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Archive for August 2006

copyright is crime

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or so it seems. Good and bad news tonight on this theme.

1) So I got a Region 2 copy of La Chinoise. But apparently my Mac’s dvd player isn’t going to cooperate with any of the means available for playback. So I might have to break down and buy myself a region free dvd player.

Seems to me that this whole region-ing thing must be an infringement of international trade law, but that’s just a guess on my part. How annoying.

2) Holy crap. Have you noticed that Google Books now offers .pdf files of a lot of their public domain materials?

Go take a look…

3) Relatedly: I feel terrible that I’ve ordered the ($60+) Norton Anthology for my students in one class. From here on out, when I teach a survey that has enough available in the public domain, I’m going to make up my own .pdf / multilith for the students to use, rather than forcing this monster upon them. Besides saving them money – and this is a real issue for many of my students – compiling a personal anthology wil save me the huge time expense of tranfering my notes from one edition to another. (And the new editions come ever faster, don’t they?)

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August 30, 2006 at 1:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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NYT: Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year’s midterm elections even though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five years.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

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August 27, 2006 at 10:58 pm

care bears in the dive bar

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(Another in a short series of hyperventilating, hypocritical posts, wearing my worst bits right there on the sleeve, about a serious subject: the decline and fall of the american cultural sphere. I visited the bookstore today, and almost passed out from the preciousness of the novels on offer…. Of this sort of post on my part, one might justly refer to Eliot’s description of Othello’s final speech:

What Othello seems to me to be doing in this speech is cheering himself up. He is endeavouring to escape reality, he has ceased to think about Desdemona, and is thinking about himself…Othello succeeds in turning himself into a pathetic figure, by adopting an aesthetic rather than a moral attitude, dramatising himself against his environment…

Ouch. Got me pegged:)

I miss NYC on an hourly basis. I’m sure there are times that I’m really missing my kidless life in NYC, and that many of the more attractive elements of the city and my life there would prove to be more frustrating than anything else now that I wouldn’t be, you know, doing the 4 AM plastered F-Train thing now and again. I can’t see any good films here; I wouldn’t, if I were still there, be seeing any good films, eating much good food. You know the deal.

But there are also times that I miss NYC even given the fact that I’m now a parent, even because I’m a parent. Miss, for instance, Cobble Hill Park, where my little one spent what outside time she spent during her first two months of life. (She was born just a block or two away…)

And the promenade. The Central Park Zoo, the carousel there, etc… Oh, and I’ll even cop to a healthy strain of snotty snobbery about the folks with kids that live on my street, their lack of acculturation, the fact that most of them grew up here and have never left and go to something called “the lake” during the summer rather than say, Shanghai or Buenos Aires, where I would go were she a bit older.

But then, every once in a while, I get an anti-nostalgic swift kick in the ass from something that I read.

Welcome to the age of the rocker mom. Kids who might otherwise have their parents ferry them to the soccer field are now being enthusiastically chaperoned to dive bars. Rock, once the realm of outcasts and dangerously attractive miscreants, is practically a curriculum choice. In Park Slope, after-school classes are offered at private and public schools, and Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (an offshoot of Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon) is in its second year. On the syllabus are the classics: Ramones and Clash and Pixies songs that youngish parents revere, and that their offspring have been hearing since birth.

Rather than being cause for rebellion, grown-ups are rock mentors. Several, in the great tradition of Jack Black, have even become coaches, teaching teens and tweens the rudiments of rocking that normally take several alienated years to fumble through. Nowadays, punk isn’t just sanctioned by parents and school teachers; it’s good, clean fun.

The Care Bears—singer-guitarist Sophie Kasakove, 11, bassist-singer Lucio Westmoreland, 11, and drummer-singer Isadora “Izzy” Schappell-Spillman, 10, all classmates at Park Slope’s Berkeley Carroll School—couldn’t be better poster children for this burgeoning movement if they’d been carefully pre-auditioned for a reality show. They wear standard rocker gear—jeans, Converse All-Stars, Black Sabbath T-shirts—but they’re also polite overachieving kids, cramming in band practice between art class, homework, and Hebrew school.

Oh good Christ.

