30 November 2007

"Cognitive abilities"?

In a TV-program a few days ago pictures from a pig farm were shown. The place was dirty and crowded. The pigs, obviously, were not all right. Rottening carcasses were lying on the ground. Some of the pigs had been attacked by other pigs. Some of the pigs were sick. The pigs were moving around restlessly, rubbing against each other.

Two people ("experts") were intervied; an administrator and a philosopher. The administrator was eager to convince us that the pig farm incident is an exception. Inspection routines are, she said, gradually improved even if there are still some things to be done. The philosopher was critical of the treatment of animals as commodities. It is easy to agree with her about this, of course. But I was apalled about her primary reaction towards the film from the pig farm. According to her the farmers, and those involved in the meat industry, have failed to distinguish the cognitive capacities and abilities of animals. She talked for a while, very abstractely, about the rights of animals. Arguing like that, it was as if she didn't see what was going on in the film. As if she was at most able to derive some conclusions about the type of capacities the behaviour of animals is indicating. "We have to prove that animals have particular capacities - after that, we may say something about what is cruel, unjust..." But that type of talk is obviously very strange, and very insensitive. I would be very surprised if a person who watched the pictures of the restless and shit-drenched pigs were to say that she could not SEE the pigs' suffering. Of course the philosopher in the TV-studio was not blind to the suffering of the pigs - but she seemed to believe that she had to talk about cognitive capacities if what she had to say would have any influence over those defending the meat industry.

28 November 2007

An experience of "jobseeker mandatory activity" is reported in excellent blog Sit down man, you're a bloody idiot:

Our host, who lays proud claim to pioneering, when back in Nigeria, 'the project Building Your Tomorrow Today' and a book entitled You Can Make It, repeatedly stresses the importance of three things: Service, Values and Vision. Every job is a service. All organisations provide a service. All organisations have values, and visions. You too have values and visions, you just have to match yours with the organisation’s. Curiously enough, rather than demystifying, the motivational training makes the grimly mundane world of work (Southwark Pest Control is one of the examples we are given) into a baffling, messianic world of entrepeneurs sharing with each other their visionary visions and their valuable values. ‘Anything you want to do, you can do it’ (I quote) is the plainly stated philosophy, a bizarre mismatch with the data entering, painting-and-decorating and benefit-claiming that lies in wait for most of us here.

27 November 2007

Philosophy and Self-sentimentality


I am trying to write an essay about what it is to perceive something as a difficulty in one's job. It's tempting to think that there are difficulties which are internal to a job in the sense that a job naturally entails some challenges, responsibilities and obligations. There is the idea that "professions" are jobs that include higher ethical demands than others (even though there are many uses of "profession"). When I reflect on my own "job" I realize how problematic this picture really is. Before and after research seminars I usually curse my self-obsessive tendencies, which become only too apparent in my being nervous that my text will be torn to pieces and that I will look like an idiot in the eyes of others. That I sometimes find it difficult to present texts at seminars is an expression of the person I am and not something that is a necessary part of what it is to be engaged in research. Even though seminar-angst is a familiar phenomenon to many researchers I am convinced there are some who don't see it as particularly difficult to be the object of public criticism. Or more to the point: they tend not to think of academic criticism as something that is aimed at me as a person. This is not of course to say that there academics care less about their work, I would rather be prone to say that the opposite is the case.

Reading some philosophers, Rush Rhees, Wittgenstein and my own supervisor are three of them, is enjoyable because their texts contain little self-sentimentality or self-importance. (I know that some people have different feelings about Rhees, seeing in his "confessional style" a form of self-indulgence, but I don't really understand that.) These writers are open about their confusion and lack of clarity. This makes it easier to follow their thoughts. Nothing is hidden, as it were, even if it may be difficult to understand them for other reasons - the topic being difficult as such, for example. Rhees often confesses in this text: "I don't understand this." and "I am confused." Of course this has little to do with confessions in the sense that one would spray one's guts all over one's philosophical insights. Philosophy does challenge us as persons, but that is another story. Philosophical thinking challenges one to be prepared to scrutinize one's own thinking. In that way, the person is always at stake.

26 November 2007

::( ):::

Misreading of the day:

Med ÅA:s hjälp tog sig Magnus och Nina ur alkoholismen.

- Perhaps I trust my dear alma mater too much.
I have nothing to say whatsoever.

