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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

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Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

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Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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DM interviews Alex van Warmerdam, director of the surreal thriller ‘Borgman’
06.05.2014
01:03 pm

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Movies
Thinkers

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Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam

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With his latest movie Borgman, award-winning Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam has created a dark, comic, incredibly thrilling, and haunting tale that holds the attention long after the final frame.

The film opens with a caption that reads like a quote from the Old Testament:

“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.”

Van Warmerdam has described this as a “perfect summation” of what is to come. But his explanation may quickly be forgotten as the audience is drawn into a tale that is by turns fable, comedy, drama, and horror, leading up to its chilling and inevitable denouement.

Once the caption has gone, we are thrown into a sequence where we witness a priest and two hunters seeking out the mysterious central character Borgman and his two accomplices, who lie sleeping in a giant underground burrow. It is like a dream, a nightmare, where the trio hunt out their quarry by plunging long metal rods into the ground. Nothing is explained (who are these strange men? what have they done?), and we are quickly and cleverly brought straight into the story, pulled along by this thrilling opening.

Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of childhood tales of trolls, or Stoker’s vampires buried with their earth, or even Satan being cast out by the Archangel Michael. These associations may seem intentional and it is easy to connect van Warmerdam’s film with a variety of religious and literary themes, but as he explained to me via email:

“No, that was not my intention. But if you start with [what sounds like] a Bible quote and you immediately show at the beginning a priest who hunts a man under the ground then you should not be surprised if people have these kind of associations.”

Adding by way of explanation:

“I was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy, that is an attractive source to draw from.”

Religious parables can offer inspiration, but there is also another influence at work here, as Van Warmerdam, who writes, directs and stars in his own films, is also an artist—he has been painting since he was a child—and it is this painterly quality (as can be seen most obviously in the reference to Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”) that adds to the quality of van Warmerdam’s cinematic vision.
 
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From his first movie, the tragicomedy Abel (1986), which examined the strange relationship between a father and son, to his next, The Northerners (1992), a wonderfully surreal black comedy set on one street, up to Waiter (2006), van Warmerdam has developed a delightfully dark, often brutally funny, and absurd vision of the world.

When I asked him, who or what had influenced his directing style, van Warmerdam replied, “Jean Pierre Melville, Buñuel, Hitchcock, Laurel and Hardy.” This could be an almost perfect definition of what to expect from an Alex van Warmerdam movie.

All those elements are present in his latest film Borgman. Van Warmerdam has created an utterly fantastic, brilliant, unsettling thriller that examines the insidious nature of evil. It revolves around the eponymous Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who inveigles his way into one middle class family’s life (Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval) with horrifying results. The film suggests that every action, every ill-considered desire, has an inevitable cost—which here is often fatal. On the one hand, the film is like a modern parable, a mix of demonic, domestic satire and violent thriller, as seen through the prism of van Warmerdam’s imagination.

The casting and acting throughout are superb, in particular Bijvoet’s chilling performance, as well as those from Minis and Perceval, and Tom Dewispelaere and van Warmerdam as the accomplices.
 
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How would you descibe the character Borgman?

Alex van Warmerdam: He is an evil version of myself. He does what I would do If I were him.

What was your inspiration for writing the film Borgman’?

AvW: I read an interview with Buñuel in which he tells about one of his great inspirations, the Marquis de Sade. Buñuel: “de Sade commited his crimes only in his imagination as a way to free himself from his criminal tendencies. The imagination can afford all the liberties. It’s something different if you committed these crimes in real life. The imagination is free, man is not.”

In a way this opened my eyes. So I start writing with a bigger feeling of freedom then ever before. I really felt the need to descend into parts of my brain I had never been.

If you see my movie it’s not all that bad. I guess I have nevertheless limits of taste and morality. I have read de Sade, sometimes it’s really disgusting. Compared to him, I am a toddler.

Anyway, the understanding that the imagination can afford all the liberties was a great help during the writing.

What do you hope an audience will take away from your movie?

AvW: I’m not a messenger. It is sufficient for me if they have a good time. Even better is if they are still working on it afterwards.
 
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What are you working on next?

AvW: I start shooting a new film coming in July. It’s called Schneider vs. Bax. It’s a story about a contract killer who has to kill a writer in a little house on a lake. It seems like a simple job, but it appears to be a misconception.

