Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Freud in DreamLand

Scene from the film Secrets of a Soul, which was premiered on 24.3.1926 in Berlin

German filmmaker GW Pabst's silent film Geheimnisse einer Seele relates the tale of a professor driven into a state of terror by a dream in which he attempts to stab his wife. To make his exploration of the psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious, Pabst secured the help of two leading analysts from Berlin – Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs – though Sigmund Freud would have nothing to do with it. Pabst's film, thoroughly Expressionist, is an exploration of the encounter between psychoanalysis and cinema in which psychoanalysis becomes the actual subject of film. Secrets of a Soul presented a case study of phobia, repression and compulsion, and was the first film that represented psychoanalysis as treatment ... essentially a bourgeois melodrama, about a chemistry professor whose frustrated desire to father a child meshes with his jealousy of his wife's childhood sweetheart. The professor's fantasies are, of course, generously illustrated in the remarkable dream sequences, awash with sexual symbols. The deciphering of these dreams as he consults a psychoanalyst is necessarily too pat, but Pabst's aims still look as bold and daring as they must have done in 1926. Superimpositions, symbolic images of razors and knives and menacing shadows create a frightening world. In the film, the tortured professor’s chance meeting with a kindly psychoanalyst (Pawel Pankow) leads to a long period of therapy, through which he eventually gains insight into the unconscious thoughts and motives that were causing his neurosis. Eventually, he is cured, happily returning to the security of a loving marriage.

In 1925 the Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn offered Freud $100,000 if he would collaborate on a "love film" about Anthony and Cleopatra, but in vain. In the same year the film producer Hans Neumann requested the Berlin psychoanalysts Hanns Sachs and Karl Abraham to act as advisers in the making of a "psychoanalytic" film. So popular did psychoanalysis appear to be at this time that even the German film industry viewed it as a topic likely to attract the general public. In spite of Freud's strong objections, Abraham and Sachs accepted the offer and reworked the scenario of the film Secrets of a Soul: A Psychoanalytical Drama (Director: G.W. Pabst, Scenario: Colin Ross). The UFA film reconstructed a case of mental disturbance and its cure by psychoanalysis which Freud had reported. Sachs put together a brochure to accompany the film, under the title "Psychoanalysis. Riddle of the Unconscious", which was intended to explain to the public the basic outline of psychoanalytical therapy.

Scene from Secrets of a Soul: Werner Krauss played the patient, Pawel Pankow the doctor.

Meanwhile in Vienna A. J. Storfer and Siegfried Bernfeld were developing the project of producing a counterpart to Secrets of a Soul for the International Psychoanalytical Press. The attempt of both analysts to enter the film business turned out to be unsuccessful. Their film project failed owing to insufficient support from other psychoanalysts and not least because of lack of capital to finance it. When Freud heard of the film plans of his own press he stressed to Ferenczi his opposition to anything that might connect his name with a film: "Stupid things happen in film affairs. The company that has beguiled Sachs and Abraham could, of course, not restrain itself from proclaiming my "consent" to the world. I remonstrated strongly to Sachs, today the Neue Freie Presse published a denial. Meanwhile it turns out that Bernfeld and Storfer are involved in a similar undertaking. I won't hold them back since filming seems to be as unavoidable, it seems, as page-boy haircuts, but I won't have myself trimmed that way and do not wish to be brought into personal contact with any film." [Freud to Ferenczi, 14.8.1925] To lend his name to a love film, as Goldwyn had suggested, seemed to Freud less of an error than the attempt to film psychoanalysis itself. His main objection against its visual representation remained that "I do not consider it possible to represent our abstractions graphically in any respectable manner." (Freud to Abraham, 9.6.1925). [ A decade later, Freud declined William Randolph Hearst’s offer to come to Chicago “at any price” to analyze the famous murderers, Leopold and Loeb, later portrayed by Hitchcock in Rope].

Enter Hitchcock ...

Nam June Paik, RIP

Magnet TV, Nam June Paik

Obituary below claims that Nam June Paik was one of the first to visualize the Web, as well as inventing the term "Electronic Superhighway."

Video innovator Nam June Paik dies at 74 - THE ARTS - MSNBC.com.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bloggers Are The New US Enemy

Who's your tracer, then? Mine's a radio network in, of all places, Serbia's Belgrade: Radio 92 ...
But then, consider the Chinese Bloggers: Why Google helps China to censor online searches -

 Google's sellout to Beijing is a threat to every person who ever used Google anywhere in the world. That means all of us.

