Sunday, 6 November 2016

2001: Cinema as a Platonic Ideal

This is chapter one of a forthcoming book called 'Collected Essays.'

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In a synoptic review of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Laurence Phelan writes that the film 'is the closest that cinema has come to embodying a Platonic Ideal' (2015, p. 29). Ideas from antiquity are the foundation for all forms of discourse. The film, for instance, already alludes to Homer in the title. However, it is particularly interesting to gauge how cinema – the archetypal modern art form – can embody these ideas directly. This article will examine four Platonic theories and will try to ascertain how these theories are represented in the film. These theories include the theory of forms, pre-natal learning, the allegory of the cave and transcendence.

But what exactly does Phelan mean by cinema 'embodying a Platonic Ideal'? Most concepts are ambiguous, laden with multiple meanings and interpretations. To start with, I will do my best to offer some sort of interpretation for what 'Platonic Ideal' might mean.

Most commonly 'ideal' means that there is something better than what we already have. In most philosophy, especially most post-Enlightenment philosophy, idealism is the belief that that reality is generated by thought and appearance rather than matter. The mind is the foundation for our understanding of reality (Guyer 2015).

However, both of those meanings are rather different from Plato's conception. The latter meaning suggests that reality is mind-dependent. As David Gallop's definition will soon demonstrate, Plato's 'theory of forms' is fixed and unchangeable. It is there, regardless of your subjective perception. Your sense-perception is dictated by his theory of forms (Gallop 1993, p. xii). Concepts such as beauty, justice, peace etc. are constant and they underlie every-day reality. Plato's theory is closer to the former meaning, since there is an ideal world superior to the one we find ourselves in during our waking lives.

Plato's theory of forms is characterised by David Gallop as a 'leitmotif' (p. x). It is something that crops in Plato's dialogues; it is not something that has been systematically developed. (It always struck me whenever I have tried reading Plato's dialogues that developing the theory would be extremely laborious and would consist of very, very lengthy tomes.) The theory, as it appears in Plato's dialogues, outlines the following. There are 'forms' which underlie our material reality, with these forms residing in a space that could be called 'heaven' (p. xi). (Plato had an enormous influence on Christianity.) They constitute universal abstract concepts. Some examples cited by Gallop include: 'The Just Society, the Perfect Circle, the Ideal Bed [and] Absolute Beauty' (p. xi). Such concepts are fixed, being absolute and true. When we see objects in our waking reality, they are imperfect representations of these 'real' forms. For instance, if we see a bed, this would be an imperfect manifestation of beauty. We grasp these forms through the senses and not the intellect (xi). We ultimately come to understand these 'perfect' entities from 'particulars' – hence the example of the bed – and, in Gallop's words, through 'fallible opinion' (p. xiii). It is also clear that one comes closer to apprehending the forms this way rather than a systematic study of knowledge. For instance, you would come closer to understanding beauty through looking at a bed instead of actually studying aesthetics. Our immortal souls join the world of real forms once we end our existence in time. This is one of the many ways in which Plato prefigures Christianity.

Hence, there must be an objective standard that determines their existence. Otherwise, all perception would be subjective. This is why this notion of 'ideal' is diametrically opposed to the 'post-Enlightenment' conception of 'idealism.' Gallop writes: 'There is a single abstract entity for every class of object' (p. xiii).

Another Platonic theory that is found in Phaedo involves 'pre-natal learning.' This theory presupposes that we already exist, spiritually, before birth. Prior to birth, we have full knowledge. Gallop writes: '[Pre-natal learning involves] the regaining of knowledge which the soul possessed in a pre-natal, disembodied state [.]' (p. xviii). Recollection is at work every time we apprehend an object through the senses. Every time we learn a new concept, we are are comparing it with something that has been pre-natally known to us (p. xix). Gallop cites an example from Meno. In this dialogue, Socrates manages to coax the correct answer out of a student unacquainted with geometry (p. xix). Socrates asks the student a series of probing questions until he reaches the correct answer. Socrates reaches this conclusion because pre-natal recollection depends on the notion that 'the mind has inherent reasoning powers rather than […] sense-experience' (p. xix). He says in Phaedo: 'Learning is recollection. […] It was […] asserted that our soul existed even before it entered the body.' (1993, p. 67) Socrates argues that we have the capacity to think, reason and argue logically. These capacities appear to be innate, but they are also developed and nurtured as we grow older. Socrates argues that the same applies to knowledge, which is latent within us and recollected when we encounter external stimuli.

Before moving onto analyses of the film, this article will introduce one final Platonic theory. The allegory of the cave contends that anyone who is not aware of Plato's theory of forms is 'chained in a cave' (Cohen 2006). (!) The allegory describes how all that people can see and hear in their caves 'are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see' (2006). It is only when these ignorant people learn about the theory of forms that they come to an understanding that what they see is an imperfect shadow of grander concepts such as beauty, justice, equality etc. They leave the cave and encounter the 'real' world. (The word 'real' in Plato is exceedingly strange – there is another world out there which is more real than this one!) Humans have been ignorant for centuries and, thanks to a sudden revelation, encounter the 'truth.'

Now that these three concepts have been introduced, this article will examine how these three concepts are represented in scenes. When examining 'the theory of forms,' it will examine specific motifs. There are several motifs in the film that appear to be charged with symbolic significance. They could be easily be interpreted as being an attempt to symbolise Platonic forms. For instance, the monolith represents extraterrestrial life (which in the film could be equivalent to 'God'). The fetus in the closing scenes in the film could be interpreted as being a Platonic form for creation. Finally, it will examine how a bone, used as weapon, could be seen as being a Platonic form signifying survival.

Each of these motifs are significant for the following reasons. Extraterrestrial life in the film could roughly be seen as being 'God-like.' Throughout the film, it underlies existence and it is not visible. It also guides humanity and tries to help it reach its fullest potential. This is similar to the monotheistic Christian God, which is also an arbiter of truth, morality, etc.

We encounter the monolith in the initial stages of the film. The monolith lies astride the primates, who shriek in horror once they see it. It is accompanied by modernist classical music by Gyorgy Ligeti. This music is 'micropolyphonic.' It is comprised of several voices which operate at a micro level and coalesce to form a tone cluster. The net result of the music, and the monolith, is that it creates a sense of mystery and grandeur. This is especially the case seeing that the monolith is poised at the forefront of a sublime landscape. All of these aspects have theological undercurrents. Seeing that it is a monolith (meaning big and simple), it could be seen as a platonic form representing God. The extraterrestrials cannot be seen and they are clearly larger, and more all-knowing, than the humans that they influence.

Later we can see a low-angle mid-shot, poised at a 75 degree angle, of the primates approaching the monolith. They are clearly intimidated by it; they cavort around it and are too intimidated to even touch it. This establishes the degree of authority and omniscience that the monolith possesses. We later see the camera, from a 180 degree angle, next to the monolith. The camera is turned on its axis and is framed as a long-shot of the sky. The monolith, however, takes up most of the frame. Dusk is setting in. This, alongside the ominous Ligeti soundtrack, creates a crepuscular ambience. There is a sense that the monolith is a higher being, since it seems to control the outcome of causality and it has a higher degree of knowledge. At this point it could be mistaken for being a Christian God, but as we progress through the film it becomes apparent that it is of extraterrestrial provenance. Still, the motif of the monolith functions as a clear Platonic form for celestial authority. Once the primates encounter the monolith, they begin to apprehend the law of forms through their senses and begin to build a society.

