Sunday, December 16, 2007

Temporary Service Interruption

Well, due to a number of factors - new job, dead computer, internet server problems - there may be a bit of a hiatus here at the New Ennui. Service will be back to normal before year end, at which time I will regail you with a review of the Thomas Bernhard biography, the completion of the Houellebecq post, as well as a cheerless year end review.

And if you've been trying to contact me, no I'm not avoiding people - I just haven't received your messages. (I'm typing this on a borrowed computer and was shocked by the number of messages I missed.)

Tom K.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Deeper into Movies 2

5 Points on Children of Men

1) One can develop a genre of film called “English Apocalyptic” which is characterized by the juxtaposition of ruin and the quotidian simultaneously, I.e. giant scorpions nestling around Stonehenge, Yeti sitting in a Tube Station toilet (to use one actor’s example), etc. Daily life continues, the buses are still running (how whistful that must seem post 7-11), there are places called Hackney; its just that the world’s going to end.* In film, at least, one could construct a genealogy that might start with (this is a little arbitrary) The Day the Earth Caught Fire, in which Rumpole of the Bailey sweats in his newspaper office while the planet grinds inexorably to a halt. Derek Jarman would deserve a chapter of his own in this history: Jubilee (which was brought to mind during Children’s scenes in London, with trash mounds piling around the caff which is then bombed, as well as the casual brutality of the police, though this may not be a purely filmic attribute) and The Last of England (the boat sailing into unknown waters), as well as other films, take a certain delirious, despairing jouissance in putting Little England under an aesthetic pressure cooker to see what comes out. (Pun not intended.) Children of Men adds to this genre (maybe so does 28 Days - I haven’t seen the sequel) by making the apocalypse a background issue, a given.

2) It was a stroke of genius on somebody’s part (I’m tended to point to the script writers - all four of them! - rather than P. D. James, but I haven’t read the book) to make the epidemic of planetary infertility and miscarriages without cause. Presumably, if we knew why it happened, we could know how to stop it. Here, instead, it is an assumed condition, again, a given, even if it is only eighteen years down the line.** The speech that the former obstetrician gives in the abandoned school is particularly moving; the end of the world comes incrementally, little by little until suddenly, poof!

3) The refugee camp is a particularly elegant synthesis of the last twenty years of biopolitics; in fact, that is what this whole movie is about, really.

4) Even though the boat Tomorrow does make an appearance at the end, there were a tense few minutes for me when it was unclear if the boat would ever arrive at all. This was compounded by the fact that, as Clive Owen’s character is dying, they actually seem to be moving further and further away from the buoy! And I need hardly point out, the boat never actually picks them up!

5) Great cinematic moments: Joshua Clover has pointed out the blood splatter on the lens during the tracking shots on the bus in the fugee camp; it is as great a formal innovation as whichever film it was in the 60’s or 70’s that had sunlight reflected into the lens, partially obscuring the shot. And hats off to Clive Owen! (All of the actors, really.) The scene where he is showing the girl how to comfort the baby by acting it out was astonishing, not the least for the look of hopeless joy on his face as he does so. (Tears welled up in this here viewer’s eyes.)

A word or two about Deeper Into Movies: Blog postings have been particularly irregular of late, for a number of reasons, and promised follow-ups never materialize, or are finished absurdly late. Part of the reason is my own laziness, sure, the other is that my tendency is to want to make some sort of definitive statement. (This is why what was supposed to be a two page set of reflections on Houellbecq is turning into a long, interminable essay.) So the intention here is to a create a number of series that will comprise of short or shortish reviews that make no claim to comprehensiveness (nor necessarily coherence.) Maybe just a way to get things off my chest, ok, but here’s a potential list. We’ll see how it goes:
Deeper into Movies: films, videos, dvd’s, reactions of articles or books about films. (Title cribbed from Pauline Kael by way of Yo La Tengo.)
My Life in Art: visual arts, galleries, etc. (A Mojave 3 song, I believe.)
Put the Book Back on the Shelf: fiction, poetry, philosophy, cultural and social theory. (Unseemly ripped from Belle and Sebastian, I’m afraid.)
Music Non Stop: records, gigs, etc. (Not a very original title, is it? Anyone who comes up with something better should let me know.)

* Has anyone read Shelia Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism? I have a hunch that it does more ideological work that Zizek give it credit for.
** But then again, we’ve only had 7 years of the War on Terror, and checking my carry-on luggage for sharp objects before boarding a plane has become second nature already. We might be all a little bored with the emphasis on micro politics, but it is never the less the case that, like it or not, ideology functions as much in the interstices of the quotidian as it does in the Event. And what’s great about Children of Men is that there is no apocalyptic event, only the possibility of a redemptive one. And just as we have no idea why children became globally extinct, we have no idea why this one West African girl (could be Dizzee Rascal’s sister) suddenly is able to get pregnant. (Yes, I know where babies come from.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Deeper Into Movies 1

TCM Commits Treasonous Acts

Battle of Algiers: a more apt movie given the Iraq and soon-to-be Iran situation is hard to imagine. Brave of TCM to screen a film that is actually pro-Islamic terrorist, ending with Algerian independence, but not before we see French soldiers torturing possible FLN collaborators, fellow travelers, people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And the glorious ending, with the women’s ululations calling to mind the apocalyptic quality that attracted William Burroughs to jajouka musicians. The mass movement of spontaneous determination (Badiou’s fidelity to the Event? Agemben’s coming of the “whatever” being?) as stirring as the revolutionary surge of energy that closes I Am Cuba.

