Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

"In its most distilled form, science (and especially mathematics) provides a certain temptation toward pristine and unvarnished truth that I have never experienced anywhere else–unfortunately, some have taken this to mean that science provides the complete vision of what truth can be and so we’d better get used to it. At least in its present form, science does not do that, because I have had enough glimpses of it through other methodologies to know that science, at least in its common naive sense, is not sufficient.

"The better answer, at least from those who see what a mess science is and has always been, is that “science” is a broad enough methodology to encompass these other methodologies as well, if the criteria of science are restricted to what seem to be its core essentials: fallibilism, skepticism, and provisionality. (You could say humility and modesty, except that these traits are often applied without much of either.) More and more I see these traits in most of my favorite literary authors, and I also see their absence in a great many writers I disdain."

- David Auerbach

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


More scribbled notes.  Let's posit two different tendencies toward approaching the evaluation and explication of what V.F. Perkins termed film as film.  One is to presume a natural response to a film, and react, after the fact, to excavate the relations between our experience and the film's mechanics.  (By "natural" here what I mean is the extent to which a response is conditioned by such determinants as mood, exhibition setting, race, class, gender, physiology, etc.)  This is the easier tendency to explain to Average Joe who wants to understand what makes The Dark Knight so good, so gripping: "You see, what Christopher Nolan did here was ..."  In many ways it's also the cinephilically-popularizing method of David Bordwell's blog.

Another tendency, less widespread, less commonsensical, but still quite influential, is to approach cinema as an act of discovery, and so watching a film becomes an act of participation in a project, an ethos: Bazin's ontology is but one expression of such an attitude.  The "natural" responses one has to a film may well still pertain, but they are no longer privileged as the ground upon which to unpack all cinematic meaning; instead there is an implied field of intersubjectively-affirmed inhabitations of aesthetic gestures.  We relive the mechanical trace of a cinematic choice.  The "act" of something like a camera movement is thus potentially of moral, ethical, stylistic concern simultaneously, and in this tendency one rejects or advocates such acts not because one has bracketed out aesthetics but because one has, in comparison to the other tendency, relocated the place of aesthetics.

I should stress that this is all quite abstracted and schematic; it is purposely so.  Surely both of these tendencies occur in anyone who sets before herself the task of understanding film, or a film.  These tendencies relate and influence each other in so many ways that it would be wrongheaded to proceed much further

Cause versus effect, effect versus cause.  Effect: we examine what a film did to get us there, wherever there is and was, almost as a case of reverse engineering.  Cinema is like a machine - and I do not mean this in a crude or anti-mechanical way, either, for our bodies too are machines - and we look upon this field of bodily and mental effects (tears, butterflies in the stomach, clenched fingers, stiff backs, numb butts, eye-tracking, deduction, inference) as epiphenomenal signs that the cinematic machine is working.  Cause: the aesthetic experience involves the inhabitation, the repeat performance, the approximation of an ever-deferred trace.  This endeavor is always in vain, it never completely matches up, but it is in the echoing of such paths (Guy Davenport wrote a relevant essay, "Wheel Ruts") that gives tradition, that gives a connection to & through history and thus a means - a ground - of critique outside of a status quo.  Or in other words: outside of the determinations of a so-called natural response.

No doubt I've unnecessarily privileged this thing "cinema" here, when in fact I could be extending some of these points to talk about a much wider field of cultural production.  But it's just a starting point ...

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Material (II) / Scribbles

Harman: "For orthodox Marxists, everything else is superstructure or ideology built on top of that economic base. I reject such reductionism completely, whether it comes from Marxists or from anyone else."

Graham Harman is a superb and clear writer, and as I've dipped my toes in the waters of "speculative realism" his work has been that which I've felt the most able to work with and learn from - often, I think, because of his style.  I begin this way simply because debate pro and con SR/OOO has fostered a really ugly online rat-king over the last few years and I don't want to jump in there at all.  But I would like to comment on one sticking point that seems strange to me, which I've come across on more than one occasion regarding speculative realists or sympathizers (for lack of a better word), which is a common canard of Marxism as a base/superstructure idiocy that literally reduces "everything else" (including any number of the variegated lists of objects that SR-types are prone to including, e.g., airplanes, the ozone layer, fertilizer, and apartment buildings) subsequent to economic base.  I.e., it calls Marxism reductive because it gives a reductive image of Marxism.

