Sunday, December 30, 2007

The composite shopping mall is the most visible ‘art-object’ today

THE STATE OF THE NATION Art as spectacle
SADANAND MENON The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 30, 2007
Despite increasing interest, the autonomy and subversive potential of art seem threatened.
This ‘dumbing down’ is particularly lethal for the arts because the discourse about arts in the media is brought on par with the language of selling soap or toothpaste.
Half-a-century ago, radical poet Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, in one of his irreverent “Curd Seller” quatrains, had chanted: “The doctor’s fees are heavy,/The lawyer’s fees are high;/But the artist is just supposed/To entertain and die.”
Harin-da would have sung a different tune had he been around now. It is possible today for an average middle class urban Indian, modestly inclined towards the arts, to spend virtually every evening of the year at art openings, book launches or poetry readings or be a fixture at the avalanche of music, theatre or dance festivals.
Or, like those more severely afflicted, swing from city to city in pursuit of the transformative moment at the now ubiquitous film festival, enjoying as much of a dizzy high as the stock market. Why, even my native small town Thrissur, now boasts of a fairly robust ‘international’ film festival.
The artist too has undergone an image makeover, shifting out of the slot reserved for the slightly eccentric, unsavoury and almost lunatic fringe and smoothly sliding into the world of designer clothes, cocktail parties, page-3 capers and even sharing canvas-space with the big boys of the corporate world.
Unless, of course, you happen to be studying or teaching art at some place like M.S.University, Baroda. Then you need a helmet and an insurance policy to survive the onslaughts of ‘democratic’ mob interventions in the arts.
But to get serious, ‘art’ and its practice and meanings have undergone tectonic shifts in the past half-a-century. We need to come to terms today with an entirely unprecedented context within which ‘art’ needs to find a new justification for itself.
The organicity, autonomy and subversive potential of art, seems severely threatened in our times. On the one hand, there is a comprehensive ‘dumbing down’ of intellectual culture by media networks, as they become the “new missionaries of corporate capitalism”. This ‘dumbing down’ is particularly lethal for the arts because the discourse about arts in the media is brought on par with the language of selling soap or toothpaste.
With the global merging of culture, entertainment and the economy and the pushing of all societies into the ‘mega store’ of cultural wares, two distinct consequences follow — one, the co-option of art within the larger ‘Spectacle Economy’ of ‘Visual Culture’; and second, the conversion of the discourse on art into a discourse on ‘design’.
The tools of Structuralism had helped us realise that, like other forms of cognition, art too exists squarely within the ‘politics of cultural representation’. Inevitably now, art has become a crucial element within ‘visual culture’. Since, it is obvious that all ‘representation’ is grounded in social practice, ‘visual culture’ stands for our contemporary world of heightened spectacle pervaded by visual commodities, information, entertainment.
This might have pushed ‘art’ towards the idea of the ‘image’, which obviously, is the primary form of ‘commodity’ in today’s ‘spectacle economy’ of global proportions.
Radical French critic Guy Debord, in his seminal work The Society of the Spectacle, defined ‘spectacle’ as “capital accumulated to the point where it becomes an ‘image’”.
Reverse phenomenon
As critics have pointed out, now a reverse phenomenon can be acknowledged: “The ‘spectacle’ is an ‘image’ accumulated to the point where it becomes ‘capital’.”
This means even ‘dissident’ positions might have the ‘sanction’ of the ‘spectacle economy’. The exploitation of the unconscious hardly remains a project of the artist alone. The markets too play there — through supply-side aesthetics. When the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘utilitarian’ are subsumed in the ‘commercial’, everything — from industrial products to artisanal objects; dress codes to disposables; art works to posters — all become an expression of ‘design’.
The system encourages this because there is no ‘resistance’ within contemporary design. Bauhaus and other design movements were accomplished according to the spectacular dictates of the ‘culture industry’ and not the progressive ambitions of the ‘avant-garde’. ‘Design’ inaugurates a routinisation of ‘transgressions’.
To the extent that ‘art’ cohabits with ‘visual culture’ and ‘design’, it runs the risk of being consumed by its own representational nature and assuming the function of a ‘social discourse’.
Because then, only certain kinds of tame, platitudinous, status quo-ist meanings emerge out of it. Of course, one does not need to remind the artist community that ‘representation’ stands for a specific ‘construction’ of meaning and the cultural policing of its boundaries. We are all aware of the effect this had on M.F. Husain, Surendran Nair, Arpita Singh or Bhupen Khakhar.
Artistic discourse in civic space today is distorted by vested or manipulative intent and posturing. Which is why one can suggest the need for artists to move from mere ‘representation’ to ‘engagement’ — what philosopher Umberto Eco called “a semiological guerilla warfare at the borders of meanings”. Only then can art compel conviction.
Wide gap
But what can be called ‘art’ in the era of 24 x 7 television? There is already a wide gap between a totally self-involved, self-absorbed, introverted art world and an anaesthetised general culture of the nation immersed in a universe of sit-coms or dot-coms and an assortment of ‘item girls’ and cricket gladiators.
Art seems to be trapped in a nation enacting the twin script of ‘carnival’ and ‘survival’ — a disjunction between ‘utopian desire’ and ‘dystopian reality’. However, there is a major change today in the ‘’art-object’ too, as much as in the mentality of the aesthete or consumer.
Artistic conventions have become less familiar, let alone shared, consensual or contractual. There is also an explosion of art practices. New practices; new materials; new hybridity; new confrontations. It is the time of heterodox, ironical, funky modes with profound cultural cross-dressing and crossovers.
As public buildings and cultural centres are being made safe for shopping, spectating and spacing out, that wonderful Princeton scholar Hal Foster has, in fact, suggested that the composite shopping mall is the most visible ‘art-object’ today and shopping itself the most aesthetic activity one can do.
So what is happening? Are artists losing their nerve? Or is the unrestricted pastiche and cruising style of postmodernism turning them into unreliable ‘narrators’?
Obviously art needs to look for new engagements, considering it still has a humanising function in a brutalising world. After all, there is a continuing need to establish, through a nexus of symbologies, human similarities over cultural differences.
One needs to listen to Walter Benjamin: “In every era, the attempt must be made anew, to wrest the arts away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Don’t load up on neo-Arnoldians or exclusive historicists or cognitivists

