Thursday, December 18, 2008

five facts

It was Ub Iwerks - not Walt Disney - who created Mickey Mouse.

Henry Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a 6 day cocaine binge.

When he was seventeen, Roman Emperor Heliogabalus once ordered: "Bring me a thousand pounds of cobwebs!"

In 1933 there was a 'Business Plot' hatched by Wall Street to overthrow the American government with military force and replace it with a corporate controlled fascist dictatorship.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Attended Red Emma's Red & Black Ball with Sarah and Justin Saturday night. As far as things like this go - gatherings, parties, etc. - it was pretty good. It's always nice for people to turn something into an Event rather than just a place to go and drink. Almost everyone there made some effort to dress up, and seeing the costumes was perhaps the best reason to attend. Once inside, we were asked to provide a name and place of origin - real or imaginary (we had already made up fake names on the way down) - and then promptly introduced to the crowd by the gentleman at the door (donning his best English accent). Early on there was a seance - amusing enough to prevent rigor mortis. Then live music; I remember hearing Vivaldi. Vegetarian food and vegan cake. A few people took pictures of us. Overall, the whole experience further accentuated my belief in the meaninglessness of gatherings. I think most of the people there had a fun time, but I... Well, I had much more fun making my mask (the only reason I went) than I did actually leaving my house.

* * *

The masks we made:

Sarah's (the picture doesn't do justice to its true sparkly nature)

Justin's (Note the occult symbols... He was ordered by a shaman in India to wear them for 1 year to ward off the Anger curse.)

Mine, and a close up of the detail and texture that was erased by the camera flash

A picture of us each wearing our mask

Monday, December 08, 2008

a comic my friend made

hipster cartoon, jocks and hipsters, hipster comic, modern day hipster, evolution of the jock

Sarah B., 2008  

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Tarpeian Rock... Oops

I just found out there is a literary magazine called The Tarpeian Rock... Had I known, I would have picked something else - oh well! It's funny because I chose the name for pretty much the same reasons, though I must admit to sometimes being guilty of "artistic stultiloquy."

"Rising from the past like an avenging angel, The Tarpeian Rock is the bane of post-modernists, profligates, and purveyors of literary and artistic stultiloquy everywhere. For too long, mediocrity, absurdity, and obscenity have dominated the worlds of art and literature. Inspired by a satanic vocation, the enlightened experts have spent the last hundred years or so declaring the beautiful trite, and the ugly transcendent. And what do we have to show for this century of confusion? Piles of rusting metal that some consider sculpture; Meaningless novels which celebrate moral and cultural relativism; Poetry that is nothing but flaccid prose with bad line breaks; The expurgation of God from public discourse except as an object of criticism."

However! I am a fan of absurdity and obscenity. And sometimes satanic vocations. And I am also forced to tolerate flaccid prose since I am inflicted with the unfortunate ability to produce it at high volume. But other than that I say: "Yes! I am incapable of having said it better myself!"

Monday, December 01, 2008

the Real

"The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?"

-Žižek, Use Your Illusions

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Rimbaud piece discovered! April.

And my friend Dennis informs me that it's featured in the December issue of Harper's Magazine, translated by Wyatt Mason. He continues: "It's not Rimbaud's finest hour, but there's wit and brimstone aplenty."

* * *

This satirical prose poem, Bismarck's Dream, is likely to be of real interest only to Rimbaud enthusiasts. Nevertheless, I have posted it below for my 7.2 million devoted followers. (The opening paragraph explains why it was "lost.")

Edmund White: "His own school was still closed because of the Prussian invasion... It might have been at this time that Rimbaud wrote (under a pseudonym) a short, satirical sketch about Bismarck that he published in a Charleville newspaper. In the sketch, Rimbaud imagines the German general hunched over a map of France, looking longingly at the black dot that symbolizes the much-coveted Paris. Bismarck is smoking a pipe. He falls asleep on the pipe and map and badly burns his big nose. He is forced to attend the royal Prussian sauerkraut dinner with a black stub of a missing nose. It's all a bit schoolboyish, but it is a discovery (the text had not been seen for 138 years)."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And he has pipettishly bespilled himself from his foundingpen as illspent from inkinghorn....

While looking over some of the de Sade books one of my friends left behind, I developed a game I like to play with The 120 Days of Sodom:

Open the book to a random page and point. The object is to hit a word relating to sex or a debauch of some kind (it must touch your finger OR the surrounding area). I shall try it now to give you an example:

1.) Nothing
2.) Word: Discharges. Sentence: "He breaks into a trot, and as he's started by now to frig himself, he soon discharges and, while he does so, makes loud noises, bucks, rears, and throws the rider."
3.) Nothing
4.) No specific word, but the sentence pointed to was: "Yes, Sire, the first, and the monk's was about the size of yours."
5.) Sentence: "The girl must be menstruating." (This one stretches the rules a bit, but I'll count it.)
6.) Word: Ass. Sentence: "Her glorious ass is soon washed in blood, the Duc embuggers her while Curval severs one of her fingers, then Curval marches into the breach while the Duc six times sears her thighs with a hot iron; etc."
7.) I see that the Marquis uses the word "encunted" and realize that he truly is a genius.
8.) "But the child emerges dead."
9.) Again the word is discharges. Sentence: "He lowers her into a very deep well and shouts down after her that he is about to fill it with large stones; he flings in a few clods of earth to frighten her, and discharges into the well, his seed landing on the naked whore's head."
10.) Nothing
11.) Nothing
12.) Nothing
13.) Word: Turds. Sentence: "...for his alarm may have provided us with a clue about the fate of those turds--we told him that the ones he had been served that day had come from several persons suffering from syphilis."
14.) Word: Cunt. Sentence: "Good God, dearie, let's not have any of your cunt, please put it away."
15.) Nothing.

marquis de sade by man ray

Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade by Man Ray

* * *

I invented a similar game to play with James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The difference in this version is that instead of looking to touch some kind of debauched act, the aim is to stumble upon a sentence that makes sense. I shall try it now to give you an example:

1.) Nothing
2.) Nothing
3.) Nothing
4.) Nothing
5.) Nothing
6.) Nothing
7.) Nothing
8.) Nothing
9.) Nothing
10.) Nothing
11.) Nothing
12.) Nothing
13.) Nothing
14.) p. 246: "The campus calls them."
15.) Nothing

james joyce man ray Finnegans Wake

James Joyce, 1922 by Man Ray

Saturday, November 22, 2008

GREAT FILMS: STALKER (1979) - Tarkovsky

For this review of Stalker I took bits and pieces from different things including critics' writing, interviews, Tarkovsky's own words (from Sculpting in Time and interviews), even a line from David Bowie, and I strung all of it together in a collage, quoting and misquoting, changing things, and keeping them the same. Two sentences by one critic followed by one sentence from another, followed by Tarkovsky's own words attributed to the previous critic, etc. Believe nothing except that this post represents a small part of how I feel about Tarkovsky and Stalker. Originally I wanted to include more things -- bits from Pushkin, Dostoevsky, dialogue from Stalker -- in hopes that I could craft a more poetic representation of the film, but I ended up liking this first draft, so I'm not going to mess with it. I decided to take this approach specifically with Tarkovsky because his films are very hard to write about and also because I dislike how film is written about (in general). I hope this post is worth reading for those who have yet to see Stalker (or even a single Tarkovsky film) and also for those who might already be very familiar with the film. I'll probably try this again in the future with other films because I like the result, and I enjoyed putting it together.


