Day 250: No Country for Old Men

I have no idea why I haven’t heard about this before: The Coen brothers directed an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (limited: November 9, wide: November 21). I am slightly scared to see the outcome of this gutsy project.

Personally, I don’t think the novel lends itself well to filmic adaptations. The outcome will doubtlessly focus more on the actual action of the novel than the psychological struggles, the political backdrop of immigration and globalization, which is juxtaposed with traditional US values, morals and narratives and the philosophical conflicts contained in the interaction between the characters–or so I fear. Maybe it is just because I am actually writing about the novel in my dissertation and fear that too many hack critics will write crappy CS criticism about the movie I will have to deal with when revising the dissertation for a publisher later on. In any case, the novel is fantastic. Especially memorable scenes include the final encounter between Chigurh and Llewelyn’s wife, in which Chigurh explains in painstaking detail the reasons that require him to kill her. In the novel this is a long, drawn-out scene that contains a very complicated argument regarding the attachment to universalizing teleologies, an argument that runs through the entire novel via the intersected passages that reflect the thoughts of the Sheriff on the “new world,” which is simply no country for old men. McCarthy’s novel, however, illustrates to us the pervasiveness of those desiring structures that are clearly outdated, but which at the same time appear to be difficult to supersede. Many of us, so McCarthy, are old men in a country that seems to travel faster through history than we appear to be able to.

Let’s hope the Coen brothers are able to at least capture a part of McCarthy’s extraordinarily sentitive and insightful exploration of the present US psyche.

Here a trailer:

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Day 162: Stauffenberg, 07.20.1944 and…TOM CRUISE???

Today a quick post regarding something that just pisses me off to no end. Yesterday marked the 63rd anniversary of the most well-known attempt to assassinate Hitler. Centered around Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, a small group that came to be referred to collectively as members of the “conspiracy of the 20th of July” organized the military resistance against Adolf Hitler and plotted his murder and a subsequent coup. The plan referred to as “Operation Valkyrie” ultimately failed to kill Hitler, the participants were killed or imprisoned and their families were severely punished (concentration camps etc.) and their last names were changed in order to try to erase their lineage (the Stauffenberg children were re-named “Meister”).

Just in time for this anniversary a new film project called Valkyrie, telling the story of this part of the German resistance against Hitler, was announced together with the pleasant piece of news that Stauffenberg’s role will be played by Tom Cruise. Now, we all know that Hollywood has a limited number of pretty, overpaid actors who are randomly assigned to roles in an utterly de-historicizing manner without any real concern for what the roles are, but letting Tom Cruise, a missionary for the totalitarian organization Scientology, play the role of a person who managed to turn away from totalitarianism and finally decided to wake up, opt for sanity and try to produce progressive change, is just beyond bad taste to me. I know I should not be writing this, since several German directors already proclaimed that too severe a critique of this ideological clusterfuck and affront to history may have negative effects on the appeal Germany has for Hollywood movie productions (“one call to L.A. by a disgruntled producer who has heard people in Germany make negative remarks about Tom Cruise may be enough to severely damage this industry for Germany”), but you know what? Fuck Hollywood! There, I said it. Scientology may be accepted in L.A. as well as among the Hollywood chiqueria who apparently see no contradiction between their assumed political “liberalism” and not speaking out against Scientology activity in their midst, but I for one would be glad to criticize the hell out of Cruise and his fellow Scientologists, especially if this were to destroy an industry whose primary function seems to be to obfuscate the precise history of ideological and political systems. I wish I could find the picture I saw of Tom Cruise dressed as Stauffenberg–let’s just say that, in typical Hollywood fashion, there is little difference between Cruise’s Stauffenberg and Depp’s Jack Sparrow. So much for historical movies coming out of great, fantastic, please-associate-with-us Hollywood. In reference to my earlier post on Die Hard and Bruce Willis: even though he is not from my hometown I will hereby add Cruise to my list of idiot actors I would like to challenge to a duel (since arguing with such people really does not seem to do any good–hence a stupid, boorish, reactionary and unpolitical whacking with a big stick may be the only way to keep them from … well, being themselves).

Sorry for the rant–I am not even that angry at Cruise. His relationship to Scientology is probably taking place on the same intellectual level as the relationship between Mike Tyson and Don King. I am just really annoyed at Hollywood today and maybe even more so at German directors (such as Volker Schloendorff!!!), who let themselves be strongarmed by that industry. It is really, really embarrassing.