Department of Everything Studies (Expressive Culture Division) Timothy Burke
I meant to comment earlier in July on this excellent discussion at the Valve on Mark Bauerlein’s suggestions for specific “conservative voices” to be included in courses of literary theory.
I want to go in the opposite direction: I want to collapse all departments concerned with the interpretation and practice of expressive culture into a single large departmental unit. I’d call it Cultural Studies, but I don’t want it to be Cultural Studies as that term is now understood in the American academy. Call it Department of the Humanities, or of Interpretation, or something more elegant and self-explanatory if you can think of it. I want English, Modern Languages, Dance, Theater, Art History, Music, the hermeneutical portions of philosophy, cultural and media studies, some strands of anthropology, history and sociology, and even a smattering of cognitive science all under one roof. I want what John is calling Everything Studies, except that I want its domain limited to expressive culture...
If I had to boil it down to what the normative selective principles of my new megadepartment ought to be, I’d say that the only things I really care about are:
1) be smart;
2) be interesting;
3) be communicative and
4) try to keep the ecosystem of cultural criticism as varied as possible.
Don’t load up on neo-Arnoldians or exclusive historicists or cognitivists or anything else besides. Stay invested in as many media and as many historical settings and contexts as possible. Don’t let anyone categorically say that the Department of Everything Studies (Expressive Culture Division) doesn’t deal with popular culture or doesn’t concern itself with aesthetics or regards actually trying to produce culture as some kind of riffraff vocational thing suitable for the lower orders and capitalist hegemons.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 2nd, 2007 at 2:19 pm and is filed under Academia, Popular Culture. Easily Distracted Culture, Politics, Academia and Other Shiny Objects 12 Responses to “Department of Everything Studies (Expressive Culture Division)”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Spare a thought for all those who cannot rejoice with us

Op-Ed Contributor ‘Ode to Joy,’ Followed by Chaos and Despair By SLAVOJ ZIZEK December 24, 2007 London
LAST week, European Union leaders put an end to a decade of diplomatic wrangling and signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which outlined a complete overhaul of the organization, including the creation of a permanent post of European Union president to represent Europe on the world stage. During the ceremony at Lisbon’s grandiose Jerónimos Monastery, a choir performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the background. While the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, first performed in 1824, may seem an innocuous choice for the official anthem of the European Union (it was declared such in 1972), it actually tells much more than one would expect about Europe’s predicament today.
The “Ode to Joy” is more than just a universally popular piece of classical music that has become something of a cliché during the holiday season (especially, oddly, in Japan, where it has achieved cult status). It has also been, for more than a century, what literary theorists call an “empty signifier” — a symbol that can stand for anything.
In early 20th-century France, the Nobel laureate Romain Rolland declared it to be the great humanist ode to the brotherhood of all people, and it came to be called “the Marseillaise of humanity.” In 1938, it was performed as the high point of the Reichsmusiktage, the Nazi music festival, and was later used to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. In China during the Cultural Revolution, in an atmosphere of total rejection of European classics, it was redeemed by some as a piece of progressive class struggle.
In the 1950s and ’60s, when the West German and East German Olympic squads were forced to compete as a single team, gold medals were handed out to the strains of the “Ode to Joy” in lieu of a national anthem. It served as the anthem, too, for the Rhodesian white supremacist regime of Ian Smith. One can imagine a fictional performance at which all sworn enemies — Hitler and Stalin, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush — for a moment forget their adversities and participate in the same magic moment of ecstatic musical brotherhood.
There is, however, a weird imbalance in this piece of music. In the middle of the movement, after we hear the main melody (the “joy” theme) in three orchestral and three vocal variations, something unexpected happens that has bothered critics for the last 180 years: at Bar 331, the tone changes totally, and, instead of the solemn hymnic progression, the same “joy” theme is repeated in the “marcia turca” ( or Turkish march) style, a conceit borrowed from military music for wind and percussion instruments that 18th-century European armies adopted from the Turkish janissaries.
The mode then becomes one of a carnivalesque parade, a mocking spectacle — critics have even compared the sounds of the bassoons and bass drum that accompany the beginning of the marcia turca to flatulence. After this point, such critics feel, everything goes wrong, the simple solemn dignity of the first part of the movement is never recovered.
But what if these critics are only partly correct — what if things do not go wrong only with the entrance of the marcia turca? What if they go wrong from the very beginning? Perhaps one should accept that there is something of an insipid fake in the very “Ode to Joy,” so that the chaos that enters after Bar 331 is a kind of the “return of the repressed,” a symptom of what was errant from the beginning.
If this is the case, we should thus shift the entire perspective and perceive the marcia as a return to normality that cuts short the display of preposterous portentousness of what precedes it — it is the moment the music brings us back to earth, as if saying: “You want to celebrate the brotherhood of men? Here they are, the real humanity ...”
And does the same not hold for Europe today? The second stanza of Friedrich Schiller’s poem that is set to the music in “Ode to Joy,” coming on the heels of a chorus that invites the world’s “millions” to “be embraced,” ominously ends: “But he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away.” With this in mind, one recent paradox of the marcia turca is difficult to miss: as Europe makes the final adjustments to its continental solidarity in Lisbon, the Turks, despite their hopes, are outside the embrace.
So, when in the forthcoming days we hear again and again the “Ode to Joy,” it would be appropriate to remember what comes after this triumphant melody. Before succumbing to the warm sentiment of how we are all one big family, I think my fellow Europeans should spare a thought for all those who cannot rejoice with us, all those who are forced to “steal weeping away.” It is, perhaps, the only way we’ll put an end to the rioting and car burnings and other forms of the Turkish march we now see in our very own cities.
Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of “The Parallax View.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I've met artists, philosophers, celebrities, friends, and people from around the world

