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Archive for January 2007

palliative care

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(Xposted from Long Sunday)

K-punk has a truly brilliant piece up about Children of Men. For one thing, he does a terrific job of decoding the squeamish-making situational conceit of the work – a world in which women can no longer have children – a conceit which of course sends us when we first hear about it almost automatically in all sort of directions that aren’t really borne out by the film itself (anxiety about working women, anxiety about homosexuality, anxiety – a la Pat Buchanan et al – about the death of the “white race,” etc…) K-punk’s version is much more (aesthetico-ideologically) optimistic and truer to what we see on screen…

The third reason that Children of Men works is because of its take on cultural crisis. It’s evident that the theme of sterility must be read metaphorically, as the displacement of another kind of anxiety. (If the sterility were to be taken literally, the film would be no more than a requiem for what Lee Edelman calls ‘reproductive futurism’, entirely in line with mainstream culture’s pathos of fertility.) For me, this anxiety cries out to be read in cultural terms, and the question the film poses is: how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?

Children of Men connects with the suspicion that the end has already come, the thought that it could well be the case that the future harbours only reiteration and repermutation. Could it be, that is to say, that there are no breaks, no ‘shocks of the new’ to come? Such anxieties tend to result in a bi-polar oscillation: the ‘weak messianic’ hope that there must be something new on the way lapses into the morose conviction that nothing new can ever happen. The focus shifts from the Next Big Thing to the last big thing – how long ago did it happen and just how big was it?

I’m going to say more about this on my own site when I get a chance, but one of the (very basic) things that I loved about the film was that, despite the fact that human life itself is dwindling out, that these people are living in either the aftermath or the final stages of what looks to be the ultimate catastrophe, one which will surely culminate, within a few years, in the end of the human race, they go about their business – commuting to work, stopping for coffee, watching tv, etc. The film pounds us with the savage uncanniness of the thought of rejiggering our retirement accounts, redoing the kitchen, or, of course, seeing movies as the world ends around us…

Think of the dystopian works that share this stance: 1984 and the cafeteria talk, Josef K. thinking about his missed breakfast at the opening of The Trial, etc…

One does wonder about the economic organization of this imagined world. Certainly it’s not our system – can’t be. Uncreative destruction without growth, hyper-full employment, hyper-inflation geometrically beyond Weimar precedent. There’s no sign in the movie of what has happened on this score, save for the fact that we see no one – save for the coffeehouse people, presumably – who isn’t a public servant…. And there are ration books…

If it is socialism, it is of course a stripe of national socialism. But what do we make of a fantasy of a socialism that can only arrive by natural dictat, after the real end of history, just before the end of mankind itself?

9/11, of course, wasn’t the end of the world in any sense, no matter what anyone wanted us to believe then or wants us to believe now. But I do distinctly recall as I shuffled around Brooklyn Heights that day, a sense that something strange in just these terms was afoot. On the one hand, there was a palpable if tacit giddiness that seemed to stem from the idea that there’d be no more work that day, tomorrow, maybe even the whole week. People I ran into coming home early from work were excited to be off, if also horrified. A snow day, as it were, for the entire city. (It is controversial to register this ambivalence, of course – remember the recent dustup about Thomas Hoepker’s photograph?) Something else to think about, something to do other than paper shuffling or service work, or studying etc. On the other hand and at the same time, I am quite sure that many of us, just days or hours or minutes or even seconds after the climactic scene, were thinking “but what about that work that I have to do.” I know for a fact that an acquaintance of mine, despite being aware in a general way of what was going on, continued to work at his dissertation chapter in the university library, tapping away as the whole world freaked out.

Just before the first tower fell and I was forced by the cloud of dust to head home, I remember making deals with myself about just how much time I could give myself for this sort of thing. I was reading for my oral exams at the time – I think I decided that I would take that day off but no more. In the end, I started reading again on September 13. Or maybe it was the night of the 12th.

Long story short, I think our fantasies and fears about catastrophe, dystopia, and the end of the world have quite a lot to do with somewhat banal anxieties and ambivalence about the work that we do, the conditions under which we work, and the possibility that our work situations might one day change. But I’ll say a bit more about this soon.

Anyway, more later. But do go read K-punk on this – I’m not saying here anything he hasn’t said far more penetratingly and eloquently. It’s a brilliant post…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 29, 2007 at 12:28 am

“this hobble of being alive is rather serious”

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1.

