10.27.2009

How Pixar and Toy Story Got it All Wrong


OK, I have to say this: the basic premise of Toy Story is creepy and so fundamentally wrong. (Yes, I've seen the film with my boy — twice. This is but just one of the many humiliations sustained in my role as dad.)

Sid — the supposed evil kid next door — may be kind of a dick but he's unbelievably creative. When he looks at a toy, he sees opportunity. He sees possibilities. A toy, to Sid, is a starting point to be shed quickly so he can get on with the act of creating. His toys are a database of gestures and tropes, figures and materials, to be manipulated this way and that.

Sid, my friends, is an artist.

And yet he is so cruelly vilified in the film. And what is Sid's crime? He plays with his toys passionately, creatively, interestingly. Andy, the pansy next door, does nothing but recapitulate Hollywood cliche when he plays — the cowboy, the superhero, love stories. Sid is popping off heads, sewing parts together, welding, melding, molding. Sid is a punk rock artiste.

What lesson is Pixar — which is really Disney — teaching our kids? That one should respect the integrity of commodities? That to toy — ahem — with the corporate prescribed rules is evil? That kids who dress in black and make art are the enemy? That the best way to play is to play it safe, within the stipulated norms set by Hollywood and Mattel?

I tell my son over and over: Sid is maligned. Sid is the real hero here. And I think I'm getting through. Yesterday, he asked me for a rocket so we could blow up some of his toys.

Oh yeah.


10.09.2009

On Soft Architecture, via Lisa Robertson

We live in spaces and amongst things that are infused — with memory, mood, texture, tone, timbre, resonance. Buildings, roads, bridges: they are not hard and rigid but structured events, experiences lived all the way through, soft. This is soft architecture.

Design offers more than a spine; it offers — no, it is — an algorithm of possible experiences, combinations, folds, and juxtapositions.

Soft architecture is a phrase from writer, Lisa Robertson, with which I am thoroughly enamored. In fact, I'll say it again: soft architecture. I'm smitten with this phrase. Which is, precisely, the nature of the architecture of soft architecture — ideas are mooded invisible spaces.

Soft architecture turns the world inside out. Or, rather, it facilitates a space that dissolves, renders porous, that line that separates private from public, subject from object. As I enjoy a space, make my way through it, it enjoys me, makes its way through me. Together, we move and are moved. A building, a road, a sidewalk draw me to them and I draw them to me. Together, we make this world. Or: together, we are this world.

We don't unite, world and me; we marble. We are marbled.


Read some Lisa Robertson here

And buy her astounding book here

9.19.2009

The Face: On Richard Avedon




I just saw the Richard Avedon show at SF MoMA. I was cautious, afraid I'd see celebrities. But what I saw were faces — human faces that can't help but bear themselves, that can't help but bear their history and their now.

Avedon's subject is not celebrity at all. In fact, it doesn't matter who's who. What matters is the image — which is to say, the face. This is Avedon's subject, over and over and over: the phenomenology of the face, the way affect lines the flesh and flesh is always and already affected, affective.

The face is the recording screen, the site of consumption and production, where the world enters and where the body plays it back according to its necessarily particular metabolism.

To see face after face, face upon face, faces with faces with faces, is to witness Leibniz's great monadology: each monad is the entire universe but from its perspective. Walking through the museum show, I saw the entire universe, inflected just so, in frame after frame.

The face is mesmerizing. There is something so humbling and inspiring about seeing the human face, again and again, knowing that it is making its portrait of you as you look: each image creates your image, your face.

9.01.2009

Giving Way to Itself: Confrontations with Becoming — On the Images of Keira Kotler





We see colors, soft, even luxurious. They seem to invite, to beckon. But linger with them. These are not peaceful. They are not meditative. They do not confirm their space, blending seamlessly with the decor. They do not confirm the viewer, reassuring her that her life is fine the way it is. Nor do they offer an escape, a respite from the fray, as if they were a portal to serenity.

On the contrary, these images are remnants of the fray itself, moments of the great undulating that is life, that is the always urging always surging of this world. These images are moments of the teeming — physical, affective, sensual, emotive — that swarms and swirls about us which we tend to miss, ignore, tune out. But here they are now, impossible to ignore, confronting this space, confronting the viewer — tumult, even if rarely tumultuous, in our midst. It’s as if the volume of life has suddenly been turned up.

The experience is a tad unsettling, uncanny: we know what this is and we don’t know what this is. We reach out, try to grab on to something but there are no lines, no forms, no concepts — nothing to hang on to, just intensities, mooded undulations. They provide neither entry nor escape; the images neither recede nor protrude: they confront. They insist on themselves, on their place right there, right now, confrontations with becoming.

It’s as if Kotler has summoned all her strength to hedge, contain, and amplify the very flutter and throb of the cosmos and present it to us. These are not images of the world; they are amplified fragments of becoming, the patina of life. Somehow, she has managed to transport to us these micro details of experience writ large. What generosity!

How does she do it? Photographs, paintings, videos: these are the technologies Kotler engages to stipulate, embrace, and transport the cosmic surging. She is not the classical artist who lends form to the formless, Yahweh with his clay. She is not the Romantic, spilling her inner self across the canvas in some act of passionate expression. Her hand is nowhere to be seen. No, she is a modern artist who stands amidst the cosmic winds and hedges here and there, steering these powerful forces into a specific site — this frame. Look at the images: this containment doesn’t come easily as they bleed over the edges, looking to extend themselves, unleash themselves.

The cut paintings seem, perhaps, to deviate. But look again. Are these cuts a portal, a way through, a revelation of something else? No. There is nowhere to go, nothing else to see. Where is the cut, anyway? It’s not at the surface, revealing the depths. It’s immanent to it, a portal to, and of, itself. It’s as if this clearly artificial cut with its impossible geometry has reached through in order to teach us what we need to know, what we need to see: this world only gives way to itself.


Visit: http://keirakotler.com

8.30.2009

Rethinking Environmentalism

Here's what I've been thinking:

To suggest that we are somehow harming the Earth, that we have a responsibility to the planet as we are its stewards, is really the same thing as saying: We are privileged on this planet, distinct from it, and hence are free to exhaust and consume all of its many splendored bounty. These are two sides of the same coin.

