Saturday, April 30, 2005

in Godard's own words

Courtesy of Steve (who also sharpens a few necessary barbs for John Berger):
"It's over," he sighs. "There was a time maybe when cinema could have improved society, but that time was missed."

Yet he continues to study film and experiment as energetically as ever. He is brutally dismissive of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and of the spate of other recent films attacking globalisation, warmongering and US cultural imperialism. "They say they are attacking Bush, but they are not doing it in movie terms, but in words." He calls Moore (in his idiosyncratic English) "just a Hollywood reporter man", and compares him unfavourably with the great cinéma vérité documentary-maker Frederick Wiseman. He even suggests that Moore's work may actually have helped Bush. "It's not enough to be against Adolf Hitler. If you make a disastrous movie, you're not against Adolf Hitler." (Whether he has actually seen Fahrenheit 9/11 is not in any way apparent.)

Nor is Godard especially flattering about the legions of admirers who make reference to him in their own movies or even name their companies after him. Quentin Tarantino, for example, calls his production company A Band Apart, in deference to Godard's 1964 classic, Bande à Part. "He says he admires me, but that's not true," Godard muses, then makes a cryptic remark about the torture and humiliation of prisoners by US guards in Iraq. "What is never said about Tarantino is that those prisons we are shown pictures of, where the torture is taking place, are called "reservoir dogs". I think the name is very appropriate."

Who was it who said, "...if you're always having to write about "The Matrix" maybe you really don't have that much to say in the first place..."? You have to admire Godard's dismissiveness. Much like Derrida's, a calibration of (im)patience and (non)interest with regard to such 'pop' "tributes" that some would dismiss as hopelessly old world. But I often find them spot-on. Little tolerance for...what? maybe poshlost' (at least in Nabokov's rather generous conception).

when 'pop' attacks

From here:
Still, it’s not easy to discern just what Noli Me Legere is for. It’s not a substitute for reading the books, and it risks suggesting a fairly unphilosophical ‘essence’ of Blanchot within easy reach, stripped of the messy stuff of thought and style. By contrast, English philosopher Simon Critchley has put his own words at the centre of his collaboration with musician John Simmons. The resulting CD, Humiliation (2004), is perhaps the bravest, or most foolhardy, move by a philosopher since the infamous night in 1996 when Jean Baudrillard took to the stage of Whiskey Pete’s casino in Nevada and (accompanied by Mike Kelley, among others) performed, in full gold-lamé-jacketed cabaret mode, a text entitled ‘Suicide Moi’.
Critchley is similarly shameless when it comes to genre. Over a selection of often infectious, if somewhat dated, styles — muted Trip-Hop, Latin-tinged pop, anthemic Techno-lite — he reflects on the nature of sex, Jesus’ first miracle and a coming nameless apocalypse. ‘We live in a time ... when the wind is rising’, he intones over a funky flute. Critchley, the author of an excellent philosophical study of humour, has since hinted that the whole thing is the upshot of a mid-life crisis. But its most beguiling effect is to conjure an alternative musical history in which the philosopher actually made it as a global pop sensation. He professes a fondness for George Michael: at times, despite the inherent preposterousness of the entire undertaking, you can hear a new world in which Critchley, loving the Beckettian vacancy of it all, has shimmied his catchiest track, ‘Cependant’ (lyrics courtesy of Georges Bataille), to the very top.

For serious hilarity, however, a recent CD by Canadian artist Brian Joseph Davis is a joyous and thoughtful thing. Packaged like an old vinyl seven-inch, complete with the indie-label injunction to ‘pay no more than $4’, Minima Moralia announces itself as a five-song EP by Theodor Adorno. Davis has taken an aside from Greil Marcus’ book Lipstick Traces (1989) to the effect that Adorno’s melancholy volume is as frantic and raging as a proper Punk product — and made it real, putting the man’s words in the mouth of a female vocalist, Dawn Unwanted. Over Davis’ perfect simulacra of minimal Punk energy, Dawn comes uncannily close to early Patti Smith with lines such as ‘The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit’. Which is not to say that Minima Moralia is a one-chord joke: it’s now impossible to read Adorno’s text without hearing it as Agit-Punk. As the sleeve has it: ‘old school, new school, Frankfurt school!’

Friday, April 29, 2005

Thursday, April 28, 2005

for those who've been living under a rock

Mike Whitney writing for Counterpunch:
at the same time Bush was braying about fixing the Social Security system, the violence in Iraq was reaching a crescendo (13 bombs went off in Baghdad on Friday killing 50 civilians and 3 American servicemen), the convicted fraudster, Ahmad Chalabi, was assuming his position in the Iraqi cabinet as oil minister in the new Iraqi government, and the journal "Science" was releasing a report confirming that "Climate scientists have found the heat exchange between earth and space is seriously out of balance validating forecasts of global warming". (Adding that if carbon dioxide levels continue to grow things could "spin out of control")

None of these topics found their way into the presidential press conference. Instead, Bush was given an open platform on prime-time TV to assail the most successful government program ever initiated, which, by conservative estimates, will be solvent until 2051...

Well, a simple Google search shows over 1,400 articles used Social Security in their title. In other words, the press corps willingly promotes the president's message by conveying the main elements verbatim in all the major print media. It's a smooth way of transforming a news conference into a White House infomercial, where prepared questions create the illusion of a lively debate. In essence, the playful jousting with reporters only illustrates to what extent the media is in bed with the administration. As recent polling date shows, increasing numbers of Americans see the media as little more than court-appointed stenographers for the imperial agenda.

The diligent folks at FreePress have put together a Big Media Hall of Shame Contest video, complete with slow-motion clips of mealy-mouthed old white talking men (I was only able to watch it without sound, but the content seemed predictable enough.) Remind me, what does voting for "the worst" gain us in this struggle, again? Personally I like Juan Cole's response:
Matthew Haughey says he won't read our blogs if we use the term "mainstream media" (a.k.a. MSM).

A news flash for Matt: We don't care.

We don't care if you read our web logs.

Update: To balance out the half-assed recommendation above, here's a must-read courtesy of The Birthday Boy. Eagleton usefully writes:
Wittgenstein’s technique, like a novelist’s, is to show rather than to say, allowing illumination to dawn upon us gradually, by drawing us into a complex play of scenes and voices. As with any effective dramatist, we are not always sure which of these voices is his own. Like the Freudian analyst, we suspect that the author has a few answers but is keeping them up his sleeve for the moment, forcing us into the work of self-demystification, genially inviting our collaboration, but running the odd ring round us at the same time.