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival ‘Borgman’ is an incredible film, which goes on release from Drafthouse Films in America from June 6th.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Norman Mailer struts his stuff on Merv Griffin

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Norman Mailer walked like a boxer, strutting out of his corner and into the ring. It was probably done for affect, and sometimes it worked, though it often made him look like Benny the Ball from Top Cat.

Mailer did a lot of things for affect. His intonation and accent could change depending on situation, location, and who he was talking to. It probably all started when he was in the army during the Second World War, where Mailer learned to be tough after mixing with big guys who said “fuggin’’” a lot. It was a front he kept up most of his life.

I noticed Mailer’s ability to adapt when I was a kid living living in Scotland, and saw him interviewed on the BBC’s Parkinson chat show. New Jersey-born Mailer opened his mouth and spoke with an English-lilt that suggested possibly Boston, received pronunciation and what he had picked-up during his brief marriage to Lady Jeanne Campbell, daughter of the British press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Accent aside, he was still impressive.

I am a big fan of Norman Mailer, and think him one of the very few authors of the past fifty years who, even with his flaws and excesses, still demands to be read. There is always something to be learnt from Mailer, both good and bad, and that’s what makes him interesting. Here Mailer struts an entrance onto The Merv Griffin Show like he is a boxer, and goes on to talk about writing, presence, being middle-aged, America, communism and Russia.

This clip offers a critique as to what is wrong with most of today’s chat-shows, where there appears to be a dearth of great writers and thinkers sharing their knowledge and yes, plugging their wares. Instead we have the inarticulate pop stars, the reality show nobodies and the actors selling their latest movie, you just know you won’t bother to see. At least with Mailer, you could always pick up some original thought, or observation which might encourage further investigation.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Douglas Rushkoff: Media Theorist for the Age of Occupy
05.27.2014
12:47 pm

Topics:
Activism
Media
Thinkers

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Douglas Rushkoff


 
Congratulations are in order for Dangerous Minds pal Douglas Rushkoff, make that Professor Douglas Rushkoff, as he’ll now be called in his new position at Queens College. From his website this morning:

It’s official. I’m a university professor - and at a public university where you can all come and study and work and devise the future of civilization for cheap. The official press release is below. The skinny? I’ve taken my first university post, as a professor of media studies at CUNY/Queens College, where I’ll be helping to build a first-of-its-kind media studies program. Instead of training people to become advertisers or to write the next useless phone app (and raise VC), I’m going to support people who want to see through the media, and use it to wage attacks on the status quo. This is media studies for Occupiers.

The undergraduate program is in full swing. The graduate program is accepting applications for Spring.

This is my answer to the emails I get every week from people asking where they can study media theory and activism. Come and get it.

Smart professors like Douglas Rushkoff attract smart students and smart students attract even more smart students. A few years back Doug had to be out of town and so I was the guest instructor for one of his NYU graduate studies classes. Smartest bunch of young people I’ve ever been in a room with and the reason they were all there was because of my old friend, that much was obvious.

If there was something like this when I was of college-going age, well I probably would have gone to college myself…

From the press release:

Rushkoff’s move to academia reflects his interest in social justice and the need to build media literacy in the rapidly evolving global media environment. “This is a rally for consciousness,” says Rushkoff. “The essential skill in a digital age is to understand the biases of the landscape – to be able to think critically and act purposefully with these tools – lest the tools and companies behind them use us instead.”

“I wish to foster a deeper awareness and more purposeful implementation of media, and this can be best accomplished at a mission-driven public institution such as Queens College,” says Rushkoff, a native of Queens who was inspired to join the school because of its rich legacy of social dialogue and engagement. “I want to teach a diverse range of students without putting them into lifelong debt. Besides, where better to work on media in the people’s interest than a public university?”

The school’s Media Studies Chair, Professor Richard Maxwell said “The college, with its unique community of students, creative artists, and scholars, has a tradition of cultivating a learning environment supportive of critical thinking and social consciousness. Rushkoff’s contributions to current thinking in technology, media, and society are at the forefront of the evolving study of media. He’s a great fit for our program and will complement our existing faculty in providing a transformative learning experience.”