A paragraph from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess has just read a letter that her mother has written her in response to a request for advice on how to deal with her imminent marriage to Angel and the nasty event in her past:

She was recognizing how light was the touch of events the most oppressive upon Mrs Durbeyfield’s elastic spirit. Her mother did not see life as Tess saw it. That haunting episode of bygone days was to her mother but a passing accident. But perhaps her mother was right as to the course to be followed, whatever she might be in her reasons. Silence seemed, on the face of it, best for her adored one’s happiness: silence it should be.

The difference between Tess and her mother in terms of the significance that they find in this event is not simply a question – for Hardy or for Tess – of simple psychological makeup. Rather, it is a historical question. Hardy takes great pains to establish the vast generational difference between the mother and daughter as no mere matter of the conflictual divergence of child from parent. They are rendered as members of different species, very nearly, sundered from each other by the enormous acceleration of the rate of historical change.

Between the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore, dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her trained National teachings and Standard knowledge under an infinitely Revised Code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily understood. When they were together the Jacobean and the Victorian ages were juxtaposed.

This second paragraph is easy enough to understand. There is a very real gap between the two in terms of education and, it follows, discourse, knowledge. But the first paragraph suggests something more, something that rings very true while it, in a sense, defies explanation. The first paragraph – which registers the fact that what was a “haunting episode” for Tess is nothing more than a “passing accident” for her mother – emblematizes the pervasive modern sense that “today” “we” feel things more deeply than those that came before. That life – and the experiences that fill it – are more vivid, pressing, and real than they once were. That our lives matter to us in a way that theirs do not.

I would argue that this is a fundamental experience of modernity. Not the fact that things matter more to us than to others, but simply the sense that they do. We cannot truly know what it felt like to starve, to be raped, to lose a child at birth back then (or – as I’ll explain – over there) – we only know or think we know that we feel equivalent experiences more now than they did then. For a sixteenth-century peasant farmer to starve must have been hard, for sure; but for “us” to starve today would be unbearable, would cut to our exquisitely developed nerves.

Is it simply that life is improving, and with life, expectations? For Tess’s mother and her generational cohort, was being raped by the son of the Good Family nearby a rite of passage of sorts, an fact of life trivial enough to be universal and thus unworthy of excessive contemplation? There is no sign in Hardy that this in fact is the case. No, it has to be something that’s changed in us… a heightened sensitivity, a doubling-up of feeling that comes of consciousness itself?

Is it in a fact the sense that we are more fully-conscious than they were. The injury would cut the skin, and hurt, but today, bathed in consciousness, we not only feel the cut but feel ourselves feeling the cut. We don’t doubt that the women and the men of the past were conscious… to some degree. Perhaps only minimally-conscious, or so weathered by pain and lack that a sort of callus developed over their sensitive parts, a callus that never has a chance to form today. No, let’s stick with the minimal-consciousness idea, as it jives with so much else that we know – or can assume – about the men and women of the past, who knew no future, could anticipate no change, and filled the hole between birth and death, if they bothered to fill it at all, with the mind-evactuating hum of religious dogma, another anaesthetic – an “opiate” in fact.

2.

My parents, for instance, do not whine about the place that they live. To me my life will have been lived in vain if I do not ultimately and for the most part live just where I want to iive. My father didn’t require fulfillment from his work as I do from mine, just money. I also require if not an ideal marriage at least one grounded in a sort of soul-to-soul contact, a deeper sympathy – ultimately, “real love.” My parents, clearly, did not require this. While I love my child dearly, at time I rage inside for my lost youth, freedom that has disappeared never to return. My wife does as well, but I am fairly certain that my mother did not. The suffocation of childrearing seemed perfectly natural, the only thing for her, right?

And just imagine for a second the simplicity and happy austerity of grandparents… Like children, even when they were in the prime of life.

Sometimes, when the pressures and dissatisfactions mount up, when I very nearly can’t take it anymore because I literally can’t think about anything but what it wrong with everything and everything that is still to be done – I am overworked and undersatisfied, things were better back then and might never be good, really good, again – I put myself in my place by thinking “Just how shitty would it be, really, if you were elsewhere and in other conditions – the conditions of perhaps most people in the world. If it wasn’t just taken for granted that you would eat and stay warm and that this child you have would survive and prosper. If there were bombs falling or strangers in uniform at the door. Or were diseased and dying young. Imagine that – and then complain!”

It works for awhile, but it is not in any way a permanent fix.

3.

Is this – all this – what Hardy / Angel Clare means by the “ache of modernism” that they find in Tess? That despite her meagre origins, she somehow feels it too?