So do I consider my blog a failure due to its insignificant traffic? Far from it. You see, because of my blog I am able to make meaningful connections and conversations with other people, online and offline. Once in a while I get emails from people thanking me for the links and ideas I express on my blog. I've met artists, philosophers, celebrities, friends, and people from around the world whom I otherwise wouldn't have met without my blog presence. I've landed a cool job at Zaadz because of my blog visibility. My blog serves as my outlet for creativity. The total lifetime pageviews of my blog may look depressing, but it doesn't reflect the quality experiences I've had since I started blogging my heart out.
So why do I blog thee? I blog for serendipity. I am living my Kosmic blogging dream. And because of that I'm one of the happiest bloggers in the world... Red ~C Diary: Why Do I Blog Thee? from Zaadz: ~C4Chaos' Blog (Crossposted from

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liminality of Sri Aurobindo's writing

I am currently interested in the liminality of Sri Aurobindo's writing and how they can crossover many of the culturally constructed boundaries which set discourse practices ranging from academic styles to voices of alterity . Particularly of interest is the intersection of conceptualized space we can arrive at when synthesis and integrality are not reified to foreclose the articulated reality of hybridity, collage, works of assemblages, but rather open rhizomic passages toward the revery of diversity, maximizing the ananda of otherness through the unexpected encounter.
If Bakhtin says hybridization is :

It is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor. (358)

Well, Sri Aurobindo was certainly working in that domain, even as he was inventing a unique synthesis, So if we encounter his writings - as I am currently revisiting his discourse on evolution - there are multiple dimensions to comprehend if we are to understand what he really intends to reveal of diversity and synthesis. And what he reveals is not a totalizing metaphysical claim, but rather an opening of experience to speak across cultures (and epochs). In doing this he is not only engaged in an integral praxis but also he is also championing a unique process of hybridization. To fully make sense of this we must also critically engage with those cultures, and times he moved within.
If we follow the chiaroscuro of synthesis into history and culture, to follow the boarders traced by Sri Aurobindo before he erases them, requires liminality ... but first an exploration of hybidity, ambivalence, and mimicry ...rc by Rich on Sat 15 Dec 2007 06:26 PM PST Permanent Link Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

Sonorous Individuations

At Lars’s prompting I’m posting an unedited version of the Newcastle Keynote paper for any who might be interested. A teaser:
It is easy to think of society as a thing, substance, or entity. We often talk of what “society does”, what it thinks, and how it behaves. We talk about the properties or qualities of the social as if it were a substance possessing attributes. We treat the social as a substantial being, like the identity underlying all the qualitative transformations of Descartes’ famous wax in the Second Meditation. We might, after the fashion of some tendencies in Levi-Strauss, for instance, speak of self-identical structures of mind persisting throughout time. However, if we consider the newborn infant or the feral child, and if we consider the disappearance of societies, their dissolution in history, we see that the social is not something that can be thought as a substance, but is rather something that must be constituted, produced, engendered. And not only must the social be produced or engendered, it must be produced or engendered again and again in the order of time as a series of ongoing actions, operations, or events. The social, in short, is a process.
You can find the rest of it here: territories-of-music1.doc. The key concept in everything I’m working on is that of individuation and how individuation requires us to recast a number of philosophical questions. As such, this paper might productively be read in relation to this old blog post. by larvalsubjects
For instance, we might think of the aleatory association of people in the blogosphere, where unrelated people all over the globe encounter one another, begin to engage one another’s work (often surrounding figures from entirely different traditions), such that certain themes, norms, and questions begin to emerge that would not have otherwise been present in an ordinary academic environment.
Between these different levels we can think the relations of feedback, where social systems are forced to respond to aggregates that form at the level of content or where aggregates of persons are forced to respond to effects of social systems. Again, we might think of how the academy responds to the productions of the blogosphere as they begin to filter into conferences, classrooms, academic journals, etc., and how the blogosphere deals with the molar form-producing machines of themes that dominate departments and journals, placing constraints on publications and lines of inquiry that must be navigated like so many selective pressures. We can think of what occurs when an element individuated within one system is placed in a new context or territory-- a Lacanian, for example, suddenly forced to express his claims to Frankfurt theorist --and what emerges as a result. Territories of Music: Distributions, Productions, and Sonorous Individuations 8 December 2007 by Larval Subjects territories-of-music1.doc

Mailer liberated prose and psyches. Stockhausen even asked his musicians to be acrobats