The fetus in the final scenes of the film could be interpreted as being symbolic of creation. The fetus is symbolic of a full-state of knowledge. I will explore how it is representative of the theory of pre-natal recollection. The astronaut in the film goes back to a pre-natal state that is almost God-like, as it has full knowledge and omniscience. (In the closing scenes of the film, we can see it peering above Earth.) The astronaut also becomes a fetus once he ages and passes away. There is a sense that he has reached a Platonic afterlife and that he becomes a 'form.'

In the scenes that we encounter this, we see a mid-shot of a spaceship in a room adorned with Renaissance sculptures and paintings. The rest of the mise-en-scene is comprised of futuristic sci-fi fare. Across the floors and walls, there are light beams encased by glass. This disjunction creates the sense that the location is unreal, or that it is a projection of the mind. However, if we were to follow Plato's ideas, we would be led to believe that the astronaut has penetrated the objective domain of an idea (in this case, the objective domain of creation).

Following the setting of the scene, we see a close-up shot of the astronaut. He seems to be in a state of paralysis. Following this, we see him at other end of the room, where he has aged considerably. In this case, he is next to a Renaissance painting. This has some pertinence to this article, as the Renaissance tried to reinstall ideas from antiquity. The Renaissance is often seen as a flowering of human knowledge and endeavour. This could be a symbol of human knowledge and the desire that the aliens have to help humans transcend their own limited knowledge. Finally we see the astronaut on his death bed. The monolith appears and, as he enters it, the camera dollies into it. The astronaut reaches a full state of knowledge and regresses (or progresses) into a fetus. The music in this scene once more consists of Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra. The piece, of course, is named after Friedrich Nietzsche's seminal book, which includes the theory about the 'Superman.' In the earlier stages of the film, the music appears when humans reach a quantum leap. In this particular moment, humans become 'superhuman' once the astronaut manages to completely transcend all human limitations.



This article will also argue that the bone in the early stages of the film is a Platonic form for supremacy and survival. Prior to encountering the monolith, and prior to the extraterrestrial intervention, humans have not conquered the animal kingdom. They are often prey to jaguars that roam the desert. Thanks to the guidance of the monolith, they start to develop weapons and learn to hunt. Due to this technological advantage, they manage to assert their supremacy over other species. However, the film reveals that this technological advantage is far from benign. We see that humans start to fight and kill each other. Once we reach the future – 2001! - we see that technology is fallible.

Already at this early stage of human evolution, the species appears to be tribal and sectarian. Primates form distinct groups. Without technological weapons, humans don't even have the wherewithal to even hurt other herbivores. They are prey to other animals. We see a long-shot of a horizon and we see a human being attacked by a jaguar. The surrounding humans in the periphery helplessly shriek and do nothing to protect him. This lack of technology results in relative peace. Yet, despite this, it is clear that humans have an inherently violent nature. The tribes do fight each other rather viciously. As the fight scene of the two sects demonstrates, they still do not manage to substantially hurt one another. When technological weapons do arise, we see a lot more damage being inflicted on other humans. There is the suggestion that this will lead to genocides and that these genocides will be more brutal once advances in technology increase. The fight scenes demonstrate that humans are so tribal that cultural and religious alliances have already arisen. It is clear that this is one particular demographic fighting another demographic. This is despite the fact that language, technology and economic structures have not arisen to thereby solidify these divisions.

It soon becomes clear that, despite these malign implications, technology becomes a powerful tool as regards the advancement of human society. We see a mid-shot of a human sifting through bones, trying to meld something out of them. We hear Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra. As an analysis later on in this article will demonstrate, this scene is about transcending human boundaries. This suggests that human evolution – biological evolution – is about transcending heretofore existing limits. There is a low-angle shot of the primate sifting through the bones. This is followed by a montage of antelopes falling and the human triumphantly raising the bone. The bone/weapon could
be seen as being a Platonic ideal for human hegemony and survival. We soon see a a mid-shot of a group of humans eating. We soon establish that there is a greater sense of security and harmony.



Anyone with only a modicum of knowledge about Plato will makes parallels between 2001 and the allegory of the cave. We see humans in caves, for one thing. We see them being ignorant and, following this fallow period, swiftly see them encountering an essential truth. Prior to encountering the monolith, these sub-developed humans are herbivores, prey to other dangerous animals and have no knowledge or language. According to Plato's allegory, humans live in a cave because there are not aware of grander epistemological questions. In the case of this film, these cavemen do not even have the reasoning and cognitive capabilities to even begin to decipher such questions. However, according to the theory of forms, one apprehends them through the senses rather than the intellect. There is a sudden epiphanic revelation when one of the cavemen realises that a bone does mean survival and supremacy. The monolith helps the cavemen apprehend the law of forms when they see common objects.

This article has already explored the treatment of transcendence in the film. It will now recap in what ways it treats transcendence. By transcendence, I mean the exceeding of normal limits, including physical, spatial and temporal limits. There are clear parallels between Christianity and Platonism. For one thing, Plato thought that the body was the 'prison of the soul' and that it was an impediment to reaching the divine sphere of the Gods (Dillon 2003, p. 80). In Plato, there is a clear need to exceed human limitations. There are two types of transcendence that I believe are explored in the film – animal transcendence and cosmic transcendence. Once the humans have been aided by the monolith, they have asserted their supremacy over the rest of the animal kingdom. In the early stages of the film, it becomes apparent that humans transcend other animals once they develop technological weapons. In the final stages of the film, the astronaut transcends his animal nature to become an 'idea.' He transcends his animal nature to join the Platonic world of forms. He escapes the confines of his body and becomes the 'idea' of creation. This is hence also cosmic, since this character manages to reach a higher plane of consciousness. This realm of consciousness lies well beyond one experienced in material reality. This is why 2001 was marketed as the 'ultimate trip' when psychedelic drugs were fashionable (Kaplan 2007).

2001 is a film that embodies several Platonic ideas. It embodies the 'theory of forms' when it uses several motifs. Motifs such as the monolith, bones and fetuses represents underlying ideas. When characters look at these motifs, they manage to apprehend the Platonic ideas that they contain. For instance, when they see the monolith, the cavemen come to understand the theory of forms and henceforth become rational animals. In this sense, the film addresses Plato's 'allegory of the cave.'  Once one of the cavemen has understood the law of forms, he sees a bone and realises that it has technological potential. The fetus symbolises the theory of pre-natal recollection, as the astronaut acquires full knowledge when he returns to a pre-natal state. When the film explores all of these questions, it is also exploring questions about transcendence. It considers questions about animal transcendence, since humans transcend other animals once they begin to understand knowledge and technology. They also achieve cosmic transcendence when the astronaut transcends his animal nature and reaches a higher plane of consciousness where he achieves full-knowledge. These are the ways in which the film manages to 'embody a Platonic Ideal.'


Works Cited

Cohen, Marc S. (2006) The Allegory of the Cave. [Online] Washington Edu. Available from:https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htmPhelan, Laurence. (2015) Television. I. 16 December, p. 29.

Dillon, John M. (2000). Rejecting the Body, Refining the Body: Some Remarks on the Development of Platonic Asceticism. p. 80-88.

Kaplan, Mike. (2007) Kubrick: A Marketing Odyssey. [Online] The Guardian.Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/nov/02/marketingandpr

Guyer, Paul. (2015) Idealism. [Online] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/idealism/

Phelan, Laurence. (2015) Television. I. 16 December, p. 29.

