Shoot him again. His soul is still dancing.

Herzog is back with a vengeance. No more deep sea arctic aquatic reveries. The man got a boat pulled over a mountain. Now he's remade Bad Lieutenant, set in New Orleans. It looks like some unholy hybrid of Dirty Harry and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

As much as I love The Wire and as much as some people I know love CSI and Law and Order and all the rest, we're long overdue for a return to the maniacal unhinged dirty underside of the law. McNulty tying red ribbons around the wrists of dead homeless men ultimately humanized the sociopathic construction of a false and imaginary psychopath. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans has the promise to be the release of all that nastiness buried beneath the sheen of forensics and the long-suffering haze of an alcoholic cop just "trying to make a difference".

Fire sale

Once again, the center-right media has done our job better than us, in apocalyptic visions of the crisis gone wild fire in this cover image from The Economist. I suppose this is a picture of the drifting aftermath of what happens when those money trees on which the banks depend finally ignite.

Not concrete posts, not metaphors

Having conceived of the prologue to Alexander Nevksy as a panorama of fields, strewn with the 'mortal remains' of those who died fighting the Tartars for Russian land, I was bound to remember the battlefied outside Dvinsk.

I ordered a consignment of skeletons, human and horse and carefully arranged their component parts on the grass: a fresco of a battle, frozen... Hell, none of it worked!

It was revoltingly 'stagy' to look at and not at all convincing on screen.

I scrapped them

- Sergei Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein

The true light of the high-rise was the metallic flash of the polaroid camera, that intermittent radiation which recorded a moment of hoped-for violence for some later voyeuristic pleasure.

- J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

Ballard has never been a proper modernist or postmodernist, and this is perhaps a damn good thing. Like his fellow "horrors of this world and the one beyond" travelers Lovecraft and Malaparte, Céline and Vian, his work doesn't seem to rest stably in the more recognizable forms of high modernism. Or in its less-loved cousin, the recombinatory cut-up salvage of Ernst or Burroughs. Or, for that matter, the pulp underbelly of either sci-fi that Ballard's work supposedly belonged in at first or the nihilistic noir and dusty mean sex of Jim Thompson. Ballard is one of those constitutive exceptions, a chrome mirror that, in standing askance, catches anamorphotically the blur of modernism's real concerns and sharpens the image.

This looking-from-the-side glance in Ballard reveals a constant question, in almost all of his writing until the perhaps epistemic but certainly historical shatter point that is The Atrocity Exhibition. (Although, appropriately for one of the great writers of off-kilter development, the break is not clean: particularly in his short fiction, the earlier tendency persists through the 70's.) From his devolving airplanes and jungles, dead astronauts and freeze-frame birds, it is univocally a working through of time, circling back on itself to ask again and again what it would be to stand outside of time, or alongside it, to step out of its river. From pockets of other-time to momentary eternity, to Cape Canaveral and the crystal forest, these are the phantasms of the end of time.

The temptation here is of course to read time here as history. Again, though we should stress the side-long position of Ballard in regard to this and take it as symptomatic. For it is not until the lineage of writings inaugurated in by The Atrocity Exhibition that history begins to appear more potently as a category, at the very moment that it is becoming increasingly unthinkable. In other words, Ballard thinks history when capitalism begins its march toward the declaration of the end of history.


Although Ballard writes perhaps the sharpest "historical" novels of late capitalism, they are not designated, generically or by reception, as historical. It is rather their negotiation through, tarrying with, and ceaseless emptying out of the very possibility of the historical that makes them such. According to one narrative, that offered primarily by Jameson, we might think of this period - the ascendancy of the postmodern as a self-perpetuating logic - as that in which time is superseded by space. And in many ways, the Ballardian turn is exactly this: the off-historical is seen as a site, from the lost underpass of The Concrete Island to the tower of High-Rise. (Interesting here to notice the shift from the "world" in the earlier titles - The Drowned World, The Burning World, The Crystal World - to these markers of distinct sites.) And, as such, Ballard seems to be the definitive postmodern writer.

Emphasis here on "seems," for I think we need to assert very much the opposite: there is no jubilation here about the new spatial logics of the world order or the flattening "waning of affect" or "hyperspace" or any of the rest of the usual suspect tendencies. It is about the unbearable lightness of not being historical any more and the basic ethical question of what you are to do when there is no longer the task of trying to decouple yourself from the forward progression of historical time. Unmoored, we no longer get the existential satisfaction of striving against the ceaseless march ahead.

