Resolute toward a new year

Something is in the air, and we need to be resolute enough to bring it to bear on itself, to draw out its logic and all its necessary consequences.

So this year, we should train.

To run, toward and away.

To burn, to see what that looks like again.

To make things, old forms repeated, repurposed, made unlike themselves.

To burn this thing while it still runs.

To make our running feel like burning.

To run this whole burning thing.

"We are all Gazans" - الحرية لفلسطين

Israel is now considering a 'humanitarian pause' in its unjustifiable massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

This is the most pathetic, cynical response I can fathom, that they "consider" this after four straight days of bombing and now readying the tanks.

In the airport yesterday, I watched the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. entirely dodge the obvious fact that the attacks are in no way targeted to attack Hamas terrorists. Instead, all he could say was that what Israel is doing is defense and that what Hamas does is terrorism directed toward innocents. I don't condone Hamas's attacks in the least, but to justify Israel's attack on Gaza via this false opposition is shameful. Shed blood can
perhaps never be part of an equivalency, of so many deaths here versus so many others there, but the disparity in this case of the scalce, mode, and claimed legitimacy is unmistakable.

Any international support of these actions of Israel should be understood as entirely unconscionable. Particularly from the U.S., as Obama obediently gets in line with the standard unthinking American support of Israeli tactics.

We need to refuse and reject any politicians who won't break rank with their expected support of Israel in this instance. There is no excuse for not doing so.

It's hard out here for an unkillable extraterrestrial manager of a funeral home...

So before I say anything else about Don Coscarelli's Phantasm (1979), I need to get this out of the way.

The haircuts. My god the haircuts.

And from the back...

And on another note, forget the ear in Blue Velvet. Along with Orlac's knife-throwing killer hands in Mad Love, Phantasm has probably the best partial object/automated-morcellated-body-extension moment ever (imagine this thing wriggling around, gently straightening itself, etc) in "blood" that looks suspiciously like lemon custard:

What actually interests me about this film (which is rather a blast, although it's darker and nastier than one might think) is how it thinks about two things: the degree to which spaces of death should look analogous to "white cube" minimalist-modernist design (apparently, quite a lot but with the necessary accents of neo-classicism and materials that imply stone-like duration); and what it might look like for evil to be neither infinite nor finite, but to be limited yet transhistorical across a human time scale (apparently wearing suits that are too small for you and grimacing a fair amount).

More, what that evil is busy doing if we subtract out the idea that the villain just enjoys doing this. Because in Phantasm, we get the smile of the killer (the Tall Man, the undertaker who collects and works on producing corpses), but it is a weary smile, the smile of someone who has to put on a good face at his job of... turning dead bodies into zombie dwarf slaves for an alien planet. Phantasm is, in this odd manner, a film about work, about the minor pleasures and the larger inconveniences that come from never really getting a day off.

The film is split between two locations: the suburban town (and its peripheries, roads, etc), and the funeral home/mausoleum. This mausoleum is visually split between two poles of reference. First, the ancient temple necropolis, with cold, fine marble, somewhat arbitrary busts, and this hanging relief of what may be the Greek pantheon:

So we are coded, initially, to read this as a sort of timeless space, the house of death where life does not belong and where there the intrusion of the living is what cannot be tolerated. And indeed, the hulking, primitive dwarfs in their druid-like hooded robes seem to support this: like a subspecies that missed the evolutionary train, now and always held in the sway of a figure of ultimate evil (the Tall Man).


To think of the film in this way - in the mode of viewing it first invites us to adopt before deflecting those expectations - is to miss Phantasm's stranger constructions.

And one of those constructions is death via what is essentially a large paperweight, albeit one that floats, extends knives, and drills out brains.

Hooded evil zombie dwarves ("they've been squashed") made from the corpses collected by the Tall Man, on the one hand, unnecessary sleek futuristic objects, on the other.

This is the opposition that structures the world of the funeral home, the world of the Tall Man: the unaging relics of the past and its primeval secrets, as opposed to the present that wants to be a dream of the future.

The real site of this second tendency is the room over whose door hangs the pantheon relief. As such, an expected ancient site, one that belongs neither to the suburban town nor to the supposed efficiency and secular dignity of a funeral home that's been in business for quite a while.

But when we enter, we get the following:

Those barrels are the large "dwarf jars": inside each is a squashed corpse. And to be sure, there is a sort of ancient tomb echo here, of jars of organs or precious objects in Egyptian tombs, for example. But when the camera pans right to the "gate", the tone shifts radically, and in doing so, rewrites those jars. We are basically in a 70's minimalist installation, something between the illuminated spaces of Nauman, a Tony Smith piece gone more sinister, and Wolfgang Laib reliquary-esque objects made of industrial materials rather than wax. The particular references aren't of much importance, though, because what this room really does is stand in for what we think futuristic should look like: cold, sterile, ordered, unmarked, filled with objects whose interface we don't understand, a space designed for those in the know, a group of which we are definitively not a part. A space of alien technology and human design, at least insofar as we get that it is supposed to look like something from our future. Something quite different from the archaic ancient space of the mausoleum.

As with much of Phantasm, the fact that what we expected (a space of ancient, timeless evil) isn't the case does not negate this option, as it is a template for a sort of narrative excess that I've been detecting in a lot of horror films, particularly those from the 70's and 80's: in short, it is indeed the case that this site does not belong, yet the fact that it does not belong in the manner we expected it to fit wrongly (i.e. it is wrong for the wrong reason) does not undo the initial "false" way of making meaning about the events offered to us by the film. Instead, these "wrong" readings persist, not as possibilities that might have been, but as actual currents, directions, and techniques within the film.

The choice is a non-choice: the excess of possible meaning is not cleanly excised from the film. What we have, then, is a film of overdetermination, one in which what should be mutually contradictory instead becomes mutually dependent, knotted together in the figure and labor of the Tall Man.

However, what strikes me about this construction of Phantasm is that there is no "third term," as it were: there is simply the mute repetition of a labor without end.

For as we discover, the reason that he turns the corpses into dwarf zombies is to send them through the gate to work as slaves on what we presume to be his planet.

