Category Archives: American Plain Songs

A Man Called Ove: Celebrating the Use of Space in Swedish Cinema

What are we beyond our memories? It was just after having a petty argument with the florist, an ignorant teen as she was that Ove first exposes the dimensions of his existence. Grieved by the death of the only love of his life, Sonja, we see him dissipating his space by magnifying his trivialities. A man that knew no work than the one that involved car engines, we see a reflection of unfaithful involvement with life in his disturbed yet deliberate movement. Who is this man; one may ask. There are blatant contradictions in his existence. Who is this being who dejects life and then lives only to uphold every law of it? We get our answers, unwoven thread by thread, in Hannes Holme’s A Man Called Ove.

The most fascinating element of this film is the use of space. We not only see the characters associating meanings to a particular space but also get metaphorically represented by it. For instance, the movie hardly shows us panoramic view of the entire space. Mostly, we are kept in the ‘guarded’ and ‘restricted’ space of Ove’s residential colony, his home and during the latter part of the film, his car. The only instances of open space with elements of movement and divergence come in the flashback scenes from Ove’s childhood and adulthood when there were present, reasons for him to escape linearity. This contradiction in the use of space in the representation of past and present tells us about the importance of life in the eyes of this weary old man called Ove. After the death of his wife Sonja, his life has lost any motivation to move beyond the linearity and hence the only space he restricts himself to is the restricted and regimented space of his residence. Moreover, it is only during his budding friendship with Parvaneh that we see the open space of a restaurant or the city road being brought back to his life (Interestingly he relates such openness with the time he used to have with his wife).

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It is hard to deny the metaphorical use of space in the narrative of the film. The one that strikes the most is the train station. It is this space where we see intertwining of Ove’s past, present and a probable future. It is this space that stands for the very nature life; which is nothing but a mosaic of losses and love, of things being built and destroyed. So much so that the moving train almost felt like the ruthless movement of life itself. We are introduced to this space time and again to emphasise on the philosophy that life cannot be contextualised unitarily. It is the semiotic nature of everything that life offers us that makes it beyond every degree human comprehension. One baring example of this can be the scene from Ove’s mother’s funeral.

Lastly, I’ll take this discussion on memories to the use of strong representational symbols. And the one that struck me the most was the cat. Like every morning of life, this cat kept on showing up on Ove’s door, every time more undesirable than before, even after his constant shooing off. As the movie progresses, we can see the changing relationship of the cat with the protagonist that ran parallel to the change in perspective on life that he had. It is when Parvaneh tells him that it is you that have to take care of this cat that I see a bell being rang in Ove’s head telling him that his life shall be engineered by his own volition.

Even though there existed a beautiful sub-narrative that talked about inclusivity and diversity (the fact that Ove became friends with an Iranian refugee and a gay man) it is the natural display of empathy that inspired the screenplay. The very idea that we can delve into each others’ hearts while not being patronising at all speaks volumes about the most important common denominator that we share – humanity.

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How is the New Fascism Different?

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Ippolito Caffi, “Interior of the Colosseum”, 1850s, National Gallery

Fascism has been frequently defined as “the merger of state and corporate power.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Mussolini, though there’s no evidence he said it. Regardless, this soundbite has resonated exists as the most common coherent definition of fascism and works well as a still object against which I can attempt to measure society’s current rapid motion.

The current fascist consolidation isn’t the same as the one that rose in the first half of the 20th century. The earlier fascism rose in a cultural moment of technological ascension that was genuinely convincing. The possibility of utopia seemed real in concrete ways that hadn’t prior; in just a generation the material constraints that had defined humanity had lifted. This possibility also contrasted with what historians of WWI have dubbed “the possibility of total annihilation” and that Eric Hobsbawm discusses in The Age of Extremes-the act of warfare was now the possibility of complete annihilation without even a corpse as a remnant. This tide of fascism was effectively bookended with the ultimate realization of total physical annihilation-the atom bomb. While regional fascisms continued after WWII, fascism in toto was seen until recently as a response to the interwar period. Until 2016 anyway.

What has changed in the interim and how do we need to adjust our understanding of fascism so we can effectively respond to it? I feel like the current situation is primarily driven by two factors: 1) A population that consciously/subconsciously understands that there is a very strong possibility of an extinction event or at least severe version of what evolution science calls “a bottleneck”. 2) The overt merger of corporate and state power being caused by the transition/collapse of capitalism into what I would call competitive feudalism.

Both of these subjects could and have been the core of numerous long books. For brevity’s sake I’m going to lay out the bones of my argument in numbered observations:

1. Fascism in its initial incarnation was Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism/Maoism’s mirror image. Each saw the possibility of social perfection in the broader project of mass industrialization but defined utopia differently. Nazism was aesthetically an attempt by a society to embody the orderly image of standardized mechanical production, as opposed to Stalinism/Maoism’s attempts to rapidly industrialize so that industrialization could be (at least in theory) harnessed for the good of the majority population. This note is strictly referring to the projected self-image of these three movements and not their actualities, which, as we all know, were far messier and eventually catastrophic. The “alt-right” fascism of 2016 was born out of chaos and is happy to project an outward image of chaos-Donald Trump’s bizarre self-contradiction and embrace of domestic terrorist organizations not directly under his command is much closer to Mao’s tactics for consolidating power during the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Hitler’s deification of orderly militarism.