Good move on the part of Queens College to hire Doug—I mean Professor Rushkoff—he’s a prestige name for the CUNY system in general. Starting in August, Rushkoff will be teaching courses in propaganda and media theory. The new Master of Arts in Media Studies program will be in full swing by Spring of 2015.

Below, a recent Rushkoff talk at the DLD conference earlier this month. I was going to post this anyway, and this announcement gave me the perfect excuse.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Einstein was a Socialist!
05.01.2014
12:51 pm

Topics:
Class War
Thinkers

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Socialism
Albert Einstein

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Another May Day related post, comrades!

Albert Einstein’s famous essay on socialism was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review in May 1949. It’s as relevant in 2014 as it was then, perhaps—especially in light of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital—even more so.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

—Albert Einstein

See also:
Why Socialism? This Guy Einstein is an Idiot (a rebuttal)

The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Slavoj Žižek: The Pervert’s Guide to Abercrombie & Fitch Catalogs
04.02.2014
07:07 am

Topics:
Advertising
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Slavoj Žižek


From bed or from the tub, he will pontificate!
 
I’m not up to snuff on Žižek’s entire canon, but my favorite of his contributions (besides the time he told Occupy Wall Street not to fall in love with ourselves) is his insight into cultural capitalism—here’s an awesome little animated video where he lays it all out. I highly recommend it. The long and short of the talk is a sort of natural extension of Oscar Wilde’s socialist critique of charity. As Wilde points out that charity is used to atone for the fundamentally unjust system of capitalism, Žižek points out that we now try to atone for our consumerism by “voting with our dollar”—he uses Starbuck’s fair trade coffee and Tom’s shoes as two examples.

Basically, I’ve never been much on trying to evade the horrors of capitalism with “ethical consumerism.” For one, there’s just a dearth of “ethical” products left in this world, and two, you can’t dismantle a system simply by avoiding it. I usually say that telling a socialist to fight capitalism by not buying things is like telling an environmentalist to fight pollution by not breathing smog—both impossible and impotent. And I’m sure Žižek would agree. So this 2003 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, featuring copy written by the Slovenian Marxist philosopher himself, comes as no surprise.

The work is a snide little reflection on lust and desire, and it’s a fucking riot—totally befitting the “Karl Marx meets Groucho Marx” style they requested, and certainly an idiom in Žižek’s wheelhouse. If you’re considering the possibility that he’s not totally fucking with you, rest assured, Žižek is a fan of absurdist humor. And in case you don’t believe me, I’ve included a video where he makes the “Lynchian” case for tulips as vagina dentata. Remember folks, there are no clean hands in a dirty world, and there are no clean minds in Marxism!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Via DIS Magazine

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Intellectual Equals: Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir, vintage 1967 interview

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It is difficult to think of Jean-Paul Sartre without thinking of Simone de Beauvoir. They were lovers, comrades, friends whose lives were intrinsically entwined. Each morning they would work separately, then at four o’clock in the afternoon, they would meet and dine at La Palette, continuing their conversation, where it had left off. Then they would return to Sartre’s apartment, where they would work together until evening.

Sartre had moved to a tenth-floor, studio apartment on 222 Boulevardd Raspail in 1962, after the right-wing paramilitary group OAS had twice bombed his previous home on Rue Bonaparte.

It was a modern studio in one of the top floors of a modern building: one big wall full of books, a great leather armchair and a long worktable, thick and old—the kind of table used for meals in a convent—laden with manuscripts. From the table, one could see far into the distance, toward the Eiffel Tower. This new abode was Sartre’s farewell to Saint-Germain-des-Pres, to the postwar period, to the existential explosion—his return to Montparnasse, where, from then on, all those close to him would meet…

In the early 1960s, Sartre’s fame was at its height. He had been famously awarded and then rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964. He was seen internationally as man of intellect, politics and scandal, yet at the same time, Sartre’s strict adherence to his singular brand of politics and philosophy often made him seem outdated to younger radicals and thinkers.

Even though at the time France was excited over Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Lacan, Althusser, and Foucault, Sartre refused to confront their fertile methods of investigation in any way whatsoever, let alone with the open mind that would have been useful in such a confrontation.