But is it necessarily his planet? And is he necessarily "evil"?

This fact, which superficially is supposed to function as final proof of his diabolical nature, has quite the opposite effect. It undoes the entire mythos of the funeral home and of his alleged evil. He is, to be sure, a rather grouchy and nasty figure. But...

As a villain, he isn't very far up the totem pole. For what does his labor consist of? He is not the one orchestrating the labor on the distant planet: he is basically a skilled laborer, someone who knows how to turn human corpses into zombie dwarves. And while he keeps a few around to protect his business, they are not there to serve him. They exist to be sent to another labor "market."

More crucially is the fact that while we get the occasional death caused by him (the corpses produced then turned into a dwarf), he actually doesn't interfere with the town's operations. He waits for people to die, a low-level harvester who provides a necessary service and, in a true entrepreneurial spirit, has discovered how to make something of use out of that which is no longer of value to anyone else. In the later films, we get an impression of him moving from town to town, but here, he really is a mortician of sorts, doing a job that needs to be done and that few people want to do. And on top of that...

He's been doing it for a damn long time (as we learn in the photo from the antique shop that reveals him as a "timeless" being). Perhaps, then, his nastiness comes less from an innate evil and more from the fact that this must get old, a being of apparently great power stuck in a dead-end job in a town where he can't have friends, waiting for people to die but not killing too many because it would raise suspicion. He may be unkillable and somewhat immortal, but his weariness tells us that he sure isn't eternal, just that he's been here for longer than he might like to be.

What Phantasm gives us, finally, is a sense of how the circuits of production and accumulation hinges upon two types of excess that we'd really rather not know about. There are the waste products of life (the corpses) remobilized, taken care of by someone. And as long as we aren't confronted directly with the fact of their reanimation, literal or figurative, as long as we don't have to accept the fact that our parents may in fact now be zombie dwarf slaves working on another planet, we accept this, because we know all the same that this redeployment, this thawing of frozen, dead capital is necessary for the functioning of the system.

And the other type of excess? The Tall Man, the part who doesn't belong to any whole: separated from his planet, wherever that may be, outside of the normal cycles of human time but forced to function in his labor according to the rhythms unnatural to him (the life-span of the humans whose corpses he works on). The Tall Man is just another worker, caught between two worlds of time, alien not because he bleeds thick yellow matter but because, like most of the world, his time is not his own.

Oh, baby!

Back to my growing-up home in Maine for a week and a half. This was the view onto the world that greeted me here. Grim cold beauty...

And a week of esoteric watching. Along with reading Caroline Finkel's Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire and Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy, I'm going to be watching/rewatching the following films that I hurriedly ripped onto my computer before I left:

It's Alive 2: It Lives Again


This Sporting Life

Hatchet for a Honeymoon

His Kind of Woman


The Devil

Pierrot Le Fou


Witchfinder General

No reason whatsoever for this grouping, simply what I grabbed. Having watched the first two (It's Alive 2: It Lives Again and Phantasm) on planes and buses, I have the illusion of some deep running common thread through these films for me to chase down. Mostly, though, I'll share my thoughts on these as I go (and invite any of the collective yours on the films of this awkward personal viewing series).

And I start with just an image-thought, the transition from the ontological horror and anxiety that comes from confronting your own monstrous off-spring/mutant baby who happens to be a killing machine...

... to the moment of shattering jouissance when you finally take the little fanged bastard into your arms and accept him as your own.

Wide open spaces (and Hegelian secrets)

"Why the popularity of the Western? Because young people who sit cramped in buses and tied to assembly lines terribly wish they could be elsewhere.... Like all art, but more than most, the movies are not merely a reflection, but an extension of the actual -- an extension along the lines which people feel are lacking and possible in the actual. That, my dear, is the complete secret of Hegelian dialectic. The two, the actual and the potential, are always inseparably linked; one is always giving way to the other. At a certain stage a crisis takes place and a complete change is the result."

- C.L.R. James

Eisenstein avec Meatloaf


I was listening to Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell II the other night, as I am wont to do. There's no hint of cynicism or kitsch here - it's simply a remarkable album, fully Baroque and nostalgic and self-aware and overblown.

But what I was struck by was the juncture between Meatloaf and Eisenstein. Eisenstein avec Meatloaf... Seriously. Meatloaf not as the truth of Eisenstein, but - in an utterly disjointed historical and geographical way, a point of contact between two fields of expression - as an extended symptom of the structures we see embodied Eisenstein's image-thought, strained out to the conclusion that lay outside of the possible scope of Eisenstein's work: namely, a full, fraught, and "ecstactic" (a term vital for both Eisenstein and Meatloaf) working-through of the status of objects under capitalism.

First, though, we face the similarity of the mechanisms of affect and tone of their work, particularly in how grandiosity allows one to overleap sentimentality (as in, the empty demand that a cultural consumer feel the emotion/sensation demanded of her or him without adequate motivation to feel it) and actually produce a system of potent audience manipulation.

For Eisenstein, this is the montage of attractions, the calculated system of shocks resulting from dialectical montage techniques.

For Meatloaf, this is the precise inflection of Jim Steinman's compositions, the warbling, the low guttural shakes, the work that is echoed in the lyrics of "Wasted Youth": "But I do remember that it wasn't at all easy / It required the perfect combination of the right power chords / And the precise angle from which to strike."

In both cases, it is virtuosity itself that transforms the hollowness of sentimentality into a sort of inverted hollowness, leaving us vunerable and doubting what kind of people we would be were we to remain stony-faced before this measured frenzy. In other words, you may think that you are "better" than "I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)", but after 8 minutes, you find yourself on your knees, clutching at your chest at the thought of how infinite love meets the finitude of sex with women who are "breathing fire" some nights, some nights "talking nice."