Angel, however, saw her light summer gown, and he spoke; his low tones reaching her, though he was some distance off.

“What makes you draw off in that way, Tess?” said he. “Are you afraid?”

“Oh no, sir … not of outdoor things; especially just now when the apple-blooth is falling, and everything is so green.”

“But you have your indoor fears–eh?”

“Well–yes, sir.”

“What of?”

“I couldn’t quite say.”

“The milk turning sour?”

“No.”

“Life in general?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ah–so have I, very often. This hobble of being alive is rather serious, don’t you think so?”

“It is–now you put it that way.”

“All the same, I shouldn’t have expected a young girl like you to see it so just yet. How is it you do?”

She maintained a hesitating silence.

“Come, Tess, tell me in confidence.”

She thought that he meant what were the aspects of things to her, and replied shyly —

“The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven’t they?–that is, seem as if they had. And the river says,–‘Why do ye trouble me with your looks?’ And you seem to see numbers of tomorrows just all in a line, the first of them the biggest and clearest, the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther away; but they all seem very fierce and cruel and as if they said, ‘I’m coming! Beware of me! Beware of me!’ … But you, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies away!”

He was surprised to find this young woman–who though but a milkmaid had just that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates–shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases–assisted a little by her Sixth Standard training–feelings which might almost have been called those of the age–the ache of modernism. The perception arrested him less when he reflected that what are called advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition–a more accurate expression, by words in logy and ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries.

Still, it was strange that they should have come to her while yet so young; more than strange; it was impressive, interesting, pathetic. Not guessing the cause, there was nothing to remind him that experience is as to intensity, and not as to duration. Tess’s passing corporeal blight had been her mental harvest.

They are perfect for each other, these two. A love story not unlike my own. They take everything very seriously, too seriously. The fact is that the world exists for them – what happens happens because they are there, at the summation point of history, to feel it, to suffer from it.

Only now does the strange paragraph before Angel’s assignment of the “ache” to his soon-to-be wife start to make sense….

4.

One way the “ache of modernism” become political is Oscar Wilde’s way in the “Soul of Man Under Socialism”:

The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.

Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand ‘under the shelter of the wall,’ as Plato puts it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism – are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.

Another way – a more recent way – the ache becomes political informs the novels of Michel Houellebecq, in which each moment of discomfort, each disappointment, generally erotic but also drawn from other categories of experience, adds another wire, another sprocket, to the edifice called “post-humanity” that he is steadily building, fantasizing into existence. When it is built, we will be able – so Houellebecq claims – to retreat back into the slumber of the ages, the quiescence of mindless and well-oiled simplicity.

5.

But of course, as we have heard, “modernity” is not just a temporal field, but also a geographical determination. We are not only more modern that those that came before, but also those who live elsewhere. We cannot stop telling ourselves this, as it is the story that explains everything at once, why things are the way they are, and why we are permitted to do the things that we do. It permits the equal sign to stand where ordinarily it could not. And it enables us to explain certain psycho-sociological aporia that otherwise would stick in the craw.

We cannot stop telling ourselves this.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 26, 2007 at 1:55 am

a reminder

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From the section of Verso’s Aesthetics and Politics that deals with Benjamin’s notes on conversations with Brecht:

24 July 1934. On a beam which supports the ceiling of Brecht’s study are painted the words: ‘Truth is concrete.’ On a window-sill stands a small wooden donkey which can nod its head. Brecht has hung a little sign round its neck on which he has written: ‘Even I must understand it.’

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 25, 2007 at 1:16 am

Posted in benjamin

serious, serious problem

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(Xposted to Long Sunday)

The site we all know and love, marxists.org, is under serious, life-threatening attack, possibly – seemingly – directed by the Chinese Government.

In early November we came under sustained denial of service attack from Internet hosts in China attempting to exploit a misconfiguration in our server’s operating system. The nature and origin of the attack, our previous history with the PRC, and the experience of others suggest that this maybe politically motivated and directed by the Chinese government. Protecting ourselves necessitated rebuilding part of the kernel and rebooting the system remotely. The failure of the system to properly boot into the new kernel caused a prolonged outage as we scrambled to find someone with the necessary access to get the system back into the previous configuration.

While the attacks continued and greatly degraded MIA performance, we were understandably cautious about rebuilding the kernel and trying again. On January 15, the server became unresponsive and we asked for it to be remotely rebooted, taking the opportunity to bring it up with the new kernel.