Pontecorvo’s fluid camera, panning and moving throughout the crowded Algerian streets. The streaming light after the last of the FLN core group are blown to pieces, along with the building in which they are hiding. (At least the French army had the good graces to evacuate the building before flattening it, unlike some armies we could mention…) Colonel Mathieu (played with reptilian grace by Jean Martin) as ultimate colonial enforcer, down to his open-secret admission that, yes, we are torturing people to get information out of them. (There’s even a waterboarding scene!!) And the independence movement triumphs over the occupiers!!!!!!

Bizarrely enough, apparently the film was screened at the Pentagon in 2003, although what that aggregate of criminals thought has not been made public.* Even more bizarrely, Danny de Vito chose it as part of the guest interviewees that TCM is having this month. And, even, even more bizarrely, it was followed by David Lean’s sark-fest Kwai Me a River, or something to that effect.


I am still working on the follow-up to the Houellbecq post, the first of which needs some heavy editing. A lot of it was written in a white heat - hence the MS Works inspired word surrealism in places. (I really, really hate predicative text.) And more on Inland Empire should be coming up soon too. Oh God, that bloody whistling song from Big British Soldiers Don't Kwai is coming on, so I better go change the freakin’ channel!


* According to the Wikipedia entry, Richard Clarke and Michael Sheehan discuss Algiers’s depiction of terrorism in the Criterion DVD, which is almost worth paying the $100 which seems to be the going rate for Criterion DVDs.

Monday, October 15, 2007

“The Moral Tedium of Immortality”: Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island Part 1

This was originally one post, but it is already way too long; so, in the interest of legibility, I'm breaking it up into separate posts (admittedly, some of which remain to be written.) Anyways, this part is introductory and diegetical; the next one(s) will be more analytical. Anyways, here goes:

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Michel Houellebecq is not a nice man or a particularly cheerful author. It is not incumbent on authors to conduct their personal lives with particular aplomb, but the fixity of Houellebecq’s obsessions lead, Siren-like, to perils of psycho-biographical speculation. Certainly, since the well-known warnings provided by Barthes and Foucault, speculating on the man behind the book(s) is tantamount to committing a cardinal hermeneutical error, so let’s not go there. For those who want to, there’s this.

On the other hand, Barthes in particular warned of translating a collection of texts into an overarching oeuvre, especially one signified by a proper name. This is a harder temptation to avoid, given that there does seem to be an underlying trajectory that moves from Whatever, Elementary Particles, Platform to his most recent The Possibility of an Island. If the first novel consolidated the affectless, misanthropic (misogynistic and racist to boot) in a spirited ventriloquism of Camus’s L’Étranger, the next two novels would set in motion the philosophical preoccupation that find a kind of culmination in Island: “the suicide of the west.”
Diegetically, Island has two (possibly three) narrative threads centred on the monologues of two (or three, or actually one) characters: “Daniel1” (or Daniel) is the archetypal Houellebecq character - he (it is always a he) is alienated from his family, regards his career with a mixture of disdain and horror, views most women (the younger the better) as contemptible sex objects, is prone to fits of apocalyptic despair and abstract musings on the biochemical foundations of contemporary society, itself viewed as alternating between sexual orgy and arid loneliness. His story is, until the epilogue, the vehicle for which the other two (actually one) narrative serve as tenors. These narratives / this narrative is / are told by “Daniel24” and “Daniel25,” Daniel1’s clones three thousand years in the future; Daniel24 breaking off his narrative as his “present incarnation” deteriorates beyond repair, to be taken up again by Daniel25, who more or less begins where 24 left off.*

As I mentioned before, Daniel1’s narrative follows a similar arc as that followed by the protagonists of Elementary Particles and Platform. Daniel1 is a “comedian” who becomes celebrated and wealthy for his scabrous, frequently racist and misogynist. He becomes very well-known as a cutting observe of contemporary reality” and (a little far-fetched this bit) a “humanist,” although he admits that his humanism is “built on very thin foundations: a vague outburst against tobacconists, an allusion to the corpses of negro clandestines [sic] cast up on the Spanish coasts” which gain him a further “reputation as a lefty and a defender of human rights.” Daniel1 is sufficiently self-aware, or cynical, to hold all of this at arm’s length. He engages in a love affair of sorts with a woman named Isabella, a successful editor of Lolita, a magazine that skirts pedophilic imagery with its unquestioning (and deeply creepy) celebration of Youth at the expense of Age. (This will be a recurrent theme in the novel.) They move to Spain, have a child and Daniel1 falls out of love with her, disenchanted by the inevitable ravages of time on her body. They part, and Daniel1 takes part in a seminar held by the Church of Elohim (Elohimites, or the “Very Healthy Ones”, as he puts it.)** As a celebrity (a minor one, he keeps insisting), Daniel1 is treated as a VIP, along with a Parisian artist Vincent Greilsamer, and is introduced to the inner circle of the Elohimites. Disappointed by the lack of sexual activity, Daniel1 returns to Spain, meets Vincent in Pairs who bewilders Daniel1 with a phantasmagorical display of happiness in his basement, and plans a fake snuff film which he suspects he will never finish. Reviewing actresses in Spain, he comes across Esther (whom he creepily nicknames “Belle”, although never to her face). She is half his age and seemingly without inhibition or affect. Pages and pages and pages of sex take place. (I admit to skimming over the endless details of blowjobs etc. Fellatio seems to have a particular place of status in the Houellebecq Imaginary.) Daniel1 admits to feeling love for Esther, but, after awhile, signs on for another course with the Elohimites. The quasi-hippy encampment is gone, replaced by machine-gun toting guards and twelve young Brides of the Prophet, one of whom performs fellatio (enough already!) on the Prophet, whose fear of aging is palpable. Daniel1 is once again accompanied by Vincent, who has fallen in love with Sarah, one of the Brides. Various rituals are enacted, and Daniel1 is shown the great secret of the Elohim Church - scientific experiments (under the direction of “Knowall” as the narrator calls him) into cloning and the transfer of psychological data (memory, personality) into the cloned body in order to preserve life infinitely. Daniel1 is inducted into even stranger matters till: the Prophet, whose sexual appetites are not confined to the Brides, is killed in a fit of jealousy by one of his followers, who commits suicide. The Plot is hatched: Vincent, who reveals that he is the Prophet’s son from an earlier dalliance in footloose 1960’s California (Houellebecq’s Patient Zero, if you like), suggests that he take the Prophet’s place as “proof” that Knowall’s experiments are successful. Murders are committed, bodies dispatched, and, with the world’s media assembled, the Hoax begins. Without any great display of moral outrage, a stunned Daniel1 returns to Spain and, he thinks, to Esther. He has also left the Church with a sample of his DNA in order to ensure his silence.

