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...