While this alleviated the previous issue, it seems to have uncovered another, more serious, problem with our CPU that causes random errors (machine check exceptions) and cause the system to reboot.

Each time the system reboots, it causes our RAID storage system to reinitialize and rebuild, a lengthy process that severely degrades performance. To make matters worse, the redundant disk in the array seems to be failing.

As if that weren’t bad enough, while attempting to make arrangements to buy a new server, we learned that our colocation facility will be closing on February 1, leaving MIA literally homeless.

At the moment, our redundant disk is back online and we are rebuilding the array to protect against data loss on the server. We also have offsite backups of all MIA content should the worst come to pass. We are furiously searching for new hosting space, but our data transfer needs (approximately 1.3TB a month) make this a very difficult choice compared with our previous non-profit host.

The bottom line: there is a significant probability that we will not be able to find and deploy an acceptable solution in time to meet the February 1 lights-out date. This means that the MIA will be off the air. We will make every attempt to bridge the gap with the help of our dedicated mirror operators though we may need to stop serving some of our more “expensive” content such as MP3s and PDFs. There is also a chance that our ultimate solution may require us to make a long-term evaluation of the type of content we serve and make things like PDFs available via alternate distribution channels (e.g. BitTorrent). However, despite our recent litany of seemingly fatal problems, the MIA remains a strong organization with a wealth of content, committed to providing the premiere electronic library of Marxist writings. Despite the political, technical, or economic pressures, rest assured that we will find a way to keep these works available to the world.

Now, look. I’ll admit to something of a fascination with the PRC. Veteran blogtypes even know the long form of my pseudo-handle. I am fully aware of the human-rights abuses, of the not-actually existing socialism of the place. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But seriously, if this is true, forget it, forget my half-affection, the grain of salt with which I read all the western critiques of the place. I’m going to burn the fucking Little Red Book I bought there. I am going to forget semi-plans to figure out the viability of attending the Beijing Olympics. My university has a bigtime exchange agreement with several universities in China; I was just today looking at the brochures, thinking about taking part. No more!!!! Marxists.org is one of the good things in the world. What someone else might call a “category killer” of the left internet – I use it on an almost daily basis as just about everything is there.

Seriously, you’ve driven me to it:

Images-1

Images

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 23, 2007 at 2:10 am

Posted in socialism

chavez / municipal socialism

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(xposted to Long Sunday…)

From sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy, a brilliant piece that explores prospects and dangers of Chavez via das Rote Wien and its architecture:

For all the bourgeois media’s myth-making of him as some sort of semi-literate caudillo, the policies of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela seem to have some historical affinity with the rather ambiguous experiment in ‘municipal socialism’ made in Vienna between 1918 and 1934, an oasis of Socialism in a desert of Catholicism and Conservatism: however curious it might be curious to imagine Chavez and Austro-Marxists Otto Bauer or Rudolf Hilferding meeting up in a Viennese coffee house. In Victor Serge’s peerless Memoirs of a Revolutionary (which I will write about more fully when someone tags me with a ‘what are your 5 favourite books’ meme) there’s some wonderful passages where this professional revolutionary winds up in Red Vienna with fellow Comintern refugees like George Lukacs and Gramsci, enjoying the political largesse in a decidedly comfortable seeming Social Democracy: ‘playing for time, building workers’ flats and enjoying sweet music in every cafe down to the smallest”.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 19, 2007 at 12:18 am

Posted in architecture, socialism

circassian, of course

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This is what a google search for “Karl Marx Beauty” yields me:

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 18, 2007 at 2:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

closed ending

with 3 comments

So, I’m getting ready to do something with the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive, which might just be my favorite moment in film, and I’m looking around to see what’s been said about the scene… And I find this:

Without reference in the screenplay, the surrealistic Silencio sequence was shot in late 1999 as a finale to the original TV-Pilot. The idea around Club Silencio is a results of a deal between Disney’s Touchstone Television and David Lynch. The company contributed 2,5 million dollar more to the Pilot project (to a total budget of 7 million) with the proviso – which Lynch grudgingly accepted – that he shoot extra footage to be used as a “Closed ending.” Disney’s Buena Vista International intended to recoup the company’s money by releasing the longer version as a film in Europe.

That there is one hell of a confluence of the demands of the market and artistic genius… And one hell of a “closed ending.” I wonder what the Disney folks thought?

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Written by adswithoutproducts

January 16, 2007 at 11:39 pm