Read more at Thought Catalog >

8.28.2009

Thoughts on _Inglorious Basterds_

_Inglorious Bastereds_ is a fuck you to the totalitarian cinema of any sort. This film does not flow and build. It builds, jumps, forgets, remembers, jumps, rams. And yet it cops the thrilling tension of narrative. Scene after scene is ripe and peculiarly taut. Resolve is often surprising and grotesque in a Coen brothers sort of way.

Read More at Thought Catalog >

8.27.2009

"The Wire" (again) and the Menace of Quantity

I finally finished all 5 seasons of "The Wire." And, by the end, a clear argument emerges: quantitative thinking quashes humanity.

The cops juke the numbers — play with the stats so it looks like crime is going down — at the cost of actual police work that focuses on the source of the crime. With juking as the norm, cops are trained to think in terms of numbers — quotas, closing the case at whatever cost — rather than knowing how to do real po-lice work — read the evidence, follow the money, put things together.

Real police work is an art — an art of thinking that demands a certain diligence and intelligence. Juking the numbers is for the masses, the zombies: anyone can do it. It is brutish and it ensures that crime in poor old Baltimore actually gets worse.

And the cops that try to do real po-lice work? They're all forced out in the end.

The schools do the same — juke the numbers — as everything from funding, curriculum, and policy turns on test numbers. Poor Mr. Prezbo actually wants to teach his students math, about how numbers work: he wants to teach the quality of numbers. But he has to review test questions so they kids will score better so the bureaucrats will see higher numbers so the politicians win, or lose, which drives everything. It is more than enough to make you weep.

The newspapers do the same as everything turns on circulation and advertising. Real reporting goes by the wayside in favor of false sensationalism. Just to stick it to us, in the end, we get a 2 second flash of Templeton winning a Pulitzer. "The Wire" is relentless.

A system premised on quantity exhausts humanity, drains it of dignity, civility, and grace. Such, David Simon tells us, is our system (we might call this system capitalism), is ourselves.

6.29.2009

The Scholastic Swindle: Quashing Adolescence

Adolescence is so beautiful, even if awkward and insane — and perhaps precisely because of that. The world today with its blistering speed and global consumption has no place for this madness, this careening. And so kids are put on the straight and narrow, their demented energy harnessed by, and into, the capitalist engine (yes, the matrix).

Read more at Thought Catalog >

6.21.2009

Why "The Wire"

Because it is relentlessly smart, never condescending, simplifying, reductive. On the contrary, it follows the proliferation, the entwining, the vast network of capitalist effect. And it does so with the basic stuff of art: affect. Rarely didactic, it gives us the exquisite timbre and tone of a humanity writhing and struggling amidst its own decay.

No one wins and everything is beautiful, hilarious, and depressing.

Stringer, going to MBA night school, approaching his drug business as any other business. Stringer, trying to make it in the straight game and being taken shameless advantage of and there's not a thing he can do about it. His partner, Avon, sticking to his gangster ways and getting fucked that way, too.

Omar Little, perhaps the greatest contribution to the American pantheon: his impossible but true ethics, his homosexuality, an outlaw from the law and the criminals alike, he is distinctly American in the tradition of Burroughs' Kim Carsons.

The ubiquity of the bureaucratic stupidity that reigns over everything — police, school, politics.

The pathos: oh, the pathos, so complex and so palpable, of the boys on the street, at the periphery of the game.

Cedric Daniels' cool fucking body and voice and posture.

The endless boozing, the only way to quiet the madness.

Kima's "marital" problems once she breeds are enough to eviscerate me. Oh, Kima.

The futility of Colvin's all-too-obvious wisdom and heart.

Bubbles: Jesus, Bubbles — the plucky junky who is had every which way and who is dying while we watch.

The ironic thing, perhaps, is that the very fact that The Wire was made — that something this smart and this well written and this critical could ever come to fruition — gives me the hope that is conpsicuously absent in the show itself.


To wit:

6.07.2009

The Speed of New Publishing vs. The Speed of Me

The newest publishing platforms — text messaging and Twitter — are remarkably swift. Their speed is made for an information culture that seems always on the move. This is a fancy way of saying that texting and Tweeting are really built for information on the fly: "I'll be at the bar at 7," "Wanna get dinner?," "Listen to this/see this/go to this site."

These pithy missives hedge moving lives — move here, go here, do this — and are immediately forgotten. This is disposable, if useful, language.

I am not really a guy on the move. I have very few friends, even fewer of whom are local, and even fewer of those whom I ever see. No one is inviting me to dinner; I'm not meeting anyone at the bar. And as an increasingly old-fashioned nitwit, I tend to want my words to linger, to resonate, to reverberate.

None of this is a criticism of texting, tweeting, or the way people use them. No, this is only to say that I come to these media platforms from a slightly different angle. Blogging makes sense to me: I consider my words, I write many of them and publish when I'm good and ready. But texting and tweeting are of another order entirely. And yet I still approach them as the same old media: when I text, I want my words to provoke. And so I find myself sitting in front of my phone or Twitter, fingers poised. But nothing comes as I sit there, thinking. And then, finally, some incisive phrase occurs to me and in a mad rush I type it — only it's very slow going as I am still on a phone keyboard — hit send and, for a moment, I think: gold!

And then the poor recipient's phone buzzes. In their no doubt fast paced life, they check the message assuming it will drive them this way or that — to a party, an event, a cocktail. But, no, it's just some obtuse, poorly punctuated abbreviated rant from Coffeen.

Nevertheless, I enjoy this subtle and unintentional jamming of the information media flow.

(It's funny how, sometimes, applying the old methods to the new media can, in a way, be creative — a thought for McLuhan.)

5.21.2009

Future Art

This is an essay I wrote in 1999. While there are plenty of things wrong with it, I still find its main thesis truly strange and beautiful. And perhaps it's too long for a blog but, well, it's all I got right now......