How was the end of Andrei Rublev able to reveal something in the paintings of an old Russian artist that brought tears to my eyes? What was it about the film that was able to cast these paintings in a completely new light? What was it about Stalker, my first Tarkovsky, that stuck in my mind weeks and weeks after I had fallen asleep trying to watch it? When this haunting finally drove me to watch it again, why was the experience so powerful even though my brain didn't quite understand it? Why was I convinced during my first viewing of The Sacrifice that I had seen a particular sequence previously in one of my dreams?

Tarkovsky gives one the impression that he is able to control nature. There is a moment in Mirror when a gust of wind shoots through a field at just the right moment... Magical.

These are the reasons Tarkovsky is my favorite director. His films are rich, transformative, and endless; I could watch them forever. There's nothing more I can say.

* * *

stalker poster tarkovsky

STALKER (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

near jasmine is a stone; beneath the stone is a hidden treasure...

Every shot in Tarkovsky's oeuvre, and perhaps most starkly apparent in Stalker, while capturing the story, is much more than just a visualization of text lifted from the script. The slow, spellbinding use of the camera gives a sense of the inner music that such images possess, allowing the viewer to see and hear something of which appears inconceivable, emerging from the 'still life of the subjects' to re-create a sensation of divine resonance. Remember, if the images in the film are not of the highest quality, the film has no power, no meaning, no spiritual significance. Stalker is set in a secular world of post apocalyptic misery, a premonition of Chernobyl and Soviet disintegration. The hyperclarity of the images is such that they might have been etched into the screen, and the script not only went through thirteen rewrites but was actually filmed twice between 1976 and 1979.

I’ve seen all seven of Tarkovsky’s features, some of them several times, but I’ve never felt anywhere close to exhausting them. I haven’t seen Andrei Rublev (1966) for many years, and The Mirror (1974) struck me as almost completely opaque the first time I saw it. I also have to confess that most of Stalker (1979), now my favorite, infuriated me when I first saw it in 2001 or 2002. With the possible exception of My Name Is Ivan (aka Ivan’s Childhood, 1962), Tarkovsky’s first feature, all of his movies qualify to some degree as head scratchers. This is because they work at the deepest levels of our being and not in our intellect. His films cannot be analyzed without destroying them.

It seems as though we've forgotten how to relate emotionally to art--we treat it like editors, when everything's really very simple. Children have that simplicity and they understand Tarkovsky's films very well. I haven't met a single serious critic who stands knee-high to children when it comes to accepting my films as they are.

If we emerge from Tarkovsky’s films somewhat puzzled, this is only the first of the special gifts they have to offer, for ultimately they aren’t so much mysteries to be solved as experiences to be interpreted, learned from, and assimilated. His cinema is allusive. It is replete with reference to itself, both within and between films, and to various masterpieces of European art. His cinema is also elusive, since the import of even direct quotations often eludes comprehension, as if they were seen out of the corner of the eye, while yet central in the frame. "It would probably be great not to make films," Tarkovsky once said, "but instead to simply describe them to blind people."

Chris Marker compares what he calls the archetypal camera angle of Hollywood (slightly low, framing people against the sky) with the archetypal camera angle of Tarkovsky (slightly high, framing people against the ground) and then lets all the metaphysical implications of this difference sink in. It is probably true that the methods by which cinema affects audiences can be used far more easily and rapidly for their moral decomposition, for the destruction of their spiritual defenses, than the means of the old, more traditional art forms. The artistic image cannot be one-sided: in order justly to be called truthful, it has to unite within itself dialectically contradictory phenomena. Personal bias must always be hidden: making a display of it may give a film immediate topical relevance, but its meaning will be confined to that passing usefulness. If it is to last, art has to draw deep on its own essence; only in this way will it fulfill that unique potential for affecting people which is surely its determining virtue and which has nothing to do with propaganda, journalism, philosophy or any other branch of knowledge or social organisation.

tarkovsky stalker
Tarkovsky had always had very precise ideas about the Zone in Stalker. It took him a long time to find the right place. Instead of Uzbekistan, where it was first planned to be shot, they found abandoned, and long forgotten areas of former power plants in Estonia. Tarkovsky was drawn to this place by some photographs, and thought the place would make the perfect Zone, due to a certain "nihilistic attraction." After shooting the film, members of the crew sent protest letters to the local government against the destruction of the environment.

"We were shooting near Tallinn in the area around the small river Piliteh with a half-functioning hydroelectric station," says Vladimir Sharun. "Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison. Many women in our crew got allergic reactions on their faces. Tarkovsky died from cancer of the right bronchial tube. And Tolya Solonitsyn too. That it was all connected to the location shooting for Stalker became clear to me when Larissa Tarkovskaya died from the same illness in Paris... Should I believe that I've been stricken too? Does my face show some kind of glow? A great star shot from the sky, flaming like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and springs. People in great numbers died from the water because it had been poisoned."

Tarkovsky has perfected his film language as an instrument capable of grappling with the most complicated issues of morality and theology. What makes his films so paradoxical is the fact that, among their concrete reality, lies an anticipation of the future, one that attempts to merge the viewer with the scene so that they may experience a re-awakening. For Tarkovsky, then, sculpting the Stalker was the result of an evolving personal signature, and one that meant cinema would never look upon a simple meadow in the same way again.

"I do not know whether there is Truth or not. But I instinctively feel that I cannot be without It. And I know that if It is, then It is everything for me: reason, and good, and strength, and life, and happiness. Perhaps It is not; but I love It - love is more than everything that exists. I already count It as existing, and I love It - though perhaps non-existent - with all my soul and all my thinking and dreaming. I renounce everything for It - even my questions and my doubts."

--Russian Philosopher Pavel Florensky (1882-1943), who died in a Stalinist labor camp

* * *

tarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalker

Friday, November 14, 2008

Truth: A Matter of Taste

A: Boy, it sure is cold out!
B: What's the temperature?
A: Mid 30s.
B: Mid 30s? Already? I don't believe it.
A: Well, that's what my car thermometer said on my way home from work.
B: Hah! Do you know who makes car thermometers?
A: Who?
B: Liberals!

"The masses have never thirsted after truth... Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim." --Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

The rise of the Internet has given people an easy means in which to combat corporate media bias -- one of its most important functions -- but along with that it has given people an easy means in which to combat what they perceive to be the bias of reality itself. The Internet allows people to stay isolated within a very small frame of reference, reading only a very narrow and specific range of opinions. Instead of researching, people only read articles found on their favorite websites. Instead of investigating sources, people believe only the things that fit in with what they want to hear and disregard the things that don't. This is true of all forms of media, of course. Radio and television have so many channels and personalities that all one has to do is tune out everything that doesn't fit into ones ideological framework. We no longer have news in this country, we have companies that sell various "realities" to their consumers.