Plato. (1993) Phaedo. Translated by David Gallop. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

-------------------- Gallop, David. (1993) Introduction to Phaedo by Plato. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Filmography

Kubrick, Stanley. (1968) 2001: A Space Odyssey [Film]. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer




Saturday, 24 September 2016

Most activists are twits

I think that altruism is a very noble concept indeed. I admire altruists very much. The world needs more of them. I, regrettably, am very selfish and self-centred. Altruists care very much about others and they often want to change the world and make it a better place. They might be naive or, alternatively, altruists can be very practical people who want to use the most effective methods to increase the share of happiness in the world.

What about activists? Some altruists are activists. I would not necessarily say that all activists are bad. Campaigning for a mainstream party seems perfectly acceptable to me. By going out campaigning, knocking on doors, handing out leaflets, communicating with MPs etc. you are are actually helping to change outcomes. 

But then, a lot of activists do not fit into either of these two categories. A lot of them spend inordinate time and effort devoting themselves to campaigns that won't change anything, or even create any kind of meaningful discourse. Why do it, then?

A lot of hardline leftists love the process and the politics involved. A lot of these people spend their entire lives clashing with others, branding themselves and others with various isms. They form part of factions. This could be termed, vaguely, as 'Trostkyist.' Needless to say, Trotsykism is the biggest political cul-de-sac in the entirety of history. It has never led to a single government. Whenever this militant tendency has hijacked the Labour party (as it has now), it has condemned it to pointless internecine squabbling (and unelectability).

A lot of activists do not take the time and effort to come up with policy to help solve complex problems. They vent their spleens against many well-intentioned politicians who do. They condemn globalisation and 'neo-liberalism.' They come up with a lot of fancy jargon and engage in more pointless process to debate the state of the world in these abstruse terms. They neglect the fact that globalisation is very entrenched and impossible (especially for them) to overturn. They neglect the fact that globalisation has been an engine of growth throughout the third world. 

The whole thing ends up being very flamboyant, too. Whilst they call themselves 'collectivists,' they actually end up fetishing the cult of the individual. They buy Che Guevara shirts. Their figures become so beatified that they end up being totally exempt from scrutiny. Take Jeremy Corbyn, who is now outstripping George Lansbury as the most shambolic leader the Labour party has ever had. They keep defending every single gaffe and all of the platitudes that he spews forth. In this individualistic societies, where Facebook profiles are advertisements for your own personality, it's very edgy indeed to subscribe to all of these causes.

Why subject yourself to all of this frustration? As I said earlier, I think that this frustration is vindicated when supporting a mainstream party, as then you end up changing something. (That's the whole purpose of activism, no?) Just think of the myriad, infinitely more interesting ways that you could spend your life. You could read and write books. You could study ancient antiquity. You could study quantum mechanics. You could learn an instrument. You could write symphonies. You could study rare types of birds. By the time you drop dead, you will have actually accomplished something. In the end of the day, this is really why activists do what they do. All it does is that it makes them feel better. All it does is give their life meaning. Why not give your life meaning with all those aforementioned activities instead? So there you have it, that's why I think that most activists are twits.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Ahoy Facebook #3

An update is in order. First of all, if you still drop by - thank you. Thank you very much.

I am currently job searching. I am looking for work as a advertising copywriter. In my spare time, I can only find time to work on my novel. 

The other type of writing I really want to do is essay writing. I have an idea for a book of 'Collected Essays.' I have a number of ideas and I have already made a list of future essays. I want them to be properly sourced and researched. I want them to be a kind of blend of academic and journalistic writing. I want to upload them onto this blog and to later amass them in a book. I don't want to just crank out an inchoate idea over twenty minutes anymore. The vast majority of posts in this blog have consisted of just that.

In the meantime, I am going to upload some Facebook updates. These are even more rushed and even more inchoate than a lot of these blog posts. At least it will keep this blog ticking over til I find the time to write those essays.

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What have I chosen to do with my Friday night? I am watching Jean-luc Godard's 'Weekend' and then after that I am reading Kant's 'Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.' This is all for 'pleasure.' My God am I a sad and strange human being.
Yesterday I was watching videos of Enoch Powell on YouTube. Following this, I read 70 pages of the autobiography of Malcolm X. I was reading the words in my head in Mr. Powell's plummy voice. I couldn't get his voice out of my head. Extremely odd. I was reading the words of a controversial black activist who preached racial segregation through the prism of a controversial white politician who preached the deportation of immigrants to preserve social cohesion in Britain.
Looking back at archival footage of politicians being interviewed, it really does strike me how steeped a lot of them are in the history of ideas. (People like Enoch Powell, Michael Foot and Roy Jenkins stand out.) Two present-day examples I can think of are Michael Gove and, at a push, Ed Miliband. Otherwise, they're sound-bitey and spin-trained in the extreme. Even then, I can't say that listening to either Gove or Miliband speak is an interesting experience, either. Gove is well-read etc., but is a complete ideologue. Ed Miliband isn't very articulate, extremely nervous and rarely opens up about his geeky interest in political theory.
 I am especially annoyed by left-wing Brexit campaigners. They somehow assume that, if we leave the EU, that we will have a socialist/protectionist utopia where we will nationalise industries right-left-and-centre and reclaim sovereignty. That isn't going to happen, you stupid wankers. We have Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove spearheading the campaign and they're all on record as having said that they want to privatise the NHS.
Needless to say, I am truly disgusted by the murder of Jo Cox. It is somewhat symptomatic of how toxic political discourse has become recently. This kind of thing really doesn't happen here. This has early 20th century continental Europe written all over it.
I despair of how quickly this country is moving backwards. We're dismanting institutions that make this country great, such as the NHS and the BBC. We're turning from a tolerant, united and liberal island into an intolerant, disunited and illiberal island. All these developments make me want to move back to Chile, where they have a broken system but they are at least doing something to change it. And in much more cheerful news, Chile won the Copa America again for a second consecutive year.
It really is ridiculous how Corbyn/McDonnell talk about respecting 'democracy' when they cling on to power. What's 600,000 members in the larger scheme of things? People in this country need a Labour government - that's a lot more important than a few thousand people wanting to keep the 'dignity' of the 'left.' He can't form a functioning shadow cabinet. What's the point in perpetuating this frustrating cul-de-sac?
1) Although there were many strands in Labour when it was founded, and there have always been Labour Marxists, trade unionists founded the party primarily to be a part of parliamentary democracy and to change the laws of the country to benefit the working classes. It has principally always been a party of government, not a party of protest.
2) There won't necessarily be a return to New Labour if Corbyn goes. In fact, Miliband lurched the party back to the centre-left. He managed to get the Blairites on board and unified the party. He made a number of compromises and Labour's pitch in the last general election was incoherent as a result. He still proposed a number of quite radical poliicies (freezing energy prices, scrapping zero-hour contracts and confronting the Murdoch empire). A leader from the soft left, who is charismatic (unlike Miliband) and unifies the party, would be ideal.
3) The party really isn't going anywhere under Corbyn. The MPs simply won't back him. He really isn't much of a leader. Going round, preaching to the converted, ranting about austerity and giving speeches riddled with platitudes about a better society without presenting solutions to change it, really isn't helpful. He can't do anything without the backing of his MPs and there aren't even MPs who will help him form a shadow cabinet. As I said earlier, it's a dead-end.

