Relationship problems

No, everything is fine, honey.  Other than the slo-mo gasp of welds coming apart at a deadlock, that is.

 (two masochists go for a ride)

What's real mean isn't the scalding.  It's that you have to learn to tip it in reverse to get anything to come out.

(a masochist - not because the pain, but because it is an active decision to allow the sadistic spill - pours some coffee for one)

There's nothing to do at the sea but whistle your own theme song and hit Americans who are hitting on your sister

Those who might have been fascists, in another time, goose-stepping play at being so and whistle their own theme song.  Until the cop breaks the lines, and they become the disordered mini-mob, scattering out diffuse into the crowd.  But, in the shot that follows, find themselves self-restored to rank and file, following a parodic but real gravity, drawn back past the point of joking, umbrella swinging, arms crisp, off to become the tolerated scourge of a seaside holiday town.

And these, mind you, are not the damned.

Tit for tat to the big ape, and with their actions, neutralize his screwing

Sabotage is the conscious kicking of the boss in the ass, it’s the screwing up of a job, it’s a grain of sand snuck into the gears so the machine breaks down, it’s the systematic sinking of the boss’ system...All of this carried out secretly, letting know one know what’s going on when it’s being done.

Sabotage is the baby cousin of the boycott. And fuck it, in a bunch of cases when a strike is impossible it can render some damn good service to the working stiffs.

When an exploiter feels like his workers can’t pull off a strike he doesn’t hesitate to screw them over. Stuck in the gears of exploitation the poor buggers don’t dare speak up for fear of being sacked. They’re eaten up with rage and bend their necks. Eaten up with rage, they still put up with the boss’ prickeries.

But they put up with them. And angry or not, the boss doesn’t give a damn, as long as things go the way he wants.

Why are things like this?

Because the working stiffs haven’t found the right way to respond tit for tat to the big ape and, with their actions, neutralize his screwing.

But the way exists:

It’s sabotage!

The English have been doing this for a long time – and they find it a terrific fucking thing.

The homophonic rattle is also the buzzing sound of a too-proximate two-tracked line to be followed.



Not to be confused with not being bound to one another.

The motion between two points within one zone by that which was always foreign to that place.

How could there not be a bit of friction, a churning, an buckling, an unstopped gap measure?

As long as the gig is up, then yes, Dos Passos can take a crack at splatterpunk

(Breaking my general rule to no longer speak of zombies for a moment...)
How fitting for constantly beating a dead horde that the literary form taken is, increasingly, one of two:

fake documentary (the "found material", the survivor diaries, transcripts, fragmental verité, the forgotten but persistent, what should have rotted away but did not)


retrofitted old texts, or at least inherited non-horror genres, given "new life" (the text now declared dead - that is, common domain, open to the use of all, no longer bound to a single name, and therefore, a vitalism - in order to have a secondary plot added and to be made technically contemporary again, in terms of new copyright added and pallid mediocrity ramped up)

Apparently, the demotic spread of nonlinear narrative structural play, literary autophagy, and media-bending couldn't go fully mass, and under the sign of pulp, until it found some over-literalized figures (i.e. specific content) to latch itself onto.  Pseudo-experimentation is fine, as long as you're pretending that the apocalypse has already come, and that these are dispatches from after the break, when along with the functioning of everyday life and the promise of the human race continuing, the normal novel has been gashed, infected, and apes itself wrongly across the ruins.

The turn wanted by utopian kernel hunters, and hell, why not, is just a half-step away: the zombie is a superficial effect, not the point of it.  Which is only a yearning, at the heart of the most cynical repetition of the profitable squeezed stone, for concerns of formal innovation to take the upper hand.  The zombie will pass, and the prospect of mass readership of things that don't go down quite so easy will stick around.

If only it weren't so obviously not so.

British Horror Film presents: Circus of Horrors (1960)

Quick, get her to a doctor. And send the clowns in.

A manic little film that was part of that cycle of rough-stuff horror shows (along with Peeping Tom [1960]) that the British Board of Film Censors let pass through from 1959 to 1960, much to their subsequent chagrin. The plot of the film is wonderfully delirious: fleeing the British authorities after a surgery goes criminally wrong, the plastic surgeon Dr. Schuler (Anton Diffring) ends up on the continent where he decides the best thing for him to do at this point (obviously) is to take over a struggling circus and fill it with disfigured female criminals whom he has “made beautiful” and whom he makes wear skimpy clothing. Scotland Yard and other police organizations start to wonder what’s going on with this circus, however, after many of its star attractions end up dying very public and seemingly accidental deaths (see the image above for one such “accident”). Everything starts to come to a head once Schuler’s circus arrives in the UK for what he hopes will be his triumphant return into the world of plastic surgery once everyone sees what his techniques can do to disfigured bodies and faces. Things don’t quite turn out as he had planned or hoped they would. A wonderful film about the horror of petty professional resentments and jealousies, Circus of Horrors is not to be missed.

Thursday, October 28th
Stevenson 150, 9 PM

Now is the time for nothing good

In Quatermass 2, when Lomax goes to the commissioner to share Quatermass' findings (i.e. the secret synthetic food project is a poison/destroy the human race project massive conspiracy), his superior barely looks up and acknowledges him, busy scanning over a document on his desk.  Of course, right before Lomax launches into disclosure, he notices the V-shaped scar on the commissioner's hand, indicating that he too has been infected/penetrated by another organism and is now part of the plot to ruin first Britain, then the the species.  Lomax feints a stupid question about a decision he should make, is reminded that indeed that's his decision to make, and retreats, finally convinced just how far up the corruption goes, and leaves the commissioner to his work.