During an interview on CNN, Joe the Plumber was asked about some of the back taxes he had failed to pay. His response was another question: "Why is the media vetting me more than they are vetting Barack Obama, someone who's running for President?" So what was Joe really asking? What part of Obama's past was not already explored by the media? His association with Bill Ayers? The endless clips of Revered Wright that were played over and over for two weeks and then emerged again later in the campaign? The fact that he admitted to using cocaine? His voting record? The fact that he wants to "spread the wealth around"? What exactly did "Joe the Public" not know about Barack Obama? Was he referring to how the media didn't expose Obama as a Muslim? Was he talking about how Obama wasn't born in the United States and used a fake birth certificate? Instead of believing that perhaps these things weren't carried by the mainstream media because they didn't stand up to the scrutiny of professional journalism, or that the sources he was reading and listening to were not after truth but a McCain Presidency, Joe decided to believe that these truths remained hidden because of a worldwide, highly organized Liberal Media Conspiracy. Or perhaps he was completely oblivious to the fact that Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright were covered at length by CNN because the sources he got his news from told him these issues were being ignored. He never bothered to check because he had no incentive to step outside his bubble. This is a tendency we all share, and one that we must constantly force ourselves to deal with, especially in our super-saturated, information-overloaded culture. (For criticism of CNN, see this post.)

I. An excerpt from Jacques Ellul's Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1965):

"Through such a process of intense rationalization, propaganda builds monolithic individuals. It eliminates inner conflicts, tensions, self-criticism, self-doubt. And in this fashion it also builds a one-dimensional being without depth or range of possibilities. Such an individual will have rationalizations not only for past actions, but for the future as well. He marches forward with full assurance of his righteousness. He is formidable in his equilibrium, all the more so because it is very difficult to break his harness of justifications. Experiments made with Nazi prisoners proved this point.

Tensions are always a threat to the individual, who tries everything to escape them because of his instinct of self- preservation. Ordinarily the individual will try to reduce his own tensions in his own way, but in our present society many of these tensions are produced by the general situation, and such tensions are less easily reduced. One might almost say that for collective problems only collective remedies suffice. Here propaganda renders spectacular service by making man live in a familiar climate of opinion and by manipulating his symbols, it reduces tensions. Propaganda eliminates one of the causes of tension by driving man straight into such a climate of opinion. This greatly simplifies his life and gives him stability, much security, and a certain satisfaction.

At the same time, this crystallization closes his mind to all new ideas. The individual now has a set of prejudices and beliefs, as well as objective justifications. His entire personality now revolves around those elements. Every new idea will therefore be troublesome to his entire being. He will defend himself against it because it threatens to destroy his certainties. He thus actually comes to hate everything opposed to what propaganda has made him acquire. Propaganda has created in him a system of opinions and tendencies which may not be subjected to criticism. That system leaves no room for ambiguity or mitigation of feelings; the individual has received irrational certainties from propaganda, and precisely because they are irrational, they seem to him part of his personality. He feels personally attacked when these certainties are attacked. There is a feeling here akin to that of something sacred. And a genuine taboo prevents the individual from entertaining any new ideas that might create ambiguity within him.

Incidentally, this refusal to listen to new ideas usually takes on an ironic aspect: the man who has been successfully subjected to a vigorous propaganda will declare that all new ideas are propaganda. To the degree that all his stereotypes, prejudices, and justifications are the fruit of propaganda, man will be ready to consider all other ideas as being propaganda and to assert his distrust in propaganda. One can almost postulate that those who call every idea they do not share "propaganda" are themselves almost completely products of propaganda. Their refusal to examine and question ideas other than their own is characteristic of their condition."

II. A QUIBBLE by Mark Slouka (edit: this article was added at a later date)

"We have every reason to be pleased with ourselves. Bucking all recent precedent, we seem to have put a self-possessed, intelligent man in the White House who, if he manages to avoid being bronzed before his first hundred days are up, may actually succeed in correcting the course of empire. The bubble is rushing back to plumb; excitement is in the air. It would be churlish to quibble.

Still, let's. Although the guard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has indisputably changed, although the new boss is not the same as the old boss, I'm less certain about us. I'd like to believe that we're a different people now; that we're more educated, more skeptical, more tough-minded than we were when we gave the outgoing gang of criminals enough votes to steal the presidential election, twice, but it's hard work; actual human beings keep getting in the way.

My neighbor, a high school teacher living about an hour outside New York City, wants to torture a terrorist. He's worried because he believes that Osama—excuse me, Obama—cares more about terrorists than he does about us. He's never heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Another neighbor—an actual plumber, actually named Joe—wants Mark Haddon's *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time* tossed out of the high school library. Joe came by recently. Did I want my kids learning how to curse and kill dogs and commit adultery? he asked. I said that my kids already knew how to curse, and that I hadn't realized that killing dogs and committing adultery were things you had to learn. He showed me the book. He and his wife had gone through it with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words "crap," "shit," and "damn" every time they appeared, on every page. They'd written to Laura Bush about it, and received a supportive letter in return, signed by the first lady. "You're a teacher," he said. "Don't tell me you support this kind of filth." I asked him if he'd read it. Well, no, he said, but he knew what it was about. He didn't really go in for reading, himself, he said.

I like a party as much as the next man, and I still have moments when I realize that the bastards are really, truly out and think that maybe, this time, it really is morning in America, but a voice from outside the ether cone keeps whispering that we haven't changed at all, that we're as dangerous to ourselves as we've ever been, and that the relative closeness of the popular vote in this last election (given the almost embarrassing superiority of the winning ticket and the parade of catastrophes visited on the nation by the outgoing party) proves it. Go ahead and bask, this voice says, but that rumble you hear above the drums and the partymakers is real, and it's coming our way.

What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We're deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath.

Seen from a sufficient distance (a decade abroad, for example), or viewed through a protective filter, like film, or alcohol, there can be something almost endearing about it. It can appear quaint, part of our foolish-but-authentic, naive-yet-sincere, rough-hewn spirit. Up close and personal, unromanticized and unfiltered, it's another thing entirely. In the flesh, barking from the electronic pulpit or braying back from the audience, our ignorance can be sobering. We don't know. Or much care. Or care to know. What do we care about? We care about auto racing and Jessica. We care about food, oh yes, please, very much. And money. (Did you catch the last episode of *I Love Money*?) We care about Jesus, though we're a bit vague on his teachings. And America. We care about America. And the flag. And the troops, though we're untroubled by the fact that the Bush Administration lied us into the conflict, then spent years figuring out that armor in war might be a good idea. Did I mention money?

Here's the mirror—look and wince. One out of every four of us believes we've been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo "vibrational aura" that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.

Wherever it may have resided before, the brain in America has migrated to the region of the belt—not below it, which might at least be diverting, but only as far as the gut—where it has come to a stop. The gut tells us things. It tells us what's right and what's wrong, who to hate and what to believe and who to vote for. Increasingly, it's where American politics is done. All we have to do is listen to it and the answer appears in the little window of the eight ball: "Don't trust him. Don't know. Undecided. Just because, that's why." We know because we feel, as if truth were a matter of personal taste, or something to be divined in the human heart, like love.

