sets and toy space ships. Its another aesthetic. But yeah….im just amazed at the reviews. Glowing ….rave reviews. And you are quite correct, it announces itself as an adult space melodrama. Not frank miller….but Cuaron. Foreign. Serious. High brow.

  10. John, as you’ve perhaps seen on my facebook (autocorrect INSISTS on capitalizing
    ‘facebook’, but I just won’t let it…), I’ve been critical of Gravity from day 1. Here’s how you know Sandra Bullock is scared: she’ll say “I’m so scared.” There was a time when Cuaron, along with Iñarritu and Del Toro, was seen as the face of new Mexican cinema, the “three amigos” as Hollywood publications labeled them. The social realist films Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amores Perros were quite interesting and revived the Mexican film industry, but soon all three directors abandoned Mexico and fled to Hollywood to make pandering, prestige films. Mexican cinema is now left in the hands of Carlos Reygadas (please please please watch Post Tenebras Lux) and two Spaniards – Amat Escalante and Diego Quemada-Diez. Anyway, there is something cinematically fascistic about Gravity, I think it has to do with the technology, a technology that was developed with Avatar. But the most annoying quality in Gravity was the endless chatter. There is no time to reflect, not even near death, there is only whining and chattering and sarcastic jokes. The audience is afraid to be left alone — give them a toilet with an iPad.

    Molly’s comment about the superheros being Post Passion of the Christ is very interesting. Need to think about this more. Have you noticed in every superhero movie, and actually, I can trace this back to Terminator, the hero is brutally beaten and tortured before they save the world?

    The topic of scapegoating reminded of a short story by Borges I read recently, Three Versions of Judas. The idea in the story being that a religious philosopher has discovered that the incarnation of God was not in the form of Jesus Christ, because what good would sacrificing your only son in a death that is essentially “temporary” do to actually redeem the sins of entire mankind, but rather Judas, who is damned to hell for eternity. Now that is a sacrifice. It’s interesting that Judas is seemed as a scapegoat among Christians too. As a child, and even now, I’ve always felt some kind of pity for him.

  11. john steppling says:

    history. L’ immanifesto è molto più vasto del manifesto. L’invisible del visible. Così, anche per il linguaggio…. Soltanto perché la lingua proietta un ombra ben più vasta di se è inacessibile la parola conserva e rinova un tale incanto. (That which is not manifest is much more vast than that which is manifest. The invisible is greater than the visible. So it is also for language…. Only because language casts a shadow both much vaster than itself, and inaccessible, does the spoken word hold and renew such magic.)

    See, the above quote is I think a part of what I am groping for. That language is controlled, or made into an Ikea instruction manual, or as Joe says, in Gravity its just chatter and its chatter disconnected from human faces. But visual dominance remains in a sense, but its a particular sort of visuality. The Avatar/Gravity visuality ,..,. digitalized, pixel visuality somehow. As for torture and beatings…..yes, Joe, thats true….and additionally, those being beaten always (or often) laugh. I saw it the other night in the TV Dracula……but it was in james bond a couple installments back. The hero is tortured and beaten and is amused,. He suffers…..its not fun if its not suffering….but he somehow enjoys it. I said that in the lecture, the idea of rectifying death. Thats part of it, too.

  12. john steppling says:

    by the way, Amat Escalante is one of the new directors worth seeing. I thought Los Bastados was a masterpiece of sorts. And ive heard Heli is excellent. Escalante is the mexican pasolini in a sense. Only in his early thirties…went to the cuban film school I believe.

  13. Molly Klein says:

    that chiaroscuro idea of language he offers there is very Vichian…which returns us to Joyce (and why Finnegans Wake is so legible and accessible really, once you surrender to it)…but against which I think Beckett and others of that generation insist.

    Speaking of Mexican cinema, non sequitur, I made two discoveries unpacking; this book http://www.amazon.com/Visible-Nations-Latin-American-Cinema/dp/0816633487 which has a great essay on US imperial cultural policy and Mexican cinema in “the golden age’, and another book called 1616 with a plate in it from The Lieutenant Nun a movie about a cross dressing Basque conquistador from 1944 starring Maria Felix which is available on mubi and which I intend to watch tonight.

  14. Molly Klein says:

    (Hi Patrick! Great to see you there)

  15. Molly Klein says:
  16. Molly Klein says:

    some comments caught in moderation
    i suppose because they contain links

  17. Molly Klein says:
  18. John Steppling says:

    per beckett and joyce. I agree mostly, but it is interesting in the sense that that is still the fulcrum for a certain idea of narrative….this split, and for beckett is ends in silence. And thats the problem. I read finnegan’s wake while working as a security guard , graveyard shift, at a medical center near downtown LA. Ive always thought that was the perfect place to read that book.

  19. Molly Klein says:
  20. john steppling says:

    oh strangle christ. A woman of bottomless stupidity. Eileen Jones…….well, hey, if you loved The Lone Ranger, you’re gonna love Gravity.,

    the thing is, that review is simply wrong….on very basic filmic issues. I mean she is a fraud. Its amazing she teaches at Berkeley. (or maybe not amazing). Because she is a naked fraud.

  21. john steppling says:

    As I think on scapegoating, Joe’s remarks, and Molly’s…….I sort of keep coming back to Pasolini…..Gospel according to………but also to the Book of Job. And this is Auerbach again, and his essay (well, book) Mimesis. I think as often as it goes out of fashion, that first chapter remains highly influential. The sense of old testement space, the ‘appearance’ of voices. Often god, but not always. One way to view Gravity is as a cheapening of the quest for revelation. And by containing space by projecting infinity as a sound studio with head phones.

  22. John, you’re about as interesting as Glenn Beck. I hope you take that the right way.

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