Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recommended - Havana Style

The book is called Havana Style, by Christiane Reiter, edited by Angelika Taschen, published by Taschen Press. It is mostly vivid photography of Havana, Cuba, a place in the world that I have long been fascinated with. Not everything we read needs to knock our socks off with its progressiveness and grandeur. Sometimes you just need a good coffee-table book to help inspire conversation at a summer party.

A quote from the section "Interiors": ...the house is built of weathered boards. The doors and windows are low. In front of the altars blessed porcelain dishes shimmer in the humid heat, flanked by a SONY recorder and several Japanese ventilators."

That's about all the text you get in this book, everything else is photography. Here's a sampling of what you can expect to see: much of El Malecon, the tall double shotgun doors, vaulted ceilings, iron balconies weathered by hurricanes, ample coverage of the smooth, charming columns and stairs at the Casa La Guarida, those cozy little veteran cars from the 50s, impressive stacks of green bananas in transit, portraiture of family members, statesmen, Jesus. There are elaborate tile designs, chipping away over the decades, rocking chairs, pottery, and of course the occasional large-scale image of Che Guevara.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight - movie review

An enjoyable bit of entertainment. Worth seeing. A bit long. I was impressed with how chilling and forensic it was (more on that later) in comparison to the earlier films, and even Christian Bale's other performance in the role in Batman Begins. The direction was brisk and everyone seemed well-cast. What they did with Lt. Gordon was a surprise, and a very interesting choice.

The film gets by with a couple of "Hollywood" moments you just have to bat your eyes at such as the superfluous opening action sequence with the bit about vigilantism left unexplored; there was also a gun being snuck into court and the Joker's effortless dispatching of a mobster bodyguard (a magic trick, indeed). I only mention those because this film was trying so so hard to be realistic in that intimate-yet-simultaneously-obtuse way we have come to expect from reality-tv, COPS, and other current forensic-focused crime dramas.

There's been some debate about this film in comparison to the original 89 version. My answer to that echoes much others that are circulating - two different eras, two different films. In the late 80s Tim Burton's gothic/grotesque outlook on film was hot, he was the natural choice to direct, and that film has his distinct stamp in the way all his other films do. The leads were seasoned veterans of the screen, who brought great depth to the roles - the film effectively mixes loud and soft moments in the way the new films do not.

The sexual politics of the original left a bad taste in my mouth, something I wrote on before (maybe I'll re-post) but TDK did something with the female lead almost never done in mainstream movies. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Someone needed to cross that line at some point, but why here? The reasons are not compelling.

The other debate is Heath Ledger's performance in comparison to Jack Nicholson's.

While I haven't read the comics (and don't generally) my understanding of the character of the Joker was that it was some kind of theatrical stock character out of German Expressionism, that he was supposed to make you laugh and cringe at the same time, as in how can I the viewer find this funny when the guy is psycho? So the Joker JN played makes you uncomfortable on two levels, both visually and internally. TDK's Joker is simply a terrorist, and just inspires resentment. I found the "telling-you-my-plans" scenes quite tedious, even though they moved quickly. Recall the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - "when you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk!" But if talking in the interest of backstory is already minimized, all that's left for a director to do is have people shoot. And there's a lot of shooting in this movie.

Ledger went beyond the writer's demands and gave the performance of his life, something maybe lost to the overall production, but not to the audience. This is the kind of thing the young Michael Caine got famous for doing, and it's too bad we won't see any more films with Heath Ledger. However since the Joker of TDK is so one-dimensional in this regard, I have to give the edge to Nicholson for the more complex portrayal.

More on the one-dimensionality - this is perhaps the wrong term. It would be better to think of Heath Ledger's Joker as super-dimensional, since he seems to have a ubiquitous presence in nearly every scene, as if he's also getting around town in a million-dollar road coaster himself. No, its better than that, because with a bomb always previously-planted, with henchmen getting mowed down in one scene and somehow quickly replaced in the next, with a sheer command of whatever technology he's using to intimidate the multitude, this Joker takes on a transubstantiated, immanent quality of Evil not too unlike the Christian account of Satan himself.

