Archive for September 2007
I’ve seen the first three episodes of HBO’s new series Tell Me You Love Me. It’s a show about hyperconscious sex, or the lack of sex under the conditions of hyperconsciousness. True to form, I can’t stop thinking while I watch it – it is almost as if the entertainment value that has always been present with the HBO shows has shrunk to zero – this one exists exclusively as a conversation piece, grist for the critical mill, etc. For now, a few scattered notes, though I’m going to try to say something more cohesive about it soon.
1) The much-discussed full-frontalism, and the anti-eroticness of it, incessantly calls to my mind the bit toward the beginning of Women in Love when Birkin freaks out at Hermione…
‘Spontaneous!’ he cried. ‘You and spontaneity! You, the most deliberate thing that ever walked or crawled! You’d be verily deliberately spontaneous–that’s you. Because you want to have everything in your own volition, your deliberate voluntary consciousness. You want it all in that loathsome little skull of yours, that ought to be cracked like a nut. For you’ll be the same till it is cracked, like an insect in its skin. If one cracked your skull perhaps one might get a spontaneous, passionate woman out of you, with real sensuality. As it is, what you want is pornography–looking at yourself in mirrors, watching your naked animal actions in mirrors, so that you can have it all in your consciousness, make it all mental.’
Not an easy passage to teach, for obvious reasons – but it probably is the start of the social story of which Tell Me You Love Me is a contination, the deathtrap of sex after the failure of repression. But on the other hand, one starts to wonder if what we’re witnessing with this show isn’t the birthpangs of a new paradigm of pornographic convention / cliché. For the barely legal, see now couples struggling to get pregnant, anything but lost in the moment, pleasure the last thing on their minds. Where oral and the money shot were, from here on out will have awkward sexual avoidance by exhausted forty-somethings. For girl on girl on guy action, we now offer only awkward, issueless attempts at masturbation in the bathroom before she gives up and goes back to checking the mommyblogs. For jouissance, we will pick up numbing, boring anxiety, the shrink’s office, and people who wear sweat-pants to bed.
Could happen. Keep me posted, porn-fans.
2) Like therapy itself, the show can handle what happens or doesn’t happen in the bedroom, but completely sidesteps the role that work might have in provoking all of this dysfunction in the real world. The sex-avoiding middle aged guy and his (assuredly) stalled career, the question of what the baby-desperate lawyer woman will do if she and he Cruisey husband succeed in bringing his totally motile sperm to her healthy eggs, the anxieties settling into a career path and all that that means today that surely should accompany the worries about stapling yourself to one person sexually for the rest of your life – all this is held off screen, at least three episodes in. That is not what the show is about, not because, I believe, these things are any less interesting, but because they just plain don’t give themselves to a properly dramatic arc anymore, as they did in the high period of the Bildungsroman. A good dollop of therapy with the late-boomer lady isn’t going to clear up the rationalization of the sex-fearing guy’s shitty life at the office.
3) And this relates to both 1 and 2: reentering the bourgeois home this late in the game and on these terms urges upon us the sense that the mythemes that organize Freud’s work on this household need updating, for they are drawn from a period of repressive self-distraction and euphemism (we wanted to do what we could not even say) whereas we live in an era of hyperconscious anxiety (we don’t want to do what everyone constantly does or at least talks about incessantly). Instead of Oedipus and all his pals, we live in the shadow of the law of diminishing sexual returns, the parable of the “feminization” of culture and the accompanying sperm death, the golden rule of the incompatibility of pleasure and planning, ecstasy and anticipation. The shift is at root a shift in temporalities – where the unmastered past was the former antagonist, now it is the present that has flattened and emptied itself once and for all.
4) It is a show, in the end, about people who don’t want to have sex, though society expects them to want it. This is interesting. It is like peeking in on the affective state of someone suffering from a migraine, someone in the hot and sexless minutes after a terrible spousal fight about sex. It feels strange – and meaningful – to observe yourself getting pleasure out of the watching of it.
More to come…
If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you already know how I feel about Alfonso Cuarón in light of his recent work. I’m very, very glad to see the direction that Naomi Klein is headed in. I had very little time for the No Logo stuff. Going after brand lust has always seemed me like lancing a butt pimple when the melanoma patch on your forehead has metastazed into full born brain rot. This seems much better. I’ll buy the book this weekend…
(Terrific the way this video – set in our here-and-now dystopia rather than the semi-imaginary one of Children of Men – so closely mirrors “The World Has Collapsed” public-service ad playing on the bus in the film… And it’s another example of extremely fruitful collaboration between Cuarón and Foreign Office…)
NYC is about to start installing new newsstands around the city like this one. Now, right from the start, there’s a lot about the situation that I really don’t love. From what I can tell, these stands are the fruits of a public-private partnership (hate those) where the city gets them for “free” in exchange for the corporation in exchange for the company that installs them being allowed to collect ad revenues for the huge ad frames on the back of the box (not pictured here, obviously)… So thumbs-down on that score.
But putting that issue to the side (which doesn’t make any sense, I know, but just play along), figuring out what I make of these new stands aesthetically leaves me tangled in knots. On the one hand, I like the clean cool looks of the things a lot better than the old ones. I don’t even hate the Ikea glass, its color (even if it is sure to become dated very swiftly…) Taking care of your street furniture, having swift looking bus stops and newsstands and even public toilets, to my mind, is like a continual living advertisement for publicness, for public, common space itself. Which, in this nation, even in New York, is constantly in dire need of a good marketing campaign. On the other hand, isn’t it the small-scale humanity, the human mess, of the newsstand, as an institution, that makes it such a special place? The overstocked profusion of cheap goods and reading materials (from what I recall from a conversation with a newsstand guy at a subway station near my old place, one of those guildish NYC laws mandates that the newsstands can sell nothing that costs more than a certain price – $10? What was I trying to buy from him that yielded me this information?), the compact bazaar feel of the things – I’m sure that we will miss it, on some level, when it disappears…
The comment thread on the article behind the first link above contains some interesting amateur discussion about the aesthetics of urban life.
And this post is meant to be a forerunner to a long-plan post forthcoming entitled (probably) Ikea Socialism.
From a NYT article on an EU ruling that Britain and Ireland can continue to use Imperial (non-metric) measurements for beer and other commodities:
The European Union has long tried to dispel myths that its zealous bureaucrats are trying to impinge on national cultures in their bid to harmonize standards in the world’s biggest trading bloc. Such myths have included that cucumbers sold in the European Union must not arch more than 10 millimeters for every 10 millimeters of length; that it is against health rules to feed swans stale bread; and that Brussels had decided that shellfish must be given rest breaks and stress-relieving showers during boat journeys over 50 kilometers long.
More than a little unconscious content – political and, erm, otherwise – welling up in those myths of rationalization and bureaucratic management, nay? No rest breaks, for shellfish or any of the rest of ’em, in our pound-eating, pint-guzzling bastion of neo-lib freedom, no sir…
Have you ever seen this BBC report of the Battle of Orgreave? I believe it is the one discussed here; apparently it reverses the order of events at the beginning of the sequence: in reality, the cops charged, then the strikers threw. (The voiceover, if you listen carefully, seems to strain to negotiate this temporal gaming. The strikers throw, the police charge, then the police are hit, then strikers are injured…)
(Note: this post is meant to relate pseudo-dialectically to the post before. Assume this is also the case for all future posts… Or perhaps this is just more guilt, more ass-covering, sublimated as avantgarde blogstyle).