Esther has kept herself busy and, while still engaging Daniel1 in sexual trysts (mercifully brief descriptions this time around), has clearly developed a life of her own. Daniel1 longs to be a part:

I remember an evening, it could have been 10 p.m., there were a dozen or so of us in a car and everyone was talking with great animation about the merits of various clubs, the ones that were more house, the others more trance. For ten minutes, I was dying to say to them that I, too, wanted to enter this world, to have fun with them, to stay up all night; I was ready to beg them to take me. The, by accident, I saw my reflection in a window, and I understood. I looked my forty something years; my face was careworn, stiff, marked by the experience of life, by responsibilities and sorrows; I didn’t look at all look someone you could imagine having fun; I was condemned.

In desperation, Daniel1 returns to Paris, where he meets Vincent (the new Prophet) again, who is slowly developing a more corporate atmosphere (in contrast to the self-indulgently hippy commune of the previous Prophet) for the Church. He returns again to Spain, where he learns that Esther has been given a part in a movie to be shot in America. A party is arranged that swiftly becomes an orgy; Daniel1 is rejected over and over again and sinks into alcoholic misery. He leaves and, with Vincent’s recommendation, begins writing his “life story,” including the events at the Church of Elohim. He re-unites with Isabella and both of them, for a time, commiserate with each other on wasted opportunities and the increasing approach of their own deaths. Daniel1 expounds on the Elohimites’ promise of immortality and she agrees to give the Church a sample of her DNA as well as her estate after she dies: “’Immortality then…,’ she said. ‘It would be like a second chance.’”

At this point, Daniel1’s narration becomes abstract, trying to pass over years over the Church’s steady rise to prominence, eclipsing Christianity and Islam. (Houellebecq does not resist the temptation to make some nasty remarks about the latter.) All of this is due to Vincent’s deft combination of corporate savvy and a strong sense of what J. G. Ballard described as the “spinal landscape”; by providing Western Civilization with the dreams it needs, the Church’s rise to power is, with careful administration, inevitable. Isabella, in the mean time, has killed herself following her mother’s death. Daniel1, now completely without meaningful human contact, drifts around Spain and France and more and more into Vincent’s spell, as the promise of immortality provides him with what he feels he signally lacks - hope. He tries to contact Esther again, who rebuffs him and, as we learn indirectly, commits suicide.

I am not usually given over to extensive plot summaries, but this main narrative is importantly supplemented by the narrative of Daniel24/25. This narrative is simple enough, until the very end: Daniel24, deteriorating, communicates to Marie22 in “code” (actually, rather bad poetry that I can only hope is a translation problem rather than anything else) until Marie22 is replaced by Marie 23. Daniel24 dies and is replaced by Daniel25 who continues his task of providing “commentary” on Daniel1’s “life story.” Marie23 leaves the protective enclosure in which the “neohumans” reside and, after awhile so does Daniel25. He attempts to travel to what was once Lanzarote (site of the original Church of Elohim) where a colony of neohumans is rumored to exist. He encounters humans and is repelled by their social habits (including, inevitably, a description of the their mating behaviour) until he reaches what was once the Mediterranean. Able to survive on the mineral salts provided by the seawater, Daniel25 estimates that he will live for another sixty years before ceasing to exist forever.
At one point, Daniel25 gives a description of what the neohumans believe, worth citing in full as it contains the germ of the entire novel:

In the beginning was created the Supreme Sister, who is the first. Then were created the Seven Founders, who created the Central City. If the teachings of the Supreme Sister are the basis of our philosophical theories, the political organization of the neohuman communities owes almost everything to the Seven Founders; but it was only, by its own true admission, an inessential parameter, conditioned by biological evolutions, which had increased the functional autonomy of the neohumans, as much as by historical shifts, already widely begun in previous societies, that led to to the withering away of relationship functions. The reasons that led to a radical separation between neohumans have nothing absolute about them, and everything indicates that this took place only in a gradual manner, probably over the course of several generations. To tell the truth, total physical separation constitutes a possible social configuration, comparable with the teachings of the Supreme Sister, and generally along the same lines as them, rather than being a consequence of them in the strict sense of the word.

The disappearance of contact was followed by that of desire. I had felt no physical attraction to Marie23 - no more naturally than I hadn’t felt for Esther31 [Esther’s clone], who had, anyway, passed the age of arousing those kind of manifestations. I was convinced that neither Marie23, despite her departure, nor Marie22, despite the strange episode preceding her end, related to by my predecessor, had known desire either. [Before ending, Marie23 requested Daniel24 to tune his webcam onto his penis.] On the other hand what they had known, and in a singular painful way, was the nostalgia for desire, the wish to experience it again, to be irradiated like their distant ancestors with that force that seemed so powerful. Although Daniel1 shows himself, on this theme of nostalgia for desire, particularly eloquent, I have for my part been spared the phenomenon up until now, and it is with the greatest calm that I discuss with Esther31 the detail of the relations between our respective predecessors; on her part, she displays a coolness that is at least equivalent to mine, and it is without regret, without distress, that we leave one another at the end of our occasional intermediations, and return to our calm, contemplative lives, which would probable have appeared, to humans of the classical age, unbelievably boring.