But, the somewhat absurdist aspect of the 89 Joker paved the way for the more cartoonish villains to follow. So, Heath Ledger's Joker gets points for closing the door on the cartoons and tv series regalia once and for all, moving the villainy in a potentially more compatible direction, that is, compatible for the times we live in. In comparison, the 89 film does bask in its retro 40s production design a little too obviously (Axis Chemical?), so today it seems dated in more ways than one. I smile at that anyway, though, because I love the fashion of the era.

Where is the bat cave? We see instead a kind of bat-vault, chilling and dry like in the James Bond franchise, which possibly at this point the creators of the Batman films may be eyeing as cinematic competition. Why eye it - they already blew the competition away in opening weekend.

The film, like much entertainment of this decade, one could notice, wants to make the claim that criminal behavior needs no rational explanation for what it does, therefore don't bother looking for an explanation. Just kick their butts as soon as you possibly can. While it is true that some people 'just want to watch the world burn' as butler Alfred notes, there's still always a twisted logic behind what they do. Knowing this logic and motivation may not indeed help you in a fight, but some foreknowledge is better than none. Instead, the filmmakers substitute forensics for psychology, and although they do it with panache, question marks about motivations are merely snowed over with enough action and bullet-riddled minor characters to keep you distracted.

If we didn't have to know backhistory for the Joker, why did the filmmakers give it to us in the character of Two-Face? It could be so that they could set up the plot machinery that leads to the ending, which I found to be excellent, not just in tying up the loose ends of the film, but in suggesting a more satisfying 3rd installment to come.

But the film in the end is not about the Joker, or even Batman, its about ethical choices in life or death situations. It moves into provoking a discussion about what's involved in such decisions in a way that doesn't talk down to the audience. This alone makes the movie worth seeing.

What this film was missing were the bats! The bats are a mysterious, primal force that disturbed and motivated Bruce Wayne in both the 89 version and in Batman Begins. Instead, the Joker became that force in this film, flitting easily from one scene to the next, like a giant vampire bat, as if the batcave has become our entire waking world. No need to descend into a Borgesian cellar, the filmmakers seem to be claiming, when there is already plenty of horror right in front of us. With the world already bats, no need to look for a cave.

But, people get tattoos of primal forces, not robo-cops, which is often how Christian Bale's character comes across in this film. What bugs me is imagining that after watching this film, people who are a little emotionally disheveled may get a tattoo of the Joker instead. And, they may say 'well, its for Heath.." but then you'll wonder.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fascinating essay on Borges

from a scholar and teacher:

And, excerpts: a talk called ‘My prose’, Borges referred to the Aleph as the transformation of the scholastic idea of eternity as an instant, into its spatial equivalent: ‘I had read in the theologians that eternity is not the sum of yesterday, today and tomorrow, but an instant, an infinite instant, in which all our yesterdays are assembled as Shakespeare in Macbeth says, all the present and all the incalculable future or futures. I said to myself: if somebody has prodigiously imagined an instant that embraces and enciphers the sum of time, why not do the same with that modest category called space? … Well, I simply applied to space that idea about eternity’...

‘In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and horrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fac. that all occupied the same point, without superposition or transparency’. Can an instant be gigantic?...

...Carlos Argentino’s rhetoric and vision resemble a cross between the neoclassical and the twentieth century, he sees ‘all the places of the world, seen from every angle’, that is to say, he sees the whole earth from a cubist perspective -in cubism the object is broken up, disarticulated, presented from all its possible angles. ‘Borges’ sees instead an omnitopia of ubiquity, simultaneity, doubling, simulation, a vision that speaks about different formal inflections of space, whilst positing the infinite, rather than the world, as the ultimate spatial cipher.

Specular space, a space that multiplies spaces, a mirror that becomes infinite things, thereby already multiplying the infinite space of the Aleph and generating part of the real by its simulation, is the first thing ‘Borges’ describes as seeing in the Aleph...

my thoughts:

**this is very interesting creatively for me, because I have been reading Borges, and what Ive lately been interested in poetically are moments , and how much can be gained by seeing everything possible in one moment, not from many angles alone, but from many times, many places, many identities. In dreams a face can substitute for a word spoken, and we sometimes are both the subject and the object being acted upon, or acting upon others. This can be psychically troubling because in dreams we are usually helpless, and in conscious life we strive to maintain control. But in creative life the striving to maintain control interferes with inspiration, so our creative work winds up literal or didactic. Even a certain striving for irrationality can become another agency for Control. We end up policing our thoughts before they even get out the gate.