2. The new fascism has grown in a period defined by the proliferation of very possible (probable?) end of human civilization, and possibly life on Earth itself. This would be either through a third world war going nuclear or an unseen multiplier effect to climate change. This isn’t an argument on the probability of either event-their omnipresence in discussion and mass consciousness is more than enough to engender complex and bizarre effects. Increasingly erratic weather can’t help but give a morbid pall to even sunny warm days, particularly when they’re falling in the middle of February. Pretending that the chaotic novelty of recent politics isn’t related to climate change or the clear end of the viability of capitalism just because its adherents claim not to believe in climate change or the potential that capitalism could ever end is ridiculous. The zombie-neoliberalism-professionalism of the Democrats and the lulz-racism-deathcult of the Republicans are both clearly responses to the constant obvious reminders of the very real possibility none of us are going to reach our sell-by date. The Democrats think that rigid adherence to capitalism as it was will rise a dead thing, or worse that technological accelerationism will save us just in the nick of time. The Republicans/neo-fascist parties worldwide think that if they can ritually cleanse society of people/things that annoy them or their constituents (everything from the guy serving them at McDonalds having an accent to invented wars on Christmas) they can return to an imagined and fictional happy equilibrium. Confusing correlation with causation isn’t a result of ignorance but a psychological tool for releasing cognitive dissonance. The feeling of “powerlessness” among young white men is not solely attributable to economic prospects declining but to the larger cultural sense that there very well could not be a future.

3. The new fascism is not a politics of possibility but a politics of exhaustion. It’s not founded in the shadow of imagined utopia but in the shadow of imagined extinction. Hitler had Speer drawing up plans for a grand new Berlin, Trump can’t even say whether he’s going to actually do any of that infrastructure whatever he was vaguely talking about.

4. The ready accessibility of more information than can possibly be processed even by people who spend all day trying to make sense of what’s going on, compounded by the strong probability most of this information is fake or misleading compounds this sense of helplessness. The internet has shifted from an object of liberation hopes to one of Orwellian control that Orwell didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to put together. Instead of a TV that watches us, we have a dispassionate TV where we flail up and down to get its attention-several thousand people do this for a living now. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible

5. The best way to measure this breakdown of public trust in well…the very concept of trust: satire requires a social narrative with clear boundaries regarding what can credibly be accepted as real. These boundaries have broken down. This is the age of #nottheonion, an age featuring traits both of Baudrillard’s simulacra and Debord’s Spectacle, where reality has finally outpaced speculative fiction. We are in the thing after satire and after capitalism, not because either collapsed but because both have triumphantly ascended to omnipresence and by doing so lost the other whose differance defined them.

6. The way that power is distributed through media, due to #4, is basically a thing that can only be mastered by a small group of people with extremely specialized skill sets. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible with representative democracy. The famous line is “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now that everyone ostensibly owns a printing press, outside of the questionable credibility of something going “viral”, access to readership is pretty much entirely a matter of training in and adherence to what were once termed counterinsurgency principles or the money to continually push posts. Access to the kind of AI/data crunching capabilities that allow someone like Robert Mercer to get Donald Trump elected or get Britain to decide to leave the EU cost several million dollars at the bare minimum and is limited to those who have the infrastructure and the highly qualified/extremely limited number of individuals that can run such an operation. The more polarized and scared the country is, the more money Facebook makes.

7. Accordingly, the practice of psychology has revealed itself as being a tool of mass control first and a sort of therapeutic thing second. The part that benefits the ruling classes is not the therapeutic part and much of the “progress” that has occurred in the last 150 years both in the social and hard sciences rewrite society in a manner more akin to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics than a coming tech utopia or “luxury communism”.

8. The fact that the current business model of the largest companies in the country is “disrupt and then take advantage of however long we can maintain a monopoly” speaks to the fact that there isn’t any more space for capital to expand. The fact that the capitalist warlords can directly govern now instead of ruling through proxies speaks more to where the country was already headed than any huge seismic shift caused by Trumpism. Much of the country feels powerless because in terms of the broad levers of power, they are. The struggles going on between the tech and oil/old-new money takes on an apocalyptic Twilight of the Idols feel. They’re fighting over who gets to own the pie when the turnover of capitalism settles into a single totalistic owner-subject state not given over to whatever struggles of consolidation in the marketplace are still left.

Day Breaks: Understanding Life’s Journey through Full Circle

Norah Jones has witnessed a magnitude of success that was quite overwhelming for her own devices. What could’ve been just another experimentation of a pseudo jazz artist, developed into this whole new genre of contemporary music that had overlapping tones of pop and blues. Come Away With Me as a record librated Norah from a sculpting phase of an artist where one simply tries to shape oneself to fit the voids carved out by the industry.

The resounding success of her debut studio album led to a series of transcending musical adventures where genres such as country and indie pop were also explored. In a span of four studio albums we saw Norah grow musically with her commercial prowess unable to keep up with such diversification.

It was in 2012, that Norah Jones deviated the most from her self produced ‘style’ and released Little Broken Hearts that brought electronic undertones to both her music and vocals. The mixed reviews from the critics and lukewarm reception from the audience kind of faded Norah’s presence from the music scene for at least four years. She did have a couple of collaborative albums being released with The Little Willies and Billie Joe but both the works were merely covers of classical hits.

So after this history of rise and apogee of Norah Jones’s musical trajectory, how do we perceive her new album. Well, the answer comes from the singer herself.

