After viewing the rather disappointing Chopin: Desire for Love a couple of years ago, I was struck again by how difficult it seems to be to make movies about artists, writers, or perhaps creators of all kinds. My viewing also served to remind me that movies about philosophers' lives are exceedingly rare, and the few that have been made--or rather, that I am aware of--haven't exactly sent cinemaphiles or students of philosophy running to the nearest box-office e.g., Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein was a disappointment, and the less said about the atrocious and unwatchable When Nietzsche Wept, the better.
Over on Cyborgology, my colleague Robin James has a post up about Taylor Swift’s promotion of her new album. James focuses on two moments in that promotion: on the one hand, Swift has removed her music from the free streaming part of Spotify, on the grounds that it insufficiently compensates her (and others’) labor in producing it. On the other hand, she released a video, “Blank,” that watches more like an interactive video game. On James’ argument, both of these strategies amount to an effort on Swift’s part to control and otherwise dictate the terms of her affective labor. On the surface of it, that’s laudable enough, and certainly the Internet can readily be seen as an enormously complex vehicle for extracting surplus value from its users by getting them to work for free. As Terry Hart tirelessly points out on Copyhype, Silicon Valley makes a lot of money off of other people’s work, and shockingly little of that money finds its way back to the content industries: Silicon Valley obscures (and does not compensate) the enormous amount of affective labor on which it depends.
In Sons and Lovers (1913), D. H. Lawrence directs many glances at the Derbyshire landscape, often through his characters' distinctive visions. Here is one, this time through Paul Morel:
He was brooding now, staring out over the country from under sullen brows. The little, interesting diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene; all that remained was a vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy, the same in all the houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds; they were only shapen differently. And now that the forms seemed to have melted away, there remained the mass from which all the landscape was composed, a dark mass of struggle and pain. The factory, the girls, his mother, the large, uplifted church, the thicket of the town, merged into one atmosphere—dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit. [Bantam Classic, 1985, pp. 271]
In this vivid passage, Paul's melancholia affords him a lens through which to interpret his surroundings, now infected with his own subjectivity. The world he 'sees' has the shapes and forms that it does because they are the ones he has imposed on it. So overpowering is his current sense of desolation that the boundaries between objects break down, principles of individuation fail to hold sway, and the substratum that is the foundation of the visible world is revealed. In this state of mind it can only be the 'vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy', 'a dark mass of struggle and pain.' As a daily coping mechanism, this brooding assemblage is understood as, and interacted with, as physical objects, including animate and inanimate ones, like 'houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds' but at times like these--a characteristically intense interaction with a woman, in this case, Clara Dawes, his lover--this construction crumbles, and the artifice of it all is revealed. As is the grim underlying reality. (Paul's interpretive scheme is not a linguistic one; it seems to be constructed from felt emotions and sensations.)
An interesting analogy with Lawrence's technique here is that employed by Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver when showing us Travis Bickle's New York City. Scene after scene shows a grim tapestry of violence, sexual degradation, and corruption of all stripes--'the filth'--which so corrodes Bickle's sensibilities and generates an ultimately violent retaliation. So relentless is this depiction of 'the open sewer', so ubiquitous its presence outside Bickle's car window, that viewers of Taxi Driver might wonder if Bickle was driving around the same city block again and again. But that, of course, is the point of it all: the diversity of the city has been dissolved and made shapeless and formless by Bickle's gaze. What we see on the screen is Bickle's subjectivity imposed on the landscape outside, now understood and contextualized by his distinctive perspective into 'one vast matrix of of vice and dirt', with its streets and corners and peoples and street lights all merged into one atmosphere--dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit.'
Paul Morel and Travis Bickle live in distinctive worlds of their own.
Matt Osterman's Ghost from the Machine (2010)--originally titled and known internationally as Phasma Ex Machina--is touted by its marketing material as a 'supernatural thriller'. A low-budget indie, it uses a cast made up of genuine amateurs who sometimes look distinctly uncomfortable and self-conscious on camera, and wears its modest production values on its sleeve. The story sounds hokey enough: a young man, an amateur inventor of sorts, tries to bring his dead parents back to life by building an electrical machine that changes the electromagnetic field surrounding it (I think.) The parents, unsurprisingly, do not return from the dead, but other folks do: a widowed, fellow-garage-tinkerer neighbor's long-dead wife, and a pair of murderous old folk. (The return to life of this latter bunch makes the movie into a 'horror' or 'ghost' film; bringing back the garage-tinkerer's wife would only have made it 'supernatural.')
For all that PEM manages to often be genuinely thought-provoking. It is so because its treatment of its subject matter invites immediate analogizing--not comparison--with two cinematic classics: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris.
In the most anticipated Copyright decision this term, the Supreme Court today ruled, 6-3 (opinion by Breyer, dissent Scalia) that Aereo’s service for watching broadcast TV online violates the Copyright Act. Briefly: Aero operates a large number of tiny antennas. Subscribers pick a program they want to watch, and get exclusive access to an antenna. That antenna then receives the broadcast in question, sets it up on a private folder for that user in the cloud, and then streams it to him/her over the Internet. The broadcast networks sued, claiming that Aereo’s actions constituted an infringing public performance of their content.