Earlier, I wrote:

white moth in the tall city
..tall city no walls
no walls, all mirrors...

Sometimes our subject can be horrifying - when we look at a surgical chair it may seem just a necessary place to be for us if we need surgery, but it could have been something quite horrifying to someone else, some other time and place.

I believe to enable these "mirrors," for lack of a better term, the somewhat alchemical property of the Aleph, is an act of generosity, plurality..whereas often in letters, or culture generally, we hear a singular voice or point of view coming toward us from one direction - a one-way street. I can listen to Robert Anton Wilson and try to understand that everyone's in their own "reality tunnel", although this presupposes that I need to consider every point of view worth listening to, when I don't. (And you don't either, probably) Although I agree with his point about how we can be trapped in linguistic constructs, for example 'tunneling' might imply boundaries and limits, in the same way plumbing implies pipes, but it does depend on what we're tunneling into, doesn't it?

We can form a collective and all harmonize on similar notes, we can be a big band. Or we can imagine that the Orchestra is Already in the Room, even if there's no one else there. For me this is the essential creative impulse, and we don't have to think any further on it in order to create, because something in the environment itself will tell us to pay attention to it.**

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Zeez

The Zeez, a contemporary philosopher I admire, always gives you something to chew on, allow me:

In 1968 Paris, one of the best-known graffiti messages on the city’s walls was “Structures do not walk on the streets!” In other words, the massive student and workers demonstrations of ‘68 could not be explained in the terms of structuralism, as determined by the structural changes in society, as in Saussurean structuralism. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s response was that this, precisely, is what happened in ‘68: structures did descend onto the streets. The visible explosive events on the streets were, ultimately, the result of a structural imbalance.

There are good reasons for Lacan’s skeptical view. As French scholars Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello noted in 1999’s The New Spirit of Capitalism, from the ’70s onward, a new form of capitalism emerged.

Capitalism abandoned the hierarchical Fordist structure of the production process — which, named after auto maker Henry Ford, enforced a hierarchical and centralized chain of command — and developed a network-based form of organization that accounted for employee initiative and autonomy in the workplace. As a result, we get networks with a multitude of participants, organizing work in teams or by projects, intent on customer satisfaction and public welfare, or worrying about ecology.

In this way, capitalism usurped the left’s rhetoric of worker self-management, turning it from an anti-capitalist slogan to a capitalist one. It was Socialism that was conservative, hierarchic and administrative.

**mm not exactly..what is meant by a network? Is Zizek reading notes of the Rand corporation in the hopes that he'll re-appropriate the language back from the power structure?**

The anti-capitalist protests of the ’60s supplemented the traditional critique of socioeconomic exploitation with a new cultural critique: alienation of everyday life, commodification of consumption, inauthenticity of a mass society in which we “wear masks” and suffer sexual and other oppressions.

The new capitalism triumphantly appropriated this anti-hierarchical rhetoric of ‘68, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organizations of corporate capitalism and “really existing” socialism. This new libertarian spirit is epitomized by dressed-down “cool” capitalists such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

What survived of the sexual liberation of the ’60s was the tolerant hedonism readily incorporated into our hegemonic ideology. Today, sexual enjoyment is not only permitted, it is ordained — individuals feel guilty if they are not able to enjoy it. The drive to radical forms of enjoyment (through sexual experiments and drugs or other trance-inducing means) arose at a precise political moment: when “the spirit of ‘68” had exhausted its political potential.

At this critical point in the mid-’70s, we witnessed a direct, brutal push-toward-the-Real, which assumed three main forms: first, the search for extreme forms of sexual enjoyment; second, the turn toward the Real of an inner experience (Oriental mysticism); and, finally, the rise of leftist political terrorism (Red Army Faction in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy, etc.).