Activate your new firewalls.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hauntology's Space Between The Two Deaths: Machine In The Ghost Revisited

Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx suggests that the ghost or specter haunts because it has come undone from time: it haunts from the past and the future. However if Derrida's version of the ghost is that of a paradoxically-embodied voice "out of joint" in time and space, Zizek's model is that of the Lacanian "barred subject" - a subject structurally "out of joint." The Lacanian model supposes a subject structured around an irrepresentable-impossible kernel, the Real, to which it cannot have access, instead anamorphically accessing "reality" through the work of "fantasy" - not a sustained illusion, but the way through which we structure reality ["truth has the structure of fiction"]. Zizek's claim, like Derrida's, is that now more than ever we find ourselves in a world of increasing virtualization, as it has always been. For Zizek, we are surrounded by a "plague of fantasies" - pseudo-concrete images which cover over the mounting abstractions at work in our lives. However, the very way in which we structure our reality through the work of fantasy suggests that fantasy and materiality are mutually constitutive. Zizek argues that "the materialization of ideology in external materiality reveals inherent antagonisms which the explicit formulation of ideology cannot afford to acknowledge" - in other words, our material cultural productions (from television ads to our very subjectivity) reveal the antagonism underlying ideology. In this model, fantasy is not only a social mechanism for covering over the unrepresentability/horror of the impossible Real, but also in some senses creates or points to that horror. So, in opposition to the usual claim that fantasy creates a narrative which covers over - quilts, sutures, hegemonizes - makes a whole of existence, Zizek is arguing that fantasy consistently comes undone, falls apart - "the truth is out there," embedded materially, right alongside the fantasy, not hidden.

Consider, then, Zizek's analysis of two mirror-image ways in which the fantasy comes undone: what he calls "the ghost in the machine" and the "machine in the ghost." Zizek argues that the categories we know as "life" and "death" are supplemented/underpinned by two other categories: the horror of the machine in the ghost and the ghost in the machine, between which the Death Drive is located. These two categories Zizek sees as undermining the difference between life and death, the material and the immaterial, in such a way that we are forced to confront the horror that we might be both alive and dead at the same time.

"The machine in the ghost" is the discovery that what appears to be alive is actually dead - a doll or robot made to look like a living human, a machine of gears that sits in a technological graveyard, industrial and urban ruins: "this is the ultimate horror: not the proverbial ghost in the machine but the machine in the ghost: there is no plotting agent behind it, the machine just runs by itself, as a blind contingent device". Zizek ties this image in to language - the dead symbolic order which behaves as if it is alive but ultimately is a cold machine.

Conversely, "the ghost in the machine" is the ghastly supplement of flesh, the zombie body, the Monster Life-Thing, the "acephalous" slime, life where there should be none - "the monstrous Life-substance that persists in the Real outside the symbolic". What Freud and Lacan called the Death Drive exists between these two machine deaths - "death in the symbolic and death in the Real". Life and death thus become confused, sitting supplemented by the "symbolic parasitic machine" or "blind contingent device" and the living dead.

Veronique, Puppet of Hauntology?

Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterpiece, The Double Life of Veronique, begins with Weronika, a Polish girl whose bell-like voice seems to be a ticket to operatic fame. Weronika, however, suffers from a heart condition. She has to choose - continue singing with all the strain and stress which this involves and risk her life, or give up her singing career to lead a normal life. She wins a singing contest and chooses her career. During a concert she suffers a heart attack and dies. At the same moment, Veronique, a French girl of exactly the same age, a perfect double of the Polish Weronika, decides to give up her singing career and thus "cheats fate" of a parallel death. It is as if Weronika has "returned" to correct her original misstep, the choice that led to her death.

Veronique is Weronika's double. She, too, has a beautiful voice and a heart condition. But without knowing it, she shares Weronikas's wisdom. When Weronika suffers, Veronique senses that she must avoid the situation which leads to the pain. Veronique rejects her singing career and teaches music at a primary school. One day, Alexandre, a puppeteer and story writer, visits her school. She is entranced by him and reads the books he has written. Days later she receives mysterious messages - an empty cigar box, a shoe lace, a cassette recording of various sounds made in a station cafe. She finds the station cafe and sees Alexandre waiting for her. In the hotel room where they make love, Alexandre finds the photographs which Veronique took when she visited Poland. He sees Weronika, thinking it's Veronique. It is only now that Veronique realizes that she has, or had, a double. She feels that Alexandre is her fate but her illusion is shattered. Alexandre makes two puppets, one of Veronique, the other, an identical one, of Weronika; he wants to use Veronique's life and emotions for his own purposes. Veronique leaves and returns home to her father.

Harey, Death Drive?

In Tarkovsky's Solaris, Kelvin grasps that Harey is a materialization of his own innermost traumatic fantasies. This accounts for the enigma of strange gaps in Harey's memory - of course she doesn't know everything a "real" person is supposed to know, because she is not such a person, but a mere materialization of HIS fantasmatic image of her in all its inconsistency. The problem is that, precisely because Harey has no substantial identity of her own, she acquires the status of the Real that forever insists and returns to its place: like fire in Lynch's films, she forever "walks with the hero", sticks to him, never lets him go. Harey, this fragile specter, pure semblance, cannot ever be erased - she is "undead", a machine in the ghost/ghost in the machine, eternally recurring in the space between the two deaths.