What, though, is his work?

We don't get a good lingering glimpse in the film, at most a fleeting recognition that whatever he's reading consists of a series of lines of the same length.  If you freeze the film (which, of course, implies a mode of watching entirely counter to the experience available when the film was released, that is to say: a detail not "meant" to be caught), you make out that what he's reading is a repetition of the phrase:


With two exceptions.  The first line reads


which we see the commissioner check off while the camera rests on his scarred hand.

Thirteen lines down, the layout changes and we get, indented, in lower case

         (now is the time for all [here blocked by hand, but we can assume it finishes good men]
         to come to the aid of the [here blocked by wrist, but given what we know, it finishes party or            

Why is he reading this?

The phrase is a typing drill.  Sources, and chronology, are - at least on the basis of what I've found - entirely contradictory.  According to most sources, it was coined by Charles E. Weller, in its original form as "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party," to test the first typewriter in 1867 during "an exciting political campaign," which must be that of Grant's first presidential bid the following year, given its use in that context.  However, elsewhere and impossibly anachronistically, it's claimed to be derived from an October 1939 submission to The Nation by Freda Kirchaway, the relevant text of which reads:

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of democracy. We have not gone to war, and no excuse exists for war-time hysteria. Neither Communists nor even (German-American) Bundists are enemy agents. They deserve to be watched but not to be persecuted. The real danger is that general detestation of Communists and Bundists will lead to acts of outright repression supported not only by reactionaries but by disgusted liberals. Democracy was not invented as a luxury to be indulged in only in times of calm and stability. It is a pliable, tough-fibered technique especially useful when times are hard. Only a weak and distrustful American could today advocate measures of repression and coercion, or encourage a mood of panic. Now is the time to demonstrate the resilience of our institutions. Now is the time to deal with dissent calmly and with full respect for its rights.

In all likelihood, Kirchaway's text is a borrowing - and redeployment - of what was already at that time a commonplace phrase, ground into habit by repetition and clicking keys and sore wrists.  (I found elsewhere a comment thread poster speaking of how her or his mother used to write that phrase without knowing why.  Corporeal remainder, utter evacuation of what sense it might have, a set of words that should mean everything reduced to the speed your fingers can go.)

What it's doing in the film, here, seems quite obvious to me.  The plot required that the commissioner be looking over typed documents, going about his business, and what was typed and on hand on the set and "list-like" for him to look over was, in fact, a typing drill.  Unless you freeze the film, you won't make out the writing, and your attention is supposed to be riveted on the scar.  It's only when you've seen it before, and start looking for other kinds of scars and decorations and details, that your eye wanders, only when you have digital files - or a print of it - that you can freeze it and make out what doesn't matter.

As such, it is, at this level, a diagonal slash from the mode of cinematic production into a finished cinematic production.  A bit of detritus that speaks of the whole apparatus, and surging currents and eddies of money, labor, and training, that underpin the story, the scene, the commodity.

Someone was being tested for the speed of her - given its release in '57, the phantom presence of a female secretary is more than likely - typing, making sure she was up to snuff, that she could grease the wheels of the Hammer machine, just getting going, with adequate velocity and accuracy.  (We see the echo, in the film, of the persistent denigration, and exclusion from the decision-making "men's talk" of the women, who are viciously instructed to go "organize some coffee" or go look at something they already know exists, simply so that they can be out of the room while the men putatively talk important business, but mostly so that they aren't there to witness the baffled incompetence and worry of those men.)

One fragment of a duration of work that does not show itself, that scribes memos and takes letters, that compiles budgets, that organizes and orients the sub-important matter, that costs a low wage and earns a bit of money and perhaps finally takes that and goes to the movies to look at something that is at once the product of her labor and which is not given the flickering instant of screen time to be recognized as such.

And it is in this way, and in another way, that this is a center of the film, its buried fulcrum.  Obviously, it is not, and we shouldn't fetishize the minor to the point that we miss the point, shouldn't reorient the whole enterprise at the expense of the structure that is already there, shown to us, all the film's spoken and yet blurred anxieties, about Communists and foreigners, about capital and bureaucracy, about policy and grenades that aren't thrown, bodies that are shoved into air ducts and towns that do collapse, polished domes that hold the unpolished sludge that burns like what will never be nourishment.

In an act of speculation, then, we can still take it as something to be followed, even while knowing very well - and not really caring - that it "wasn't intended," because what matters at the end of the day is so rarely what was intended.  It's there, and it is its very insignificance that makes it the ragged opening that it is.

What to make of it, beyond the unwanted appearance into the paranoid fantasy of the laboring banality it requires?

The film - and above all the look of it, the pauses in conversation, the palpable drunk exhaustion of Donlevy as Quatermass - tells a few stories, some of which run counter to each other.

The brainwashed

Quite simply, you don't know what you're reading.  Your mind is elsewhere, busy with hive mind things.  Or rather, you're well aware that there's nothing that needs to be read, for the real work is being done elsewhere, it is the work that is a chemical and you exist only in order to ward off the possibility interruption of that work's accumulation.

