Don’t try to interpret Susan Sontag’s ‘Duet for Cannibals’
02:17 pm


Susan Sontag

In 1969, the American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag made her first film Duet for Cannibals AKA Duett för kannibaler in Sweden. Like Goddard and Truffaut before her, when Sontag moved from serious critique to the arthouse, she stayed quite true to her own ideas about cinema.

In her seminal 1966 essay, “Against Interpretation,” Sontag wrote:

The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.

In her writing, Susan Sontag sought to liberate art from interpretation (which is a bit ironic, of course, from someone who was essentially an exalted critic). When it came to her own film, she made something that intended to deliberately confound the notion that there was any sort of underlying meaning beyond exactly what the audience was seeing on the screen directly in front of them.

More from “Against Interpretation”:

Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. (“Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, in other words.

Sontag’s definition of “interpretation,” then—what she’s agin’—is selectively taking only certain elements from a work of art and then using them for the purpose of “translating” the work in a particular context (Marxist, Freudian), as opposed to simply accepting it. What you see is what you get and stop looking for the subtext or allegory in everything. Art should be sensuous and just wash over you is how, I, er… guess I interpret it.

Vincent Canby wrote something along these same lines in a 1969 New York Times article about the films on offer at The New York Film Festival that year:

“The key to the enjoyment of the film…can be found in Miss Sontag’s essays. It’s not because the film recalls either Godard or Bresson, about whom Miss Sontag has written with extraordinary insight. Rather it’s because the film adamantly refuses interpretation on any level but he surface one. It simply is what it is, a self-contained comedy of set pieces, some of which sort of remind you of events (political and psychological) out-side the film without ever actually representing those events.”

Here’s what Roger Greenspun wrote about the film in another 1969 New York Times review:

The cannibals are a middle-aged radical German political activist and the theoretician, Bauer—Hans Erborg—living with his young Italian wife Francesca—Miss Asti—in Sweden. Their victims are a young Swede who goes to work as Bauer’s secretary, and his mistress, who eventually finds herself working as the Bauers’s cook and companion. For all the movie tells us, Bauer’s credentials are real enough (down to a chrome-plated cigarette lighter—gift of Bertolt Brecht), but everything in his present life partakes of fraud calculated to intrigue, upset, and entrap his assistant.

His erratic and violent behavior, the temptation palpably and leeringly offered of his beautiful young wife, eventually the intellectual challenge of what move he will make next, engage the young man and put him repeatedly off balance.

Before it is all over the girl is at work too, making love to the master, accepting advances from the mistress, feeding and being fed by both of them, and lying between them in their connubial bed.

There are too many insane people in the world, comments the young hero after he is attacked by a madman on a city street, and of course he includes the Bauers, who also attack—and win—because they try anything and stand by nothing.

Nevertheless, I don’t think “Duet for Cannibals” means to be a parable about the power of the insane over the sane, or the strong over the weak, or even the inventively absurd over the rational and passionate. I don’t know what it does mean to be, and I am content for a while to rest with its moods and its complicated, often funny motions.

Greenspun went on to say that he didn’t really like Duet for Cannibals and found it a failure in the very next paragraph, but one can’t help but to feel that Sontag must’ve been pleased that at least Greenspun “got” what she was trying to achieve.

It used to be that Duet for Cannibals was next to impossible to see, but now it’s on YouTube like everything else. Enjoy, but please don’t interpret it, okay?

Bonus: Susan Sontag and French director Agnes Varda chat with Newsweek’s film critic Jack Kroll at the seventh annual New York Film Festival in 1969:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Michel Foucault: Beyond Good and Evil
12:51 pm


Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault: Beyond Good and Evil, director David Stewart’s superb 1993 portrait of the social theorist of power in history manages to squeeze a lot of information into its short 42 minutes and provides a pretty adequate introduction to Foucault’s life and work.

Foucault’s acid trip at Zabriskie Point watching the sun set over Death Valley listening to Stockhausen (which the philosopher described as the greatest experience of his life) is recreated, as is a 1947 performance of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre Of Cruelty. Foucault’s drug use, his participation in the sadomasochistic San Francisco leather scene and death from AIDS in 1984 at the age of 57 are also covered.

In various languages, but there are English subtitles when it’s necessary.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Society of The Spectacular Toys: Guy Debord, Situationist action figure!

Yeah, it’s great that doctors can print casts and prosthetic legs and stuff, but to my mind, this is what 3-D printing was invented for…

Behold cultural theorist Mackenzie Wark’s limited edition Guy Debord figurine. Two-hundred of these post-Marxist bad boys were printed up. The project was conceived and designed by Wark, Peer Hansen and Rachel L. Verso Books gave away one of them to promote Wark’s new book, The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century.