If these categories seem to have little to do with Derrida's quasi-Marxian analysis of the virtualization of subjectivity and history, they start to overlap in Zizek's analysis of the commodity fetish. While Derrida talks of the fetish as an object which starts to move and is endowed with life in the constitutive moment of haunting [see below], Zizek is able to show how this haunting consists of two opposing tendencies between life and death in "the spectralization of the fetish": in these increasingly virtualized times, "Capital functions as the sublime irrepresentable Thing, present only in its effects, in contrast to a commodity, a particular material object which miraculously 'comes to life,' starts to move as if endowed with an invisible spirit". The horror of virtualized Capital, as Zizek sees it, is not that it might be the machine in the ghost or the ghost in the machine, but that it might be trying to approximate or obliterate the irrepresentable-impossible Real, and in doing so might obliterate the space of fantasy altogether.

Crash-Test Dolls

Zizek's useful distinction between "the machine in the ghost" and "the ghost in the machine" is homologous to what it is that is going on in our cultural responses to technology. As an example, consider - by oblique reference to Cronenberg's Crash - the crash test dummy: here we have an object whose sole purpose is to be put into cars and then smashed up (though preferably not too much). However at the same time, these objects act as weird road-crash fetishes, voodoo dolls of death: they are dressed up, given names, have "family" photos taken, even "speak" to us in commercial advertising. This "haunted" object contains elements of both the machine in the ghost and the ghost in the machine. First, the cultural images we have of the crash test dummy call for it to look and behave as much like a human (including speech) as possible. But if we look at it closely, we find that it is dumb and mechanical. This "machine in the ghost" suggests something quite horrifying that we are not really prepared to admit - what if we are really nothing more than crash test dummies ourselves, "blind contingent devices" whose sole purpose is to be smashed up in high-speed collisions?

Second, we are quite aware that these bodies are made to be as flesh-like as possible. But we also know that the damage sustained to a crash test dummy is repairable - just take them to the shop for a bit of panel-beating. While the damage to a dummy is supposed to mimic damage done to a human, most of the ways we measure that damage is through pressure sensors and paint explosions to mimic bruises: whole-body trauma of the kind that humans sustain in car crashes is a fragile flesh-thing, a response of the irrepresentable Life-thing to unbearable trauma. And finally, in between these ghosts and machines we have the horrifying space of the death-drive, here quite compellingly trapped in the plastic body literally "driven" to its death: so, for Zizek, "it is only here, where its functioning is suspended, that we fully become aware of the ruthless technological drive which determines our lives". This, for Zizek, is the horror encapsulated in Heidegger's Gestell ("enframing") - the instrumentality of technology turned back on humanity.

Should we, then, approach the world with an openness towards the quotidian, the signs of everyday life, and through the perspective of one of the key features of capitalism, namely the permanent production of the piles of leftover waste? The obverse of the incessant capitalist drive to produce newer and newer objects are thus the growing piles of useless waste, piled mountains of used cars, computers, etc., like the famous airplane "resting place" in the Mojave desert-in these ever-growing piles of inert, disfunctional 'stuff', which cannot but strike us with their useless, inert presence, one can, as it were, perceive the capitalist drive at rest. One should recall here Benjamin's insight into how we encounter historicity proper precisely when we observe cultural artifacts in decay, in the process of being reclaimed by nature. In November 2003, after a visit to Poland where he participated in the festival Camerimage and opened an exhibition of his own paintings and sculptures in Lodz, film-maker David Lynch was thoroughly fascinated by this truly "post-industrial" city: the big industrial center with most of the steel works and other factories in decay, full of crumbling grey concrete housing developments, with extremely polluted air and water... Lynch wants to invest money to create there his own cinema studio and help transform Lodz into a thriving center of cultural creativity (Peter Weir and Roland Joffe are also linked to this project). Unheimlich Lynch [uheimlinch] emphasized that he "feels very much at home in Poland"-not in the Romantic Poland of Chopin and Solidarity, but precisely in this ecologically ruined Poland of industrial wasteland. This news confirms again Lynch's extraordinary sensitivity on account of which one should be ready to forget his reactionary political statements as well as his ridiculous support for a New Age megalomaniac project of a mega-center for meditation. The postindustrial wasteland of the Second World effectively is the privileged "evental site", the symptomal point out of which one can undermine the totality of today's global capitalism.

One should LOVE this world, up to its grey decaying buildings and sulphuric smell-all this stands for HISTORY, threatened with erasure between the post-historical First World and pre-historical Third World.

If Stalker is Tarkovsky's masterpiece, it is above all because of the direct physical impact of its texture: the physical background (what T.S.Eliot would have called the "objective correlative") to its metaphysical quest, the landscape of the Zone, is a post-industrial wasteland with wild vegetation growing over abandoned factories, concrete tunnels and railroads full of stale water, and wild overgrowth in which stray cats and dogs wander. Nature and industrial civilization here again overlap, through their common decay - civilization in decay is in the process of again being reclaimed (not by idealized harmonious Nature, but) by nature in decomposition.