The police do not matter

In both the Quatermass films, the police and state are disconnected, such that you can go to the police, and hope to convince their top man, even when you know that the state is corrupted.

This, however, seems to be known very well by the state and the invaders, a stain of suspicion and a mocking distantiation, such that even when incorporated into the conspiracy, the police are still kept in the dark, still relegated to reading typing drills as if they were of urgent importance.  As if the Commission isn't given anything of more importance and knows this, but can't let on, least of all to his uncorrupted underlings.  Keeping up appearances means hiding the fact that you are relegated to appearances only, at most to making sure that certain things do not appear, that they stay in the dark, a dark then held away from you.

The specificity of guns - or rather, their specific absence in the hands of police - can't but be felt here.  Our first glimpses of the zombies are of them bristling with arms, machine guns as they pop out from trees, guarding empty roads.  Therein the hint toward the broader split, of which the police-state opposition is a weak echo: between state and production, and the protection, by a extra-state armed apparatus, of the production, via state funding, of what will exterminate the bodies who nominally constitute the body of that state.

The scar common to all

The hand that wants to control is still burned, it sears without distinction.  At most, it pretends to be a mark of distinction, of being brought into the fold of those who know what's to come.  But no, it is a commonality of wounding, an accident dictated purely by a passage of a body through space, through proximity to where materials rain down and where they are made.

The mark is the same on all, it does not hide, from barmaid to bourgeois.  The face is disfigured, the sleeve tugged down to hide the unhealing, the mark of heat that also means that something has gone in and won't come out, that you cannot be the same and that the scar is at most an indication of that passage, a glancing reminder that perhaps, it was not always like this.

That's the cut of value as abstraction.  Indiscriminate, a clawing into, a consumption that was not decided.  It forms the other side of the slow burn of the production value, and its corrosive eating of time, energy, material, knowledge, a covering in order to eat away under what's covered, until nothing is left and still it burns, splattered nearby, uncontaining.

In the doubts raised, the film is the inverse of Plague of the Zombies, where the question is: wouldn't it be a lot simpler to just hire them, rather than turn them into zombies?  Here, with the "zombies" of the infected workers alongside the waged laborers, the ones who were brought from elsewhere to this place, we can only wonder why they were not infected, given that such infection is itself means and, to a degree, end of the project of planetary takeover.  And it is here that we start to wonder more about this project, and mark its major difference from other "invaders among/inside us" films.  We're given at first to assume that the meteorites are infection devices, intended to rain down and spring their alien payload onto the faces of the unsuspecting.  But, as it turns out, when the ballistics reconstruction is finished, revealing a mini-rocket, things turns, and it becomes apparent that the explosion of the aliens onto whomever(the organic vessel to be) holds their "inorganic" vessel is at most a convenient way to get a few bodies doing what you'd like them to do, perhaps even an accident, hitting an emergency exit button on the exterior, triggering the hatch from the outside like Quatermass does to his rocket in the first film.  Regardless, the emergent sense is different: "they" don't much care for people and want as little to do with our whole narrative of being taken over or not, our whole desperate last-gasp measure of making sure that even if we go down in flames (or rather, in wracked lungs and corrored skin), it will be because whatever came wanted to take us over.  Needed our bodies, saw us as the good challenge.  Post-history is marked forever more as the embattled vanquishing of us, not the casual shuffling us off to the side while they get down to business.

(As with its obvious heir They Live!, we don't ultimately get the sense that what infected us or walks undetected amongst us really needs us to get rid of us.  In both cases, the superior level of technology - i.e. that very functional space station - implies that they certainly could come down here and do this all themselves.  It's just that we're already so good at dominating one another that they may as well let us just keep doing that, albeit with a slight acceleration in the rate at which we bring about the end of the species.)

Now is the time to have joined

The sense of the meaningless phrase - the declaration that now is the time for those good on their own to to become or join or a collective organization - hangs heavy over the film.  And is ultimately brushed off as lightly as its typed version, as the camera sweeps elsewhere.  The injunction to make of the present an exceptional time, an event to happen, an emergency situation in which all good men, or just all men, join together is a moment missed, just as the camera sweeps away to other concerns of plot and nation.

But unlike that page, we do catch it before its gone, as the workers march down the road to the plant they will ultimately destroy, a torch-bearing mob with an uncertain monster and not a torch in sight.

They move steady and slow down the road, not in rage, not in exhaustion, half uncertain, checking with each other, steady.  They don't go for any reasons that would normally be designated "political", just those too familiar with the normal fuckedness of work, with the "overshot" meteors that miss the landing spot and crash through the roof, to be picked up by the woman whose face it will burn.  There's no Marxist rhetoric, no union, the word "proletariat" nowhere in sight.  They pull off an Eisenstein moment without class consciousness, and all in slow motion.  And their triumph comes not with a continued collective push, but in a time of fragmentation, members of the group who made it to the control room splitting off, believing the conciliatory lies of the bosses/management/aliens, believing that there were still jobs that could be kept rather than air ducts to be clogged.  After this moment, those who remained win the day with a spontaneous action movie stunt, bravado, plenty of infighting and accusations, and hastiness.  In short, par for the class war course.