Day Breaks has been translated as an album that shows the completion of Norah’s full circle. This term is quite intriguing for it not only represents a journey but also the various threads of realisation that a person has imbued while embarking upon it. Like a circle is made up of many points that lead to the meeting of the starting point with the end, a full circle journey is one’s professional or personal travel that crosses various moments with each having its own space and value in the whole.

In the lead single Carry On, Norah goes back to perch behind her piano and belt out a soothing melody about the most ordinary yet unfelt moments of romance. Though the lyrical context has matured, the glimpse of that innocent smile breaking between piano solos is still the same. Day Breaks have given a rebirth to Come Away With Me with a refined flavour of instrumental profoundness. There are welcoming features of organ, double bass and saxophone. This is not just Norah going back to her debut era but it’s also a celebration of what she has become today.

So, how does this full circle album treats us? The very idea of going back to your roots, embracing your beginnings, is potentially very impacting in one’s quest for answers about self. We often tread upon various versions of ourselves and get thrown into this twisted maze of complexities about our own identity. It is during this mayhem, that going full circle becomes an answer to that much needed calmness.

Reiterating it yet again, going full circle doesn’t reflect loss or giving up. Neither does it stand for denying what the present shows itself to be. One should not confuse this idea with lack of prospective thinking or death of creativity. This is because you can never make a circle until you merge all the points. Or you ignore to tap upon them. When you go full circle you not only begin to understand your own evolution as a person but also find yourself at a position where you can objectively differentiate between substance and superficial. You get the power to describe your own history and take pride in what you’ve done. Such constructive approach towards past can build strong foundations for future realisation of one’s potential. Therefore, instead of crumbling walls of pride, going full circle makes you preserve the ones that matter.

One should hardly pay attention to the commercial success of Day Breaks because that’s not what Norah seems to prioritise with this album. This album is a realisation, a celebration that has made us realise what Norah Jones was, is and can potentially blossom into.

 

Picture Credits – Rolling Stones

The Corn Palace

I spent all of last summer on the road, living out of a 1995 Toyota Avalon I bought from a friend’s mother, sleeping on the couches of accommodating relatives, friends, friends of friends, preternaturally Christian strangers, and on the front seats of the 1995 Toyota Avalon I bought from a friend’s mother.

The car was precarious. I got it for $500 and immediately took to making the joke in stand-up routines: “I’ve got a car. A 1995 Toyota Avalon. I got it for 500 bucks because it’s old enough where I can legally be inside of it.” But it made the loop, from upstate NY through the south, up from Texas to Seattle then back across the top.

It wasn’t until I was in Portland Oregon staying with a medical marijuana proprietor that I first heard about The Corn Palace.

While feeding his chickens, Frank and Frank Jr., our host described his own cross country voyage in the opposite direction.

“When you’re going across I-90, there’re all these signs for ‘The Corn Palace’. There really isn’t much else out there. Like some of the rest stops don’t even have gas stations at that point and so I’m looking at it and…I don’t know what the fuck a corn palace is but…you don’t even get radio stations most of the time driving that stretch, so we’re looking at these signs and we’re all excited to get to the Corn Palace. There’re SO MANY SIGNS, And you get there and…it’s just a buncha dead corn glued to a building. There’s fucking nothing! Nothing there.”

My traveling companion and I took notes, certain wherever this Corn Palace was we would finally find America with the big A.

The Corn Palace, or rather THE WORLD’S ONLY CORN PALACE!, was first constructed in 1892 in Mitchell, South Dakota, a small town mostly known for having the world’s only Corn Palace. At the time before the original Corn Palace’s construction Mitchell was known for…well…if I had to guess, probably nothing. By 1905, the presence of the Corn Palace had expanded the small city’s imperial ambitions and a motion was filed to challenge Pierre for the title of capitol city of South Dakota. To butter up whatever committee decides what the capitol of South Dakota is, the Corn Palace was rebuilt in 1905. This campaign failed. I haven’t seen the current state capitol building of South Dakota and therefore can’t say with confidence whether this was for the better. For reasons I don’t have the J-stor access to discern, the Corn Palace was again rebuilt in 1921. The distinctive minarets were added in 1937. Until this year, 2015, they were made out of giant chunks of styrofoam,

The aggressive tone with which Mitchell insists there is no other Corn Palace stinks of a cover-up. What happens if someone, somewhere, builds another Corn Palace? What if there was another Corn Palace but the city of Mitchell contracted Pinkertons to take it out quietly? There may entire abandoned ruins that, once upon a time, had dead corn glued to the side of them. Our knowledge of indigenous American cultures is spotty at best.

It was several weeks before I reached the Palace. When I pulled off I-90 it was clear I’d found the right place. Everything that could have the word Corn Palace tacked in front of it did. I’m not sure of what else the local economy consisted. Perhaps the Corn Palace was sufficient. It seemed so. Towns have been built on the basis of far less.

I approached Mitchell under dulled clouds, the whole of the scene behind a grey film. Past the dumb ceramic cow, past several unremarkable intersections, sat the Palace. It was under renovation. The town mascot, an anthropomorphized ear of corn roughly a head taller than the author named “Cornelius” stood still in the square near the gift shop as though waiting for a dueling partner.

In the gift shop window, the ghosts of tackiness and corn, past, present and future, overlaid. The place by the side of the big road where their portmanteau and heir, his Corniness was born…

I walked the streets slowly. I looked at the Palace in the distance. The Palace was under renovation. The peak season for corn-centered novelty tourism had passed. I saw one of the missing styrofoam minarets on a patch of grass. My phone was dead so I couldn’t get a picture.

