Friday, October 24, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 2

The second half of the film relieves us of these troubling reflections and engorges our ludic desires for a narrative in which we can forget ourselves (but now we have simply become the body which is the film).  In the second part of the film we see her recall her “own” memories, memories of love and madness and as such invokes the second of the five problems which “Hiroshima, mon amour” suffers: namely, that all images or bodies or memories are accompanied by emotions, by feelings, and by desire.  

Her memories of Nevers, the other site of “Hiroshima, mon amour”, are troubled memories of youth.  She fell in love, a young French girl, during the war, with a German soldier.  This is an impossible love.  These images return to her and bring anger and frustration, bitter sadness.  She cannot recall these images without emotion.  The image itself is her desire for a past which is lost.  The image, by its very nature, invokes desire, because it is loss itself.  The illusion feigning the real.  But these desires and these emotions are real because they hurt.  He becomes her lost lover and accompanies her through these memories; he shares her pain in this loss, just as he lost her when he died, just like he will lose her when she leaves.

But if the image,  the memory, is loss or lack and is then desire, this puts the images from the beginning of the film in a different light.  How do we experience horror?  Do we recoil from horror or does horror reveal a yearning in us?  She must sate the necessity of remembering Hiroshima, but is this necessity an ethical obligation—what we might presume—or is it because her love demands it of her?  He is her Hiroshima. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 1

“Hiroshima, mon amour” begins with images of bodies and this visual metaphor will serve as an anchoring theme throughout.  These embracing bodies are slowly being covered with ash. They grow less and less discrete, almost indistinguishable as bodies.  The skin does not melt or burn with the accumulation of ashes; rather, ironically, it begins to sparkle, almost becoming beautiful.  These are the consequences of an atomic bomb, we must conclude; the return of radioactive embers to the earth.  Just as this image begins to sicken us, these bodies disappear and new, healthy bodies, presumably belonging to our nameless narrators, appear.   How burnt, scorched, scarred bodies can return to such health remains a mystery.  All we see is the movement from one image to the next.  

This visual metaphor envelopes the principal problems of “Hiroshima, mon amour”.  First and foremost, memory appears and returns through the body.  Second, all memories are affective; they are imbued with emotions or feelings and desire.  Third, memory has the peculiar quality of timelessness.  Memory is future and past and present and not in any particular order.  Fourth, memory is anonymous.  It belongs to no one, to 1000 women and to 1 woman.  Fifth, memory is forgetting.  

The first problem in “Hiroshima, mon amour”, that of the memory’s appearance or return through the body, we see in numerous dimensions.  The pain implied in the ash covered skin invokes the oldest form of memory, what Nietzsche says is how remembering was created in humans.  Humans remember what causes them pain, like all animals.  If that is so, there is much remembering in this film, as we are repeatedly treated to images of bodies deformed in numerous fashions.

Our female narrator—whom I will henceforth call “her” or “she”—claims these memories as her own.  She says that she saw them and that they are hers.  She claims these memories for herself.  They become her body—their affective dimensions—the pain they experience, is something she identifies with.  I say this emphasizing that bodies are not things but sites of affection and action, of emotion and feeling and desire.  Nothing says this more than the pain we see in these tortured bodies.  
But if affection and action are the signs of bodies, then our experience viewing the film is the production of a memory and a body.  We are implicated in her lie, her claim to have seen these events.  She had not lived them and so her lover says no.  This is not yours.  But she insists, acknowledging that this experience is derived from the museum in Hiroshima.  The audience is implicated in her lie: viewing these bodies is experiencing that torture, assuming those bodies, bearing that memory.  This artifice is uncovered when we see her on the scene of the shooting of a film.  This illusion is so perfect, she will say, because the memories are the event.  And those bodies are our bodies.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Football, the NCAA and the NFL be damned!

No, it’s not good news.

This was the response I wanted to give to the woman at the counter who commented, upon seeing the Penn State mug that I was carrying (my wife’s in fact, because mine was in the dishwasher at home), “good news about Penn State, eh?”

She was referring to the early end of the suspension of the Penn State football program from participating in the post-season. This was one of the punishments imposed in 2012 on the program after discovery of the conspiracy to protect the serial rapist in their midst. And to be proper in speech, that is what this was: a conspiracy. Several men, including Joe Paterno and then University president Graham Spanier, had learned the former defensive coordinate Jerry Sandusky was very likely sexually abusing young boys and had done nothing about it, including remaining silent for 14 years. 

That is a conspiracy.

And their punishment: 4 year suspension of the football program from the post-season and a series of fairly hefty fines and the voiding of all wins during the period of the conspiracy.