This mob without a monster are villagers without a village, or rather, with a facsimile of a village, a cardboard factory town, to house those pulled from the slums into this new wasteland which stands just down the road from the literal ruins of the previous town.  Built in a night, holding its tongue, they work at the factory, produce food that is not food, and ask no questions.  Yet still, they can the peasant farming tools they never had in the first place when the time comes to storm the metal-domed castle.  Because if you've never been a cohesive political force ready to tear your workplace apart piece by piece, if you've never seen that film, then a piecemeal approximation of those films, becoming those whose daughters are killed, who will burn windmills and throw a body on the pyre, is the best you can muster.

And what else is possible in the face of what collectivity really looks like here, intestinal, seething, disconsolate, teetering?

Or, conversely, what the story of brainwashing, obedience, "joining the party" is supposed to look like, those "zombies" who bare and hide their scars.  Those zombies who, for all we can tell, lack a hive mind, who can't coordinate their efforts, who may succeed at speaking little when working together but who succeed at nothing else, always missing with their machine guns, always losing their guests on the plant tour, always letting the rag-tag mob get past the gate, always losing the day, always going on with it still.

For they too, like Quatermass himself, like the toppling tower of wriggling jumbles of alien life, are broken, like everyone they persist, sheerly, like that phrase itself, the worn finger exhaustion of forging ahead because the page is not full and the sentence has not come to mean anything.

The sludge

The typed page is that waste.  Ink spaced evenly enough down to make it unusable, having served the opposite of its supposed purpose: paper exists to have written on it something to be read, something to be communicated.  The typing exercise makes of paper only a record of time spent and calories burned, caught directly halfway between a practice for the fingers (which needs no paper) and a sheet to be examined for correctness (but which will not be read).

It is a production of waste, meting out the ribbon's fading, the slowly shredding and brittle tendons.

The sludge that burns, that is no food, may as well be the spill of these pages, piles of shuffled dried pulp, vats of the irrecoverable that wasn't precious to start to finish.  A churning base of economy, making what no one needs to guarantee making continue to achieve the status of need.


After all, the phrase may have been NOW IT IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY.

But things are different here, common only in its shoving women to the side of the now.

For there's no time for anyone, insofar as that could mean an us.

Just a time when party means infected, inept, and driven from without.

When country means bureaucracy off the rails and a population stumbling, burning, ahead and down.

When men means only those who produce what will kill them all.

When good means all of these things and nothing more.

Oh, France.  Oh.

Let this not be the end of the beginning you were building.


A protest by refuse collectors in Marseille, which has left thousands of tonnes of rubbish abandoned in the streets, is said to have spread to other cities. Reports say the biggest rubbish treatment centre in France, at Ivry-sur-Seine, has been blockaded for the past three days.

If the fuel starts flowing again, let the products it makes and wraps and carries around gather and rot and reek like hell.

A phase shift into decay's comeback.

That new and costly liquor called Eau de Peste

This, it will be said, is just George Sand, but should we also suspect the deposition of a man of the Right, Armand de Pontmartin? He said in his memoirs: “During the past week [cholera] recruited its victims only among the poor, and the number of its victims grew in frightening proportions... [The Parisian population] accused the rich, the nobles and the bourgeois, not only of not dying, but of poisoning the poor... They went down the aristocratic streets crying for death... We had reached the point of wishing for the death of a rich man.”

Baehrel, here, on class hatred and hatred of doctors, on accusations of poisoning and facts of plague, on being given the lie and giving back something else entirely

 a plague victim pursues a “substantial citizen’s wife,” “a gentlewoman;” she falls and he embraces her: “He told her he had the plague and why should she not have it as well.” Another example: a man knocks, enters, and he “takes leave”: “I have got the sickness and shall die tomorrow night” the intruder declares who, in that “bourgeois” house, chose the moment “when the whole family was at supper.”


One of the cold cheekier heights of Brit Horror poster design.  

(And a fitting emblem for the later turn, in which the blood is leeched out, when the cleavage is fundamentally interchangeable, and what remains are the faded bubblegum coverings - like Eastmancolor left in the sun for too long - standing in for the scars which can no longer be noticed on their own, in this dull and thud of faithless seriality.  The bandage becomes the thing to come to see.

And it is this fact that makes these Band Aid films, which fantasize that there's red life left to hold within, all the better.)

Two modes of pressing ahead blithely while reserves run down and streets surge up



You can't flip something off with just an index finger

American Apparel's costume suggestion for one's children.  (Not even worth going into the total confused blur of synechdoche for the missing, diffuse "thing" in question: graffiti, throwing the horns, glam pants, looking like your parents never really did and but now really do when they buy the slightly larger same clothes from the same store for an 80's themed party, Proudhon.)

Of course, what makes it unfathomably terrible is its basic fathomability.  That sputter, fizzling hush of a computer-simulated thin tip hissing out its last pixels.  A death rattle for the prospect that cultural critique, like the meme-hungry it would like to mock, can do more than just be deictic.  Than just point, with the same glacial urgency, with the slimmest gap between loving and loathing, and, with the breaths it does and will keep drawing straight through any and all phase of capitalism, glumly mutter see this... see this... this... this... this

The tendency toward the denigration of "vulgar materialism" in Marxism explained via apartment tenants being assholes to each other

The position of the contemporary Marxist seems at times like that of a person living on the first floor of a house, who turns to the tenant of the second floor and says: 'You think you're independent, that you support yourself by yourself?  You're wrong!  Your apartment stands only because it is supported on mine, and if mine collapses, yours will too'; and on the other hand to the ground-floor tenant: 'What are you saying?  That you support and condition me?  What a wretched illusion!  The ground floor exists only in so far as it is the ground floor to the first floor.  Or rather, strictly speaking, the real ground floor is the first floor, and your apartment is only a sort of cellar, to which no real existence can be assigned.'  To tell the truth, the relations between the Marxist and the second-floor tenant have been perceptibly improved for some time, not because the second-floor tenant has recognized his own 'dependence,' but because the Marxist has reduced his pretensions considerably, and has come to admit that the second floor is very largely autonomous from the first, or else that the two apartments 'support each other'.  But the contempt for the inhabitant of the ground floor has become increasingly pronounced.