I really don't like libertarians. They don't advocate freedom of the individual so that you can choose to lead your life in a creative, independent and interesting way (e.g study Greek antiquity, nuclear physics, linguistics or music theory). Instead, they have an asinine and boyish fascination with a lawless society and seem to derive an exceedingly stupid satisfaction from the thought of owning illegal guns and knives. They equate freedom with a smaller state without realising that cutting state spending reduces freedom for a very large section of society. Truly insufferable.
Here's a good quote, courtesy of good ol' Wikipedia: 'Was it America? Or was it Tibet? It is quite true, many of Your Lordships will remember it operating in the nursery. How do you treat a cold? One nanny said, 'Feed a cold'; she was a neo-Keynesian. The other said, 'Starve a cold'; she was a monetarist.' - Harold MacMillan
There are lot of articles, books etc. these days that use quotes/arguments from Bertrand Russell and George Orwell (the former in scientific/philosophical circles that argue in favour of rationality, the latter in progressive circles). With those two writers, you merely have to quote them and any counterargument you can make is invalidated because everything both of those guys said is undisputed wisdom. If you root around what they both wrote, like anyone else they were also capable of saying stupid things. It annoys me when these writers get beatified, because everyone adopts a lazy attitude whereby 1) you don't look at what they write critically anymore and 2) you just fish out one of their quotes and you have a stellar, irrefutable piece of writing.
Surely the whole purpose of an election is to change outcomes and to ensure that your vote has the greatest potential to change or conserve laws. It surely isn't a way of telling the world 'this is who I am and what I believe in.' If you are liberal ideologue, it surely isn't constructive to vote for a liberal party if this doesn't translate into any MPs. Likewise, it surely isn't constructive to vote Green when that will result in a solitary MP. It's also certainly suicidal to vote for Jill Stein (barring the fact that she's completely crazy) in the USA when that could potentially elect Donald Trump and have an adverse effect on the rest of the world.
I had an idea for a book that, surprisingly, does not appear to have been written yet (I had a brief look around). What about a history of dreams - namely how dreams have been analysed and interpreted - throughout history. For example, in antiquity and medieval times people thought that they were divine interventions. Later Freud comes along and they are interpreted as being full of hidden symbols and they are also part of a complex 'unconscious' that underpin all of your actions. Now with neuroscience, they are largely seen as meaningless images that come about because of electricity fizzing in your brain. I'd like to read a really nicely researched history of all this. I don't really want to write it, but it would be very pleasing if it exists because I'd like to read it.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the release of 'Intolerance' by D. W. Griffith. We have reached the point historically where we can start talking about the centenaries of major films.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intolerance_(film)


A decent article looking back at the legacy of modernism. Some of my favourite literary works and pieces of music are part of the movement. There's a lot from the period that I still can't get my head around (Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, etc.). However, it actually excites me that such complex works, which are freighted with allusions and complex wordplay, exist. It annoys me quite a lot when people facilely dismiss them just because they don't make sense on first reading.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/the-shock-of-the-new/309451/

Cultural events on the horizon (brace yourselves for some extremely convoluted writing): A talk with John Bew about his new book concerning former Labour PM Clement Atlee - 20th of October; a performance of J. S. Bach's spectacular 'St. John Passion' - 13th of November; a performance from the string quartet ensemble 'Ligeti Quartet,' where they will be performing several modern classical pieces - 15th of November; a screening of C. T. Dreyer's silent classic 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' - 22nd of November.

Monday, 1 August 2016

More mad personal shit

I am hardly jeopardising myself by divulging this information. I have written stuff a lot worse than this in the past. On this blog I have written about mad personal shit on this blog in excruciating detail.

I am going to type out some of my personal fantasies. 'Keep it to yourself!' I hear you say! Well, the thing is I find that I need to expurgate a lot of thoughts that circulate round my brain. I prattle a lot about these things to those close to me. We are social creatures, so it's only natural to do so.

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Fantasy 1: The Imaginary Girlfriend

It's really sad that, aged 26, I've never had a girlfriend. It's really sad that, aged 26, I don't even know what procedure to follow to acquire one. What is even sadder is that I occasionally fantasise about the ideal girlfriend.

My fantasy woman has the following characteristics:

- Red hair.

- Grey eyes.

- She is really tall.

- She only wears black clothing.

- She has a PHD in English literature. (Her thesis was about Charlotte Bronte.)

- She is a world-renowned and really accomplished classical pianist. She often goes on world tours. She specialises in modern classical and baroque music. (She plays a handful of Romantic composers, too.)

- She's really kinky. She likes to have sex whilst bashing out the chord off the second movement of Rite of Spring again and again.

Fantasy 2: Living in a Galleon

This fantasy involves living in a galleon. I have a room with a desk in it. I write novels there on a manual typewriter. I get pissed on red wine and often lie pissed next to the mast. An exotic woman lives with me. She's also very kinky.

Fantasy 3: Stay at home

In this fantasy, I simply stay at home with mummy & daddy. I get cooked for etc. I get £200 deposited into my bank account every month. I get a blowjob every day from a bimbo so as to ease off all sexual frustrations. The rest of the time I get to read, write etc.

Fantasy 4: I win the Booker prize

Now this is ridiculous, isn't it?! In this fantasy, all the novels that I write get published. I get interviewed by journalists. The most ridiculous thing about this fantasy is that I would have to write something readable. Who would want to read the esoteric crap that I write?

Fantasy 5: I become leader of the Labour party

Now bear with me here. I get elected leader of the Labour party, even though people compare me with previous disastrous leaders (Foot, Kinnock, Miliband and Corbyn). I make a pledge to 'make the Labour party an electoral force again.' I am pathologically nervous around journalists and shy away from the spotlight. I disappear when I should be making crucial media interventions. I draw up a series of policies that get called 'a dreary return to Milibandism.' I spend most of my time trying to appease warring factions in the party. I spend an inordinate amount of time appeasing the Blairites. The grass root membership leaves. I pontificate endlessly about 'pragmatic socialism.' I get pilloried by the press. I lose the general election in a spectacular fashion.

Fantasy 6: I become a football manager

I get a Eufa licence (or whatever it's called) even though I never played professional football (or even at an amateur level!). I take over my crappy little team - the fourth tier team Fernandez Vial. We climb up to the first tier over a period of five years. I stay in the first tier with them for two more years. In my final year I manage to finish in a 4th placed position. I attract the attention of Colo-Colo (the biggest Chilean team), even though I previously make the statement that I would never manage for them. The Vial supporters call me 'Judas' despite everything that I did for them. I win a couple of Chilean titles and have a couple of good runs in the Copa Libertadores. I become manager of the Chile national side and I manage to reach the semi-finals of the world cup with them.

Fantasy 7: I live in a castle

I live in a giant castle, placed on the crest of a hill overlooking a small town. The local community say 'he's a bit mad, y'know?' I spend a long time brooding. I have a cellar stocked with a lot of red wine. Every week a prostitute comes over to have sex with me (to ease off sexual frustrations).

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

University unions

'BUY. PARTY. SELL. HAVE FUN.'

Those words. They are hardly words that you would associate with a union, but they are roughly the words that my university union brandish outside their premises.

I do really find it rather ridiculous. A university union should be able to intervene when students are treated badly either by academics, business people of one stripe or another or extortionate landlords. If you an academic won't grade your paper or treats you unfairly, there's nothing that they can do. That's what they are meant to be there for. If the university is charging too much for rented accommodation, again, there's nothing that they can do or willing to do. They are supine and powerless.

And why is a union associated with a club? When I went to see the winners of the union elections, it was held at a club. Every time they would announce a winner, they would have intermittent blasts of pop music and the winners would dance around. What does the union say? WE CAN'T HELP YOU AT ALL WITH ANY TYPE OF INJUSTICE BUT, YOU KNOW WHAT, LET'S PARTY!!!!!!