And look. I’ve been around the block a few times. I know that this article is just a hyperbolic distillation of a certain tiny subset of NYC – actually, very specifically, Brooklyn parents. I know that this sort of thing is written to provoke exactly the sort of reaction that I’m having right here for you to read.

But still. There is a heady dose of that sort of crap to be had back in the City. And I further know for a fact that my dad spent a good part of his life silently hating me for the “opportunities” I had – the fact that I, for instance, had my education paid for and didn’t have to “earn” it via a football scholarship like him. I lacked, and likely still lack, authenticity in his eyes. He is probably right – but, hey, that’s the dialectic. He’s not read his Thomas Mann and never will.

Flashforward to me. This probably belongs on Kotsko’s tuesday hate thing, but I hold a not so secret antipathy for those who have intellectual, culturally sophisticated parents – Young American Authors whose fathers are Old American Authors. Young colleagues who’s parents are featured in the Norton Anthology of Theory (once lived a couple doors down from one of those….) That sort of thing is so deeply woven into me – this really visceral dislike for those were reading the Brontes at 12, who grew up in either Cambridge, and who call mom for advice (and contacts) when it’s time to write a book proposal.

I am, you see, authentic, or is it organic, as far as this goes, or so I tell myself. Obviously, its all a projective show, I know. But, god, can you imagine? The Care Bears, the writhing on the floor irony of their group’s name dribbled from dad’s coffee cup, lapped up less than furtively by the daughter. She’ll end up an investment banker, you know. Or, well, more likely the way things work, prominently featured on iTunes.

The band then turns to Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” sung by Lucio. His dad—Rip Westmoreland, son of William C., the late Vietnam-era general—is a vintage-guitar collector, so Lucio’s playing a Fender Precision bass approximately three-fourths his height and four times his age. His voice, currently in the midst of dropping, cracks a little on the knotty lyrics and melody, but that’s not what halts the song.


“[Care Bears’] taste in music is sooo much better than when I was their age,” says [Lucian] Buscemi, son of actor Steve. “We haven’t really helped out with the way they play, but I guess we’ll help them become more known by recording them.”

No, I know. They’re baiting me with this crap. Written just for me, and the rest of us who walk around feeling like “the rest of us.” Steve Buscemi’s kid records William Westmoreland’s grandson. Perhaps all four could come together to produce a hybrid of Ghost World and Apocalypse Now, in which a moody strange guy with a hesitant taste for younger women holes up with his record collection just on the wrong side of the Cambodian border. Soundtrack by the kids.

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August 26, 2006 at 12:10 am

Posted in america, meta

my american adolescence as congealed within a braniff airways tv ad from the decade of my birth

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When you’ve got it, flaunt it!

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August 22, 2006 at 3:21 pm

Posted in america, marketing, sport

i’ve not seen this one…

with 3 comments

More here…

This is not going to be easy to get my hands on, is it? I’m actually working on something, something that has to do with maoism and tel quel and so forth… And this would be helpful, I think. But where to find this. Sure, yes, I know. But I don’t live there anymore.

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August 18, 2006 at 2:10 pm

Posted in movies, socialism

voigt-kampff test on youtube

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No, seriously, how grating, how absolutely symptomatic, of the slip of paranoid resistance under the fold of herbal essence “cool” in this video, friggin urban outfitters truckstop simulation, as it flashes from Dick himself, grubby and incessantly ticing, to these, what are they? Do we even need the missing labels?

Seriously, seriously. It’s a brilliant video. The human correlatives of Dick’s maddening prophesies respond to prophet himself with all of the inanity that he might have expected, feared…

UPDATE: Sorry. Was I unclear? My wife didn’t get wtf I was talking about either. I think it was my fault. But finally, after expanding a bit on my QEDing this video, she pointed me toward this, which is everywhere. Yes, that’s sort of what I meant. Am I being mean, a bit bitchy? Oh yes. But, really, it’s not just that. Rather, come on now, like the Foer that she is already incessantly compared to, the issue is what they’re picking for the big bucks, the mega-sophisticated marketting campaigns, our corporate guardians of culture. Pretty face, young, sure. But what troubles is the lack of interventional import, timeliness, human response. (It’s not in them. Look what happens when they try.) Bleach washing the f’d up stuff of the past, post relevance, to ensure a completely winterfresh and saltine reading xperience. Dick. Nabokov. Alan Moore. You name it. I mean, these are the big vehicles. I don’t know why I expect anything better, but… God, the cleanliness of these people. We are sure, at least, that they won’t make trouble. Spawn of the meritocracy (uh oh – getting close to home now), they multitask, they moon, they Brittany-up before the Obvious Issue. No. I just don’t know why I expect any better,here in ‘merica.

