Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt--Celan.
Yesterday, I posted a very lengthy (by our blogging standards) piece about the role(s) the purported contrast between understanding and explaining the Holocaust can play in the arts, ethics, and social science. It was framed as a response to a two-part review by Mark Lilla. I was careful not to motivate my disagreement with Lilla in political terms. In fact, I avoid mention of "politics," "Israel," "evil," "Hitler," (etc). Interestingly enough, three out of four published comments on the piece thus far (two by fellow NewAPPSies),* focus on political abuses of the Holocaust in Israel or Stateside (or elsewhere); these comments seem to target primarily what they take to be the political and legal implications of Lilla's position.
Every advance in research that adds a new complication to our understanding of what happened on the Nazi side, or on the victims’, can potentially threaten our moral clarity about why it happened, obscuring the reality and fundamental inexplicability of anti-Semitic eliminationism.--Mark Lilla, NYRB, 21 November.
In a two-part article, which is a review of two films and some books, Mark Lilla presents us two competing approaches to the Holocaust: one -- represented by the author Hannah Arendt -- attempts "to find a schema that would render the horror comprehensible and make judgment possible;" the other -- represented by the film-maker Claude Lanzmann prior to the film (The Last of the Unjust) under review -- embraces a "refusal to understand." Without wishing to obscure the differences between Arendt and Lanzmann as presented by Lilla, the point of aiming and obtaining understanding, or not, is in some sense moral on their views. (I return to this below.)
As the passage above reveals, Lilla's position also embraces the "fundamental inexplicability," of "anti-Semitic eliminationism" by which he appears to mean the Holocaust of the Jews.* But in Lilla's approach the inexplicable has no stated moral purpose. In fact, in the passage above, Lilla offers us an asymmetry in the possible consequences of obtaining new facts, insights, even "understanding" of a historical event: (i) in the moral sphere they can undermine (or fortify) "moral" judgment; (ii) in the epistemic sphere, they leave untouched what is fundamentally inexplicable. To be sure, in the moral realm certain forms of historical explanation are presupposed; in particular, one needs a functional or teleological account why something happened before one can obtain "moral clarity" or not. But Lilla's position also involves the further claim that even with some such "understanding," an event can remain fundamentally inexplicable. We are not told much about what remains elusive such that a functionally or schematically understood event is still not just a mystery, but at bottom a mystery.
I want to offer a reading of the classic film Casablanca through the lens of a conception of love developed in bell hooks's All About Love. In that series of essays, hooks picks up on ideas of M. Scott Peck's in The Road Less Traveled. Peck, whether explicitly or not - I haven't read that book - is developing Aristotelian notions. Leaving that aside, and taking a few liberties with what hooks has to say, the concept of love that I want to make use of here is roughly this: a mutual social-psychological orientation between a group of people through which they systematically contribute to each other's spiritual growth. (Here 'spiritual' can be given a more directly Aristotelian reading in terms of virtue, or others. These differences do not matter for present purposes.)
A few quick points: this is meant in the sense of concept crafting. That is, the claim is not that this notion captures the (all, even some) commonsense usage of 'love' but that it is a useful concept for cutting some aspects of moral-social-psychological reality at the joints. Note as well that this notion of love is not at all essentially tied to romantic love. It applies as well to friendship, parenting, political comreades, members of a close social group, etc. Importantly, this sense of love is not equated with affect or emotion, though some sorts of emotional engagement may be necessary. It is essentially measured by effect. Love is a relationship that leads to mutual growth, reinforced by the relationships that nurture it. Finally, note the emphasis on mutuality - which is not to say symmetry. A loving relationship is one in which each nurtures the growth of the others. There may be healthy relationships that nurture growth in one direction, but that is something different, and something that is very likely to quickly become unhealthy.