P.S.: aaah…here we go! Please see for yourselves: http://www.valkyriemovie.org/.

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Day 84: The MLG ICS 2007

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Yesterday, we finished putting together what might be the final version of the program for this year’s MLG Institute on Culture and Society to be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago from June 20-24, 2007. It looks like it will be a truly swell time this year and if you find yourself in the Chicago area at that time, feel free to stop by, learn, contribute, discuss, etc. Here, in no particular order, a selection of (keynote) speakers that may persuade people to attend the institute and/or join our fine organization (the Marxist Literary Group–we are an MLA affiliate–the MLG has a long tradition of bringing together excellent scholars and producing and disseminating cutting-edge theoretical and critical work–and reputedly has the most popular cash bar at the annual MLA convention):

Ato Quayson, Neil Larsen, Jeffrey Williams, Walter Benn Michaels, Susan Willis, Fredric Jameson, Paul Smith, Peter Hitchcock and many more (including also skunk and yours truly as minor players in the game–not even rookies, really–in fact I am still hoping to be drafted this fall).

Regarding the draft: we just had a departmental meeting for those of us that are going on the job market this fall–and it scared the crap out of me. It is not just the sheer number of different tasks that have to be accomplished between now and, well, next March/April, but also what we were informed will be the psychologically devastating pressure of throwing yourself on the market, requiring us to apparently see this as humorous experience if we want to remain sane and refrain from killing ourselves. At this point, however, I still do not quite see the humor in the potential to have worked my ass off for years, sacrificed and kind of social life I might have had, bleached my skin down to uncooked turkey level by never leaving my desk apart from the occasional teaching activity…and ending up with no job, or a crappy adjunct position! I guess you have to be tenured to find that funny. So I will just force myself to take baby steps and concentrate on the little things that have to get done in the near future in order not to drive myself completely insane. This means that prior to September (when the job list comes out), or early October (when you begin to send out applications) I will have to put together hundreds of pages of shite, including things like a “statement of teaching philosophy” (which at this point only reads “I do not like my students to be capitalist dumbasses without critical thinking skills and the desire the look beyond the dominant ideology”–but I might revise that). Apart from all this paperwork that includes more weird stuff than I expected (and I expected a LOT of weird stuff) I will have to finish my dissertation (still a tremendous amount of work to do there), prepare two writing samples, ideally write some stuff for publication on the side, prepare my classes for the fall, give a mock job-talk, work on and market an edited collection of essays I am trying to get published with a friend/colleague, go to the Library of Congress for a month to do the archival research I need to complete before June 30, present at two conferences, move to a new place and deal with the fact that I will be turning fucking 30 in the beginning of the fall. I could so easily freak out right now. Doesn’t really seem like I will be able to quit smoking this summer. But whenever a meeting makes me feel this way I just loudly listen to the Aerzte’s “Hip Hip Hurra!” and everything is fine again (well, not really, but at least I can smile again and make myself focus on the next baby step I need to take). Today’s baby step is to finally finish that freakin’ chapter that has been hanging over my head. It is just too long and I have serious problems cutting stuff. But I will finish that today and then begin polishing the next chapter, which should be done by May 15 (since I have another writing deadline for June 1). So: baby step number one: I will need to get back to exploring in depth what it means for the philosophy of history when we compare getting eaten by a prehistorical animal 500.00 years ago to getting eaten by a dinosaur in 1993. I have a quite interesting argument about that, which I will waterproof now.

Today’s ‘Dick Cheney for the Day’

Fuck you!

Today’s ‘Marcuse for the Day’:

The fetishism of the commodity world, which seems to become denser every day, can be destroyed only by men and women who have torn aside the technological and ideological veil which conceals what is going on, which covers the insane rationality of the whole–men and women who have become free to develop their own needs, to build, in solidarity, their own world. The end of reification is the beginning of the individual: the new Subject of radical reconstruction.

P.S.: regarding the representative accuracy of the above picture: when I freak out in front of my writing I am usually wearing two ties.

Day 20/21: Disturbed…

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…recently released a metal version of the Genesis classic “Land of Confusion,” which is a nice segway into this quick post on Foucault.