There is and will be endless discussion about this case, because it may very well have enormous implications for cloud computing (the opinion tries very hard to limit itself: it includes an entire section about why it doesn’t apply to cloud computing, and the argument hinges on an analogy to cable TV and specific statutory language adopted in 1976 to deal with cable TV). But there’s something else more interesting, I think, under the radar. I sort of saw it in the opinion, but it came into sharp focus in Scalia’s dissent, so I’ll start there.
In our culture we do tend to associate men with the nerdly characteristic of getting overly enthusiastic about some narrow area and then trying to become frighteningly completist with respect to it. If we didn't have that association we wouldn't have the locution "nerd girl" (for more info, see the funny tumblr "Nerd Girl Problems") If you just call a guy a nerd you don't have to say "nerd boy."
I think that these stereotypes might have a little bit to do with why women are underrepresetned in philosophy. There's not much difference between a music nerd reclassifying his sixteen boxes of LPs and someone organizing the dialectical space around everything anyone has ever said about Fitch's Paradox.
This Salon piece looks at some recent movies through the lens of masculinity anxiety:
A friend of a friend of mine has big plans: quit his prestigious editorial job in New York, grow his beard a bit further out, and start working on the docks. In 2014, the sentiments behind such a decision aren’t anything new... Gender roles in the workplace and the family are blurring...
I don't have any complaints about the analysis of the movies, just about the vast understatment of the phrase "aren't anything new." Because, let's face it, if there's anything men have been worried about the entire history of "Western Civilization" (TM; and yes, like Gandhi, I would be in favor of it), it's the decline in masculinity as soon as guys take up desk jobs.
I would date it to Nausicaa getting turned on by the pirate, er, gangster, er warrior Odysseus when he appears on the beach, because frankly those nancy boy courtiers hanging around her dad's court just lack a certain something, know what I mean? But then again, really isn't it Enkidu teaching Gilgamesh what a real man is all about? And so on and so forth, through Plato and Tacitus and hell just about everybody, really, including turn of the century Americans. Turn of the 20th century, that is. Cf, too, for the latest in hard bodies. It's as if it were a theme or something!
I'm thinking (again) about beeping people during aesthetic experiences. The idea is this. Someone is reading a story, or watching a play, or listening to music. She has been told in advance that a beep will sound at some unexpected time, and when the beep sounds, she is to immediately stop attending to the book, play, or whatever, and note what was in her stream of experience at the last undisturbed moment before the beep, as best she can tell. (See Hurlburt 2011 for extensive discussion of such "experience sampling" methods.)
Exactly one year ago I finished off my blogging year with a post on gendered atrocities, focusing in particular on the Newtown shooting and the widely discussed gang rape in India. At that point, the hope was that these two events would at least not have been in vain, and that they would stir changes in the right direction. It seems that this did in fact happen in India, where the horridness of rape was given much more attention in the aftermath of the event, which triggered a firestorm of protest. (As for mass shootings and gun control in the US, to my knowledge nothing much seems to have changed since last year...)
And now, looking back on 2013, what strikes me as an absolute lowlight of the year is again something gender-related, at first sight of a much lesser degree of gravity – but only at first sight. One of the biggest hits of the year, Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, is nothing short of a badly concealed rape apology (read the lyrics for yourself here). That millions and millions of young (and not-so-young) impressionable people should be exposed to the truly disturbing message of the song is very, very worrisome. The catchiness of the song (yes, I’ll admit to its catchiness, which is really the merit of singer, co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams -- who, unlike Thicke, is a talented musician) only makes it worse, as it results in millions of kids singing ‘I know you want it’, ‘good girl’, and other horrific bits of the text. (It is particularly surprising that the three singers all seem fairly adjusted, family-oriented people; but what doesn’t one do for success…) The video is equally appalling, featuring three scantily clad female models interacting in unflattering ways with the three fully clad male singers (I’ll just mention hair-pulling and puffing smoke on one of the women’s face – see the video for yourself if you have to. Oh, and there is also an uncensored version!).
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
So what we are going to do is this. You can purchase the
uncompressed .wav files by taking the following steps. First, make a donation
to the charity of your choice in the amount that you think is appropriate. There is no minimum donation, but we of
course recommend that you be generous!
send an email to the following email address:
In this email, simply
tell us that you have made a charitable donation; you don’t need to tell us
where if you don’t want to. We’d
appreciate if you’d tell us the amount donated since we would like to know how
much money has been raised in this fashion. However, we won’t require that you
do this. There is no minimum amount you
must donate (and obviously no maximum amount either). We are simply going to take your word that
you have made a donation.
After you have sent the email, you will receive an email in
response that will contain a link directing you where to download a .zip file that
contains all the songs. Also included in this package will be liner
notes, a .pdf with a printable cd-booklet, and bonus remixes of four of the
No money needs to go into our pockets even temporarily and
there are no overhead costs. Every cent
of every dollar you donate will go straight to the charity of your choice, and
in return you get the full album immediately in a higher-resolution
format. We aren't trying to make money with this
endeavor -- we are trying to do a little good for others.
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.