Metaphysics is not something that I gladly spend time on,
and for two main reasons: i) I’m skeptical that we humans, with out limited
cognitive capacities, can ever really carve nature at its joints, to use the Platonic
expression (and even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to recognize it as such). ii)
Metaphysical questions give me a headache – they make my head
But anyway, I was asked to deliver a short lecture to
introduce the film Primer for an
event organized by the philosophy students’ association in Groningen. So it had
to be about time travel, and thus about time, and thus about metaphysics… (The
reason why I was ‘singled out’ was my course on paradoxes that one of the
students organizing the event had attended. But in said course I do my best to
steer away from metaphysics and deal mostly with logical paradoxes, though we
do discuss the Ship of Theseus and metaphysical vagueness.) As is often the
case, I was saved by this very informative entry on time over at the Stanford
Encyclopedia; I also read Lewis’ classic ‘The paradoxes of time travel’, and a few
other related papers, by e.g. Sider and Keller and Nelson.
As people are hoping for a fun night out, I figured I shouldn’t make my lecture too difficult (and thus aim for being the only
one with a headache at the end of it). But the point I will argue for is that time
travel as depicted in movies such as the Back
to the Future trilogy (ah, the golden days of my childhood!) and Primer is inherently paradoxical, as it
involves two aspects that are difficult to reconcile: time travel as such, and
the possibility of altering the causal course of events by means of time
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I'm a long-time fan of a form of music one might call "free improv": improvised sound unconstrained by any traditional melodic or harmonic structure (a movement which grew out of free jazz on the one hand and minimalism and punk on the other—note this usage is more restrictive than wikipedia's definition). One thing about this music which has puzzled me is the large gap between the excitement of experiencing it live and the stillborn dullness of most of it as recorded—especially true of the more minimal varieties, e.g. Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, Keith Rowe, or Axel Dörner.
Here I draw attention to one relevant factor: the shared experience within a single sonic environment possible only during live performance. When performer and audience are listening to the same sounds, the performer's improvised response can illustrate how she heard those sounds, thereby retroactively affecting the audience member's own experience in the moment. But this dynamic interaction also defeats the possibility of capturing that moment with any mechanical recording device.
Consider for example this instance by the Boston-based duo Nmperign:
Last night, Michelle
Obama presented the award for best picture at the Oscars. She said
all the usual inspirational stuff about movies making us laugh and cry and teaching
us something important about the human spirit. In Hollywood’s America, it doesn't matter what
you look like (wink, wink - race), where you come from (wink, wink -
immigration), or who you love (wink, wink - gay marriage), if you believe in
yourself, you can make your dreams come true. We all know it’s bullshit, and yet… hey, it’s
But wait a second! Isn't Michelle Obama the First Lady of the United
States? The wife of the President? And who are those smiling white people
standing behind her in military pomp and little bow ties? Is she actually
speaking from the White House?
Presenting an entertainment award? I know that's kind of weird, and
yet... she looks great! Her bangs are a little heavy, but it works.
Some readers may have already seen the article at the Toronto newspaper National Post on Eric and Mark’s ‘modest proposal’. As much as it is rewarding to see the topic discussed in the Canadian press, there are a few reasons not to be entirely satisfied with the article. (Let me note that I am now voicing my own personal opinions, not NewAPPS’s ‘official’ position – there isn’t such a thing anyway!)
- As noted at a post and comments over at the Feminist Philosophers, it is somewhat disheartening that, apparently, it is only when male individuals put forward a proposal to improve the gender balance at philosophy conferences that it gets this kind of attention. Not enough is said [UPDATE - see comment below] on the Gendered Conference Campaign of the Feminist Philosophers, which has been running for years, and which is ultimately what got the whole thing started. (To be fair, let me also add that the reporter did contact me to comment on my old post proposing even more modestly that male keynotes could inquire as to the gender composition of the conferences they are invited to. On that day, however, I was offline the whole day, so I replied at the end of the day that I could talk to her the next day (I did not get a reply to that).)