Ballard's distinction from a more common postmodern logic comes in the fact that his characters mourn this loss very oddly, namely, in a movement toward perversion as a structure of obsessive repetition futilely trying to resuture meaning to things. One need only recall Ballard's emblematic figure of this, the car crash. Beyond the rather banal reading about the desensitization of the bourgeoisie and the need to "shock" oneself out of erotic apathy, the restaging of famous car crashes has far more to do with the realization that we are in a world in which new events no longer happen. Contingency, and the cunning of reason with it, has fallen victim to the logic of "non-rational administered life", the supposed chaos of competition and the market, the heterogeneous identities and the multitude all moving along the same grooves etched by flows of capital circulation.

In its place, then, are no longer atrocities as the markers of historical tectonic shifts. There are exhibitions, stagings, willful false contingency, the play-acting of an event in the desperate frisson of clinical compulsion to do over, to dig out some remaining kernel of meaning in, say, the car crash of James Dean, that hasn't been fully cannibalized and repackaged. In other words, the historical becomes a task, a trying to get over its own unthinkability by the work of theatricality, of staginess, of the ringing hollow of that which is too overdetermined to ever become simply kitsch.

However, I don't want to claim that there is something singular in this Ballardian gesture: it is, instead, a tactic that appears elsewhere, an unsettling effect that is the consequence of a political aesthetics crashing, over and over in an obscene loop, against an end - not "the end" - of a historical project.

And so we turn to Eisenstein's 1938 Alexander Nevsky, which is, at least superficially, a quite un-Ballardian film. More importantly, it is an exceedingly odd film, not in the sense of the oddball dialectical pathos of The General Line but in the apparent disconnect between the gravity of its material and its knowingly Disneyfied aesthetic choices. It is a consummate film of bad style.

Nevsky has to be thought in the specificity of the moment of its production and, in spite of my wariness toward psychologizing biographical explanation, the specificty of Eisenstein's position at that moment. Following the dual incompletions of Que Viva Mexico! and Bezhin Meadow, Nevsky was a last chance effort for Eisenstein, and the film is of course marked by its toeing the party line and its explicit ramping-up-to-war-with-the-Germans nature. Eisenstein saving his hide by making a "straight" film...

But there's more going on here, particularly if we ask the question, that I am not alone in asking: why does Nevsky feel so off? Why at the moment of its horrors of war, its calling to arms, its coming together of the peasants, its fields of the dead, its frenzy of battle, does it all ring so hollow? Why do we laugh when the German leader drops a toddler into the fire?

There are at least a couple answers. The first to highlight here, and one that is utterly incapable of being represented in prose or film stills, has to do with the intersections of sound and image, the alarming disconnect between Prokofiev's remarkable score and Eisenstein's editing. (Famously, this film employs the Disney method of recording the music first and then editing to match it rhythms.) I don't want to discount this distinct affective sensation of the kind of non-productive collision that would seem to be opposed to Eisenstein's desired form of dialectical collision that is the force and task of montage.

However, as anticipated by the Ballardian beginning to all this, we might look elsewhere, to how the film situates itself, to the particular negotiation of a national history - mapped onto a personal trajectory - undoing both its own success or escape route, and understand the "bad style" as the productive symptom and unsettling registration of that.

For Eisenstein did not ultimately scrap the "stagy" bones.

What is scrapped is the figurative arrangement of them as a battle frozen, the freeze-frame x-ray of death. Instead, what is chosen is the equally conscious attempt to have them look not-arranged. The death-scape becomes a constructed facsimile of the anarchic leftovers of battle.

But this raises a serious question: what would have been the effect of the frozen battle plan, a plan rejected because it is somehow in bad taste? Bad taste here might be thought of in its corporal metaphor ("leaves a bad taste in your mouth"), of something unwanted that sticks around and lingers past its time.

In his brief essay on the historical backdrop of the film ( "Alexander Nevsky and the Rout of the Germans"), Eisenstein begins:

Bones. Skulls. Scorched earth. The charred remains of human habitation. People led away to slavery in a distant land. Ruined towns. Human dignity trampled underfoot.

Against such a vision of apocalyptic carnage, then, what would be so wrong about its representation being "revoltingly stagy"? This is a harder question than it appears, at least if we get past the absurd notion that the force of historical suffering should only be conveyed in a "realistic" manner. I want to argue against this that the crucial gesture in Nevsky, that which Eisenstein could not make then but would essentially pull-off in Ivan the Terrible, is to fully accept, occupy, and dialectically employ that staginess, to make productive the awful gap between the cartoonish and the necrological, a dancing on the graves of history. Willfully becoming a film of bad style that refuses to let bad taste be rinsed away. Instead, Eisenstein worries that an opening sequence would produce a detrimental effect, but this is the very effect that marks the entire film and is its structuring principle.