The ultimate Tarkovskian landscape is that of a humid nature, river or pool close to some forest, full of the debris of human artifices (old concrete blocks or pieces of rotten metal). The actors' faces themselves, especially Stalker's, are unique in their blend of ordinary ruggedness, small wounds, dark or white spots and other signs of decay, as if they were all exposed to some poisonous chemical or radioactive substance, as well as irradiating a fundamental naive goodness and trust.

This table has been worn down, exploited, over-exploited, or else set aside, no longer in use, in antique shops or auction rooms. The thing is at once set aside and beside itself. Beside itself because, as we will soon be surprised to see, the s id table is a little mad, weird, unsettled, .“out of joint.” One no longer knows, beneath the hermeneutic patina, what this piece of wood, whose example suddenly looms up, is good for and what it is worth.

Will that which is going to loom up be a mere example? Yes, but the example of a thing, the table, that seems to loom up of itself and to stand all at once on its paws. It is the example of an apparition.

... But if the commodity-form is not, presently, use-value, and even if it is not actually present, it affects in advance the use-value of the wooden table. It affects and bereaves it In advance, like the ghost it will become, but this is precisely where haunting begins. And its time, and the untimeliness of its present, of its being “out of joint.” To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time. That is what we would be calling here a hauntology. Ontology opposes it only in a movement of exorcism. Ontology is a conjuration.

The commodity thus haunts the thing, its spectre is at work in use-value. This haunting displaces itself like an anonymous silhouette or the figure of an extra [figurante] who might be the principal or capital character. It changes places, one no longer knows exactly where it is, it turns, it invades the stage with its moves: there is a step there [il ya lý un pas] and its allure belongs only to this mutant. Marx must have recourse to theatrical language and must describe the apparition of the commodity as a stage entrance (auftritt). And he must describe the table become commodity as a table that turns, to be sure, during a spiritualist sÈance, but also as a ghostly silhouette, the figuration of an actor or a dancer. Theo-anthropological figure of indeterminate sex (Tisch, table, is a masculine noun), the table has feet, the tab e has a head, its body comes alive, it erects its whole self like an institution, it stands up and addresses itself to others, first of all to other commodities, its fellow beings in phantomality, it faces them or opposes them, For the spectre is social, it is even engaged in competition or in a war as soon as it makes its first apparition. Otherwise neither socius, nor conflict, nor desire, nor love, nor peace would be tenable.

... The capital contradiction does not have to do simply with the incredible conj unction of the sensuous and the supersensible in the same Thing; it is the contradiction of automatic autonomy, mechanical freedom, technical life. Like every thing, from the moment it comes onto the stage of a market, the table resembles a prosthesis of itself. Autonomy and automatism, but automatism of this wooden table that spontaneously puts itself into motion, to be sure, and seems thus to animate, animalise, spiritualise, spiritise itself, but while remaining an artifactual body, a sort of automaton, a puppet, a stiff and mechanical doll whose dance obeys the technical rigidity of a program. Two genres, two generations of movement intersect with each other in it, and that i s why it figures the apparition of a spectre. It accumulates undecidably, in its uncanniness, their contradictory predicates: the inert thing appears suddenly inspired, it is all at once transfixed by a pneuma or a psyche. Become like a living being, the table resembles a prophetic dog that gets up on its four paws, ready to face up to its fellow dogs: an idol would like to make the law. But, inversely, the spirit, soul, or life that animates it remains caught in the opaque and heavy thingness of the bule, in the inert thickness of its ligneous body, and autonomy is no more than the mask of automatism. A mask, indeed a visor that may always be hiding no living gaze beneath the helmet. The automaton mimes the living. The Thing is neither dead nor alive, it is dead and alive at the same time. It survives. At once cunning, inventive, and machine-like, ingenious and unpredictable, this war machine is a theatrical machine, a mekhane. What one has just seen cross the stage is an apparition, a quasi-divinity — fallen from the sky or come out of the earth. But the vision also survives. Its hyperlucidity insists.

... For commodities as Marx is going to point out, do not walk by themselves, they do not go to market on their own in order to meet other commodities. This commerce among things stems from the phantasmagoria. The autonomy lent to commodities corresponds to an anthropomorphic projection. The latter inspires the commodities, it breathes the spirit into them, a human spirit, the spirit of a speech and the spirit of a will.

Machine in the ghost of aggressive nationalism

"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."===>Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship", 1903. [Thanks to MarK for this century-old reference].