But Ms. Coffee-Counter wanted to share the “good news” about the early suspension of the post-season exclusion.

No, it’s not fucking good news.

Joe Paterno took the easy way out and died, while remaining unconscious of his responsibility, as is evidenced by his gall to ask for the suspension of Penn State’s football program not to take place until the end of that football season.  

Now I can easily imagine the justifications these men afforded themselves, about how this was an individual who had been their friend for years and who they well hoped after their admonition (that is, they had confronted him about one incident) would end these activities, make penance, etc.  Perhaps they even imagined Sandusky’s charity did just that.  And to be fair, there is no more hated group of criminal in the US than pedophiles. A group who regardless of the degree of their individual crimes are forever damned and excluded by their society (on this I strongly recommend the film “The Huntsman” starring Kevin Bacon). 

But in fact, they had turned a blind eye to an unrepentant serial rapist, who was a predator in almost the worst sense—that he had no sense of culpability, such that he continually proclaimed his innocence, and that had used his position and his supposed charity to take advantage of the young boys entrusted to his care.  This man was a complete predator and is the person who is imagined whenever the word pedophile is used.

And these men, Paterno, Spanier et al., were worse. They protected the predator, while the latter destroyed the lives of a countless number (because we do not and cannot know how many) of boys.

And for what, for a fucking game in which men launch themselves at each other, beginning a career that will gift them irreversible brain damage and an empty sense of importance and a disdain for more important, more culturally meaningful talents.

And in conclusion, let me just say this: Ray Rice. It's not a few individuals, it's a culture. We need to examine this culture.

And a brief postscript: I am not a perennial hater of football, although I am an egghead and do not follow football.  My wife is a Penn State alumni, as are some of my closest friends.  And I grew up watching Joe Paterno and being impressed, even through the deepest anger of my teenage years, by this terribly myopic man and his skills. He was one of the few reasons I might have had to be proud to be from Pennsylvania.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Humans out of nature?

Quick answers to the question, how does human being emerge from the state of nature for Rousseau.

1. Society, language and reason are concomitant activities/states, mutually conditioning and enabling.  This means that in society (by which I mean simply human cohabitation) humans have need of language, and without this need they would not develop it. Without language humans could not develop reason, which itself represents a late moment in the development of language, from its initially simply nominal function to a later metaphorical/abstract capacity. Lastly, without reason they would not have the foresight necessary to establish different occupations and the division of labor that makes cooperation desirable (beyond the occasional intersection of interests nullified when those interests are satisfied).

2. Therefore, neither society, nor language, nor reason could be the cause for the exit from the state of nature, because they are as equally products as is the civilized man.

3. If it were the case that humans emerged from nature because of their capacity for thought, then this would negate one of ways that Rousseau wants to distinguish himself from the Western philosophical tradition in his claim that anthropological difference is the result of freedom and perfectibility, not ratio.

4. I surmise that Rousseau thinks that it is truly a piece of historical contingency that caused humans to enter the cohabitation that makes society, language and reason possible. Some kind of environmental event along the lines of a volcano or earthquake.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Zombie allure

What is so exciting about Rob Zombie? I cannot explain the natural quickening of my heartbeat when I hear the name and think "More Human than Human ... House of 1000 Corpses ... Halloween [revisited] ... Halloween II [revisited, leider]". Ha. Ha. Har-dee har har.

But seriously, why are zombie films in television in such persistent circulation these days? The same could be asked of the vampire-vs.-werewolf theme, I suppose ("Underworld", "Twilight", ad nauseum, with the emphasis on the nauseum). I will restrict myself to the zombie genre, although I must confess that I am personally disposed to dislike all of these quasi-horror/fantasy films. 

Premise 1: The persistent circulation of a genre or subgenre (e.g. zombie films) is a sign of the purchase this intellectual/cultural meaning has for use.
Objection 1A: These subgenres are merely commercially successful, not necessarily intellectually/culturally meaningful.
Response 1A: Intellectual meaning is not necessarily excluded from the grounds for commercial success.

P2: Zombie films/shows have a series of consistent components, which are part of the basis for their categorization as a subcategory.
P2a: The end of civilization as we know it. Zombie apocalypse extends globally, for the most part.
P2b: Zombies are humans who have been infected, leading to a death that then is followed by a rebirth as purely voracious, non-human eating machine (brains are preferred, in the more comical versions).
P2c: Uninfected humans defend themselves by killing zombies.

Am I missing anything? Other aspects seem like variations on the subpremises of P2. 