Nevsky again and again approaches this point of taking on and mobilizing its bad style, only to swerve back toward a sincerity that leaves behind a sort of Volk kitsch of the theatrical dispensation of personages - this is a film of literal "posers" - as opposed to what I see as the potential negative dialectics of bad style that might have resulted from the intersection of the bone tableau and the pathetic materialism (see my earlier post on "Eisenstein avec Meatloaf") of objects colliding with expressive modes.

If there is doubt about the direction the film will go (for there is a certain somberness to the fields of bones), the next sequence assures the direction.

As the song details the pseudo-heroics of "spilling our blood like water," we witness a pastoral wet dream, the plenitude of good sun and sturdy friends, fishing in a world in which spilling blood can be detailed in song precisely because it is no longer the daily task. Even as we later detect Nevsky's desire to return to such a task, the film is haunted by this non-urgency of seeming leisure, of a task that emerges in the wake of the end of nation-defending.

Then there is our hero:

I have never once seen a film where somebody assumed the same damn pose so many times. If we are to signal staginess as the fundamental gesture of this film, as I think we should, it lies in equal parts on the formal construction of the film (as it stands at odds with the diagetic content) and on the goofy semi-expressionism of the actors (as it stands at odds with the supposed historical burden of their time). Again, it is in Ivan that we see the full coming-to-be of this expressionism. Here, though, the Mongol emissary's question rings true:

So what are you doing here?

This question has at least four audiences.

1. Nevsky himself (what are you, the prince and great warrior, doing here fishing - are you not a warrior and a leader?)

2. Eisenstein himself (what are you, the great director caught between your totemic out-of-time Mexican fantasies, where you see the eternal short-circuiting of history while you see also the march toward socialism, and the failure of Bezhin Meadow, called back from abroad because you couldn't finish your sprawling projects and your comrades were "worried" you were drifting from the Russian project, what you doing here?)

3. Russia in 1938 (what are you, the very nation whose revolutionary historical project is going off the rails, from the failure of the NEP to Five Year plans, the people in a position that Eisenstein, after his time aborad, can hardly recognize, you people watching the utter collapse of the radical egalitarianism of the Bolshevik Revolution, what are you now, what are you doing here, your pratical Utopianism ground down beneath Stalinist paranoia and the crushing task of rapid industrialization?)

4. The film itself (what are you, you odd hybrid of Hollywood star style, Disney techniques of assemblage and structuring, Soviet historical film, pre-war propaganda, sound film technology with a style that hearkens back to the kind of silent films that Eisenstein never made, and the remnants and mutations of the true dialectical montage of collisions, the overtonal composition of The General Line in which the dominant is not single theme or pattern or rhythm but the stimili as a whole, full-blooded, loopy, erotic, hilarious, militant dialectics of the pathos of collectivity, what are you now?)

The answer Nevsky gives is "fishing" (which has its own metaphorical valences we might track out), but the real interest is the next question:

Couldn't you find anything better to do?

Against all the hollow posing, the empty gesture of the triumphant who has receded from the historical stage, this question cuts deep. And the answer given?

For the coded-as-Communist-hero Nevsky to give this answer is a somewhat unfathomable blow. Of course, you can read the film in part as the story of his coming toward proper consciousness, but that doesn't accurately map the terrain of the film, in which he is portrayed from day one as a unifier, as the hero, as the one who has never given up thinking about the pride of Russia. And read in the particular moment in which the film was produced, we see here a double rejection of the Bolshevik past: with the shift to commerce and giving up on the production of the new Communist human animal, the dream is now either of commerrce or of war. The construction of a national life is ignored, as the unifier and defender will either be a bourgeois trader or a soldier. Read as such, the continual posing, chest puffing and empty citations of "old Russian sayings" come across as deeply cynical. Shortly after his declared plan to trade abroad, Nevsky offers just such a saying:

It's hard not to see a self-castigating Eisenstein here, who left his homeland while its historical project ran into the ground. But note that it is received wisdom, set off as an "old saying", one that jars rudely with the fact that Nevsky just stated a moment ago that he was indeed going to leave his homeland to trade. Isn't this the very figure of Stalinist rhetoric, the incommensurable space between the modernizing projects of newly rationalized, beyond capitalist life and the hearkening back to the nostalgic affect of "as we Russians have long said...".

So while Nevsky is busy posing and asking himself

"is there a will for the fight?", (a serious question, but one deflected here onto war preparations, not onto the continued fight for the Bolshevik transformation of everyday life), while he is standing and looking determined...

The fish are escaping! In the flowering of bureaucracy and talk and recodings, the fish are escaping, the securing of what collective participation to ensure collective life should look like has been allowed to fall apart.

One could analyze a number of scenes in the film along the lines modelled above. For the sake of space, two more examples before considering what the link is between these unanswerable questions of "so, what are you doing here?"