By looking at the rest of "Wasted Youth," we get the more potent connection:

I don't remember if it was a telecaster or a stratocaster
But I do remember that it had a heart of chrome

And a voice like a horny angel
I don't remember if it was a telecaster or a stratocaster

But I do remember that it wasn't at all easy

It required the perfect combination of the right power chords

And the precise angle from which to strike

The guitar bled for about a week afterward

And the blood was so dark and rich, like wild berries

What is going on here? An expression of pathetic materialism, a form of dialectical thought and method that is concerned with the pathos of the object, with the techniques of drawing out the ecstatic core of the object, not as transcendental but as situated and singular.

Through structuring shocks of reversals and recognitions, the "tragic" exposition of the object: its pathos, its suffering, its enjoyment.

Eisenstein's milk separator.
Meatloaf's Fender.

Crucially, these are not fundamentally totemic or fetishistic objects. They are objects of industrial production in a world of such objects, those which seem commensurable until they meet in the flare of the "pathos encounter" (that third moment of Aristotelian dialectics, in which the invisible movements of recognition and reversal become seen in the suffering instance):

So I took my guitar,
And I smashed it against the wall
I smashed it against the floor

I smashed it against the body of a varsity cheerleader
Smashed it against the hood of a car

Smashed it against a 1981 Harley Davidson

The Harley howled in pain,

The guitar howled in heat

The specificity of the objects named here are key: the varsity cheerlead, the 1981 Harley Davidson motorcyle (which, unlike the car, is invested with fetishistic force as the incarnation of the rebellious spirit in Meatloaf's universe, as opposed to the car, which is simply the site for coupling). But they remain, resolutely, mass-produced objects. Herein lies the dialectical turn proper to the pathetic materialism particular to Eisenstein and Meatloaf.

Recognition: These objects have fetishistic value that allows them to participate as the crucial kernel and spark in a structure of meaning-making and symbolic validation.
(The promise of the milk separator as the concretization of the collective, the promise of the guitar as the point of leverage back against a world of conformity.)

Reversal: These objects are mass-produced, the results of an industrial giant (capitalist or Soviet): how can they have this value when they are just one of many. The creation of this value must be our construction, based on the relative scarcity and/or cost of the object. This fact can either be the powerful realization of communal enterprise (it is us, the commune, who are the motor here, this machine is just a machine that allows us to perceive our force as a we) or the alienating recognition of reification (if my subject-hood is orientated around owning a certain constellation of objects, what happens when I recognize that these objects are all widely available for sale: am I merely a constellation of money.)

Pathos (or the suffering/enjoyment/jouissance of "stupid first appearance"): It is precisely because they are mass-produced objects that they do not expose their ecstatic core. Hence the hard work - and the promise of virtuosity, collectively or as an individual - of those whose techniques, whose "precise combination of the right power cords" brings forth the blood of reified, mute matter. And the splattering cream of the separator, the ecstatic spray.

The point here - and the point where Meatloaf transposes, symptomatically, the thought of Eisenstein - is that this vital moment is the moment where we see the reified object truly taking on the "arbitrary" value with which it is invested. This is the condition that capital both hides and articulates. Towards the end of "Wasted Youth":

And I ran up the stairs to my parents' bedroom
Mommy and Daddy was sleeping in the moonlight

Slowly I opened the door, creeping in the shadows
Right up to the foot of their bed

I raised the guitar high above my head
And just as I was about to bring the guitar

Crashing down upon the center of the bed,

My father woke up, screaming
"Wait a minute! Stop it boy!
What do ya think you're doin'?

That's no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!"

The father's cry here is analogous to "when we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope we will use." At the moment of his death, he can see the guitar as only a crystallization of exchange-value, and his murder as wrong because of the damage done to the murder weapon. As the Meatloaf narrator tells his father:

"God Dammit Daddy! You know I love you, But you got a hell of a lot to learn about Rock 'n Roll"

Or a lot to learn about capitalism. About the point that it is not us, the knowing-better-but-still-doing-it bourgeoisie or the too-oppressed-to-notice working class, who foolishly invests fetishistic, totemic value in the objects of our lifeworld. It is the very structure of production that does this. And what Eisenstein points to, standing in a world that hypothetically undid the status of objects (only to eventually return the mute fact of scarcity with a vengeance), and what Meatloaf sings is the willful return of the repressed of mass objects, the buried core of meaning brought to bear on us through the precision and grandiosity of their ecstatic art.

As Meatloaf puts it, stitching together an emotional epic into the inscription on a Detroit mass automobile:

Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are.

This is, of course, a reversal of the standard inscription: objects in the mirror are closer than they may appear. But it is the mirror itself, the optic that hides its pathetic core, that is always close, pressing, and waiting for the right collision.


"after dark hundreds of professed anarchists broke the windows of upscale shops, banks and hotels in central Athens and burned a large Christmas tree in the plaza in front of Parliament."
(from the NY Times descrition)

More importantly, this text from those occupying the School of Theater in Thessaloniki:


No insurrection in history could ever be controlled, manipulated, or submitted to ideologies or political parties and mechanisms, it could never be merely political in content. Every riot, every insurrection has always been a social affair and has thus been deeply political in the broadest sense. After the murder in cold blood of 15-year-old Alexandros, a tumult of rage and discontent has come to the surface. A wave of excluded, disappointed, repressed, desperate people flooded the streets, of diverse cultural background, education, experience and class and were united in a spontaneous cry of a society that is being suppressed, deprived of its future, that is watching its dreams being crushed. This is a generation that has been systematically excluded from any means of expression, deprived of any possibility to decide for itself at school, at university or at work, through its growing alienation. This generation is choosing destruction as its own expression of rage and creativity. Rage is not just a feeling. It is a struggle for social justice. As long as there is no justice, there will be no social peace.

We are out on the streets as part of this society but also as part of this social rage. We do not seek to be the leaders of this discontent, we are not experts in violence. We are out on the streets because we are on Alexandros' side. Any one of us could have been in his position. We know well, from our everyday experience in social and labour struggles, in the struggles of immigrants for dignity, in the struggles of the marginalized and the prisoners for a glimpse of freedom, that the State and the institutions of power have always confronted us with the finger on the trigger.

We do not just feel hurt, outraged and revolted by the unjust death of a young person. We are also fully aware that, whether we are friends, parents or relatives, for each one of us and each of our beloved ones, there is a police bullet waiting for its fatal call. Guilty are the State and its uniformed murderers. It is they who are the true specialists and actual managers of violence.