What the union is ultimately there for is propping up careerists. Aspiring Conservative or Labour politicians run to further their nascent careers. It looks impressive on their CV. Even Conservative people, who do not even believe in the very idea of unions, die to control them.

Universities should be a hot-bed for discussion and free debate. Yet it really irks me how anodyne they are in this respect. Rather than allowing free debate, they promote a lot of PC stuff like LGBT awareness and anti-rape propaganda. Whilst rights for the LGBT rights are fine enough cause to espouse and rape is clearly abominable, this does not contribute to discussion or even any tangible change. They are just platitudes that make you look good.

It really does make me sick.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Sell yourself

Our society is becoming increasingly commercialised. Commercialisation has not even impacted public services such as hospitals and schools. It has impacted the individual. Every act is now effectively a commercial act. All behaviour is commercial.

Let me explain why I think this. We all have our profiles on social media. I am not exempt from this. As a matter of fact, my blog is not exempt from this. In this blog I have listed my preferences. This in itself is a form of self-commodification. It becomes capital. I project an image of myself online – I sell myself online – and people consume a projection of my individuality. This is the same with social media. People list their favourite books, films and music.

It becomes paranoid and neurotic. All types of behaviour become commodified. People constantly self-monitor themselves on such media. People become consumers of their own minutia. If I go out and I make an idiot of myself, I am neurotic the next day because the incident might become currency on social media. Meaningful communication becomes redundant because we are all performing as an idealised version of what we think we are. Only idealisations sell.

This trivialises politics. By becoming members of groups, it becomes more of a statement of yourself rather than a meaningful statement on affairs. Being a Marxist is edgy, as is being an Anarchist. People brandish t-shirts of Marx, making a mockery of what he stood for. Clothes are an important currency. By being a Goth, or an emo or a hipster – or whatever – you have to dress appropriately. Just walking across the street, every individual is a walking advertisement for a certain lifestyle. A lot of these subcultures don't propound theories about the state of affairs. They are simply profiting from zeitgeists.

The notion of having a public service funded by taxpayers is an anachronism. Even these remaining services are sold to us with garish pamphlets and the like. People are forgetting about this. All that matters is that you should have a good time. Don't foget to buy a cappuccino while you’re at it.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Desert island discs

I started thinking about my choices for this program recently. I recall that I did the exact same post a number of years ago, but I have changed my choices since then. This is a very indulgent thing to do - but this is my blog, where anything goes, so who cares?

The premise of this program is that you choose eight pieces of music, one book and one luxury item to take with you to a desert island.

1. Ich Ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ (Piano Version) - J. S. Bach

Bach has now become my favourite composer. I like his music very much because 1) It has a mystical quality that's very similar to a lot of religious art - i.e. cathedrals and Renaissance painting - where your senses are disoriented and you feel overcome by something larger than yourself. 2) The counterpoint, where several layers of music play at the same time, is especially interesting to listen to. It's fascinating to listen how the musical voices interact with one another and how they are resolved. 3) The seemingly endless treasures you encounter the further you dig into his body of work. He was an extremely prolific composer, yet very little of what he wrote is uninteresting to me.

Bach never wrote music for the piano - it didn't exist during his lifetime. He wrote for the harpsichord instead. I especially like the way a lot of his pieces sound on the piano. My favourite of these arrangements would be 'Ich Ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ.' I like the performance by Alfred Brendel, a brilliant pianist, the most.



2. 'Death and the Maiden' String Quartet No. 14  in D Minor by Franz Schubert

I like Schubert for the same reason that many people listen to music - he writes beautiful melodies and his music is very pleasant to listen to. I am especially fond of string quartets as a whole and this is quite likely the most well-known quartet piece ever written. It is a 'programmatic' piece, meaning that it has an accompanying story attached to it.

Schubert was one of the early 'Romantic' composers. To put it simply, the movement in music was largely interested in 'emotion.' This piece does indeed stir the emotions quite a lot. As the piece progresses, it becomes more exalted. Schubert wrote astonishingly beautiful melodies, but it's also very interesting to hear how he harmonises the voices.



3. String Quartet No. 4 by Bela Bartok

Bartok is my favourite composer after Bach. Although his music is very dissonant, it's still melodic and it is tonal - though it does shift across many keys during the course of a single piece. What I like about modern music is that I do hear melody in a lot of it, but it's a lot more angular. There is a lot of strangeness and beauty to that. Bartok drew from Hungarian folk melodies and transformed them into visceral modern classical pieces. In this piece, the five movements 'mirror' each other. The first and fifth movements are related, the second and fourth movments are related and the third movement is a quiet interlude. Like a lot of other modern music, Bartok was interested in ryhthm. In this piece, the melodies are played almost rhythmically.



4. Clocks and Clouds by Gyorgy Ligeti

Post-war music was considerably more abstract than the music that preceded it. Ligeti, another Hungarian, is one of the more approachable ones. His music employed 'micropolyphony,' which involved many individual voices playing simultaneously. This created large tone clusters, a large homegenous sound constituting many individual parts.

This piece is particularly impressive. Unlike a lot of other modern music, it sounds somewhat mellifluent. It is dream-like and strange. It has a disorienting effect, much in the same way that a lot of Bach's music affects my senses. I am fond of getting drunk whilst listening to music - Ligeti is one of my main choices for such occasions, alongside Bach.



5. Autumn's Child by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

I have a strong emotional attachment to Beefheart's music. I have been listening to his stuff for twelve years now. This song is more 'straightforward' than a lot of his other stuff. It's somewhat mawkish, even. I still find the 4/4 section very moving - and very evocative. You have Beefheart's vocal about a past encounter, the chorus sings about 'go back four years' ago and finally you have the eerie theremin to boot. This being Beefheart, the more 'striaght' sections get interrupted by unusual time signatures. This really is a truly overpowering song.



6. British Grenadiers - Gross Chapel by The Fall

The Fall are my favourite rock act, alongside Beefheart. Whereas a lot of their output is somewhat blithe, this track is a lot darker. I have always thought that the album this is from, Bend Sinister, is one of their best and very underrated. The Fall are from the post-punk era. This meant that consumers who were not technically proficient realised that they could make music. This led to very unorthodox and interesting results. These bands were listening to a lot of interesting bands, such as Beefheart. Mark E. Smith hardly ever sings; he recites. His lyrics are very abstract and very embittered. On paper, they are baffling, but they are mesmerising on record.



7. Naima by John Coltrane

Jazz is easily one of my favourite genres - it's possibly my favourite genre alongside classical. I fondly remember being a lazy 15-year-old who would sit in his room all day listening to jazz records. I was a terrible student back then!

'Naima' is such a wonderful tune. This tune is just so life-affirming and soothing. I feel infinitely better every time I give it another spin. Coltrane's virtuosic technique takes me to the most wonderful places.



8. Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis

Everything about the record Kind of Blue is just perfect. Every note is in the right place. There are so many tracks I could choose from Davis' discography, but I would have to go for this one. Again, it's a very soothing and uplifiting piece. I love how Miles' stamp is firmly indented in all of his music, even the cheesy 80s synth stuff.

This is the first jazz record I listened to. It's a record a lot of people start with - it's a great portal. Finally, I'll just end by saying how much I regretted leaving Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman' out from this list.