There is the subplot of the two men competing for the hand of the woman who decides she will choose based on their valor in battle.

On the surface, there is the playing-out of a new condition for devotion, in which devotion to country should top who would make the cuter husband. But as with so many situations Eisenstein deploys (and here I see this as a willful move, analogous to the Ballardian production of the false problem that persists alongside its false solutions), this undoes its very point. For the take home message of this? History happens because of contingency, a cunning of reason that cannot but help make the ending seem hollow, both are brave, both get the girl, albeit different ones better suited to each. Everyone wins and supposedly learns a valuable lesson, although the lesson seems to be more that appearing patriotic is a great getting laid tactic during times of national emergency.

Another relevant sequence here is that of the discussion of whether to fight or buy off the Germans. It goes roughly as follows:

We know which side will win this argument (as what follows is the quite accurate invective that to the rich, a mother or stepmother is the same thing). But here again is a question that cuts deeper than its supposed answer: What Russia? Where have you seen it last? This is a remarkable move, the recognition that the call is to protect a nation that will ultimately only emerge through the act of protecting it. In short, a sort of military speech act: around the empty core of battling territories and boyars that we see drawn together in the Ivan the Terrible films, here we get the stagy hollowness of an appeal to "Russia."

I won't wind through these other examples, but one of the most unintentionall funny scenes is that of Nevsky looking like a petulant child waiting for Novgorod to come ask for his help, a sort of sulking that we see in Ivan the Terrible Pt. 1: "I know my skills are needed and that I want to go fight again, but I'm not crawling back, they will have to ask me before I work on a task of real historical urgency." Images below, with the especially funny transition from his excitement at the chance to wear his official costume again bumping up against the false casual, "oh, I didn't see you come in. Just hanging out being princely."

If Nevsky remained a film purely about the theatrics and performances of political power (and a film shot accordingly, in its odd bastardized combination of techniques), such a hollowness would not seem so off. Yet it is in the instances of Eisenstein returning to form, of the inconstancy between the posing of Nevsky and the emergent pathos of crowds, objects, and nature, that this wrongness surfaces uneasily.

From the call...

... to the response, the quite literal "arising" of the peasants from the ground, like subterranean barrel dwelling lumpenproletariat in Strike!.

In here, as well as in the crowd scenes...

and the landscapes...

there remains vestiges and flittings of what Eisenstein can do so well, an eccentric version of what I've called, in another context, "affective realism," works that lack a realism effect - insofar as that denotes a certain grounding in what looks like realism and, moreover, the centrality of normal human vision as the principle of selction - yet which produce and unfold the affects of instances, like the ecstatic spray of the milk separator in The General Line. And Eisenstein himself, in a lecture given in relation to his late historical films, seems aware of this, calling for both the capacity to grasp the totality of the present as if historical in film and, more vitally for the context here, the distinction between historical truth and historical naturalism. This latter distinction is perhaps that raised to a near antinomy in Nevsky, which tries to play it both ways, resulting in theatrical naturalism (that which cannot bury its obvious authorial manipulations) and historical pseudo-truth (which we feel in the cramps and strugglings against of the Real of a moment, the ground of history, to escape its representations that, in showing it, conceal it further).

As such, we have the coexistence here of that which is the historical pathos struggling through, but not in the parts that "look like" they're about history. It is, above all, in the ice, the very image of accident leading to decimation, of circumstances unforeseen stepping into the non-course of human events and irrevocably altering not just how things went but how they could have gone alternately.

This is a minor moment in the film, the part that doesn't belong to its major tones. What rules instead is the hollow circuits of bad style. Of course, the goofy disjunction of affect and content is nothing new in Eisenstein, and in fact, in other films, it forms the crucial bedrock for our joy and fidelity toward the politics sketched. (Think again of The General Line, arguably my favorite film ever made and certainly one of the funniest.) But here, it is off. Not off in the normal productive way. Perhaps we might call it off-off, a reinsertion into the shallow grave of official discourse and rules of representation, that reburies the pathos and longing raised before.

This is driven home most forcefully in the fact that a film about military decimation and struggle is essentially rendered safe, the violence made cariciatural, from the man above drinking thirstily in the middle of a battle with a shit-eating grin on his face before knocking out a baddie German with the pail, to the general Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles type of violence here, where even though soliders have very sharp deadly things, they mostly use them to "knock people down" or clang the side of helmet, or sort of hurt someone. This isn't, however, claiming that gore would make anything better. It is the joyous pulsing of Prokofiev's score that seemingly pulls away the blades at the last minute, before the death blow, before the inevitable tide of blood that would cover the lake.