- Sebastiano Timpanaro, Sul Materialismo (1970)

British Horror Film Presents: The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967)

Takes me for a nincompoop,
that necrophile.

A remarkable (and remarkably downcast) pastiche of Hammer horror films (particularly their cycle of vampire films, of which four had been made by 1967) by a director (Roman Polanski) notorious for his vertiginous shifts from high to low art, often from film-to-film but not always, as this cheeky take on Hammer demonstrates by getting more and more solemn as its inanities unfold. A strange counterpoint to Polanski’s decidedly more art-house-ready horror flick, Repulsion (1965), which we’ll be viewing in two weeks, Fearless Vampire Killers is not to be missed. Come for the Jewish Vampire laughing off a crucifix (“Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!”), stay for the end of the world.

Thursday, October 21st
Stevenson 150, 9 PM

Time of the Russian Wolf

Wolfen gets remade in Russia, albeit with real events and CCTV footage.

The full-bore pack.  Taking the lanes, terrifying cops (and upsetting the procedure of law: one wonders whether or not he wrote the ticket he was going to after this) yet with an utter indifference to them as they barrel down the freeway right past the car.

On their way to take the city, or loping through its parking lots, helping themselves to the bought goods dropped at the sight of the mangy crew.  If  the metropolis broadens its circuits, and the city is no longer a city, then so too the woods broaden right back, blurred zones and charging along its paved surfaces, ready to swallow those who try to record the new breadth and its panting breaths.

We wind ourselves into it

And they come unfurled

Just as the burnishing 

ends of the mornings

Are just getting going

The smut removers and an hour

And their whining acid salts

They coil around wet things

That wire money

To other wet things

And so we are goners

Once more into the fray

[thanks Giovanni for the image]

The inspector of production swoops over the swelling hives

The winter of our discontents

Cover to be filled shortly.  The train's a goner, though.

Times are hard. People just aren't dying off so quick. It's the welfare state.

Damaged goods, they still live badly all the same.

or they wouldn't be dead, how would they

Grey toner

Proposed solution to a friend's problem of having to write an essay that will not write itself on the topic of Nicolas Baier:

scan the monograph, burn the monograph, liquify the ashes, put them into a printer cartridge, and then print out a scanned PDF of the book you just burned.

Just a quick reminder

This is an assembly:

This is not:

British Horror Presents: The Flesh and The Fiends (1960)

We are students of Hippocrates, but some of us are hypocrites.

The gruesome story of the Irishmen William Burke and William Hare (Scotland’s two most famous ghouls and serial killers, who terrorized Edinburgh from 1827 to 1828) has long proved morbidly attractive subject matter for popular writers and film-makers.  Robert Louis Stevenson famously fictionalized their exploits in the short story, “The Body Snatchers” (1884), and many film-makers in the twentieth century have returned to either Stevenson’s text or historical source-materials in order to dramatize Burke and Hare’s year-long killing spree, which they undertook in order to provide the Edinburgh Medical College with corpses for dissection by medical students.  Such film adaptations include the following:  The Body Snatcher (1945, dir. Robert Wise); The Greed of William Hart (1948, dir. Oswald Mitchell), starring Tod Slaughter as William Hart (née Burke); Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971, dir. Roy Ward Baker); Burke & Hare (1972, dir. Vernon Sewell); The Doctor and the Devils (1985, dir. Freddie Francis); and this year’s Burke and Hare (dir. John Landis), starring Simon Pegg as Burke and Andy Serkis as Hare.  Excepting Landis’ forthcoming (and hitherto unseen) version (which comes out in the UK at the end of the month), The Flesh and the Fiends is easily the best of the bunch and comprises a nasty quasi-realist supplement to The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).  Not to be missed.

Thursday, October 14th

Stevenson 150, 9 PM

Like flowers of tar opening up your chest.

And so began modern times, at 21 feet per second.

A speakable evil

[this is a response, or an approximation of what I said in response, to a lecture my friend Erik gave on Dead of Night  in our British Horror class.  What he had to say was seriously good, but until we set up our collective horror blog - I'll take suggestions for a snappy title, though I'm partial to A Nasty Piece of Work - you get my side only.  Also, videos work if you let them run past their self-imposed initial blackening.  If anyone can tell me how to get them to actually work as they're supposed to, I will owe you many things.]

Like science fiction and pornography, psychoanalysis has at least two basic modes: soft and hard.  Unlike the former, it isn't a question of scientific accuracy or nerded-out technical detail.  And unlike the latter, it isn't about whether you see and hear what you damn well know is going on or if palm fronds and fuzzy lighting and hot sax keep it supposedly vague.  (Although like both cases, the question of the techniques of revelation, and the related attempt to zero in on the "things themselves" is, of course, at the fore.)

