Saturday, 28 December 2013

Law and morality

There has always been a major dichotomy between law and morality. To many the law, whatever the 'law' consists of, must be adhered to. If it is broached, the offender must be punished.

Laws are social constructs. They can either be moral or immoral. Legislation is passed by leaders of various political persuasions. Even a political constitution, the bed-rock of any society, can be immoral. To cling to a constitution which has clearly led to dire consequences - such as gun ownership in the USA - is ludicrous.

If a person finds the law immoral, he should break it. Insisting on being law-abiding for the sake of being abiding is the same as being reverent or pious. It is a dogmatic adherence to something toxic.

A governing body is capable of passing immoral actions and illegal ones at that too. In the case of the Iraq war, the UN charter declared the war illegal. Whilst no war can ever be moral, it cannot be denied that this middle eastern misadventure was carried out with mendacity. It was a gruesomely pointless war which was never justified. If a governing body commits such an egregious war crime, direct action should be taken against it.

Palestine is not a recognised state. If Palestine does not 'legally' exist, does this discredit Palestinian culture and people?  And when the Israeli state illegally occupies Palestinian land, how is this justified? Once more, 'illegal' direct action should be taken to curtail these coercive measures. Although it is not a constitution as such, the utopian ideal of Zionism justifies these actions. This reflects the toxic Machiavellian idea of the ends justifying the means. The foundation of an existing society - be it Zionism or the American constitution - should not continually enforced throughout the centuries if it results in such turmoil.

One of the main charges taken against Wiki Leaks is that they 'broke the law.' Bradley Manning's leaks revealed the sheer blood lust of American troops. Edward Snowen has revealed the security breach and phone tapping carried out by Bush and Obama. It is patently clear that if the government is undertaking such immoral actions, which have dire consequences, it cannot hide under the meretricious cloak of the 'law.' The truth about immoral actions undertaken by governments must be revealed, otherwise citizens are being hoodwinked.

This is why Wiki Leaks is such an invaluable source. The only option is to reveal immoral acts undertaken by governments. Rousseau believed that humans were born free and that that freedom was deprived when we are conditioned by society. If we want to reclaim that freedom, we should not dogmatically adhere to these socially constructed strictures.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Hitchcock blondes

For most people, the archetypal sexy actress is Marilyn Monroe. Although she had her own personal issues, she typically played a naive and coquettish young woman. Her attractiveness certainly has not dated, granted. Yet what she lacks is a complex personality to boot. You certainly get that with Hitchcock blondes who by contrast are neurotic, obsessive and emotionally troubled.

Most would see these characters as narrative devices. This artificiality only makes them more desirable. The hysterical woman is a character that has recurred in literature for a long time. Madness, however, is consummately attractive. It promises the kind of catharsis you find in tragedy, the kind of intense relationship you thought was only confined to the realm of fiction. The teacher-student or older-younger relationship entails power-submission. All these relationship suggest illicitness. They are a dark room full of monsters only you have a key to. (Forgive the trite metaphor.) Perhaps it only exists in the realm of desire and onanism. Once you engaged in such a relationship it might prove too much to bear. Disappointingly, it could prove tedious. Nonetheless, in literature and film, the hysterical/neurotic woman is what centres the obsessions of the (typically male) protagonist. For all these reasons, I find Hitchcock blondes attractive.

The character Scottie initially finds the Madeleine in Vertigo attractive because she is one big riddle. Her story, of her being a reincarnation of a portrait subject in the 19th century, piques his interest. He stalks her, notices her unusual routine and he in effect repeats her unusual behaviour. This contributes to his own eventual breakdown. She is one bid riddle he is intent on solving. Her eventual death brings this to a close and all he has left is a nebulous puzzle he cannot solve. His fear of heights prevents him from saving her from her suicide. He suffers a breakdown.

The woman here is positioned as an anti-feminist object of desire. Scottie is fixated on her. She does not have an identity. (Slavoj Zizek mentioned that it is implicit in the film that Scottie undresses her whilst unconscious.) Once Madeleine passes on, he finds another woman who bears an uncanny resemblance. He forces her to dye her hair blonde and to wear Madeleine's clothing. He is intent on moulding this woman to his liking. He projects onto her Madeleine's non-defined identity. Following this, they must repeat the same routines and visit the same locations.


In the critically panned Marnie, the central protagonist is terrified of men. (This is explained by a terribly disappointing and predictable ending where she witnessed her prostitute mother murder a client.) She is pursued by a wealthy man who tries to win her over. They get married, but she constantly refuses her body. On their honeymoon, she is effectively raped by him.

Controversially perhaps, the fractured relationship is resumed. Marnie overcomes her childhood trauma and we assume that what entails is a healthy and reciprocal relationship. Still, she is constantly harangued by her husband who is more excited by the prospect of carnal desires than her conflicted personality. Her refusal to give consent positions her as an unattainable object of desire he has to work his outmost to dominate.