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Lives, work run parallel on paths to heroic art By Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer December 15, 2007 LAT Home >
Within less than a month, we lost two marvelous megalomaniacs. Few obituaries of Norman Mailer, who died Nov. 10 at 84 after a long illness, got very far without mentioning the vastness of the American writer's ego. Ditto for the outsized self-esteem of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German composer/guru who died suddenly and unexpectedly last week at 79. Heroic artists who made themselves into legends, they are thought to be titans with great flaws who had more or less used up their talents by the end.
I don't agree. My enthusiasm for their work began in the '60s, when they seemed to encapsulate the idealistic, revolutionary spirit of the time, and I stuck with them from then on, no matter how trying that could sometimes be. But given the radically different natures of their personalities, cultural backgrounds and art forms, I can't remember ever thinking of Mailer and Stockhausen as being alike.
I doubt they ever met or paid much, if any, attention to each other. Now that their stories are complete, however, I am struck by similarities, astonishing similarities, of these creators of some of the greatest and most meaningful -- at least to me -- art of our age.
Both men were shaped by World War II, made insufferable by early fame and transformed by the ideals and lifestyles of the '60s. They saw themselves as leaders and had an enormous gusto for the public arena. They were artists for their time yet obsessed by history. They took on big issues, especially those of good and evil, and presented the big picture in cumbersome works that demand time, patience and considerable hard work to comprehend.
Absurdly macho, they nevertheless shared a spiritual soft side, believing in God as a supreme artist. Stockhausen was the wackier of the two. He figured someone as artistically advanced as he was must have been trained on a more advanced planet, such as one orbiting the star Sirius. Mailer was a little more realistic, although he insisted that facts distort reality, which is what gives the novel its value. Like Stockhausen, he came to take reincarnation seriously, causing friends to worry about senility having set in.
Mailer and Stockhausen would not have been Mailer and Stockhausen as we knew them without Hitler. Growing up in a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, Mailer learned to hate Hitler in 1932 when he was 9 and his mother prophetically warned him that this psychotic German would attempt to eliminate the Jews. Stockhausen, whose father was a poor Roman Catholic schoolteacher outside Cologne, Germany, lost his mother -- who had a nervous breakdown when the boy was 4 and spent the rest of her life institutionalized -- to Hitler's policy of "euthanasia."
In 1944, they were drafted and went to war, spending the last two years of the conflict in horrible, unforgettable circumstances. Mailer used his experiences on the Pacific front to write "The Naked and the Dead," which proved him a great chronicler of the human condition at its most banal and most extreme.
Stockhausen served as a hospital orderly. Many of his patients had such badly mutilated faces from phosphate burns that he couldn't find their mouths to feed them. He comforted them in their last minutes playing the sentimental ballads they asked for on the piano.
Convinced that art had the capacity to drive societies into certain mind-sets and actions, Mailer and Stockhausen came out of the war with the drive to create new ways of thinking and of opening consciousness. They made it a matter of pride to never repeat themselves.
Stockhausen wanted a new music that didn't remind him of prewar music, and he thoroughly examined the scientific and mystical aspects of sound. With each work, he came up with original ways of producing and organizing sounds, to say nothing of liberating them from the constraints of gravity. He even asked his musicians to be acrobats.
Mailer liberated prose and psyches. He wanted to see what made people tick and to tick along with them. He was not a stationary writer but one who, at cocktail parties, would throw a drink or a punch at an adversary (and even stabbed a wife).
Mailer and Stockhausen had existential crises in the '60s. Mailer reinvented himself as a journalist/novelist, along with making films and running for mayor of New York. Stockhausen came to California to teach at UC Davis and got turned on by the whole scene. He left his first wife and married an American painter, Mary Bauermeister, on a houseboat in Sausalito in 1967. When she left him a year later, he went on a hunger strike, unsuccessfully, to get her back, then holed up in Paris during the student demonstrations while Mailer was reporting on the unrest in the U.S.
Around the time Mailer wrote "A Fire on the Moon," his account of a NASA mission to the moon in which he called himself Aquarius, Stockhausen entered the Age of Aquarius through the Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo, threw off the mantle of control freak and began writing intuitive music. "Play a vibration in the rhythm of dreaming/and slowly transform it/into the rhythm of the universe" is the instruction for one improvisation in his cycle of "text compositions," "From the Seven Days." Mailer could have written those words in the '60s as well.
By the '70s, Mailer and Stockhausen had reached the peaks of their fame, and both began to pursuecolossal endeavors in earnest. In 1977, Stockhausen began a quarter-century project of creating his seven-day opera cycle, "Licht," a dizzying epic of the creator angel Michael, his enemy Lucifer, and Eve, who renews "genetic quality." LAT Home My LATimes Print Edition All Sections

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I’ve fallen in love with England

Back From Newcastle– Thoughts and Impressions from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects All in all this was a truly wonderful experience. I’ve fallen in love with England and am resentfully envious of what the Newcastle folk have.
My impression is that something very exciting is developing at Newcastle. The graduate students are sophisticated theoretically, and are interesting and engaged, taking the study of music in exciting directions that are highly relevant as a sort of critique of high capitalism. The faculty are developing a set of questions about the intersection of music, technology, late capitalism, and the relationship between the aesthetic, the social, and the political that have the potential to open up new ways of thinking the political significance of cultural production that depart from a number of the limitations to be found in, for example, Adorno. This space of a problem is an exciting mix of Badiou, Lacan, Derrida, and Deleuze and Guattari that doesn’t hesitate to liberally rethink their positions, and send their concepts shooting forth in new directions where new concepts are developed...
From the questions and comments I received in response to my paper– “Territories of Music: Distributions, Productions, and Sonorous Individuations” –I think it was well received. I still feel a bit bad at torturing my audience with 28 pages of high theory. I came away with a couple of impressions that will inform my own subsequent work.
On the one hand, I think there’s a lot of anxiety about the ontological status of relation, leading to what Hegel or Marx would call an “abstract opposition” between agency and relatedness. Blah-feme had already noted this in his post “When the Music Stops”, pointing out how agency is seen as the opposite of ubiquity. In the paper he gave at the symposium he developed a beautiful self-reflexive critique of the discipline of musicology itself, similar in scope to what Bourdieu did for sociology or Lacan for psychoanalysis, opening the possibility of a ubiquitous agency.
This is a theme I would like to develop as well: how can we simultaneously think agency and ubiquity, or a form of the subject that is always related, always within a relational network that individuates it, without falling into the trap of a theoretical pessimism where the subject is enslaved like a member of the Borg collective?
I think part of what drives current interest in Badiou (truth-procedures and subjects of the event) and Zizek (the Act) is anxiety about precisely this issue. However, Badiou and Zizek seem to search for the un-related, the non-related, as a way of responding to this issue. Is there a way of squarely accepting the ontological thesis that all things are only in problematic fields or networks, while developing a robust account of agency that isn’t simply enslaved by this field but can rebound upon it and transform it?