Rather, to take an opposition that isn't a real one (and one that's particularly fraught in terms of a hard/soft metaphor, particularly given that we're talking psychoanalysis and as such, I don't want to further correlate a masculinist hard = rigorous and reasonable, soft = vague and emotive), I want to point toward these modes of psychoanalysis around which Dead of Night is largely centered.

That's to say that there's a soft psychoanalysis, which may be very rigorous and exposing indeed, yet which is ultimately concerned with the bolstering of the image of the subject as willful and coherent.

And there's a hard psychoanalysis, which may be sloppy and figurative and obscure, yet which is ultimately concerned with the dismantling of that same image.

(Not to say that either mode cannot fail deeply and swerve its results toward the other: it's not hard to imagine an analysis that may very well take down the most cherished fantasies - that is, the basic ones, the fantasy structure of coherency and directed desire on which the more particular ones about whips and desert islands and ventriloquists come from - yet to which the analyzed subject says: yes, but I still feel coherent!  How much more of a triumph am I, who can still know about the dark sludge of everything, and yet still go about my business!  Or in reverse, the one "working through" symptoms, paths of desire, everything, who actually uncovers something so unfathomably nasty and counter to kind of subject she thinks she was that the result is a total breaking down from which it's near impossible to regain any semblance of being the same subject as before: my God, could it have been me who ever thought that, who ever wanted that...

Such an opposition is not meant to designate rigid forms of differentiated practice, but rather a set of goals, horizons, tendencies, spoken or otherwise.)

For the first, for "soft" analysis, the struggles of the subject, and the struggle to become the subject that you were supposed to be all along, are oriented around the tension between necessity (meaning here the sense of a world that has to be that way, or even the constellation of psychological forces that we seemingly don't choose) and will (the subject's voluntary attempt to intervene in the order of that world and to control/work through those symptoms).

As Craig, our dreamer/protagonist/murderer, puts it:

I feel my will power draining away.  I feel I'm in the grip of a force that's driving me towards something unspeakably evil.

In Dead of Night, the failed attempt to wrest control of the dream, the consequent terrible slide toward the inevitable, is alternately, will's hijacking (the "unspeakable evil" posseses him and gives him the will to murder) or diminishment in the face of an inhuman necessity, initially resistant but worn down by forces and logics (and Scotch and lots of stories and insistent complicity in keeping him around "against his will").

This is the perspective shared equally by the house's shared belief in the supernatural (cue the recurrent chorus of "we believe your dream was real" and the badgering of the Doctor for being the "Great Debunker") and the kind of shrink they think the Doctor should be.

In both ways, there's a double assumption of the "unspeakable" which collapse in both cases into a simple desire to make it otherwise: either the influence of those other worldly forces (which, of course, turn out to be deeply speakable, if anything threatened by the prospect of an analysis that would break the cycle of endless story telling, of talking it through, trading yarns, getting a bit excited and creeped out about your experiences with the beyond) or the tugs and pulls of the unconscious, which, in the kind of analysis they ultimately push Craig towards, is very much something to be spoken of, leaving him alone with the Doctor, to finally air those symptoms.  It is that to which they, not a "force," push him from the start, building up the fantasy to the point that all that unspeakable is ready to come out, when Craig can get his talking cure and rejoin them in their pseudo-normalcy.

However, until that moment, where he gets shut up once and for all, until Craig dreams it all over again and gets to snuff out his commentary again, ad infinitum, the Doc is tracking out that other hard mode, that goes in reverse.  It is entirely speakable from the start.  It speaks of, and brings about, deflations of prized notions, the stabbing balloon-pop of the big egos in the room (and it is full to bursting), the naming what's blatantly the unacknowledged case, and above all, the coming-to-pieces of the idea that you are in fact the lodestone of those forces supernatural or psychosexual, that your own symptoms or the ones that come between you and others are still your property, still your own private fuck-up, still the thing for you and you alone to talk through, that the solution to shared problems is back in the preciously tortured depths of the individual.  And as much as they've been asking for it, they certainly don't want to hear it.

A significant portion of the frame story centers around this repeated invitation and avoidance, pushing up to the point where he will pronounce his analysis and judgment, and then scrambling to mock and disavow it, pretending that his quite clear explanation [even if it the situation it describes isn't really "cryptoamnesia," or at least not in any discernible way] or denouncing him as a mystery-less scientist who just won't get it, the kind of character who, in endless later films, will "get it" by the forces of darkness, or at least become a drooling blown-mind fool, because of not heeding the signs that the world is a place that can't be explained.

If we are to track out hard psychoanalysis, at least as modeled here in its brief pre-shushed incarnation, it substitutes that non-dialectic of necessity and will with a

chance (which is still determining, and may appear utterly "deterministic," but in which case the determination happens to you without particular cause: even that which you couldn't avoid begins by a chance encounter)

and desire (in which it is desire that constrains, not the will to cut against that world or an expression of who you are via how you want, but rather, the operation that tries to produce the illusion of choice and cause by doing exactly the opposite, by instituting a set of constraints about what kind of things a kind of person like you is supposed and allowed to want, all set over a realm of indifferent objects that don't particularly return the favor)

What I want to venture, however,  is that the work of this kind of perspective and analysis, and the subsequent battled we see against the guests' scornful shutting it down, isn't ultimately a disabusing, disenchanting Enlightenment rationalism set against the pre-critical, willfully ignorant, and petty bourgeois illusions of those in the house.  Moreover, it isn't about competing conceptions of individuals.  It's about an insistence on collectivity foreclosed from the start by the task of soft psychoanalysis and which is raised by the hard mode to hang uncertainly.