In the "Walking Dead"(2010-present), a viral infection produces a fever that is extremely high, leading to biological death.  Then zombies become alive again. 
In "28 Days Later" (2002), the zombies are persons infected with the "rage virus" that almost immediately makes them into killing machines.
"The Crazies" (1973, 2010): bad water.
"L.A. Zombie (Gay of the Dead)" (2010): okay, I didn't see this.  But it sounds hilarious.
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968): extraterrestrial radiation, infection?

The apocalypse is an incredibly prolific aspect in film, which has to do with establishing settings whereby the conditions of human life are interrupted and the rules and mores of human intercourse are suspended.  All is permitted? Humans redeem themselves through brave, selfless acts despite the setting. I.e. morality story. "Zombieland" (2009) is an example of this.

Zombies have the general appearance of humanity, but lack sentience and recognition (apparently there is even a philosophical zombie concept on these lines). And then, on reflection, lots of films start to fall into this category, including films that we might otherwise have excluded, like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and all of its kin. In other words, humans find themselves separated from people that were just like them but have become radically unhuman. Ideological, cultural alienation.

More importantly, zombies threaten the existence of uninfected humans and therefore must be exterminated (usually with extreme prejudice, if the "Walking Dead" is considered). In addition to apocalyptic moral suspension, violence is not only permitted but required for (1) the security of the uninfected and (2) the previous honor and dignity of those infected (this is less frequent).

A repeated image advertising "The Walking Dead":
the ambiguity concerns the target, as the show develops.
This last aspect, or P2c, as I would put it for short, is what I think is really the meaning behind the zombie craze. I believe that, especially with the tendency of televisual representations to showcase violence (P2ci or P4), that we watch these shows because the prohibition on murder has not only been lifted, but it has become a duty to murder/kill (zombies).

I am troubled by this. To put this differently, if all films express a fantasy or wish, zombie films express the wish to kill with impunity or the wish to kill as a duty.

P3: Zombie movies are in especially frequent circulation these days.
O3: Empirical evidence may not bear this out.
R3: I'm a philosopher, I don't need no stinkin' evidence!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Cutter's Way" (1981), or What is Noir?

What is this film about? To say it is a noir, as a number of online commenters do, is a mistake. Regardless of the novel Cutter and Bone, from which it was adapted, the film is ambiguous in the most beautiful way. Whereas film noir requires as its necessary condition, a setting of moral turpitude in which all are guilty, although they may not yet realize it.
The three central characters of this film may at first appear to fulfill this condition. Cutter, played by John Heard, is a disabled Vietnam vet with but one leg, arm and eye, and a mouth that drips of the poetry and squalor of Rimbaud. Bone (Jeff Bridges) works for a sailboat dealer and services bored bourgeois wives, and lacks a compass, moral or emotional. Mo is Cutter’s wife and is dying, it appears, of either alcoholism or something worse.
Moreover, these three characters are opposed by a local oil magnate who may have, as Bone might have witnessed on a rainy night, dumped the body of a young girl after killing her. But J.J. Cord is mainly a shadow character. If he was the killer seen in the film’s first five minutes is never clear, and in the film he only appears at a distance several times, usually sitting on a horse by himself (in a parade and at a polo match), until the final scene. He is mainly absent, the subject of conspiracy and caricature.
The complicating action and development of the film (Kristin Thomson’s terms for the second act of a film, the first and third parts being the setting and climax)—the body of the film, as it were—concern Cutter’s amateur sleuth concluding that Cord must have been the killer, considering a series of circumstantial clues, and the plan conceived by Cutter and the murdered girl’s sister to blackmail Cord and then turn him over to the police. Bone is an unwitting and unwilling companion to both. He first recognizes Cord from a parade, after having been interrogated by the police as a potential suspect, and points him out to Cutter.  Then he reluctantly pretends to be an accomplice to Cutter’s blackmail, hoping to sabotage the plan from within.
From this description, it might very well seem that the film is in many ways a traditional noir. But Cutter’s Way is insulated from noir, perhaps until the final scene, because it continually traffics in reality, whereas noir is always looking through a glass, darkly. Were I the pessimist I sometimes pretend to, I might conclude that noir and reality have much in common and that this distinction is false. To believe that, however, one would have to be convinced that ignorance and hope are ultimately immoral gestures.  And I do not think they are, although I do not call them inherently benevolent either.
Cutter’s Way is not a noir because the reality that surfaces repeatedly shows certainly very sad, pathetic and occasionally guilty people, but it also presents a serious doubt that they are truly guilty. To put this differently, the film is not noir because these characters may simply be humans, neither truly good nor evil, and the crime may have nothing to do with them. This is the central ambiguity of this film, whereas it seems very clear to me that noir depends on the idea of distinct moral values, in which indifference or neutrality are impossible. To put this differently yet again, Nietzsche would have hated noir.
Allow me to present several paradigmatic scenes that disrupt the necessary conditions of noir:
(1) Bone shows up at the bar where Cutter is holding court. Cutter goes around his group, introducing them up to the last person, a black man, who Cutter calls the “court nigger”. This immediately causes the latter visibly expresses irritation as well as that of others. A couple of black men who’d been playing pool walk over after hearing this. But Cutter does not back down. Instead, he decries the limitation of the choices allowed for a liberal in referring to blacks. When Bone suggests foul, Cutter points out that he wasn’t uncomfortable with this word when his car was stolen. Nothing happens. The moment passes.
(2) After having told his lover that he had to visit an ill friend, he eventually ends up at Cutter’s house, which is apparently where he lives part of the time, and encounters Mo, Cutter’s wife, with whom there is some kind of mutual attraction. Is Mo ill? She is either drunk or stoned, and she uses the phrase “considering …” to describe her condition, although that may be an existential condition. It may have only to do with the state of her marriage to Cutter, which is clearly unhappy on the part of both. Cutter continually comments on his preference to bed other women, such that in front of Mo he will talk with Bone about high school cheerleaders. But Mo is also merely just barely alive. She has no work and seems to generally despise Cutter, if not Bone.
(3) When trying to elicit a conscience and an accomplice from Bone, Cutter discusses how, as a result of modern life, repeated experiences with, for example, the sight of dead women or children, quickly move from trauma to indignation to banality.
(4) Cutter and Mo have an extended comic dialogue about food as an alien substitute for alcohol, when she comes home with groceries.  Cutter cleverly remarks, food, isn’t that something people were forced to eat during Prohibition?
(5) Finally informed about Cutter and Valerie’s intended blackmail of Cord, Mo is furious at their stupidity and immorality, extending the web of guilt to Bone in the latter’s apathy.