These two films are examples of more psychologically-driven films. In plenty other Hitchcock films, the blonde is an agent of suspense and cliffhanger thrills. It cannot be denied that this is an often sexist stereotyping of women. Still, these women are often intelligent and emotionally complex. They do not attractive the male protagonists because they are physically alluring. They are attractive because their complex personalities promise a desire which is ultimately thwarted.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Why I became a materialist

Back in my high-octane teens, my sensory perception was the polar opposite of what it is now. Now I see everything through rose-tinted glasses. With my brain addled by psychiatric medicine (added to that a - medically prohibited - weekly downing of red wine), everything seems hazy. Before I had an excitable consciousness. My thoughts raced like a 500 mph. head-on-collision. My dreams were so palpable that I thought that therein laid a whole new reality that transcended waking life. I was an Idealist, in that I believed that everything was mental. (Idealism is named after 'ideas,' rather than on the popular usage.) Reality was illusory and had to be doubted as much as possible. The only space that was real was inside my own head.

The Cartesian model of doubt - 'I think therefore I am' - is intellectually alluring. Beyond that, I can no longer subscribe to it. Berkely's arguement was that sense-data was the only way of confirming our perceptions and that therefore nothing can be known apart from what is known inside our own minds. 'Ideas' are anything that is immediately perceived. When we perceive a tree, it is only real because we perceive it. Whilst Berkely admits that the tree continues to exist, this is because God continues to perceive it. These physical objects continue to exist because God perceives them and we are only have a partial perception of it. Thus, it is God's perception which enables all to see, more or less, the same tree. Beyond that, everything is made up of minds and ideas and nothing in the world is real.

This is, of course, dubious. I took a book out of the university library that went to great lengths to make all sorts of mathematical calculations, that I did not understand, to falsify it. But you do not really need to use maths to falsify it. For example, if I were to engage in conversation with a different person, he/she might bring to light a piece of trivia/knowledge/chat that was not previously stored in my sense-data. New information storms into my brain every day when I pick up a newspaper. Whilst Berkeley attributes this consistency to the existence of God, that is plainly dogmatic. Empirical science can demonstrate that this external consistency is the result of energy and matter. That's it, plain and simple. No heavenly kingdom. No mental illusion. Hence, I have become a materialist.

Whilst I was not familiar with these arguments in my late teens, and I was agnostic about the existence of God, I subscribed to the idea that everything was mental. What ultimately caused this shift is that as I became solipsistic, as I believed that my own mind was the only existing entity in the universe, I became completely psychotic. When that happened, reality crashed down on me and I realised that material objects were indeed eminently, inescapably, real.

But, ultimately, this materialist outlook opens up a lot of possibilities. Stripped of transcendence, our position in the high echelons of the animal kingdom is vanquished. We are only animals. Yet, if we consider that the universe is only comprised of energy and matter, we are in for a starling revelation. Our chances of our being here are quadruple-to-one. Life in the universe is extremely improbable. The human brain is the most sophisticated instrument scientists can find in the universe. If this is the case, should we not do something constructive with our finite existences before the sun burns out and our precarious world is no more?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Thoughts on music consumption

This is the first of a series of videos I recorded over the summer.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

My favourite films of the year, 2013

I regret that I have not updated this blog much of late. Although I have several ideas in store, I simply have not found the time. Curse you, dissertation! And I haven't even started writing you yet!

In the previous two years, I selected my favourite three films released theatrically in the UK at the time. Last year there were a lot of enchanting corkers I did not write about. So this year I have decided to compile a list of the top ten films released this year. Why would I need to write just about three films? Is this an austerity blog? No, I hope not! Self-imposing constraints like that is silly and will get us nowhere!

I was hoping of writing in great length about each film, though I think that I will keep it as concise as possible. Concision is elegant.

The list will start with the TENTH film and move down to the FIRST film. That will keep you on your toes.

There are no blockbusters here, sadly. I prefer arty films, it seems. Chances are that you will not have seen any of the films listed below. If that is the case, do not feel ashamed. If anything, I should feel ashamed of myself for going to the local arthouse every weekend when you, dear reader, dutifully chase birds.

10: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Documentary) (Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, Russia/UK)

Totalitarianism is now at an outmoded concept. The only true totalitarian society today would be North Korea. What we do have now is authoritarianism and illiberal forms of democracy. Russia has both right now.

Pussy Riot are a feminist punk band who performed in a Russian cathedral. The song they sang had the lyric 'God shit.' They were sentenced to two years in prison for inciting religious hatred. This documentary has fly-on-the-wall material of their court case, talking heads and footage of Pussy Riot up to shenanigans.

Their prison sentence has intensified Russia's problems with orthodox religion, its shady corruption and its treatment of homosexuals and minorites. It has also put further strain on its leading autocrat Putin. This is a enthralling documentary which has a lot to reveal about the country on a political and social level as well as being a case study of the provocative ladies.

9. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, USA)

Semantically, this is quite probably a turkey. It has nothing revealing nor incisive to say. In fact, it is riddled with epigrams about love that are quite frankly stomach turning.

But, on a purely visual level, this is one of the best experiences I have ever had in a cinema. Each scene is a little masterpiece in its own right. I was captivated by Malick's masterful shots of cathedrals, ebbing tides and meadows. I will say that again: it is masterful.