I was raised to be ashamed of my ignorance, and to try to do something about it if at all possible. I carry that burden to this day, and have successfully passed it on to my children. I don't believe I have the right to an opinion about something I know nothing about—constitutional law, for example, or sailing—a notion that puts me sadly out of step with a growing majority of my countrymen, many of whom may be unable to tell you anything at all about Islam, say, or socialism, or climate change, except that they hate it, are against it, don't believe in it. Worse still (or more amusing, depending on the day) are those who *can* tell you, and then offer up a stew of New Age blather, right-wing rant, and bloggers' speculation that's so divorced from actual, demonstrable fact, that's so not true, as the kids would say, that the mind goes numb with wonder. "Way I see it is," a man in the Tulsa Motel 6 swimming pool told me last summer, "if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us."

Quite possibly, this belief in our own opinion, regardless of the facts, may be what separates us from the nations of the world, what makes us unique in God's eyes. The average German or Czech, though possibly no less ignorant than his American counterpart, will probably consider the possibility that someone who has spent his life studying something may have an opinion worth considering. Not the American. Although perfectly willing to recognize expertise in basketball, for example, or refrigerator repair, when it comes to the realm of ideas, all folks (and their opinions) are suddenly equal. Thus evolution is a damned lie, global warming a liberal hoax, and Republicans care about people like you.

But there's more. Not only do we believe that opinion (our own) trumps expertise; we then go further and demand that expertise assume the position—demand, that is, that those with actual knowledge supplicate themselves to the Believers, who don't need to know. The logic here, if that's the term, seems to rest on the a priori conviction that belief and knowledge are separate and unequal. Belief is higher, nobler; it comes from the heart; it feels like truth. There's a kind of Biblical grandeur to it, and as God's chosen, we have an inherent right to it. Knowledge, on the other hand, is impersonal, easily manipulated, inherently suspect. Like the facts it's based on, it's slippery, insubstantial—not solid like the things you believe.

The corollary to the axiom that belief beats knowledge, of course, is that ordinary folks shouldn't value the latter too highly, and should be suspicious of those who do. Which may explain our inherent discomfort with argument. We may not know much, but at least we know what we believe. Tricky elitists, on the other hand, are always going on. Confusing things. We don't trust them. So what if Sarah Palin couldn't answer Charlie Gibson's sneaky question about the Bush Doctrine? We didn't know what it was either.

How did we come to this pass? We could blame the American education system, I suppose, which has been retooled over the past two generations to churn out workers (badly), not skeptical, informed citizens. Or we could look to the great wasteland of television, whose homogenizing force and narcotizing effect has quite neatly corresponded to the rising tide of ignorance. Or we could spend some time analyzing the fungus of associations that has grown around the word "elitist," which can now be applied to a teacher driving a thirteen-year-old Toyota but not to a multimillionaire CEO like Dick Cheney. Or, finally, we might look to the influence of the anti-elitist elites who, burdened by the weight of their Ph.D.s, will argue that the words "educated" and "ignorant" are just signifiers of class employed by the oligarchy to keep the underprivileged in their place, and then proceed to tell you how well Bobby is doing at Princeton.

But I'm less interested in the ingredients of this meal than in who's going to have to eat it, and when, and at what cost. There's no particular reason to believe, after all, that things will improve; that our ignorance and gullibility will miraculously abate, that the militant right and the entrenched left, both so given to caricature, will simultaneously emerge from their bunkers eager to embrace complexity, that our disdain for facts and our aversion to argument will reverse themselves. Precisely the opposite is likely. In fact, if we take the wider view, and compare today's political climate (the arrogance with which our leaders now conduct their extralegal adventures, the crudity of the propaganda used to manipulate us, our increasing willingness to cheer the lie and spit on the truth, just so long as the lie is ours) to that of even a generation ago, then extend the curve a decade or two into the future, it's easier to imagine a Balkanized nation split into rival camps cheered and sustained by their own propaganda than the republic of reason and truth so many of us want to believe in.

Traditions die hard, after all. Anti-intellectualism in America is a very old hat—a stovepipe, at least, maybe even a coonskin. We wear it well; we're unlikely to give it up just like that. Consider, for example, what happens to men or women (today as ever) the minute they declare themselves candidates for office, how their language —their syntax, their level of diction, the field from which their analogies are drawn—takes a nosedive into the common pool. Notice how quickly the contractions creep in and the sleeves roll up. The comparison to high school seems appropriate; the pressure to adapt is considerable, and it's all in one direction—down. In American politics, as in the cafeteria, the crowd sets the tone. It doesn't know much, and if you want in, you'd better not either. Should you want out, of course, all you have to do is inadvertently let on—for example, by using the word inadvertently"—that you're a reasonably educated human being, and the deed is done.

Communicate intelligently in America and you're immediately suspect. As one voter from Alaska expressed it last fall, speaking of Obama, "He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly." This isn't race talking; it's education. There's something sneaky about a man like Obama (or even John Kerry, who, though no Disraeli, could construct a sentence in English with a beginning, a middle, and an end), because he seems intelligent. It makes people uneasy. Who knows what he might be thinking?

But doesn't this past election, then, sound the all clear? Doesn't the fact that Obama didn't have to lower himself to win suggest that the ignorant are outnumbered? Can't we simply ignore the third of white evangelicals who believe the world will end in their lifetimes, or the millennialists who know that Obama's the Antichrist because the winning lottery number in Illinois was 666?

For starters, consider how easily things might have gone the other way had the political and economic climate not combined into a perfect political storm for the Republican Party; had the Dow been a thousand points higher in September, or gas a dollar cheaper. Truth is, we got lucky; the bullet grazed our skull.

Next, consider the numbers. Of the approximately 130 million Americans who voted this past November, very nearly half, seemingly stuck in political puberty, were untroubled by the possibility of Sarah Palin and the first dude inheriting the White House. At the same time, those of us on the winning side might want to do a cross-check before landing. How many of us—not just in the general election but in the primaries, when there was still a choice—voted for Obama because he was the It thing this season, because he was so likable, because he had that wonderful voice, because he was black, because he made us feel as if Atticus Finch had come home? If nothing else, the fact that so many have convinced themselves that one man, thus far almost entirely untested, will slay the culture of corruption with one hand while pulling us out of the greatest mess we've known in a century with the other suggests that a certain kind of "clap your hands if you believe" naiveté crosses the aisle at will.

But the electorate, whatever its issues, is not the real problem. The real problem, the unacknowledged pit underlying American democracy, is the 38 percent of the population who didn't move, didn't vote. Think of it: a country the size of Germany—83 million people—within our own borders. Many of its citizens, after decades of watching the status quo perpetuate itself, are presumably too fed up to bother, a stance we can sympathize with and still condemn for its petulance and immaturity, its unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that in every election there is a better and a worse choice. Millions of others, however, are adults who don't know what the Bill of Rights is, who have never heard of Lenin, who think Africa is a nation, who have never read a book. I've talked to enough of them to know that many are decent people, and that decency is not enough. Witches are put to the stake by decent people. Ignorance trumps decency any day of the week.

Praise me for a citizen or warm up the pillory, it comes down to the unpleasant fact that a significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and gullible as a boxful of puppies; they'll believe anything; they'll attack the empty glove; they'll follow that plastic bone right off the cliff. Nothing about this election has changed that fact. If they're ever activated—if the wrong individual gets to them, in other words, before the educational system does—we may live to experience a tyranny of the majority Tocqueville never imagined."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

a change is gonna come?