And another note on Wittgenstein:
It seems that in order to express the full scale of human experiences and feelings, we need certain expressions in language that do not possess meaning in an ordinary way, but rather they make use of a meaning. In those cases a meaning is not depending on the context of use, as Wittgenstein claims, but rather we can say, that a meaning-literal, primary, usual or familar one- is used, or misused if one likes to use that word. I believe that Wittgenstein, early and later, and Davidson are both, in their own terms, trying to express this fact. We need somekind of meaning, literal or usual, in order to misuse it. Maybe we need rules to break them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

From Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir 1926-1939

They're always eager to confide in someone, which just goes to show how confused they are. They would like to talk about their personal traits and tell those little lies one does in such a state. My presence alone keeps them from doing so, for I hate weakness and confidences told halfheartedly, without reflection. But behind my back they must be babbling on like old women. Today Canguilhem said to me, "I like you because you're basically very sad and it's only to break out of it that you amuse yourself by telling stupid jokes and fighting with Larroutis." I don't know why that flattered me. Yet you know how I hate this melancholy. Here's a beautiful thought on that subject, from a philosopher I'll recommend when we've spoken about him together a bit--Alain*: "Hegel says that the immediate or natural soul is always inveloped in melancholy, as though overwhelmed. That seemed to me to have beautiful depth. When self-reflection doesn't make it right, it's a waste of time. And whoever interrogates himself answers poorly. Thought that contemplates itself alone is really just boredom or sadness. Give it a try. Ask yourself, "What on earth shall I read to pass the time? You're already yawning. You must concentrate. Desire languishes when it does not lead to will. And these remarks are enough to judge the psychologists who would like every individual to study his own thoughts as one does the grasses and the shells. But to think is to will." (Propos sur le bonheur)

*Pseudonym of Emile-Auguste Chartier (1868-1951).

merite sa propre blog post

J'ai juste ce moment decouvert la meilleure station radio que je n'ai jamais ecoute: Radio Zinzine (necessite l'emploi de Wimamp). Pousse-toi, Tom Waits. Sur recommendation de S (apparemment elle l'ecoutait en Haute Provence il y a quelques ans et vient juste de se souvenir). Une excellente trouvaille. Aussi, une critique en Liberation du dernier de Jean-Luc Nancy, La Déclosion (Déconstruction du christianisme, 1).
ps. Blogger me fait chier avec son ineptie d'accents.

Monday, April 25, 2005


A friend alerts me to a short story by Murakami published today in The New Yorker. I got about halfway through but then got bored. Shit and garbage post (coughing up flames and green phlegggmuchouh!).


No chanting here. Of course, no tears either. Which, I must say, is genuinely tragic. Here's to the White Revolution (white for the bandages covering their mouths). Foucault would approve.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

quote for the day

From here:
“A critique is not a matter of saying things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions . . . the practices that we accept rest” (154).

He continues by noting that thought exists in even the “most stupid institutions” (155). “In these circumstances, criticism (and radical criticism) is absolutely indispensable for any transformation. A transformation that remains within the same mode of thought . . . can merely be a superficial transformation” (155) “It is not therefore a question of there being a time for criticism and a time for transformation . . . the work of deep transformation can only be carried out in a free atmosphere, on constantly agitated by a permanent criticism” (155).

Foucault goes on to explain that the role of the intellectual is “making conflicts more visible, of making them more essential than mere confrontations of interests or mere institution immobility. Out of these conflicts, these confrontations, a new power relation must emerge, whose first, temporary expression will be a reform” (156). He continues by explaining that all of his theoretical work has a relation to his own experiences. In responding to a comment by Eribon about his optimism, Foucault concludes with “There’s an optimism that consists of saying things couldn’t be better. My optimism would consist rather in saying that so many thing can be changed, fragile as they are, bound up more with circumstances than necessities, more arbitrary than self-evident, more a matter of complex, but temporary, historical circumstances than with inevitable anthropological constants” (156). (via)

I only thought the blogosphere could use a little more Foucault, and I'm too damn flu-ish to post much else. Curses on whos'ever idea it was to stay at the bar until 2:30 and then hit the diner before driving an hour and a half home. Still, the suffering and survival mode does have its moments of clarity, I suppose. If only one could remember any of them. Oh, and happy belated birthday, Claire Denis.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Via here and here, excerpts from a "situationist dictionary" work-in-progress, that for some reason struck me as mildly quaint and amusing:

identity card
1.��� noun

* Prison conditions (pocket-sized).
* Used as the legend in a map depicting Who's Who in the Yard.
* Helps the fifedom keep track of its serfs.
* Solution that keeps nation-states on the map and citizens on the menu.

1.��� noun

* The "movie star", "rock star", and "sports star" are now the products; it is no longer what they use but what they are (not) that is produced. They are images separated from their sources by a social relationship of the consumer more so in many cases than those of the producer. The spectacles are only possible by a mutual inclusive relationship between the image and the consumer of that image as a pseudo-fulfillment of alienated activity/life. They are only possible because of this social relationship. It is not movies, not music, not sports. It is the underlying social relationship which separates and re-presents a substanceless vitality to the image so that others may appear to live their lives again. Sorry gang, it works only partially and the "endless" well of funding to consume more and more is going dry. The "fake it 'til you make it world meets the real world of "fictitious capital" and the overspending of future assets - and, suddenly it's capital crisis time!

1.��� noun

* Self-conflicted, fall-back persona adopted by one who is initially attracted to others because of shared enthusiasm for generalised concept but within whom later misgivings, concerning secondary details, act to impede participation.
* Potentially prospective (versus introspective), one circles at 1000 feet - in data research and scene-filtering mode. If the lurker never emerges from this surreptitious circling of the wagons, one becomes that which is circled.
* One stuck in voyeuristic ritual of spectatorship. In accepting the world passively and as outside one's affect, the lurker becomes perfect spectator to their own existence, master of being slave.

1.��� noun

* Salesman or saleswoman for the left face of Capital; goal is the extraction of human capital after reincarnation and before death.

1.��� noun

* A meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine for interpreting existing conditions. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by antisituationists.

1.��� noun

* A gas escaping from landfill sites.
* The clinking sound made by coins in an empty pocket.
* A poor substitute for essence, concocted by those suffering paltry existence.
* Anti-emissions from beings already devoid of themselves.