“A distinction should be made between the time it takes the painter to paint the picture (time of ‘production’), the time required to look at and understand the work (time of ‘consumption’), the time to which the work refers (a moment, a scene, a situation, a sequence of events: the time of the diegetic referent, of the story told by the picture), the time it takes to reach the viewer once it has been ‘created’ (the time of circulation) and finally, perhaps, the time the painting is. This principle, childish as its ambitions may be, should allow us to isolate different ‘sites of time.’” Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard

“Some are born posthumously.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I. The Time of Art

The question of the future of art can refer to several things. It may be an inquiry into the relationship between creation and technology: what kind of media—DNA, computer code, bodily organs—will be used in the year 2014? It can be a question concerning the gesture or techniques of artistic practice, distinct from media: just as mimesis was superseded by abstraction and repetition, will these gestures similarly be superseded by some unknown trope? The question of the future of art may refer to the very status of art itself: what will count as art in the future? Will the creation of a prosthetic head be a work of art or a scientific discovery? Needless to say, these questions overlap and beg each other.

But I want to locate the question of the future of art somewhere else entirely, at a different “site of time”: in the work of art itself. I don’t want to consider the history of art or of culture. Rather, I want to turn our attention to the temporality of a particular work: when does this or that piece—a painting, performance, a pop song, film, or book—happen?

Now, by this I do not mean the duration per se of a piece, what Lyotard might call the “time of consumption." A performance may last 10 minutes, three days, one hour: that is its duration. But this does not tell us about the temporality of the work itself, the work’s temporal schema, how it distributes and is distributed in time. A work is poised within a temporal landscape; it is a negotiation of that which came before just as it is a trajectory—or lack thereof—into the future.

A strictly figurative or representative work, for instance, refers to a previously known entity: something stands in or refers to that back there, that thing we already know: a portrait designates a person we already know, even if the portrait reveals secrets previously obscured. The representational has no choice but to occur, at least to some extent, before the now. Symbolism faces the same situation: in order to employ a symbol, the reference or designation must already exist—or it wouldn’t be a symbol.

Surrealism and Dadaism seek to intervene in the representational and symbolic model; as the figure points to a known thing, it is disrupted, twisted, turned about. This is in fact not a pipe. A new site of time emerges; no longer does the work happen before, but happens in the space between the previous and the now.

Cubism offers a commentary upon the representational: it splays the past into present time, lures the depths to the surface. Look at Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon": it's a portrait without depth, without secret, without reference, without a past. If Surrealism and Dadaism offer an acrobatics between the past and the present, Cubism gives us a surging, an unfurling into and of the now.

Abstract Expressionism moves the site of time of the visual arts from the part-orientation of the figural to the immediacy of the manual. There is no referent or use of a known schema. Painting becomes a visceral experience of the now, Pollock writhing over his canvas, each flick of the brush a now-event. And yet the situation is somewhat more complex, for while each drip is a now-event each now-event participates with those which both precede and post-cede the now. The drips are not completely arbitrary; they are not radically distinct events. What we see in the drip paintings is the formation of a series, the repetition of a drip as each drip takes on the whole painting, inflects it, sends it this way or that. The past—the drips that came before—surge into the present, find themselves re-realized in each drip, much as Leibniz discovers the entire universe in each monad. A drip, then, becomes a strange condensation of time that always expresses itself now.

One may be inclined to say that the work of net artists jodi.org is the art of the future. Jodi.org interjects instability into the complacency of the computer and the web. Perhaps their best know piece was a performance: when the user reached their web site, that user’s desktop was thrown into a frenzy of chaos—lines bleeped and ran across the screen, icons fizzled and jerked. The only way out was for the user to force quit the browser.

Now, the medium is certainly futuristic in some sense: the web is an evolving and new material. But when we consider jodi's gesture, it is familiar: it is a Situationist intervention. As such, it happens now as a comment upon what came before. And while its effects may linger—after jodi.org, the desktop will never be safe again—its site of time is thoroughly joined with the known: as it intervenes in the familiar, its tendrils become entwined with the past. It slithers into the cracks of the familiar; that is its home—even if it’s an unruly tenant.


II. Future Art

None of the work we’ve considered is future art. This is not meant as a pejorative; my interest is simply to locate and explore a temporal dimension within the landscape of art.

What, then, of an art of the future? What would that mean?

A future art is perpetually poised towards the future: its site of time is inevitable—it is after all the future and the future is, well, inevitable. But this future art is simultaneously impossible. It cannot be realized in any now for if it were it would no longer be in the future; it would no longer be future art. An art of the future must remain in the future, as inevitable as it is impossible.

But future art proffers neither an ideal nor pure impossibility. To be ideal is to be out of time or eternal: I’m not talking about utopias or atopias. The site of future art is very real but it is always in the future: a post-topia, perhaps, a time which is always later (and yet which is not deferred or postponed; it will have its day but that day will no longer be a day—we will no longer recognize it as such as the day gives way to unthinkable durations).

Nor am I talking about parallel time such as Borges offers us or we see in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich. In both cases, we're allowed to peer into an alternate universe, one that runs along side our own, in a different time—but not in the future. These are possible worlds, not future worlds.

And we must be careful not to confuse the temporality of the work with the temporality of the subject matter: just because something talks about the future, even gives us a future universe, does not mean that that work takes place in the future. In fact, much science fiction is symbolic and hence occurs in the past. Alien, for instance, may take place in the future but it maps itself along ancient trajectories: it is an Oedipal tale, through and through.

Future art remains in the future, as inevitable as tomorrow and as impossible as this idea—or of death.

Death is an inevitable impossibility—inevitable for obvious reasons, and impossible because it cannot happen per se: it is a pure no-event. For death to happen the very possibility of happening can no longer exist. But future art is not death. On the contrary, it is the art of being born, albeit posthumously.

Perhaps theoretical physicists offer us the clearest model of a future art. They consider a universe of 11 dimensions (or 7 or 9 or 10): what could this mean? It is an incomprehensible thought, an impossibility. And yet it is discussed, argued, put forth: it is a theory poised for and in the future. When we in fact come to understand it, we will no longer be ourselves. Our world will have died and been re-born into a place and a logic which from here is incoherent but which nevertheless exerts a present force. (Does this suggest to us that theory can be viewed as art? Surely, a theory which posits a universe of 11 dimensions is a thing—yes, a thing—of exquisite beauty.)

Nietzsche bequeaths to us an oeuvre which he claims is incomprehensible; it is not to be understood, not by us, not now. I used to imagine that this was a critique of understanding as cognition, that Nietzsche was telling us that his writing is not to be understood but lived, experienced. But now I see it differently: his writing cannot be understood within the confines of man, within the world of this human species.