"Fortune has said that it believes Lawrence "Larry" Summers to be President-Elect Obama's top choice for Secretary of Treasury, citing various reasons."

The same Larry Summers who used to be President of Harvard, the school from which Obama graduated magna cum laude?


The Same Larry Summers who served as Chief Economist for the World Bank (1991-1993)?


The same Larry Summers who said that industrial pollution ought to be exported to third world countries because they are under-polluted? "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that... The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand." memo


And to think, Mr. Obama, I was just about to write a blog about the speech you gave Tuesday night and how it made me feel like you were actually going to change things. You made me feel like all of my cynicism was unjustified, unhealthy, and part of the reason why nothing ever gets accomplished. You made me feel like politics could perhaps be a noble profession, even a true public service. Oh well. It was a nice 2 days. Time to resume dreaming (about blowing shit up).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Part I: The sands of time are going through the hourglass but it doesn't frighten me

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger is supposed to die tonight from prostate cancer. This was announced last year at the funeral of Curtis Harrington:

"Anger ann­ounced that he and Harr­ing­ton had both been dying of pros­tate cancer (although Harr­ing­ton didn’t die of this) and that he had told Harr­ing­ton that he would out­live him. Anger then in­formed every­one that his own mem­or­ial would be here, in the same place. He turned toward the crowd and said “Oh yes, It’s been con­firmed. I know the date of my death. On Hall­ow­e’en 2008. My mem­or­ial. RIGHT HERE! HALL­OW­E’EN 2008!” Then, as an after­thought, he added, “INVIT­AT­ION ONLY! Sorry.”

If he does die tonight it will certainly be a shame but considering the fact that he is 80+ years old and has to die someday, Halloween night would be perfect! And if it's the very night he predicted, so much the better!

The tragedy of Kenneth Anger's life, and one of the greatest tragedies in cinema, is that he wasn't able to get funding for all the projects he wanted to begin (or, in many cases, complete). The tragedy of his death will be the fact that his life and history haven't been adequately catalogued and recorded. The documentary Anger Me is good as an overview of his life and work, and it's great just to be able to hear Kenneth Anger talk, but my problem with it is that it's too respectable, too tame. It doesn't show us (or at least it severely downplays) the more anecdotal and notorious Kenneth Anger. The Kenneth Anger who, for example, put the "curse of the toad"1 on Bobby Beausoleil just a short time before Beausoleil's van broke down in front of the Manson family's Spahn Ranch... The Anger who said of Jimmy Page: "“He’s a multi-millionaire miser. He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl - the druggie that got him on heroin - they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of King Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.” Anger is filled with some of the most amusing anecdotes, gossip, and tall tales you will ever hear -- a true American treasure. I remember reading that he was working on a biography, perfectly titled Look Back Ken Anger -- I wonder what ever came of it? I wonder if the person who finds it (if it exists) will try to get it published or if they'll toss it in the trash like so many of his lost films? I wonder if Hollywood Babylon III will be published in the United States posthumously. I wonder if Mr. Anger is going to slip out of my ear when I'm sleeping on the night of his demise and turn himself into a colorful couch in the corner of my room.

1 This curse is performed by trapping a toad in a well.

Eaux d'artifice Kenneth Anger

Eaux d'artifice (1953)

Here is an excerpt from an obituary of Curtis Harrington that expresses to me why Kenneth Anger is more than just a great filmmaker.

SCENE. Anger arrives at Harrington's funeral:

"Actor Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson in the 1950s Super­man tele­vis­ion series), who was to be the only speak­er at the serv­ice, de­scribed the Holly­wood mil­ieu that he and Curtis ent­ered in the 1940s. He had barely started when he was int­err­upted by Anger, who shouted juicy ‘corr­ect­ions’ to Larson’s speech. Larson per­sev­ered as Anger con­tin­ued to pro­vide a runn­ing comm­ent­ary in a we-of-the-theatre tone. Larson re­ferred to a mutual friend, ‘Paul’ from Pasa­dena, who ran a ‘coven’ which att­racted many people, includ­ing Harr­ing­ton and him­self. At this, Anger shouted “NO! NO! It was an order of the Ordo Templi Orientis and it was of as high a degree as 33rd degree Mas­onry. I am a 33rd-degree member through Crow­ley.” Previ­ous to this, Larson had already men­tioned Crow­ley and Anger had corr­ected his pro­nun­ciat­ion: “Crow as in Crow. Then Lee.”

Larson men­tioned that ‘Paul’ had supp­os­edly created a hom­un­cu­lus. Anger agreed – “OH HE DID! I saw it. It held my hand. Its little hand, like a ten­tacle, wrapp­ed itself around my finger. There were 33 others in the crib, but not in full-fruit­ion like this one” – sugg­est­ing that deg­rees of Mas­onry and hom­un­culi litter have some­thing in common. A number of act­resses were in­volved in the “coven”, one of whom report­edly saw the hom­un­cu­lus. Anger in­formed the guests that who­ever sees a hom­un­cu­lus is hence­forth re­spons­ible for its life, and this, he sugg­ested, may be why she ult­im­ately became a re­cluse.

Larson re­counted that ‘Paul’ supp­os­edly had a tail. Anger con­curred. “I SAW IT!” he shouted. “I showed it to Kinsey and he said that wasn’t so unus­ual – one man in 50,000 has one.” In the 1950s, the sex­o­lo­gist Alfred Kinsey became int­er­ested in Anger and his films, and in 1955 the two visited the site of Crow­ley’s ‘Abbey of Thel­ema’2 in Cefalu, Sicily."

2 One of the extra features on the Anger Me DVD is Kenneth Anger walking through parts of The Abbey of Thelema talking about some of the paintings he uncovered there during his first visit in the 1950s.

* * *

Further reading:

Here is an interview that gives a good overview of Anger's life.

Excerpt: "In any case, in 1949 I had sent my film, Fireworks, to a festival in Biarritz France and Jean Cocteau was on the jury and he gave it the prize for poetic film. In fact, he wrote me a very nice letter and luckily I knew French because I had studied it in high school. So I decided to go over to France to meet him, that was in the spring of 1950, and I was able to meet not only Cocteau, but Jean Genet and even Colette. At that time there were a lot of legendary people still around. I just missed meeting André Gide because he died when I was on the boat. I also met Henri Langlois, the founder of the Cinematheque Francais, and he had a screening for some of my films, which led to him offering me a job as his assistant."