(META-UPDATE: Sorry, been struggling thru Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory at whole pages / hour. I think it’s starting to rub off on me, a bit.)

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August 17, 2006 at 12:27 pm

possible today?

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Geoff Dyer in Ways of Telling: The Work of John Berger:

The series Ways of Seeing was first broadcast in the Spring of 1972 on BBC2 late in the evening. The audience was small but since the ‘switch-off rate’ was extraordinarily low (i.e. once people began watching they continued till the end), the makers of the series were able to persuade the BBC to broadcast it again at prime time. The influence of the series and the book that Berger wrote after this hesitant start was enormous. Throughout the 1970s it was the key text in art colleges in Britain and in the USA; for many students and teachers alike it represented a turning point in their thinking about art. It opened up for general attention areas of cultural study that are now commonplace – decoding advertisements, for example – but which in 1972 were either virtually unknown or existed only in embryonic stage within the academy. (Many of the ideas of the series had already appeared in articles and essays by Berger: it is the transition to television and best-selling paperback that is important.) Taken together as Peter Fuller has said, the series and the book have had ‘a greater influence than any other art critical project of the last decade’, and probably, I would add of the post-war period.

The world, of course, has changed. And (in terms of my own personal interest in the idea) literature is much less photogenic than art. What are you could to fill the screen with, a Powerpoint presentation of lines of poetry? But still, Berger and his Ways of Seeing represent an instance of popularization without selling out, writing for the market. Can’t help but wonder if a similar sort of endeavor might be possible today, what it would take, what it would cost etc…

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August 15, 2006 at 10:46 pm

completely useless for the purposes of fascism

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From Benjamin’s preface to “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism.

What Benjamin was not saying:

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, since they are anodyne enough to appeal to the vital center.

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, as Fascism will not be able to “pin” them on us later in the press.

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, as they strike a middle ground between radicalism and conscious complicity.

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, since they avoid the risk of wandering into a scary, dark ideological alley.

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, since they are the proper utterance of the “reality-based community.”

The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism, since, really, Fascism is the wrong word for what we are up against.

Und so weiter…

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August 11, 2006 at 12:48 am

Posted in benjamin

Workers, with a capital

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Two passages from Heart of Darkness, the first a famous one and the second less so:

1) Still on the Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn, before the start of the story proper, Marlow’s just fantasized the life of a Roman imperial administrator in Britain and the “fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” – that he would have experienced. And then the turn:

“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower — “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency — the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

So a distinction grounded on something like a “just intervention” theory of imperialism. But he can’t, of course, define the “idea” that distinguishes “us” from “them.” Rather, it remains empty – fetishistic in the true sense of the word.

Marlow is mystified, but can’t quite come to terms with the fact. Instead, as he often does, he turns away from the problem – this time heading on the story of his time as a “fresh-water sailor,” the central narrative of Heart of Darkness.

2. A few pages into the story proper, Marlow turns to his aunt to find him some work on a ship. (This more or less really happened to Conrad himself…) And once she has pulled some string and found him a job, he returns to thank her before setting off to the Congo.

“One thing more remained to do — say good-bye to my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea — the last decent cup of tea for many days — and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature — a piece of good fortune for the Company — a man you don’t get hold of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital — you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.

“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.

“You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire.” Marlow’s aunt has slyly introjected the flipside of the “idea at the back of it” evoked above – she has voiced the logic that can never be named, the secret affiliation between the “us” and “them” denied in the first passage. She may have reversed the hierarchy of causes – she has the “hire” secondary to the “work,” while Marlow knows the opposite is the case – but how is it that Marlow is so able and ready to call his aunt out now, while a few minutes ago he was deploying an explanation of the work that was even more deluded and dishonest than this one?