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Machine In The Ghost, presently

A blind contingent device ... Some scribbled tracings on hauntology will ensue over the coming days, in part provoked by MarK's posts [particularly his latest there on domesticated spectral patriarchy in Kubrick's The Shining (the term actually originating in Stephen King's listening to John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band's "Let it all shine on" ...)], on-going discussion at Dissensus, Ian Penman's (at The Pillbox's ) prerogative of hauntology's necessary provocation of productive anxiety, and on and on ... Cryptomimeses as the Gothic in Jacques Derrida’s Ghost Writing, Joyce's hauntology [The Dead and The Ghost of Parnell in Ulysses, Portrait of], Wellesian radio hauntology, Haunted Media as Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television to Cyberspace, Techgnosis, machine in the ghost/ghost in the machine ...

BTW: A few years ago, multimedia Cyberfeminist Francesca da Rimini constructed an internet project entitled dollspace. The dollspace hypertext is designed as a hauntology, a ghost work of counter-memories which are supposedly intended to unleash thresholds of impossibilites outside of pan-capitalism - a space which gathers the spectres of recombinant desires, deadbaby gurls, and Zapatistas. In collaboration with Ricardo Domingeuz (USA), Michael Grimm (AUS) and other possessed bodies, dollspace refolds four sites [GashGirl, dollyoko, GenderFuckMeBaby's Palace of Unparalled Cynicism, and The Realm of the Puppet Mistress] that contain dark hypertext fiction, strategic links to contemporary sites of political action by third/fourth world ghosts, a zone for sightings of spectral disturbances, and a 'soundtrack for an empty dollspace'. It is online at The Thing: Dollyoko.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Let Me Feel Your Lack: The New Malick

Wittgenstein asks a question, which sounds like the first line of a joke: 'How does one philosopher address another?' To which the unfunny and suitably perplexing riposte is: 'Take your time'. Ex-MIT lecturer on Heidegger, Terrence Malick (In 1969 he published his bilingual edition of Heidegger's Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons)is evidently someone who takes his time.

Reverie, poetry, Phusis ... Haecceities: There is an intense calm at the heart of Malick's art, a calmness to his cinematic eye, a calmness that is also communicated by his films, that becomes the mood of his audience. In each of his films, one has the sense of things simply being looked at, just being what they are -- trees, water, birds, dogs, crocodiles, or whatever. Things simply are, and are not moulded to a human purpose. We watch things shining calmly, being as they are, in all the intricate evasions of 'as'. The camera can be pointed at those things to try and capture some grain or affluence of their ireality. The closing shot of The Thin Red Line presents the viewer with a coconut fallen onto the beach, against which a little water laps, and out of which has sprouted a long green shoot, connoting life, one imagines. The coconut simply is, it merely lies there remote from us and our intentions, suggesting Stevens's final poem, 'The Palm at the End of the Mind', the palm that simply persists regardless of the makings of 'human meaning'. Stevens concludes: 'The palm stands on the edge of space. The wind moves slowly in its branches'.

One also thinks of Wittgenstein's remark from the Tractatus: 'the eternal life is given to those who live in the present'.

Images of trees wrapped in vines, together with countless images of birds, in particular owls and parrots. These images are combined with the almost constant presence of natural sounds, of birdsong, of the wind in the Kunai grass, of animals moving in the undergrowth and the sound of water, both waves lapping on the beach and the flowing of the river.

"Nature might be viewed as a kind of *fatum* for Malick, an ineluctable power, a warring force that both frames human war but is utterly indifferent to human purposes and intentions. This beautiful indifference of nature can be linked to the depiction of nature elsewhere in Malick's work. For example, _Badlands_ is teeming with natural sounds and images: with birds, dogs, flowing water, the vast flatness of South Dakota, and the badlands of Montana, with its mountains in the distance -- and always remaining in the distance. _Days of Heaven_ is also heavily marked with natural sounds and exquisitely photographed images, with flowing river water, the wind moving in fields of ripening wheat and silhouetted human figures working in vast fields. Nature also possesses here an avenging power, when a plague of locusts descend on the fields and Sam Shepherd sets fire to an entire wheat-crop -- Nature is indeed cruel."===>Simon Critchly

[... and The Death of American Film Criticism]

The subject matter is partly to blame: after four centuries of Anglo denial about the genocidal conquest of America, I was hoping for something a little more grown-up and educational about John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (the striking Q'Orianka Kilcher). Malick still has an eye for landscapes, but since Badlands (1973) his storytelling skill has atrophied, and he's now given to transcendental reveries, discontinuous editing, offscreen monologues, and a pie-eyed sense of awe. All these things can be defended, even celebrated, but I couldn't find my bearings. Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader.

The idealization of the native American existence in The New World, precolonization, is a pleasing fantasy but also timeworn and ahistorical. Surely someone as sophisticated as Malick - who once taught philosophy at MIT and was a Rhodes scholar - understands that he is putting forth a fabrication. Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor.

Malick's exalted visuals and isolated metaphysical epiphanies are ill-supported by a muddled, lurching narrative, resulting in a sprawling, unfocused account of an epochal historical moment. Todd McCarthy, Variety.

