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Archive for April 2007

mimesis

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Ugh….

Her reconnection to world events in part began on Boxing Day 2005. Following the tsunami in Indonesia, Björk recorded an album of fans’ remixes of her single Army of Me, donating the proceeds to Unicef. A year later, she was invited to visit the region and found “they were still just digging in the earth and finding bones and dresses of relatives”, an image that you suspect might have occasioned her desire for the dirty sound of the clavichord. She flew from Indonesia straight to New York, to a studio session with the producer Timbaland, and immediately wrote the song Earth Intruders. “It just came like a tsunami out of my mouth,” she says, sounding still faintly surprised, “and lyrically it’s probably the most chaotic song that I’ve ever written, it sort of doesn’t make sense.” It is a marching song, “Bundle of bombardiers,” it insists, “We are the canoneers/ Apache voodoo.” She shakes her head a little, rubs her nose. “I tried to edit it afterwards to fix it and make logic out of it,” she says, “but it’s just like chaos.”

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April 27, 2007 at 2:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

there’s always fidel…

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An article on socialist football (soccer) players, their presence, absence, impossibility, etc etc etc.

Over here, it’s tough to think of many good and recent examples. Certainly not “socialists,” as there are no socialists, let alone socialist athletes, here. But John Amaechi, I think, has been saying some fairly lefty stuff, in addition to being gay. Carlos Delgado… Well his case is somewhat complicated and sad. Here’s wikipedia:

Like his hero, Roberto Clemente, Delgado is a well-known humanitarian and peace activist and has been open about his political beliefs. As part of the Navy-Vieques protests, Delgado was actively opposed to the use of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico as a bombing target practice facility by the United States Department of Defense, until bombing was halted in 2003. He is also against the occupation of Iraq. In the 2004 season, Delgado protested the war by silently staying in the dugout during the playing of God Bless America during the Seventh inning stretch. Delgado does not make a public show of his beliefs and even his teammates were not aware of his views until a story was published in July 2004 in the Toronto Star. Delgado was quoted as saying “It’s a very terrible thing that happened on September 11. It’s (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, … I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it’s the stupidest war ever.” The story was the subject of a media frenzy, mostly in New York, where on July 21, 2004, as was anticipated, Delgado was booed for his passive protest during a game at Yankee Stadium [3]. Angry New York fans booed him and, when Delgado lined out in the bottom 7th inning, fans chanted “USA, USA” even though Delgado, like all Puerto Ricans, is an American citizen. Delgado had explained that the playing of God Bless America had come to be equated with a war in which he didn’t believe. In a New York Times interview, Delgado said this is what he believed in, and “It takes a man to stand up for what he believes.”

After being traded to the Mets, Delgado backed down from his previous stance and stood for “God Bless America.”

I had high hopes, when I first heard that he was coming to New York, too…

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April 27, 2007 at 2:21 am

Posted in america, socialism

snarkozy

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I’m having a hard time getting my head around all the vicious snark out the last few days in relatively unlikely places vs. the sustainability of the French social model. Sure, there are problems, high unemployment, etc. But this was rather surprising…

First the Globe and Mail comes out with a glowing endorsement of Sarkozy… which is unfortunately behind a paywall, so you’ll have to settle for a summary from here. And then this half-baked paragraph from the LRB of all places:

Much of this is difficult to grasp in the UK. It was the same when the French voted down the European Constitution in 2005 and again, in 2006, when Dominique de Villepin’s ‘first-time contract’ brought large numbers of school and university students – and their parents, and the unions – out on the streets because the law would have allowed companies to dismiss employees under 26 during their first two years in a job without giving a reason. It seemed incomprehensible that an attempt to loosen up the labour market could be greeted with such a suicidal response in a country of high unemployment. Yet to many in France the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model has mysteries of its own. In the parody version, it is an irrational economy with low-wage, low-security work, where employees push onions round a skillet or stick on a nametag and live at the mercy of a line manager, shuffling their debt around a full deck of credit cards, consuming for all they’re worth and then some. Small numbers of people get unattractively rich and the gap between wealthiest and poorest widens.

I’m sorry, did he just say that this is the “parody” version? As far as I know, Americans and Brits, no, generally don’t have much or any job security, legally speaking, and thus, yes, live at the mercy of the manager. Sure. And is Harding doubting the “full deck of credit card” issue? Is he disputing the widening gap between rich and poor?

