Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Triptych of a Tree: Memoirs of a Film Goer


That Hitchcock's Vertigo  has been imitated multiple times is not surprising, but it is slightly curious that the same tree appears in two other films. The original scene takes place as Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) takes Madeline (Kim Novak) to the redwoods. It is a fiction within a fiction, we later learn that it is actually Judy imitating Madeleine who, at the moment, is channeling Carlotta Valdez a woman who lived decades prior. The lines on the tree make it possible for Madeleine to present a life that began before her life. The lines in its bark is a memory before memory. The tree stands as a mute witness to a life that has passed before. It is a living fossil of a life not lived. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sidekick No More: Horkheimer on Work


In Max Horkheimer's critically underrated (and out of print) Dawn and Decline we find the following aphorism:

Monday, February 27, 2017

"You'd be a Beast": Get Out and Race



Yes, yes, we all know that Get Out is in some sense about race, but it is at the same time not only a horror movie, but a horror movie that follows the formal conventions of a particular kind of horror film. I am not sure exactly what to call this sub-genre, perhaps "the outsider and the community with a secret," or "betrayal horror." The best examples of this genre, examples the writer and director Jordan Peele knows well, are films like The Stepford Wives  and Rosemary's Baby.  To perhaps take it seriously as both a movie about race and a movie steeped in its genre is to examine the way in which the latter shapes the former. In other words, to take it seriously as an examination of the nightmare of race is to examine the way in which the genre does a kind of dream work, shaping and transforming its primary trauma. (One could even use such a method to examine the various "horror of racism" novels that have appeared in the last year, such as The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, both of which take Lovecraft and thus a different sub-genre of horror as their point of entry). 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Undercover Worker: Workers Inquiry after the End of the Working Class

An afternoon reading in San Francisco

If it is possible to learn one thing from the various invocations of the "white working class" that were summoned after the election of Trump, the more the term is invoked, the less one actually knows about work, class, and race. The "white working class" exists as a kind of hobgoblin of bourgeois conscience, as a creature both hated and pitied, the racist who cannot being one. It appears in a few soundbites and pull quotes gathered by journalists and a few stock photos of construction and factories. Against this spectacle of the working class, a hardhat and a few stereotypes about attitudes, there stands the tradition of workers' inquiry, the examination of the conditions, perspectives, trials and tribulations of the working class. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

War is Truth: 1984 is Back


Several stories have reported that 1984 is being read, or at least bought, again, becoming an unlikely best seller. This is ambiguous news at best. The book is sophomoric enough to deserve its place on every high school's sophomore's reading list. Its politics are dubious, and its philosophy is even worse, its picture of a totalitarian society based on hate and universal deception always seemed more of something to reassure members of liberal capitalist society that everything was alright in their society than a warning. There is thus something amusing about this particular chicken coming home to roost, of cold war ideology become the basis, however, impoverished of a critique of ideology. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Limited Efficacy of Facts Insofar as They are Facts: A Spinozist Reflection on Fake News



Nothing could be more foolish, further from the letter and spirit of Spinoza's writing than to proclaim that a given proposition is the most important. Spinoza's thought is in the movement and relation of the different propositions, axioms, and definitions, not this or that proposition. His thought is systematic, not aphoristic, which is why his thought does not lend itself to tweets, memes, or bumperstickers. However, there is one particular proposition which remains a personal favorite. It is Proposition One of Part Four, "Nothing positive which a false idea has is removed by the presence of the true insofar as it is true." This idea always seemed important to me in that it offers a corrective to the spontaneous philosophy of philosophers, the idea that true ideas and well reasoned arguments have a force in and of themselves. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Affective Normalization: Between Lordon and Trump


Trump's election was met with an insistent demand on the part of those who opposed him, a demand not to "normalize" his election and his presidency. The use of this term "normalize" is curious and telling. The word is not legitimize, although one could argue that the debates about the Electoral College and the popular vote, were in some sense debates about the nature, and limits, of democratic legitimacy. Or, more to the point, the legitimacy of what counts as democratic legitimacy in the US. The word "normalize" suggests something different, something broader and more inchoate than legimitacy, less a matter of constitutional checks and balances than a prevailing sentiment or structure of feeling.  In some sense the slogan draws off of the existing opposition to Trump, the inability of many to see him as anything other than a crude narcissist more befitting the world of reality TV than Realpolitik, and demanding to extend the protests and jokes into opposition. It is a politics of a affect, the attempt to make a prevailing sensibility into a politics. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Kids are Alt-Right: On Green Room


The problem with thinking in terms of best movies of the year is not only that it imposes an arbitrary dividing line, a line made more complicated by the uneven temporality of releases, but that it ties the calendar of films to other events on the calendar. Case in point Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room, last spring or summer its punks versus neo-nazis would have seemed like an entertaining and necessary point of conflict. Once you decide that your protagonists are a punk band nazi skinheads follow as the necessary antagonist. It is part of the natural order, like cats and dogs or aliens and predators. Who else would punks fight, hippies? 

Monday, December 05, 2016

You Incomplete Me: Marx and Hegel in Balibar’s Des Universels

Requisite wine stain 

What Hegel calls consciousness, or, more to the point, consciousness of the universal, Marx calls "ideology." It is the same thing, and yet this change of denomination, like the deus sive natura of Spinoza (conscienta sive ideologia, I propose), carries with it the possibility of saying something new, or bringing it to the foreground.  And at the center of debate is the part of unconsciousness constantly rejected by Hegel at the limits of the phenomological field”Etienne Balibar

I have early noted an increasing turn to Hegel in Balibar’s writing both here in this blog and in an essay that will be published here. The recently published Des Universels completes this turn, while also making it clear that as much as Balibar often lists Hegel as a transindividual thinker, his interest in Hegel has less to do that particular problem than with the problem of universals. Spinoza might be the preferred thinker of the transindividuality for Spinoza, but Hegel is the thinker of the universal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Prophets of Rage: Affect and Elections



Since the election of Trump there seems to be a consensus that his surprising victory stemmed from anger and frustration on the part of the electorate. The only question that follows in most analysis is what is the nature of anger. Is it classed based, frustration at globalization the loss of industrial jobs, and a recovery that seems to have only benefited the elite? Or is it race based, anger at changing demographics and a steady decline of the wages of whiteness? Of course most answer that it is in some sense both, either through the mythic "white working class," which merges race and class in a handy formula or, in a more sophisticated way, arguing that Trump always framed class in racist terms, economic uncertainty became immigrants and globalization become China.