Man, he tells us, is but a step within the evolution of the ├╝bermensch, the overman, the overcoming of man. It is precisely when man is no longer man, when he has overcome himself, that he will be able to comprehend Nietzsche's ideas. It is only after man has died and, in a sense, been born again that he will understand Zarathustra, understand the will to power as the revaluation of all values, understand what the hell the eternal return means. Nietzsche's work remains poised in and towards the future, in and time and place that is inevitable—evolution knows no obstacles—but which is impossible because when it comes we will no longer be ourselves. Nietzsche's work will have its day once we've been born posthumously.

William S. Burroughs' offers us a literature of the future. His writing occurs in a world free of bodily constraint, in dreams, in the life of death, in the Western Lands. It is a place where borders are so radically recast so as to elude any known logic, any familiar or comprehensible order. His world offers us people who travel seamlessly between bodies and eras, who mingle with aliens, who fly and morph and move in unheard of rhythms—just like Burroughs’ prose. And yet it is not a world without logic; it is not a rebellion, an intervention, a negation of the known world. He does not write with symbols; there is no semiotics to decode. It is a world that happens, impossibly, after life: in dreams and in death. This is why he calls his education a book of dreams (see My Education: A Book of Dreams): he learns ways of going from the future that are incommensurable with our present ways of going. In that place where we’re free of our bodies, Burroughs’ prose may seem quite pedestrian. But only after we've made it out of our bodies will we comprehend.

We can see Christo's "Running Fence" as future art. As the fence runs along the cliff's edge, over and through the hills and into the ocean, a very odd space is forged. It's as if some god decreed a new law of propriety, incomprehensible to us now but poised in the future. From here, we have no choice but to regard it as an act of pure aestheticism, or as a comment upon the status of art, or on the legal system. That is to say, we try to make sense of it from the known world or as a pure now-event. But from another angle it is the sculpture of an impossibly complex space. Or perhaps it offers the propriety of the future, an architecture for a universe of 11 dimensions.

5.15.2009

Where is our avant-garde?


So I'm reading With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, a series of conversations between William Burroughs and a variety of characters — Tennessee Williams, Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and others — and I'm thinking: hey, I wanna be there, in the Bunker with Burroughs and the gang. But where, today, would I go? Where is the avant-garde? Who is our avant-garde?

Marc Lafia has argued this to me: they're in Silicon Valley. In Lafia's generous reading, the avant-garde's interest in the instrument over content reaches its apogee with the algorithm and the app. Just as Burroughs created the cut up and Oulipo — Perec, Queneau, Calvino, et al — created the productive restriction, Silicon Valley created the means of putting on the world, the instruments to create and disseminate. Who needs Warhol's factory when we have Twitter? Twitter is the ultimate tool of pop art. Everyone's famous! Everyone publishes! And everyone can put on the world (forget, for a moment, what people do with Twitter; here, the tool's the thing).

The obvious difference between Silicon Valley and Burroughs' Bunker is that one fuels the capitalist engine and one threatens it (even if there is a publishing economy, it pales rather conspicuously next to Google). Capitalism got smart and it got fast. No sooner does the specter of an avant-garde appears before it is quickly folded into the engine. Think: Vincent Gallo hocking Belvedere Vodka and posing for H&M.



Maybe I'm missing something. I will admit I am not the most plugged in guy. Perhaps there's a burgeoning avant-garde that I don't know about because, well, I'm not cool enough. And you know what? That would be just fine with me.

But I fear that is not the case. I believe the latte has displaced the syringe as acid has been replaced by Adderall — today's drugs drive productivity, not mind trips. Today's avant-garde is doing yoga and rolling in money and probably wind surfing. I ask you this: Are we healthier for it?

5.10.2009

One reason I love Burroughs so

This, from The Place of Dead Roads, just makes me smile deep inside while laughing out loud — the exquisite language with the relentlessly keen turn of phrase; the lists of impossible things, as if Borges had taken many more — and stranger — drugs; the surprising qualifications; the eloquence of multivalence:

"Kim is a slimy, morbid youth of unwholesome proclivities with an insatiable appetite for the extreme and the sensational. His mother had been into table-tapping and Kim adores ectoplasm, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras. He wallows in abominations, unspeakable rites, diseased demon lovers, loathsome secrets imparted in a thick slimy whisper, ancient ruined cities under a purple sky, the smell of unknown excrements, the musky sweet rotten reek of the terrible Red Fever, erogenous sores suppurating in the idiot giggling flesh. In short, Kim is everything a normal American boy is taught to detest. He is evil and slimy and insidious. Perhaps his vices could be forgiven him, but he is also given to the subversive practice of thinking. He was in fact incurably intelligent."

5.06.2009

Agree Shmagree, Argue Shmargue

I never care if someone agrees with me, at least as far as my philosophic positions are concerned. This includes my (former) students. All I have ever asked is that they understand — or at least try to understand — what I'm saying.

Argument is boring. What's there to argue about? Whether the proliferation of difference is....what? True? Good for the world? I don't care about either question, not really.

And I have to admit I've always been rather confused when it comes to argument. How does one go about it? It seems to me that an argument must be premised on some kind of common ground — the interlocutors have to agree to what certain terms mean, not to mention to what the very terms of the argument are. And how does one go about this without arguing? Argument seems literally impossible to me.

Now, in my experience, most argument is not about the subject matter per se but about interpersonal posturing and peculiar emotive releases. This posturing and these releases may be important components of civic life but a) they are not about the ideas; and b) they're, well, boring.

Unfortunately, for some students, arguing with the professor is an essential part of education. When they push back on the professor, they imagine themselves as good students. Such is our Socratic inheritance: argument, and opposition, is the stuff of thought.

But not in my world view and not in the world view I once taught. What I enjoy is the monologue and the conversation. In the monologue, someone holds forth, generously bestowing the audience with his or her spin on things. The more monologues the better, especially if they are strange and beautiful.

Conversations, too, make my heart go pitter patter. In a conversation — a good conversation —, the participants try together to push, pull, fold, spin ideas into strange and beautiful shapes, a collaborative monologue, if you will.

Some students of mine interpreted my prohibition of argument as conceit: I think I'm right. Well, that's true. I do think I'm right, at least when I'm teaching. After all, I am the professor. But that is not why I prohibit argument. I prohibit argument for the reasons stated above and because it inhibits understanding.