Take the Haunted Mirror episode, which brings about the fiercest badgering of the Doctor and his diagnosis of cryptoamnesia.

Of all that can be said, three short points.

1.  Her comment, "it's the mirror, that's why I came back", carries an odd weight with it, an other tinge, as if to say: well, actually, I do want to leave you, because you've become an intolerable shit, but it turns out it may just be a haunted mirror!  In which case, she is doubly invested in the mirror being that instance of evil incarnate: she needs it to be the case.

2.  He is markedly absent in the return to the frame tale, and we're given to assume that the marriage in fact did not happen.  Which means that, in a perverse way, he got what he seems to have wanted all along, and, more crucially, she (or they) don't really believe that the mirror was the problem.  If it was just the influence of the mirror, then all should be returned to normal. And perhaps it is, insofar as "normal" between them seems to be constraining, mutually cold and perfunctory, fidgety, and not much fun at all.

3.  She did see it, though, the other room, and that - the segment signals for us - is the horror of it.  Not that he may or may not be possessed, that it may or may not be in his mind, not even that he may strangle his wife in a fit of evil or madness, but that what was the province of a single subject bleeds over to another, that there's room for another in that dark room.

All this is to say that: Given that we don't really accept that the mirror was haunted (not because we're skeptics, but taken on the grounds the film gives us internally, of the non-marriage to follow, and the fact that despite their chirpy support throughout the film of belief in the supernatural, no one actually really seems to buy it: their consolation of her has more of a pitying recognition that a relationship went to hell, not that you stared into the abyss of black forces),  given all this, we're looking at a film in which strangling your wife in front of a haunted mirror may in fact have nothing to do either with the supernatural or with issues of personal subjectivity and fraught choices.  (A different kind of psychology might advocate a transindividual neuronal or chemical fuck up, which is a whole other question, but not particularly pertinent to the world sketched in Dead.)  It may be, worst of all, a common symptom, and one that perhaps doesn't start with issues you have with each other, or in the realm of either subject.  Perhaps it's a joint neuronal fuck up.

Really, though, it is in the common space of neither subject.  It is what cannot be located in the "wood and glass" in the cold feet or in some absent trauma.   It is the space itself of the non-marriage that hangs and reeks in the air when we return to the frame story.

The disavowal of the common, that belongs to no one, which here appears mostly in negative relief as something unavoidable but nasty as hell, can be schematized as follows:

it's all well and good for one person to be totally nuts or be a pervert

- it's all well and good for one person to see ghosts or be gripped by a supernatural force that compels him to evil 

- it's all even fine for that one person to be explained, and made to talk his own explanation, in a viciously cold and deterministic way, even at the expense of his own shattering

- it's quite OK to go nuts together, provided that we're dealing with premonitions and supernatural that is not only "unspeakable" but outside of the realm of the social, the historical

- but it is decisively not OK to conceive that we go nuts together, become perverts together, act badly together, act at all in any way together, on the grounds that we're just in the grip of one another, in the company of others, that the common is both method of transmission and root cause

[Want to swerve off into a brief, partially related, interlude here for golfing story:

First, worth noting is the remarkable instrumentalization: "that's what you're here for..."

Aside from the fact that Parratt is a twit and that Mary is never given even a semblance of desire in the film (willingly being the prize of the golf game between the buffoons), even as that foreclosure of her has more to do with the particularity of who is narrating the story rather than the film itself, even given all this, there's something deeply odd in how they act before they go off to, supposedly consummate the marriage.  (The homoeroticism of the whole episode, here in Parratt's somewhat bashful and nervous reaction to the prospect of Potter - the real other half of this not-very-odd-couple - being there when he has mediocre sex with his wife, goes largely without saying.  It's not a subtext - it's just there.)  Namely, she supposedly cannot see Potter.  Yet the way in which she "excuses" herself is decidedly the kind of thing done when a couple wants to sneak away from the crowd to go fuck without really saying so.  Yeah, I'll just head to bed.  Oh, you're tired too?  I'll see you later.  Good night everyone...  It isn't what you say alone with the other.  She seems as aware of Potter as Parratt does.

Here too, in the "comedy" story of the film, the threat isn't just the intervention of the supernatural (you and your will battle it out, and lose, to forces beyond your control and comprehension, even if here this basically means that a ghost beds your wife, in a brutal ending of rape - by an invisible specter, no less - that cannot be covered over by the group's laughter about the "saucy tale."  Rather, it's the way in which she is "in on it" is the joke version of what seems to be the case elsewhere, namely that the demarcational lines between subjects, and between their fields of perception, are a lot murkier than we would like them to be, and with this, the creeping dread that we never can tell just how many are in on it and to what degree that "it" was ever a private occasion.]

The shutting up of the doctor, the swerve into "one man's nightmare" and madness, into it all being in his head, can't fully paper over the strangeness of this assemblage of people, this house of others.  Over the questionof why all these people are here, other than a roaring back into view of what is certainly not just in his head, the unspoken sense of this being a WWII film, that they may have had to get the hell out of the city, away from the war, from the blitz.