If you happen to own a 3-D printer, or have access to one, you can download the plans for your own 3-D Guy (that rhymes, btw), here, as the plans were released under a Creative Commons license. Rather predictably, Wark’s clever publicity stunt brought on humorless protest from Situationist-types.

There’s also a remixed version of the Debord figurine with Stelarc’s 3rd Ear on his back and Eduardo Kac’s infamous “Alba” bunny ears. That one you’d probably want to print up in fluorescent lime green…

Imagine a Lenny Bruce action figure, or Robert Anton Wilson, Wittgenstein, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Grace Slick, James Joyce, Vivian Stanshall, Orson Welles, Nico… I’m sure they’re all on their way soon.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
The single most ‘French’ moment in all of 1972: Jacques Lacan accosted, but no one stops smoking
08:20 am


Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan is all well and good, if you’re into all that Freudian post-structuralism stuff. With his emphatic delivery, the dude really is quite an engaging speaker. I mean, he was Slavoj Žižek’s primary theoretical influence, and from the looks of it, an inspiration for Žižek’s stage presence as well. I guess when you’re lecturing on the limitations of language, you’d better have a little stagecraft to sugar all that theory to keep the punters from dozing off.

As anyone who’s ever been to a speaking event with a public intellectual knows, the best part is not the speakers; the best part is the inevitable interruption by crazies who can’t garner an audience of their own, but never fail to seize the opportunity to preach their wisdom to the unwilling masses assembled to hear someone else! A few minutes in, we see a young (somewhat unsteady) kid approach Lacan’s desk, dunk his hands into a pitcher of… something, pour that something all over Lacan’s materials and then start making grand proclamations in the idiom of The Situationist International, which is like, totally anti-authoritarian and Marxist in context, you guys!

Not content to simply soapbox on Guy Debord, the Situationist wackadude flings the formerly pitcher-bound residue on his hands directly into the face of the much smaller Lacan, apparently in an effort to prove his “authenticity” (if only to himself!). Over 70 years old at this time, Lacan guards himself against potential assault before the Situationist is finally escorted out. Lacan continues talking. And Lacan continues smoking.

Maybe I’m just a common prole, wee-wee’d up on reality tee-vee, but the interaction between the erratic “revolutionary” Situationist and the intense (but accommodating) Lacan is way more entertaining than what either of them have to say. The nonchalance of the crowd in the presence of this philosophical hissy fit is downright golden. Even the chic girl in the hat who tried to corral the interruption doesn’t take the cigarette out of her mouth!

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
The NEXT American revolution: Concentrated wealth and power will either implode or fade way
11:33 am

Class War

Charles Hugh Smith

Some July 4th thoughts on revolution as a process rather than an event from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

The next American Revolution will not be an event, it will be a process. We naturally turn to the past for templates of the future, but history has a way of remaining remarkably unpredictable. Indeed, all the conventional long-range forecasts made in 1900, 1928, 1958, 1988 and 2000 missed virtually every key development—not just in the distant future, but just a few years out.

The point is that extrapolating the present into the future fails to capture sea changes and developments that completely disrupt the supposedly unchanging, permanent Status Quo. The idea that the next revolution will take a new form does not occur to conventional forecasters, who readily assume the next transition will follow past critical junctures: armed insurrection against the central authority (The first American Revolution, 1781), civil war (1861) or global war (1941).

I submit that the next American Revolution circa 2021-23 will not repeat or even echo these past transitions. What seems likely to me is the entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance as centralization increasingly yields diminishing returns.

Everything centralized, from the Federal Reserve to the Too Big To Fail Banks to Medicare to the National Security State depends on the Federal government being a Savior State that must ceaselessly expand its share of the national income and its raw power lest it implode. All Savior States have one, and only one trajectory—they must ceaselessly expand and concentrate wealth and power or they will fail.

They are like the shark, which dies once it stops moving forward: the Savior State must push forward on its trajectory of expansion or it expires.

Stasis is not possible, nor is contraction; the promises made to the citizenry cannot be withdrawn without political instability, but the promises cannot be kept without fatally disrupting the neofeudal financialized debtocracy.

You see the dilemma: The Savior State cannot stop expanding, but the financial system that generates its revenues can no longer support its vast machinery of debt and phantom collateral. This is why I suggest all the centralized concentrations of wealth and power will either implode or fade into irrelevance.

If all the phantom wealth and collateral vanishes in a market clearing event, the Federal Reserve will simply become irrelevant to the vast majority of people. A handful of nimble speculators may well benefit by picking over the carcass of financialization and centralized omnipotence (i.e. central banking), and perhaps the 1/10th of 1% will still have enough assets influenced by the Fed to care, but the forces of disruption will replace centralization with decentralization.