The idea, it seems, so buoyant a few pages before, cannot survive even the most grazing contact with the realm of commerce, which instantly throws Marlow into a misogynist rant about the “facts” that men live with, what has always, ineluctably, been the case.

(Did you notice the echo of “set [it] up” in the two passages? A rhyme…)

At any rate, thank god everything’s better now…

Capition from wikipedia: “Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.”

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August 11, 2006 at 12:00 am

Posted in conrad, distraction, empire, war

tweaking our meds

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Gawd, even the guy from the Economist guest-blogging at Crooked Timber (“generally a hawk on terrorism, not least as a consequence of being in NY on 9/11”) thinks this smells a bit funny.

If they have been tracking the current plot for some time, surely they could have phased in changes in check-in and pre-screening earlier, in ways that avoided the massive disruption to flights we have seen today. I find myself wondering if today’s disruption is deliberate, to send a message – though to whom, and what it is, I’m not sure.

Gotta love those last words there. MSM. LOL. Do you really think he’d get fired if he finished the sentence with “to keep everyone scared enough of a phantom threat to keep all the other bullshit going down”?

More from Lenin’s Tomb…

Update: Sploid has a nice post with a boatload of snark n’ links...

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August 10, 2006 at 10:50 am

Posted in distraction

takes one to know one

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Via killing time, we’ve got a piece in the National Review by an author of fundy Christian end-times novels warning about the threat of Iranian/Islamic endtimes narratives:

In recent days, Ahmadinejad and his advisers have said that Iran will answer the world regarding the future of its nuclear program on August 22. That happens to be a very significant date for Muslims: It is the anniversary of the supposed “night flight” by Mohammed from Saudi Arabia to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to heaven and back again. There is a worry that Ahmadinejad is planning some sort of apocalyptic attack as his ‘“response” on August 22. If so, time is short and the clock is ticking.

It is hard for many Americans to imagine an Iranian leader (or any other world leader) actually trying to bring about the end of the world by launching a nuclear attack to destroy millions of Jews and Christians. But it is precisely this type of attack that I wrote about in my recent political thrillers, The Ezekiel Option and The Copper Scroll. One of my goals was to help people understand this brand of radical Islamic thinking and its implications for Western civilization. On page 358 of The Ezekiel Option, a fictional Islamic character insists that Israel is going to be “wiped off the face of the map forever.” Five months after Option was published last June, Ahmadinejad gave a speech vowing to wipe Israel “off the map” forever. In the novel, Iran forms a military alliance with Russia and starts buying state-of-the-art weaponry from Moscow to accomplish its apocalyptic objectives. Last December, fiction again became reality, when Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to buy missiles and others weapons.

Muslims are not the only ones who have apocalyptic end-times views, of course. As an evangelical Christian from an Orthodox Jewish heritage, my novels are based on a number of “end times” prophecies that the Bible says will be fulfilled in “the last days.” For example, the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel — writing 2,500 years ago — described a future Middle Eastern war to annihilate Israel that is known today by Bible scholars as the “War of Gog and Magog.” Jews and Christians who take Ezekiel’s prophecies seriously believe that at the last minute the God of Israel will supernaturally intervene to defeat Israel’s enemies in this war.

Just amazing, isn’t it, that he uses the precedent of his own novels’ plots as evidence of what might be on its way from the madmen in Iran.

Oh yeah, and did you notice the note about the author:

Joel C. Rosenberg, a one-time aide to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, is a New York Times best-selling author of Middle East-based political thrillers. His new novel is The Copper Scroll. His forthcoming non-fiction book is entitled Epicenter: Why The Current Rumblings In The Middle East Will Change Your World.

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August 10, 2006 at 10:40 am

Posted in america, war


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From Hobson’s Imperialism of 1902:

It is not too much to say that the modern foreign policy of Great Britain has been primarily a struggle for profitable markets of investment. To a larger extent every year Great Britain has been becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have had an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse, and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics, and the obscurity which it is wrapped has constituted the gravest danger to our State.