Needless to say, there are those opposed to my position on opposition. Fortunately, I'm not obliged to oppose them. I prefer the Bugs Bunny method — change the terms of the conversation. When Bugs is being chased, he doesn't just run, he turns into a woman or starts dancing. That is, he refuses to submit to the terms of opposition and so shifts the very terms of the dynamic. Deleuze and Guattari call this a "line of flight," a way out of the impasse of contradiction and opposition.

I know it may seem odd to be a rhetorician who disdains argument. But I don't actually disdain argument, I disdain a particular kind of argument — oppositional argument. For me, everything is an argument in that everything is a position — a chair, a building, an idea, a backwards cap, Kants 3rd Critique. And most arguments are not oppositional or dictatorial. Most arguments generously proffer their position: go like this. And if these positions are not generous, it is my job to evade, elude, and do what I must not to be squashed. But I'm not going to argue.

5.05.2009

Death and Medicine

I am a fan and patient of some so-called alternative medical practices. I've seen a homeopath — and I have to tell you, homeopathy is, as the kids like to say, wack! — and many acupuncturists and Chinese medicine herbalists. I've also been loaded up with antibiotics and sliced open by a surgeon.

In this country — perhaps elsewhere but what do I know? —, these other practices — this homeopathy and this Chinese medicine — exist side-by-side with Western, institutional medicine. One may try to avoid taking antibiotics by ingesting some earthy Chinese brew or placing infinitely small amounts of, say, rattle snake poison, under one's tongue (I told you homeopathy is wack — but more on that later). But when you get really sick — I mean really really fucking sick — it seems skinny needles and sub-lingual sugar pills won't cut it. We head to the clinic, to the hospital, to the chemo and the knife and the statins: Keep me alive!

And so I began to wonder: is this a deficiency in homeopathy and acupuncture?

I then I realized: no, it's not a deficiency per se. It's that these practices don't rule out death. In Western medicine, we try to keep people alive at all costs — even the cost of their life (again, more on that later). It is a mad obsession to keep the patient alive.

Now, I happen to share this obsession, perhaps despite myself. That is, I want to live — at all costs and forever. That is what my scared, neurotic stomach and brain scream at me all the time. But there does seem to be some wisdom to these other practices, a fundamentally different logic at work about the role and function of medicine.

Homeopathy and acupuncture offer treatments to improve one's quality of life, not to extend life per se. Death is not anethema to their medical practice. And while I find that wise and while I may aspire to that level of contentment — a contentment that accepts death as the natural order of things, a contentment that does not recoil in dread and horror at the mere mention of death — I have to say that right now, prior to achieving this elusive enlightenment, I find it absolutely terrifying.

4.22.2009

The mind boggling complexity of paternal play


My son likes to wrestle: "Let's have a battle, Dad," he screams as he runs full speed into my legs, belly, butt, swinging his tight, bony little fists. This happens often. It is a deliriously complex exchange:

1. The play is a competition, the young male trying to outdo the alpha male (it is the only instance when I am, in fact, an alpha male — and even that standing is precarious).

2. The play is an education as the alpha (me!) teaches the young beast how to wrangle, defend, attack. It is presumably in my best interest to make him able to defend himself so he can continue to carry on my genes and so he can hunt for the pack.

3. But simultaneously I am training him to beat me.

4. And yet when he senses that he can beat me, he backs off nervously. He wants his alpha to be strong and capable. And so the play seeks at once to confirm my position as king of the pack and to dethrone me.

5. There is, too, a beautiful madness, a delirium, to these battles as we heave, tickle, swat each other in a frenzy of laughs and snorts, a Dionysian release of a sort.

How am I to play my role? It is an ever shifting negotiation in which I sometimes let him win — whatever "win" means in this context—, sometimes dominating him mercilessly, sometimes showing pain (his bony little body hurts!), sometimes not. I am alternately defending my position, playing pedagogue, and putting the beast in his place.

Just this moment, he left for his capoeira class that I am paying for. I am funding my imminent demise.

4.20.2009

It is what it is, redux

In popular parlance, "it is what it is" tends to put an end to the discussion. It is uttered, everyone nods in their collective wisdom, and moves on because, well, such is life: it is what it is. The utterance is a call to irreducible difference—"it" is not categorical, there is no shared base of knowledge, and so we will not try to speak it.

And this is, probably, often the best response. Life happens. What is there to say about it?

But to assume that something that lacks category — something that is its own category, is sui generis — cannot be spoken is to assume that language speaks in and of categories.

Language, however, gets interesting precisely when we realize that it is not solely categorical, when we realize that language is experiential. Language is as immediate and sensual as it is conceptual and categorical.

And so, for me, I find those moments when it is, indeed, what it is a great provocation to speak, to write, to deploy language. I have neither hope nor desire that my language will name it, categorize it, grasp it. No, I want my language to move with this thing, with this life.

I want the difference of this world, those moments that beguile us, that tantalize and overwhelm and confound, to spawn more and more life. I don't want them to quiet life. I want them to amplify life. And so I speak, and I write, difference.

4.19.2009

It is what it is

Every communication succeeds, necessarily. You say something. I hear it, or don't. Someone else, perhaps, hears it, sort of. In any case, something happened.

Not every communication is understood. You say something. I hear it, or don't. I may understand what you said. My understanding may be all together different from your understanding, or his or her understanding. Understanding can, and often does, go astray.

But understanding is only one component of communication, albeit it important. (Needless to say, our respective understandings of understanding no doubt differ.) Understanding may be one moment within a communicative event that is itself an affective or effective machine — you understand what I say and, upon so doing, begin weeping or kissing or fleeing or punching.

But communication per se can't help but succeed. As they say, in a bit of popular phenomenological wisdom, it is what it is.

The Folds of Language

I have lived with Deleuze's fold for over a dozen years. At times, its power as a figure speaks to me immediately, eloquently.

I was drinking tequila with the good Dr. L Green the other evening as we were discussing how best to perform becoming. To render it visually seemed right and, at the risk of offense, easy. But to express it linguistically posed a completely different challenge: how to perform becoming without naming and yet still being in language which necessarily names.

