31 January 2008

Confessions of an evil, spineless bureaucrat

My primary intention with this blog, or at least one of them, was that I would force myself to write on a regular basis and, thereby, make writing easier and more effortless. But the nature of the things that occupy my mind at present is such, that stream-of-consciousness, jolly chit-chat isn't easily produced. In addition to this, the practicalities, in which I have invested my mental powers, are hardly very exciting. My mind has slowly coalesced with the gray, lifeless world of the bureaucrat, the only concern of whom is to manage problems from the naked perspective of efficiency. I want to cause as little havoc as possible, I don't want to fuck up, I want to cause no harm. That's it. The disgusting thing is that I feel an urge to defend stupid rules and decrees, trying to make them seem both reasonable and practical, trying to make people understand. I "impersonate the law". Or, alternatively, I alienate myself from the whole thing by stating that I don't really believe in this shit. But I'm beginning to see that this is an even worse alternative, not at all the innocent, carefree solution I want it to be. I am simply doing my job. My job? Yeah, whatever.

Do I want to pursue an academic career? Fuck, no. I lack all forms of administrative skills, but I do enjoy the part of the job that is about reading books, writing stuff, reading other people's stuff and trying to help out the best I can. But when even these latter things are looked at from the point of view of efficiency and bureaucracy - then things are getting really ugly.

Really, I enjoy my job, but sometimes I am worried about where things are headed.

28 January 2008

notes from the underground

Went to a flea market today. Lots of stuff. Suddenly I felt really bad, poking around among Haddaway records, a dirty ice bear toy, James Bond books, James Bond movies. Heaps of abandoned crockery. A woman bought her kid a Garfield towel, "he'll probably like it". Candy & crisps next to the cashpoint. I ended up feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, all too self-conscious.

I grew up surrounded by ornamental junk. All the shit rottening in my closets. The sunset & palms wallpaper in my aunt's livingroom. Every Christmas, at the annual family gathering, home-made cookie in hand, I stare into that goddamn sunset while listening to stories about fish and guns.

The heyday of eurotechno. Me & my classmates were shooting up DJ Bobo and Culture Beat. 2unlimited. Rednex. Ace of Base blasting from shiny, black, semi-portable CD players bought by our parents. Eurotechno debauchery was praised in a semi-academic music journal a few years ago. Tongue-in-cheek. I felt bad reading that, too, wondering what to do with the ironic mixture of contempt and glorification hinted at in the article.

Cats made of glass. Silver cutlery (that's my award for having accepted the gift of the holy communion). Helly Hansen - for the great Outdoor Life. Broken machines. Fully functioning, homeless machines. Graveyards for them all, put to rest under tombstones of dust and power cords. R.I.P, Sony walkman.

For dinner: industrial lasagne. Some post-post-irony-TV & deep-shit world literature (Golden Notebook). Off to bed and another day of academic toil. Sunsets and palms, porcelain cats - In a different shape.

27 January 2008

A mixed bag

Last night S and I went to see El Orfanato. My sister warned me about it, but my ticket was already paid by then. It's quite easy to find an excuse to enjoy bad horror movies, but this one was beyond redemption. Not only were the effects really bad and of the kind that are included in any poorly developed horror movie (jarring swings, slamming door, re-awakening corpses) but the worst thing about this movie was its indulgence in "motherly love". A mother's love; irrational, indefeatable, sentimental. Well, come on. In horror movies, women are usually portrayed as equipped with some form of magical empathy that enables them to make contact with the dead (etc.). This latches on to the picture of women as beings who have a strange ability to put themselves in the shoes of others. ZZZZZZZZ. The point is that it is really hard to imagine that the emphasis on motherly love in El Orfanato would instead be placed on fatherly love. By all means, don't watch this movie. It's a waste of time and I really regret having sat through it.