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August 7, 2006 at 12:22 am

Posted in empire

not quite right

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Juan Cole has a fairly good post up where he “consider[s] a Peak Oil Theory of the US-Israeli war on Lebanon (and by proxy on Iran).” Go take a look.

My hangup, still, is that this particular iteration of the theory depends in part upon a sense that in the end these wars are being waged for the benefit of the US as a whole. That the world is about to run short of a precious commodity, and our leaders are waging war to make sure that we control the lion’s share.

Sometimes I suspect that a fairly wide swath of the US population walks around with something like this theory at the back of their minds, mouthing at the appropriate moments the refrains of the War on Terrah, but silently knowing full well “what all this is actually about” – oil, the fact there’s not much of it, and GWB is out to take our share. And, I suspect, that on some level they get it, that they feel like, sure, I mean, it’s a rough world out there, and while, no, if you asked me I wouldn’t do it, but I’ve gotta admit that the gas prices are really high, and the Chinese have taken so much already, etc…

Really, after all, while we might disagree on the advisability of doing it just this way – do there have to be so many dead Lebanese children, US amputees, and then when we nuke Tehran, etc, etc – isn’t this in the end what states are supposed to do? Act in defense – even preemptive defense of the basic needs of its citizenry? It’s probably too late for the whole sustainable energy deal, right? If it’s about to turn into an every man for himself game out there first, let’s make sure the whole bird is ours, leave China and Russia and the EU at the kiddie table.

Enough with the FID. The problem with Cole’s theory, to my mind, is that, God, it might in a certain light (a kind of inhuman gray twilight kind of light to be sure) be interpreted as heroic (hubristically misguided, tinged with soulless sangfroid, etc) if these wars were really being fought to ensure that America maintains its oil supply – that grandmas in Duluth don’t freeze to death and Joe Striver can still make it to work in his F-150 two counties away.

But, to my mind, to see all this as a struggle between nation-states – the “United States” against “Iran” against “China” – is some seriously naive under-reading.

The wars are aimed not at obtaining oil supply for one nation or another, but rather the right of various corporations to sell a dwindling and ever more expensive supply of oil to all nations. To see it otherwise is to ignore every ounce of evidence as to the parties who are typing up the plans, filling the political coffers, and staffing the offices. It is to ignore the evidence that Palast has found (another piece – not my usual link).

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August 6, 2006 at 11:53 pm

Posted in america, war

“as in some picture of a massacre”

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James Wolcott takes on the fake Lebanese dead libel, among other things.

The whole affair calls sends me spiraling down a string of associations, starting with Full Metal Jacket, the scene where the huey door-gunner is mowing down sprinting vietnamese famers and starts talking to joker:

Door Gunner: Git some! Git some! Git some, yeah, yeah, yeah! Anyone that runs, is a VC. Anyone that stands still, is a well-disciplined VC! You guys oughta do a story about me sometime!

Private Joker: Why should we do a story about you?

Door Gunner: ‘Cuz I’m so fuckin’ good! I done got me 157 dead gooks killed. Plus 50 water buffalo too! Them’s all confirmed!

Private Joker: Any women or children?

Door Gunner: Sometimes!

Private Joker: How can you shoot women or children?

Door Gunner: Easy! Ya just don’t lead ‘em so much! Ain’t war hell?

More to the point, if a bit indirectly, is this moment in Heart of Darknesss, near the start of Marlow’s time “in country,” when he comes upon a group of natives dying from overwork:

“Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.

“I didn’t want any more loitering in the shade, and I made haste towards the station…

What the frame narration of the work allows Conrad to capture is fully visible in scenes like this one. Marlow is confronted by the visible output of the system that he’s just entered into, and can’t – back when he saw it, presumably, nor “now,” in retelling the story – bring himself to come to any conclusions about what he has seen, to make it mean anything beyond itself. There’s lot of editorializing on Marlow’s part elsewhere in the narrative, but it’s generally disjoined from “reportage” like the stuff here. The break in the paragraph, and the turn away from the “bundles of acute angles,” tells us both everything and none of what we need to know at once. And we even get a few hints of the distancing program ostensibly at work in Marlow’s mind: his aestheticization of the scene (“as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence” – can you imagine standing before of heap of the dead and dying and thinking this? “This is just like a picture of a heap of dying people!”) and the way the “loitering” of the last line forges an implicit – and delusionally euphemistic – connection with the dying men. As if that is what they’re doing – loitering – and Marlow had momentarily forgotten himself and his work and joined in with them during their “break.”

