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. 

Examples: 
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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Problems with "Prometheus"

If you haven't seen this and are one of those people bugged by spoilers, don't read the following.
  1. If I hear one more person talk about 'answering the ultimate questions' I will personally gouge out their eyes, as happened in one scene. It first occurs during Shaw's dream sequence when she's in hibernation, when she and Holloway are giving their insipid, stupid presentation to the rest of the crew, and then later several times. See 8.
  2. How does David know so much about the "little" things that killed the Engineers? First, he knows to bring one of the containers back with him. Then he opens one up like it's a coffee can.  Then, he puts it in Holloway's drink.  Then he tried to hibernate Shaw after she's been impregnated. 
  3. Why must everyone treat David like a fucking asshole? Seriously, if I had a walking computer that could do amazing things, I think I'd be taking his comments and questions very seriously.  I would find them fascinating.  Instead, everyone in the film is like, get out of my way, robot.  It was only 2093, not 2400, a date when, perhaps, robots might be totally old hat. But Vickers says something demeaning to him early, and there is the pointless tete-a-tete with Holloway in which he again demeans him.  Even Weyland mentions how poor David lacks a soul.
  4. Since when do scientists completely ignore all contamination procedures dealing with potentially alien organic life forms? Only after the second expedition does Vickers stop Holloway from re-boarding after he is infected.  Before this, she had no problem when they brought the Engineer head on board.
  5. Is Vickers a robot? I hope so.  Because that could explain how uninteresting her character really was.  She wasn't even that threatening. See 23.
  6. Why did Holloway get so depressed when he found out the Engineers were--or at least appeared to be--dead? I mean, he's ready to abort the mission after a several hour expedition?  He realizes "It's a tomb" (which didn't really follow anyway, since there were no dead bodies in that room) and then he acts like his dog just died for the rest of his very short life. See 21. But this is a script problem. Not an actor problem.
  7. Did they have to impregnate Shaw? I mean, really.  That was just stupid and pointless, given we'd already seen two other ways that these creatures infiltrated the bodies of other organisms. Obviously pregnancy is the cineme, if there is a cineme, consistent through the entire "Aliens" series. It is never really thematized until "Alien Resurrection", which is one reason why I like the latter (perhaps "Aliens", although there it is motherhood, fundamentally) regardless of Brian and Karl, but it never really gets a thoughtful treatment. But there was no basis for this in "Prometheus".  It seemed tacked on.
  8. If I hear one more person say 'that is my belief', like it is a license to disbelieve the given, I will personally gouge out their eyes, as happened in that one scene when Frankenstein-biologist showed up.
  9. Pacing? Must everything be edited like a music-fucking-video these days? This was a movie that was three hours long and cut down to two.  At least I hope it was.  Things happened much, much, much too quickly. Ever watch some Ozu, Ridley?  He could teach you a few things.  
  10. Ridley Scott had his day. He's done. "Bladerunner", fucking amazing. Beautiful. Though, it was Rutger Hauer who made the film so wonderful.  But since then, nothing that great. And "Alien" was not really as good as "Aliens". Yes, "Thelma and Louise" was good, but that was based on a good script and good actors … well, at least Susan Sarandan and a young Brad Pitt and Michael Madsen … I also liked "Black Hawk Down" as an excellent action film, although it was unequivocally racist.  Yo, skinnies are people too.  People.  Human beings. They have human motivations as well. See 23.
  11. If you are landing on a planet, wouldn't it be a good idea first to survey it first, aerially or by some late 21st century means, before landing, so that you know the best site to land? As far as we know, they just happened to find these temples.  Based on the narrative, it could have just as easily happened that they landed elsewhere and found nothing and went home. In "Alien", a beacon drew them to the ship.  That makes sense.  You don't just land a ship anywhere, after spending traveling for two years ...
  12. If earlier you were told there may be life in a portion of an alien dwelling distant from you, you decide to go the opposite direction, when a reptilian creature suddenly appears before you why do you then become playful and friendly?  Especially if you are a biologist?!?
  13. "Invitation"? Just because there are pictures of giants with primitive humans in cave dwellings?
  14. Must we really pose doubt about evolution again? If, say, the Engineers were our genetic predecessors, how does this imply that they designed us? And why would than imply that evolution might be false? Are these people remedial high school students, or supposedly, well-trained scientists?
  15. If David has repeatedly betrayed you, to the point of almost making you into a meat vessel for an interesting alien life form, a la Paul Reiser's Carter Burke in "Aliens", are you going to then trust him to pilot you to the Engineers' home, rather than again betray you and take you and some of these aliens back to Earth?
  16. If the Engineers tried to kill you, why would you then want to go to their home?
  17. Why would you assume that the Engineers meant to "abort" their children or kill their robots, if a few Engineers killed a few humans?
  18. Where did that crazy fucking octopus come from? Yes, it was the aborted thing having been taken out of Shaw's abdomen, but what I don't know is how it grew some 10 to 15 times its original size in a matter of a few hours.  This is a problem I have with the entire "Alien" series. How, within a very small period of time, does a small creature (the hatchling) manage to become an adult, some 10 times its original size? Isn't the law of the conservation of matter involved here? Must there not be a significant amount of feeding to assist the transformation in size? But that did not obtain …
  19. How many alien life forms were there? Were they related? How did the exploding head relate to them?  Why didn't the biologist's head explode?  Why was the biologist crouched like a spider when he showed up outside the ship?
  20. Is there any reason to believe, at the end, that the alien that emerged from the dead, previously impregnated Engineer, is linked to the other alien life forms?  
  21. Why would anyone cast Logan Marshall-Green … in anything? He must be a really awesome guy. But he is a horrible actor.  
  22. Why Guy Pearce as a very, very old man? Why not just a very, very old man playing that role? Seriously, what is the point of casting Guy Pearce for that role? Guy Pearce has done good work, but not consistently enough to be someone that a director must have. And he's not known for his impressions of old-timers. 
  23. "Ridley Scott instructed Charlize Theron to stand in corners and move in lurking movements, in order to accentuate Vickers's distant, enigmatic nature." IMDB Trivia. Again I say, if this is how he instructs actors, quit now. Quit hogging the opportunities and the money … 
  24. Since when are state-of-the-art surgery devices only programmed for men?  And if they can be quickly reprogrammed, again, why are they only programmed for men …
  25. Is it easy to walk around--can you walk at all, when you have a ten inch incision through all of your abdominal muscles, that has been quickly stapled shut? That was a rhetorical question. 
  26. Okay, a couple people on board have tried to make you into a meat vessel for an alien species, but you've overcome them.  After that, everything is more or less copacetic, such that you'll accompany them to meet the apparently living Engineer?
  27. A suggestion: never allow Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to write a script for any other film.  Also, read it before you begin filming. Allow for revisions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Struggles with Seriousness

This is a result of prolonged unemployment.  And depression. Or perhaps simply reading the newspaper too often. Too much "art-history", not enough courageous investment in the economy (what a fucking asshole!) !