The rest of the night was spent in bars. Which was good. We went to El Gringo as usual and now I've really begun to take a liking to this joint. Cheap beer. Friendly people, mostly. Variety. I'm not a hip hop connoisseur, but at El Gringo the playlist is very limited, so I've got used to the songs and by now I actually like most of them.

I am reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. So far, I've found Lessing's take on freedom in relation to gender quite interesting. The battle for freedom is fought on many different levels and they are not without complications. Conversations are described with a sensitivity to detail, as she brings out how we react to what somebody says in light of the way we understand our relation to other people. She illuminates the way we are concerned about how we are understood by others, how we choose our words so as to be understood in a particular way. She gives many examples of the challenges of having an open conversation. She says, for example, that some people are unable to accept an idea if it is not expressed in a language that s/he would use himself. (The situation is that of a communist group, and the clash between the self-assured, male demagogues of the group and the female activists which are not taken seriously because they do not talk right, their language is lacking in ideological correctness.) Good point. I recognize this tendency in myself, to dismiss something a person has said when being uncomfortable with the way it is said. In philosophy, these types of misunderstandings are common. And sometimes there are both misunderstandings and the type of resentment that Lessing refers to.

24 January 2008

Feelgood movies

I don't like rom-com cheese, but there are some films that I like that can, if the concept is strained a bit, be labelled as "feelgood movies".

1. Little Miss Sunshine
Dysfunctional families - yeah, that's a familiar theme - but something about this film makes it deep, fun and heartbreaking.

2. Babettes Gaestebud
A fun and sad film about food and belief.

3. Billy Elliott

4. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert
Roadmovie about Aussie dragqueens. If you don't like ABBA already, after watching this movie, you will.

5. Être et avoir
French documentary about a village school.

6. Les Triplettes de Belleville
A film about cycle-racing and more...

7. Wonder Boys
Michael Dougles as a world-weary college professor.

8. Pieces of April
Music by the 6ths.

9. The Wind Will Carry Us
One hell of a movie by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. A movie about small things and big things. Human beings, a turtle and a cell phone. Great dialogue.

10. The Straight Story
David Lynch's film about forgiving.

bubbling under: Hotel Paradiso, Skenbart: en film om tåg, Mies Vailla Menneisyyttä, Delicatessen, But I'm a Cheerleader!, Wilde.

In my list, only Priscilla remotly resembles the rom-com genre. But that's not, of course, romance in the WASP kind of way.

23 January 2008


Last night I watched one of these low-budget, fabulous documentaries that Public Service TV spoils us with. I missed the beginning, so I don't know what it was called. It was set in some village, by the mountains, in Catalonia. A man talked about how he's lived in the same house all his life, and that his father lived there as well, and his grandfather. A German hippie couple just moved into the village. They are obviously in love with the surroundings and plan to build a house. The German hippie listens to a cassette of haunting folk music with the man-with-an-old-house. The old man is moved by the music, and the eagerly urges the hippie to rewind the tape so that they can listen to it all over again. A flamboyant Englishman talks about his garden. The villagers have told him that the soil is suitable for growing kidney beans. That would be no fun, snarls the English Dandy, who also buys a mule. One of the villagers predicts that nothing will grow in the Englishman's garden.

Well, that was it. But it was a great documentary.

22 January 2008

Degradation of work

My latest project at work: marxist literature on work and labour. I am not the Marx scholar I should be: I missed out on a course on Marx a few years ago, and now it is a bit overwhelming to dive into this massive body of literature on my own. The worst thing is that I don't know if this track will lead me anywhere, or if it's a dead end. Time will tell. I have to start somewhere, so now I am reading Harry Braverman's Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the 20th Century, first published in 1974. It's a good book to start with, as it does not require a lot of background knowledge about Marx and the marxist tradition. I don't know whether more experienced scholars would consider his work out-of-date or irrelevant, but for my own purposes, it has provided me with quite a few insights about "degradation of work", Braverman's foremost topic.