This may be obvious. We may all know this already: language describes and does, at the same time but not necessarily in the same breath (to say I'm cool does not make me cool — an yet to say I'm cool does do something, is itself part and parcel of becoming). But, as I said, at certain times the power of this idea resonates with me, a harmonic convergence that makes my entire body vibrate.

Which is perhaps the point: the idea is folded through the body.

Folds upon folds.

The descriptive power of language — the meta — folds into its own materiality — its performativity, yes, but also its palpability — to form a sense event that is at once meta and material. And that is precisely what that very idea does to me: I understand it, yes, but I experience it as well, the idea itself a sensual affect that does not efface the ideality of the idea.

If that makes sense.

To speak, to write, is to fold. Such is language. It does not first name and then perform. Nor does it perform and then name. Neither precedes the other; neither effaces the other. The meta and the material are folded in every inscription, in every utterance, in ever different ways, at every different angles.

We might call these folds "tropes."

Deleuze's book >

2.13.2009

Joaquin Phoenix, a genius, jams the circuit



His posture, his play, is brilliant. The Letterman machine with its ready quips and its obedient audience that laughs and claps on command wants Phoenix to play his part. At first, Letterman tries to cajole him into advocating the actor's film—that is, to advertise the film, for that is what the Letterman show is at its most basic: an ad for Hollywood dreck.

Phoenix, however, does not play along. But what's so great, what's so brilliant, is his tactic. Once Letterman can't get him to play the ad man for the film, what options are left? Phoenix must be crazy—loaded or crazy, like Farah Fawcett. These are the options this idiotic machine offers: sell the goods or you're a lunatic.

But Phoenix plays neither. He sits sternly, quietly, and lets the madness around him unfurl. Suddenly, it's not him who looks crazy—it's Letterman! It's the inane audience who laughs at nothing, who laughs on command. Listen to what Phoenix says about the audience, "What do you gas them up with?"

Joaquin Phoenix jams the well worn circuits of celebrity. On the one hand, this is easy to do—the circuits are so well known, so well trodden, that to deviate is easy. On the other hand what makes this performance so great is that he never gets folded back into their discourse, back into the rules of their game. He never turns pugilistic, never antagonizes, never plays against what's happening. And nor does he ever allow for a knowing wink within the game, as if to reassure everyone that the money machine is still rolling along, that the life draining rules of propriety are still in play.

Neither fists nor wink, Phoenix chooses the ancient path of the warrior who sits silent and lets his enemies destroy themselves. It was painful for me to watch Letterman squirm and hawk—Letterman, who had once been the one to jam those idiotic circuits of celebrity, Letterman who never had patience for all the bullshit, now Letterman who is at once puppet and puppet master for the same old crap.

Joaquin Phoenix, stoic genius, sits quietly, insistent in his silence, graceful in his posture, refusing all attempts to co-opt him, all efforts to claim him. What a refreshing sight.

1.30.2009

Of Stench and Living with Memory





Courtesy of the good Dr. Lohren Green, poet-sophist-atmospherist, I have been reading the exquisite, hilarious, and, if you'll excuse the misplaced pun, illuminating, "In Praise of Shadows" by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. Tanizaki considers the Western taste for the sheen against the Oriental predilection for the worn, or what he calls the "glow of grime"—the way touch wears something and bends its relationship to light and, alas, to time.

For instance, in the West, we use shiny tableware, glimmering forks and knives; not so in the East where the muted tin and wood prevail. Tanizaki spends considerable time discussing bathrooms and the horror of the Western camode with its white tiles that amplify the filth of the space.

Reading this, I found myself continuing his line of thought. The Western obsession with the glean speaks to a perpetual eradication of history, of memory. We shine our antiques and in so doing erase the very thing that gives them their charm: the mark of use, the patina of time. In ceaselessly polishing, we erase our past, not just the doings of our so-called forefathers but the doings of ourselves.

I, for one, enjoy a certain whiff of myself—through eyes and nose. I like leaving residue of my goings on—a beer bottle on the coffee table, a torn scrap of paper used for god knows what, and, yes, a tinge of my own urine permeating the bathroom. Of course, culturally, we consider this "dirty."

But this dirt is more than mere marker of events; it is the event. It is, miraculously, the cohabitation of the present and the past. To live amongst one's stench is to live with and amongst one's past, to be present with one's memory—rather than sloughing it like so much dead skin.

And yet no sooner can I mark my temporality than a sponge descends on the scene, wiping my very remnants from this world and leaving me desperately alienated from myself, a (more or less) pure contemporary forced to face the now without the reeking trail of my own becoming. I must start anew, my memory wrung down the kitchen sink.

And so I relish those moments before antiseptic sweeps in, when the room is dense with the memory of me, when I can seep in my past, breathe my memory, and enjoy a certain peace that comes with the stench of time.

1.20.2009

On this whole inauguration thing

So, may I rant for a moment? Of course you can, jewbag, it's your blog!

Ok, so, I know people are all, like, excited for this inauguration thing. And I'm not one to shit on anyone's holiday—only I am the one, precisely, to shit on everyone's holiday. So here I go.

What the fuck? This Obama cat may be an excellent guy. He and his family unit sure seem super cool, no doubt about it. But, first, the inauguration was filled, inevitably, with sanctamonious bullshit proffered by a series of fucking idiots. Is this history redeemed? I may not know a lot about African-American politics but it seems to me that the election of this guy does not do a whole lot for the black men I see on the streets just trying to get by.

C'mon, folks, this is the president we're talking about. How much power does this guy really have? And even if he did have all the power in the world, are we sure we want it in this guy's hands? What's all this nonsense about jesus I heard here and there on various televisions about town during this inaguruation? What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? Isn't this why the world hates us—because we think we know who God is? Because we push jesus on everyone? Goddamn, I'm jewish—and jesus was a jew—and it made me feel left out.

It's the president, people. It's not your dad or your boss or your hubby or your friend. You still have to wake up to the stench of your life, regardless of who pays rent at the white house.

Listen, I hope this guy miraculously brings the change we all seek. I hope he stops bombing folks I've never met. I hope he puts money into our schools because, fuckin' a, we don't know how to educate our youth and it's quite literally killing us. I hope he puts a damper on corporate greed and actually restricts what hedge funds can do, what financial companies can risk.