I highly recommend my readers look over the excerpts of Z.A. Jordan I posted here a while back, which in turn link to a substantially longer excerpt of Jordan's work on the Marxists Internet Archive.  The world is human, for Marx, not because the guy was "Correlationism 4 Life!" but because it may make little sense to delude ourselves into thinking the external and convincing each other that we are in fact apprehending the very "weird" essences of the objects that exist outside of us.  To think or speak the contingency of human existence within the greater scope of the physical world is to transcribe this physical world into comprehensible material for that very contigency.  It is a style, or a posture, of human existence. 


"Language is the triumph of human ingenuity, surpassing even the intricacies of modern technology.  It tells of widespread intelligence, sustained through scores of thousands of years.  It is interesting that from the alternatives, sight and sound, sound was the medium first developed.  There might have been a language of gesticulation.  Indeed, there is a trace of it.  But the weak point of gesticulation is that one cannot do much else while indulging in it.  The advantage of sound is that the limbs are left free while we produce it.

"But there is a deeper reason for the unconscious recourse to sound-production.  Hands and arms constitute the more unnecessary parts of the body.  We can do without them.  They do not excite the intimacies of bodily existence.  Whereas in the production of sound, the lungs and throat are brought into play.  So that in speech, while a superficial, manageable expression is diffused, yet the sense of the vague intimacies of organic existence is also excited.  Thus voice-produced sound is a natural symbol for the deep experiences of organic existence."

(Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought, NY: Capricorn, 1938, reprinted by Macmillan, 1958, pp. 44-45)

Saturday, December 01, 2012


You cannot talk about progress in ensemblistic-identitarian (which I call the ensidic for short), let us say: the logico-instrumental. There is progress, for example, in the H-bomb relative to flint, since the former can kill a lot more and better than the latter. But when it comes to fundamental things, one cannot talk about progress. There is neither progress nor regression between the Parthenon and Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, between Plato and Kant, between Bach and Wagner, between Altamira and Picasso. But there are breaks: in ancient Greece, between the eighth and fifth centuries, with the creation of democracy and philosophy; or in Western Europe, beginning in the tenth-eleventh centuries, accompanied by a gigantic host of new creations and culminating in the modern period.

(Cornelius Castoriadis, "The Project of Autonomy Is Not a Utopia")

[M]y ontology is an ontology of creation: creation and destruction.  Creation can be democracy and the Parthenon and Macbeth, but it is also Auschwitz, the Gulag, and all that.  These are fantastic creations.  Politics has to do with political judgments and value choices.

Q: For which you can't find an ontological ground?

No. I don't think there is an ontological basis for value judgments.  Once you enter the field of philosophy, you have already made a value judgment, Socrates' value judgment: the unexamined life is not worth living (and the unlived life is not worth examining, as you say in Essex - this is true as well).  But this is already a stand you have taken.  In this sense, the decision to enter the reflexive domain is already a sort of grounding decision, which can't rationally ground itself.  If you try to rationally ground it, you use what is the result of the decision.  You are in a vicious circle.

(Castoriadis, "Autonomy Is an Ongoing Process")


To eradicate that affected tone, prevalent online, wherein a progressive & well-meaning voice announces loudly yet indirectly to its progressive & well-meaning audience how progressive & well-meaning it is.  (Too often this appears to satisfy observers that a political critique has been lodged.)

(This is not to indicate concern over the eradication of irony.)

To aim never simply to presume that what I offer is special, without any reflection, and that therefore any rejection of it is a sign of my would-be interlocutor's backwardness.

To work quietly in my own time & ways such that when I speak out I can be confident that what I say is thoughtful, helpful, timely, amusing, or insightful.