Despite its tackiness a certain trepidation still held me entering the Palace interior. I was unsure of guards or, worse, an admissions charge. It started raining. I had no other option. A guy in a mesh baseball cap sat next to a clear plastic box that took donations at the door. The inside of the world’s only Corn Palace:

Through the back doors of the basketball court is a hallway that leads to where the city council has their meetings and the city government offices are.

Later that night I stopped by a local bar and got talking with one of the natives. She’d lived there her whole life. It showed. As I sipped cheap beer she regaled me with the full details of the political intrigue involving the Palace at the exact moment I was there. I remember little; just the way she insisted I’d come at the wrong time, the way she looked up and calmly smiled like Teresa of Avila describing the grandeur of the Palace when it wasn’t under renovation, the picture she showed on her cell phone of the Mayor standing next to Cornelius that left no doubt which of the two of them held the actual political power in Mitchell.

I slept in my car in the Palace parking lot that night as the clouds culminated in violent rains. I started the drive to Madison the following afternoon.

The Space of Not-Knowing: The Internet and Economies of Information

The present is a time of overwhelming access to information. Much of it is contradictory, vague or seemingly meaningless. Far more facts than can ever be processed are available in already digested forms.

Discussions of early Judaism frequently point out the novelty of a community based around a book instead of a geographic proximity. The text translated itself communally over and over, spiraling outward, as the populations themselves drifted into the decentralized pockets of the diaspora. In the fossil record of documents the earliest probable ancestor to the internet is The Talmud.

The internet, like The Talmud, positions the footnote as a corridor in a labyrinth with the invisible everything/nothing of truth (the artist formerly known as God) at its center. It’s the manifestation of emanationism as the spiraling outward as text. The text is meant to beget more text; it orders the universe in footnotes meant to beget more footnotes. Endless commentaries upon commentaries. This is what a Gawker or Cracked does, they’re just not given as much time to write.

This trend continues historically in the Medieval manuscripts’ infamous marginalia. The marginalia’s content is similar to modern social media posts; lots of raucous images of God-only-knows-what and complaints directed toward a possible non-audience that, in some cases, have not been read until now. Some examples:

“New parchment, bad ink. I say nothing more.”

“I am very cold.”

The marginalia exists as the Twitter of the incunabula; the workers’ invisible griping before meme generators and the copy-paste tools’ most direct descendent, the printing press. The printing press and the ability to make relatively cheap and accurate reproductions of photographs in the 20th century led back to the offspring of the medieval marginalia and The Talmuds’ stylistic tendencies while not entirely resembling either.

The printed book, of course, acts as a disciplinary containment facility for information. The editor is “cuts down”, “slashes”, “trims”. The unedited manuscript is undisciplined, wild, free. It resists definition. Like the medieval myth of the unicorn, it runs about unable to be tamed except by a virgin. It is then promptly killed by the hunters of “meaning” and “definitive interpretation.”

The unicorn, in the 1600s, was frequently seen as a translation of the Christ myth.


THE RABBI, THE CLERIC, THE EDITOR, THE ANALYST, THE GATEKEEPERS AGAINST THE SCHIZOPHRENIC HORDES

or

THE GRAMMAR AS A CATECHISM, THE CATECHISM AS A GRAMMAR

The fairly recent obsession with attribution and citation exemplified at its most quantitative extreme in academic style guides is not an historical given, and has or has not been enforced for various reasons throughout history.

The early Hasidic Jewish rabbis, anticipating and joyously embracing what Roland Barthes would later call “The Death of the Author”, paid little attention to issues of attribution; they wished themselves to be transmigrated into the anonymous solidarity of folk tales. Books compiling their tales decades after the fact are filled with cautions in their academic prefaces that original sourcing in many cases can’t be found, that stories and saying in “primary” sources will be frequently attributed to multiple rabbis and that the Rabbis seemed to purposely organize themselves to yield this effect. That these stories are as often started with “Rabbi A said often that Rabbi B” said makes the errand of attribution seem that much more ridiculous.

Like Derrida, they see the world as text. Unlike Derrida, they see this as unambiguously the fount of meaning; the ambiguity is in the meaning. “Meaning” is not monolithic; the belief in God is simply an impetus toward more vigorous reading of the world. It’s said the Ba’al Shem Tov described the Torah as a Rabbi Leibe Moshe tells a parable on “The Value of Not Believing In God”. Another rabbi looks for messages from God in telegraph lines and finds it. Not having the book in front of me I must paraphrase this from memory. But that’s what the rabbis wanted, wasn’t it?

“If God is everywhere, then what does he tell us in the telegraph line?” asks a young man.

“That what’s said here can be heard there,” replies the rabbi.

The learned man, incarnated in the form of the rabbi or translated otherwise, comes to knowledge in order to serves the social goal of gerrymandering the negative space of not-knowing, what can’t be known, what knowledge is false.

Lenny Bruce discussed in a bit which diseases were sexy. He was on to something. The same way people imagine their chances dating celebrities who they don’t and can’t know, certain diseases, especially of the psychological variety, are transformed through semiotic democracy into folk heroes, villains, forces, protective or invasive forces in or around the global village. If charisma is looking like a lot of other people, the charisma of a mental illness exists in its ability to look like a lot of other peoples’ minds.