1.��� noun

* Infliction that sets one beyond one's warrantee.
* Dangerous receptacle for irrationality.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


A new issue is out. Or you could go read Kotsko's Badiou lecture notes, Robin's sardonic playing down of EGS, or an exceptionally rich series of posts on Bourbon and Wittgenstein at Waggish (and related musings at the superb Fort Kant).

Friday, April 15, 2005

The stuff of Mr. Ripley's "talent"

There's a genuinely funny piece by Steve Almond here, courtesy of the excellent 3am Magazine:
I only trust the ugly writers, anyway. Deep down, those are the ones who have earned their wrath. All the rest of them, the pretty boy and girl authors, screw them. Or, better yet, don't screw them. Get them all hot and bothered. Tell them you know Terry Gross, you once dated her former personal assistant, and then leave them there, lathered up, grinning, in a hot cloud of their own fabulous bone structure.
Some measures that will help:

1. Watch a lot of television - Television is the place where you will realize that beauty makes people stupid. If you keep watching for long enough, it will dawn on you that the opposite is just as true.

Might the strange, vain competition that conditions so many things--academia, the book publishing industry and the blogosphere, just to name a few--best be understood in light of Rene Girard's theory of mimetic rivalry?

I should confess that I've only seen the film version of "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Still, I'd like to propose an alternative to what might be called a popularized, somewhat crude and formulaic Girardianism. Recall the exemplary relationship between Ripley and Greenleaf. In what sense is it exemplary? Consider the position of Marge, without whom this relation between Tom and Dickie would lose much of its unspoken competitive and homosocial charge. Is it true that her presence functions, in a sense, much like the child's toy in Girard's famous scenario? She is the covetted object or the "third," for whom one reaches only to have the other instinctively reach in turn, mechanically and without hesitation*, his desire but a copy of desire.

Or maybe there is a more fitting way to set this triangle. Rotated again, it is Dickie who clearly belongs on top. It is Dickie for whose luxurious and seductively elusive attention the others vie, all the moreso with each rebuff. It is a sort of addiction to charisma, to seeing a version of oneself reflected back, always in flickers, in an extraordinary light. This is the spiraling, vertiginous dynamic, indeed the deadly serious game, that Tom exploits at first, and then becomes, in a way, beholden to, and indeed perhaps inseperable from. At the loss of himself, he becomes pure imitation or full contagion; a sort of guilt-free simulacrum.

No, no. That might be what Baudrillard would say, and too quickly. Of course he has not become "pure" anything. Neither is there anything glorifiable or admirable (other than Matt Damon's decent acting) about this transformation. But there is certainly a sense in which Tom's existence has been released from all moral considerations, and the medium for this transgression, perversion and sublimation, is the overlapping realms of language and of image. He is become, perhaps, not unlike Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, for whom the projected reader/juror functions as a sort of mirror.

And what if the clinical reading of this story seems to fall short, precisely there where it appears content to simply diagnose Ripley, not least of all in neglecting to examine Greenleaf? Is it not a feature of Ripley's pathology also to perform the services (at first merely obsequious) of a spoiling mirror? He is parasitical in that he reflects back a pathology already present, in some crucial sense, in Greanleaf himself (as the vain idol, ultimately only interested in others to the extent that they may reflect back a worshipping image of him, and so perpetuate his delusions of grandeur.) At the heart of Ripley's transformation lies the crucial mistake of inhabiting another's (predatory) desire as his own; Ripley's desire is itself a copy of a copy, and on some level he recognizes it as such. But his is a pathology impossible to conceive without that of Greenleaf endlessly seeking validation to begin with; Greenleaf who indulges him, who must indulge him at all costs, for without such parasites he is truly lost.

* In the film version, one wonders whether Ripley isn't reduced at times to something of a cliché of 'the closet homosexual.' It certainly adds another dynamic, but one that may risk being read too quickly as a complete explanation. Surely there is more that is 'sinister' at work here (!–that being the likely popular Other's default, lazy reading) as his mimetic desire for the other (that is, for the other's desire) manifests itself in fantasy with exponentially increasing levels of deception and desperation. No doubt someone or other thought it played in nicely with the Chet Baker imitation, for which Matt Damon was rather perfectly cast, if a bit too perfect, perhaps.

of vanity, anonymity and cults

From time to time this blog likes to photocopy certain passages from its namesake, in the perhaps vain hope of encouraging those googling over to actually read a bit of Blanchot. So, without further ado:

The vain struggle for the anonymous. Impersonality is not enough to guarantee the anonymous. The work, even if it is without author and always becoming in relation to itself, delimits a space that attracts names, a possibility of reading that is determined every time, a system of references, a theory that appropriates it, a meaning that clarifies it. Of course, we have dispenses with these (although again this is not sure) with the great names. At the same time that Nietzsche–again a very great name–lets us know that the work, that of the artist or of the philosopher, invents only after the fact he who, having created it, must have created it, we know that the work, in its historical necessity, is always modified, transformed, traversed, separated from itself, delivered to its outside, by all the works that seem to come only after it, according to a movement of recurrence whose model Hegel provided. We are not dupes of the present that would make us believe in an authority we have or in an influence we exercise, still less are we concerned with the past, still less presumptuous of a future. We penetrate the pretended impersonal responsibility of groups in which is affirmed, secretly or directly, the right of some to lead in aggrandizing their name with that of the group. The "cult of personality" does not begin with the person who places himself above others to incarnate a historical truth. It begins with this truth itself, whether it is that of the party, of the country, of the world, truth always ready, once it immobilizes itself, to unify itself in a name, a person, a people, an epoque. How then does one arrive at this anonymous whose only mode of approach is haunting intimacy, uncertain obsession that always dispossesses.

The exteriority that excludes every exterior and every interior, as it precedes their succeeding, ruining for them every beginning and every end, and in such a way that it hides itself in the revelation that represents it at once as law there where every law is failing, as return there where every arrival is lacking, as eternal Same when non-identity unmarks itself in it without continuity without interruption, as repetition there where nothing is counted: this is the "concept" (non-conceptualizable) that should help us to maintain ourselves, we the named, close to the inhospitable host who has always preceded us into our house or into our self, even though he has always withdrawn us from our best or most faulty intimacy to relate us, half complacent, half moribund, to this very relation that collapses into anonymous passion.