So to summarize:
 (1) Noir cannot speak to the truth of prejudicial terms (the prejudicial term, in fact), such as nigger. It cannot face the ambiguity of these terms. Instead, it assumes the violence and hatred expressed in them.
(2) Death or illness cannot be uncertain, tenuous.
(3) Noir cannot thematize universal moral guilt. Noir is a genre wholly concerned with existential and, in connection therewith, moral guilt. But when noir thematizes this matter (by which I mean explicit treatment), it becomes something other than noir because it admits the existence of a worldview separate from this.
(4) Noir cannot poke fun at itself and it cannot historicize. To historicize is to recognize the distance between the present and the past. But in noir fate is sovereign, and where present and past are distinct human freedom is possible.
(5) It’s not that in noir films there are no persons who are free from existential guilt, but this freedom manifests itself in extreme apathy. When moral paragons appear, the atmosphere is disrupted.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Incomplete: Reading log: David Mitchell's _Cloud Atlas_

I am proud to say that, despite my failure to make headway in Heilbron's biography of Galileo (the first 50-some pages of so I've found quite interesting in fact), I am 47% of the way through David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (according to Kindle's wonky pagination--that is a total peeve of mine, but don't get me started).

I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet earlier this year and enjoyed it, yet I wouldn't say it was a transformative experience, of the like of The Kindly Ones (and yes, I know that I am a broken record about it ... I just really was impressed by that book). Mitchell's characters are always quite interesting, quite real. To use a poor analogy, frequently when I read books the characters I imagine are cartoons, and this to me speaks of a lack of realism in the book. But that is not so with Mitchell's books.   In fact, they seem quite real. These are real persons. And I think that is important.

I do not think that all fiction or all narrative must comply or even should comply with the demand to be "real", and I am not sure what make them real. Certainly it should not be that photographs appear when I read, for then I would be submitting fiction to a visual demand. Or worse, some kind of cinematic demand, but this book would especially deny this.  So realism in this case would require some excess beyond the photographic or cinematic. 

Cloud Atlas is a collection of interweaving narratives, as far as I can tell, in which each new narrative includes references to the previous, as the character or narrator mentions reading the former. I have read to the center narrative, which is apparently the farthest into the future, in some post-apocalyptic time, whereas the others are from the 18th century, the 1930s, the 1970s, present day, and sometime in the 21st century.  After this post-apocalyptic narrative (the phrase used by the Aleksander Hemon in an article in the New Yorker on the Wachowskis' film production of the same), the book returns to each of the previous narratives in counter-chronological order.  And each of the narratives ended, with only a couple of exceptions, at a critical, fatal point.

So this might prove difficult for a film version. In fact, I dread the idea of the Wachowskis' making this film.

And that is all there was of this post.  I offer it for my reader's voracious wants. Not out of completedness.