Schizophrenia is the sexiest disease of the last hundred years. The Marilyn Monroe of pathologies. But while Marilyn’s leggy cheesecake was translated into the moving image schizophrenia’s tantalizing provocations reveal their unapproachable sex in the come-ons of clinical jargon and their transmigration into the vernacular use of the term. The popular understanding of schizophrenia is a parable of the present moment and its relation to the weakening of the social hegemony of the “expert”; in the assaultive media saturation of the present, what’s more relatable than someone screaming at the non-normative voices to stop?

The most popular literary forms of the present is the container; the encyclopedia, the strident simplification. These are defense tactics. The new barbarian horde is the unregulated spiraling outward of text.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

On the NSA

(This is a short story from my recently released spoken word album More Apocalypses That Probably Won’t Happen.)

They had found a way to democratize God. Video and audio and 3D drone scanners recorded everything and stored it in giant digital monoliths. You could have your life flash before your eyes without having to die. They sold tickets and built modest little rooms for stragglers and people needing to sleep.

The eternal recurrence was no longer an abstraction and actually became a popular activity among drunken college students and in fraternity hazing rituals. Some came out traumatized but no more than had with psychedelic drugs. Most found it very calming and looked at everything from a wider distance in the future.

Theological figures of all sorts flocked in droves to the machine despite their jealousy of it. Some mockingly compared the experience to absurd contraptions like the orgone box or 8 track tape deck but no one took these criticisms seriously. It was a new era, the thing to come and replace the internet entirely the way the internet had phased out physical media. It was a form of all consuming narcissism penitent enough to be acceptable and soon it would take over everything. People would walk into the machine multiple times consecutively to feel as though falling through an endlessly recursive series of paintings. Dope was legal by then and indulgences were frequently combined. Medic tents run by religious cults like the ones outside Grateful Dead concerts in years past now sat outside the machine with tea and cookies and orange juice. An amphitheater was built and over several summers they came to have a respectable free concert series. Reality seemed more and more to resemble Jones Beach; innumerable perfectly spaced garbage cans in the sand, the tide receding…

Alas we were the way we were and we are the way we are and the window was short and you can’t do that anymore. And now we all wonder what the next thing will be.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

Money Hates Your Heineken and Wants to Fuck

 

money-case-163495_1280“You can get money for blood,
Blood money for doing no good,
But they won’t take my love for tender”
-Elvis Costello, Clean Money
“Pimp put on weight from fighting them off,
In the mall, you see it and like it, it’s yours,
Thats a nice fit, you ain’t gotta price, shit,
I pays for it like the mics in The Source”
-J Dilla, Won’t Do
“Defendant testified that even though both Plaintiff and her mother told him that all they wanted was an apology, he called Plaintiff’s home and spoke to her mother to offer money for Plaintiff’s ‘education.'”
“One never could ‘buy’ indulgences. The financial scandal surrounding indulgences, the scandal that gave Martin Luther an excuse for his heterodoxy, involved alms—indulgences in which the giving of alms to some charitable fund or foundation was used as the occasion to grant the indulgence. There was no outright selling of indulgences.”
“You got one that’s cool,
Nowadays everybody got two, that’ll do,
but I need another one,
and another one”
-J Dilla, Won’t Do
“… Further, it is anticipated that discovery will reveal that various business associates were aware of Defendant’s actions and not only failed to warn Plaintiff but actively participated in her victimization.”
“It was the ’70s, everybody—people did this. And there it all was: monsters, rock-and-roll, a spooky castle, leather jackets, motorcycles, cannibalism, polymorphous perversion, and, as promised, ‘lots of larfs and sex!'”
“When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?”
-Allen Ginsberg, America
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Money as cleansing baptism. (Screencap from Duck Tales. copyright: Disney Corporation)

A map published of the terms most used in searching for pornography in the United States shows the Republican areas surrounding the Stand Your Ground state of Florida searching the term “ebony”. Florida’s top search term is “cream pie.”In a similar manner, money’s most closeted desire and intensely focused lust revolves around its own miscegenation. It wants to make markets with anything and anyone, but in the privacy of globalization. The “developing world” is the bathroom where money jerks off for fear of anyone seeing it. Globalization is the sex tourism of the thing without sex.

Its sexuality intermingles with its castration anxiety in a potent stew that pushes the dialectic of the personal and private toward new extremes. What was once termed “the denial” is now also the confession; this is the true meaning of Orwell’s “doublespeak.” Linguistic obfuscation is so widespread as to replace its opposite and become meaningless.

internet-1593384_1280

To he who hath all shall be given. To he who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away.

The social chameleon, the method actor, the corporate sociopath, the confidence man and their overlaps. All embody the deeply shared dream of complete elasticity of identity.This is why we obsess over them.

Marx calls money “the universal equivalent“. McLuhan frames it as a thing that translates objects and puts them into rigid spacial relations in the manner of the printed word. It’s a translation tool the way a map translates the environment. With urban planning, the map comes to replace the primacy of the environments it initially describes as the money takes centrality over the use-value of the products it translates.

The beloved method actors (Streep, Nicholson etc) have two primary characteristics at the center of their styles: 1) they seem able to “become” anyone, 2) in doing so they tend to also dominate their environment.

Performers who can translate themselves with perfect fluidity so as to dominate their environment.

The ultimate Oscar bait role is that of the currency.


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Memory wipe.

I searched “money” on Google images today and 90% of the results were either:

1) Stacks of it arranged to resemble architecture, the urban environment in back-translation.

2) Pictures of it in rolls unintentionally resembling paper towels or intentionally like toilet paper.