Because of this, it is the moment of ice breaking and swallowing that is the solely powerful moment in the battle scene: the sudden opening up and letting loose of the violence that has been sublated throughout the film. In the dark waters below, we see nothing so much as the depths of blood required to make possible the goofy triumphalism of Ivan and his men, set against the real death of this collective, the unmourned nameless:

Even when we see the field of dead Russian soliders, the logic is that of the individual, of the dying crying out the names of their wives while the woman ignores them as she is looking for the "right" dead one, one of the suitors.

To conclude, then, we might think of the film as a whole doubled back through the great scene of strategic thinking, in which Ivan overhears the parable about the fox chasing a rabbit (the fox tries to chase the rabbit through a narrow space between two trees, gets stuck, and the rabbit rapes the fox) and realizes his military strategy of trapping the German fox and encircling it.

What is this if not the film itself, that which does not know itself in the particularity of its situation and gets caught? The style is the fox here. Eisenstein once wrote that, "The shot is a montage cell. Beyond the dialectical jump in the single series: shot - montage." In this film, it is exactly this dialectical jump that misses, never reaching into the heart of the conflict that is supposed to be the very point, the conflict, misfires, and collisions that are the warp and woof of history. At this stage, Eisenstein is still struggling toward the cinematic moment he saw, between when the stimuli (visual, aural, conflicts within each and between the two) becomes the dominant of the film's organization and when cinema approaches intellectual montage, we see it here before it has taken critical shape: like a postmodern moment of the simultaneous scattering and waning of affect, we see here a series of "conflict effects" (or pseudo-dialectics) that get very well what has come unstuck in the Soviet model. So here, in the film, that is precisely about conflict, in the battle scene that poses it explicitly, something comes wrongly and gets caught in this unstuckness, in this not being sure how to answer the question: So, what are you doing here... Like the fox, caught between two tendencies, two historical possibilities, two expressive modes, it gets fucked by the lost chances it was chasing.

Not until we reach Ivan do we see the fox free itself, so to speak, and rediscover the chase at hand, the pathos of objects moving toward intellectual montage via a strange rediscovery of expressionism, echoing here both German expressionism and the idea of superstructual instances as the "expression" of the base. In the next post, I'll tackle the link between these tendencies and the film's tracking out the full move toward "inhuman" thought and misanthropic politics.

Until Ivan, though, it is the bad style of Nevsky that rings truest, the bad taste left by that
voyeuristic flash of which Ballard wrote and with which we started. Watching the collapse of the historical present by casting afar toward Disney and empty heroism, toward the absence of visible violence, capturing a moment from the long past in the hope that it is not simply an excuse for sword-rattling and aesthetic pleasure, pleasure but the recollection, the recalling of the historical truth of an instant bleeding through, the frozen blood thawing out.

Yet what makes this possible is, oddly, the very badness of that style, the hollowness of its gestures that make this a film so particular to its moment and, in this way, a dialectical, critical bad style, in which the non-success of the film as a film is its success as the flash of capture, of seeing in the bones not the bodies that may have been there but the empty allegories, the obscene remainders that can only be shown insofar as we are willing to show them wrongly, seemingly in a wicked grin, in the pose of falsehood.

Eisenstein wrote, in one of his lovely cryptic moments:

Through the descending bands of wire we carefully lower ourselves. What shines whitely there at the foot of the wire spiderweb? Not concrete posts, not metaphors. Bones...

This is what Nevsky is doing, the trees between which it is trying to pass. Not concrete posts, not metaphors: neither fixed guarantors of stable structure nor the ordered point of thought's transition. Just the bad taste of bones, the self violation of bad style as the work of contradiction against one's empty present, the obscene waste of history shining whitely, refusing to get off the stage.

Financial copulation

Wow. Thanks, Mark, for sending this my way. There is perhaps much to say about this, including the non-specificity of the woman in this. As far as I can tell, that is: her dress is marked as pounds, but the face is surely no Queen Elizabeth.

I read a suggestion that it is supposed to be Clara Schumann, from the 100 Deutsche Mark note, but that doesn't seem exactly it either. What is odd, then, is that despite the hilarious obscenity (and the great phantasmatic frisson of autogenerative money, the perverse form of finanical speculation), there remains a wariness to ascribe a nation's face to the woman who, as we see, at the end, is looking to cuckold Lincoln with Mao. There is perhaps here the breaking point of political correctness: fine to show simulated origami sex, but not to show any nation's currency as that which will be the financial womb/currency swap allowing for generation of further money in a hybrid form of, as we see hinted at here, the Eurodollar and the gestured-to Yuaneuropoundbahtdollaryen.

