Thursday, June 08, 2006

Desire & Capital: More Notes

I'm about to begin reading Herbert Marcuse's The Aesthetic Dimension, and will hold that in comparison/contrast to some of his fellow Frankfurt Schoolers. A big question for me, when the mind wanders, is whether or not we have some mental aspect that is not imprinted by society, and is furthermore indomitable--i.e., is there something within "the human spirit" in which we (progressives) can put our energy into: a trigger, a tap, a safe space? Or is the project of human rights & civilization a constant and necessary battle against its own inherent threats--the "recidivist element" within our enlightenment (cf. Horkheimer and Adorno's prefatory notes to The Dialectic of Enlightenment)? As something less than even an aspiring historian, sociologist, psychologist, or philosopher, I can't expect to come up with good answers to this question in the foreseeable future. What I can try to do is see when and what artwork throughout history has to say about this question, what arguments it puts forth for an explanation of one form or another--and what material, practical, or ideological employment these explanations may undergo for people in historical reality. Being a cinephile I'm obviously drawn to the ways that the modes, technologies, and aesthetics of later modernity (or we can just call it the twentieth century) address this question. Special emphasis here on surrealism, fragmentative aesthetic practices, and the so-called unconscious mind.

When we, culturally, unloose and share our libidinous, mysterious, and starstruck fascinations upon the images we make with each other ...

(Above: Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart; Patrick Bokanowski's L'Ange; Luis Buñuel's Subida al cielo)

... is there something tangible we can get from this exercise of free expression and the recounting of dreams? Aside from the pleasure of that expression itself? Can we craft our stories and images to do what we want, socially? Well, obviously, we can and do, within limits--but what are those limits? Once we have started using a disruptive, disjunctive impulse to patch together new artworks that examine our social mores and patterns ...

(Vera Chytilova's Daisies)

... or our individual, psychic perceptions ...

(Carl Th. Dreyer's Vampyr)

... or our collective psyche (does it ever emerge with a clean bill of health!?) ...

(Alexander Kluge's The Eiffel Tower, King Kong, and the White Woman)

... can we really ever be assured of the revolution (of whatever magnitude and stripe we expect) we feel we've been promised? Does Makavejev urge us to fuck as a way of getting the revolutionary ball rolling or does he think seeing his films about--among other things--fucking will do the trick (now this is a question more easily answered with some simple research, though)? In other words, what are the real differences when a viewer sees a film that plays up its performative enunciation ('I am a film that is out there attacking or promoting something through my very presence') versus a film that seems to promote action at expense of itself ('I, as a film, am invisible and unreadable beyond being a call to action')? To ask a related question [which Marcuse tackles], is great art always potentially subversive and productive [if so what is great art!?] ... or is there something that politically-minded observers must be sure to separate when dealing with art, since something great might also be something bad?

My temperament in this case is cautious and a little pessimistic--my suspicions are that art (and aesthetic experience as a category within experience) are not essentially, not even always potentially, "productive" or "positive" sites for the human being. Whatever is deemed good or bad for people, art can and does do both.

Mayakovsky charged that the bourgeoisie were subconsciously afraid of the electricity (the force) they had invented--they ate by candlelight (quotation found here). If the larger project of surrealism, for instance, which melded waking, rational reality with the streaming mental reality of the subconscious, what ways can we make sure that we're not just unleashing some more latent force or invention of ruling interests? I'm not trying to even skirt with a 'vulgar Marxism' here, as though that which is suspected to be "bourgeois" is bad and deserves to be destroyed or ignored. I'm only caught inside a question: how can I be sure when and where my fantasies are my own? Will it really be a case of the the unconscious breaking through our false consciousness (maybe the first impulse of the surrealist-marxist) or will our conscious, rational minds have to save us from our own socially-constructed desires? Probably what is needed is a dynamic balance between the two. And when it comes time to construct or consume images, sounds, narratives ... we're left with a vital necessity to think on-the-fly, case-by-case, provisionally, with a pragmatic and somewhat relativistic rigor.

Which brings me back to where I've started, really, and I have the feeling that in climbing the saddle between the giant mountains of Social and Aesthetic Theory, I've done nothing more strengthen my grip on the rocks I'm already holding for dear life. (Which is precisely why I'm blogging on this subject rather than publishing on it, at this moment in time.) Still, there were some pretty film frame enlargements along the way, right?


sevenpointman said...

The plan I am sending you has been approved by many prominent thinkers and
activists in the field. Which includes: Benjamin Ferencz, Chief Prosecutor
at the Nuremburg Trials, Ken Livingstone-Mayor of London,
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Tom Hayden, Matthew Rothschild, Anthony Arnove, Danny Schecter, Tony Benn- Former Member of the British parliament ,Reggie Rivers,
Robert Jensen, Andrew Bard Schmookler and others.
I formulated this plan in September 2004, based on a comprehensive
study of the issues. For my plan to be successful it must be implemented
with all seven points beginning to happen within a very short period of
I have run up against a wall of doubt about my plan due to it's
rational nature ,and due to it's adherence to placing the blame on the
invaders, and then trying to formulate a process of extrication which would
put all entities in this conflict face to face, to begin to finally solve
the dilemmas that exist.
If you read my plan you will see that it is guided by a reasonable
and practical compromise that could end this war and alleviate the
internecine civil violence that is confronting Iraq at this juncture in it's
I am making a plea for my plan to be put into action on a wide-scale.
I need you to circulate it and use all the persuasion you have to bring it
to the attention of those in power.
Just reading my plan and sending off an e-mail to me that you received
it will not be enough.