Money is a cleaning product. It allows us to get dirty without lasting consequence.

We dream of being baptized in it and reborn like Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s greatest sin, the reason he had to die, was that his money was “false.”

Money baptizes and cleans by making things real. Telling people I shot a film for $53, they frequently respond “Oh, ok, I thought you meant a real movie.”

I’m in my mid-20s. People ask me all the time:

“So when are you going to get a real job?”

Robert Ashley states it best:

“Television is neither true nor false.
It’s industry.
Television made without industry…
Alone, in a word…
Can cause a sinking feeling.
There can be a loss of trust.
Fear not darkness, i.e.,
Not industry.
Nor your own…
Desire.
Everybody works to be a part of industry.
To be a part of industry is to be real.
If you’re a part of industry, both in your
Industriousness and in the nature of your work,
There is a chance that everybody will like your work,
Because it is a part of industry.
And things that are not a part of industry
Are not possible to like.
Likeability is less important than
Recognition by the industry.
‘N that’s a reason to be serious.”
Capitalism is a Catholicism that runs entirely on indulgences. The calls of the neolibertarians are an argument for its secular divine right.

“SKINNY” IS AMERICA
 Charles Atlas.jpg

You’ve all probably seen this ad before.

It works entirely in visual reversals organized like an onion. The first and last panels are mirrors, as are the second and second to last. Skinny becomes “real” by literally becoming the bully in different colored shorts.

And the little ball at the center of the onion, the self-creation of the image. Skinny can’t be sure he’s ready to return to the beach for revenge until going through Lacan’s mirror.

The dream is colorful and draws the eye. The actual Charles Atlas, black and white and quite possibly dead by the time this ad was printed, can hardly compete. The top half is the promised wish-fulfillment of the image; the bottom its translation into the then language of the preceding era, an era as dead as Charles Atlas, the massive block of text.

Of course the all caps “YOU” next to Atlas’s head is the missing double to the cartoon’s unpaired image of the mirror. The second person is the written word’s invitation to style ourselves in its carefully distorted reflection.

The male and female reader will validly and subconsciously read the seemingly empty female character legitimately but differently the same way I don’t look like you in a mirror just because we both looked into it.

The female reader sees her as the prize being fought over, the man sees her as the emperor in the gladiator’s arena giving the thumbs up or down.

How do MRAs feel oppressed and not silly? That’s how.

The woman here and elsewhere in the terrain of mass media-the invisible-visible specter of social rejection. Skinny can give the bully a “love-tap” actively but only passively hope for the approval of the supposed thing he actively desires. In the possessive male gaze: the anxiety nothing is looking back.

The beds have been changed but the dreams haven’t.

America initially existed as the fervent prayer there might be a world elsewhere. The denial of the utopia only seems to increase its absent presence as a ghost floating over the proceedings of existence.

We look at America and see ourselves or our absence and little else.


wickedwitchmirror

The mirror does not return out gaze.

A new sort of capital is fought over in the distorted photocopy of class war that dominates the present-the careful, controlled distribution of assertions against the anxiety of non-existence.

Defined functionally: the “like” button, the “upvote”. The strike of the current moment is the consumer strike.

To go back to the beginning of this series of articles, I again ask myself of the Reddit strike: “Why didn’t they consider it a strike? Why wasn’t the thing they wanted compensation?”

I answer this time: the Reddit strikers were asking for were improved conditions in their corner of the internet, the factory where they work all day consuming things. They self-define as consumers. They revolt on these lines. Internet revolts are revolts of the consumer. They ask for their favorite TV shows to be renewed, they fight ardently for equality in the space of image production. The first and most ardently protected part of Occupy Wall Street was the “Media Working Group”. When the park grew they eventually escaped the park into the privacy of an office.

McLuhan mentions in Understanding Media: “When the Spaniards were besieging Leyden in 1574, leather money was issued, but as hardship increased the population boiled and ate the new currency.”

Cannibalism has always been most rich as a metaphor. Fully commodified man, the product sold to advertisers, has become money walking. He can only revolt by eating himself alive.

Toward the Thing After Occupy: Pastiche, Parodic Capitalism, and the Need For New Resistances

There is great divide in the world. This divide is between the people who consider a large portion of the population disposable and everyone else.

These are the lines on which we must resist.

There is a great divide in the left. This divide is between those embracing the tactics of structuralism and those embracing the tactics of post-structuralism.

This is a false divide with many subdivisions mostly borne out of a failure of those on either broadly defined post of this division to do their homework, or the sentimental attachment to old or new ideas.
I write to the Marxists: are the old tactics actually working right now or are they the rain god you’re hoping will return?

I write to the post-structuralists: are the theoretical contributions of Judith Butler/Jacques Derrida really a thing to be constrained to discussions of gender?

And in structuring these replies I realize I’m making something of a false equivalency-in my experience, having performed both roles in these repetitive arguments at separate times, the greater pushback has been from the old guard. This pushback, driven by a false nostalgic desire for a return to the old lines of resistance or possibly the more selfish reason of wanting to seem “correct” in conversation, creates dialectic pushback from the oppressed groups (LGBTQ etc.) that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, have not always been well-served by the economically self-defining factions of the left.

The LGBTQ actors have adapted their tactics to the cultural logic of the present and as such have been racking up victories all over. We ignore their readings and lessons only if we wish to remain stuck in the same bars with the same dull Trotsky-ites until the last bit of capital is consolidated and accumulated.