The erotics of circulation lead to the handkerchief dropped coyly and the conclusion that cannot truly be shown, fleshed out (or papered out) not so much in the imagination as in the real fact of the unfathomable degree of international interpenetration of global debt. The stroller expands, the glances continue, the libidinal market marches on. Just wait until they fully discover cybersex...

Special equivalence

(the following is a brief series of thoughts for a seminar discussion on Jameson's writings on architecture, the chapter on the Gehry house in particular: as such, it involves less of a conscious updating of the framework and more of a recapitulation and drawing out of potential lines of critique. Still, might be of possible interest to some who read this.)

Typos may be symptomatic, but that doesn’t assure that anything particularly compelling will result from excavating the often not very absent cause. A slip of the fingers: in “today’s modern world,” we live according to doxa of speed and virtuosity: nothing new here. To be sure, a hidden compulsion to type modern as momurn would, at least superficially, give reason for pause. (What psychic forces at work for the “wrong hand” to twitch, what combinations of guilt and nerve endings…)

This irrelevance is all the more so when considering mass production (as the book above). The lesson at hand is indeed something of a double-loss of aura: the "false" (as in, seemingly without origin or discernible source) nature of the mechanically reproduced object lays bare the non-care and sloppiness that marks it quite literally: misspellings, missing punctuation, other consequences of the death of craft production in the name of the rapid circuits of turnover and warehouse clearing.

That said, the typo can be a happy accident, either a physical, mechanical, or digital (think of spell-check word replacement) slip that exposes an unseen corner of further thought. (I recall my accidental mistype of Murnau's film Sunrise as "Signrise", which, at best, led me to think through the world of that film differently and, at worst, can be sold to a deconstructionist film adaptation company.) The rather glaring word substitution in the Duke volume of Jameson's Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism is this sort of convenient screw-up.

The typo? The essay on architecture, titled "Spatial equivalents in the world system", finds itself retitled in the footnotes as "Special equivalents in the world system."

The point here is that we might reformulate Jameson's essay around this second, unintended title, to draw out the crucial moves of the text, to think further about the specificity of its economic background, and to gesture to what might ultimately be a significant misreading.

For what the false title generates is perhaps a sharper formulation of the very status of the commodity under late capitalism, that of special equivalence. Aside from the general economic logic of late capitalism/postfordism (its moves toward flexible production, increasing emphasis on technologically streamlined and facilitated modes of distribution and global routing, general overproduction in the manufacturing sector leading to the desperate turn toward less surplus-value producing "service sector" work, and an even further degradation of entire sections of the globe, particular the "global south", to the vicious cycle of war, false bandages of humanitarian aid, and the continual destruction of local land and productive capacities), late capitalism is doubly marked by its "postmodern turn," by the permeation and ultimate inseperability of culture and the economy.

This should not, however, be read in the sense of the rise of the Culture Industry or even an increase investment in cultural production and consumption: rather, it is economic consumption under the "baleful spell" (to borrow Adorno's formulation) of cultural differentiation. In other words, in the wake of the disappearing radical workers movements that came variously crashing down or deradicalizing in the 70's, class identity as such no longer served as either a welcome or viable marker of social identity. It is here that one can increasingly witness the anti-Utopian offspring of the supposedly schizoid fragmentation and birth of identitarian movements of the long 60's. For capitalism itself mirrors this centrifugal disintegration and restabilization, but not through avant-garde culture or mass politics, art or affirmations of radical subject positions: through the microdifferentiation of consumer identity, the turning of the "creative classes" into those responsible for the endless hairsplitting of focus groups, the new consumerism of the 80's, the ideological backbone of neoliberalism, and, last but certainly not least, the emergence of that vicious historical chimera, the yuppies who reveled in the hollowed out shell of a post-Utopian world.

The commodities that populate this world are special equivalents: at once the utter commensurability of all commodities, yet with the impossible promise of their capacity to differentiate their consumer, that one can be at once utterly singular as a constellation of personal tastes and eccentricities (the taming of the schizophrenic imagination leads directly to Hot Topic and bad emo) yet cognizable as such, that others in that self-prescribed nebula can detect the pseudo-logic that connects one's love of David Bowie with one's choice to buy a Volvo.

To turn to architecture, then, and the moves of Jameson's text. The occasion for his piece is a meditation on the sudden apparent American "appetite for architecture" in postmodernism, posed against the don't-ask-don't-tell stance of American modernity. However, as Jameson astutely detects, something is off in this taste, in that it cannot be seen properly as a taste for architecture itself. Rather, it is an appetite for the material image, for the photographic record of the built world, not that world itself. In short, we chart a path here from building (unvisited, unloved, unthought, unmourned) to the celebratory semi-vacuity of the image to, and here is where it gets more interesting, the residual after-effects of architecture and its particular set of inquiries and problems, a certain return of the architectural historical repressed. On the one hand, this takes a concrete form in the postmodern architect's hearkening back to the tactile (think especially of Gehry's buildings after the house) as an echo of the building practices of the late moderns, particularly Kahn, and their use of richly textured, expensively variegated materials.