Anais Nin Kenneth Anger Pleasure Dome

Anaïs Nin, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)

THIS is the interview I quoted from above (re: Jimmy Page). Here is how it begins:

“Don’t disobey me. Do as I say and don’t talk back!” waspishly screamed the author, artist and filmmaker, waving his fist and practically foaming at the mouth. This was not really an interview; this was more like a strange brief encounter with Kenneth Anger. “I can be charming,” he explained staring straight into my eyes, “but I’m not going to be!”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Part II: Halloween 2007

Kenneth Anger. I came across this name many times over the years and I always associated it with two things: Scorpio Rising and Hollywood Babylon. For some reason I never figured that his films were going to be very good or interesting, primarily because of some of the stills I had seen from Lucifer Rising: pyramids, occult symbols, lots of color and psychedelic imagery. I had seen similar things in Ira Cohen's 1968 film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, a few minutes of which I had once randomly downloaded, and they seemed to me to exemplify everything I found empty and cliche in "psychedelic philosophy." However, the fact that Anger's name is all over underground film and Scorpio Rising is often mentioned alongside many films I admire was enough to override any unfounded impressions I had of his work and when bits and pieces of Anger's films eventually started to appear on youtube I was curious to see what they were like. Every so often I would click them to see if they were decent enough to watch (they never were). It wasn't until I clicked on the 1979 version of Rabbit's Moon and watched the first minute and a half that my jaw dropped. I quickly turned it off because the quality was so poor, but it had hypnotized me. Months later it was announced that Fantoma planned to release The Kenneth Anger shorts Vol 1 in Jan 2007. I watched the trailer for this and was so blown away that I immediately placed a pre-order; I hadn't been so excited to see a movie in a long time. The short films were even better than I had anticipated and I was eager to share this discovery with friends. When volume 2 was announced for later that year, I immediately placed a pre-order for it, too.

rabbit's moon kenneth anger pierrot
Rabbit's Moon (1953)

Kenneth Anger's works are more incantations than they are films, and when you watch them you can feel a portal open to another world. They're able to summon up and sift the magical qualities out of life and present them to you in the same way a monster presents itself to you under your bed when you're a child. You fear this monster not so much because you think it's going to devour you (this is your conscious fear but it's not something you truly believe because monsters aren't real); you fear it much more deeply on a subconscious level because you know that if you were to really see a monster under your bed you would have to concede that you live in a world where there are no rules and anything is possible. Few realizations would be more terrifying to a species that makes a point to rationalize and understand everything. Anger's films are not frightening in this way, they are liberating in this way. But they are also dangerous.

Halloween: 2007.

I decided to have some friends over for a nice Halloween meal. Black pasta, orange sauce, blood stained plates, etc. After dinner I forced everyone into the basement to summon up a Halloween mood, mindset, and spirit with some Kenneth Anger films. Unfortunately, it worked! Somewhere between Lucifer Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother there emerged from the television - for all to see and bear witness to - a specter of color. It danced through the room like your favorite screen saver, changing color and shape before erupting quickly and shooting squarely into the chest of my dear friend Justin (1981 - 2007). However! Seconds later, as we were frantically burying him, he returned to life and yelled out something in what we now realize was Hindi.

Inside his very soul a creature now torments him, trapped like a funny metaphor. It takes all of Justin's power to keep this creature in check. Originally he had planned to live with it but he later decided that he must go on a long journey to get it exorcised, removed, excommunicated, repelled. He had a dream of a place very far away. He saw himself riding a red motorcycle with a flame on the side. He saw visions of himself in a lungi. And every time he slept he heard the voice of a man who called himself Asharof saying God knows what is in your heart. These visions led him to India where he is currently seeking out Tantric sects devoted to Ganesha/Ganapati. With him he took a copy of Aleister Crowley's Book Four that he will use precisely when the moment is upon him. All of his friends who were there that Halloween night wish him luck in removing the spirit and returning safely. May he one day be strong enough to watch the films of Kenneth Anger! (I know this is hard to believe, but it is all TRUE!)

Kenneth Anger Pleasure DomeKenneth Anger Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The art of cooking

"Contemporary fine dining cuisine has reached the stage where it can be compared with art as a means of expression. However, the notion of creative cuisine as an art form is still in its infancy, and the idea that a diner can engage with a dish in the same way that a viewer can engage with a work of art is still a new one. A dish can satisfy a physiological need or provide pleasure for the senses, but it can also 'say' something that stimulates analysis and reflection and provokes a deeper response. Food comes closest to art when there is a desire to engage the diner in this way.

Unlike art, though, contemporary cuisine has never been studied or analysed thoroughly. Although food historians exist, their principal aim is to document and understand the history of food and its production through the ages, rather than to discuss the key movements and leading exponents of contemporary fine dining cuisine in a way that art historians might study contemporary art and artists. Most cookbooks by contemporary chefs to not attempt to codify a creative system behind their dishes; setting out an analysis of the evolution of El Bulli's food and creative methods attempts to redress this balance.

Ferran is interested in exploring the links between contemporary art and cuisine, and in 2007 elBulli participated in Documenta 12, the contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Ferran was curious about the parallels that could be drawn between the experience of looking at art and the experience of eating a dish, in terms of the way each activity engages the sense, emotions and intellect of the participant. Every day two visitors to the exhibition were randomly selected to be flown to Spain to have dinner at elBulli. In this way, the restaurant became a kind of satellite pavilion of the exhibition.

Although many of elBulli's dishes do not resemble conventional food, there is no suggestion that any dish should be appreciated purely aesthetically as a work of art. The principle aim of a dish is to give pleasure to diners in the conventional ways as well as in more unusual ones. In Orange nitro-sorbet with its balloon, a balloon containing orange-flower essence is slowly deflated, releasing its aroma while the sorbet is eaten and challenging the diner to consider the boundaries of what can be presented as food in a restaurant. elBulli's food is provocative, new and often surprising, but it is situated firmly within the sphere of cooking."

* * *

My 500+ page Phaidon book -- A Day at elBulli -- arrived yesterday. It isn't exactly what I was hoping it would be, but I'll still enjoy it, and it serves as a good way to quell some of the urge I have to purchase one of the expensive (220-350$) elBulli cookbooks. (I view the cookbooks as premiere art books on one of the world's great artists: Ferran Adrià. The fact that they are also fantastic cookbooks is a bonus; I want them mostly for the pictures. Besides, many of the dishes are likely hard (or impossible) to produce without large amounts of money for equipment and chemicals.) So, for only 33$, A Day at elBulli will serve as my fix until I can convince the other parts of my brain -- the parts that insist I eat every week -- to spend 220$ on a single book.

A Day at elBulli is more of a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant filled with many pictures and information on everything you would ever want to know. More "what it's like to work at and experience El Bulli" than "here we present the art, imagination, and creative genius of Ferran Adrià" (though it does contain a good bit of that as well). More heavily focused on the creative process than the creations themselves, each page of A Day at elBulli has the corresponding time written at the top, and as you read through, the book explores what goes on at the restaurant during a typical day from before it opens until after it closes.

(A few days ago I found out that Heston Blumenthal is soon to release The Big Fat Duck cookbook.)

I recommend DECODING FERRAN ADRIÀ very highly to anyone who hasn't seen it:

(watch the full video HERE)

* * *

The activities and creations of culinary alchemists Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal remind me of Des Esseintes from Huysmans' À rebours, sitting alone in his estate dreaming up newer and better worlds. Huysmans' hero concocted perfumes that he used to recall the history of the French language, and he transposed real and fake flowers, even paying a nursery to make him flowers that appeared to be fake. When I first heard about Blumenthal's sound experiments, I immediately wondered if he had been inspired by Des Esseintes "mouth organ." And Des Esseintes' sea bath seems like inspiration for many things -- some of it even sounds like a recipe!