Word of the day

deipnosophist \dyp-NOS-uh-fist\, noun: Someone who is skilled in table talk.

At the age of six his future as a deipnosophist seemed certain. Guzzling filched apples he loved to prattle. Hogging the pie he invariably piped up and rattled on.
-- Ellis Sharp, "The Bloating of Nellcock"

(From Dictionary.reference.com)

25 November 2007

It's gonna rain all winter long...












Gösta is witnessing the pissing wheather. Gösta is hammered. Gösta is tired. Gösta is full of shit. Gösta says: it's going to be all right, soon. Gösta is sleeping. Gösta is always awake. Gösta says: I'm tired of this shit. Gösta is taking a bath in a heap of mud. Gösta takes a walk in the bright lights.

Faces

Looking up a language thing on Google, I stumbled upon internet sites on facial expression research. These pages gave me the big Creeps. Here's one site on how a facial expressions can be "produced" by a robot (oh, check out the pictures!) - this is MIT stuff: http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/sociable/facial-expression.html

24 November 2007

Farväl Falkenberg

Sophia Coppola's and Gus van Sant's movies have made a great impression on me. What their work have in common is a particular sensitivity towards atmospheres. They never make difficult films, but their work usually (van Sant has some Hollywood failures on his conscience) stay clear of easy solutions in terms of describing situations and persons. (OK, perhaps I tend to be too uncritical; Lost in Translation was perhaps wallowing in the bleak regarding the encounter between the bored wife who has yet to decide what to do in life and the world-weary actor - but then again, I don't know.)

I watched Farväl Falkenberg a moment ago and even though my expectations were quite exaggerated I wasn't disappointed. It was relieving to watch a film of which could be given the description "a buddy movie" which actually resists such labelling. The film shared very little with the typical ways of depicting "male friendship": there was no "proving to be a heterosexual man", the difference between love and friendship was not emphasized - the opposite was rather the case, there were no such limits. Relationships between parents and young adults were described quite negatively, but I didn't think they were trading in stereotypes here at all. We've seen the small town angst a thousand times, of course, but here it was dealt with more delicately than what at least I am used to.

Permanent vacation

Normally, I hardly manage to sit through films about so-called drifters. "The drifter" is usually a chauvinistic pig or an "overly sensitive" male outcast who is glorified for having balls enough to resist the oppressing rules of society. I tried to read Kerouac but after reading 100 pages of women-screwing and boozing I gave up. (That is what I remember of it) But there is also the sensitive, brooding drifter who is too "fragile for this world". Usually his fragility boils down to women feeling sorry for him (= getting laid).

For an interesting comment on the subject, read this article by Karolina Ramqvist:
http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=2453&a=711534

That's the reason why I was a little suspicious when I began watching Jim Jarmusch's debut film Permanent vacation. And indeed, there were lots of outcast posing; there are a lot of scenes in which we see our hero smoking cigarettes, his facial expression at the same time cool and worried. He looks ragged & cute-as-a-panda. But that said, other aspects of the film were great. Subtle humour. Understatement. A great soundtrack and a cinematography that brought both Hal Hartley and Derek Jarman to mind. Pictures of a deserted New York consisting of rubble mostly. The ending is campier and cheesier than anything else you have seen on the wide screen, but for me, it worked.

20 November 2007

( )

I'm in a lousy mood and for some reason "I'm on fire", a crappy song by the Boss, keeps popping up in my mind (I read about the song in Fredrik Strage's list in Dagens nyheter). Shit.

18 November 2007

Saccharine indulgence


Lately, I've realized my propensity for saccharine instrumental music. Sweet melodies, sweet instrumentation. It's a plus if there's a hint of a disturbing element; a crack in the sugary world. Finnish post-rock group The Gentleman losers is the perfect example. As so few seem to know about them, I will write a little about their album here.


(I've found out about them thanks to Last.fm & well-stocked local library). I got a little bit suspicious when visited their Myspace page and find Jack Kerouac, Jean-Luc Godard & Arthur Rimbaud listed among their influences. But the album itself cannot be blamed for big gestures and pretentions.