They started it. They are the ones who are responsible for this wave of violence and insurrection that broke out with the murder of Alexandros. There was never justice for the murders of Koumis, Kanellopoulou, Kaltezas, Temboneras, Boulatovic, and of so many more immigrants...Social rage grows with State violence, chemical warfare on the streets (teargas cartridges shot directly at demonstrators), rubber bullets, beatings and hooded plainclothes policemen arresting demonstrators.

The explosive social situation these days could - and should - create the conditions and the consciences for a better future. But it could also create the conditions for accepting and legitimizing the use of firearms by the police. How else could we interpret the riot policeman in Athens waving a revolver against demonstrators during the demo on Sunday?
How else could we interpret the numerous firings in the air by special-force policemen right after Alexandros' funeral?
How else could we interpret knife-flogging fascists helping out the police during their attack against demonstrators in Patras on Tuesday evening?

However hidden from the majority, all the above-mentioned incidents are true.


Whoever pretends nothing is happening has already chosen which side they are on.

Occupied School of Theatre
December 9 2008

"I need another body..."

All biopolitical discourse should be this good. Slide over, Agamben.

"And the tiniest spray, starlike scatters, hitting the bottom of the empty pail" (Notes on reading Eisenstein, 1)

Beginning my project of reading, watching, consuming everything Eisenstein I can get my hands on. And I'll share thoughts as I go, moving toward my larger project on the primacy of dialectical expression (and the impossibility of dialectics in thought). Reading now Nonindifferent Nature.

In "Poor Salieri (instead of a dedication)," Eisenstein writes:

Pushkin's poor Salieri.
He dissected music like a corpse...
And in this lay something really terrible.
Like a corpse.

To be sure, the reiteration of "like a corpse" is the sort of back-stressing, the pathos of what it means to approach music as such. But we might read it otherwise, and in doing so, get a sense of the particularity of Eisenstein's dialectics. For it is not just that he dissected music like a corpse, but in this corpse, in this making as-if-of-corpse, he finds that what lies inside is something really terrible: something like a corpse.

What is at stake here is a conception of how the act of unmaking, of morcellating objects of study, is the very production itself of that act. To dissect music like a corpse is not to mistreat music but to give birth, through your dissection, to the corpse that was always there but never detected, the something terrible that is not a corpse, but rather, like a corpse, an approximation of how we look taking non-form in front of us.

Whopper virgins

This is, insofar as I can tell, not a joke. The new advertising campaign for Burger King: "Whopper Virgins." Combining a stunningly fucked conception of cultural inheritance and "native dress" (see above for the union of the two) with a deeply sinister yet baldfaced presentation of globalization/creeping tendrils of global capital. The rough idea would be that in order to decide which round-shaped-travesty-called-a-burger (Whopper, Big Mac, everything else) is objectively better, one must find proper subjects who... don't have a word for burger? Don't consume primarily the products of monocultural farming and excessive processing of simple carbohydrates?

The core of it seems rather to be: these are ads that hinge on the support structure of those subjects who do not grasp advertising, who are "pure." Encoded in this, then, is the oddly self-aware stance of the corporation: look, we know that your consumption habits are so mediated by advertising - as we want them to be, we're not suggesting that you change that, good God no - that you no longer can even taste things correctly. So we're bringing in a pinch hitter, the global dispossessed, to function as the externalization of the sensual apparatus you all used to have.

Perhaps most striking of all is the way that these adds play into the schematics and promises of "reality porn" (Bang Bus, Milf Hunter, Border Bangers, Coeds Need Cash, etc), porn that hinges on the fantasy that one can pull up alongside a random "real" teenage girl who will not only have sex with you (and a couple of your friends) but who is quite fine with the idea of you making a videotape that "you won't show anyone." (Well, given that 95% of the world's pornography is made in some 10 square miles of the San Fernando valley, it might be roughly true for those neighborhoods, as basically everyone is "in the industry" in that area.)

But in the ads below? The promise of "Real Whopper Virgins." And that promise is... Indigenous peasant women gone wild! For processed meat and fluffy white buns!

I don't know if this is more depressing because of what it says about our food industry or because we may be staring here at the sublimated future of pornography. The Whopper Virgins will decide...

Black Friday runs red

These are dark days. A Wal-Mart worker killed in a stampede of frenzied shoppers.

Throngs of Black Friday shoppers stampeded the man as they rushed into the Green Acres mall in Valley Stream minutes before it opened.

"When the doors opened, all hell broke loose," a law enforcement source told The Post.

Full article from the Times here.

In California, two people were killed in a shooting at a Toys 'R' Us in Palm Desert, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. The shooting occurred about 11:36 a.m. (2:36 p.m. ET), authorities said.

Look, even if Soviet grocery stores had endless lines and fights to get staples such as salt, flour, etc, they weren't fighting over getting the best deal on a Clay Aiken box set, George Forman grills, or some configuration of articulated plastic intended to be more fun for a kid than a basketball and a jar of glue.

Yes, when we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope we will use. But they'll probably convince us that the new model of synthetic fiber Hangman 9 model rope is more effective and really gives the execution that special something. And we, we will probably pay out the nose for it.

At least the trains don't run on time...

This came to me through Iain Boal of Retort, and I thought I should pass it along here.

[Two open letters of support for the nine young grocer-communards arrested under the French terrorism laws in the Limousin village of Tarnac, one by the Italian theorist of permanent suspicion, and the other by the parents of the seized. IB]

On the morning of November 11, 150 police officers, most of which
belonged to the anti-terrorist brigades, surrounded a village of 350
inhabitants on the Millevaches plateau, before raiding a farm in order
to arrest nine young people (who ran the local grocery store and tried
to revive the cultural life of the village). Four days later, these nine
people were sent before an anti-terrorist judge and "accused of criminal
conspiracy with terrorist intentions." The newspapers reported that the
Ministry of the Interior and the Secretary of State "had congratulated
local and state police for their diligence."
Everything is in order, or so it would appear. But let's try to examine
the facts a little more closely and grasp the reasons and the results of
this "diligence."