- Sure, it is a newspaper article, but does one really need to use this kind of inflammatory language like ‘Gender war’? Although it is not a quotation, the text attributes the following words to Eric: “I will essentially launch a campaign to take you down professionally”. Now, anyone who has read Eric’s original message to the HOPOS mailing list knows that, although admittedly strong-worded, the message was nothing like this.
It is understandable that journalism is a fast-rotating business and that a reporter has to make do with what she/he has, but ultimately the article did not present an accurate account of the whole thing. It did make an effort to represent different sides of the story, but it failed to emphasize [UPDATE] some crucial components like the GCC. Just so that it's noted...
Jon Cogburn offers a Bill and Ted line on this thread (#31). This puts me in mind of a new post: what are great philosophical (or philosophical souding) lines in film? Here's one on the relation of science and religion:
If apropos anything, someone asks you what side you are on, it is always felicitous to respond, "truth and beauty."
In this respect, I highly recommend Tim Kreider's NY Times tribute to Ray Bradbury HERE (if you are blocked by the pay-wall, just reset your cookies or "Clear Recent History" in Firefox).
When I read Bradbury's books as a young child I had no idea that the stuff of his nightmares were actually coming to pass. Nor could I have realized the extent to which I would later organize my life around fleeing those very things.
Kreider's conclusion is perfect:
I think of Ray Bradbury’s work often these days. I remember “The Murderer” whenever I ask for directions or make a joke to someone who can’t hear me because of her ear buds, when I see two friends standing back-to-back in a crowd yelling “Where are you?” into their phones, or I’m forced to eavesdrop on somebody prattling on Bluetooth in that sanctum sanctorum, the library. I think of “Fahrenheit 451” every time I see a TV screen in an elevator or a taxi or a gas pump or over a urinal. When the entire hellish engine of the media seemed geared toward the concerted goal of forcing me to know, against my will, about a product called “Lady Gaga,” I thought: Denham’s Dentifrice.
It is thanks to Ray Bradbury that I understand this world I grew into for what it is: a dystopian future. And it is thanks to him that we know how to conduct ourselves in such a world: arm yourself with books. Assassinate your television. Go for walks, and talk with your neighbors. Cherish beauty; defend it with your life. Become a Martian.
Also check out the song at right. Bowie understood Ray Bradbury. For all the suffering it entails, it is still infinitely better to be Martian than caveman.
A perfect example here of the media's insatiable desire to annoint a leader of a mass movement. The linked BBC article not only looks to present GND (see, I'm falling into it myself, using the initials) as a "leader," it also uses "he said, she said" reporting to make sure the most reactionary creeps get air time to repeat the usual canards about the students as spoiled brats (and quite implicitly, but nonetheless there, unless I'm being hyper-sensitive, the Quebec Francophones as emotional and unruly compared to the sober and rational Anglos). Now I'm quite sure GND knows all this and has made a careful study of Camila Vallego's manipulation of and by the media. (Cf. as well David Graeber and OWS.)
What I'd like to ask for comments on is not so much that tactical level, as the philosophical question of what lies behind the mediatic creation of "leaders." What desire is at work here, what fear of the multitude is being assuaged? "Fascism" is terribly overused as an analytical category, but can that be remedied by making a distinction between micro- and macro-fascism? Is this an instance of micro-fascism, the desire to find a leader, so that all human relations are that of leader and led, crowding out the immanent self-organization of the multitude? I'm moving very fast here, from a combination of caffeine and time pressure from other tasks, but I hope some of this makes sense and is enought to elicit comments.
Here is the Kickstarter link for Empires: The Film, by Marc Lafia. Check out their page; here's the trailer:
Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the film, but as I don't appear in the trailer or on the list of speakers, it doesn't seem that famous saying associated with Robert Evans will hold for me. It could have been my 15 minutes!