In an interview with L’Arc, Sartre restated his central beliefs:

“Philosophy represents totalized man’s struggle to recapture the meaning of totalization. No science can replace it, for each science applies itself to a well-delineated aspect of man… Philosophy is the investigation of praxis, and as such an investigation of man… the important thing is not what one does with man, but what he does with what one has done with him. What one has done with man, these are the structures, the signifiers, that the social sciences study. That which he does is history itself… Philosophy is the hinge.”

To the likes of Foucault, Sartre’s emphasis on:

...consciousness, subjectivity, freedom, responsibility and the self, his commitment to Marxist categories and dialectical thinking… his quasi Enlightenment humanism, Sartre seemed to personify everything that structuralists and poststructuralists like Foucault opposed. In effect, the enfant terrible of mid century France had become the “traditionalist” of the following generation.

Sartre was probably aware of this, and his rejection of the Nobel Prize was in part over a fear of being seen as part of the French establishment. This at a time when Sartre was dedicating himself to a biography of Gustave Flaubert, which Sartre (erroneously) believed would eclipse all of his previous work. This only convinced Michel Foucault that Sartre was a man of the 19th century.

Whilst always seeming to be hidden by the shadow of Sartre, it was in fact Simone de Beauvoir who was becoming far more relevant and radical in the 1960s, as her 1949 epoch-changing book The Second Sex was inspiring a generation of feminist writers and thinkers. There is a slight irony that this interview with Sartre and de Beauvoir, recorded for the French television series Dossiers in 1967, should focus so much attention to Sartre, when it was de Beauvoir’s ideas and writings that were more influential at the time. The film does capture the couple’s unique dynamic and discusses Sartre’s rejection of the Nobel Prize, his biography on Flaubert; while de Beauvoir discusses The Second Sex.  In French with subtitles.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Simone de Beauvoir: Why I am a Feminist
Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘The JG Ballard Book’ celebrates the ‘Seer of Shepperton’
03.21.2014
12:01 pm

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Luca Del Baldo‘s terrific cover portrait of Ballard

This review of The JG Ballard Book is a guest post from Graham Rae

Even though writer James Graham Ballard, the so-called “Seer of Shepperton,” died in 2009, interest in his far-seeing-and-reaching futurologist oeuvre has not waned any. More specifically, his memory and legacy have been kept alive by a dedicated band of Ballardians, as his devotees are known, who converse on a Yahoo group about every JGB-related topic under the (empire of the) sun.

One such dedicated Ballardian is Canadian Rick McGrath. He runs the excellent site www.jgballard.ca, where he has all manner of material on display about the writer – interviews, non-fiction, videos, etc. Shoot on over there and have a look for yourself. Fellow Ballardian James Goddard suggested to McGrath that he might try self-publishing a book, so he put out a call for material to various JGB-interested parties round the world, being pleasantly surprised at the response he got. The JG Ballard Book, of course, is the end result, and is also a self-confessed nod to RE/Search 8/9, V. Vale’s seminal 1984 book which helped introduce Ballard to the American audience.

As I said, it’s self-published (easily available through the usual channels), being ex-adman McGrath’s first ever attempt at publishing, and I’d have to say it’s a damned fine-looking book. Starting with the great painting of Ballard on the cover by extremely talented, amiable Italian painter Luca Del Baldo, the book is jam-packed with 191 pages of well-reproduced full-color Ballard letters, interviews with hand-written corrections by the writer, bibliographies, etc; a real smorgasbord of juicy Ballardania for any fan of the writer. Color photos and cover reproductions and such jump from nearly every page of The JG Ballard Book, and it’s a real pleasure to look at from start to finish. This is a labor of love, and it really shows.

There are a huge amount of first-hand JGB reproductions here, and they’re great to see. I have a few letters from the man myself, having very occasionally corresponded with him in the 90s and noughties, and it’s always great to see his sometimes-cryptic handwriting detailing his deep-dish creative thoughts on some headscratcher existential mystery or other. Besides all the reproducing of JGB handwritten materials, there are also a lot of excellent interpretive articles by Ballard admirers in the book, focusing on some aspect of his work and discussing it at length.