Let us be clear that we will never have gotten away from the name, even if we are marked by the pre-original anonymous. The anonymous is given to us in the name itself, not freeing us in any way from ourselves, from our identity and from this face that needs, to refuse itself any access, the faceless, the gazeless, mask that transforms everything into a mask and that nothing unmasks. The more strong and justified the name, the more it gives hold to the perversion of the anonymous; the more that greatness, creative force, indubitable truth present themselves in a name, the more it is ready to denounce itself as the error or the injustice which has thrived at the expense of the nameless. But, in return, everything happens as if the anonymous, shadow of which light would be unaware that it shines only to project it, arranged the whole comedy of glories, of powers, of sanctities, in order to bring itself near to us, signalling to us across signification and precisely there where every sign would be lacking.

When we sign, affirming our identity, we become responsible well beyond this signature, to the point that this responsibility has forever put us aside, signing to disappropriate us, like a forgerer who would not try to pass as true, but would make the true shine out as false....(Le Pas au-delà, 36-37)

Translated (the only one, so far) by Lycette Nelson. Brought to you by the council on truth in advertising.

Update: There's a new website, still in its infancy, dedicated to Blanchot here. (Leslie Hill is among the editors.)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Virtual Aura? Cyber Flaneur? What is that?

A fairly straightforward and interesting article on "The Virtual Aura and the Digital Flâneur", written by the Curator of New Media for The Israel Museum:

The visitor in a museum is responding to cultural processes that are reflected through the trajectories of the aggregated and contextualized objects. These sometimes precious, sometimes mundane objects are modified in the exhibition context, where they go through a process of museumification, extracted from distant locations and placed on a spotlight pedestal, or isolated in a glass cage. They become re-conceptualized and re-contextualized and serve to petrify cultural values in much the same way as the theatre projects the human condition through metaphor and allegory. While both the theatre and the heterochronical spaces of a museum are both artificial and temporary projections, the structure of the exhibition relies on 'real', culturally robust objects. Could this wonder resonate in the digital image of the new media? Could there even be such a thing as a virtual aura?


A museum that does not exist in objective reality and is exclusively constructed electronically on the World Wide Web is the MUVA, El Pais Virtual Museum of Art. This museum is a virtual fabrication, and maintains only a tenuous connection to reality. MUVA utilizes a 3D technique, Web2mil, to conjure up a magic environment. Alicia Haber, the Director of the museum, welcomes visitors the museum, specializing in contemporary Uraguayan and Latin American art, and its extensive collection of paintings by leading Uraguayan artists...

In order to construct the same museum in concrete, steel and glass, it would have cost over 100 million dollars, a prohibitive sum for the Uruguayan reality. Due to the efforts of this highly motivated and imaginative team, Uruguay's artists can now show their works collectively, substituting that impossible museum with their own virtual museum. To recall Lash and Urry's premonitions that there has been a 'compression' of time and space as well as Giddens' dubious implications for society we may conclude that discern that the virtual metaphor of a museum has become emblematic of the emptying out of subject and object. Even so, while we do recognize a substantial loss, we might also side with Benjamin that, in this loss, there is a welcome gain. With the liberation of the original object and distribution over the Internet, this opens up, for the first time, the availability of Uruguayan art for remote visitors and the opportunity for these artists to reach a broader audience.

The history of photography has long left behind the notion of the photograph as historical document, and through aesthetic appreciation has come to be a theoretical object, no longer perceived merely as a stand-alone simulacrum, eventually attaining a status of its own. This ontological evolution took almost a century and we now recognize the capacity of the photographic image to stir emotions and evoke wonder. Roland Barthes (Barthes, 1981, 2000) affirmed that photographs do radiate a certain kind of 'aura'. The aura of the lost in me and of lost memories much in the same way that Proust's textual reminiscences of the Madeleine pastry and the potency of it's smell that served to evoke buried memory. Barthes distinguishes the "punctum" as that accident of photographic detail that pricked him, bruised him and was so poignant to him that it evoked an almost transcendental experience, conjuring up poignant lost memories of his mother. The historical process of the photographic image emerged from window to artifact, as video has migrated from documentation tool to art form. Perhaps we need to maintain an aesthetic distance from the World Wide Web in order to distinguish the parameters of the still new medium, and to identify new spaces of enchantment amongst the cacophony of information.

What would such an "aesthetic distance" entail if not a persistent critique, the refusal to grant virtuality a firm ontological or naturalized bearing, (as if a priori) immune to 'deconstruction'? (It's tempting to call a simple category-error every time someone starts an apocalyptic sentence with something like: "We no longer..." What is it about obnoxious, self-proclaimed "postmodernists" that they feel themselves so inhabited by the holy ghost of prophecy? To feel comfortable sounding even vaguely like some new-age mail-order mystic whilst quoting Benjamin ought to be a cardinal sin. An entirely predictable backlash against all things "theory" caused in large part by these self-designated prophets too in love with the sound of their own voices to pause and consider their own context.)
N.B. Rant not intended for the author quoted above directly. (And of course larger, more banal and violent political trends are only safely ignored by the willfully irresponsible.) Read her essay.

Monday, April 11, 2005


It used to look like this:

Then it looked like this:

Now it looks more like this:

(though still no use for bait)

The "original" cult of personality

"I am very happy there is a conference to do with deconstruction. I have heard it's on the wane, dying, for the last 30 years. I tell you, it is dead. If there is a difference between deconstruction and any other fashion, discipline and so forth, it is that it started with dying."


Or an effective borrower, anyway. Sartre borrows everything, as you know, but in the end maybe that matters less than some would suggest. Still Derrida speaks somewhere of the danger every serious thinker must confront, or rather always negotiate--that of becoming oneself an example or a persona, merely, a stylistic trademark or brand, a convenient label to disfigure, a distraction from the duty to think or, in his fond phrase, actually read those one is accusing. The last thing any genuine thinker desires being a herd of disciples ("more Derridian than Derrida himself," Lyotard smiles, somewhere else). And yet where would we be without his example, Sartre's, today? The era of 'the cult of personality' would seem to be over, only its desperately fundamentalist, utterly banal, reactionary dregs left over, flailing and writhing in their death throes. Or maybe this is an optimistic description; maybe the announcement of death was premature. (Descriptions are permitted a certain optimism, surely!) While the cult of personality is often framed as a "problem" or a "curse" for the "left", there is no such "left" now, and such phrases risk sweeping the contemporary likes of Chavez preemptively under the rug with Stalin. One cannot just say, "the cult of personality" without some attempt at (ideological) description or historical contextualization...