I was asked to do a short presentation yesterday for "Revolutionary Renditions," the culminating event in a spring-semester series sponsored by the International Studies program at LSU reflecting on the 2011 "Arab Spring." I chose the "duel of anthems" scene from Casablanca and commented on three aspects of La Marseillaise (in itself and as depicted in the movie) with regard to the intertwining of the affective, the semantic, and the pragmatic: 1) collective embodiment in music; 2) the temporality of revolutionary solidarity; 3) the universality of the values of the French Revolution and the “rights of man.” First the clip, then below the fold my (roughly sketched) notes for the discussion:
Cutting-edge technologies provide apt objects for nostalgia. Their time is brief, their promise of a dust-free, odor-free, worry-free future so quickly fades that one hardly has time to notice, or to resent, the hyperbole. The Polaroid process was once a marvel—it still is, really: pictures in a instant, film that develops itself, yielding, in just seconds not days, the image of your loved ones or of the natural wonders you think you’d like to be reminded of someday.
But sometimes you pulled the layers apart too soon. Or you kept the film too long. The chemicals did their work, regardless. William Miller (via La Boîte verte) has collected “Ruined Polaroids” with striking results. Some, like this one, look like Abstract Expressionist paintings, others like the remains of mysterious disasters or the surfaces of faroff moons.
Miller has also published striking photographs of the polluted waters of the Gowanus Canal. See his weblog for more.
You can still buy a Polaroid Instant Camera. “Instant is back!” says the company’s website.
Catarina called attention to Sophie Robert's documentary which heavily criticizes psychoanalytic approaches to autism in France. Three French psychoanalysts went to court and won their case against Robert. According to the Flemish newspaper, De Standaard, she needs to remove the material of these three analysts from her film and pay 36,000 Euros fine. (Thanks to Rogier de Langhe via facebook.)
Patricia Pisters is Professor of Media and Film studies at the University of Amsterdam, where she is chair of the department of Media Studies. She is also a member of the steering committee of NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies). Her research and teaching focuses on film-philosophical questions in conjunction with neuroscience and on political implications of contemporary transnational screen culture. Her new book, The Neuro-Image: A Deleuzian Filmphilosophy of Digital Screen Culture is forthcoming with Stanford University Press.
Catherine Malabou’s work makes a strong and important intervention in (re)connecting the materiality of physics and the immateriality of metaphysics through the concept of plasticity. In the first part of my response I would like to sketch a trajectory of this concept – as it is a “plastic” concept in itself. In doing this I hope to do justice to the radical moves which Malabou’s investigations entail, even if I will only be able to look at the developments of the concept in big steps. The implications of this radical turn might be even bigger than Malabou herself suggests, but that is something for the discussion. In the second part of my response I would like to look at a concrete example of what I call a “neuro-image,” contemporary cinema’s response to, resonance with and reflections on neurological and digital plasticity.
This thought occurred to me in reading this line from Diane Jeske's recent review: "Murray Smith's "Just What Is It That Makes Tony Soprano Such an Appealing, Attractive Murderer?" has stirred in me a desire to watch the television series The Sopranos, which I have until now avoided due to my dislike of mafia films/TV shows." (I have long admired Jeske, who is the editor of an edited volume Philosophy Through Film, from a distance, by the way.) What happens if you ignore the mob on the screen? It means, of course, no Don Corleone; no On the Waterfront; no Angels with Dirty Faces; no Eliott Ness, etc (For a fuller list see here.)
To put the matter succinctly: one fails to learn how America understands itself.
"The media don't only reflect reality; they create reality. And by focusing their energy on demonizing Muslims, we are missing an opportunity to positively influence the next generation. After all, if you tell children they're stupid enough times, they start to believe they're stupid. And if you tell them they're terrorists enough times, they start to believe they're terrorists. We live in an age when children are learning the alphabet from Rihanna's "S&M" and French from Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night." Surely Muslim protagonists need not be anathema to American entertainment. Portrayals of Muslim doctors and teachers and parents, Muslim heroes and superheroes, and just ordinary Muslims may well help save a generation." More here.