This immersion in the Now is what makes Southland Tales such a brilliantly futuristic film

Southland Tales from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales is an amazing movie, and I will try to do it justice in what follows, although all I can do for the moment is spew out a series of speculations and observations, in a random, and no doubt contradictory as well as repetitive, order. But I think that this is not only a brilliant film, but an extraordinarily important one, in that it is one of those rare works that is “as radical as reality itself,” and that reflects upon our real situation while at the same time inserting itself within that situation, rather than taking a pretended distance from it. The film is a demented fabulation, but in such a way that it can best be described as hyperreal. Its “science fiction” is scientifically and technologically unsound, and could best be described as delirious — but that is precisely why it is directly relevant to a world that has increasingly come to be “indistinguishable from science fiction.”
Southland Tales makes nearly all other contemporary movies seem inadequate, outdated, and guilty of fleeing our actual social world in search of nostalgic consolations. I cannot help suspect that the radicality of Southland Tales is the reason why the film has received such a savagely negative response from most reviewers, and has been such a disastrous flop at the box office. (Several of the film critics I most respect, including Amy Taubin, J. Hoberman, and Manohla Dargis, have praised the movie; but most have regarded it as unspeakably awful, an unmitigated disaster. As for general audiences, the film has only made something like $160,000 in box office gross, nearly a month after its initial release).
Southland Tales’s visual flow is also that of these post-cinematic media that play such a role within it. Properly cinematic images are intermixed with a barrage of home video footage, internet and cable-TV news feeds, commercials, simulated CGI environments, and especially sequences in which the film’s characters are watching all of the above on multiple computer windows or screens. The compositional logic of Southland Tales is paratactic and additive, having little to do with conventional film syntax. Indeed, Kelly’s disjunctive flow is almost the polar opposite of Eisensteinian montage. Eisenstein wanted his contradictory images to interact, dialectically or alchemically, in order to produce by their clash a higher order image/concept, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. But Kelly’s discordant images refuse thus to come together; they don’t even clash, but co-exist in their distance from one another, their “incompossibility” (to use a word that Deleuze adapts from Leibniz). In Southland Tales, chains of cause and effect both multiply and break down entirely, in defiance of linear or narrative logic; everything in the film is a matter, neither of causality, nor of action grounded in character, nor even of dialectical contrast; but rather of juxtaposition, “free” association, and the proliferation of multiple levels of self-referential feedback loops.
For instance: a pair of hip, “underground” performance artists, a black man and a white woman, who are a couple in “real life” and in their performances, disguise themselves in facial prosthetics so that they will not be recognized. In this disguise, they pretend to be an arguing married couple, in order to simulate a scenario in which they will be murdered by a racist cop. There are doing this apparently for a political cause; but it also seems that they are interested in blackmail for financial advantage (seed money to feed back into their “art”). The racist cop who is supposed to seem to murder them, after responding to a domestic violence call, is himself being impersonated by his twin brother, and accompanied by an actor trying to research his own forthcoming role as a cop by slipping into character on the (ostensibly) real cop’s rounds, as well as by hauling around a video camera with which he records everything that happens. The fake racist cop is supposed to fire blanks, and the performance artists will pretend to be hit, while a hidden accomplice presses a button in order to make fake blood spurt out.
But the whole scenario is detourned when a second cop barges in on the scene and fires real bullets, so that the performing couple (who have already, in their desparation not to be really killed, gone out of character and revealed themselves as the notorious performers they are) are actually killed — though, as they fall, the hidden accomplice still pushes the special-effects button at the sound of gunfire, in order to make the prosthetic blood spill out. In a subsequent scene, the second, killer cop is revealed also to be an impersonator rather than an actual cop, who has performed the killing, and confiscated the video camera that recorded it, in service to yet another confused agenda that also seems to involve both political activism and blackmail for cash…
I’ve described at such cumbersome length a scene that only takes up a few minutes of Southland Tales’s two-and-a-quarter-hour running time, simply to give a sense of how twisted and multi-leveled the film is. These convolutions of content go along with the sensory-overload barrage of multiple media images that fill the screen, or often multiple screens within the screen. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that everything that happens in the film is under surveillance, so that most of what we see on screen is viewed in progress, or a second time, by the evil Republican homeland-security czar (played by Miranda Richardson, channeling Angela Lansbury’s performance in The Manchurian Candidate), who monitors multiple screens from her command center at the heart of US-Ident, a “think tank” turned spy facility that (in the interest of “national security”) tracks everything that streams across the Internet.
The great theoretician of film sound Michel Chion notes that, while in cinema the sound subliminally supports the primacy of the image, in video the sound becomes up-front central, and weaves together and makes coherent what otherwise might appear to be an utterly random stream of images. In cinema the images are primary, the coherence of the film coming mostly from mise en scene and cinematography and montage, and the soundtrack really serves as a support for the images, by giving them emotional resonance and a guarantee of (seeming) naturalism.
Video, to the contrary, is more like “illustrated radio,” according to Chion: the sound is primary (whether it be the voice in a news report, or the music in a music video), and the images have no intrinsic logic of their own, but are only strung together through the guidance provided by the sound. This does not necessarily mean that images tend to disappear; it more likely means that there is a proliferation of images, due to the fact that they are no longer constrained by an imagistic logic, but instead opened up by the fact that a logic external to them, based instead in the sonic, is the only regulating principle. (Chion’s formulation should be compared with Marshall McLuhan’s claim that television and computer-based media are audio-tactile, rather than predominantly visual).