But is Derrida correct? Did Sartre commit some kind of fundamental miscalculation or intellectual's error? Did he betray the role of a 'responsible' intellectual by becoming too overtly political, too much an iconic symbol? At yet this seems to be happening to Derrida anyway, despite his life-long protests and meticulous care in what he said and did not say (his constant attention to tone, often seemingly childish in its extreme sensitivity, and combined with such seriousness; he has such low tolerance for games at his own expense, those contrived not without a hint of jealousy or even malice as if to help him take himself less seriously)...

Anyway, on a somewhat related note, I have been reading this from Wittgenstein's Ladder:
In the autumn of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the Germans had accused the British government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious. Some five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:

Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends. (2)

What is the use of studying philosophy if it doesn't improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?...

The example Wittgenstein thus set writers from Samuel Beckett (who insisted that he hadn't read any Wittgenstein until the late fifties, long after he had completed such "Wittgensteinian" works as Watt and Waiting for Godot), (13) to Bachmann and Bernstein, is that he never gave up the struggle, both with himself and with language, never allowed himself to accept this or that truth statement or totalizing system as the answer. "Language," he wrote in his notebook, "sets everyone the same traps . . . . What I have to do then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points" (CV 18). And one of the implications of the famous aphorism "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world" (T #5.6), is that the cult of personality, of a subject somehow outside language, that dominated American poetry, from the confessionalism of the fifties to the "scenic mode" (Charles Altieri's apt phrase) of the seventies has now begun to give way to a resurgence of what was known, in the heyday of the New Criticism which regarded it with some asperity, as "the poetry of ideas." (14)

But not the "poetry of ideas" in the traditional sense, where it meant the expression of significant "content" in appropriate language and verse form. For if we accept Wittgenstein's premise that "The results of philosophy [and hence by analogy of poetry] are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language," and that "These bumps make us see the value of the discovery" (PI #119), the "poetry of ideas" becomes the site of discovery, where the "bumps" we receive by running our heads up against the walls and ceilings of the rooms we dwell in are interrogated. And that process of interrogation is of necessity tentative, self-cancelling, and self-correcting, even as it deals with the most ordinary aspects of everyday life...(Marjorie Perloff)

You'll have to follow the link for her footnotes, but the essay is worth reading in its entirety.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


It's a beautiful day to be outside, and I was going to abstain from posting anything for a few days anyway, partly on the vain chance that someone might actually read down the page and respond interestingly to posts revised and updated (such as this one and this one). But then Tom Waits was on the radio last night, talking about "what is 'cool'", so I had to blog about that. Incidentally, none of the people asked this question responded with the truth, as discovered by a friend of mine in college years and years ago, who burst into my room one afternoon and proclaimed, "I figured out what coolness is!
"...Oh yeah?"
"It's moving slower than the music!"

So but while I'm typing, some fashionably late links: The Litblog Co-op looks promising. And also, even if they're not a very musical bunch, these guys. And surprise, surprise, most "wild salmon" in grocery stores is farm raised! Having tasted the real thing daily during several sleepless, 3-month seasons, I certainly could have told you that.

And the real parties, the genuinely tragic and foreboding ones, virtually ignored by a sorry excuse for a US Press, are reported on here, here, here, here, here and here.

Oh, and a former advisor to President Clinton (the one with a blog), bravely demonstrates either his indifference to or ignorance of Marx, or some combination thereof.

Friday, April 08, 2005


When Barthes spoke about photography, he brought up the question of the "punctum." Through this punctum, the photograph becomes an event in our head, in our mental life, where it is something different, a singular relation, an absolute singularity. This punctum, which, according to Barthes, is a nonplace, nothing, nothingness at the heart of the photograph, disappeared, and in its place we constructed a museum of photography. This death, which Barthes said was at the heart of the photograph, the photograph itself, the symbolic power of the photograph, disappeared, it assumed the shape of a monument or a museum, and this time a concrete death materialized. This was a cultural operation, and that operation, yes, I am against it, emphatically, with no concessions, without compromise.
We are stuck in an unlimited, metastic development of culture, which has heavily invested in archetecture. But to what extent can we judge it? Today it's very difficult to identify, in a given building, what belongs to this secret, this singularity that hasn't really disappeared. I think that as a form it is indestructible but is increasingly consumed by culture. Is any voluntary, conscious resistance possible? Yes. I think that each of us can resist. But it would be difficult for such resistance to become political. I don't get the impression there could be any organized political resistance as such. It would always be an exception, and whatever you do will always be "exceptional" in that sense. (The Singular Objects of Architecture)

Well, at least he's against something. Sounding a bit uncharacteristic here, in this relatively new book. One detects a note of leaning toward Derrida in the later Baudrillard. (So much leaning, but alas, no leap.) More interesting than what might be described as Baudrillard's habitually premature and reckless universalization is Barthes' punctum. For a long time, so the story goes, we were attuned to the death contained in photographs. We remained wary of the mechanical freezing of time, of a medium that seemed to consist entirely of canonical statements. Then, after a period of unprecedented immersion and enculturation, as the cumulative effects of seeing such (symbolic) deaths upon deaths wore on, we came to erect a museum in place of death. The photograph became a monument, or a tombstone, and the symbolic power was transformed into a real power. Or rather it has blurred into such. (Now we have 'Terri', for example, being "murdered" by those who only wish her to be allowed to die rather than artificially preserved as a symbolic, passive monument to the "victory" of life. It does not matter that she was unable to respond. Indeed, the "life" at stake there was in some respects more akin to that of a photographic still, and the network goblins gobbled her up with all the sensitivity given to their previous poster child.) But that is too simple, yes. Television does much more than this. But even and especially when (supposedly) mourning, television murders but does not permit death. In this it stands, for reasons both structural and political, against life.

but it is a frustrating task. because photography is slippery. because memory second-guesses and doubts the veracity given in images. because what we see does not always correlate to what we remember, and barthes is wary of images becoming memory. he wants to reclaim his memory from the visual repertoire, not have it given him from it. while looking for the image that will inform memory, he writes, "...a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see." what he is searching for, instead, is something which causes a disturbance, something that will prick memory, wound it and him in some way. it is in this essay that he names the idea that became the namesake for this site, where he calls "punctum" that detail in a photograph which renders an image subjective and particular, that which pierces through what we already think we know.