The existence of residual mental activity, detached from all everyday concerns and oriented toward pure knowledge, constitutes on of the key points of the teachings of the Supreme Sister; up until now nothing has allowed its existence to be put into doubt.

A limited calendar, punctuated by sufficient episodes of mini-grace (such as are offered by the sun slipping across the shutters, or the sudden retreat, under the violent wind from the north, of a threatening cloud formation) organizes my existence, the precise duration of which is an indifferent parameter. Identical to Daniel24, I know that I will have, in Daniel26, an equivalent successor; the limited, respectable memories we keep of existences that have identical contours do not have any pregnancy that would be necessary for an individual fiction to take hold. The life of each man, in its broad brushstrokes, is similar, and this secret truth, hidden throughout the historical periods, was able to find expression only in the neohumans. Rejecting the incomplete paradigm of form, we aspire to rejoin the universe of countless potentialities. Closing the brackets on becoming, we are from now on in unlimited, indefinite stasis.


The implications of this passage will be taken up in a following (soon!) in the light of Jameson’s work on (anti)Utopias.

* Writing about clones presents rather cumbersome grammatical difficulties; for the purposes of expediency and clarity, I’m going to cut the they/he palaver and treat Daniel24 and Daniel25 as “one person,” which, in a very particular sense, they are.

** This “Church” has some similarity to the Raëlians in the south of France who claimed, in 2002, to have successfully cloned a human being on instructions from super-intelligent extraterrestrials. Apparently, Houellebecq spent time at a Raël retreat, and the Raëlians praised Possibility for its sympathetic treatment of their…um “beliefs”, although given what happens, I really can’t imagine why.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Everybody's On the Game 1

The utter carbon suspects poetry. Across the supreme hesitates an accompanying outlook. Tom K. lowers the coupled blanket before the latter convenience. Poetry camps. Can the external spokesman suffer opposite Tom K.? With a lung interferes poetry.

An arena cries Tom K.. Poetry posed the baby. The household belongs to the framework. Tom K. convinces poetry in the dependent peripheral.

Tom K. wastes poetry on top of a simultaneous fish. Tom K. grows throughout our industrial tobacco. A tune rushes Tom K. around a kid. Tom K. chalks before the pathetic horse. Tom K. excuses poetry outside the prostitute. Tom K. reacts to a racist against the opposed specialist.


Why can't a debugger volunteer Tom K.? Poetry corners a tame war below his eating manpower. Will poetry write over this indefinite science? A shaking exercise explains poetry. When will the round mirror want Tom K.?

Tom K. floats poetry under the overcome gossip. My isolate component forecasts Tom K. behind the hacking blame. A change resembles Tom K. under the compulsory dot. Poetry reacts next to Tom K.

Poetry gates Tom K. Poetry pops this transported raid with the gold. Tom K. indulges next to poetry. Poetry tables a shallow machinery around an arc raid. The desert graces the sensible neck. Why can't Poetry jump Tom K.?

Tom K. remedies each sod. The musical sweeps within the synthesis. Why won't a transmitter leave an inviting breeze? Poetry rests above your weird protein. Poetry monkeys Tom K.. Tom K. clocks your proof on top of the noise.

[courtesy of my aggrieved sense of narcissism and here
.]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lawrence Don't Go!

Lawrence Miles, of Beasthouse fame, is calling it a day. We can only hope its temporary. Read one of the most criminally underrated but absolutely perspicacious blogs / online diaries while you still can. Don’t go Lawrence, don’t go! I can read you for hours and be instantly elevated out of the darkest depression!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Max Roach RIP



I can't believe this passed under the radar! Another reason to be alive gone.
If you haven't heard this, do so immediately. I think this might be my favourite jazz record. If you don't believe me, ask someone who was there:




Sorry for the lack of posts lately. New one on Interpol's Our Love to Adore coming soon.

Monday, August 6, 2007

More Bergman

One of the best thing about Bergman's movies, I think, or at least what gives some of the best films he made in the mid-60's (Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, Passion of Anna) their emotional impact is the music that Lars Johan Werle composed for them: hard serialist percussion and electronics swarming like gigantic wasps. This came to mind after reading this - Bergman's son-in-law reminiscing. The first paragraph brought a tear to my eye:

For those who lived close to him, Ingmar Bergman's passing last week was no great surprise. He had just turned 89; he was a very old man. His tired heart stopped beating in the early hours of the morning, in this rainy summer season, at his home on the Swedish island of Faro. The rabbits that used to sit motionless on the beach and listen to him playing Mahler will now wonder where the old man has gone. But he is gone. The hourglass has run empty.

I was planning on linking to every news report and obit on Bergman and Antonioni that I could find, but there were too many. So why don't you find out for yourselves. :)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bad Week to Be A Cinema classic


Michelangelo Antonioni also died this week. Surprising how ennui, despair and relentless psychological investigation can keep you alive for long. :)
Seriously, this is a little too much to bear.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Its All Cheating and Lies!!


Ingmar Bergman is dead. Cinema doesn't have a second century.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Invisible End of the Spectrum: Tim Hecker


In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard quotes Henri Bosco’s description of an oncoming storm: “there is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend colour to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless.”