The following clip from Chaplin's 1921 short film, "The Idle Class," one of his Mutual Series films, is for me both a clear example of the action-image as Deleuze discusses this in his Cinema books and it points to an important claim Mark Wilson makes in his book Wandering Significance.
. It's nicely done and pretty amusing (with great short interviews with the President of the Hume Society, Elizabeth Radcliffe, and with Susan Manning as well as James Harris, who is working on an biography of Hume; Harris foregrounds the continuing relevance of Hume the economist.)
As pointed out by reader Seth Edenbaum here, it has now been confirmed that the 'Gay Girl in Damascus' blog is a hoax. The author, Tom MacMaster, has now published an apology on the blog, which is a pitiful attempt at recovering some dignity:
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone -- I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.
This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.
However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.
Best, Tom MacMaster, Istanbul, Turkey July 12, 2011
The sole author of all posts on this blog
This is disappointing in so many respects, and even the knowledge that there isn't somebody called Amina in prison after all doesn't attenuate things much. I am not yet entirely sure what the repercussions may be, but for one thing I can imagine that authoritarian governments will now have the 'hoax' card to play against blogs reporting on abuse and attacks on freedom. The credibility of bloggers doing the important work of bringing out to the world the appalling conditions of so many people living under dictatorial regimes is severely affected. The credibility of serious organizations which got involved, such as Avaaz, is also affected. For now, the hoax just strikes me as utterly irresponsible. Shame on you, Tom MacMaster.
An excellent essay on difficult and important topics. Excerpts:
.... The images of the disaster will be held indefinitely in store. For as long as there is an internet, they will remain available for recirculation. It is not so much that the horror is replaced by human warmth and its accompaniments. It is rather that it "decays" in the media. The horror transmutes into a different affective element, its intensity halved, then halved again, eventually reducing to trace levels. Globally, the event settles back into a more stable range of the periodic table of collective emotion.
What is the half-life of disaster in today's global media? At most two weeks. The suffering on the ground continues, and will continue for decades. World attention quickly shifts elsewhere....
Natural disaster and terrorism define the poles of disaster. In between stretches a continuum of disaster, a plenum of frightful events of infinite variety, at every scale, coming one after the other in an endless series. The media plays its role of affective conversion with a regularity that is as predictable as each event in the series, taken separately, is shockingly unforeseen....
First the affective strike of the event is instantaneously transmitted, cutting a shocked-and-awed hole of horror into the fabric of the everyday. The ability to make sense of events is suspended in a momentary hiatus of humanly unbearable, unspeakable horror. Then comes the zoom-in to the human detail. Stories get human traction. The horror is alloyed, its impact archived. Another event has been affectively conveyed with irruptive, interruptive force, only to subside into the background of everyday life. What remains is a continuous, low-level fear....
Three points stand out:
1) Collective response does, of course, go on. But it takes the privileged form of a growing state security apparatus....
2) The periodic heartwarming return to the personal level and human scale obscures the reality that there is, in fact, a strange complicity at work between the human-caused and the naturally occurring....
3) The actual dynamics of the disaster-prone interlinking of the complex systems just described involves a third complex system: the global economy. As the crisis of 2008 illustrated once again, capitalism itself is a far-from-equilibrium system eminently capable of generating its own endemic disasters. The financialisation of the capitalist economy has taken it to a level of complexity defying logic or description – not to mention regulation. It is as if capitalism has extruded its own, dedicated threat environment, in the form of abstract financial instruments operating on the edge of chaos, permanently under the pall of the spectre of debt crisis....
The only way out is to militate for an alternate interlinkage: between global anticapitalist political contestation and a renascent environmental movement with opposition to nuclear power at its heart. A political ecology up to the task would embrace the human-nature hybridity, in all its complexity, but toward a new alliance designed to step outside the vicious circle. Also required is a realisation that the affective turn in the functioning of political legitimation that has come with the media saturation of global culture is likely irreversible. An ecological alter-politics must also be an alter-politics of affect.
Read the whole thing here. As always, skip the comments.