In any case, this is yet another sense in which Southland Tales is resolutely post-cinematic. Its use of sound is much closer to that of television and music video than it is to that of anything recognizable in the history of cinema. We are guided through the labyrinth of the movie’s proliferating images almost exclusively by Justin Timberlake’s voiceover narration (together with other forms of narration, like those from various CNN-style news reports) and Moby’s musical score. While the electronic music modulates our mood, the voiceover makes connections between layers and levels of imagery that otherwise could not emerge. Stylistically, Kelly’s images tend toward televisual flatness, and conventional character positioning (either two-shots or shot/reverse-shot setups). He does, however, throw in more heavily stylized cinematography every once in a while (I recall an extraordinary long take, towards the end of the film, in the mega-zeppelin, as the camera weaves through the partying crowds, following first one character, then another, without a cut). But the emphasis is never on strictly optical tableaux: there is always too much of a welter of too-flat images, which need the soundtrack to be unscrambled.
This is not a matter of “telling instead of showing” (the accusation that is usually made against the use of voiceover in more traditional Hollywood films, e.g. in the films of Billy Wilder), but rather of voice enunciating what literally cannot be shown, because it exceeds the limits of the visual. I am thinking here of Jameson’s dictum that postmodern capitalist society cannot be imaged or represented; this does not mean that it cannot be known, or “mapped,” but that such a mapping itself exceeds what can be imaged or represented or “visualized.” And I am also thinking of Deleuze’s notion is to make us sense and feel that which literally cannot be sensed or felt, but which remains implicit in whatever it is that we do sense or feel, and which therefore cannot be registered in any other way, but can only be sensed or felt. For both Jameson and Deleuze, and despite their radically different orientations (since Jameson is focused on cognition, and Deleuze on affect), what’s needed is a certain rupture or disparity: in the case of any medium involving images in motion, this means both disjunction among the images, and discordance between the images and the sounds (words and speech, music, noise) that underly them.
In Southland Tales, as in the network society we live in, the world is entirely composed of images: bodies are not only registered on video as images, but are themselves images; and images are themselves entirely real, because they are what,to a large extent, compose the material substance of the real. But this means that everything is flat or two-dimensional, everything is laid out in a configuration that is essentially spatial and simultaneous, even if not conforming to any literal geography. Sound is what energizes this configuration; it provides the temporality (both the existential duration, and the principle of ordering) for this labyrinthine array of images; it thereby realizes the actual connections between images that, on the image track itself, are merely latent or virtual.
This means that Kelly is one of the very few contemporary directors — alongside David Lynch, David Fincher, and really I am not sure who else — who is actually rethinking what film might mean, and what sense it might make, in our post-cinematic, videocentric and thoroughly digitized age. We can profitably contrast Southland Tales with Lynch’s Inland Empire: these films are complementary to one another. Lynch’s film is shot on digital video, and constructed in such a way that it is no longer a movie any longer, but some newer media form. It is intimate and interior in a way that traditional movies (because they are public and collective and operate on a grand scale) are incapable of, and that therefore can only be attained by fracturing and fragmenting cinematic codes, and by rejecting 35mm film for digital video. But the deep logic of Inland Empire is still a cinematic one, precisely because it refers back to the cinematic codes that it deconstructs. Inland Empire is based on the enigma of images, all the more so in that Lynch’s digital camera flattens out and makes more glaring the images whose subtleties he used to capture on film. Lynch’s sound design provides an exquisite support for these deconstructed images, but the images still come first. Southland Tales, to the contrary, no longer recognizes cinematic logic at all, not even in order to deconstruct it. This is because it is no longer based on cinema’s image-centric logic at all — despite the fact that, as a media object, it is still (in contrast to Inland Empire) a movie. The two works thus explore the same contested territory, but from opposite perspectives, moving in opposite directions. I am not saying that Southland Tales is as great an accomplishment as Inland Empire, but nothing I have seen recently, aside from Lynch’s work, comes close to matching it. [..]
I’ll stop here, though I feel that I could go on indefinitely, because Southland Tales is so rich and convoluted, at the same time that (and precisely because) it pursues its vision of chaos and dread and media flow with such a monomaniacal intensity. Booed at Cannes in 2006, and both a critical and box-office disaster in 2007, the film obviously has not found its niche, nor found its cult, nor even made the sort of negative impact that would qualify it as a Cultural Event on the order of all the things that it narrates. I’m inclined to think that this is simply because the film is too prophetic: which is also to say, too real, too close to the actuality of which it is a part and which it anatomizes and mirrors, to be receivable at this point in time. The most alien messages are the ones that point out clearly what is staring us in the face. All the more so, in that such messages can have no sense of detachment, no critical perspective, to provide a justification for what they say.
Southland Tales declines to exempt itself in the slightest from the overall situation that it describes; it declines even to overtly criticize that situation, as this would mean having to step outside it, as well as because simply presenting it, in its own compulsive mirroring and feeding back of itself, is already more than enough. Kelly’s film is too weird to be taken up by a mainstream audience; but also too mainstream, too much a part of the so-called mainstream, to please viewers and critics who are looking for either visionary, experimental formalism, or an informed oppositional politics. It also explodes the very being of cinema (including experimental cinema) so slyly and casually that it unavoidably offends most cinephiles. It immerses us in the present, in the Now, relentlessly and without release. (It even makes a joke of this valuation of the Now, in the person of Gellar’s character, Krysta, who takes on the last name “Now” because she is so doggedly interested in freedom and sexual gratification Now: not in the future, or tomorrow, or in ten minutes, but right Now).
This immersion in the Now is what makes Southland Tales such a brilliantly futuristic film. (Krysta even remarks, at one point, something to the effect that futurists now think the future will be much more futuristic than they had previously believed). It is because it speaks in and to the Now that Southland Tales cannot be received now, but must look to the future for its reception. Combining irony and prophecy, it is at once too ironic for its meanings to be acceptable, and yet too earnest and visionary for the kind of ironic acceptance that we otherwise revel in.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In the preface to Mantra, Stockhausen quotes Sri Aurobindo