Book: Fictions - Jorge Luis Borges

I thought that I would chose a book that I can read many times. Borges' stories are something you keep returning to and something that you find surprising every time you re-read. His stories are so intertextual that, in many ways, you are familarising yourself with literature culled from many centuries. So this is more than  one book in many ways.

Luxury item: A typewriter with a lifetime supply of ribbons and paper.

I would want to be able to write in this island. Typewriters are cumbersome, but then computers are too distracting. I prefer to type when writing stuff - I am not a pen-and-paper person.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

When relativism becomes sinister

‘The intellectual’ is often an archetypal ‘outsider.’ This is a cliché – and, as another cliché would have it, there is truth in clichés. The intellectual doesn’t partake in popular culture. He is critical of trends; he lives in an Ivory Tower. This leads the intellectual to rail against ‘power’ and, another yucky word, ‘imperialism.’ He will assiduously rail against all of its manifestations. Power covertly manifests itself in everything – it is, to a degree, ‘pan-power.’ However, the intellectual instinctively identifies himself with the person who stands out from the herd. This is often the madman, who is institutionalised by agents of power and henceforth labelled and repressed. Hence, French intellectuals will relativise and say there’s no such thing as madness. Or they will say that the entirety of the western canon is imperialistic, that both Bach and Kant are imperialists.

These intellectuals identify with mad people and racial minorities. They are ‘the voice of the voiceless.’ What I find is that this is completely disrespectful to those demographics. It is nothing more than self-aggrandisement and empty posturing. By reading the entire canon of western though as being ‘imperialistic,’ it does not seem like an honest assessment. It’s a cheap way of overlooking a complex body of knowledge. Viewing mad people as poetic outsiders who defy society is disrespectful to those people. So is being a ‘voice’ to ‘voiceless’ third-world people. By using obfuscatory labels such ‘globalisation’ and ‘neo-liberalism,’ you are hardly empathising with their plight. You are simply putting yourself on a pedestal.

As someone who has had issues with a mental illness in the past, I do find it troubling to hear that madness isn’t ‘real.’ I had an episode and it was a disgusting, frightening and horrifying experience. I find that both psychiatry and psychotherapy both have their uses. But when psychotherapists use that rhetoric, it just becomes political. It employs that relativistic trick beloved of those French relativists – psychiatrists wield power and hence must be bad. Foucault even goes on to speak of madness as being a ‘choice.’ This is a way of rallying against the Enlightenment and ‘reason.’ Madness isn’t a way of rallying against the Enlightenment, reason and agents of power. For largely chemical reasons, it happens. Literature – especially the Romantic movement – romanticises it. Anyone who has lived through it – and relatives of people who experience it also live through it – realise that it is anything but romantic. It is often mundane, painful and burdensome.


Institutions are needed to taxonomise madness. Psychiatric medications are not always the solution, but they do work. It is great that we have institutions like the NHS – free at the point of use – that are able to intervene in such incidents. This kind of intellectualising and relativising becomes sinister when it profits from people who go through hell. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Rational/irrational



Surely we are just a bundle of rational and irrational processes. I am capable, just like any other person, of making reasoned judgements. I can make logical propositions. I can do basic arithmetic. Other humans, endowed with higher cognitive abilities than mine, can solve gargantuan mathematical equations.  Equally, I can be irrational. Not all of my actions are intentional or even voluntary. I have desires, which I often cave in to. I might make judgements that are capricious and not informed by reason.

There is nothing earth-shattering in all this. In fact, the further back in western thought you go, the more prominent this type of thinking is. The pre-socratics often thought in these dualistic terms. Plato came up with an allegory of a carriage. Reason was represented by the person who steered the carriage. One horse represented reason and logic whereas the other represented the irrational. The person who steered the carriage had to make sure that reason prevailed. This was symbolic of Plato’s conception of the soul, which was a composite of rational and irrational tendencies.

Schopenhauer believed that, like the rest of nature, we are driven by a will. This will, however, is not under our control. It is bodily and irrational. It can be controlled, however, by the faculty of reason which is able to make sound judgements on complex matters.

All these philosophical theories are corroborated by recent science. The left side of the brain, apparently, is the rational side whereas the right side is creative. We clearly are driven by desires and needs that defy our ability to make sound judgements. If we introspect, we quickly arrive at these conclusions.

Yet it does seem to annoy a lot of humanists and preachers of reason when you bring up this blindingly obvious observation. I don’t really need to be told that we need to follow reason, that we need to be logical and that democracy is a great thing. It is a wholly unoriginal argument that smacks of banality. If you want to promote the cause of reason, surely there are more interesting and nuanced ways of promoting your argument?

 I like believing that I am in a perennial liminal state, that sooner or later I may go stark raving mad. I like having the choice between Dinosysian excess and Appolonian purity. (More Greek stuff right there.) The Greek pagan gods were great. Heresy or blasphemy weren’t really things as such. If you offend a God, it’s not a big deal because there are other gods to offend. They even a God for wine, ecstasy and excess! To counterbalance that, there is a God for purity! I like that idea of dualism. It’s much more closer to the truth, and much more liberating, than a staid monotheism. Millennia later,  it paved the way for a kind of Protestanism that said that you can never have fun, that everything must be drab and grey and that all of your energy must be devoted to work and the economy, which is God’s will…


I make room for the rational. There is something about the Protestant work ethic that I admire, too. I like the notion of putting all your energy into your profession. Still, you could make the argument that a quotient of unreason is healthy. Without a quotient of unreason, reason can become stifling and might even tilt you 180 degrees toward madness. There is something healthy in random acts of senseless destruction, if they are utterly harmless to others. This is what I like about Freud. We are sick creatures which can’t be cured, but we are all the better if we expunge our irrational impulses.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Thoughts on David Cronenberg

Cronenberg is a director who has always fascinated me. He is a 'director of ideas' if there ever was one. He often draws explicitly from literary sources. His films have striking, and often lurid, imagery. His films have become subtler and more sophisticated over the years. I will go through a few of his films and offer a few perfunctory notes.

The recurring theme that crops up in Cronenberg's film is the body and, more specifically, the relationship between mind/body and technology. This theme has been explored both in his early 'horror' film as well as his recent arthouse and thriller films. Cronenberg is interested in the way in which our bodily functions and our mental perception are altered by putatively benign technological developments. Most memorably to most people, this results in horrendous bodily deformations. James Wood memorably asserts at one stage in Videodrome, 'Long live the new flesh!' Cronenberg is also interested in pathologies and the way in which these technologies derange his characters. Several of his films could be seen as accounts of psychotic episodes. Still, Cronenberg is no luddite. He even embraces the notion that humans can defy natural selection and take control of nature.

Cronenberg is a Cartesian dualist. This means that the believes in the existence of both mind and matter. He sees the body as being concretely apart from the mind. In this sense, when the body has a transformation, the mind is independent from it. This is explored in Shivers, an example of a chemical experiment gone wrong. This results in the growth of parasites that tear through the bodies of its victims. The film is set in a large building complex. Cronenberg has always been interested in psychology, even in these early horror films. The film confines itself to the large building complex and documents the mental collapse of its inhabitants. The growth of the parasites ultimately degrades the mental state of the characters. The film is also somewhat critical of the permissive society at the time, with the phallic parasites in many ways representing STDs.

This mind/body dualism is similarly explored in The Brood. The protagonist's wife is institutionalised in a building that resembles a cult rather than a psychiatric unit. Bedeviled dwarf children spawn out of a lurid new body part growing out of her stomach. These dwarfs wreak havoc and kill several of the protagonist's relatives. Made at a time in which is own marriage was in turmoil, the dwarfs are symbolic of the wife's psychological manipulation. Out of all his early horror films, this is the one which is most interested in character development.

