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Archive for February 18th, 2005

Anteroom of the Event

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Waiting_room

From what’s called, in the 4th volume of the Harvard UP edition Benjamin’s
works, “Paralipomena to ‘On the Concept of History” (basically some of the stuff that
didn’t make it in to the theses): 

In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea
of messianic time. And that was a good thing. It was only when the Social
Democrats elevated this idea to an ‘ideal’ that the trouble began. The ideal
was defined in Neo-Kantian doctrine as an ‘infinite [unendlich] task […] Once the classless society is defined as an
infinite task, the empty and homogenous time was transformed into an anteroom,
so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary
situation with more or less equanimity.

Interesting stuff… But isn’t the problem (and the interest)
located in the fact that both versions of history turn the present into a sort
of antechamber, a waiting room, where one attends the ever-receding event?
However secularized Benjamin’s messianism is, it wasn’t ever going to be free
and clear of the meaning-evaporating boredom of waiting for the advertised
product to arrive…

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February 18, 2005 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

This Just In: “It’s the socialization, stupid”

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It’s kind of funny for a humanities-type like me to wake up to the likes of this (in an article on the Larry Summers controversy at Harvard) in the Times:

Howard Georgi, a physics professor [at Harvard]  who has been part of a successful
effort in his department to recruit women for tenured positions, said,
"It’s crazy to think that it’s an innate difference." He added: "It’s
socialization. We’ve trained young women to be average. We’ve trained
young men to be adventurous."

So you mean that these ostensibly natural, innate differences are actually socially constructed? Hmm…

All that I’m trying to say, without knowing all that much about the actors involved, that it’s interesting that when it comes to an actual political issue, a question about the current state of affairs and their arrangement or re-arrangement, the issue breaks down to a conservative articulation of the "natural" against a quasi-progressive reminder of the social, the constructed. Even in the sciences…

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February 18, 2005 at 10:58 am

Posted in academia

We’re Sorry!

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From today’s Times, "G.I.s Under Inquiry for Killing of 2 Afghans":

The first reports in the local press said that American forces had
killed two members of Al Qaeda, and that three more had escaped. But
Colonel Hayes said it was clear to him that the victims were just
villagers, and he confirmed that the military had given each of the
families $2,000 to help them through their immediate difficulties.

"We
have no reason to say there were Taliban or Al Qaeda," Colonel Hayes
said, adding that in the few weeks he had been based in Shindand he had
seen no evidence of Taliban or Al Qaeda activity in the area.

"I can only say it was a mistake," the district chief, Mr. Kamin, said. "They had no weapons, they are from a poor family."

Of course there’s an article something like this one everyday, every other day, in the Times. There’s something to reading slowly through them, watching the absurd and horrible develop like a scene  from a terrible movie, a movie that goes nowhere…

Two men are gathering firewood
and then an SUV pulls up with US soldiers in it
and then the men run
and are shot by the soldiers.
And then, because one isn’t quite dead, the soldiers
shoot him again to make sure.

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February 18, 2005 at 10:52 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Adaptation

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From the movie Adaptation, perhaps the last good movie I saw in a theater:

KAUFMAN

You talked about Crisis as the ultimate decision a
character makes, but what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing
much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They
struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the
real world —

  MCKEE

The real world? The real fucking world? First of
all, if you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your
audience to tears. Secondly: Nothing happens in the real world? Are you out of
your fucking mind? People are murdered every day! There’s genocide and war and
corruption! Every fucking day somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his
life to save someone else! Every fucking day someone somewhere makes a
conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People lose it,
for Christ’s sake! A child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a
church! Someone goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman!
If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know much
about life! And why the fuck are you taking up my precious two hours with your
movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!

  KAUFMAN

Okay, thanks.

 The strange thing is, in the dialogue excerpted above, we
can’t help but have the feeling that both
Kaufman and McKee have a point. On the one hand, a movie in which nothing
much happens, in which people don’t have epiphanies does indeed seem to be more
“a reflection of the real world” than the usual Hollywood production. But
McKee’s right too – there is more than enough genocide and homicide, romantic
devastation and natural disasters to supply as many films as could possibly be
made. This conversation at the end of the writing seminar is like an
allegorical rendition of a genre of experience that we are all familiar with:
watching cable news reportage of a tsunami while we grade student papers,
eating a take-out dinner on September 11, doing chores on the day when a war
begins elsewhere. Adaptation, as a
whole but especially in this scene, serves as evidence that the age-old
question of what it means to be realist or
even just realistic – a question
staked on the slipperiness of the concept of the “ordinary” or the “usual” – is
still very much in play.

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February 18, 2005 at 12:54 am

Posted in Film