First the reasons: the young people under investigation "were tracked by
the police because they belonged to the ultra-left and the anarcho
autonomous milieu." As the entourage of the Ministry of the Interior
specifies, "their discourse is very radical and they have links with
foreign groups." But there is more: certain of the suspects "participate
regularly in political demonstrations," and, for example, "in protests
against the Fichier Edvige (Exploitation Documentaire et Valorisation de
l'Information Générale) and against the intensification of laws
restricting immigration." So political activism (this is the only
possible meaning of linguistic monstrosities such as "anarcho autonomous
milieu") or the active exercise of political freedoms, and employing a
radical discourse are therefore sufficient reasons to call in the
anti-terrorist division of the police (SDAT) and the central
intelligence office of the Interior (DCRI). But anyone possessing a
minimum of political consc ience could not help sharing the concerns of
these young people when faced with the degradations of democracy
entailed by the Fichier Edvige, biometrical technologies and the
hardening of immigration laws.

As for the results, one might expect that investigators found weapons,
explosives and Molotov cocktails on the farm in Millevaches. Far from
it. SDAT officers discovered "documents containing detailed information
on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times
of trains." In plain French: an SNCF train schedule. But they also
confiscated "climbing gear." In simple French: a ladder, such as one
might find in any country house.

Now let's turn our attention to the suspects and, above all, to the
presumed head of this terrorist gang, "a 33 year old leader from a
well-off Parisian background, living off an allowance from his parents."
This is Julien Coupat, a young philosopher who (with some friends)
formerly published Tiqqun, a journal whose political analyses – while no
doubt debatable – count among the most intelligent of our time. I knew
Julien Coupat during that period and, from an intellectual point of
view, I continue to hold him in high esteem.

Let's move on and examine the only concrete fact in this whole story.
The suspects' activities are supposedly connected with criminal acts
against the SNCF that on November 8 caused delays of certain TGV trains
on the Paris-Lille line. The devices in question, if we are to believe
the declarations of the police and the SNCF agents themselves, can in no
way cause harm to people: they can, in the worst case, hinder
communications between trains causing delays. In Italy, trains are often
late, but so far no one has dreamed of accusing the national railway of
terrorism. It's a case of minor offences, even if we don't condone them.
On November 13, a police report prudently affirmed that there are
perhaps "perpetrators among those in custody, but it is not possible to
attribute a criminal act to any one of them."

The only possible conclusion to this shadowy affair is that those
engaged in activism against the (in any case debatable) way social and
economic problems are managed today are considered ipso facto as
potential terrorists, when not even one act can justify this accusation.
We must have the courage to say with clarity that today, numerous
European countries (in particular France and Italy), have introduced
laws and police measures that we would previously have judged barbaric
and anti-democratic, and that these are no less extreme than those put
into effect in Italy under fascism. One such measure authorizes the
detention for ninety-six hours of a group of young – perhaps careless –
people, to whom "it is not possible to attribute a criminal act."
Another, equally serious, is the adoption of laws that criminalize
association, the formulations of which are left intentionally vague and
that allow the classification of political acts as having terrorist
"intentions" or "inclinations," acts that until now were never in
themselves considered terrorist.

Giorgio Agamben
19 xi 08

Letter from the parents of the Tarnac 9
Dimanche, 23 Novembre 2008

Lorsque la cacophonie s'accorde pour traîner dans la boue une poignée de jeunes emmurés, il est très difficile de trouver le ton juste qui fasse cesser le vacarme; laisser place à plus de vérité.

Certains médias se sont empressés d'accréditer la thèse affirmée par la ministre de l'intérieur dans sa conférence de presse, alors que les perquisitions étaient en cours : les personnes arrêtées étaient d'emblée condamnées.

Personne n'aura pu rater l'épisode de "police-réalité" que nous avons tous subi la semaine passée. L'angoisse, la peur, les pleurs nous ont submergés et continuent à le faire. Mais ce qui nous a le plus blessés, le plus anéantis, ce sont les marées de mensonges déversées. Aujourd'hui ce sont nos enfants, demain ce pourraient être les vôtres.

Abasourdis, nous le sommes encore, paralysés nous ne le sommes plus. Les quelques évidences qui suivent tentent de rétablir la vérité et de faire taire la vindicte.

Les interpellés ont à l'évidence bénéficié d'un traitement spécial, enfermés pendant 96 heures, cela devait faire d'eux des personnes hors normes. La police les suspecte d'être trop organisés, de vouloir localement subvenir à leurs besoins élémentaires, d'avoir dans un village repris une épicerie qui fermait, d'avoir cultivé des terres abandonnées, d'avoir organisé le ravitaillement en nourriture des personnes agées des alentours. Nos enfants ont été qualifiés de radicaux. Radical, dans le dictionnaire, signifie prendre le problème à la racine. A Tarnac, ils plantaient des carottes sans chef ni leader. Ils pensent que la vie, l'intelligence et les décisions sont plus joyeuses lorsqu'elles sont collectives.

Nous sommes bien obligés de dire à Michelle Alliot Marie que si la simple lecture du livre "L'insurrection qui vient" du Comité Invisible fait d'une personne un terroriste, à force d'en parler elle risque de bientôt avoir à en dénombrer des milliers sur son territoire. Ce livre, pour qui prend le temps de le lire, n'est pas un "bréviaire terroriste", mais un essai politique qui tente d'ouvrir de nouvelles perspectives.

Aujourd'hui, des financiers responsables de la plus grosse crise économique mondiale de ces 80 dernières années gardent leur liberté de mouvement, ne manquant pas de plonger dans la misère des millions de personnes, alors que nos enfants, eux, uniquement soupçonnés d'avoir débranchés quelques trains, sont enfermés et encourent jusqu' à 20 ans de prison.

L'opération policière la plus impressionante n'aura pas été de braquer cagoulé un nourrisson de neuf mois en plein sommeil mais plutôt de parvenir à faire croire que la volonté de changer un monde si parfait ne pouvait émaner que de la tête de détraqués mentaux, assassins en puissance.