My favourite Cronenberg film, and the most characteristic of his entire career, is Videodrome. It is inspired by Marshall McCluhan's prescription that 'the medium is the message.' It explores the potential that audiovisual media has to corrupt has. The lead character is the purveyor of a 'video nasty' TV cable show, where he airs lurid pornography videos. Once he sees a video called 'Videodrome,' he develops a brain tumor that triggers a bizarre psychotic episode. Interestingly, there's a shelter home for homeless people where they can watch television. People who are deprived from television need to be exposed to it for the sake of their own sanity. At one point it is called 'the retina of the mind's eye.' Yet the mass proliferation of pornography and violence seems to have a sinister impact on the minds of its consumers, as it seems to harbour the onset of psychosis.


Videodrome

The theme of sinister technology is explored in Videodrome. However, Cronenberg also explores the theme of sinister scientists in both The Fly and Dead Ringers. In The Fly, a scientist messianically develops a technological invention that will lead to progress. However, it malfunctions and, instead of transporting inanimate objects, he gradually metamorphoses into a fly. An attempt to defy the laws of physics backfires and, more tragically than Frankenstein, the scientist turns into a hideous insect. Interestingly, as a scientist, he views his transformation with precision and wry detachment. He implicates his friends and close relatives and exposes them to danger. Dead Ringers explores the way in which trust is assigned to doctors and the ways in which this can be broken. Two twin gynecologists, both roles played deftly by Jeremy Irons, develop a sexual attraction to a patient. The film explores the notion of synergy. One twin is more confident whereas the other one is shy. Both are chronically dependent on one another. The film explores sexual inexperience and the way in which formidable, academic and socially awkward men feel entitled to the pleasure of women. The twins try to overcome the same sets of problems as a pair. The film ends with a lurid experiment in which one twin disembowels the other with bizarre gynecological instruments to 'end the Siamese twins' and to hence gain a sense of autonomy.

Cronenberg decided to adapt William Burroughs' 'unfilmable' novel Naked Lunch. Avoiding a literal adaptation, the film actually comes off as an innovative biopic. It is a particularly interesting attempt to understand the process of literary creation. William Burroughs is particular notable for his heroin addiction as well as his tumultuous personal life, having accidentally shot his wife in a game of 'William Tell.' The film binds all these elements together alongside elements from Burroughs' novels and an imaginary rendering of the gestation of Naked Lunch. The technological apparatus of interest here is the typewriter, which frequently morphs into a cockroach. The typewriter in this film is a central force of literary creation, as it often interacts with Burroughs in an oft-like humorous manner. The film is interesting in the way it depicts Burroughs' strong anti-authoritarian sentiments in the 'real life' sequences. Meanwhile 'Interzone,' a parallel reality where misfits congregate, is inspirational and where all of the writing of the book takes place. Burroughs' vision foreshadowed the internet and it is clear why Cronenberg was intrigued by it.


Naked Lunch

Another 'difficult book' that Cronenberg adapted soon after was J. G. Ballard's Crash. Like Burroughs' novel, it is notable for being subversive and controversial. The novel is very Cronenbergian, as it explores the relationship between man and technology and the proliferation of sex and violence in mass media. The film loses the novel's somewhat poetic tone and goes for a much colder and more clinical approach. The characters have no affection for one another. The gruesome scenes of sexual violence are approached as quasi-scientific experiments. The lead character Vaughn leads 'car crash' seminars. The film was lambasted for being amoral and it was banned in parts of the UK. Ballard defended it as a 'moral' work. What struck me when I saw it recently is that it is morally ambivalent. When the lead character, Ballard, sticks his dick into gory places, he seems to be all the better for it. The film also drops much of the novel's dialogue and focuses on very stylised sex scenes. The sex scene emerges as a plot device that centres the film. As such, it can lead one to accuse it as being nothing more than a porno.

eXistenZ explored our relationship with interactive technologies, such as video games and the internet. The film has a very 'meta' ending whereby these technologies have such a corrupting effect that we can no longer differentiate reality from fantasy. These fantasy realms, which appear as 'real' as the natural world, allow a newfound freedom in that they allow the subjects to control the outcome of causality. Interestingly, 'isten' is a Hungarian word for 'God,' which could be interpreted as symbolic of the powers conferred to man by new technologies.

A History of Violence is a very interesting film in that it explores the notion of identity in the form of a thriller. Cronenberg's previous film, Spider, was about a schizophrenic and hence about a film in which choice is confused. Violence is the first of a series of films which are far more realistic. The lead character chooses a new identity for himself following a career as a gangster. These gangsters visit him and his wife and the local community soon learn about his past life. Identity here is seen as something which is willed. Interestingly, the film was a comic book adaptation, a medium which has explored the notion of willed identity with the notion of superheroes. Although the character leads a domesticated life, his past 'violent' life remains latent. It re-emerges once he confronts the gangsters. The self is hence seen as something transient and the 'unitary' self is seen as an artificial construct. The film is interested in Dariwinian theory. The character has had to resort to violence in his past life in order to procreate and to later lead a stable existence.

Cosmopolis was an adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel. I was interested in the novel as way in which it explored a breakdown in communications. The dialogue is stilted and Beckettian. The characters are unable to talk to one another or show any affection. The lead character is a billionaire who is utterly insulated from the outer world. His limousine is completely sheltered from the outer world. Outside protests erupt about Wall Street whilst he his limousine shields the noise. The characters often speak using grand aphorisms about the state of capitalism. The billionaire is reckless. He bring about a financial crisis and voluntarily seeks his own death. The most powerful person in the world is shown to be so self-absorbed that he does not even notice his own surroundings. He only cares about getting a haircut, sex and, ultimately, seeking his own death.


History of Violence

When Maps to the Stars came out, I felt that most people focused too much on it as being a work of satire. I felt as if, once more, Cronenberg was interested in Hollywood from a psychiatric standpoint. Hollywood in the film is a microcosm. The characters in the film are incestual. I felt that Cronenberg wasn't satirising Hollywood for being insular. I felt as it if he was interested in exploring the pathologies of narcissists. The film is less interested in the socioeconomic inequities of the system; it is more interested in exploring the psychosis of people who live in a microcosm detached from the real world. This is a similarity it shares with Cosmopolis. That film is less interested in expounding economic arguments as it is in exploring the self-absorption of a coldly cerebral billionaire.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Ahoy Facebook #2

Bits and pieces. Left-overs. Call it what you like. 

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What good is intellectual masturbation? What's the point in analysing all of the complex proxy wars in the middle east to death when none of this intellectual masturbation/theorising will translate into concrete policies which will help the poor people over there? What's the point in reading so much philosophy when, millennia after Socrates and all these people, no-one is altogether clear what the real use of it is? What's the point in me writing a strange and complex novel that no-one will care to read? Aiiii.... I'm useless and all of my interests are useless and nothing I will do will contribute one jot to the well-being and welfare of others.