Or, conversely, recall David Foster Wallace's narrator(s), taken a bit irresponsibly out of context, but a nice "fictive" illustration of 'photo psychosis' nonetheless:
"Her photograph tastes bitter to me. A show of hands on the part of those who are willing to believe that I kiss her photo? She'd not believe it, or it would make her sad, or rather it would make her angry and she would say you never kissed me the way you kiss my chemically bitter senior photo, the reasons you kiss my photo have to do with you, not me.'
"The photo is a Sears Mini-Portrait, too large for any wallet, so I've bough a special receptacle, a supporting framing folder of thick licorice cardboard. The receptacle is now wedged over the sun visor, along with a toll ticket, on the passenger side of my mother's car. I keep the windows rolled up to negate any possibility of the photo's blowing around, coming to harm. In June, in a car without air-conditioning, I keep the windows rolled up for the sake of her photo. What more should anyone be required to say?'
'It's Here. It's Now. The next beauties will and must be new. I invited her to see a crystalline renaissance; cool and chip-flat; fibers of shine winking in aesthetic matrices under a spreading sodium dawn. What touches and so directs us is what applies. I sense the impending upheaval of a great cleaning, a coming tidiness foaming at every corner of meaning. I smell change, and relief at cost, like the musty promise of a summer rain. A new age and a new understanding of beauty as range, not locus. No more uni-object concepts, contemplations, warm clover breath, heaving bosoms, histories as symbol, colossi; no more man, fist to brow or palm to decollétage, understood in terms of a thumping, thudding, heated Nature, itself conceived as colored, shaped, invested with odor, lending meaning in virtue of qualities. No more qualities. No more metaphors. Gödel numbers, context-free grammars, finite automata, correlation functions and spectra. Not sensuously here, but causally, efficaciously here. Here in the most intimate way. Plasma electronics, large-scale systems, operational amplification.
'Now you stop kissing pictures and tearing up proofs and begin to intuit that things are, and have been, much more general and in certain respects sinister all along."
'I begin to realize that she might never have existed. That I might feel this way now for a different–maybe even no–reason. The loss of specific referent for my emotions is wildly disorienting. Two and a half weeks have passed since I came here. The receptacle is lying on the bureau in my room, still bent from the tollbooth. My affections have become a sort of faint crust on the photo, and the smell when I open the receptacle in the morning is chemically bitter. I stay inside all day, avoid windows, and cannot summon hunger. My testicles are drawn up constantly. They begin to hurt. Whole periods of time now begin to feel to me like the intimate, agonizing interval between something's falling off and its hitting the ground. (Girl With Curious Hair, 151-165)

Well, or at the risk of being taken for a "lit-crit type" (a convenient label, if ever there was one) for such juxtapositions, there remains that invisible elephant of analytic philosophy, one Martin Heidegger, who surely must figure in any responsible analysis of the "historical object":

Among the meanings of the expression "history" that signify neither the science of history nor the latter as an object, but rather this being itself which has not necessarily been objectified, the one in which this being is understood as something past claims a preferred use. This significance makes itself known in talk such as "this or that already belongs to history." Here "past" means on the one hand "no longer objectively present," or else "indeed still objectively present, but without 'effect' on the 'present'." However, what is historical as what is past also has the opposite significance when we say that one cannot evade history. Here history means what is past, but is nevertheless still having an effect. However, what is historical as what is past is understood in a positive or privative effective relation to the "present" in the sense of what is real "now" and "today." "The past" has a remarkable ambiguity here. Here "the past" belong irrevocably to an earlier time; it belonged to former events and can yet still be objectively present "now"–for example, the remains of a Greek temple. A "bit of the past" is still "present" in it.

Thus history does not so much mean the "past" in the sense of what is past, but the derivation from it. Whatever "has a history" is in the context of becoming.

Somewhat brutally snipped, here and there, Heidegger continues:

The "antiques" preserved in museums (for example, household things) belong to a "time past," and are yet still objectively present in the "present." How are these useful things historical when they are not, after all, not yet past?
[...] Or do these "things" "in themselves" yet have "something past" about them although they are still objectively present today? [...] What is "past"? Nothing other than the world within which they were encountered as things at hand belonging to a context of useful things and used by heedful Da-sein existing-in-the-world. That world is no longer. But what was previously innerworldly in that world is still objectively present. As useful things belonging to that world, what is now still objectively present can nevertheless belong to the "past." But what does it mean that the world no-longer-is? World is only in the mode of existing Da-sein, that is, factically as being-in-the-world.
The historical character of extant antiques is thus grounded in the "past" of Da-sain to whose world that past belongs. According to this, only "past" Da-sein would be historical, but not "present" Da-sein. However, can Da-sein be past at all, if we define "past" as "now no longer objectively present or at hand"? Evidently Da-sein can never be past, not because it is imperishable, but because it can essentially never be objectively present. Rather, if it is, it exists. But a Da-sein that no longer exists is not past in the ontologically strict sense; it is rather having-been-there....Da-sein is what is primarily historical. But does Da-sein first become historical by no longer being there? Or is it historical precisely as factically existing? Is Da-sein something that has-been only in the sense of having-been-there, or has it been as something making present and futural, that is, in the temporalizing of its temporality? (Being and Time, 346-349)

In any event, biting off more than any single blog post could chew, certainly. But the blogosphere could use a bit more Heidegger. While typing this I've been trying to think of a way to relate this all back to photographs, as well as the many distinctions between traditional portraits and "use-objects" (such as the "everyday" "household things" Heidegger has in mind) that it would be necessary to draw out. There is of course a certain psychological and emotional work performed by contemporary photos (especially those on refrigerators, of people, of "friends") in which their primary purpose seems to be an endless (impossible) reassurance of this very status of "friend" itself. Such reassurance often verges on pathetic fallacy (or perhaps only mimics it?), but in a more habitually distanced and complicated, less mystical manner than the Romantics ever imagined. If there is a kind of death in photographs, one to which we have lost some of our sensitivity, and instead seek to avoid with an excess or endless parody, then is it enough to argue for a new, or renewed, reverence? We must allow objects to look back at us, says Benjamin (in a manner different but perhaps complementary to Lacan). There are many kinds of distance, surely, and the danger, the nausea of Museum Sickness looms large.

'Please do not touch.' That is the one label every visitor to the museum or gallery has read. If one forgets its message, if one leans forward a little too closely, puts out a hand to follow a contour or point a figure out to a companion, there is always an attendant on hand to warn one away. But, in a sense, the label is both redundant and misleading. In a museum or gallery all the great and famous objects of world culture are 'at hand'. For the duration of our visit they belong to us. We can, in the British Museum, move from the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to some ancient Chinese buddha. It is an admirable place to find visual confirmation of what books have told us, and in that sense it is an invaluable educational tool. But just as the gramophone and the radio have brought the masterpieces of world music to us without our having to make any effort to get to them, so here the very abundance and proximity of masterpieces and objects of huge cultural significance tend to deprive each of its aura. We can, if the attendant is not looking, actually touch them–but can they touch us?