I know y'all are desperate for change. But, c'mon, there are forces at work here that are big and determined and this guy, however cool, is only the president and is, in fact, not hell bent on fundamental change. He's a politician and not a terribly radical one at that. Yes, he seems competent and cool but government is government and life exceeds the law.

The change we need is drastic. We need a 32 hour work week, not 40, 50, 60, 80 hours. We need basic support of education and libido and love. Can a president do all that? Fuck, I hope so. Will this cat do it? No, because capitalism is greater than any president. The key to change therefore exists elsewhere. Where? In you—and, no doubt, in me.

My fear is that we're all being fooled—no, placated, cajoled into thinking this changes everything. But it's the president! It's not that important! Nothing is more dangerous than the mass accepting of change that is anything but.

I am with you in hoping that there's hope. But I fear I am utterly alone in my hesitation and suspicion.

On University Teaching: Stanley Fish's False Dichotomy

In his review of a new book, "The Last Professors," Stanley Fish proffers a dichotomy: we teach to prepare people for work or we teach humanist knowledge for its own sake. On the one hand, we have students gathering around professors speaking of Shakespeare and tropes and Kant. On the other, we have students being prepared for the work world:

"The for-profit university is the logical end of a shift from a model of education centered in an individual professor who delivers insight and inspiration to a model that begins and ends with the imperative to deliver the information and skills necessary to gain employment."

Of course, in many ways what he says is right and it is, alas, utterly depressing. Nothing—well, almost nothing—makes me weep more than students asking me what they're "going to do" with a degree in rhetoric, as if all pedagogy must end in profit.

My answer to that question initially is: you'll use this education to think and enjoy life, to live better. And this is practical. But it does seem to reify the dichotomy between inspiration and work.

But the fact is that today's economy is a network economy and this demands a certain kind of pedagogy that is at once inspirational and "practical." This does not just mean that local economies are enmeshed. Nor does it mean solely that we live in the network of the Internet. No, what it means is that jobs themselves are a network—a network of skills.

The assembly line demanded expertise in one area—put the screw in the hole (but don't touch the engine), fix the guy's fingers (but not his anxiety), design the ad (but don't think about revenue streams). But the assembly line is, basically, dead. Today's jobs don't let you stay in your silo. Today's designers can't just draw pictures—they have to know technology and business, the competitive landscape and the behaviors of people.

This, today, is a network life, a network economy, and it demands network thinking. And this is redundant because to think is to forge connections between and amongst different things, to forge networks.

Now, the liberal tradition of the university is built on scholarship and knowledge, on philology and, once again, expertise. It is NOT premised on thinking. What the university rewards is mastering some pedantic, esoteric field no one else has mastered and this is your ticket to tenure—which will eventually allow you not to teach anymore. Thinking, per se, is rarely taught and more often than not is frowned upon.

But there is a mode of teaching that is not premised on mastery, not premised on knowledge, one that is premised on teaching a practical skill—and yet not a skill that is immediately transferable to an industry. This skill is called thinking, or perhaps, critical thinking. It involves the ability to think across disciplines, to assemble disparate trajectories, to make new kinds of sense. And this is precisely what the network economy demands.

First, we must escape the trappings of industrial thinking, assembly-line thinking, which still reigns in both industry and the academy. When both embrace the network and what it demands, then we can have a university in which thinking is, finally, rewarded.

1.06.2009

The Melodrama of the Image in Harmony Korine's "Mister Lonely"






All of the characters in Mister Lonely—almost—are impersonators. This immediately shifts the very architecture of cinema and the dynamics of experiencing a film. Rather than actors trying to present real people, we see actors playing actors who are always acting—and yet it is not as though they go back to their real selves when off screen.

The characters in this film, then, are always playing a character. This shifts the affective distribution of the filmic experience. We are never asked to identify or understand these people. We are asked, rather, to see these people as they are always already images, always already playing life, putting on the world (I steal that from McLuhan and I just love that phrase—putting on the world). By displacing the very premise of acting, the film displaces the very possibility of identification.

And so the narrative force that would come from characters interacting with each other is suspended. There is no narrative force, not really, just a series of exquisite images.

This film is a spectacle. It privileges looking at images rather than interpreting images. Mister Lonely rigorously denies access to the real as it shifts the space of cinema from the relationship between world and image to the image itself, to the screen. The images in this film do no refer to a real. Diego Luna doesn't just play some guy playing Michael Jackson. His identity is as an impersonator of Michael Jackson. This guise will not give way to a real person (despite the ending which I will not address now).

The film is not a parable. On the contrary, it's a film.

But what makes it so great—and it is almost or perhaps great—is that it is a melodrama. The effect is supremely odd. These are not people, not really. They're impersonators but impersonators all the way down. So from whence the drama? It seems to come from the narratives of characters they play—from Michael Jackson, from Marilyn Monroe—but this is not to say that it doesn't come from the characters, as well. Only who are they?

What Korine brings to light is the melodrama of the image. It is not that the image presents melodrama, that the image is a vehicle of melodrama. There is no representation. All there are are images and these images are rich in pathos.

It's not a pathos that we experience one-to-one with the drama—we are not necessarily sad when they are sad, happy when they are happy. As I've said, there is no identification because how could you possibly identity with these characters? It's literally impossible. No, the affect of the characters are constituent and constitutive of the affect of the image.

It is the image, of which the characters are a part, that produces—no, that is—the melodrama.

1.04.2009

Another thought about professional sports

Why, exactly, do the networks insist on showing us the owners of the teams during the game? I, for one, find it kind of disturbing as it reminds me of the creepy class and race structure of professional sports.

Ah, perhaps that is why the networks do it: to incite, even if in a roundabout way, a revolutionary consciousness.

And a random thought about professional athletes

Do you think professional athletes—at least in football, baseball, and basketball—are at least a tiny bit relieved when they're eliminated from the playoffs? This is their job, after all, and who wants to keep working? I mean, jeez, their bodies ache in ways we will never, ever, understand and we think they want to play more? Why? For glory? Perhaps. But still....

A brief thought: slow motion reveals....slow motion

It is odd, I think, that we believe a slow motion replay of an event to reveal the reality of the event. It seems to me that slow motion reveals....what things look like in slow motion. How could it be otherwise? Indeed, how could severely distorting the perception of something reveal its truth? Hmn.

