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Archive for August 4th, 2006

“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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Written by adswithoutproducts

August 4, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Posted in conrad, distraction, war


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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