Lorsque les portes claquent, nous avons peur que ce soient les cagoules qui surgissent. Lorsque les portent s'ouvrent, nous rêvons de voir nos enfants revenir.

Que devient la présomption d'innocence?

Nous demandons qu'ils soient libérés durant le temps de l'enquête et que soient evidemment abandonnée toute qualification de terrorisme.

PS: Nous tenons à saluer et à remercier les habitants de Tarnac qui préfèrent croire ce qu'ils vivent que ce qu'ils voient à la télé.

Zizek and bathroom fixtures...

Ty sent me this photo. It's hard to make out the writing, but it is a toilet paper dispenser in China that states, "PLEASE TAKE ON YOUR DEMAND".

The very form of the non-choice necessity masquerading as a polite offer ("PLEASE TAKE"). Plus, it manifests rather well the internalization of the super-ego injunction to be a clean and proper self-regulating citizen (it's not the demand of society, it is the demand that you must take on fully of your own volition).

B-4 coherent sexuality

OK, as a general rule, I will avoid turning this site into a clearing house of cultural detritus I find on the internet. But this is a necessary exception.

Two videos by the Canadian boy-band group B-4 4 (because there are three of them, as in three comes before four). The pedophilic undertones of the second video ("Get down," an anthem regarding mutual oral pleasuring) are startling, as is the fact that no one along the corporate structure way pointed out this barely sublimated element. Also, it is simply one of the most remarkable things I've seen in a while. As for the first video ("Go go"), it begins with what seems like a homosexual incest rape fantasy (two of the band members are twin brothers) and then involves a turn to stealing a woman back and forth from one another, a woman who has little to no interest in these spiky-gel-haired tools (who always, in their videos, either pursue the same woman en masse or sing while the love object is with another man in a strange sort of cuckold fantasy).


Smug organic consumer future parent carrying on the legacy in training

Photo I took inside one of the "organic" groceries in Santa Cruz. While not unique, I find the cynicism of this rather staggering, particularly given that it would be unlikely to see such little plastic interpellations displayed so boldly at the non-yuppie standard groceries (Safeway, Kroger, etc).

(These are the flags on top of the tiny shopping carts kids can practice with, learning that buying the right kind of vegan Worcestershire sauce is in fact a crucial index of what kind of voter and person you are.)

The other side of this is that it functions as a referent and compliment to the "cashier in training" badges that new employees have to wear. It extends the consuming pedagogy - of how to streamline and "put a human face on", and the assumption that one has to really work on it to learn how to get it right - straight through both sides of the exchange.

A symptom does not exist prior to the denial of its existence. (On syndromes and causation)

First, three syndromes worth knowing of.

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine disorder

The lack of filtering out appropriate responses to sudden stimuli, so named because it was discovered in French-Canadian lumberjacks working in my homeland, lumberjacks who responded to a sudden noise not by a normal degree of surprise or jump but with full leaping, wild flailing. In addition, this disorder also consists of the sudden and unthinking following of orders given by anyone as long as they are given in a loud, authoritative voice. What's quite disturbing about the testing of this disorder is the claim that, "For example, if one of them was abruptly asked to strike another, he would do so without hesitation, even if it was his mother and he had an ax in his hand". I'm not sure I want to know G.M. Beard became sure of this fact without some nasty bloody testing.

Cotard Delusion:
or le délire de négation. The belief that one is dead or that one's body (and/or parts of it) are dead and rotting, incomplete and putrefying. Of course my undead obsession cannot leave this one alone. In is, in a sense, the self-knowing of the zombie. How does one traverse the Cotard Delusion? By negating one's self-negation? Symbolically killing your already-dead self?

A penis panic (the mass form of genital retraction syndrome)
A "culture bound syndrome", this is the widespread fear among a male population that their penises are shrinking, melting, being reabsorbed back into the body, being stolen, etc.

These don't relate directly to my thoughts below on syndromes vs. symptoms, though I have began tracking out, rather morbidly, particular forms of "mass syndromes" or (in the case of the Cotard Delusion) syndromes that seem to me capable of becoming widespread conditions, not diagnostics of individual pathologies but rather as the analysis of coming times.

The question I ask here is: where does the idea of the syndrome stand in relation to a Lacanian notion of symptom and subject? What might be lost by refusing the language and structure of syndromes?

Syndrome, here, might be taken first in its clinical sense: a collection of symptoms (what the patient reports) and signs (what the doctor detects) that, taken together as an aggregate, are indicative of an underlying disease or abnormality.

Two aspects to draw out from this. First, what the idea of the syndrome entails is not only that the presence of a certain symptom or sign indicates the broader morbid condition (the supposed cause) but also that this presence of one effect encourages us to look for certain other effects that otherwise might escape our glance.

The second point concerns the underlying cause. In one register, the designation of "syndrome" is particular to when we begin to recognize a set of associated effects with no sense of the underlying, structural cause. The commonality of these aggregates, across a number of subjects, indicates - sometimes falsely - that there must a shared cause. Yet in the type of syndromes that interest me most ("culture-bound" syndromes) there is no discernible cause to be located, only a set of associations and - most crucially - the contagion of the syndrome itself, the hysteria, panic, and transferability of a set of determined symptoms to other subjects who themselves lack the underlying cause that never was.

From this, we detect both the analytic power and the ultimate failure of thinking syndrome outside of a clinical situation. What is gained, and what we should remain attentive to, is how the syndrome itself functions as a veil to cover the true cause: a constellation of effects whose interrelation proposes a common "horizontal" logic but which misses the "vertical" causation of the disease that produces these effects. In addition, it lets us begin to think about how entire sets of symptoms can be assumed on mass, beginning not from any shared causation (i.e. some set of conditions that produce the same singular effect in many subjects) but from the whole mess of the syndrome, the entire arrangement of signs and symptoms that itself produces those symptoms after the assumption of their relational logic.


While we might guard these observations, particularly the later, as a way of thinking how ideological forms self-replicate, stressing syndromes over symptoms leads to a certain type of reactionary political logic and bad humanist notion of the subject of economic processes. We can put these objections quite directly.