4 things that drive me ape shit

Popcorn in movie theaters. The sound of greedy, mindless hands reaching time and time again into that bowl of greasy nothingness only to be followed by the repulsive din of mindless mastication—all the while being inundated with sound and image of epic proportions! Have we no sense of decency?

Morons who run red lights, speed, pass you on the shoulder. Drivers assume that they are lone actors. And yet isn't it glaringly obvious that the roads are a collective, ethical system, that they run on the simplest of laws, rules, and regulations and that these laws, rules, and regulations are perhaps the one example of fairness and equality in our entire legal system?

Cafe Lattes. All right, all right. I know plenty of you heathens drink these. But, c'mon, it's a vat of milk with an inkling of coffee—a hint, a mild gesture, a dram. If you don't like coffee, don't drink it. Because the fact is you are holding up the lines for the rest of us. Making an espresso is fast. Pouring coffee is fast. Steaming milk is not fast. Now, I'm not in an enormous rush but waiting an extra 20 minutes in line to get my coffee because you need a steamed keg of shit drawn from a cow's teet just doesn't seem right to me.

Public bathrooms in America. Must we piss and shit under the watchful eyes of our brethren? Can't we have a moment of solitude to tend to our most private matters? What the fuck? Can't a stall door go all the way to the floor and then, for good measure, reach to the ceiling? Can't we just shit alone? In Barcelona, Spain, I encountered private bathrooms nearly everywhere I went. As far as I'm concerned, it is the only first world country (that I've been to, needless to say).

1.03.2009

The Folds of Life: On Arnaud Desplechin's "Kings and Queen"



At first, things some more or less straight forward—a melodrama, of a sort. But as the film goes, we come to realize that neither it nor human being itself is either straight or forward. I want to say that both film and human being are organized not around linear progression, not around cause and effect, but in and through the fold.

There really is no plot. Many things happen—institutionalization, suicides successful and not, revelations too bizarre to discuss. But these serve less to propel the film than to illuminate folds in characters. And as these people are pleated this way and that—or, rather, as their pleats come to pass—the film itself pleats and folds in time as past, present, and future find themselves juxtaposed as if in some kind of origami structure that will never be the structure of anything other than the film.

Why folds? The fold is a figure that allows for simultaneous continuity and discontinuity. Consider a piece of paper that has been folded at different angles and pressures. The paper has not been torn but now houses profound internal differences. It is therefore continuous—the same piece of paper—and discontinuous as each crease introduces a whole new posture, direction, and shape.

The characters in "Rois et reine"—"Kings and Queen"—are folded. We are moving along with first this character, Nora, and then with that, Ismael. Things seem to be banal enough, even if visually and dramatically engaging. And then things start to shift as characters fold—they remain continuous but quite different postures, attitudes, modes reveal themselves. And it is not because these people are mad. The film does explore that possibility but those we see who are clearly mad are precisely those who seem to lack folds, who are monolithic in their madness (such as Arielle, the would-be suicide).

No, these characters are not mad. Nor are they products of a surrealist inclination by the filmmaker. This is not the discontinuity of William Burroughs; this is not the cut up that introduces radically discrepant threads to see what will come. Desplechin engages an entirely different tactic: the fold. As the film moves, we discover, we confront, the great complex pleating of Nora and Ismael (everyone else remains more or less univocal—which is lucky, because the complexity and intensity of just these two is overwhelming).

Neither character can be summed up. Neither can be said to have this and that side to them, as if the complexity of character were always the ambivalence of moral/immoral. Desplechin's fold is not the fold of dichotomy. The fold has no purpose, no goal, no destination. This is not origami that will end in a crane. This is the impossibly complex pleating of humanity when it is free of reduction, free of the simplification that humanism and Hollywood would have us believe constitutes this life.

For Desplechin, to be human is neither surreal nor simple. It is to be at once continuous—you are, necessarily, everything you do, think, feel—and discontinuous precisely because you ARE everything you do, think, and feel. There are no deviations from ourselves. In everything we do, in everything we say and feel and think, we create ourselves. Each of these is a fold of our becoming.

What makes it even more complex is that we are not alone, not solipsistic creatures who adjust our beings in solitude. We are folded as much as we fold—by our children, our lovers, our parents, our culture. But the manner in which we can be folded is who we are.

And so this film, "Kings and Queen": a great cinemantic folding that never jumps but that is nonetheless discontinuous, at once jointed and disjointed. In rhetorical terms, Desplechin deploys metonymy—there are no metaphors, no leaps and bounds, no surrealism and no symbolism (surrealism and symbolism are closely related via metaphor's jump cut). Scenes tend to be short and, even when longer, the takes are short. Each shot is a moment, a piece, of this or that character, a metonymy of this or that person. There is never, ever, synecdcohe—we are never allowed to have this fragment stand in for the whole of the person—because there is no whole of the person per se! All there are are folds, a great unwieldiness that is somehow, nonetheless, and more or less, discrete. We can still say, "This is Nora, that is Ismael." But now ask me to tell you what either is like and you will find me showing you the film in its entirety because they are all these looks, words, desires, ideas—not necessarily at once but, yes, at once.

And there is certainly never any irony, no play of surface and depth, no negation. This film is all profusion, fecundity, giving us the baroque nature of human being—folds and folds, perhaps not to infinity but certainly unto death.

Desplechin is an odd and refreshing filmmaker who, like Cassavetes, delivers sentiment without sentimentality, pathos without bathos. And yet his films are really nothing like Cassavetes' as Cassavetes priveleges the immediacy of the event, the surprise and speed and sometimes severe angles of the undulating now. Sure, it's a now that undulates with past and present but his films like to spotlight the urgency of the now. Not Desplechin: he deploys the fold and all of its temporal wackiness. Watching "Kings an Queen," we feel the presence of the past and all the doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety of the future. We literally see them folded into the now.

This makes for a radically different speed and affect of the film, for a different distribution of urgency. Desplechin's films are certainly intense but I want to say that this intensity is distributed differently. Watching "Faces" or "Love Streams" or "Woman Under the Influence," my heart and body are pounding: I'm right on the edge along with Gena. Watching "Kings and Queen" and "Esther Kahn," I am less on edge than I am taken by the edge and folded. To watch these films, then, is not just to see and experience the fold. It is to be folded.