His book is, in essence, a showdown with a Taylorist division of labour within the setting of monopoly capitalism. "Monopoly capitalism" refers to a system dominated by the needs of capitalism, so that all other needs are relative to this one. Capital dominates over labour. Capital has gradually been concentrated into huge units (in opposition to the system of the factory-owning capitalist, who supervises his workers with his walking-stick). Within this system, supervision, control and planning is separated from "real work", the type of work which requires no skills or education. This tendency originated in Taylorism, other forms of managerialism being merely one form of the same way of conceptualizing division of labour. Blue collar work is degraded, and the same goes for white collar work, similarly deprived of skills and control. Control is allocated to fewer and fewer positions.

Braverman advocates that work could be both creative and meaningful. It is potentially so. But given a capitalist fetisch of profit maximization, working conditions, the conditions of production, will be developed without consideration of the worker's relation to her work. Or: this relation is the object of abuse and exploitation. Braverman draws on sociological work for illustrations of his points, but he also discusses various marxist texts and, naturally, he has much to say about the growing body of management literature. The book is highly critical of the modern emphasis of management, the tendency to install a split between planning of work and execution of planning. In this respect, I find the book highly relevant, even in these times of "competencies" and "life-long learning" (mostly bullshit).

If you have any doubts about the relevance of critizing management ideology, please have a look at the notoriously word-diarrhethic management literature. Most of these books try to figure out ways to transport the strategy of a business firm into the minds and labour of workers ("employees" is the word used here, and that is significant in itself). "Social relations" are a factor to be exploited. Symptomatically, management literature has very little to say about work. I've read some books on human resource management and, boy, I hope that I will never, ever, have to read such numb-spirited, poorly written, manipulative books again. Management literature very rarely looks at the way work could be an expression of doing something worth-while, something good. When this issue is discussed, it is often transformed into questions about how to best stimulate the motivation of employees - on a psychological level.

My initial impression is that much of management literature is based upon a premise according to which there is a necessary distinction between a) the market (customers, subsuppliers, price, competition) and b) how a firm should be organized ("human resource management", organizational structures, "management systems"). But more importantly, b) is understood to be dependent on a) - decisions about organizational structures will be based on the current analysis of the relation between the firm and the market. Example: there is a huge amount of writings on "project management". To a great extent, modern firms are organized into projectized units. Employees are engaged in projects, in which they develop a large set of different competencies. This trend is masqueraded as increasing self-control, increasing possibilities for development of competencies and most of all "projects" are said to signal the end of bureaucracy and corporate hierarchies. But my question is: to what extent is this an artillery of idealized pictures employed in an attempt to persuade employees that they should be happy with short-term contracts (or none at all) and that they should be satisfied with the tasks they are given because they are supposedly enjoying the luxury of "creative work"?

An even more important question: What is the relation between "projects" and the increasing tendency of outsourcing parts of the "humbler work" to third-world countries, where labour is cheaper? In many Finnish industrial (project based) firms, the tasks performed by Finnish personnel tend to be planning and monitoring of projects. Well, what happens with the work that is performed by non-Finnish project actors? Would we talk about "self-control" and "creativity" here as well? Management literature, at least, keeps quiet about this. I wonder why...

Looking at "the project-based firm" from this perspective, Braverman's perspective does not seem at all irrelevant or out-of-date. But seeing this, we need to waddle through a great deal of managerial chit-chat, waffle, guff. We are led to believe in a picture of the happy, creative, competent employee. But it may be more to the point to look at the structures that motivate managers to uphold this picture. Myopia, foggy sight, tunnel vision - I don't know which metaphor would be most fitting here.

I do not, of course, intend to say that Braverman's account is exhaustive or without flaws. But his analysis do latch on to some aspects of capitalism that tend to be obscured, forgotten or ignored.