And more than that, it carries with it longer echoes in both directions.  To The Decameron, when the telling of stories amongst the rich in a location away from the city is a distraction from the ravaging plague and the sense that there may be no world to go back to.  And to the "cozy catastrophe" scenarios of post-apocalyptic fiction, after there is nothing to go back to, when all you have left is this collective that has no logic other than the fact that it persists.  The reason Craig - an architect - is called to the house is to build more rooms, to make permanent this temporary coalition, who seems indeed to be waiting out the storm or unsure what to do after the flood.  They drink a lot, they smoke a lot, they decide to become believers in the supernatural, and above all, they don't talk about what they're doing there, why they're sleeping there.  Why they're building more rooms even as they hold off confrontation both with the incoherence of the group and with the analysis that will end it once and for all.  It is for this that Craig is called to do, to throttle the possibility of making speakable what is really unspeakable, that we exist as a we that does not cohere, that has no natural reason for being, and which penetrates all spaces, from the rooms that won't be built to the stories that never were.

So the problem with the Doc - and with this incarnation of hard psychoanalysis - was never that he's too scientific or cold or hard to understand.  It's this possibility of a thought of the collective, something rarely followed through on in most psychoanalysis of any type, which really can think of the individual, the couple, and perhaps triangulation, but which falls apart when asked to consider the many not immediately circumscribed by the private and the personal.

As of the golfer there on the sofa, the other room in the mirror, the dummy standing between two men, there's always a third.  Yet given what the hearse driver/bus driver says, just room for one more may turn out to be comforting in that way, that the series will stop, just up to 3, that perhaps the couple isn't alone, but that it can be counted, the influences and forces and grips can be voiced, limited.

Against this, an other mode of analysis seems to say, with a sticking tongue, always room for one more. The set will always expand, and you will build more rooms, and you have been doing so even without knowing it, waiting for it, to see the few become the many, even as we shudder and hold it off, back to the impossible of the one and only.

Shit will be made and yes, yes it will burn


Quatermass 2 (movie) Part2
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[If first video doesn't work, go to 14'30" in the second.]

(A terrible echo.)

Sludge, the almost-solid that corrodes solids.  It is not food and it smears like shit and it burns.  It makes one untouchable.  It is the after of industry that consumes any, particularly those who forget that it's production first, concerns of the state second, those who are neither last...  

In this film (Quatermass 2), it isn't remainder: it's the point of it, the mass manufacture - a money hole, gobbling state funds and commodities without producing value, only the promise of extinction - of what elsewhere tries to be forgotten and keeps coming back, seeping, each time the wind blows.  It is a skipping straight to end of the line, jumping the cycle, getting to the point already.

Economy's fundamental promise - shit will be made and at the end of the day, it is not food and it will stick with you everywhere you go and yes, yes it will burn - without the long labor of pretending it goes on indefinitely.

Come, ye philosophers, who cry, "All’s well," And contemplate this ruin of a world.

‘Tis mockery to tell me all is well.
Like learned doctors, nothing do I know.
Plato has said that men did once have wings
And bodies proof against all mortal ill;
That pain and death were strangers to their world.
How have we fallen from that high estate!
Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
The world’s the empire of destructiveness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.

British Horror Presents: Four Sided Triangle (1953)

When squaring the circle
means screwing the pooch.

A severely weird lynch-pin between the Hammer sci-fi films and Fisher’s Curse of Frankenstein four years later, it’s the story of a best buddy pair of scientists who grow up together, make a “Reproducer” together (as always, men trying to get around that whole “women need to be part of the reproductive cycle” bother), and decide to solve the problem of who gets the one girl with the solution: “both get the same girl”.  Of course, she’s chosen one of the two, so the jilted other decides that if she were to be replicated, obviously he could have his fair share.  Needless to say, things go bad, lust isn’t that simple, new geometry won’t save you, and it turns out that the famous Lacanian question, “what does woman want?”, gets no easier for our jack-ass inventors to answer when reformulated as “what does two of the same woman want?”  A creepy premise made a lot creepier and far more melancholic by the end of it, aided by a pitch-perfect ear to libido swirling through allegedly polite conversation, and an eye for the slim gap between unrequited love and total indifference to the desires of the other.


End of the line

Where thought goes to die

and where death goes to think

they are not the same place.

Questo pugno che sale…

The declaration that we are the last of the world, coupled with the promise to smash society and thoroughly destroy that world, has never sounded so sunny and tender.

Noi siamo gli ultimi del mondo
ma questo mondo non ci avrà
Noi lo distruggeremo a fondo
Spezzeremo la società.

(grazie, A, per questo)

O, gentlemen, the time of life is short!... An if we live, we live to tread on kings.

"Take the grey wolf, the child of Saturn (..) and throw him the body of the King.  And when he has swallowed him, build a big fire and throw the Wolf into it, so that he burns up, and then the King will be liberated again."

- Michael Maier, Atalanta fugiens, 1618

Or a sad history of insurrections gone wrong and the king - as no longer a king, but kingliness diffuse - strides away after the scuffle, rises up to pollute and settle back on all things, while the ashes of the wolf are, at the end of the day, just dust gray and graying.

To stand Saturn on its head, then - which is to say, back on its feet, to make the doubly inverted exceptional night last for years to come.

The Black Pope offers a prescription

"less rags, more legs"

Andreotti - that is, Belzebù, at that time cabinet secretary, later of Christian Democratic prime minister fame - on what Italian cinema needed after the war.