Here an excerpt from an interview with Foucault in which he comments on history and the value of the dialectic. Please note the logically completely nonsensical nature of his remarks, especially in light of previous posts on history:

 “History has no ‘meaning,’ though this is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent. On the contrary, it is intelligible and should be susceptible to analysis down to the smallest detail–but this in accordance with the intelligibility of struggles, of strategies and tactics. Neither the dialectic, as logic of contradictions, nor semiotics, as the structure of communication, can account for the intrinsic intelligibility of conflicts. “Dialectic” is a way of evading the always open and hazardous reality of conflict by reducing it to a Hegelian skeleton, and “semiology” is a way of avoiding its violent, bloody and lethal character by reducing it to the calm Platonic form of language and dialogue.”

So: a) congratulations, Monsieur Foucault, on the strategy to refute the dialectic by claiming that it does the opposite of what it in fact does without providing even the smalles shred of logical evidence (gutsy!) and b) good job dissing semiology (which is generally fine by me) while ignoring that your idea of discursive power has led to the same thing you are criticizing, namely ideas such as “deliberative democracy”–thanks Habermas, Behabib et al.

This is the world we live in and there are the theorists we’re given???

Land of confusion indeed.

P.S.: should I be too busy to post in the morning I will count this as the post for day 21 (not that anyone cares, but it might make me feel better).

P.P.S.: picture above is “Monument to Confusion”

P.P.P.S.: “I was of three minds;//Like a tree//in which there are three blackbirds.”

Day 17: Herbie Full Throttle, Act II.

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Today part two of the Marcuse etxtravaganza. I want to make this brief today, as I need to get some serious writing done, so I will only introduce one concept. This is something I am trying to think through at the moment and an example of a concept that appears quite timely: repressive desublimation.

Yes, people who know me know that I have been occasionally playing around with this for the last two to three years, but I have as of yet not been completely able to articulate the ways in which this concept relates to contemporary capitalism (I tried to do this initially through the weirdly (and morbidly) sexualized economics of Bataille and Lyotard’s writings on libidinal capital, but that did not get me quite to the rigorous explanation I was looking for–still good fun to read Bataille every once in a while–I highly recommend it). I do have a theory of this now which is formulated in relation to he Social Structures of Accumulation School, but I’ll  save this discussion for a future post.

So, about repressive desublimation: I will try to get at this by referring to culture, which seems to be the medium we are all the most comfortable with. This part of Marcuse is, as some of you may notice, strangely similar to Jameson’s discussion of the effect of postmodernity on cultural production, which I explain simply via the fact that Jameson was a student of Marcuse’s at Brandeis. Marcuse writes: “what is happening now is not the deterioration of high culture into mass culture but the refutation of this culture by reality. The reality surpasses its culture. (…) Today’s novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional culture takes place not only through the denial and rejection of “cultural values,” but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale.” This then is what Marcuse means by “one dimensional society,” a society in which the supposedly “democratic” move toward increased tolerance, inclusivity, de-marginalization, pluralism etc. results in the ultimate erasure of a possible working political dialectic that allows for the formation of true progressive negativity. Hence he describes this tendency as the “conquest of the unhappy consciousness.” I contend that it is precisely this logic of the conquest of the unhappy consciousness, of creating a social situation of one dimensionality that is built upon the supposedly democratic idea of inclusivity (which stands opposed to the supposedly overcome repressive nature of former social arrangements that rested upon marginalization and various forms of discrimination), that erases at its climax the very possibility of progressive negativity. In short, I would argue that this is precisely what characterizes the logic of neoliberalism. It is thus within this critique of the effects upon the workings of the unhappy consciousness that we must debate issues such as diversity (the foto above, just for your info and amusement, is taken from the Pepsico homepage), or pluralism in general (and to an extent here also the logic of postmodern theory founded upon the linguistic turn which contains a similar forms of desublimation–i.e. Foucault, Lyotard, etc.). In short, analyzed from this angle neoliberalism is indeed what one could call the end of history–the end of any possible dialectical forward move of history (see yesterday’s post).

Just wanted to quickly throw this out there as a suggestion.

Day 16: Herbie Full Throttle

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First: yes, I think if one were to compare Herbert Marcuse to a car, it would surely be a Volkswagen, especially a Vokswagen Kaefer. Oh yes, I said it: Herbert Marcuse is one of the few Vokswagens of philosophy (just to remind people quickly: “Volkswagen” translates to “car of the people”–hard to make that association looking at the Phaeton, isn’t it?).