But in a sharp turn, Jameson turns from the specifics of which residues themselves seem modern or pre-modern to argue, rather, that it is the very fact and mobilization of these residues (and not the emergence of a postmodern Novum) that is a vital task:

The modernist way of doing all this [the consideration as textual] would be to organize it around the individual styles and names, which are more distinctive than the individual works: the residual after-effects of modernism are as tangible in the methods works solicit as they are in the latter’s structures, and not the least significant inquiry about the postmodern… consists in examining these residues and speculating as to their necessity. (99)

The residues relevant to his consideration of the Gehry house (as both cipher for and exceptional case to the tendencies of postmodern architecture more broadly) are the centrifugal and the wrapping. But beyond the creation of "hyperspace" and all its Baudrillardian phantasms, might we not see this as an allegory of the deep tectonic shifts in the economic base of late capitalism? Indeed, what do we confront if not the doubled tendential solutions of the late capitalist American financial landscape (from the collapse of Bretton Woods and the dollar being pegged to gold in '71, the oil crisis in '73, stock market jitters throughout the 70's, let alone the utter destruction of labor politics and their mass support in the Reagan years): the solutions of globalization (including not just the tentacular reaches of capital into new realms but also the new currency speculation and rise of deregulated markets) and repackaging of old needs - including those which were never recognized as needs in the first place - as injunctions toward commodity consumption.

Indeed, this is borne out by Jameson's particular discussion of the wrapper, which occupies more of the essay's attention than its corollary of centrifugal spin-off: what is perpetuated by the wrapper is
that none of the parts are new, and it is repetition rather than radical innovation that is henceforth at stake. The problem lies in the resultant paradox that it is on this renunciation of the new or the novum that the claim to historic originality of postmodernism in general, and postmodern architecture in particular, is founded. (104)

So too emerges, in systemically mirrored fashion, the commodity logic of the special equivalent: out of repetition arrives the new, particularly in the combinatory logic of commensurable but seemingly unique items. So too the Gehry house, which uses "common materials" (equally exchangeable: a chain link fence is a chain link fence is a chain link fence) to produce pseudo-new sites and spaces, wrapping the old bourgeois identity (and its fantasies of subjectivity through property ownership) in mass objects so as to declare itself unrepeatable, uncopyable. If the simulacrum is the copy without an origin, the postmodern house is the fantasy of the mass object metamorphosized into its singular future. With the right wrapping, aura reclaims the world historical stage.

To skip ahead (through the discussion of the architectural equivalent of Deleuze's cinema books, of architecture thinking space architecturally, through the abstract non-situation of hyperspace, toward the massification of the "bad trip" subject, which, it should be argued, is nothing new, insofar as we recall a century marked by war trauma: what is new is the valorization of the crazy as something to be valorized, the new consumer culture of the "misfit", precisely mobilized by capitalism in order to suggest that the schizoid fragmentation of the bad trip should result in the comforting recuperation of consumer repatriation into new non-national, non-political categories of mass subcultures) to two final points: the question of the "plan" and the consequences of Jameson's misreading of Debord.

If we boil down, and add the emphasis to which I've been gesturing here and in other writings (where my Tafuri obsession tends to rear its head), the various qualifications of how to think the "three spaces" of the Gehry house (the "original" house and its spaces, the wrapping and additions themselves, and the new spaces created between the two), we might rewrite them as such

1 (the original house): modern but not modernist, a definitive marker of the American suburban landscape, precisely not a sign of international high modernism

2 (the wrapping materials themselves) modernist in their look, like constructivist slabs, and their ambition to transform everyday space, but profoundly unmodernist in relation to the “plan”, to the vision of ordering space and the Utopian work of starting anew, of intervening in space, rather than leaving the bourgeois object to shine through its gilded framework

3 (the spaces between 1 and 2) postmodern to the core, in its echoes of the messy colonization of psychic and geographical spaces of late capitalism, that which declares even the empty zones between acts of building to be subject to its logic: the end of the outside itself, intentional accidents and non-plans repeated in an illusion of non-order that is ultimately calculated precisely to produce the effect of heterogeneity

We can see this not just in the building itself but in the transformation of how the image relates to the building, no longer as the blueprint (think here of Marx’s recognition that man is an architect, not a bee) but as the capturing of the already built. No longer the utopian work of the plan but the capturing of the building as after-effect itself:

The project, the drawing, is then one reified substitute for the real building, but a “good” one, that makes infinite Utopian freedom possible. The photograph of the already existing building is another substitute, but let us say a “bad” reification – the illicit substitution of one order of things for another, the transformation of the building into the image of itself, and a spurious image at that. (124-125)

To end, then, we should a shift Jameson detects in the role of the aesthetic/phenomenal new in its attack on "representation," no longer an attack on the general state of fallen social life itself but an attack between competing modes of representation, of sign systems at war for primacy in a battle that ultimately may have little consequence. However, this reasoning undergirds his misreading of Debord, the full consequences of which I leave for discussion.