Here is some info on the influence followed by the article in the LA Times on his death Stockhausen discovered the writings of Sri Aurobindo in May of 1968 and it is in these writings that he found clarification of his own individual philosophy. In the preface to Mantra, Stockhausen quotes Aurobindo who says that music like the mantra comes from the ‘overmind’:
For anyone who has the capacity to enter more and more consciously into relation with the higher planes – poet, writer, artist – it is quite evident, perceptible, that after a certain level of consciousness it is no longer it is no longer ideas that one sees and tries to translate. One hears. There are literally vibrations or waves, rhythms which lay hold of the speaker, invade him, then clothe themselves with words and ideas or with music, colours, in their descent. But the word or the idea, the music, the colour, is a result, a secondary effect: they just give body to the impervious vibration.

I'm unable to follow Stockhausen's intellectual and, in particular, spiritual development

Renewable Music Saturday, December 08, 2007 A Legacy
The assessment of a composer's legacy is always a function of time, a judgment speaking more of the moment than of the achievement itself...
Stockhausen had passionate loyalists and equally passionate former loyalists, and among the latter, the discussion over the point of disaffection was frequent. Personally, I always have the impression that he got lost in Kontakte, a score in which the principle of tight organization and a joy in improvised discovery found themselves in significant and unresolved conflict, and a similar conflict played intself between the score for instrumentalists and that for recorded sounds. Like others, I'm unable to follow Stockhausen's intellectual and, in particular, spiritual development, in which it appears that the same naiveté that surrounded the Kölner catholicism of his use was carried forward in his later engagements with such as Sri Aurobindo or the Urantia Book. (To contrast: John Cage, who for all his interests in spiritual matters and a decided ambiguity about his disciples who chose to confuse him with another J.C., kept a cool head when a famous critic claimed that one of his pieces based upon star charts would last forever, because God created the heaven so that the pieces were, in effect, written by God, responding: No, I wrote the piece and there is no God.)
But taking any composer's mythology or theology serious is probably always going to be a tricky proposition (just think of Mozart's Masonism, Liszt's Catholicism, or the Mormon elements in La Monte Young's work), and with Stockhausen, a bit of anthropological distance is always in order... Posted by Daniel Wolf at 11:13 PM

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Joel Thome composed a piece ‘Savitri’, based on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical work

Mrinalini Sarabhai, India’s celebrated dancer and choreographer, has achieved an international reputation that is unmatched by any contemporary Indian classical dancer. The syntax of her creativity mediates between a moral commitment to traditional form and the desire to claim one’s own experiments as unique, unrepeatable. This interface of technical mastery and creative expressionism achieves a profoundly versatile language of the body-simple, eloquent, visually inspiring.
The creative anarchy of her essentially modern style is convincingly disciplined by the taut orthodoxy of her classical technique, learnt from her guru Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai. The result is an exalted visual statement combining almost fanatical purity of vision with modish formal experiments. An alchemy of skills, almost unparalleled: the result of both rigorous training and eclectic learning. This manifests itself even more clearly in her choreography, where she has attempted innovations that have increased the vocabulary of dance. It is no wonder that she is a legend in her lifetime’ and has been called the ‘Empress’ and ‘High Priestess of Indian Dance’...
In 1971 the B.B.C. London, did a one hour documentary on Mrinalini and Darpana, called ‘Darpana- A workshop of the Arts’, directed by Margaret Dale, which won numerous international awards.
In 1972, C.B.S., U.S.A. , made a film on her abstract piece ‘Song of Creation’. In 1978, ZDV, West Germany, filmed Schubert’s ‘Shakuntala’, choreographed by Mrinalini. In 1980 she choreographed a film for the Films Division, India,’ Aum Namah Shivaya,’ about a dancer in search of her identify.
In 1982, the distinguished modern composer Joel Thome of the U.S.A. inspired by Mrinalini’s dance recitals, composed a piece ‘Savitri’ , based on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical work. ‘Savitri’ was choreographed and presented in 1993.
She also authored more than 400 articles published in various magazines and news papers. Posted by SAGA OF SARABHAIS at 10:05 PM Friday, December 7, 2007

Gifts of writing are most frequently trade items

See if you don't see a contradiction here: Nancy says that there is nothing either philosophical or literary in writing, but rather
"writing traces an essential indecision of the two, between the two, and consequently, an indecision in each one";
then he says that

"[w]riting is of the community or it is not writing" (The Experience of Freedom, p. 152).

I assume that there are different communities of writing, some of them more literary, others more philosophical, and there would be no sense in calling them communities if they lacked boundaries, identities or differences as you prefer. If writing must be of the community it must then be at the same time, if it is to trace an indecision between the literary and the philosophical, not of the community. Well, this may all be nonsense, or it may touch on a paradox of community.
  • Are communities trismegistically sealed?

Some communities are more trismegistic than others. A completely closed off community would perish with its members, but it would still have been a community. An age cohort would be an example.

  • What social groupings deserve to be called communities?
  • Who decides among whom obligations to each other exist?
  • A commensality, at least, has discernable boundaries. Does a community finally decide on itself?
Nancy says, truly, that writing issues from reading, and also that writing is for reading and for other writings. I would stress that writing isn't merely for its own reading but for other readings. Writing is a gobetween. It has an emissary function with respect to communities of the literate. Nancy says,
"Writing is the movement of meaning in the suspension of signification, which withdraws meaning in giving it, in order to give it as its gift" (ibidem).
How very generous. In fact the gifts of writing are most frequently trade items, and its gifts must always be understood in the context of the emissary function, as the gestures of an emissary. Its meanings are emissary meanings. The community gives but it does not give meanings. It gives the suspension of meanings, which may or may not be a refusal of meanings. The community gives neither decisions nor indecisions, but entrusts them both to emissaries. What writing requires, to present meaning and also to be sent forth, is immunity, or rather immunities. It must be for and from other readings without obligation, or, precisely, without the decision of an obligation.
This as I see it is the paradox of community: it covers what it refuses to decide with an immunity; it allows emissaries to partake of its indecisions with immunity for the sake of its self-interepretation; it is of the emissary. In this sense, then, all communities are trismegistic.

Friday, December 07, 2007


As a reader of a non-fiction book, should the burden be on me to understand what the writer has written (whether he's referring to a metaphor or not), or does the burden lie more on the writer to clearly explain when he's presenting a metaphor? from ~C4Chaos

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Delany’s The Mad Man stands alongside Marcel Mauss’ The Gift and Pierre Klossowski’s Living Money