Here is another example: Medicare may not cease to exist, but it will become increasingly irrelevant to most people because it will not longer function. The remaining doctors willing to treat Medicare patients will be working 13-hour days for sketchy pay, and as each one burns out and leaves the system, the system contracts. Eventually it contracts to the point of irrelevance.

The revolution will be in work and social innovations enabled by technology. The conventional view is that technology will magically enable the permanence of the present; this will be proven incorrect, as what technology enables is not the waste, entitlement and centralization that characterize the present but social innovations, some of which are already visible.

If we sought to summarize the profound transformation ahead in one sentence, it would be this: Wages are no longer an adequate model for distributing the surplus generated by the economy.

The current Savior State model responds to this by increasing taxes on the dwindling minority with fulltime jobs and increasing entitlement payments to all those without government or private-sector jobs. This model will collapse, politically, socially and economically, as no society or economy can squander half or more of its productive labor force while increasing the burden on the dwindling cohort of productively employed. The inevitable result of this dynamic is a destabilizing tyranny of the majority.

Technology is not just disrupting old industries and companies, it is disrupting the entire Savior State/cartel-capitalism model. The disruption has barely begun, but it will pick up speed over the next decade.

I suspect the next American Revolution will begin in the 2015-16 timeframe. A series of interlocking crises will lead to reforms that preserve the Savior State/ cartel-capitalism for another few years, at a lower level of consumption, i.e. burn rate.

But the process of revolution will be far from complete; this initial response of the centralized neofeudal debtocracy will buy time for the Status Quo, and every conventional onlooker will be infused with optimism and hope that the system established in the Great Depression, World War II and its Cold War aftermath—the secular religion of consumerism (i.e. aggregate demand), permanent war footing and the National Security State, and universal dependence on the Savior State and its ceaseless expansion of concentrated wealth and power—will continue.

But this Springtime for the Savior State/cartel-capitalism partnership will be brief, and by 2018-19 all the systemic flaws and disruptive trends will reassert themselves with renewed vigor.

The entire current model of governance, social order and the economy will be revolutionized not by overthrow but by the process of irrelevance. What will become relevant will no longer be in the control of the Savior State or its partner, financialized cartel capitalism.

Those currently holding all the concentrated power and wealth cannot believe they will become irrelevant, but that’s the result of projecting the present as if it is permanent and immutable.

The new system will be better, more humane, more flexible, more transparent, with more opportunity, for it will be everything the current corrupt, sclerotic, parasitic and exploitative system is not.

Previously on Dangerous Minds from Charles Hugh Smith:
Concentrated wealth and power are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature

Global Crisis: The Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka

Will crushing student loan debt and worthless college degrees radicalize the Millennial generation?

Wage Slaves: Are You Loving Your Servitude Yet?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Noam Chomsky thinks Slavoj Žižek is full of shit
10:44 am


Noam Chomsky
Slavoj Žižek

Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, doesn’t have much respect for the sesquipedalian bad boy of postmodernist philosophers, Slavoj Žižek, and he doesn’t mince words expressing his disdain, either.

In an excerpt from an interview with Veterans Unplugged in December of 2012, Chomsky was asked about Žižek, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. Here’s what he said:

What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.

Elsewhere the famed MIT professor and tireless political activist has called followers of postmodernist philosophers like Žižek “cults.”

I got to shake Noam Chomsky’s hand at a lefty fund-raiser in Los Angeles in the early 90s and he had a very “saintly,” very kindly and patient sort of aura to him then. The older Chomsky gets, though, the crankier he gets. I kind of like that. I sincerely hope he writes a book for posthumous publication called Fuck You Assholes: You All Fuckin’ Suck or something like that.

You just know he’s got it in him.

Via Open Culture

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
David Lynch: A Must-See interview on ‘Scene By Scene’ from 1999

Photo by Chris Saunders
David Lynch doesn’t like giving interviews. He has to be coaxed by interviewer Mark Cousins, to give answers to his questions.

Mark Cousins: David Lynch, you don’t like doing interviews, do you?

David Lynch: No I don’t.

Mark Cousins: Why are you sitting on this sofa then?

David Lynch: To do you a great favor.

Lynch certainly does a great favor here, in this fine documentary Scene By Scene, as the cult director goes on to explain his thoughts on films and film-making:

A film is its own thing. And in an ideal world, I think film should be discovered knowing nothing, and nothing should be added to it, and nothing should be subtracted from it.

The usually taciturn Lynch then opens-out about his life; his insecurities (why he once wore three ties); his ideas on the speed of rooms; why he doesn’t follow politics (‘I don’t understand the concept of two sides’); and his response to criticism in his portrayal of women:

..the problem is that somebody sees a woman in a film, and then mistakenly assumes that that is the way the person sees all women, when in actuality it’s just that particular woman within this particular story.