-Gabriel Josipovici, Touch

Some interesting comments on the excellent Charlotte Street on related themes here, several posts after this one.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

from page 79

The source of these insights must lie somewhere in my legs, for it most often occurs while walking that I will be brought to a sudden halt by the enormities visited on conscious existence. These enormities, these villanies of the natural order, though they outstrip the mind by their size and sheer pervasiveness, are to the legs perspicuous enough to bring them to a staggering and complete halt. Even my legs, unheavily cabled as they are, little more than poorly bundled twigs, during the warmer months the object of persistent ridicule among women, even these eczematous hobbling stilts--with what sensitivities they are endowed! I would not be the least surprised if it were in some tendon of the ankle that the thinking substance were located, if it were discovered that, lo these many years, an ankle tendon had, out of modesty and patriotic devotion, been funneling intelligence to the cortical zeppelin, than an unassuming tendon deep within the ankle or wrist had proved Athenian to the Mede of invading sense data. Often, as I say, these closet ministers, my legs, will draw me to a sudden, stupified halt, seized by the realization that, in the end, I have no idea who or what I am. 'In the end--' what could that possibly mean? What end? There is no end. There is no such end, and yet the lemming slash bondservant slash under-educated musculature of the mouth finds these meaningless tags irresistible.

-Michael Ives, The External Combustion Engine


He was a good neighbor (and came in often to the store, I hear). And smart fellow.

I know nothing about Badiou but...

some folks might be especially glad to see a new(ish) post (paper, really) at The Parallel Campaign:
The horizon of a situation cannot itself, as horizon, be bought into the foreground and examined: it is the condition of possibility for making things present. The same is true of the foundational nature of the empty set, and the axiomatic approach in general, they constitute the conditions of possibility for a situation, such that anything can appear at all.
What Badiou wants is an event that triggers the possibility of novelty from fully within a given situation, using nothing more than what is already available to the situation: its material elements. An event is immanent to a situation and always disrupts the status quo of that situation. It is a revolutionary moment and demands militant action. What an event will provoke is the transformation of a situation, not into something which completely destroys or erases the previous consistent world, but one which transforms and extends it...(read more)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

still march

On April 18 in Las Vegas, Lowry Mays, chairman of radio giant Clear Channel Communications, will receive the broadcast industry's "Distinguished Service Award." This is the same Lowry Mays who has obliterated local news and music, buying up 1,200 radio stations and scrubbing homegrown artists from their playlists.

Even the technical media are relentlessly forced into uniformity. Television aims at a synthesis of radio and film, and is held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk – the fusion of all the arts in one work. (Adorno and Horkheimer) (via)

And to help maintain my status as a useful political blogger, because status is what we all crave so much:

I, _________________________ (fill in the blank), being of sound mind and body, DO NOT wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means.

Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of peckerhead politicians who couldn't pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it.

If a reasonable amount of time passes and I fail to sit up and ask for a scotch, it should be presumed that I won't do so ever again. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.

Under no circumstances shall the members of the Legislature enact a special law to keep me on life-support machinery. It is my wish that these assholes mind their own damn business, and pay attention instead to the health, education and future of the millions of Americans who AREN'T in a permanent coma and who nonetheless may be in need of nourishment.

Under no circumstances shall any politicians butt into this case. I don't care how many fundamentalist votes they're trying to scrounge for their run for the presidency in 2008, it is my wish that they play politics with someone else's life and leave me alone to die in peace.

I couldn't care less if a hundred religious zealots send e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me. I don't know these people, and I certainly haven't authorized them to preach and/or crusade on my behalf. They should mind their own damn business, too.

If any of my family goes against my wishes and turns my case into a political cause, I hereby promise to come back from the grave and make his or her existence a living hell.

Wondering if to put one's own right to death in someone else's hands isn't to ask them to commit a violence against themselves, against the very condition of possibility of your friendship, fidelity and trust. To demand to be preserved solely by machines is also to consign one's body to a biopolitical violence, to wager on a miracle future with, in some important sense, a hand already empty. Surely there is a reasonable period for holding out hope. But the fanatical clinging to 'life' at all costs, is little more than a hollow, sentimental act of default desperation. What does it mean to be truly responsible for one's own life? Don't bluff away the duty of death's sentence, maybe.

Related, belated link or two.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Dark Gaze

“Here (and in conformity with a long poetic tradition) the abyss of infinity is contained in the eye that gazes at us (Hegel called this ‘the night of the world’). But, of course, there is one instance when the two terms, Auge [Auge / n, eye / s] and Blick [gaze], are even more happily united: precisely the notion of Augenblick (moment). When, in Zarathustra, the theme of eternal recurrence appears for the first time (in the chapter ‘On the Vision and the Riddle’), Nietzsche talks about a ‘gateway’ called ‘Moment’ (Augenblick), a point at which two paths meet (as if ‘offending each other face to face’) -- two paths that seem to contradict each other, and to stretch for an eternity in opposite directions.”

“We have to be careful in talking of the unknown as an object since, if Blanchot is correct, the distance between subject and object collapses in inner experience to reveal, at the last possible moment, a distance in being itself [a small blue distance]; a fissure that allows for the production of images. This distance (as Blanchot insists on calling it) cannot be traversed by a gaze but ‘is’ a dark gaze that cannot be borne. To have appeared before it is already no longer to be an ‘I’.” (1)


The revolutionary potential of this zone within representation and experience (the small blue distance conceived in the very act of cognizing the world) is infinitely contested. The radical otherness of such a zone (as in Tarkovsky’s very sly film Stalker) lies in a conflation of forces that resist categorization and instrumentalization -- a set of forces often assembled under the term Spirit. The resistance to categorization (systematization) characteristic of such ‘places’, and always already ‘outside’, remain, nonetheless a fact of life (if not a birthright) most often denied. Before the onslaught of authorized narratives, including much-maligned master narratives, the sacred descends in/through and by way of the coordinates that one might call the prison-house of fallen languages (simulacra)...more

Now go get lost. These are cloying, secondary, endlessly preparatory posts, I know. Sorry. (Still, thanks for the reminder).