The passage is emblematic of Heart of Darkness as a whole, which shows us nothing so clearly as the fissuring off of thought and perception, reason and experience, that occurs – has to occur all the time – in order for business as usual to continue. Said’s reading in Culture and Imperialism is brilliantly succinct on this point:

Conrad’s self-consciously circular narrative forms draw attention to themselves as artificial constructions, encouraging us to sense the potential of a reality that seemed inaccessible to imperialism, just beyond its control, and that only well after Conrad’s death in 1924 acquired substantial presence.

I’m sure all this is giving Walcott’s wingers far too much credit – presuming interiority, even blocked, is probably going too far. Rather, perhaps, think of the stuff that Walcott takes on as the visible manifestation of the society-wide psychopathology (or useful adaptation, god knows…) which allows for certain things to keep happening, even on tv, without the citizenry coming at once to its senses and abolishing itself in a rage of sudden, terrible empathy and devastating guilt.

To its great credit, I believe, the modernist novel (Conrad’s, Woolf’s, Joyce’s, Lawrence’s, etc) was perhaps preoccupied with nothing so deeply as the things that we see but do not think about, know and do not fret about, the people that we kill and do not cry about.

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August 4, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Posted in conrad, distraction, war


with one comment

Of course, even the ad without products has been pressed into service from time to time, and ever more often of late.

There is so much to say about this one. I’m thinking about using a whole bunch of ads this semester when I teach, this one, the ikea lamp. I finally found a utility that allows me to rip them out of youtube and keep them warm and safe on my hard drive…

Anyway, telegraphically: a picture perfect example of the perverse fetishization of banality itself, warm eroticization of the stupid office plant, the breathless building. A smackdab of “love at last sight” – where the “un éclair… puis la nuit” of the exchanged glances rhymes with, really encapsulates, the ever the same / ever new temporality of the rest of the commercial – and is in turn sublimated into the car itself.

Benjamin said, at the end of the Work of Art essay, that mankind’s “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” Here, we’re not quite dealing with the destruction of mankind in the flames of fascism – not quite, and lots of that to be had elsewhere – but there is something to be said about the sexiness of this officespace and this officelife in this ad that of course would be entirely absent in real life.

Compare: Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera… Which, yes, exposes the apparatus, massifies the everyday life in question, but actually, in a sense, is up to something similar enough to be interesting – save without the product, or almost-product in this case, at the end.

The ELO song, appropriately enough, was featured in the trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though I can’t remember (ha!) whether it made it into the film itself.

It couldn’t be something as simple as an unconsciously prophetic sense that these office jobs, they’re not staying forever. A future perfect nostalgia for what only will have been, not be. As I stalk and smoke around the modernist office park where I teach, I am struck intermittently with the strange knowledge that this job can’t possibly last a lifetime. I’m not talking about tenure, not talking about moving on, I mean the humanities itself, the university. I am young to be an assistant professor – I have about 40 years to do before social security kicks in (ha, again! that’s another thing…) There’s no way it will last that long. It, like everything else, will be rationalized, auctioned off, streamlined, offshored, outsourced, rightsized, done away with in the interest of efficiency. I can see myself now with the eyes of the year after next. The phenomenology of precarité, the erosive geology of late-but-not-getting-any-later capitalism. And my business is far more insulated from the vicissitudes of the weather called creative destruction than, say, our office worker’s in the VW ad.

The car, in other words, is not the only thing that is convertible. Things move quickly: ask yourself if they would make the same ad today… Instead, stuff like this, in which a gnawing banality no one even bothers to aestheticize meets with the catastrophic, emptily.

(Confession: my fascination with the first ad, the Bill Briggs one, is probably what led me to buy my own VW. Not a beetle convertible of course – what do you take me for? But a zippy Jetta wagon, turbo and everything.)

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Written by adswithoutproducts

August 4, 2006 at 9:47 am