The interview concludes with Cousins asking Lynch about his thoughts on mortality.

Inside, we’re ageless.  And when we talk to ourselves, it’s the same person we were talking to, the same age, when we were little, and it’s the body that’s changing around that ageless center.

Recorded prior to the release of The Straight Story, this fifty-minute documentary, made by BBC Scotland, gives great insight into David Lynch and his method of film-making.

Watch it—before it’s gone!

A full transcript of the interview with David Lynch can be found here.

Via IndieWire

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Conner Habib, gay porn wizard, stops by the Ultraculture Podcast
02:03 pm


Conner Habib

Conner Habib
Conner Habib is a gay porn star and educator—as well as being an avid student of the occult and, in particular, the works of esoteric thinker Rudolf Steiner.

He’s written for Salon, Out and many others—and is currently making a name for himself with a pro-sexuality, pro-spirituality message. After studying at the University of Massachusetts with evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, Conner left a career in academia and education to set sail on the high seas of adult entertainment—and also as an independent writer and lecturer. His candor and openness as a pro-sexuality advocate are matched by his eloquence as a speaker on the subject of experimental spirituality and magick. In short, he’s the Timothy Leary of gay porn—and the embodiment of Middle America’s worst nightmares.

It might be good, then, that Middle America doesn’t know he exists—yet.

Conner stopped by my Ultraculture podcast to have a chat about magick and the Western Esoteric Tradition—the tradition of scientifically-minded inquiry into the spiritual world which runs throughout Western history and has been represented by thinkers like Steiner, Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley and many, many others.

We had a great conversation not only about spirituality and “higher consciousness” but also about the nature of the self, interconnectedness, meditation, the Gaia Hypothesis and many other avenues of higher consciousness. It was a great chat, enlivened by Conner’s insistence on warmth and compassion.

(Conner is also about to offer an online course through Evolver, “How to Start a (Sexual) Revolution,” featuring guests Samuel Delaney, Duncan Trussell, Buck Angel and Tristan Taormino. Registration is discounted through June 7.)

Check out the podcast at Jason Louv’s Ultraculture!

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
Visionary artist Paul Laffoley: Sci-Fi Leonardo da Vinci
02:34 pm


Paul Laffoley

For our readers in London—and there are quite a lot of you, so don’t fuck this one up (and tell all your friends)—next Tuesday at the Southbank Centre’s Hayworth Gallery, visionary artist Paul Laffoley will be giving one of his mind-bending lectures accompanied by a slide show of dozens and dozens of his elaborate paintings and drawings.

Let me state this clearly, London-based DM readers: Next Tuesday, you will have the rare opportunity to meet one of the most fascinating people alive on the planet today. I truly believe that you will be stunned, I repeat, stunned, by what you’ll see there that evening. Paul Laffoley’s a Sci-Fi Leonardo da Vinci, a Bodhisattva reborn as a mild-mannered Harvard-trained architect/artist/inventor.

In short, the man is a dazzling genius and I’m reasonably sure that you, London-based reader, yes, I am talking to YOU, here, don’t have anything better to do that evening. In fact, I know that you don’t.

From the Southbank Centre’s website:

An opportunity to hear artist Paul Laffoley, whose practice has been defined as ‘the conversion of mysticism into mechanics’.

Paul Laffoley works with texts and images to create new ways of thinking about time and space, dream and mysticism, magic and consciousness. He has also designed a time machine and a prayer gun.

His appearance, to celebrate the opening of The Alternative Guide to the Universe, is a unique chance to hear someone The New York Times recently hailed as ‘one of the most unusual creative minds of our time’.

You hear that? It’s not just me, it’s The New York Times, too… Miss this at your own later regret, truly. The lecture begins at 6:30.

The Alternative Guide to the Universe is curated by Ralph Rugoff and will be exhibited from June 11th to August 26th at Southbank Centre’s Hayworth Gallery.

There’s another major Laffoley exhibit going on at The Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. That show, Paul Laffoley: Premonitions of the Bauharoque, opened in April and will continue through September 15, 2013.

Below, an interview that I conducted with Paul Laffoley about his work in 1999 for British television:

Thank you Douglas Walla of Kent Fine Art in NYC

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Slavoj Žižek on Gangnam Style & Justin Bieber: ‘It’s so disgusting you have to hear it’
12:52 pm

Pop Culture

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek might just be the world’s foremost intellectual prostitute, but it still feels novel to hear him riff on these bulwarks of relatively recent mass culture, not to mention relate “Gangnam Style” (“your first reaction is maybe, ‘fuck them stupid Koreans’”) to his beloved Jacques Lacan.

And who’d have thought he’d seen Kung Fu Panda five times!

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
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