PRECURSORS TOWARD POST-FORDIST MARXISM(S)

Some of the groundwork toward the synthesis I’m attempting to reach in this essay has already been done by academics like David Harvey in his essential The Condition of Postmodernity and in numerous essays by Fredric Jameson. Both are firmly academics and as such have a tendency in their writing to limit themselves, for better or worse, to the descriptive. However, both are excellent at describing things, and we must use what we can figure out how to use in their work.

The thing I want to use here is Harvey’s macro-economic transliteration of the ground rules of postmodern society-Post-Fordism. The concept being:

The old industrialism was based in the mass production of a limited number of items to be sold to a broad audience (Fordism). The new industrialism focuses on the small-scale production of a wide variety of niche items for specialized buyers (Post-Fordism).

The tech industry is thoroughly Post-Fordist, though the parts we engage with most frequently would seem more given over to Fordism. That the tech-industry seems to be the only growth industry in the country besides surveillance/security and various pop-up markets catering to the niche desires of the rich creates a problem for the traditional means towards Marxist revolution-there is no factory left to create a geographically proximate massing of the workers.

In fact, almost the inverse of what was predicted has happened. Many of the anxieties of the United States regarding Soviet communism-that the architecture would all be bland and samey, the emergence of mass incarceration and a totalistic surveillance state, even the bread line has reemerged in parodic form in the consumer frenzy surrounding the opening nights of superhero films. In neoliberal USA, the aesthetics of Stalinism are the privilege of the ruling class.

The takeaways from Post-Fordism as a construct are twofold:

1) Neoliberalism is the economic and urban planning rollout of the internal logic of the post-modern period of history in which we are all enmeshed. Late capitalism in Marxist terms and the stuff Baudrillard was talking about in Simulacra and Simulation are different descriptions of the same phenomena.
2) The factory as the locus of organized resistance and the forms of organization that stem from that aren’t gonna cut it right now.

POSSIBLE POST-STRUCTURALIST FORMS OF LABOR RESISTANCE

The genius of Judith Butler’s theoretical writing that can be applied here is the assertion that the performative identity can function as a form of revolt.

So it would seem the next logical steps are to assert that work is performative and to ask then “How do you perform labor in a way that resists?”

Except for the fact that tons of people are un(der)employed or otherwise marginalized. We want them in the revolution too. So the question expands to “How do we subvert work/un(der)employment/categories I’m probably forgetting through subversive acts of said reified categories as performance?”

I’ll go into that in Pt. 2. Obviously this is a lot of new ground to cover. Any ideas/thoughts/suggestions complaints will be taken generously in the spirit of the dialectic. Until then, see y’all tomorrow.

Guest post by Daniel Levine. Photo by Daniel Levine. Etc etc. He has a book out. He lives on rice cooker food. For the price of said book, he eats out of his rice cooker another day. You should buy it so he can keep writing this stuff. 

The Landscaping of Neoliberalism

Last summer I traveled the United States with my friend Brian in a beat to shit car sleeping on peoples’ couches. We were trying to find what the United States are right now and make a film about it. Much of what this involved was walking around random towns and cities photographing buildings or their absence.

Though initially expecting the film to be a requiem and an exercise in dreamy bleakness, some part of me also expected and hoped to come to some great eureka moment; to figure out that the situation wasn’t as dire on the whole as I presumed it was. And in some way it did this at the same time as it deepened my sense of the bleakness.

The first thing people ask when you get home from wandering and mention you slept on peoples’ couches is “Wow, weren’t you afraid? There’re a lot of creeps out there.” The people whose couches Brian and I slept on were universally some of the kindest most generous people I’ve ever met. The people who asked me this question would waffle when I’d discuss the place of the police after Baltimore. They’re afraid of each other but not the cops, the banks, the actual predatory vultures in the society.

Obviously this is a problem.

Every place we went to had drastically divided slums and places of wealth except the places where the wealth had all left or pushed the slums to the outside of the town.

I’d describe sacrifice zones like Cherokee, North Carolina or Greenwood, Mississippi. The former is an indigenous reservation I can only compare to a science fiction version of Harlem where the only feasible local economy centered around selling Sambo merchandise. The latter resembles the AP photographs of Iraq after a bombing. And after my description, the listener would invariably say “Didn’t you feel nervous and unsafe there?”

Oddly enough I really didn’t. I felt sad, I felt disgusted with the conditions, but I never felt unsafe.

The place in the country I felt the least safe was in the town near Seattle where Bill Gates lives: Medina, Washington, what could only be referred to as a wealth ghetto. Nearly all the houses are surrounded by giant gates with obvious military grade surveillance systems attached. Despite there being an ostensibly public beach, public parking near it was limited to 30 minutes. There are signs around the town saying “You Are Entering a 24 Hour Surveillance Area”.

Despite all this, Brian and I managed to get two interviews with people on the beach. Wandering through the worst sacrifice zones of the South, the looks on peoples’ faces were mostly those of masked pains. The Medina beach was filled with very well dressed people whose faces projected empty contempt. A man worth at least several million dollars was riding a fancy bicycle attached to two giant floaties in the water. There was no sense of community, of interrelations between people. No sense of purpose or a point. Just paranoia and lawns so perfectly manicured they could only bring to mind the heavy makeup on a corpse.

Like many suburbs, the stringent zoning and landscaping laws are clearly meant to keep out “the rabble.” They isolate themselves so they can’t see the horrors of the world when they are the fount of them.