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I regret not listening to as much jazz as I used to. Something I've especially neglected recently is the more avant-ish variety. The past two/three years I've been gorging myself on the earliest stuff - everything starting from 1920s New Orleans jazz, ragtime etc. to big band 50s swing. I'm glad I did, because I found to my delight I found that a lot of that stuff is really good. I'm trying to listen to more freestyle/avant variety jazz more often now. What I find about most free improv is that you really have to be there in concert. On record, it's largely forgettable, meandering and can even be a bit of a headache. What I find is that there is a new breed of avant/free improv music which tries to integrate more tonal stuff, harmonies, actual chords etc. into the music. When I'm in Canterbury, I go every week to a concert of free music called 'Free Range' and I find most of the music there to be of interest. By inserting more 'musical' elements into the soundscapes, does it cease to be as 'free'? All that rigid terminology is such utter nonsense. I always thought that the ethos of free jazz was the freedom to play whatever one wanted, whether it meant playing in key or out of key, a ballad or a noisy clump of random notes. If hardcore free improv says 'no, you can't play in key or any chord - the whole point is that this is a process where we forget how to play in a proper manner' - that's just utter silliness. Completely childish dogma. I recently discovered Mary Halvorson and I really like her stuff. She is quite versatile on the guitar and has a unique style. What I like about her stuff is that it embodies the spirit of free jazz I mentioned above. She is keen to try anything of interest in any context. What you find with younger generations is also a tendency to play in 'punk' contexts and to infuse it with jazz. Her stuff also always has technique. When she plays in a looser style, there is always a sense of structure, too. I particularly like this track.




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I hate Richard Linklater's films with a passion. Unironic, nonglorifying, non-critical, naturalistic treatment of pseudy, edgy, bohemian, nose-pierced (and-everything-else-pierced) youths who quote Bukowski and Kerouac whilst chasing girls and riding cars all day long. This is peppered with a liberal dose of platitudinous soppy statements about relationships and love. The arthouse equivalent of a Kodak ad.

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I think that I have found the most pointless word in the English language. I had seen the word 'Defenestration' here and there and the first thing I thought one morning when I woke up was 'I wonder what "Defenestration" means?' (As you do.) It so transpires that it involves throwing a person or an object out of a window. Do we really need a word for that? If I happen to throw something out of a window, I will just say that I am "defenestrating." Hang on, is there even a verb for it?!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defenestration


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I am undergoing a bit of a seismic shift. I would rather read the Holy Bible, Greek philosophy and Shakespeare than spend all day trying to get my head around Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault. (Those 3 thinkers are just not worth the work for me and, even if you synthesise their arguments into something easily comprehensible, I still don't find them at all interesting.) I would rather listen to Bach, Beethoven and Schubert than spend a lot of my time looking for obscure and weird bands. (There are a lot of weird and wonderful bands out there, but I have to sift through a lot of unlistenable and pretentious crap to find them. Why would I want to do that when I can listen to a nice piece by Bach?) When it comes to printed media, I would rather read a mainstream newspaper than some arcane magazine about strange art. I guess that this is what it means to grow, develop and mature. It can only be a good thing.

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Doing a job application correctly involves striking a fine balance between writing the most stomach-turning platitudes, insincere arse-licking and projecting an insincere, almost narcissistic sense of self-esteem.

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The events in Paris compounded my frustrations with the 'hard left.' It's almost as if a lot of people wait for these events to happen so that they can simply push a button and wait for all the same tired arguments to come out. There's a lot of truth in the fact that, say, that Isis targeted France because they tend to marginalise minorities, they support wars in the middle east, that the media focuses on European terrorist attacks as opposed to covering those that take place in the middle east etc. etc. But if you just drive that home again and again, you end up with a very biased, simplistic, black-and-white view of the world. Saying a lot of these things a lot of the time hardly involves any observation or analysis ('empiricism,' if you like). It simply involves someone saying 'I believe this - this is my view of the world - hence, these terrorist attacks mean this.' When terrorist attacks happen, I would rather that everyone felt sombre, absorb what's happened, take time to reflect and empathise with the bereaved. After a few days, I would feel that it's more appropriate to start to discuss, analyse and interpret. That kind of emotional response is better than equally emotive knee-jerk reactions. It's better than scapegoating the media and western governments and it's much, much better to respond like this than those horrible, toxic hawks who say 'these muslims hate our values (they hate freedom, equality and fraternity!). We need to marginalise them and, better still, wage wars against them in Syria and Iraq.'
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If there's anything I can take away from losing 3-0 to Uruguay is that it bestowed upon the world a piece of comic wisdom. This is especially given that Uruguay are the South American team I hate the most. Come to think of it, they are the only South American team that I hate. I really like Peru (determined and earnest) and Argentina (have always loved their combination of technique, speed and passion. Plus, without Argentina's footballing qualities, Chile would not play the way they do now). Uruguay are just a bunch of overrated wankers who rely on getting getting the luck of the draw. All of their accomplishments in the past have been nothing but flukes. They were lucky to win the 1950 world cup (easy draw on the way and Brazil got nervous in the final and crumbled) and to finish 4th in 2010 (look up the teams they played before the semi-finals - South Africa, that woeful France team, an under-par Mexico, South Korea and Ghana! Come on!) Not only that, they are dirty buggers who foul, cheat and resort to the scummiest tactics to win. When they get a dose of their own medicine - as they did with Chile in the last Copa America - they don't know how to take it and they cry like little school girls. Anyway. Following the loss to Uruguay, Chile's lovable manager Sampaoli made an analogy to describe why possession really DOES matter. Chile boasted 73% possession yet STILL lost 3-0. Counter-productive, no? Well, Sampaoli said the following: 'One night, I went to a bar, I was with a woman. We talked all night. We laughed, we flirted, I paid for several drinks of hers. At around 5am, a guy came in, grabbed her by the arm and took her to the bathroom. He made love to her and she left with him. That doesn’t matter, because I had most of the possession on that night.” Ha! That has to be the best defence of possession football ever! Van Gaal has tried in the past, but it falls flat. It was a humiliating defeat, but it DID leave behind a genius, and hilarious, analogy.

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Auster is pretty much stating the obvious here, but it resonates a lot. In fact, Auster is pretty much the consummate 'boyish' writer - the kind of writer that the intelligentsia will laugh at you for reading and will promptly ask you how old you are. I've pretty much always been attracted to the modern/post-modern 'boyish' writers - i.e. dicking around with narrative, absurd scenarios, rehashing existing novels, etc. It's strange to define it these literary genres by gender, but that's all very male - boyish, rather. It's like a geeky fascination with literature, not some sort of grand quest for truth or meaning or whatever. Again, this is very reductive, but female readers tend to read female authors and they don't always go for all of that post-modern stuff. Older men usually say 'I'm too old for this - artifice gets old quickly - I would rather read Dickens.' I actually hardly read fiction anymore. I'm reading more philosophy, politics, bits and bobs of history, social commentary, religion, etc. Still, I find that the real reason why I amass all this disparate information is so that I can dick around with it in my own consummately boyish attempts at fiction.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-margaret-daniel/paul-auster-on-boy-writer_b_4670507.html

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Jonathan Coe is a writer I have taken an interest in lately, especially after I read reviews for his novel 'Number 11.' He writes satires about contemporary UK and critiques its commercialism, individualism and lack of compassion. He writes with nostalgia about the post-war consensus and hence has been called 'a conservative leftist' or 'reactionary socialist.' All this bodes very well with me, but he went from the 'interesting-I'll-keep-an-eye-on-this-category' to 'this-guy-is-amazing-category' after I heard that his favourite album of all time is also 'Rock Bottom' by Robert Wyatt. That album has such a special place in my heart and, whilst I have heard the odd person here and there claim they like that eccentric 1974 release, I haven't heard anyone else also claim that it's their *favourite* record.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5utd3TdIvUM