This is Malick's sixth film and it has echoes of Tarkovksy's Nostalghia. Beautiful to watch, but marred by its own towering ego.

Why should film be strictly narrative, anyway? Can't we go to the cinema and be in awe of the technical flair of directors like Malick?

8. The Gatekeepers (Documentary) (Dror Moreh, Israel)

This is a cinematic coup. Six of the former heads of Israel's security service are interviewed at length. There are plenty of revelations about the heinous ways in which the Palestinians have been repressed.

In one startling instance, one of the older former heads mentioned that it was 'great' that Hamas started because they started to have a lot of work in hand. All the agents, though guarded at times, are thoughtful and articulate.

On many instances they seem to agree that their methods are brutal and that what Israel has done is unjust. They even agree that a two-state solution should be on the cards. Shouldn't heads of state take notice?

7. In the Fog (Sergei Loznista, Russia)

This is a brilliant, brooding, atmospheric film. It is set in the second world war in a Nazi occupied sector of Russia. It follows the ways in which Russian peasants help the SS and their ensuing ignominy in the local town. At times elliptical, it also has the quality of great Russian literature - slow, introspective and bloody.

6. Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, USA/Austria)

Avan-Garde filmmaking is often nothing more than a cold intellectual exercise. This is why this films is such a gem in that it is avant-garde filmmaking which is beautiful to watch and has emotional resonance.

It follows an unlikely friendship the guard of a museum strikes with a Canadian tourist in Vienna. The film follows the guard's lifestyle of quietly contemplating the paintings on display and observing the expressions of the visitors. It is full of insights on the masterpieces.

What I think is the greatest achievement of the film is the way Cohen shoots Vienna. Litter and debris is reconfigured as static paintings. (Cohen's filmography consists of museum exhibitions and this is first feature film.)

5. NO (Pablo Larraín, Chile)

Pablo Larraín's film has made quite a big impact internationally. This is surprising in that it is about a very specific moment in Chilean history: the advertising campaign for the NO bid in the 1988 referendum.

The film is shot in the 80s video, so it has the same look of the time. The cast includes the actual politicians of the campaign (alongsde Gael Garcia Bernal, of course), again lending it a touch of authenticity.

It is also charged with a lot of humour. The scenes with Pinochet are particularly funny, because what he says is so ridiculous.

The film is very ironic in the way it posits its argument. Yes, Pinochet is deposed, but he is deposed with his own language. The NO campaign wins with cheery coca-cola styled ads. Once democracy is installed the leader of the campaign is shown making more innocent TV adverts. Although Chile has democracy, it continues to clutch to free markets.

4. The Act of Killing (Documentary) (Jossen Oppenheimer, International Co-Production)

500,000 people were killed in three days in the Indonesian genocide of 1965. 'Gangs' were assigned this gruesome task. This film follows them now and asks them to recreate their murders (play-acting, of course). This results in some disconcerting, and at times downright strange, viewing.

The film is interested more in spectacle than in examination - there is no historical context of the genocide, for instance - but it is one of the most striking and eye-opening films of recent times. It is also an interesting film on the nature of guilt. Many are unrepentant, though one is haunted by nightmares. In one bizarre dream sequence, the gangster is given a 'medal' from the ghosts of the civilians he murdered.

3. Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mingiu, Rumania)

In this film, we delve into the lives of a convent of orthodox nuns. A girl who visits the convent becomes is accused of witchcraft and conflict soon arises. The convent is apart from society, aligned to values which are almost medieval. They are apart from the contemporary society, in a microcosm. Their well-meaning pious behaviour ultimately results in a terrible tragedy. A masterful drama.

2. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, UK)

This film is mooted to have started a new wave of British filmmaking. Very, very exciting stuff. It is in the vein of British social realism, like Ken Loach. The performances of the two adolescent boys are brilliant. Two working class kids from the midlands start trading scrap metal for cash and become embroiled in illegal activity. Although it is a realist film, it also imbued with lyrical shots. I also liked the way in which working class people are depicted for who they are. A very moving, emotional film. I was thunderstruck for the remainder of the day.

1. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)

I am tired of writing now, so I copied and pasted this chunk of writing about this film from my Facebook. Hence the dodgy font.

The film, in terms of its technique, is a composite of two lauded filmmakers: Terrence Malick and Frederico Fellini (I love the former, loathe the latter). Yet, in many respects, makes up for what those directors lack.
It is ridden with the kind of tracking shots Malick loves to shoot (which often become clichéd). It deals with a whole class of people who are, ultimately, completely vacuous and decadent - the literary bohemia (and here we see copious allusions to the films of Fellini). And, whilst it has this grandeur of Malick (there are several poetic epigrams and a lot of reflection), and the flaneur milieu of Fellini, it treats the characters very ironically. As it happens, the film is very funny (in a very absurd, irreverent way).

Mind you, when you come out of it, you think - what's his thesis? What is he getting at? I don't think he is getting at anything. The film is strewn with ambiguity. You could tease out comments on their decadence, on literary pretension, on ageing, on lost love, on Berlusconi's Italy, though I think that would be superfluous. It could also do with more narrative flair (it sometimes becomes needlessly elliptical). Fuck all that, though - you should see it!