Well before The New World's two-and-one-half hours are up, Malick's tree-hugging reveries have become suffocating, no matter the unquestionable tastefulness with which they're rendered -- more painterly vistas, more Wagner (and a little Mozart, too), ravishing re-creations of 17th-century London. Surely, only a Philistine could find any fault with this, or believe, perchance, that Malick's famous poetic beauty had turned poetically fatal. Scott Foundas, LA Weekly.

Pocahontas catching us off-guard with an impromptu cartwheel isn't the knock-you-down brainstorm of Naomi Watts juggling for King Kong, but it's still deliciously inspired. Trouble is, the bit lasts two seconds, while the movie is a long "might have been" that's doomed to be buried in a flurry of strong late-year releases. Mike Clark, USA Today.

Malick's long, moody, diaphanous account of love and loss in 17th-century Jamestown--shot, more or less, on location--rarely achieves the symphonic grandeur it seeks. As an epic, it's monumentally slight. J. Hoberman, Village Voice.

This is like a Tony Scott movie on quaaludes: Words and pictures are matched up in counterintuitive ways, and although the cutting is much slower than in Scott's hyperactive showboating, it makes just about as much sense. The movie's leisureliness is aggressive; the picture is artfully designed to make you feel that if you're bored, it's your own damn fault. Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

If only the showmanship were equal to the scholarship. As beautiful as the film is (despite notable variations in the quality of the cinematography), it is also sluggish, underdramatized after that initial suspense, and for the most part emotionally remote. Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal.

Myopic nutcases, the lot of 'em ...

"This dilemma is discernible down to the ambiguous way in which Tarkovsky uses the natural sounds of the environs; their status is ontologically undecidable, it is as if they were still part of the "spontaneous" texture of non-intentional natural sounds, and simultaneously already somehow "musical", displaying a deeper spiritual structuring principle. It seems as if Nature itself miraculously starts to speak, the confused and chaotic symphony of its murmurs imperceptibly passing over into Music proper. These magic moments, in which Nature itself seems to coincide with art, lend themselves, of course, to the obscurantist reading (the mystical Art of Spirit discernible in Nature itself), but also to the opposite, materialist reading (the genesis of Meaning out of natural contingency)."===>Zizek

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Chomsky in Dublin

Haunted by Hauntology in the Stillness of the HyperNow

You - are the caretaker here ... You've always been the caretaker here

Uuuooooooooooooooooooo ...

Lucie Bigelow Rosen playing the Theremin

Termen's first machine, built in the USSR in 1917 was christened the "Theremin" (after himself) or the "Aetherophone" (sound from the 'ether') and was the first instrument to exploit the heterodyning principle. The original Theremin used a foot pedal to control the volume and a switch mechanism to alter the pitch. This prototype evolved into a production model Theremin in 1920, this was a unique design, resembling a gramaphone cabinet on 4 legs with a protruding metal antenae and a metal loop. The instrument was played by moving the hands around the metal loop for volume and around the antenae for pitch. The output was a monophonic continuous tone modulated by the performer. The timbre of the instrument was fixed and resembled a violin string sound. The sound was produced directly by the heterodyning combination of two radio-frequency oscillators: one operating at a fixed frequency of 170,000 Hz, the other with a variable frequency between 168,000 and 170,000 Hz. the frequency of the second oscillator being determined by the proximity of the musician's hand to the pitch antenna. The difference of the fixed and variable radio frequencies results in an audible beat frequency between 0 and 2,000 Hz. The audible sound came from the oscillators, later models adding an amplifier and large triangular loudspeaker. This Theremin model was first shown to the public at the Moscow Industrial Fair in 1920 and was witnessed by Lenin who requested lessons on the instrument. Lenin later commissioned 600 models of the Theremin to be built and toured around the Soviet Union.

Termen left the Soviet Union in 1927 for the United States where he was granted a patent for the Theremin in 1928. The Theremin was marketed and distributed in the USA by RCA during the 1930's and continues, in a transistorised form, to be manufactured by Robert Moog's 'Big Briar'company.

Lev Sergeivitch Termen playing the "Theremin"

... Theremin set up a studio there catering to high society patrons from whom he would extract the moneys he used to continue his experiments. His New York studio apparently was kitted out with a variety of devices, that in the late twenties must have seemed like pure science fiction: a variety of electronic audio devices; electronic lighting shows; an electronic dance platform; even a prototype colour television system.

In 1938 Theremin was kidnapped in the New York apartment he shared with his American wife (the black ballet dancer, Iavana Williams) by the NKVD (forerunners of the KGB) ... Lev Sergeivitch Termen & "The Theremin"

Bernard Herrmann

Some of the themes from Jane Eyre and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir eventually appeared in Herrmann's opera Wuthering Heights which has never been staged, but which he finally recorded in 1966.