"There, the illusion of the sea is undeniable, imperious, positive. It is achieved by salting the water of the bath; by mixing, according to the Codex formula, sulphate of soda, hydrochlorate of magnesia and lime; by extracting from a box, carefully closed by means of a screw, a ball of thread or a very small piece of cable which had been specially procured from one of those great rope-making establishments whose vast warehouses and basements are heavy with odors of the sea and the port; by inhaling these perfumes held by the ball or the cable end; by consulting an exact photograph of the casino; by eagerly reading the Joanne guide describing the beauties of the seashore where one would wish to be; by being rocked on the waves, made by the eddy of fly boats lapping against the pontoon of baths; by listening to the plaint of the wind under the arches, or to the hollow murmur of the omnibuses passing above on the Port Royal, two steps away.

The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself."

It would be interesting to write a much longer entry on this topic; there seems to be an unacknowledged influence. And I suppose it is worth noting that Des Esseintes uses science and artifice to overthrow nature while Adria uses it, in theory, to enhance nature. So Blumenthal seems the truer heir.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The top 1%

Warren Buffett just overtook Bill Gates as the richest man in America - his net worth is 58 billion dollars.

While net worth doesn't exactly equate to income in any real sense, it's kinda fun to look at it this way:

Americans complain about their sports stars making millions of dollars. Tiger Woods is the highest paid sports figure ever, and he makes about 80 million a year. He'd have to play golf for 725 years and never spend a penny of what he made in order to reach 58 billion.

Of course us regular folks, with a household income of $100,000 per year, have to work 800 years to earn what Tiger Woods earns in 365 days. Which means if we hope to save up Warren Buffet's net worth it takes us 580,000 years (also assuming we don't spend a penny). So how old is the Earth anyway?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

QuoteS II

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money." --Alexis de Tocqueville

"The mind decides in one way or another, despite itself, and prefers being mistaken to believing in nothing." --Rousseau, The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar

"The theory of advertising maintains, in effect, that the consumer is a nonrational, suggestible creature under the hypnotic influence of the advertising copywriter. The more a person absorbs information that agrees with what they already believe, contrary evidence holds less and less value. This is why a person can be persuaded, through years of advertising stimuli, into a hypnotic belief system that is contrary to the real world." --Gregory Mitchell, Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory

"If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. If you make them really think, they’ll hate you." --Don Marquis

"Young people everywhere have been allowed to choose between love and a garbage disposal unit. Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal unit." -- Guy Debord

"You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families *they* start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to heirarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it. [...] As Smith observed: "The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." -- Bob Black, The Abolition of Work

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
In the first essay, "Economy," Thoreau comments that most men are slaves to their work and enslaved to those for whom they work. He concludes: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation..."

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." --Norman Cousins

"A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of total revolution." --May 1968 Graffiti

"The intellectuals, as always, were the first to acclaim the builder of their own scaffold." --Walter Benjamin, Survey of French Literature

"It's a diplomatic job now, being the director. The producer makes the picture and the star makes the picture, and in the end you have a very fun industrial product. But it's not deeper. It's an amusing thing. It's like a cigarette, you smoke it, and then you forget it and you have another cigarette. And then you die of cancer. If you see only that kind picture, you end up with spiritual cancer, because they don't help you. But you have a lot of fun." --Alejandro Jodorowsky, Interview

"Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be." --Kurt Vonnegut

There was a discussion going on in the comments section of a youtube video and someone posted this to explain the differing opinions: "actually the reason for their different views is that lorenzo's higher level of awareness is fueled by a more evolved consciousness that is able to 'feel' into the moment in a mystically intuitive kind of way and so he comes away with more knowledge of what has transpired. this type of 'feel' is not an emotion but an ability."

"Very little is surprising today because we are not prepared to be surprised." --Amyl Nitrite, Jubilee (I'm 90% certain this is the source. The notebook I wrote it down in doesn't say, so I am forced to use my memory tank.)

"Language isn't a vehicle for communication but an escape from it. The same goes for culture. Common experiences, like knowing the same movies or the same songs, become less a basis for meaningful relationships than a means for avoiding important things." --Reverse Shot, Kicking and Screaming review (The actual quote says: "In Kicking and Screaming, language..." but I like the thought of applying it more generally.)

"Actually, art too is, or should be, an addiction - which is only to say, a permanent discipline of the mind and the emotions according to given mode. As for danger, every artist who attempts something very big or very original subjects himself to considerable risk. Practical failure in his project (self-judged or other judged) may have serious consequences." --Underground Film

"Everyone must decide for himself whether it is better to have a brief but more intensely felt existence or to live a long and ordinary life." --Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Salò and the banality of evil

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." --Benito Mussolini

"Smedley Butler helped destroy a corporate Fascist Putsch in the mid-1930's, but how long did that last? In the 1960's, all four primary liberal leaders were assassinated. In the mid-'90s, a so called Democrat President turned back the Bill of Rights and Constitution with a multitude of crime bills. And in the year 2000, Jim Crow laws were revived, and a Presidential election was swayed by disallowing over 50,000 eligible African-Americans to vote in the state of Florida. Corporations will not be denied their sway and profit." --Adam Parfrey, introduction to Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler's WAR IS A RACKET

"...what we're seeing is a tidal pull exerted on the will of almost everyone in a country – or in this case, a chateau – to fulfill the wishes of a minor but powerful few." --Noel Vera on Salò

Politically, in terms of power and (non-sexual) exploitation, there are a few ways to look at Pasolini's Salò. Traditionally it is seen as a condemnation of Fascism; more specifically, the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler through which Pasolini lived. Personally I'm not sure this is even worth talking about since there is so little to learn from it: Fascism is bad, power corrupts. We don't need art to show us this so I find it disappointing that so many viewers boil the film down to this simple truth. Salò is much more interesting if we see it as a work of art that lifts the veil of our everyday reality so that we can more easily see the true nature of the exploitative systems in place.

According to Pasolini the coprophilia in the film is meant to represent the toxins we are force fed by corporations and manufacturers. This can refer to the processed foods, the high fructose corn syrup, the GMO tomatoes and the myriad other atrocities which Pasolini could not have predicted, but it is as easy to apply Salò more generally to all of modern civilization. Each day we are fed the idea that the road we are on is the one, true, God-given path, and toward that end we consume a lot of shit. The Libertines who feed it to us are the privileged few who run this world. We spend the best years of our lives running their businesses in exchange for a fraction of what they make off our labor, we consume their tasteless, poisonous food, we grease their wheels and fuel their fire - all so their "Chateau" is kept running in a way that pleases them. And we allow all of this to happen with complete passivity.

But the real horror of Pasolini's vision is that it may not be disturbed enough. We in the Western world are privileged beyond all measure of belief despite being buggered often by a copiously well-endowed system. The true horror is reserved for those a step below us, those who sew our cheap sweaters for almost no pay, those who are forced to live with agent orange and depleted uranium, those killed in Iraq who are called 'collateral damage', those in the Niger Delta whose water and land are being destroyed for oil, those in West Virginia who exchange cheap American energy for cancer and dirty water. The State does its best to make sure that all of these people remain hidden away so we don't have to see or think about this process of which we are all a part, but even in those rare glimpses when we do see it we are loathe to do anything about it. Having been fed shit for so long, we are anxious for a chance to feed shit to others, to bring us closer to the shining example of the Libertines we long to be. We are passive, and our passivity empowers them.