Their eponymous album was released in 2006. Shuffling beats, electronics, glockenspiel and electric & acoustic guitar dominate the sound picture. I usually hate it when indie artists use flutes in their music, but here it actually sounds quite good (or maybe it's keyboard that sounds like flutes?). Some have compared their music to that of Vincent Gallo's When, and it's quite easy to see the link between them. However different in musical style, their wistful and somehow reminiscing music makes me think of Boards of Canada. Some of the songs create a country twang in the same way as does A small good thing - a similarly overlooked band whose music airs both Angelo Badalamenti and Enrico Morricone.


What is more, to my delight The Gentleman Losers do not make attempts at creating the kind of epic grandeur that so many of the bands in their "genre" seem so charmed by. No crescendos whatsoever. Everything is kept quiet, slow, funereal - however not feeling overly restrained because there are interesting twists in many directions. Neither do I feel they are feasting on Great Emotions in the way many post-rock bands do. I know the usage of metaphors and pictures in music reviews are usually quite unnervingly awkward. "As if walking alone in the deserted woods" "Sitting in one's apartment at night with headphones on". Yeah, you know. I'll shut up and spare you "poetical" digressions and weather allusions. Let me say this much: the album is in no way difficult to get into. I was in love with it from the first listening on. (Admittedly, I would say many good albums take a few listens to like)


There are many other bands I like that also have developed a dusty, haunting sound (a true indulgence of mine). Swedish post-rockers Library tapes & Porn sword tobacco are two examples, Murcof another. Dutch band Machinefabriek belongs here too, somehow, even though their music is much more abstract, quieter too (yes, it's possible), and some of their stuff is perhaps best labeled "ambient".


This album is so good I can hardly find words to describe what I hear. Listening to shit music can be depressing, but stumbling upon a treasure like this is great. I hope they'll be touring around here soon, so I'll get to experience them live.

17 November 2007

More southern gothic

In Nordic countries, jobs for philosophers are not really growing on trees. I talk about jobs where you are employed for more than a few months at a time. I've heard that a lot of colleges and universities all over USA appoint philosophers. Think about it, perhaps that would be an option for me: I'll live somewhere in Montana or Kentucky, teaching courses on applied ethics. Am I cynical? Not really.

Lately, I've been writing about Harmony Korine and plays by Tennessee Williams. My own little southern gothic village. Yesterday I watched The Night of the Iguana, yet another film bassed on a play by Williams. Good movie - Ava Gardner was great. Great atmospheres.

All in all, I seem to be destined for ghostly towns and villages - my destiny is sealed.

If you haven't yet, you should explore the haunted musical landscape created by artists such as 16 horsepower (Woven hand), Lucinda Williams, Jim White, Songs; Ohia (Jason Molina) and The Handsome family. While 16 horsepower has become quite widely known even in Nordic countries, The Handsome family and Songs; Ohia are lesser known. Picking and choosing from the ouvre of Songs; Ohia I would recommend the album The Lioness and what The Handsome family is concerned their 2003 production Singing bones is my so far favorite. The latter artist creates music that revolves around the cheesy, the twangy and the ghostly - in that respect, they share something with Brittish artist Richard Hawley, whom I also have a fondness for.

14 November 2007

Tehy, politicians and moralistic bullshit

The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) has been striking for some time now. The commission for local authority employers (kommunala arbetsmarknadsverket) has rejected Tehys demand for 24 % pay increase. Thousands of nurses have already handed in resignations, and even more are expected. The strike seems to have gained legitimacy among ordinary people. Politicians and employers' representatives, however, are stubborn. The parliament has given its blessings to the passing of a law that will force nurses and other health care professionals back to work in order to avoid a crisis.

The boss of Tehy, Jaana Laitinen-Pesola, makes a valid point when she analyzes the situation from a feminist perspective:

När en kvinnodominerad bransch verkligen kämpar och använder andra än traditionella metoder ses det som något oerhört. Så vi blev giriga, hårda och likgiltiga (HBL 14/11).

The point is, as she says, that strikes and Union activity seem to be taken more seriously when the union in question is male-dominated. Cf. a statement by Kokoomus politician and plastic surgeon Asko-Seljavaara:

Asko-Seljavaara är plastikkirurg till yrket och har upplevt fyra läkar- och sjukvårdsstrejker förut.
– Men aldrig hade jag kunnat föreställa mig en arbetstvist där personalen vägrar utföra skyddsarbete.
Asko-Seljavaara menar att det är ansvarslöst av vårdfacket Tehy att strunta i skyddsarbetet och därmed patienterna (HBL 14/11).