The syndrome seems to become a veil for the true cause of its associated effects, but the true cause is itself that veil, that attempt itself to find a "true cause".
In other words, the cause of the symptom is always the attempt to repress the symptom, in the retroactive circuit through which the symptom comes to be via the imposition of a system of reading that is threatened by its symptoms. (A symptom does not exist prior to the denial of its existence.)

The rational organization of symptoms into a syndrome - an organization that is precisely fantasmatic in its character - misses the fact that all symptoms are singular and incommensurable, even while they function as the knots that make meaning-making possible.
If fantasies are the attempt to provide narratives and structures for desire, then this syndromatic structure is itself the naturalization of singular symptoms into a sort of cover story about "just the kind of subject I am" or "just the way the world is." Thinking our world of blind, contingent, historical effects this way flattens both their specificity (not the way the world is, but the way this world has become) and the difficult work of reading them.

The syndrome assumes that there is a constant subject beyond this constellation of symptoms, that we are something more than the organization and articulation of our constitutive misfirings.
This is the crucial failure, and one we might see deeply imbedded in a liberal notion of the subject: the idea that the subject is a plane of consistency on top of which are erected certain unnecessary structures of thought that obscure our "good human nature," the idea that modern forms of reification and alienation pervert the transhistorical self that waits in the wings to be rediscovered and shared through representational politics (if our symptoms are accidents and/or conspiracies that can be undone, there lies commensurable subjects that can be exchanged and represented).

Against this, we want to say that alienation and reification, perversions and fuck-ups, deviations and interruptions are all we ever have had or have been. To borrow a title from a Third Eye Foundation song, we are a "galaxy of scars."

As Pettibon writes it here, every word counts, even those words, those instances and utterances, that shouldn't count or that seem to distance us from something we never could have gotten back to. Capitalism itself is a syndrome, in that it is the very lie of the natural order: one can see this in the calls for a greener, more ethical capitalism. As if it has a stable heart beneath its loops and circuits, as if it were more than the organization of our bodies like symptoms. As if it could excise and cure itself of those of us who cannot or will not be recognized in our relational logic, not just vertically bound to capital but horizontally to something like a form of being-together that starts to take morbid shape, eating away slowly at capital, from its smooth total surface to its obscene absent center.

Jailbirds and their poor nag steeds

From Jacques Gernet's A History of Chinese Civilization (speaking here of the financial crisis and impoverishment of the overblown, ineffective mercenary army during the decline of the Ming dynasty):

According to Ricci, the horses of the imperial army were poor nags which the mere whinnying of the steppe horses was sufficient to put to flight. The armies were the refuse dump of society and consisted of idlers, rascals, jailbirds, and highwaymen.

"oh God, the sublime suffering"

Brilliance from the Onion today. Now I'm thinking of extended products along these lines (sort of the inverse of Bloch finding utopia in makeup, fascism, Tylenol). Rather, the location of a pain principle in all products. How about Pierre Klossowski Home Defense Systems, which only sound the alarm if the intruder is not a Sadean neighbor carrying sharp objects.

Snippet from the article:

A nationwide advertising campaign for the new medication is slated to begin next week. In the first of two 30-second TV spots, a woman is shown walking outside on a winter's day and coming upon a puppy that has frozen to death. As she stares unblinkingly at the small, frail carcass, a disembodied announcer tells viewers: "Don't spend another day unable to shed a single tear for the eternal tragedy that is existence. Embrace the pain. Advil pain. It's the only thing that's real."

Sea grabs

Literal, "material" piracy is back - if it ever left - on the horizon of capitalism. With the most recent Somali pirate hijacking, this time of a Saudi supertanker carrying crude (news of which caused the price of oil to jump up a dollar a barrel), it's starting to look like one of the weak links in global circulation is coming as a return of a repressed imperial past.

If one can no longer access world accumulation of capital via "legitimate" means (offering tax sheltering, disposable manual labor, turning a blind eye to repressive anti-union policies, etc), the Somali pirates are showing, with a sort of striking literalness, how to skip the whole circuit. Forget the new era of land grabs. This may be the time of sea grabs (something we can perhaps see in Schmitt's conception of the geographical reimagining of the world in Nomos of the Earth). Can steam-punk dirigibles snagging passing cargo planes be far behind?

"You're coming to get you, Barbara..."

In Romero's Night of the Living Dead, we have three regimes of vision, three structures of what to look at and how to orient oneself in regard to that looking. We have zombie sight:

Always a tangled mess of partial objects, bits and pieces of bodies, jumbled, disjointed, already ripped apart before the literal act. The swallowing of Barbara by the horde (in the image above) is the absorption of her into that kind of optic: the pathos and jouissance of her face, a little kernel in the swarm of which she then becomes just one more bit of dissembled flesh.

Then you have Ben's mode of vision, which isn't really representable in a still: it hinges on the duration of focus, and particularly on the practical banality of his way of seeing. The visual world is constituted of a set of indexes to be correctly read so as to formulate the correct path of action. As a result, we get large portions of a horror film simply watching a man hammer boards, move furniture, and talk about gathering food and gasoline.

Third, and the point of all this, is the properly obsessive seeing of Barbara.

The death of her brother Johnny inaugurates this structure of sight, both for her (in the POV shots we are given) and for the audience (the breakdown of diagetic/non-diagetic commensurability, the non-linearity of spaces, the breaking of classical Hollywood cinema rules, and so on). She becomes a traumatized subject, bound to an obsessive mode of organizing the world. (Obsessive here should be read in the Lacanian sense, as that particular form of neurotic subject for whom the central question is not the hysteric's am I man or woman but rather am I alive or dead. The obsessive is s/he who is shattered by the contingency of existence and bears an unsupportable, unsurpassable guilt about the fact that "I live while others do not.") This is precisely the neurotic order that Barbara imposes on herself at the very moment seen in the image above, her inability to intervene in the death of her brother (who is coded as both taunting Big Other and as lover, as held-in-abeyance site of pleasure, as becomes evident in her long speech to Ben about Johnny).