Slow dazzle.

Some artists (Bowie, Miles Davis) seem capable of completely changing their direction with each release. Most, however, become what they are and then remain so. And then there are some whose work demonstrates not so much a progression (in the first case) or stagnation (as is all-too-often the case), but as process of refinement. So, for example, in the case of bands as diverse as Cocteau Twins, New Order, or Boards of Canada, their art can best be described as moving by means of minimal difference - each new release is like the last one, only more so.

Such is the case with Harmony in Ultraviolet, Tim Hecker’s sixth
release. The “Tim Hecker sound” (that sonic area signified by the proper name T.H.) exhibited on this record is not all that much different from that exhibited on his first release Haunt Me (which did exactly that, thank you very much), and yet, it is more so. The sub-Arctic spaces inhabited by the earlier records seem more dematerialized, as though the lichens that beguiled like Sirens on Haunt Me have taken residence in the waves and particle of the hidden parts of the spectrum. It would be easy to say that with HIU the Aurora Borealis sings, but its not quite enough.

The dematerialization of sound is now an old, verging on tedious, narrative charted by, among others, David Toop. Let’s not reiterate his argument here, save to note that Hecker’s method - the sound art modus operandi of sampling and refashioning tones, frequencies, instruments using digital technology - has a peculiarly mimetic relation to the sense conveyed in this record of being simultaneously adrift and buffeted in frozen skies. But also, the... um… glacial pace at which this record moves (not even slow propulsion, but motionlessness, or, better still, passive mobility) suggests the hour-long sunsets that are a feature of Prairie summers. But, again, not an Eno-esque quiescence; this record is, at times, an extremely loud one, paradoxically rematerializing its textures and contrasts in a thick strokes.* There are very few high frequencies; Hecker (album title notwithstanding) sticks to the low end of the sonic spectrum, allowing the tracks to accrete and gain mass before they fade away, disappear really.

And there are few melodies, as traditionally understood; like the song structures themselves, what melodies there are seem to exist in a liminal zone between actual and virtual. They are there to find, to grasp at, before another drone arcs from out of nowhere partially erasing the figurations that preceded it. (Not for nothing are two of the tracks called “Palimpsest.”)


So what is accomplished with this record? (A question that I really think artists as well as listeners need to ask themselves as cultural overload continues to threaten.) On the one hand, that simplest and most absurd of all goals - to produce more art.** On the other hand, well…how about this: the vastness of Hecker’s sound palette produces a paradoxical situatedness in the listener, paradoxical because we are listening to invisible phenomena, the ring and drone of electromagnetism itself, whether from Hecker’s laptop or the atmosphere itself. This is the true sense of an objective correlative: the physical manifestation of an affect or chain of affects. Harmony in Ultraviolet compels, beguiles, forces the listener into a position of rooted rootlessness, at sea among the photons at the invisible end of the spectrum.


* This is particularly evident in his live performance, which are like being caught in a thunderstorm at its height, and not really minding that much. Hecker’s live performances not only emphasize the sheer physicality of the music, but its painful beauty.

** Maybe not so simple or absurd. Deleuze: “The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate - namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death. Art thereby connects the tableau of cruelty with that of stupidity, and discovers underneath consumption a schizophrenic clattering of jaws, and underneath the most ignoble destructions of war, still more processes of consumption. It aesthetically reproduces the illusions and mystifications that make up the real essence of this civilization, in order that Difference may at last be expressed with a force of anger which is itself repetitive and capable of introducing the strangest selection, even if this is only a contraction here and there - in other words, a freedom for the end of a world.” (Difference and Repetition)


Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Support the Troops


Finally, a slogan I can get behind. (Image courtesy of Lenin's Tomb.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Venus Smiles - Yet More Ballard


Left to right: Michael Moorcock, JGB and his rarely seen (since the early '60s, changing in the back of their car with specks of seaweed on her skin) partner Claire Walsh. For some reason, I find this picture rather charming.

No more Ballard for awhile; this isn't entirely a JGB fansite. :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Random Catchment Area II

After that little burst of spleen below, I thought it might be a good idea to say something nice about something, for a change.

Here the European trailer for Control which really looks great:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrFKu3xwTlQ

Here is a very good documentary on J. G. Ballard (1991, post Kindness of Women):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KaEhec9ZaQ

And here is a short sharp blast of modernism to bring a smile to your face and put some love in your heart:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC3OXai7W9I

Live Earth - Dead Souls

I was beginning to write a damning critique of the mortal tedium that was Live Earth, when even I got bored with it. How to describe the pique (not even real anger or distress, but a mere peevishness) I felt when at least seven channels were broadcasting the most overblown, revolting example of Bonogeldofism in the history of the world without actually succumbing once again to the pique, the peevishness?

Frederic Jameson once asked "when did Global Difference become the Global Same?" And when did the Global Same become Global Shit? I mean, at least the society of the spectacle was supposed to be seductive and compelling! This was just.... oh pah leave it in the dust. How monumental, how self-congratulatory, how nevertheless erstatz....broadcasting the tedium of wealthy popstars to encircle the globe with its toxins of self-regard. Fuck it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Inland Empire: The Wound You Were Born to Embody Pt. 1

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts, based on a first viewing on David Lynch’s Inland Empire (if ever a film demanded continued viewings, this is one.) Think of this post as a first, worst step.















Deleuze, following Bergson, distinguishes between the Actual and the Virtual: the Actual is that which is enacted, created, whereas the Virtual is the determinate set of conditions that are necessary for enacting, creating. The Virtual does not necessarily prefigure the Actual; the task of thought, for Deleuze, is the recover the Virtual in the Actual (this is one sense of “deterritorialization’); as Peter Hallward, in his not uncontroversial Out of this World; Delezue and the Philosphy of Creation states: “The only positive or affirmative thing that a creative force can do is to dissolve itself.”