**yes I agree with this, though I will declare it doesn't do any good to read it, you have to experience it organically for yourself or you don't get it, but market forces are constructed today so that you will nearly never experience the need to go there, and you'll suffer if you do, last paragraph especially**

Leftist political terror operated under the belief that, in an epoch in which the masses are totally immersed in capitalist ideological sleep, the standard critique of ideology is no longer operative. Only a resort to the raw Real of direct violence could awaken them.

What these three options share is the withdrawal from concrete socio-political engagement, and we feel the consequences of this withdrawal from engagement today.

Autumn 2005’s suburb riots in France saw thousands of cars burning and a major outburst of public violence. But what struck the eye was the absence of any positive utopian vision among protesters. If May ‘68 was a revolt with a utopian vision, the 2005 revolt was an outburst with no pretense to vision.

Here’s proof of the common aphorism that we live in a post-ideological era: The protesters in the Paris suburbs made no particular demands. There was only an insistence on recognition, based on a vague, non-articulated resentment.

The fact that there was no program in the burning of Paris suburbs tells us that we inhabit a universe in which, though it celebrates itself as a society of choice, the only option available to the enforced democratic consensus is the explosion of (self-)destructive violence.

**the illusion is that we live in a post-ideological era, and it was brought on by the radical Muslim attacks on Western targets, people, especially leftists and liberals, believe that belief is bad, therefore they cant stand up for anything or form any kind of cohesive opposition to the war machine. I know I wrote this two years ago, but the only way the left can win is when the right screws up so badly, it becomes apparent to even them (Bush)**

Recall here Lacan’s challenge to the protesting students in ‘68: “As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.”

And we did get one — in the guise of the post-modern “permissive” master whose domination is all the stronger for being less visible.

**you see, Lacan's quote is used to justify the myth of post-ideologicalism, as in why advocate change cuz you're just gonna get hammered, so people who hear and believe that advocate behavior that's just as conservative as Fukuyama**

While many undoubtedly positive changes accompanied this passage — such as new freedoms and access to positions of power for women — one should nonetheless raise hard questions: Was this passage from one “spirit of capitalism” to another really all that happened in ‘68? Was all the drunken enthusiasm of freedom just a means to replacing one form of domination with another?

Things are not so simple. While ‘68 was gloriously appropriated by the dominant culture as an explosion of sexual freedom and anti-hierarchic creativity, France’s Nicholas Sarkozy said in his 2007 presidential campaign that his great task is to make France finally get over ‘68.

**yeah Gen-Xrs sometimes resent the older generation, because now they're retiring and their health care will cost more than ever. Add to that an influx of immigrants in many western countries and its like the people in their most productive years are in a bottleneck. Who needs ideology, they think, when you have to bust so much ass just to stay afloat and plan to retire? Which in my mind is a copout.**

So, what we have is “their” and “our” May ‘68. In today’s ideological memory, “our” basic idea of the May demonstrations — the link between students’ protests and workers’ strikes — is forgotten.

If we look at our predicament with the eyes of ‘68, we should remember that, at its core, ‘68 was a rejection of the liberal-capitalist system, a “NO” to the totality of it.

It is easy to make fun of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the “end of history,” of his claim that, in liberal capitalism, we found the best possible social system. But today, the majority is Fukuyamaist. Liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally found formula for the best of all possible worlds, all that is left to do is render it more just, tolerant, etc.

**quit quoting Lacan, and that would help. Because Lacanian approaches give us the illusion that change is a matter of psychological self-analysis, and not having anything to do with the exterior world or objects and structures within it. Better to have a master than burrow in a cybernetic fantasy forever - is the master too cruel? This is America, you can get a new one**

When Marco Cicala, an Italian journalist, recently used the word “capitalism” in an article for the Italian daily La Repubblica, his editor asked him if the use of this term was necessary and could he not replace it with a synonym like “economy”?

What better proof of capitalism’s triumph in the last three decades than the disappearance of the very term “capitalism”? So, again, the only true question today is: Do we endorse this naturalization of capitalism, or does today’s global capitalism contain contradictions strong enough to prevent its indefinite reproduction?