Thus we have Peter Brigg examining the writer’s attempts at transcending/rearranging the human concept of time (“JG Ballard: Time Out of Mind,” a really thought-provoking piece); a discussion of why JGB has been so poorly served with his book covers and what might be done to rectify this, “Visualizing the Ballardian Image” (writer Rick Poynor reckons that ‘narrative figuration’ artist Peter Klasen’s splintered-view images, synchronous with Ballard’s writing during the 60s and 70s, would provide a great marriage of aesthetic minds); inspired-lateral-thinking piece “JG Ballard in the Dissecting Room,” where Mike Bonsall purchased a copy of the same edition of Cunningham’s anatomy book the young JGB used when studying medicine at Cambridge and points out passages in the writer’s work that could have been inspired by the dissection diagrams and explanatory texts; a travelogue of McGrath’s own visit to Ballard’s childhood Shanghai home in “JG Ballard’s Shanghai”; and many more.

Aside from analytical writings, McGrath and his fellow Ballardians (including David Pringle, JGB’s Scottish archivist, who tentatively announced last year his starting work on a definitive Ballard biography) have dug up things like rare interviews never collected anywhere before, or even expanded reprints of already-familiar Q&As. These reminded me of why I started reading Ballard in the first place. I always personally liked his interviews more than a lot of his writing, to be perfectly honest, all those amazing thought processes in full flow and flower, which is why I was so glad to see this sort of stuff included.  The old-worldview-destroying firecrackers and depth charges of deep thought peppered liberally throughout the interviews and fiction were what kept me coming back to Ballard. Stuff like this, from the 1981 short story “News From the Sun,” as singled out by Peter Brigg:

“The whole process of life is the discovery of the imminent past contained in the present. At the same time, I feel a growing nostalgia for the future, a memory of the future I have already experienced but somehow forgotten. In our lives we try to repeat those significant events that have already taken place in the future. As we grow older we feel an increasing nostalgia for our own deaths, through which we have already passed. Equally, we have a growing premonition of our births, which are about to take place. At any moment we may be born for the first time.”

You just think about that for a while. Isn’t that just great? You just feel your brain being buffeted back and forth and up and down and round and about by the strength of Ballard’s intellect and ability at getting philosophical brainteasers down on the page, and it’s just a joy to sit and think about what he has said and run it through our minds, savoring the fine seditious vintage of his brilliant intellect. Nobody else has ever, to my knowledge, written like that, and nobody ever will again. Which is why Ballard’s death left such a huge, unfillable hole in world thought and literature.

And why books like McGrath’s are such a necessity and pleasure. Unlike his American counterpart-cum-literary-outlaw hero William S Burroughs, JG Ballard seems to have already started to slide from view into obscurity. At least on the American side of the Atlantic, that is; in the UK he is still venerated by the London media and chattering classes, and quoted fairly constantly by the likes of Will Self and John Gray, a rent-a-gob duo who seem boringly terminally fixated on JGB at the expense of their own thoughts on things. Still, all in the cause of keeping Ballard’s memory alive, so it’s all well and good. (Hopefully the announced production of High Rise will remedy this also.)

Ballard’s daughter Fay likes The JG Ballard Book a great deal, which should tell you something. It’s perfect for the hardcore Ballard enthusiast, though as an introduction to the writer I think it may be a bit esoteric, as it assumes a familiarity with the subject matter under discussion. But the interviews and interpretive pieces might provide an inroad into Ballard’s work and thought for those uninitiated would-be readers who wonder what all the fuss was and is about. McGrath, bolstered by the way the volume turned out, and the good reception it has had, is already planning a second volume to be published through The Terminal Press, his own wee publishing house. If the quality of this volume is anything to go by, with the amount of uncollected Ballardania floating round the world, the Canadian may be keeping JG Ballard’s memory alive for many years to come, and that would be nothing but a good thing.
 

A 2003 BBC profile of Ballard

Previously from Graham Rae on Dangerous Minds:
Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel: Nailing a whole lot of ‘Hole’ and ‘Nail,’ an exegesis

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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J. G. Ballard: Undermining bourgeois certainties and ‘Empire of the Sun’
02.17.2014
10:15 am

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Writing is a very peculiar existence, J. G. Ballard told an audience during an interview for his novel Empire of the Sun, at the ICA London, in 1984.

”Unlike playwrights, composers, sculptors and painters who can go to first nights and gallery openings and alike, the writer never sees his audience. I mean, I have never in my life seen anybody reading one of my books.”