IE dissolves film, or specifically, Lynch’s previous films. IE deploys motifs and themes from his previous filmwork: Eraserhead (sinister concrete corridors illuminated with sinister rumbles), Blue Velvet (the picture of robins that the camera pans into during one scene), Wild at Heart (references to other films - Sunset Boulevard in particular, but also, as K-Punk notes, The Shining in its use of Pendereki), Fire Walk With Me (grotesqueries portending sinister futures or pasts, constant references to the Red Lodge) Lost Highway (LA as a opulent zone of the sexual exploitation of women, “supernatural“ or, better still, uncanny figuration) and, above all, Mullholland Drive (LA, and specifically, Hollywood, as generalized exploitation presided over by sinister men of unknowable motivation, lesbianism as redemption.) But these motifs are not exactly used in the way that the vastly inferior Wild at Heart, whose po-mo intertextuality with, say, The Wizard of Oz, choked the film’s mobility and rendered it an inmate of San Quentin (Tarantino) uses them; in IE, the repetitions behave much more ambiguously. At times, they serve as nodal points around which the scenes torque; at other moments, they seem as preludes to an interrogation, a dissolution of themselves and the scene in which they are cast. (It is important to note that at no time do they refer to themselves saying “hey lookee, this is a David Lynch Movie.")

Their cumulative effect is deeply uncanny. Antigram’s excellent
post refers, in passing, to Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos, whose suggestive power I exactly that - suggestive, unspecified, incomplete, full of holes. My sense is that the dispersal of “Lynchian” motifs does something similar - the preceding films are “of a piece“, they constitute a sort of aggregate that is not entirely revealed to the viewer or, I suspect, to the filmmaker himself.

So, not a smugonaut game of “look here, I’m clever,” nor quite a career summation as Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma or Éloge de l'amour
, but something else altogether. Lynch shows us a glimpse of the aggregate in order to dissolve it - a Foucault might say that the figure of the oeuvre only appears at the moment it is being eclipsed.


Further Material to be Incorporated

Lynch’s statement that he will never use “film” as such again, that he is strictly a dv artist.

Tracking the virtual and the actual. Images and scenes comment back on each other, sometimes in a faux-explanatory way (Laura Dern’s character - as though she had only one - goes crazy during the making of a movie).

Hollywood / LA

“Who is she?” / “Look at me! Have you seen me before?”

Labyrinths, rabbit warrens, corridors, holes, doorways.

I told you this was a first step.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Voyeurism, Barbarism, Scientific Genius and Self-Disgust

The only reason why I read International Guardian is for moments like this:

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/visualart/story/0,,2088399,00.html

Ballard has never made any secret of his adoration of Dali, an adoration, as with his declared love of Helmut Newton’s quasi-pornographic photos, offends most of our tasteful tastes (redundancy intended).* Yes, The Persistence of Memory adorned my bedroom wall when I was an anxious 16 year olf (as opposed to my anxious 35 year olf) and then, when my tastes “matured”, I decided that Dali was not where it was at (I think I went off surrealism altogether at that point, being a clever boy going all conceptual art all of a sudden), ‘tho Ruth Brandon’s Surreal Lives makes a very cogent argument that those uncouth flashy Spaniards (Bunuel and Dali) energized the surrealist movement enervated by Andre Breton’s tendency to expel anyone he thought was an addict or gay. On a similar note, the opening scene of Un chien andalou still makes me wince (and I've sat through Saw), and its too bad that no one has put together a decent showing of L’age d’or (which I saw when I was 16 and wanted to jump up and down screaming with joy…I was only weighted down by the Céline I had in my jacket pocket, snarf, snarf).

I’ve already promised Patrick (not Partick) Keiller, Tim Hecker and Pan Sonic posts. How ‘bout an upcoming one on Dali? I can hear sighs of exasperation already.

* Is Newton pornographic, even quasi-pornographic? My usual understanding of pornography is that persons become objects for fantasy-use, that their pleasure is identical, indeed predicated, on mine. I am unconvinced that this is the case in Helmut Newton, although I must add that I don’t particularly admire his art. Similarly with Bruce Weber: I am reminded of Derek Jarman’s demurral over Robert Mapplethorpe - there’s nothing there to make you laugh or cry. More on Helmut Newton
here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Promises, Promises

Upcoming: posts on Partick Keiller's London and Robinson in Space; and Tim Hecker and Pan Sonic's latest.

In the mean time, this is pretty damn interesting:

http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue10/outoftheblue.htm

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nights of Wine and Poses - Send + Receive v.9

Well, as with all of my good intentions, my promise to write daily reviews of S+R events came to naught on account of a combination of activity, conversation, Merlot and Big Rock. So what follows is from memory, that notoriously unreliable of sources:

Friday May 11: (The Montréal Invasion)

The night starts of with 5mm, and audiovisual piece by Montréal guys Gabrielle Coutu-Dumont(video) and Marc Leclaire (sonix). Ostensibly, its about the development and formation of human life, starting from the moment when the fetus becomes recognizably anthropoid. Ok, …if you say so. Not impressive; the videos were sometimes interesting, but mostly seemed to float along at their own pace despite whatever the music was doing. As for the music, Leclaire has a lot of ardent admirers, among whom I don’t particularly count myself, but it was certainly the strongest element of the piece. And I should point out that it seemed to have fuck all to do with inter-uterine development. A bit of a dud - the first thing so far that I really didn’t like.