19 January 2008

"Without compromise, without concessions and without mercy"

From The Guardian:

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, said no shipment would cross into Gaza without his personal approval. A spokesman for the defence ministry said the closure was a "signal" to Hamas, the Islamist group that won Palestinian elections two years ago and last summer seized full control of Gaza. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, warned that his military operations in Gaza would continue "without compromise, without concessions and without mercy".

I try to understand why Barak seems to think that political points can be scored by convincing the public that Israel's military operations will be "without mercy". What political aims are achieved by pointing out that military interventions are uncompromising? Is the point here that it will become evident to everyone that Barak will not let human suffering and death distract his political strivings? The politics of retaliation.

Palestinians fire rockets into Southern Israel. Barak is, apparently, convinced that there is only one option: striking back, without mercy. Israel bombs the Palestinian interior ministry. People are killed (and, guess what, they are civilians). Israel seals the border of the Gaza strip, a decision that implies shortage of water for the Gaza inhabitants. Merciless politics, indeed. A Palestinian man, whose brothers were killed by Israeli warfare, is quoted in the same article: "What is our guilt? We ask to live in peace and we ask them to leave us alone," he said, surrounded by family and neighbours. "With one hand the Israelis talk about peace, with the other they continue fighting."

When "acting without mercy" is prized as a virtue, the presupposition of this is that the merciless agent's actions are guided by principles, which s/he will not abandon, no matter how much suffering and misery her actions give rise to. If acting without mercy is given the status of a necessity - which seems to be Barak's position - it is acknowledged that one will, most likely, be responsible for having done gruesome things, but one should not let oneself be bothered by it too much. One should keep going, relentlessly.

"Acting without mercy". The other side of this coin is "getting one's hand dirty". Abstaining from acting upon these merciless principles will be seen as a desire to preserve one's moral cleanliness, i.e. one's reputation. "If you won't do it, I'm sure I will find somebody who will." The gruesome things one has done or is expected to do are transformed into questions regarding psychological well-being. Tough principles - nothing for sissies. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Busines is business is business. Sometimes it is one's business to drop bombs on Palestinians, at other times it's someone else's. Criticism becomes impossible. If you have qualms about doing your job, that's just because you are soft-skinned, sentimental, naive. If you won't do it, somebody else will. Business is business. Necessities. Living in a tough world. Doing what one has to do before it's too late. You're such an idealist, irresponsible wussy. Responsibility shows no mercy.

Are you familiar with this sweet-talkin' "tough responsibility"?

Will acting "without mercy" help Israel and Palestine achieve peace? Will a suspension of fuel supplies promote the prospects of peace? Is it an intelligible scenario to think that peace could be the result of blackmail? We've seen this before, haven't we, and the future does not look good.

15 January 2008


Plato is the master of speculative etymology. So are many post-ish thinkers: "Central for sexual difference theory is the insight that the root of the term materialism is mater. This implies that the material as the primary and constitutive site of origin of the subject, is also the instance that expresses the specificity of the female subject, and as such it needs to be thought out systematically." (Braidotti, Metamorphoses, p. 23) My biggest problem with this quote is the "this implies that...". Of course, sometimes looking at a word from a fresh point of view - e.g. noticing that a word is derived from another word or consists of several words - may shed some light on a particular usage of a word. It was once pointed out to me that the German word Beruf could be split into be-Ruf - thus linking 'work' with 'call' as in 'being called upon' - 'work as a calling'. But these kinds of points do not have the force of 'x implies y'.

Deriving mater from materialism adds some elegance to Braidotti's argument, of course, but the question remains whether the need to bring it up is not simply an instance of philosophical cosmetica.

The Kolyma Tales

I am currently reading The Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov. The book consists of short stories about the author's experiences of the Kolyma prison camp (located in north-east Sibiria), where he was imprisoned from 1937 to 1951. In his short stories, Shalamov writes about the people he met at the camp: other prisoners ("political" and "other" criminals), guards, doctors. His account of life in the prison camp of Kolyma is uncompromising. In several places, he returns to one theme: the prison camps destroyed people, there was nothing good to be found there at all. Even friendship was, he writes, impossible in the camp: at most, relations to others were bearable - enduring the other's stories, sharing the same barrack-bed, selling and buying stuff. One way to interpret this is that he points out how the prisoners' lives were transformed into, as he says, "human stumps". The form of existence he describes is numb, empty and, above all, predicated on the contingencies of life and death, where any small "offence" or "mishap" could have deadly consequences.