What, then, is the consequence of this obsessive operative mode for the structure of seeing? In short, what is "Barbara-vision"?

It is a visual field equally racked by contingency, a way of seeing that remains incapable of connecting causes and effects. It is seeing the world as composed solely of untraceable symptoms, of stains upon the order that once was. This is literalized in the obsessive practice of her gaze, unable to stop herself from staring at not the rotting corpse on the stairs, but on the visual stains it leaves behind, a pure aesthetic phenomenon, until it really stains her, black blood hitting her hand and undoing, for a moment, the new obsessive fantasy that demands she take no pleasure in this radically contingent new world. For a moment, she - and we with her - get a pure pleasure of looking, decoupled from the violence that produced these effects.

And if Barbara's vision is a vision of stains, there is equally a stain of vision that persists beyond her death in the zombie swarm, a sudden reemergence in the midst of the sequence where zombie Karen kills her mother with a trowel.

The dramatic contrast of the blood on the white wall appears not just as a stain in the world of the film but a stain on the film itself, a pulp horror version of Brakhage's handpainted 8 millimeter work. Something splattered not from within. Something from our side, our being hailed into and hurling onto this undead, obsessive space.

The last house on the Hungarian modernist left (part two)

Two remarkable sequences. The first is the epic tracking shot from Tenebre (1982) that I wrote about in "Killer design" (and which I talked about in an earlier post).

The second is from La morte ha fatto l'uovo (Death laid an egg), Giulio Questi's incredible, underwatched giallo about a post-Fordist egg factory, highway motels, and the like. This is the opening sequence (after the title sequence of pulsating embryos and sepia toned fluid sliding about beneath the credits).

These sequences are, along with Fulci's Non si sevizia un paperino (Don't torture a duckling) the central films in my thinking about the intersections between modernist architecture and violence, as theorized (perhaps symptomatically or unintentionally) by the giallo film.

Old war modern (atavism, fantasy, wastescapes, and sleeveless tunics)

Scattered thoughts on, and images from, the Cold War Modern show I went to in London.

The Smithsons' design for the house of the future

A far, far cry, it seems, from Robin Hood Gardens. Are arcs and curves and ergonomic shapes only allowable in the future? Why then, do the 60's require the monolith and gridded hulks of Brutalism? What changes in the future will mean that we will have outmoded those shapes? What is the assumed gap in history that will undo the Brutalist project, with the consequence of making these self-designated "futurish-seeming-shapes-and-lives" needed?

The Great Vienna Auto-Expander.

This is basically a pinball machine design for routing traffic around before finally compacting them into what I can only imagine as bleeding, burning of metal and passengers. I think I shall propose a similar solution to traffic here in Santa Cruz. That and random mines planted everywhere except for bike lanes. Rather subtle encourgagement to give up the automotive ghost.

Sketch for the set of Doctor Strangelove.

Design for the non-reconstruction of Hiroshima.

I sadly can't recall the name of the artist who did this (anyone know, let me know), but it's remarkable. It reminds me of how I want post-industrial landscapes to be treated and reinhabited: preserve the skeletal wastes of the processes brought about by capital, yet recolonize precisely from that position, not as some new gentrifying, revitalizing force, but as survivors, colonizers who set up outposts of new life in the wastescape. What happened in the rebuilding of Hiroshima was nearly precisely the opposite: one outpost of the past was preserved (the bombed-out shell of the Atomic Bomb Domb), a tiny kernel of necropolitics, and it was then surrounded by the incursions of economic boom and reconstruction. This is not to wish upon a post-nuclear city a continued unliveabilty but for it to insist upon the presentness of its exploded past. The solution of this photo montage is something like that: new modes of collective life that stares out and through the lens of a world gone very wrong.

Oasis no. 7 (enclosed hammock, palm trees, etc)

Aarnio's Globe Chair. (i.e. even atomized subjects need a womb somtimes.)

This globe chair (and the other red chair below), along with many of the other objects and designs, such as the Smithson's future house, got me thinking about the atavistic impulse in modernist design, particularly when such design finds itself on new technological territory of plastics, compounds, any-shape-possible materials.

In particular, about the question of what it means for something to self-designate as "futuristic," and the accompanying tendency of new materials to mimic - and overleap - the look and capacity of older materials. Thinking here of something like Benjamin's comments on the use of glass and iron in the construction of the Paris arcades. For, on the one hand, they represented the high point of technological innovation used to create previously unprecendented spaces: borrowing the developments from the industrialization of Europe (and particularly forms that came from railroad construction, such as long girders, and slowly curving metal lines), it allowed for those wide expanses of glass stretching over the contained markets. On the other hand, though, Benjamin notes that these new forms often took the ornamental form of previous styles and technologies, veiling their newness in a sort of nostalgia. In addition, if we think about the arcades, they are essentially old-fashioned European street markets, the tight cluster of vendors, altered only by their rainproofing (and the depth of shops, those narrow but long magasins).

In any case, with these egg-womb-kidney-intestine-bone chairs and planned biomorphic architecture, you get the further - and maybe ultimate - extension of that logic, hearkening back not to previous architectural styles but to "organic" shapes: new technologies and materials allow one to live with a vision of the very old. Though this vision of the old remains, as in the iron girder citation of earlier styles, only a referent, a hollowed out allegory of the distance from that. Making a chair like an egg implies that one has rather forgotten what eggs are like, and hence we get their form only in this plasticine, shiny, blinding bright yellows and reds.

Modzelewski chair (organ cradling shapes)

Project of the Reconstruction of the Firmament. Francisco Infante-Arana.

One can see here something like the aestheticized fantasy version of the space race. Forget getting to the stars: can we rearrange them into constellations adequate to our new modernist sensibilities?

The good ol' days.

Pierre Cardin "Cosmos" menswear/abomination

Perhaps most importantly:
why do all visions of the future involve terrifying sleeveless tunics and turtlenecks? Do we face a world with such dramatic climate shifts that we need to be able to quickly transition our look from aging bohemian with cold neck to a 60's mod girl minus her boots and plus some sensible leggings?