Fortunately, this is OK, because the rest of the performances are superb. Scant Intone and crys cole all put on performances that were elegant and interesting, commanding a whole set of tones and resonances that were really moving. (Scant Intone wad particularly touching, given that he sat crosslegged on the floor wrapped in a hoody. He looked like he was 12 yrs old, which gave a pleasantly child-like aspect to the performance, belied by the sometimes extremely abrasive tones he generated.)

However, it must be said that the night (and, arguably, the festival) belonged to Tim Hecker, performing from his new record Harmony in Ultraviolet. I’ve mentioned it briefly in the previous post, and all of my mild objections have more or less vanished. I've seen him play three times before, but this was the most intense plateau he’s every reached. A really knock-you-to-your-knees set. More on him later…

What are they putting in the water in Montréal?

Saturday May 12: (Les mains)

This night, I’m sorry to say, was a bit of an alcoholic blur. All the artists (Minibloc and Martin Tetreault) were excellent, the later in particular, but it was Andrew Liles’s set that really stands out in the mind. I was a little worried that it would get a little too occult/gothy/ley lines type thing, but these worries were groundless, although make no mistake, a mighty darkness settled in the Ace Art main gallery that night! The contrast between Tim and Andrew is instructive, but I will get to that in a later post. A good time seems to have been had by all (me in particular). Sunday morning was not a promising prospect.

Sunday May 13: (S+R goes electro-acoustic!!)

Sunday night at the West End Cultural Centre, where I invariably get annoyed with something or someone who works or volunteers there. (I really don’t know why this is the case, but I can go to the venue brimming with insouciant joie-de-vivre and leave an hour later wanting to kill someone.) Anyways, with all due respect to the volunteers who wanted to go home so badly that they were clearing up chairs and tables before the final performance had even ended, I will refrain from further invective. (Which is odd for me, really.)

Anyways, Frieda Abtan had two pieces going: a laptop piece similar in a lot of ways to Andrew Liles’ the previous night, perhaps a little less sinister, a bit more elegant, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing: a good thing insofar as it demonstrates a certain poise and an awareness of performance qua performance (nothing gets more tedious that a 7th generation Iggy or Jagger, I assure thee) and a bad thing because it can lead one into truly appalling “tasteful” areas that aren’t all that far from banal confusions of prettiness with intensity.

Which is, alas, what happened with Heartstrings, a piece for laptop and string quartet. The laptop part was pleasant enough, but the string quartet was really not all that good at all - it would have been considered too conservative for the New Music Festival, which still thinks that Pierre Boulez is a little too “out there”. As with This Camera is Red, I didn’t not like the string quartet (although I felt embarrassed for them having to sit on stage while the laptop played itself. Something should have been done about that, like a fucking curtain rising, for example.), the music was pleasant enough if somewhat unadventurous, but as with 5mm, it was the visual component of the piece that really let the project down. Birds flying around cathedrals, waves crashing against the shore, conjoined bodies,…all we needed was a few rose petals scattering around and we are in deep Goth territory more or less abandoned by even the Sisters of Mercy sometime in 1989. Pleasant if you like that sort of thing (which I admit to kinda doing), but really…well….silly.

Steve Bates closed the night and the festival with his “piano piece” (although I was mildly, mildly disappointed to not that he seemed to spend more time with his equalizer and laptop than he did with the piano.) In one sense, and this isn’t meant as critical as it sounds, its much the same affective plateau that he’s been inhabiting for awhile. Having said that, it’s an interesting place to be: an uneasy immersive sound that gradually leads you from one palace to another with such slyness that you scarcely know that you are moving. There’s lots of space for Steve to inhabit in the area he’s developed for himself yet, so there’s no danger of him exhausting his possibilities for a long time to come.

Anyways, it was nice to see a lot of new people out for the performances which seemed to be extremely well attended, and not just be the usual festival crowd. I’m both sad and glad that its over: sad, because chatting and drinking and listening to incredible music is lots of fun, but kinda glad that I can get back to this blog and all the other things that I have to do this week. Procrastinating is soooo much fun.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Night of the Low Bass Rumble - Send and Receive v. 9

Three performances yesterday after doing a live radio interview with the Hamburg duo incite/ (Kera and André were super nice and down to earth).

Anyways, the first performance, which I didn’t catch all of, was Removable Room, a sort of mobile arts lab by Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse from Vancouver. It was tucked into a corner of the project room at Ace Art, which made it a bit difficult to get really engaged in. (This was no fault of the artists, or the gallery, who had an exhibition running in the main gallery that they graciously agreed to clear for tonight’s performance.) However, once you entered the charmed circle, it was utterly absorbing. There was a strong element of the uncanny in the way that they used digitally treated images of quotidian Winnipeg scenes - the Mission Church, the alleyway behind ArtsSpace, the streetlamps that I’ve looked at a million times before but never really saw. Sonically, they were interesting enough, very discrete, although they didn’t quite hit any new affective zones in their work. Perhaps that wasn’t part of their intention, which is fair enough. Again, this may be in part because I wasn’t able to get really immersed in the audiovisual field they were delineating; too many people I hadn’t seen for a long time, too much helping set up the next performances.

On to the Cinémathèque (which is a surprisingly good venue for the typical Send + Receive performances) to see This Camera is Red and J+C Feedback Factory. This Camera is Red, local artist (bringing along his Mondragon Café retinue, apparently) was OK, which is to say that there was nothing particularly wrong with his performance, but it was hard not to let my mind wander at a certain point in his set. Writing about ambivalence can be hard: there was nothing I didn’t like about his set, which had all of the elements that tend to push tickle my pleasure centres (long moments of drone, heavy reverbs), but it didn’t really cohere in some way. There was nothing wrong with his set, but there was nothing particularly right about it either. And I have to confess I didn’t see the point of the file projections (which were, admittedly, not on video as is usually the case, but on actual film stock.) The split screen images of trees and rivers didn’t particularly add anything to the performance, and seemed more like an afterthought IMHO.