I have been threatening people with a Marcuse post for a while now, so here it’s first part. Several things are on my mind:

1. Marcuse’s conception of labor in relation to Marx in relation to the currently popular Autnonomia movement/Italian anarchism. I have to reduce the complexity of this argument, but it runs as follows: Marcuse, for whom the idea of a rational society is central, argues that within such as rational society labor can win back its “originally libidinous” character and can become a joyful experience again. Marx, however, suggests e.g. in the Grundrisse, that labor will not automatically become “free play” in a free society. He thus combines a critique of Fourier’s romanticized idea of free labor with a relativization of the role labor plays in the Hegelian dialectic–it cannot in an uncomplicated manner work within the lordship and bondage dialectic. Autnomonia suggests that a move toward true, less mediated forms of sovereignty must be built upon a total abolition of the concept of labor. Both Marx and Autonomia are thus, for example, directly opposed to the logic of, say, trade unions here as a means to think a free society (they would fall into the functional category of e.g. the welfare state). Marcuse’s assertion similarly erases the necessity for trade unions, as they are not a part of and not a way toward a rational society. How to resolve this dilemma? In other words, what is the precise relation between labor and Being in a Heideggerian sense, or subjectivity in a purely materialist sense? How do we formulate a theory of the relation of labor to consciousness, thus to subject position and processes of self-valorization in a situation where one of the most central desires of mentally disabled people is to be able to work in order to feel like a productive part of society? What is the link between the social bond, the ideology of productivity and capitalist definitions of productivity on the level of Being, or Dasein (both again in a Heideggerian sense–or, for that matter, in relation to Georg Lukacs)?

2. Jameson suggests: “always historicize!” Good idea. Now let’s figure out what history is. Jameson’s second suggestion: “history is what hurts.” Thanks. Now let’s try to work toward a somewhat more workable definition of history and compare Jameson to the famously most optimistic pessimist of philosophy Herbert Marcuse. What Jameson suggests is that history must be regarded as the history of repression, which makes sense in the Marxian tradition, as negativity, or more concretely, struggle, is the motor of the deialectical progress of history. So repression and its resolution, or the productive conflicts it produces move history forward. I can see that. See for example the Civil Rights movement as such as forward progress due to the engagement with repression. Now, within that same materialist dialectic, however, even within the classic Hegelian dialectic, we find one other possibility for a theory of history, namely the one suggested by Marcuse. For Marcuse history is the arena for the realization for human potentiality, i.e. it moves toward what Hegel would call Spirit by the gradual negation of all negativity on the basis of which, e.g., critical theory gains its transformative power. These are two very different formulations of history within the same logical system, which may not seem like a big deal, but they do result in the ultimate depiction of a very different force field and study quite opposed subjects–especially when one looks at cultural production, or aesthetic engagements with history in general. Anyone willing to finally put a lid on that discussion and provide us with a workable definition of history that makes historical materialism concreteand not relative again?

Just to restate the suggestion here: Jameson looks at history in a classically Marxian dialectical way: what are the forces of struggle, conflict and negation that resulted in a forward movement of history? Marcuse, on the other hand, presenting a different version of the materialist dialectic, suggests to me a VERY interesting alternative conception of history, namely “a theory which analyzes society in the light of its used and unused or abused capabilities for improving the human condition.” Doesn’t this have something critically quite rigorous and at the same time strikingly beautiful to it? History in part as the history of unused or abused potentiality for improving the human condition? Especially when one supplements it with Lukacs’ description of abstract and concrete potentiality. I think this is great–at least for rhetorical and demagogical purposes. If there is a movement that wants to write a new manifesto that attemtps to rally the masses to improve their condition, this logic should be its foundational element.

Ok, I will continue this tomorrow with special regards to Marcuse’s One Dimendional Man, which is a) an absolutely beautiful read and b) is becoming incredibly timely again.

I would like to close with a recommendation for further reading, as I still believe that there has not been a philosopher since Marcuse with such a passionate regard for the human condition and there has been no philosopher whose writings have been able to emotionally move me, make me hopeful and fill me with screaming anger at the “unfulfilled and abused potential” quite like Marcuse’s. As an illustration of this I urge you all to read the elegy/eulogy for Max Horkheimer given by Marcuse at Horkheimer’s funeral. Absolutely beautiful! It is re-printed in one of the volumes called The Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse–I believe it is the one with the subtitle: Toward  a Critical Theory of Society. But I will try to find a link.