Monday, April 04, 2005


Following on from here...
To possess a relic was to possess power. As Peter Brown shows, at its origins the cult of relics was carefully controlled precisely so as to maintain the aura of the relic and to lead the pilgrim to recognise that distance was an essential component of praesentia....What seems to happen in what French historians have called 'the history of everyday life' is that when certain social practices and assumptions are discarded as false and fantastic the needs they fulfilled remain and, with nothing now to acculturate them, become a source of pain and anxiety and the generators of dangerous dreams and desires.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the repulsive trade in Nazi memorabilia which has gone on unabated since the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the Third Reich. Robert Harris, who dug deep into this cesspit when researching for his book on the bizarre episode of the forged Hilter diaries, has come up with some startling figures (at least they startled me). 'It has been estimated', he writes, 'that there are 50,000 collectors of Nazi memorabilia throughout the world, of whom most are Americans, involved in a business which is said to have an annual turnover of $50 million.' In the United States a monthly newsletter, Der Gauleiter, keeps up to five thousand collectors and dealers informed of the latest trade shows and auctions. In Los Angeles one collector amuses himself in private by wearing Ribbentrop's overcoat. In Kansas City another serves drinks from Hitler's punch-bowl. In Chicago a family doctor has installed a concrete vault beneath his house, where he keeps a collection of Nazi weapons. In Arizona a used car salesman drives his family around in the Mercedes which Hitler gave to Eva Braun...

-Gabriel Josipovici, Touch, 94-95

Controversial memorial completed

New Internationalist, etc.

Perusing Utne Magazine's Independent Press Awards, the
New Internationalist looks worthy of more attention (given the general lack of international news coverage, blogs included.) This article on the legacy of Bhopal caught my eye.
On other notes, it's nice to see John Berger compared to Umberto Eco, even if only in passing (via). And the latest statistics study on exit polls/U.S. election fraud is out(pdf), if anybody cares. Also, check Wes Clark on Wednesday.
Update: Regarding the Pope, one has to admire Terry Eagleton's gall:
The greatest crime of his papacy, however, was neither his part in this cover up nor his neanderthal attitude to women. It was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned - as a "culture of death" - condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death. The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands. He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian church since Charles Darwin. (link)

What's that about nuisance value again?


I would like to confess something. For several years now I have harbored the dream of owning an old Mercedes Benz. The aesthetic of the car - its lines and deliberation -appeal to me in a romantic, nostalgic sense, evoking the vague feeling of an older, more civilized world (hold your breath). Most tempting, I have a friend who could help me convert it to run primarily on vegetable oil (easy to do, apparently, with a deisel engine). But the fact remains that I would then be driving a Nazi car. Or in any case, one that had been built by labor at the camps, or shortly thereafter (with Prescott Bush's funding, it might be added). Of course in one sense the disctinction is fundamental. And to confuse a car with an (old) ideology, or with the singular lives of the laborors, is verging on pathetic fallacy. But I am also of the rather firm believe that the sign of fascism is one under which we live still, and that this just may require a certain, very serious, vigilance. While I do not confuse this vigilance with the mere decision of whether or not to purchase a car, I'm still not entirely sure how this will make me feel, day after day, driving a Nazi car. Bear in mind I am an American-born-and-raised male, lucky enough to have travelled a bit but susceptible to the 50's "personal freedom" ("Wild at Heart") myths as the next fellow in my demographic.

In any event, trying to come up with punchy blurbs for the bookstore's shelves, I have been reading Ellis Sharp's review of Ian McEwan's Saturday:
Equivocation – having your cake and eating it – is a noticeable narrative strategy in ‘Saturday’. Perowne owns a Mercedes (as does, or did, McEwan – I have a hazy memory of reading some years ago a profile of the novelist which referred to his Mercedes parked in the drive of his Oxford home). Perowne has a memory of seeing his parked car “a hundred yards away, parked at an angle on a rise of the track, picked out in soft light against a backdrop of birch, flowering heather and thunderous black sky” – then adds: “the realisation of an ad man’s vision”. But though the description is lightly mocked, it is not seriously challenged. Seeing his car like this, Perowne experiences “a gentle, swooning joy of possession” (p. 76).

Boyd Tonkin complains that books as a cultural form don’t get enough attention from TV (Independent, 4 February 2005), but he adds:

“On the credit side, an item about Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ made the principal BBC evening news this Monday. This was not because it grabbed a gong or stirred a quarrel or triggered a fatwa, but simply because a world-ranking novelist had brought out a landmark work.”

But I can’t think of anything more characteristic of the news values of the BBC than that it should choose to privilege the publication of ‘Saturday’ as deserving of respectful attention as ‘news’. ‘Saturday’ is ideologically kin to those values. It’s a novel which adopts a reverent attitude to affluence. A Mercedes is a lovely car. Squash is a splendid game. It’s nice to have a big house in central London. A war on Iraq will get rid of a disgusting torture regime.

‘Saturday’ is a novel for liberals who didn’t go on the march (and I have yet to read a review of the novel or hear or watch a discussion of it that engages with the question of whether or not the critic participated in that march. My guess is that probably not a single one of them did.) It’s a bourgeois novel in the sense that it celebrates a bourgeois life style and worries about the threats to that way of life.

(More on McEwan here)

Liberal purism is a funny thing. I had a long discussion with a friend the other day who said she wished not to be buried but simply left in the woods somewhere, for animals to feast upon. I mentioned this might be traumatic for her parents re: the work of mourning, or for the five-year-old farmer's child who's dog brings him a femur. Similar discussions about turning the heat up ("just put on some pants!" "But you're not paying for the heat yourself"), etc. "Better to accept one's complicity, sometimes, and move on from there," I tell her, and I think she knows what I mean.
As for the review, I'm sure it's accurate, but probably not exactly what the owner's looking for...

Ironically (but in more ways than they mean it), McEwan seems to be having trouble entering the United States (via Arts Journal). Only marginally related, but see also this post.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

new science?

If you haven't yet taken the time to read Dread, Walking's translation of the Laruelle-Derrida debate, you certainly ought to.
Update: a restless reader raises an eyebrow at the aughts...

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Some perceptive poems by Julia at Eagle's Wing:


I am a paintbrush. You can
tell I have not taken a bath.
There are blue stains of paint.
I can not even see my self.
People take and slap me on something
hard. That gets the paint off
me. I've just got a bath and
I am clean. What? What is
that person doing? Yikes, dipping
me in something pink. Those girl
paintbrushes are going to like me
I guess.


A man was riding his horse
and took a break. The horse
stepped on the man, the man
was jumping and making
weird moves. Most people saw it
and decided to do it too and that
is called dancing.

not so hip

...the BBC (via Boing - at least on Boing we can all agree).