Having gone on strike, nurses are claimed to act irresponsibly. If workers in the shipbuilding industry were to go on strike, nobody would talk about moral irresponsibility in the same way as in the discussion about the nurses' strike. Partly, this is due to the different nature of jobs, but the question is not only about that. (Depicting strikers as 'greedy', for example, cannot be seen simply in relation to the kind of work nurses are doing) Shipbuilding workers' claims for a rise in salaries would at most be seen as economically irresponsible from the point of view of e.g. risk of inflation.

An interesting thing concerning the present political discussion is how much of the focus is directed on past promises on the part of the conservative party, Kokoomus. This, of course, opens up many opportunities for political mudslinging; discrediting other parties by pointing out how little they've done in order to fulfil promises given in the election campaign. The risk here is that the real question - that nurses should be granted a bigger salary - is concealed. Very convenient for politicians who don't want to see themselves as responsible for the situation we're in now.

This does not mean that economic irresponsibility is not emphasized: on the homepage of the Commission for local authority employers issue a warning that dangerous strikes will become more common in the future ( = the strike will have dangerous consequences). Indignation is barely concealed:

Aldrig tidigare har en stridsåtgärd inom hälso- och sjukvården riktats på samma sätt som nu, utan den akuta vården har traditionellt lämnats utanför stridsåtgärderna. Om deltagarna i stridsåtgärden når sina mål genom denna modell kan den bli vanligare även i andra funktioner som är oumbärliga för samhället.

It is not a neutral description to say (as the commission does in a news article published 7.11): "Tehy kräver förhöjningar genom att äventyra patienternas liv" (Tehy demands pay increases by putting patients' lives in danger). Again: moral irresponsibility - nurses are blamed for risking human lives by their greedy and unholy activism. Tendentious. And the same type of covert moral reproach is implied in this statement by Jyrki Katainen (from a press conference, mid-october): "All wage-earners have the right to defend their own interests and employment terms, but what we need now is realism to find the best solution." Nurses are said to lack realism, blinded by idealism, perhaps.

12 November 2007

Misology

Philosophers, most of them, share a fondness for technical vocabulary. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with that: in some cases it is very helpful to stipulate a term that will make it clearer what one is trying to express. But philosophers have usually drowned themselves in technicalities, forgetting how employment of technical terms (pre)determines the form & direction of the discussion in which they are engaged. It is clear that quite a few philosophers hang on to technical terms and technical descriptions as a result of a general mistrust of ordinary language (take a look at the concept of "folk psychology" and you'll know what I mean). Ordinary language is considered inexact, fuzzy, unscientific and not suitable for the type of discussion philosophers are involved in.

Here are my top ten "worst technical expressions employed in analytic & continental philosophy":

  1. desire
  2. "ascribe something to somebody"
  3. context
  4. value
  5. convention
  6. norm
  7. act
  8. behaviour
  9. discourse
  10. construction

bubbling under: heteronomy, body, lack, difference, power, subject

See you in philosophers' hell!

11 November 2007

American movies from the 50's

I've always had many preconceptions about hollywood productions from the 50's. McCarthy ruled the land, everything was to be kept "clean" and "family-friendly". Nothing slipped by the eyes of the censorship bureaucrats. My picture: In Europe the art of making films was flourishing as many film-makers (Bresson, Rosselini, De sica) took up a neorealism. I tend to think that Hollywood movies from this era are all stupid musicals, screwball comedies with Doris Day in the cast and John Wayne Westerns (of which some are half-decent entertainment when in the state of hangover). Film noir? Sure, some of it is great. James Dean? Yeah, he's great, too.

Lately I've watched stuff that makes me less willing to stick to this crude picture.

Three of these movies are based on plays by Tennessee Williams (Track of the cat is not among these). Regrettably, I am not familiar with the plays, so I don't know in what way the movies and the plays differ (even though I have read that some things considered too dangerous were left out or watered down in the movies). Anyways, these four titles have in common an atmosphere of disruption and rebellion. There is, in all of these films, some moments were melodrama gets the upper hand, but there are also moments where a state of unrest is described more subtly. These films are, in different ways, about how a person's past might haunt her and how it is difficult to live in a world in which one is expected to inhabit a particular role: the husband who loves his wife, the decent & innocent woman, the professional, the patriarch.