Ballard’s knowledge of his audience came from the letters he received, mainly written by teenage Science Fiction fans. He believed his audience was limited as the reading of such speculative or “imaginative fiction—which is not popular on the whole—is a very solitary business.”

”It’s an extreme fiction made out of extreme metaphors, and I think only people with that taste for extreme solutions are going to be drawn to imaginative fiction. Let’s face it, if Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland were published for the first time now they would meet with rather a mixed response. Imaginative fiction is not popular as a whole, I don’t think.”

Ballard devoted his whole career to imaginative fiction, and was more influenced by the Surrealists than his favorite novelists Graham Greene and William Burroughs.

”I have a great built in hostility towards the realistic social novel because it does tend to accept society as it finds it. I feel it is particularly dangerous in sort of puritanical, northern European countries like this one, where there’s a polite distaste for going too far—for going anywhere at all practically.

“I have devoted my career, for what it’s worth, to undermining the bourgeois certainties wherever I can, and the bourgeois novel is target number one on my list. I see the writer’s role as important but I recognize, and one has got to be a realist, most people prefer cosy certainties of life to permanent revolution, as the Surrealists called it, but that doesn’t discourage me at all.”

Empire of the Sun was the first of Ballard’s fictional autobiographies, loosely based on his childhood experiences as a prisoner-of-war at Lunghua Civilian Assembly in Shanghai during World War II. The novel was his most successful and was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987. In this interview with Matthew Hoffman, Ballard briefly discusses this book, his career as a writer up to 1984, as well as giving his views on America and the rise of China.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘A Field in England’: Director Ben Wheatley talks about his head-trip Civil War movie

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There’s an horrific scene in Ben Wheatley’s latest film, the truly excellent A Field in England, which proves the merit of the old adage that the most gruesome moments in any movie are more effectively achieved when they are suggested rather than revealed.

In this particular scene, the character Whitehead (superbly played by Reece Shearsmith) is tortured by the diabolical O’Neill (another excellent performance from Michael Smiley). Rather than showing what happens, Wheatley audaciously keeps any physical violence out-of-vision, leaving only Shearsmith’s terrifying screams to suggest the worst, the very worst. It is one cinema’s genuinely horrific and visceral moments, and yet nothing is ever seen.

A Field in England confirms Ben Wheatley as the most talented and original film-maker to come out of Britain since the glory days of Ken Russell, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and John Boorman in the swinging sixties.

Unlike most young directors who show flair with one type of genre film before going on to make variations of the same time-and-again, Wheatley has shown with his first four films that he is an immensely talented and important film-maker, whose movies defy easy categorization yet engage their audience with intelligent and sometimes disturbing ideas.

His first major film Down Terrace was a blackly comic tale of murder and violence set in a working class family home, which Wheatley co-wrote with the film’s star Robin Hill. It was described as being like The Sopranos as directed by Mike Leigh. It’s a nice soundbite but doesn’t quite encapsulate the thrilling intelligence that was at work behind the camera.

Wheatley’s next film was the brutal, disturbing but utterly brilliant Kill List, which contained one of the most harrowing endings ever committed to celluloid. Kill List was written by Wheatley and his wife, the writer Amy Jump, and starred Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley.

Having shown his aptitude for gangster and horror films, Wheatley then made the black comedy Sightseers, written by the film’s lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, in conjunction with Amy Jump.

Wheatley’s latest film A Field in Englandwas also written by Jump, and together this talented duo have created an intelligent head trip, a radical genre-bender, that mixes alchemy and the occult, with history, horror, psychedelia and folk tales. Starring The League of Gentleman‘s Reece Shearsmith, along with Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, and a terrifying Michael Smiley, A Field in England is certainly one of the best films of 2013-14.

Without giving too much away, the movie centers around four men escaping from a battle during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when the forces of democracy or Parliament (the Roundheads) fought against the Royalist armies (the Cavaliers) for control of England. The main players in this war were the Cavalier, King Charles I and the Roundhead, Oliver Cromwell, and the poor canon fodder in-between.

Wheatley’s interest in this momentous period of English history came through his work with the Sealed Knot Society, a group of individuals who specialize in reconstructing battles from the English Civil War.
 
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‘A Field in England’ is in cinemas now, or can be watched from Drafthouse Films here.
 

 
The interview with Ben Wheatley follows after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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