In The Day the Earth Stood Still a flying saucer from another planet has landed in Washington, and a spaceman has been killed by some soldiers. His robot, Gort, comes forth to avenge his master. Fortunately Patricia Neal has learned a phrase in space language with which to disarm the monster. Around the studio we used to go around saying, "Klaatu barada nikto." Herrmann augmented his conventional orchestra by adding two theremins, an electronic violin and various other electronic instruments and produced an effect of rising tension by reiterating ominous chords and phrases, usually in the lower register of the orchestra.===>Ravid Raksin

Monday, January 16, 2006

Return of the MacGuffin: Iran and Nuclear Weapons

"Well, then that's not a MacGuffin, is it?"
President George W Bush, September 2003

In an interview with Francis Truffaut in 1966, Alfred Hitchcock explained the term MacGuffin :

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

(In some versions this story ends differently: "The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'That shows how effective it is!'")

A MacGuffin (sometimes spelt McGuffin or Magoffin), an empty master-signifier, is a now-ubiquitous plot device or catalyst that holds no meaning or purpose of its own except to motivate the players or characters and advance a narrative or story. The device is usually used in films, particularly thrillers. The term "MacGuffin" was invented by Hitchcock who made extensive use of the device in his films, and it is still frequently used in specific reference to Hitchcock's plots, rather than as a general term for similar narrative conveniences in unrelated stories, including a significant slice of the contemporary narrative of geo-politics: as we know, Zizek has also used the term in relation to the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq - The Iraqi MacGuffin. [ Hitchcock aficionado Zizek, of course, has used the MacGuffin as an illustration of the structural principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis in his book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) ].

A well-known use of a MacGuffin in Hitchcock's work is the uranium hidden in wine bottles in Notorious: it is the reason the story takes place, but it otherwise means nothing. The story could just as easily have used diamonds (which were in fact proposed as an alternative MacGuffin during production), gold or extraordinary rare wine as the plot device. Another memorable use is in North by Northwest: here, the MacGuffin is the character of "George Kaplan", who is being chased by the enemy spies. Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for Kaplan by the spies, and so they chase him instead. Thornhill spends the course of the movie trying to find George Kaplan himself without realizing that George Kaplan does not even exist. Both the hero and the villains of the movie are chasing nothing more than a puff of hot air, making this a true MacGuffin.

Although Hitchcock coined the term MacGuffin, many similar plot devices predate his use. One particularly famous early example of a MacGuffin is the titular statuette in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, which could just as easily have been any other mythical treasure. Even this film, however, is a relatively recent example of this particular form of plot device. Plot devices like the MacGuffin are used in stories dating back at least to Desdemona's handkerchief in William Shakespeare's Othello, and possibly further back still. Other MacGuffins prior to the invention of the term include Pip's "great expectations" of future wealth in the Charles Dickens book of that title.

Just as Hitchcock's films influenced later filmmaking, the MacGuffin also diffused in name, and in concept, into popular culture. For instance, the briefcase in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is a MacGuffin (and a homage to Kiss Me Deadly). The contents are never shown; that section of the plot is not about the briefcase so much as what happens because of it. A similar homage is the surreal, glowing car trunk in Alex Cox's Repo Man. Some argue that the monolith in Kubrick's 2001 is a MacGuffin.

More recently, the television series 24 (just reviewed by Zizek) regularly uses the MacGuffin. While every season has focused on a terrorist plot, each season begins with the government agents closing in on one group of suspects, only to learn they have been hired by others. Each season has had several levels of villain involved.

Even George Bush, it appears, understands the term: the above Bush quote came following his own realisation that Iraq had no WMDs. But it is characteristic of modern geo-politics to abhor a vacuum, and so, no sooner than one MacGuffin is despatched, revealed as void, another is quickly invoked: Iran's nuclear weapons and the West's necessarily paranoid response.

There has been much blog coverage of this recent crisis, and the prospect of an all-out US nuclear strike against Iran, of late - at
Dissensus, at Lenin's Tomb (see also the comments section, with excellent contributions from, among others, Le Colonel Chabert ).

The latest MacGuffin, the non-existence of any Iranian nuclear weapons programme, has already been comprehensively determined: see, for instance, any of the following:

The facts about Iran's "alleged" nuclear weapons program have never been in dispute. There is no such program and no one has ever produced a shred of credible evidence to the contrary. That hasn't stopped the Bush administration from making spurious accusations and threats; nor has it deterred America's "imbedded" media from implying that Iran is hiding a nuclear weapons program from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). In fact, the media routinely features the unconfirmed claims of members of terrorist organizations, like the Mujahedin Klaq, (which is on the State Depts. list of terrorist organizations) to make it appear that Iran is secretively developing nuclear arms. These claims have proved to be entirely baseless and should be dismissed as just another part of Washington's propaganda war. Sound familiar? Iran has no nuclear weapons program. This is the conclusion of Mohammed el-Baradei the respected chief of the IAEA. The agency has conducted a thorough and nearly-continuous investigation on all suspected sites for the last two years and has come up with the very same result every time; nothing. If we can't trust the findings of these comprehensive investigations by nuclear experts than the agency should be shut down and the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) should be abandoned. It is just that simple. That, of course, is exactly what the US and Israel would prefer since they have no intention of complying with international standards or treaties and are entirely committed to a military confrontation with Iran. It now looks as though they may have the pretext for carrying out such an attack. ===>Why Iran will lead to World War 3 - Mike Whitney
===> Also More Lies about Iran