In all of these movies, there are tendencies to criticize the way gender (by means of expectations) dominates what a person's life is considered to be. In Cat on a hot tin roof, a man's disgust with himself and with his wife is depicted. It becomes apparent that he doesn't love her but that as a man, he is expected to be sexually interested in anything having a female form. He sees this expectation as absurd and outrageous. The idea that if one is not sexually interested in all women, or worse, one's wife, something is deeply wrong. Sweet bird of youth showcases a great many troubled characters, and the dynamics between them works well at times. A gigolo tries to work his way into the Hollywood business by tending to a drugged actress' every need. He tries to keep up his "male pride" by looking up a sweetheart of his youth. Nothing beats the end of the film, *SPOILER* in which the gigolo is rejected by his sweetheart. "What about you and me", cries Chance, the gigolo. "To hell with you" brawls his former sweetheart. The end!

7 November 2007

acknowledgments

From the "acknowledgments" in a book on professional ethics:

NN has borne the trials of marriage to a ruminant writer with characteristic grace. NN was a guide on all matters French, from the translation of sources to the navigation of Paris archives. More important, I have relied on her sound judgment and refined ear for matters large and small. She is my one true love, and to her I dedicate this book.


How many slimy avowals of affection for a loving wife have you read in academic books? I have read far too many writers' dedications to patient wives who've taken care of the family for them when the "ruminant writer" is himself all wrapped up in Academia (i.e. in himself). Male writers praise the virtues of their wives: tolerance, devotion, self-sacrifice. What are his virtues? He's got such a great mind. But of course it's very practical that this Great Mind and Man of Many Talents has a little wife at home who can take care of everything, "matters great and small". And sometimes the little wife may help him with small things pertaining to his Academic Work. She may be knowledgeable in French (of course, it suits her femininity so well) and therefore she may help him with translations. She may type his manuscript. She may check his spelling. She brings him a lunch box. She comforts him and tells him everything will turn out all right. He will get his book published and his career will move onwards. She will take care of everything. He doens't have to worry one bit. She knows that his work is very serious and very deep; his burden is huge. She should be happy to be married to such a great mind.

I dedicate this to you, slimeball.

4 November 2007

anti-bullshit

If you're tired of bullshit about art, then you should read this (http://www.harmony-korine.com/paper/int/korine/babylon.html) fabulous interview with director Harmony Korine in which s/he rejects stupid questions about art history, influences and authenticity. Korine is the director of Gummo, one of the most stunning films I've ever seen.

3 November 2007

southern gothic




I grew up in a seabound village. It's a spooky place, believe me. Think about a sleazy, deserted Texan or Alabama community portrayed in a "southern gothic" novel and you'll get close to what my village is like.
Life & death? - Death.
People talk with a drawl. They drive fierce vehicles. That little pansy car? Must be your wife's? The liquor is bad, but you'd better drink it (there's several reasons why you have to). The coolest band around is called Vikingarna. The older folks listen to local radio and buy cassettes. In the modern age we're in for eurodisco produced by Dutch craftsmen. Baby, come on tonight/make me feel so right.
Women work hard, two jobs minimum. Men, on the other hand, hang around, chit-chatting about life & families. (But this is serious business, of course) Gossip is the nerve of life, the air that we breathe.

The older generation have made an art out of telling stories. Sometimes they are wonderful, humorous stories, always ending with something witty a particular person has said: "...and then (s)he said...." These stories often convey a form of wisdom and insight. A sensitivity to the mundande and the absurd: a sensitivity to language and the way we are present in language.
But gossip is always grim and cruel. Sitting at the coffee-table, munching biscuits, I am told the latest news about suicide, alcholism, violence. Dogfights during hunting raids. Poor Muffsen is dead. A nice family reunion is spent reminiscing about the dead: when they died, how they died, who's next. Yummy, another cup of coffee, auntie?

Some villagers have dedicated their lives to economically disastrous projects; buying stuff and selling stuff in a rapid succession. Neighbors slander them behind their backs. Others are victorious and wealthy: they make investments, work hard, build houses, produce kids and a "prospect". They are slandered, too.
For the good and the wicked - a biscuit labeled Fazer and another cup of coffee.

2 November 2007

pissgösta, it's winter soon














Gösta is preparing for a tough winter. So am I.