But while his stories also convey differences among the prisoners, he does not moralize or pass judgements on others. His depiction of the people he encountered at the camp is, however honest and brutal, characterized by humility. He describes many forms of demoralization at the camps, greed and exploitation, but there is no trace whatsoever of mockery or self-rigtheousness in his writing. He doesn't agitate, he doesn't preach - he simply talks about what it is to survive in impossible circumstances where the odds of survival are next to null.

Shalamov worked in the mines, but after many years he was granted a position as a camp hospital attendant. Many of the stories depict the routines of the camp. Getting up in the morning, being shovelled off to work. He describes work in the mines as a sanctuary; the prisoners performed work under impossible conditions that exceded their strenghts, but at work they were usually left alone by the guards (the worst punishments at the camp were applied when a prisoner failed to drag himself to work). But what he talks about is, of course, a very grim version of "sanctuary". He writes: "Work and death are synonymous, synonymous not only in the world of the prisoners, for those classified as enemies of the people. Work and death are synonymous also for the directors of the camp and for Moscow, otherwise they would not have written what they did in their special instructions, in the tickets to death: 'only for usage in heavy, physical labour'." (In "RUR", my translation of the Swedish tr.)

Shalamov's book contains many detailed descriptions of the Kolyma existence: sleeping, eating, fighting, freezing. Having one's belongings stolen. His book is the story of how he managed to stay alive in the camp, while witnessing the death and decay of so many others.

14 January 2008

Lived in bars

Whisky bar is a small venue next to the Orthodox church. When you get into the pub, watch out for the steps, especially if you already have a couple of drinks in your belly. A few years ago, my friend and I came there all the time, usually at odd days. Sunday nights, tuesdays. We were madly in love with the place. All kinds of people hang out there, and that's one of the reasons I like the place so much. There's heavy metal people, students, girls who want to look pretty, boys who want to look pretty, nice folks, middle-aged couples, elderly ladies who go there to enjoy a nice glass of whisky. My friend and I always wasted our money on the shitty jukebox. We listened to the same things every time; Elvis, the Doors, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, David Bowie, Bob Marley. Without an Ozzy Osbourne song the night wasn't complete. We drank bad whisky - "whisky of the week". 3 euros. One time we were drinking tequila all night. My friend puked in a bush outside of the place and I humbly suffered my personal punishment the following day. Another time a guy was trying to convince my friend that they were made for each other and that they, at least, should spend the night together. I got a little bit annoyed. The guy asks me: "Do you intend to take her home?" I answer, sarcastically: "Yeah" and he wants to shake my hand as if to say: "That's all right, buddy, I understand". Afterwards, I realized that by shaking his hand I got myself dragged into a macho-pig ritual.

Yesterday, I talked my friend S into having a drink at Whisky bar. She had been a little suspicious of the place, as she was convinced that motorcycle gangs (or something) were in charge of it, that there would be brawls. But of course she felt at home there immediately. Whisky bar is a friendly place. We met a middle-aged couple who bought us expensive whisky. Something about them made them glow - they were in love and were satisfied with their lives, with each other and with their jobs (they build houses for a living). Their faces were cracked up in big smiles. We talked about language(s), philosophy and music. A lot of jokes were cracked and anectodes were told ("men kära barn, vi är ju i Stockholm!"). We had a great time.