I suppose the reason I felt far more comfortable around the poor is that they’ve been through shit. They’ve been out in the wilderness for a couple days and know that while it’s not fun they’ll survive. The rich don’t know this and grow anxious for the time they’ll get to lash out at their own shadows. They institute the hallmarks of fascism first as a means toward “security” but ultimately as sport.

THE MICROSOFT CAMPUS

A friend gave us a tour of the main Microsoft campus in Redmond. This, along with similar campuses run by companies like Google etc., displays the logic of the new middle class workplace.

Pretty much the entire town of Redmond is just the Microsoft campus. This is a soft micro-fascist state, a thing that looks like a town but where the mayor can kick you out if he doesn’t like you and leave you in exile. You have to sign in and out to get into it. No one who isn’t financially useful to the literal dictatorship of capital is encouraged to enter. If we hadn’t had my friend there’s no way in hell we could’ve gotten in.

The employees are under just as heavy surveillance as the employees at the Dollar General across the street from me, maybe even heavier surveillance, but the techniques of soft behaviorism are more sophisticated. When we got to the cafeteria all of the options on the menus were coded by healthiness. My debit card stripe had given out by that point in the road trip, so I tried to pay for my lunch with cash and I was told they don’t handle cash there. The only reason you wouldn’t handle cash in a cafeteria like that is because, with the attached risk in dietary habits re: paying out health benefits to employees, you’d want to track what they eat.

The Microsoft Campus is to the workplace as Medina is to the town. Every seemingly positive or “cool” thing given to employees is carefully calculated to maximize profit. The employees, politically, realize that their communications are being read and were mostly entirely silent on the Snowden thing according to my sources who I can’t name because they’d get in trouble and they know it. To think that if circumstances became such that computer programmers had an excess labor surplus, the mechanisms are there to turn it into a pretty ugly place pretty quickly.

This is the landscape of the future-tiny pockets of paranoia and neoliberalism feudalism with nice stuff for the few, vast open wastelands of neoliberal feudalism for the rest.

Guest post by Daniel Levine. All photos by Daniel Levine, copyright 2014, all rights reserved. His first book Every Time I Check My Messages, Somebody Thinks I’m Dead is available in paperback.

Pictures of America With Captions: A Photo Essay, Part One

(First of a several part photo essay based on the shooting of Plain Songs by Daniel Levine with Brian Spellman. Enjoy.)

In a small town called Salem. Mostly farms. Nearest gas station is 20 minutes away.

In a small town called Salem. Mostly farms. Nearest gas station is 20 minutes away.

Building in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY.

Building in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY.

It was very hard to film in malls because all malls consider themselves to be high risk terrorism targets, even if they only have two or three still functioning storefronts and no anchor. In ten to fifteen years shopping malls will no longer exist.

It was very hard to film in malls because all malls consider themselves to be high risk terrorism threats, even if they only have two or three still functioning storefronts and no anchor. In ten to fifteen years shopping malls will no longer exist.

On the road Brian and I saw a lot of graffiti relating to the recent middle eastern wars on the windows of parked vans and on buildings and in alleyways.

On the road Brian and I saw a lot of graffiti relating to the recent middle eastern wars on the windows of parked vans and on buildings and in alleyways.

The midwest is filled with abandoned mines. The residents often mention that the unfiltered tap water is dangerous to drink. Oddly though in between small towns there will frequently be billboards advertising water parks.

The midwest is filled with abandoned mines. The residents often mention that the unfiltered tap water is dangerous to drink. Oddly though in between small towns there will frequently be billboards advertising water parks.

 

Some towns were mostly abandoned or demolished buildings. This one used to call itself the cotton capital of the United States.

Some towns were mostly abandoned or demolished buildings. This one used to call itself the cotton capital of the United States.

The entire town of Bayou Korne in Louisiana has been evacuated for roughly two years because of an oil drilling accident that created the country's largest sinkhole. People drive through. It's a remarkably well preserved ghost town.

The entire town of Bayou Korne in Louisiana has been evacuated for roughly two years because of an oil drilling accident that created the country’s largest sinkhole. People drive through. It’s a remarkably well preserved ghost town.

Valparaiso used to host the main factory producing Orville Redenbacker microwave popcorn. Though the factory closed three years ago the town stills holds an annual Orville Redenbacker Festival with live music and memorializes him in this bench statue.

Valparaiso used to host the main factory producing Orville Redenbacker microwave popcorn. Though the factory closed three years ago the town stills holds an annual Orville Redenbacker Festival with live music and memorializes him in this bench statue.

The specter of racial tension still lies over Birmingham Alabama but now takes a much more mournful introspective tone. A sculpture garden dedicated to Martin Luther King's march there is in a church nearby the church that was built after the 1953 bombing.

The specter of racial tension still lies over Birmingham Alabama but now takes a much more mournful introspective tone. A sculpture garden dedicated to Martin Luther King’s march there is in a park near the church that was built after the 1953 bombing.

The Mormon culture in Utah represents the most advanced utopian advance of the Weberian Protestant Ethic. The streets are empty by 9pm. A few bars cater mostly to children of Mormons who cut off their parents when they reached adulthood. They dress like people did at ska shows in the 1990s.

The Mormon culture in Utah represents the most advanced utopian advance of the Weberian Protestant Ethic. The streets are empty by 9pm. A few bars cater mostly to children of Mormons who cut off their parents when they reached adulthood. They dress like people did at ska shows in the 1990s.