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Archive for January 29th, 2007

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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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January 29, 2007 at 12:28 am