There are (at least) four such antagonisms: the looming threat of ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of private property rights for so-called “intellectual property”; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, in the form of new walls and slums.

**ok sure, among those the least important one is intellectual property**

The first three antagonisms concern the domains of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Toni Negri call “commons” — the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act that should be resisted with violent means, if necessary (violence against private property, that is).

The commons of external nature are threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) are threatened by technological interference; and the commons of culture — the socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. — are privatized for profit. (If Bill Gates were to be allowed a monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have owned the software texture of our basic network of communication.)

**If Bill Gates makes you uncomfortable, you can always buy a mac or use linux. I've been a mac owner for 10 years, my godfather uses linux. we're never switching back**

We are gradually becoming aware of the destructive potential, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, that could be unleashed if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run.

Economist Nicholas Stern rightly characterized the climate crisis as “the greatest market failure in human history.”

There is an increasing awareness that we need global environmental citizenship, a political space to address climate change as a matter of common concern of all humanity.

One should give weight to the terms “global citizenship” and “common concern.” Doesn’t this desire to establish a global political organization and engagement that will neutralize and channel market forces mean that we are in need of a properly communist perspective? The need to protect the “commons” justifies the resuscitation of the notion of Communism: It enables us to see the ongoing “enclosure” of our commons as a process of proletarization of those who are thereby excluded from their own substance.

**ok, well, what about the dictatorship? always kind of a speed bump there on the road to the happy commons**

It is, however, only the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded that properly justifies the term Communism. In slums around the world, we are witnessing the fast growth of a population outside state control, living in conditions outside the law, in terrible need of minimal forms of self-organization. Although marginalized laborers, redundant civil servants and ex-peasants make up this population, they are not simply a redundant surplus: They are incorporated into the global economy, many working as informal wage workers or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security coverage. (The main source of their rise is the inclusion of the Third World countries in the global economy, with cheap food imports from the First World countries ruining local agriculture.) These new slum dwellers are not an unfortunate accident, but a necessary product of the innermost logic of global capitalism.

Whoever lives in the favelas — or shanty towns — of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or in Shanghai, China, is not essentially different from someone who lives in the banlieues — or outskirts — of Paris or the ghettos of Chicago.

If the principal task of the 19th century’s emancipatory politics was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by politicizing the working class, and if the task of the 20th century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the 21st century is to politicize — organize and discipline — the “destructured masses” of slum-dwellers.

If we ignore this problem of the Excluded, all other antagonisms lose their subversive edge.

**agreed, but communism requires some intellectual rigor, how can they get there? The destructured masses default to a kind of rump Hegelianism, or the religion becomes a chief informant to the politics, like in some places in the Muslim world - Guns n Religion!**

Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development. Intellectual property turns into a complex legal challenge. Biogenetics becomes an ethical issue. Corporations — like Whole Foods and Starbucks — enjoy favor among liberals even though they engage in anti-union activities; they just sell products with a progressive spin.

**yes unions matter, but how is America going to model their importance to the rest of the world, when anyone who expects one is pegged as a whiner? "call the wah-mbulance" they say**

You buy coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value.

You drive a hybrid vehicle.

You buy from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to corporation’s standards).

In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting poverty and diseases, and NewCorp’s Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

In contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have “nothing to lose but their chains,” we are thus ALL in danger of losing ALL. The risk is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subjects deprived of substantial content, dispossessed of symbolic substance, our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment.

These triple threats to our being make all of us potential proletarians. And the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively.

The true legacy of ‘68 is best encapsulated in the formula Soyons realistes, demandons l’impossible! (Let’s be realists, demand the impossible.)

**I can't think of a better slogan to provoke the right-wing backlash of 'don't tax the end user'**

Today’s utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely. The only way to be realistic is to envision what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


was on another level

something for every writer, especially myself, to keep in mind

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


This week - reading plays.
An opportunity to direct in a local festival may soon present itself.
Also, I submitted a play to the festival. But, no one's picked it yet. (I have hope - its kind of coarse, but still charming) What I'd like to do is a comedy or light romance. Details will come, if things pan out. The producer was impressed with my promptbook from a previous play. A good sign.