Very strange stuff… There’s room for critique of the French system from many different perspectives, sure. But the bilious description of the French organization in the LRB piece speaks, I think, to a certain nervousness about the “Anglo-Saxon” model on the part of the Anglo-Saxons themselves, no?

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April 27, 2007 at 12:21 am

makes nothing happen?

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Finally got around to reading the (rather fantastic) piece on 24 that was in the New Yorker back in February. There’s a lot to clip out of it, but let’s start with this paragraph:

Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week.” According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book “Torture and Democracy,” the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel “Les Centurions,” written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book’s hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of “Les Centurions” provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Lartéguy’s scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies—that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.

If you, like me, are a lit-person who occasionally (or not so occasionally) drifts into self-doubt about the importance or potential importance of whatever it is that we do, this paragraph (and all the paragraphs and pieces and tv shows and guantanamos that emerge, in part, from the described text) should make you feel a bit better… and, of course, worse. Narrative, in short, matters. Very little happens that isn’t wrapped in narrative. And in this case, narrative temporality matters most of all. This is clear, usually. But sometimes one forgets….

And weird… Check this out….

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April 26, 2007 at 11:13 pm

Posted in distraction, empire, novel, war

“stands still and has come to a stop”

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(xposted to Long Sunday)

It is helpful, if also a bit unnerving, when media culture generates near proofs, direct materializations, of theses that you’ve already been walking around feeling smugly smart about. The thesis that I’m thinking about right now isn’t exactly mine, but it is one that has held my attention for a little while now. And I think I can localize the origin of this line of thought down to a single passage from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, a passage that clues us in to the significance of the novel’s title.

“Of course,” he says, “we have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ‘now’ was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ‘now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. … We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.” (Clipped from here).

It is an argument about science fiction that is also an argument about the experience of time at present, or vice versa. And it is in an excellent description of the state of speculative films today. In one of the DVD extras for Children of Men (unfortunately not available on line) the set-designers and stylists discuss the fact that Cuaron wanted everything in the film to look like stuff from today, only older and more weathered, which is exactly what we get. The future as present-less-infrastructural investment. Disaster movies set themselves in a next year that looks a lot like last year, while Al Gore’s apocalyptic infomercial confusedly quivers between easy futural solutions (buy carbon indulgences!) and a deeper, more convincing sense that we are always already fucked.

Newsmagazine features on future stuff has morphed into special issues on What Is About to Happen, and What Are They Doing to Stop It. From this…

to this…

(Survival Guide???? See what I mean…)

What set me to writing this post (the “near proof” mentioned above) was the trailer for a new PKD film-adaptation, reportedly quite terrible: Next.

A PKD symptomatic in with the protagonist can only see into the proximate future – a future that apparently climaxes with the detonation (or do they stop it???) of a nuclear device in an American shipyard. Right. It is tough to think of a premise that comes closer to exactly mimesis of the dominant temporal strategy of the first four years of the Bush administration, which I was only half-gulible enough to half-take serious, as I anxiously sort-of awaited the truck bombing of the synagogue and the two cop cars constantly parked in front of it at the end of my street in Brooklyn.

The progression of PKD films over the past quarter-century is vividly emblematic of the recision of the future; with each iteration, we draw closer to the present, and even drop at times back into the past. First, there’s Blade Runner, with its replicants and super-huge video screens and so forth, even if things are dusty and noirish. Then there’s Total Recall with the robot drivers and Mars Today and tennis sim that Sharon Stone practices with. But A Scanner Darkly is a retro future, set in a Californicated past of stoners and beautiful losers, no matter where (when) it thinks it is. (I know I’m leaving a few out, but bear with me….) And then there’s Here.

When I teach utopian / dystopian fiction from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to my undergraduates, I usually start by taking them on a little mental journey back to a time when the question future was actually up for argument, and then bring them back to the here and now to ask them what, if anything, they can imagine significantly changing during the course of their lives. More and better video games, older and older people, fewer and fewer good jobs. But, of course, no fundamental alteration in the political or culture organization of things – their kids, if they have them, will live in the same sort of world as they do. Maybe someone will cure cancer, perhaps there will be free tv on the internets, but mostly things will rest as they are.