Jameson notes that:

"The image," said Debord in a famous theoretical move, "is the final form of commodity reification"; but he should have added, "the material image," the photographic reproduction. (125)

No, he shouldn't have. The very power in Debord's thought on this issue lies in the fact that the emergence of late capitalism (i.e. society of the spectacle) is indeed the moment of the material image, but precisely not the photograph, if anything, a resolutely modern object in the materiality of its imageness. Rather, it is the materiality of the world becoming as-if-image, the world made pseudo itself, the utter indistinguishability of the now-evacuated Utopian longing of the plan and the tourist snapshot of the Bilbao museum.

This was perhaps not thinkable at the moment Jameson wrote this, but we should insist that with 20 years more behind us, the force of Debord's thinking has little to do with the literal image itself and everything to do with what Jameson points toward, namely the cracks and fissures of the world-as-image (not the world of images) out of and through which seep the excess of real material life that can't be contained by either the financial architecture or real built architecture of finance and its parasitic urban development. Perhaps now we need a different kind of special equivalence, not the equivalence of commodities that declare themselves singular but a singular form of equivalence, a special kind of universality that has been and can be again the banner of mass radical politics. Not the equivalence of the given world but of an attack on that world constructed in collective thought that renders us equivalent against the real consequences of a world gone false.

"My name is a killing word"

And this will continue to be the soundtrack to my project...

Best album in a few years, I'd say. And such a political aesthetic bramble that I will need a thought sickle to get to work on it. In short: how did monarchist leaning and Action Française fetishizing French black metal "kommandos" produce the first great album of the financial crisis, an out-of-time messy slab of alternate history, the long Satanic sixties, and non-homogeneous militancy? I will properly write something on aesthetics and Fascism, but as an initial gesture: this is what radical Communist antagonism needs to sound like, in all its seasick longing and storm of bee-sounds brandished proudly.

Thought work and reader demand

Haven't been writing much, as I've been working toward my qualifying exams to become a proper soon-to-be-dissertation-writer. But as final prep for them, in the next two weeks, I will essentially recombine and constellate the issues and texts and films and all that make up my exam projects. So expect a new post everyday that will wind through, on the one hand, Eisenstein, Debord, Adorno, Godard, Vertov, Jameson, Tafuri, and, on the other, things such as the French black metal scene in the 90's, Polish antihumanist novels, Lenin, J.G. Ballard, and Lucio Fulci.

And more importanty, if anyone wants to, I will give you the list of books I'm working on, and you can give me some question you'd like to see me take a frenzied stab at. No questions are off-limits, barring those that use nouns as gerunds (i.e. "queering") or those which reveal my woeful grasp of the sequence of historical events. Quite welcome, however, are questions about what Communism sounds like and why the Luciferian impulse might be the new Soviet power plus electrification.

First up: a minor treatise on the task of "bad style" as the ringing hollow of the end of world historical projects, read through Ballard and Alexander Nevsky. Or, what happens when Disney meets the collapse of the NEP: Clausewitzian pornographic fables and the meaninglessness of fallen soliders.

Alternate taglines for my envisioned rerelease of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, Pt. 1

To cast it as a zany madcap adventure of misfits, like the kids from the poor soon-to-be-repossessed camp who band together to raise the money and beat the snobby rich kids:

It may just be crazy enough to work...

To rename it as a Hegelian James Bond film:

The Cunning of Unreason.

As a Rambo-esque tale of the lone soldier entering enemy territory with an arsenal of pointy beards, terrifying German expressionist camera angles, and a body wracked by its function as the nodal tension site of a state being birthed through blood, iron, and betrayal:

They won't be expecting just one man.

The tentacular antagonistic erotics of J-P Sartre

To be sure, we have noted that antagonistic reciprocity is a bond of immanence between epicentres, since each adversary totalizes and transcends the totalizing action of the other. This indissolubility has sometimes been taken for a unity: thus two wrestlers rolling on the floor of the ring sometimes appear, from a distance, like a single animal with eight limbs, grappling with some unknown danger.

Sartre, Critique of Dialectial Reason, vol. 2.