This war must end-we who oppose it can do this by using my plan.
We must fight the power and end the killing.

If you would like to view some comments and criticism about my plan
I direct you to my blog: sevenpointman

Thank you my dear friend,

Howard Roberts

A Seven-point plan for an Exit Strategy in Iraq

1) A timetable for the complete withdrawal of American and British forces
must be announced.
I envision the following procedure, but suitable fine-tuning can be
applied by all the people involved.

A) A ceasefire should be offered by the Occupying side to
representatives of both the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite community. These
representatives would be guaranteed safe passage, to any meetings. The
individual insurgency groups would designate who would attend.
At this meeting a written document declaring a one-month ceasefire,
witnessed by a United Nations authority, will be fashioned and eventually
signed. This document will be released in full, to all Iraqi newspapers, the
foreign press, and the Internet.
B) US and British command will make public its withdrawal, within
sixth-months of 80 % of their troops.

C) Every month, a team of United Nations observers will verify the
effectiveness of the ceasefire.
All incidences on both sides will be reported.

D) Combined representative armed forces of both the Occupying
nations and the insurgency organizations that agreed to the cease fire will
protect the Iraqi people from actions by terrorist cells.

E) Combined representative armed forces from both the Occupying
nations and the insurgency organizations will begin creating a new military
and police force. Those who served, without extenuating circumstances, in
the previous Iraqi military or police, will be given the first option to

F) After the second month of the ceasefire, and thereafter, in
increments of 10-20% ,a total of 80% will be withdrawn, to enclaves in Qatar
and Bahrain. The governments of these countries will work out a temporary
land-lease housing arrangement for these troops. During the time the troops
will be in these countries they will not stand down, and can be re-activated
in the theater, if the chain of the command still in Iraq, the newly
formed Iraqi military, the leaders of the insurgency, and two international
ombudsman (one from the Arab League, one from the United Nations), as a
majority, deem it necessary.

G) One-half of those troops in enclaves will leave three-months after they
arrive, for the United States or other locations, not including Iraq.

H) The other half of the troops in enclaves will leave after

I) The remaining 20 % of the Occupying troops will, during this six
month interval, be used as peace-keepers, and will work with all the
designated organizations, to aid in reconstruction and nation-building.

J) After four months they will be moved to enclaves in the above
mentioned countries.
They will remain, still active, for two month, until their return to
the States, Britain and the other involved nations.

2) At the beginning of this period the United States will file a letter with
the Secretary General of the Security Council of the United Nations, making
null and void all written and proscribed orders by the CPA, under R. Paul
Bremer. This will be announced and duly noted.

3) At the beginning of this period all contracts signed by foreign countries
will be considered in abeyance until a system of fair bidding, by both
Iraqi and foreign countries, will be implemented ,by an interim Productivity
and Investment Board, chosen from pertinent sectors of the Iraqi economy.
Local representatives of the 18 provinces of Iraq will put this board
together, in local elections.

4) At the beginning of this period, the United Nations will declare that
Iraq is a sovereign state again, and will be forming a Union of 18
autonomous regions. Each region will, with the help of international
experts, and local bureaucrats, do a census as a first step toward the
creation of a municipal government for all 18 provinces. After the census, a
voting roll will be completed. Any group that gets a list of 15% of the
names on this census will be able to nominate a slate of representatives.
When all the parties have chosen their slates, a period of one-month will be
allowed for campaigning.
Then in a popular election the group with the most votes will represent that
When the voters choose a slate, they will also be asked to choose five
individual members of any of the slates.
The individuals who have the five highest vote counts will represent a
National government.
This whole process, in every province, will be watched by international
observers as well as the local bureaucrats.

During this process of local elections, a central governing board, made up
of United Nations, election governing experts, insurgency organizations, US
and British peacekeepers, and Arab league representatives, will assume the
temporary duties of administering Baghdad, and the central duties of

When the ninety representatives are elected they will assume the legislative
duties of Iraq for two years.

Within three months the parties that have at least 15% of the
representatives will nominate candidates for President and Prime Minister.

A national wide election for these offices will be held within three months
from their nomination.

The President and the Vice President and the Prime Minister will choose
their cabinet, after the election.

5) All debts accrued by Iraq will be rescheduled to begin payment, on the
principal after one year, and on the interest after two years. If Iraq is
able to handle another loan during this period she should be given a grace
period of two years, from the taking of the loan, to comply with any
structural adjustments.

6) The United States and the United Kingdom shall pay Iraq reparations for
its invasion in the total of 120 billion dollars over a period of twenty
years for damages to its infrastructure. This money can be defrayed as
investment, if the return does not exceed 6.5 %.

7) During the beginning period Saddam Hussein and any other prisoners who
are deemed by a Council of Iraqi Judges, elected by the National
representative body, as having committed crimes will be put up for trial.
The trial of Saddam Hussein will be before seven judges, chosen from this
Council of Judges.
One judge, one jury, again chosen by this Council, will try all other
All defendants will have the right to present any evidence they want, and to
choose freely their own lawyers.

jmac said...

Z, I've just noticed your post and it is marvelous. Especially this part:

"When we, culturally, unloose and share our libidinous, mysterious, and starstruck fascinations upon the images we make with each other ... is there something tangible we can get from this exercise of free expression and the recounting of dreams?

('I, as a film, am invisible and unreadable beyond being a call to action')?"

How beautiful!

So where do you publish your material (besides here)? And are you working on a book? You seem to be so gifted at taking these super academic theories and turning them into philosophical, original forms of poetic thought.

P.S. I love the L'Ange film still. I have never seen this before now . . .