Iran’s nuclear option is not imminent. On purely technical grounds, Iran appears to be at least several years away from producing enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon ... if Iran threw caution to the wind, and sought a nuclear weapon capability as quickly as possible without regard for international reaction, it might be able to produce enough HEU for a single nuclear weapon by the end of this decade.
===>Iran’s strategIc Weapons Programmes: a net assessment, remarks by Dr John Chipman, Director, ISS

And, as Lenin points out, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the stockpiling, production and use of any nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, such evidence is of no consequence to the West, particularly the US and Israel, who have been planning to attack Iran for years. For example, as far back as October 2003, Gordon Thomas, a veteran Irish journalist known for his long-time connections with senior Israeli and British intelligence officials, reported that
Israel And US Prepare To Attack Iran .

But the MacGuffin has now reached fever pitch, as US forpol analyst Michel Chossudovsky (Director of the Center for Research on Globalization) reported earlier this month:

The launching of an outright war using nuclear warheads against Iran is now in the final planning stages.

Coalition partners, which include the US, Israel and Turkey are in "an advanced stage of readiness".

Various military exercises have been conducted, starting in early 2005. In turn, the Iranian Armed Forces have also conducted large scale military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf in December in anticipation of a US sponsored attack.

Since early 2005, there has been intense shuttle diplomacy between Washington, Tel Aviv, Ankara and NATO headquarters in Brussels.
===>Nuclear War Against Iran, Michel Chossudovsky

The former Shah of Iran in geezer-cool mode

Even if the CIA is unduly optimistic in assuming that Tehran is still 10 years away from a bomb, there is still plenty of time and room for patient negotiation. And no need for the current histrionics.===>No need to panic over Iranian nukes, By Gwynne Dyer .

Strictly speaking, anything is now possible. Though numerous commentators (eg. Chomsky: "Will the US go on to attack? Personally, I doubt it, unless Iran can be internationally isolated and shows signs of collapsing from within.") believe an attack unlikely, similar sentiments were also expressed about a likely invasion of Iraq three years ago.

Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami's stage debut Ta'ziyeh: the screens show faces of Iranian spectators watching a previous performance.

Watch any film by world-renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and you see a filmmaker railing against an oppressive, fundamentalist theocracy, its inherent subjugation of women, the dehumanizing effect of the hatreds it foments and the futilities of a patriarchal system mired in its own rhetoric and hypocrisy. No wonder the Bush administration wants to keep him out of the country [
Kiarostami was refused a US visa in 2002 to attend the New York Film Festival].

"... instead of celebrating the greatness of true Islam against its misuse by fundamentalist terrorists, or of bemoaning the fact that, of all great religions, Islam is the one most resistent to modernization, one should rather conceive this resistance as an open chance, as undecidable: this resistance does not necessarily lead to Islamo-Fascism, it can also be articulated into a Socialist project. Precisely because Islam harbors the worst potentials of the Fascist answer to our present predicament, it can also turn out to be the site for the best. In other words, yes, Islam effectively is not a religion like others, it does involve a stronger social link, it does resist being integrated into the capitalist global order - and the task is how to politically use this ambiguous fact.

In the case of Judaism as well as in the case of Islam, one should thus gather the courage to accomplish the Hegelian step towards concrete universality and to transpose the site of antagonism and inconsistency into the very core of the religious edifice, not to dismiss it as pertaining only to the secondary fundamentalist misuse."

Interesting that, of all the countries in the world, Iran is today the cyberspace capital of blogging; whereas Iraq has a mere few dozen bloggers reporting on the US invasion, Iran has a few hundred thousand bloggers, the otherwise repressive Iranian regime covertly permitting virtual freedom to the country's vast population of educated youth (60 per cent of Iran's university places are occupied by women, while less than 2 per cent of Iran's population regularly attends a Mosque ...).

Anyone speak Farsi?

Compare the struggle and pain of the "fundamentalist" with the serene peace of the liberal democrat who, from a safe subjective position, ironically dismisses every fully pledged engagement, every "dogmatic" taking sides. Consequently, yes, I plead guilty: in this choice, I without hesitation opt for the "fundamentalist."

My only hope is that American interventions will give rise to some kind of resistance. My big hope - as an atheist, praying night and day for it - is that the resistance in the Middle East will not be simply kidnapped by the so-called fundamentalists. That this resistance will have at least secular socialist wing. And I think there is a fair chance at it. Look at Iran. There is hope. ===>LBO Interview with Zizek