The first time I used this ploy, I actually waited to hear what they thought the future might look like. I have since learned to lecture straight through the socratic counter-point. They don’t answer; they’ve never, it turns out, even considered the question – at least the vocal ones haven’t. It is all entirely new to them…

It is tough, though, to know exactly what to make of this development – the foreshortening of the future from way, way out there to quite soon to almost now down toward in selben Augenblick. On the one hand, of course, it marks a foreclosure of the concept that the world might be radically otherwise, as there will never be any time for it to radically change. On the other hand, the whole scenario calls to mind Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” and its resistance to the Social Democratic concept of progress as a “progression through a homogenous, empty time” in favor of a “notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop.”

At any rate, perhaps this sort of issue is exactly the sort of thing that the present day literature department should take up as a task. We English professors love the conjunction of the aesthetic and the political. But something has happened that makes it nearly impossible (save through pseudo-blog) to make this argument publically.

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April 24, 2007 at 12:35 am

Posted in aesthetics, benjamin, movies

“because we live here, and they don’t”

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Need to upgrade that last link (to a trailer for Red Dawn) into its own post.

For some of you, the hallucinatory and insane apropos-ness of this film will be old hat. But if you’re not familiar with it: that there is as quick an introduction to the long and almost entirely hypocritical history of US foreign policy towards national movements of self-determination as you’re going to get. And since we’re all talking about this sort of thing, it also is a crystal clear materialization, for the benefit of the baffled, of our gun laws…

A nice summary of this theme in the movie from wikipedia:

The private ownership of firearms is also presented as part of the film’s anti-Communism. Early in the film, a bumper sticker seen on a truck states a classic gun owner’s creed; “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” The shot moves down to a dead hand holding an empty Colt pistol as well as shots of the same pistol being pried from the dead person’s hand by a Soviet paratrooper, presumably from a police officer or armed civilian gunned down earlier during the invasion of Calumet, Colorado. As the protagonists flee the initial invasion of Calumet, they stop at a local sporting goods store owned by one of their fathers. He tells them to gather supplies and gives them several rifles and pistols along with boxes of ammunition. (The father and his wife are later executed because of the guns missing from the store’s inventory.) In a later scene, a Cuban officer orders one of his men to report to the local sporting goods store and obtain the paperwork of local citizens who own firearms. The Cuban officer specifically refers to Form 4473, which is the actual form used to record the sale of a firearm by a dealer to a private citizen in the United States. These scenes speak to the long-standing issues of government gun control.

Whether these principles apply to the citizens of the states the US has invaded is another story, of course. Relatedly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever really noted the uncanniness of all of the those hoisted AK-47s, until now.

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April 23, 2007 at 2:05 am

Posted in america, movies

in two parts (me, not the post): journal of my personal dialectic

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On the one hand, a wonder advertisement (is this the right word? I don’t really understand in what sort of context this would actually be aired…) from the Scottish Socialist Party (via Ken MacLeod’s site).

It’s just a hunch on my part, and who the hell asked me, but if I were running the coordinated campaigns for the US democratic party for 2008, I’d think long and hard about the virtues of this advertisement: the reasonableness of it, the simple quant. aspect, and, above all else, the sense that government might provide something at once simple and effective and fundamentally transformative to the everyday lives of a majority of the populace. I have a sense that the time is ripe to step away from the eternal jousting field just below the city on a hill and propose ideas that might make everyone’s lives a little bit better. Of course, of course, end the Iraq War – but what we’d really like to talk about are trains and housing complexes and elementary schools and the like.

Christ knows they won’t follow my advice. If they did, and won, and lived up to their promises, I might even stop vomiting to the roof of my mouth every time I am forced to remember where it is that I am doomed to live, likely forever.

But, on the other hand, I took Kino Fist’s recommendation and, um, acquired for myself Chris Marker’s remarkable Grin Without a Cat. Which makes me feel like a complicit statist pig, ready for nothing less than the wall and a bullet, for occupying myself with thoughts of choo-choo trains and well designed terminals instead of, say, forming an avant-gardist guerilla band and fighting socialism into existence.

Ah well. Not really cut out to be an insurgent, I don’t think, despite the fact that I spent my entire pre-pubescence wrapped in camo, hiding in the woods with a plastic rifle. But the thing is, I was always on the side of the bad guys, the guys with lots of air support. The VC were toujours l’autre. And if I ever lacked air support, it was because I was playing out this scenario

I guess I’ll stick with the trains, but I promise to feel terrible about it as I do.

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April 23, 2007 at 1:42 am

Posted in ads, america, socialism