People who criticize Salò as being too simplistic miss the point that Fascism isn't always some obvious system that can be easily opposed or even recognized. It sometimes exists behind the curtain, and, with Salò, Pasolini gives us a glimpse of the gears at work there.

The sexual politics presented in Salò comprise what is probably the most interesting aspects of the film, but I ignored them altogether because of something I saw on the news recently that reminded me of the film:

ben bernanke bailout beard pasolini salo
christopher cox pasolini salo
treasury secretary henry paulson
salo pasolini sheila bair

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forgotten Giants: Marguerite Eymery aka Rachilde

A century ago Rachilde's pivotal role among the parisian intelligentsia was undisputed. Rachilde was a successful, widely read author and a critical conduit and mediator of the aesthetic and intellectual ideas of the time. While her salon brought together aspiring fin de siècle writers and artists, her husband, Alfred Vallette, edited the highly influential literary review Le Mercure de France, and she was active in the cirlce around him. As the only woman writer to contribute to Anatole Baju's journal Le Décadent, alongside Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Adam, she seemed to have secured her place in literary history. But by the time of her death a half century later, in 1953, her work had slipped into obscurity.

When she was young, in order to overcome her parents distaste for having a writer in the family, Marguerite Eymery would pretend to channel spirits. She used one of the voices -- that of a Swedish nobleman named Rachilde -- to dictate stories during her seances. "Rachilde" soon became her persona and she could sometimes be seen walking the city streets dressed as a man...

Since there is so little information about Rachilde available online I'm going to quote liberally from Melanie Hawthorne and Liz Constable's introduction to Monsieur Vénus:

"In Paris of the 1880's, Rachilde quickly became one of the only women writers in a series of avant-garde literary circles dominated by young rebels reminiscent of their Romantic predecessors of the 1830's, whose exuberance and excesses had prompted Théophile Gautier's satirical account in Les Jeunes-France (1833). Grouped in ephemeral clubs with provocative names--the Hydopaths, the Hirsutes, the Zutistes (zut means "damn"), the Jemenfoutistes (je m'en fous means "I don't give a damn"), and the Incohérents--they explored paths to alternative realities through altered states of consciousness, linguistic experimentation, and erotic transgressions. In rejecting the positivistic and naturalistic tendencies in contemporary aesthetic movements, they searched instead for metaphysical ideals inspired by various forms of mysticism: Baudelairean correspondances, occultism, hypnotism, and spiritualism. From these diverse factions emerged the writers associated with decadence and symbolism at the turn of the century."

According to her original (and likely false) explanation of its origin, Rachilde's most famous work, Monsieur Vénus (1884), was written when an unrequited infatuation left her legs paralyzed for two months.

"By the mid-twentieth century Monsieur Vénus had fallen out of print and was known only to a few specialists of fin de siècle literature. One symptom of its neglect is that, although Simone de Beauvoir refers to it in The Second Sex, when cuts were made for the English translation, the reference to Rachilde was deemed expendable. By contrast, Huysmans A rebours, also published in 1884, had attained the status of decadent classic by the mid-twentieth century. Both novels contain many of the same decadent topoi: a blurring of distinction among the senses through Baudelairean synesthesia; the confusion between aesthetic taste (art) and culinary taste (cooking) and between taking in abstract concepts and eating food; the collapse of apparent opposites such as disgust and desire, good and bad taste; the relocation of biblical myths of Edenic creation in decadent hothouses of artifice; and finally, a rewriting of narratives of creativity itself."

"She followed the success of Monsieur Vénus with a series of novels that drew on similar themes of nonconformist, nonreproductive sexual practices, novels that raised questions about the multiple possible relations among the sex category assigned at birth, gender expression, and erotic desires."

* * *

A few drops of Monsieur Vénus to give a taste of the overall tone:

"At last!" she said, when the brocade dress with chaste higlights had fallen at her impatient feet. She took a small copper key, opened a closet hidden among the draperies, and took out a black evening suit, complete from the patent leather boots to the embroidered formal shirt. In front of the mirror, which returned to her the image of a man as handsome as all the heroes of novels girls dream about, she slid her hand, with the shining wedding ring, through her short curly hair. A bitter smile played on her lips, blurred by an imperceptible brownish down."

"Then he sighed, 'I'm sleepy,' as he put the pointy heels of Raoule's shoes on his forehead."

"A tear whose wet brightness seemed to have stolen its light from Eden of long ago rolled down Raoule's cheek."

"...they were plunging toward bottomless pits and thought they were safe in each other's arms."

* * *

Monsieur Vénus is only available in English through the Modern Language Association: HERE (the one Amazon carries is French)

As far as I know, the only other novel available in English by Rachilde is The Juggler -- the story of a woman who forsakes all men and chooses a Greek vase as her obscure object of desire.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Debate on Self Interest: Milton Friedman vs. Student

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Friedman makes valid points in the first two examples, and the student does a good job of standing up to him; however, in the third example, the student allows Friedman to convolute the argument to a completely different, unwarranted concept, where Friedman is able to slyly avoid being pinned down. The weakness of Friedman's points lie in his total committal to a very specific analytic worldview that is a little too black and white (which is the same thing he charges the student with), but it's largely just a fundamental disagreement in philosophies. He sees the issue regarding the exploding gas-tanks as "the consumer should be free to decide how much they want to pay to reduce the chance of their death." To him, it's that cut and dry. If the consumer doesn't know that the gas tank will likely explode upon collision because the corporation deliberately withheld information, then the remedy for this is for the government to hold the corporations accountable in court. Fine. That sounds reasonable1. But what does this have to do with the student's original point: Friedman's concept of "self interest" applied to corporations and business can (and often will) create situations that not only cause people to "run away" but situations that kill them? Did Ford really think fewer people would buy their car if they installed the safety block in front of the gas tank and charged 13$ more? Of course not. The issue is not whether or not the consumer is willing to use their freedom to decide if they want to pay extra for their safety; the issue is that Ford knew they could make more profit if the pieces weren't installed at all which is what Friedman is arguing for: self interest. For this to be true, the truth must be hidden, and deceit is indirectly promoted in the name of self-interest. This is where our worldviews collide. Friedman's view might be valid within a system that isn't monopolized by a handful of corporations controlling what the public knows, but within the system we have now, a corporation doesn't always have to assess certain risks -- losing money due to lawsuits for withholding public information or losing customers because of something that gives their company a bad name -- because the government and corporations are basically the same entity. (Look at the reduction of Exxon's oil spill fees by the Supreme Court. Look at the fact that Monsanto still exists2. Look at the recent bailouts. There is no real accountability.) In a different system the idea of self-interest applied to business makes sense, but in our current reality, those with the most money will always have the most say.

1 I'm no law expert, but it seems like obscuring the information to the realm of nonexistence would be an easy loop-hole here, but that's another issue.
2 "Former Monsanto employees currently hold positions in US government agencies such as the FDA and EPA and even the Supreme Court."

Something Friedman says that I really like: "Don't attribute to me your conventional views of what "a conservative" believes 'cause I'm not a conservative. I'm a believer in freedom." I've talked to my friends about this concept before. So many people you encounter (liberal or conservative) won't actually listen to what you say; they'll just pause until you're finished talking and then respond to the cliche response they assume you used, simplifying everything you said into banalities.