The Mad Man should be understood, not as a utopia (a no-place or good-place), but rather as what Foucault called a “heterotopia” (an “other-place”). Foucault writes that heterotopias, “as opposed to utopias,” are “real places, actual places… in which the real emplacements, all the other real emplacements that can be found within the culture are, at the same time, represented, contested, and reversed, sorts of places that are outside all places, although they are actually localizable.” (This from a 1967 text of Foucault’s called “Different Spaces”).
(Recall, too, that Delany’s much earlier novel Trouble on Triton (1976) was subtitled “an ambiguous heterotopia”; the book can be read as, among other things, a response to Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed (1974), which bore the subtitle: “an ambiguous utopia.”)
As a pornotopia or heterotopia, The Mad Man is explicitly concerned with sexuality in relation to “the social exchange system.” And indeed, this is something I didn’t say enough about in my previous posting. Indeed, I wrote there that “there is a lot here, which I lack the space and energy to get into, about the logic of sexual exchange, and how it relates to, and potentially differs from, the ubiquity of market exchange.” But this difference in logics is of course crucial. The two murders in the novel are precisely the result of a clash. between market exchange and another form of (noncapitalist) sexual exchange. The homeless “Mad Man Mike” institutes a strange rule of sexual exchange and sexual ownership, in which the cost of sexual desire/activity/transference is fixed at precisely a penny; and this comes into tragic conflict with the stringencies and desperations of the “market” for hustling at The Pit, the hustler bar in which the novel’s two murders take place.
I think that The Mad Man stands alongside Marcel Mauss’ The Gift and Pierre Klossowski’s La monnaie vivante (Living Money, unfortunately still not published in English translation) as one of the great texts about alternatives to capitalist/market version of (commodity) exchange.
(Note 1: I realize that I am leaving a lot out here, giving way too summary an account. One also has to look at, for instance, Braudel’s claims about the medieval “market” being something very different from the “anti-markets” of large-scale capitalist commodity exchange; not to mention other anthropological accounts, like Alan Page Fiske’s typology of forms of social exchange).
(Note 2: it was rather amusing to see how, in their “Freakonomics” column in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven V. Levitt went through all sorts of bizarre contortions in order to explain our habits of holiday season gift-giving in terms of standard — bourgeois, capitalist — economic rationality). This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 at 10:52 pm and is filed under Books. RSS 2.0 feed. leave a response, or trackback

Monday, December 03, 2007

As usual with Auroville theatre there was the problem of language, or languages

Oilver! Community theatre at its best Dianna
Aurovilians from the ages of seven to seventy five gave a rollicking, heart-warming performance of the musical ‘Oliver!', the story of the hungry little boy who dared to ask for more.
On October 5th and 6th the Sri Aurobindo auditorium thrummed with singing wenches, a thunderous villain, a grovelling old thief and a flock of starving children. Vaguely familiar tunes like “Food, glorious food” cut through the humid night air. From the opening scene of the workhouse children treading a huge wheel to the climactic but upbeat ending, it was a glorious success. Charles Dickens, who wrote ‘Oliver Twist' in the mid 19th century, was all too familiar with the story's background. When his father became bankrupt, he himself was put in a children's home. Dickens wanted to show the hypocrisy of the upper classes and the Church through his writings. The lively music by Lionel Bart for the musical version of the story is also a product of his working-class Jewish boyhood in East London .
The workhouse children
As usual with Auroville theatre there was the problem of language, or languages. When the villain, Bill Sykes, spoke in Cockney – a working-class London accent – it must have been unintelligible for probably 95% of the audience. The other perennial problem is the huge stage. The soft tones of women and children were easily lost in that vastness; the acting coach Norman spent hours shouting “projects, projects!!” and “face front!”
Singing the joys of thieving: The Artful Dodger (Isa), Fagin (Otto) and Charlie (Stav)
The music, played by Holger on violin and Matthew on piano, swept the show along and the young children were bursting with enthusiasm.
Paul, the initiator, wisely decided to keep the project to a seven week limit. This was partly because it had to fit in with the school holidays and also some of the team had to leave Auroville immediately afterwards.
When one witnessed the finished performance it was difficult to believe that most of the cast had never set foot on a stage before. The professionalism and inspiration of Holger, Matthew, Nuria, Norman and Paul carried them gloriously through and they became a well-integrated team.
Not the best of friends: Fagin (Otto) and Bill Sykes (Krishna) - left The good Mr. Brownlow (Jesse) and Oliver (Surya) - right
The main characters were sharp and vivid. Jana played the wife of the pompous Beadle, played by Marco, who was dressed in full Victorian regalia but strangely barefoot – an Aurovilian stamp perhaps? Clare played Nancy , the ‘tart with a heart,' who is torn between her sympathy for young Oliver and her love for the villain, Bill Sykes. It seemed as if the brazen hip swinging ‘gangster-girl' role was a tad difficult for her to portray but Clare's bright energy and sauciness in her scarlet dress made her character convincing.
From the moment farmer-musician Krishna as Bill Sykes entered to the thud of his sack of booty on the ground, the audience was caught up in the atmosphere of his violence. He provided the solid feel of dread to counteract the sweetness of the girls' choir and the exuberance of the children.
Otto, head of Auroville Financial Service, was obviously born to play the wily character of Fagin the thief, and brought a touching pathos of humour and wit to his obsessed character. He mesmerized the audience with his writhing, elastic body, bouncing movements and expressive voice. Who will ever forget his wild eye-rolling or his fingers clawing at the air as Bill Sykes threatens to strangle him.
Oliver was played by Surya, a young Tamil boy who handled the English musical songs with remarkable confidence for one so young. His speaking voice was strong and clear and his obvious sense of enjoyment was tangible. Anandi as Bet was exceptional in her grace and polished performance, although some of her songs were a little too difficult for her range.
The real joy of the play was provided by the children. They danced and shouted and sang their hearts out. Stav as Charlie and Isa as the Artful Dodger with a jaunty top hat perfectly caught the tough nonchalance of city kids. The choir of twelve girls sang beautifully and looked poised and confidant in their long skirts and shawls.
For all the children it was a remarkable experience. The sense of camaraderie and working together with adults was inspirational for them, and they came to rehearsals with great enthusiasm and were never late. Everyone agreed that the presence of the children created a high standard of behaviour with the minimum of ego clashes, “as if everything was oiled by some grace” as one veteran of many Auroville plays put it.
The performance played to a full house on both nights. “This is real community theatre and I feel so proud of what we've produced,” said one of the adult participants. Another mentioned how encouraging it was for the teachers to see such progress. “It is so good to see how our children have developed. They could not have performed at this level even seven or eight years ago.”
Maybe the ultimate praise for Paul's creation came from a seven year old girl in the children's chorus; “I don't want it to end; I want it to go on and on for ever.” All photos: Ireno