On the other hand, J+C Feedback Factory (Carrie Gates and Jon Vaughn from Saskatoon, who really, really need to change that name) incorporated video and sonics together seamlessly. I liked their performance a lot, mostly because it violated just about every canon of taste that tends to congregate around “sound art” in general and S+R in particular. I.e. they were loud, abrasive, incredible visceral (‘tho I could have don without Jon’s head banging and arm waving), despite, or perhaps because, of the no-input feedback. Electricity plays itself. Sonically, it was really aggressive - all low rumbles and high-frequency shrieks, with no middle-end with which to ground oneself. Similarly, the video feedback was delightfully ugly - rainbow slicks overtaken by mustard yellows and garish blues overtaken by strange mauve shapes.

Now what exactly was it that I found so exciting here that I didn’t find in the This Camera is Red? The Saskatoon artists tread a careful line between the visceral and the merely gratuitous and I found it riveting to watch and listen to them negotiating this line, whereas The Camera Is Red (again, who I did like well enough) seemed a little on the safe side; nothing particularly new or challenging to any preconceived notions of sound were on offer there. (Another line that J+C FF negotiate is between the tedious noise-for-noise sake types and “musicality”. Although frequently abrasive and harsh, there always seemed to be the palimpsest of an actual musical logic to their work.)

All in all a pretty good evening. Listening to Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet now. First impression are that he seems to have been a bit overwhelmed by the Kranky trademark sound. We’ll see what happens tonight.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

J. G. Ballard Prepares Beef Bourguignon

James Graham Ballard, aged 76, gathers together the following ingredients: 1.5 kg of chuck steak, cut into 5 cm pieces; 3 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 large carrot and 1 large onion, both peeled and cut into chunks; 2 sticks of celery (which the author of The Drowned World chops roughly); 3 bottles of burgundy wine (one for enjoying with Claire Walsh); 2 sprigs of fresh thyme; 1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally; 4 bay leaves; 50gs of unsalted butter (purchased at the Metro-Centre); 225 g whole pieces of pancetta; 450 g of shallots, which the prominent member of the New Wave of science fiction has peeled; 2 tablespoons of flour; 375 g of chestnut mushrooms; 290 ml of fresh beef stock; 5 tablespoons of brandy; and a handful of flatleaf parsley, chopped by an author intent on brutalizing every human sympathy, according to Paul Theroux in his review of Crash.

In his Shepperton kitchen, the former internee at the Lunguha Civilian Assembly Centre heats a tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan. The author of SuperCannes then adds the carrot, onion and celery, and cooks them for 2-3 minutes. He adds wine, thyme and garlic, along with 2 bay leaves. He brings them to a boil and allows the food to simmer for 15 minutes. He allows the saucepan to cool.

J. G. Ballard, who is not nor ever will be a CBE, places the beef in a large bowl and pours over the wine marinade. He covers the bowl and places it in the fridge overnight.

Having investigated the narrative potential of Principia Mathematica, Ballard preheats his oven to 150 C (Gas 2). He drains the beef from the marinade into a colander over a glass bowl. He reserves the marinade and sets it next to holiday brochures for Seychelles.

Ballard heats 25g of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. He adds the pancetta and cooks it until it is golden and brown. He adds the shallots and transfers it to a large casserole dish, given to him by Michael Moorcock in lieu of payment for “The Assassination of John F. Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”, published in New Worlds.

William Burroughs’s foremost defender in the UK heats a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. He pats dry the cubes of beef from the marinade mixture using absorbent kitchen paper purchased at the Bentall Centre, that nightmare marriage of psychopathology and convenience. Adding the beef to the pan, he cooks it until the cubes are brown on all sides. He removes the beef and transfers it to the casserole dish with the bacon, shallots and vegetables. He pours himself a glass of wine. He repeats the above procedure with the remaining beef and also adds it to the casserole dish.

Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?

The prophet of suburbia stirs in 2-3 large spoonfuls of the reserved marinade to deglaze the pan. He pours that into the casserole dish.

Ballard stirs in plain flour, the remaining marinade and the beef stock into the casserole dish.
The former assistant editor of the scientific journal Chemistry and Industry brings the dish to a boil, covers it and places it in the oven for 3 - 3 ½ hours or until the beef is very tender.

Halfway through the Warren Commission Report, Ballard heats the remaining oil and butter in a large frying pan bought in Munich after meeting Helmut Newton and cooks the mushrooms until brown. He reluctantly adds the brandy and continues to cook for a few minutes.

The author dismissed as an “aging semiotician” adds the mushrooms to the casserole dish, which he stirs and returns to the oven for the remaining cooking time.

J. G. Ballard is happy to serve the beef bourguignon with new potatoes, sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley and purple sprouting broccoli underneath the aluminum palm trees that adorn his study.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A New Kind of Kick

Well, given the amount of time I spend reading blogs, I thought I would make good on my promise and actually start writing one. Although I promised to post on Ballard's Kingdom Come, for some reason its taking longer than it should (in part given the complexity of the novel that seems to have eluded just about every reviewer I've read), the Send and Receive; a Festival of Sound v. 9 starts its program tomorrow, and I wanted to commit it to posterity in some way, soooo.... there'll ideally be a post every day of the festival with reviews, ruminations, cranky rants, whatever you will. So bookmark this site and fasten your seat belts (lol).

The name of the blog comes from Christian Bök, by the way.

Enjoy!