11 January 2008

After The Day Before - Másnap

A man gets a lift on a pickup into a small rural village, the scenery of which is dominated by scattered run-down houses, slopes, hills, creaks, swaying grass. The man walks around, indeed, sometimes he is moving around on a rusty bicycle, looking for a house he has inherited. He meets a lot of people; mostly strange, evil and conspiring people engaged in heated arguments. The man is told about the murder of a local girl. The events are slowly revealed.

In essence, this is the plot of Másnap, a Hungarian movie from 2004 directed by Attila Janisch. It is a peculiar film, but not only because of its fragmented storytelling - what distinguishes this film from other experiments with chronology is its quite unusual portrait of landscape and human beings. One of my associations when watching the film was The Reflecting skin by Philip Ridley. Not only did the films share a fetisch for swaying cornfields and landscape in general, in both films did the landscape have an eerie dreamlike and surreal glow. A constant feeling of unease and foreboding characterizes Ridley's film as well as Janosch's.

Tarkovsky's Stalker shares the same quality and he develops it to perfection (I remember one scene particularly well in which the Stalker lies on the muddy ground and looks at the grass and at a puddle, then a dog come along...). In Stalker, the landscape is portrayed as living things, life which of course creates a beautiful, paradoxical contrast within the post-apocalyptic setting of the film. In Másnap, the same kind of contrasts are employed, at least partially.

The sense of something inherently surreal in Másnap is difficult to pinpoint, as it has nothing to do with what goes on at the surface (in one sense). The perspective of the film, and the way the protagonist is presented to us, is deceivingly detached to the effect that both the landscape and persons turn into passive objects, contemplated, witnessed, but not more than that. But the deception of this perception/perspective is, and this is interesting, emphasized by the film itself. Somebody on IMBD talked about this film being a version of a story by Robbe-Grillet, which makes sense to me after having watched it.

Many scenes seem to focus on the associations, perception and expectations of the viewer and in this way the film inherits much from the play with suspense in the horror movie genre. If done in excess, this type of ploy would come out as annoying mannerism and there are perhaps some moments in the film which are unnecessarily enigmatic, but they are, I would say, rare. The enigmas of the films mostly have a striking and unsettling effect, which admittedly has less to do with story than with atmosphere (for me, that is).

But for some reason I can't quite make up my mind about this film. The scenes towards the end can be said to make the film more interesting, developing the theme of voyerism, but it can also be argued that these resuming scenes were both shallow and deeply tasteless.

10 January 2008

Charlot and Charlotte

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about one of the best mini TV-series ever made - Dansih roadmovie Charlot og Charlotte. Thumbs up that it will be released on DVD at some point.

8 January 2008

philosophy of action

The dates for deciding what courses to offer at the department arrive earlier and earlier due to - surprise, surprise - increasing bureaucracy. At first I was a bit fed up with it all, but then I got the idea that it would be quite fun to offer a seminar on Simone Weil. I am no expert - there are others at the department who know her work much better than I, a mere amateur, do. But what the hell - it'd be rewarding for me as well to read more Weil, as that belongs to the plans anyways (she has written a great deal about labour, my prime philosophical interest). Let's see if anybody's interested.

This autumn a friend of mine and I were "managing" a course on the philosophy of action. My first experience of teaching. I expected it to be a lot worse than it actually was: I feared sleepless nights and drinking myself to death in two weeks in pure desperation. On the other hand, teaching dry analytic philosophy - to which I am not really that accustomed myself - involves quite a few challenges, the main two of which were a) explaining why analytic philosophers are so bloody technical (I hope we didn't lapse into Apologetics) and b) explaining why philosophers have been tempted to defend truly abstract and strange pictures of 'action' and 'intention'. The big risk here is that the whole thing - devoting one's energies to analytic philosophers like Davidson, Bratman and Audi - comes to appear quite futile: first you present some ideas that at first glance seem totally outrageous, then you try to make it clear why Davidson & co might be quite interesting after all. After that you return to saying: 'well, isn't these ideas quite ridiculous anyway, even if we now are a little more familiar with the philosophical force of "a neutral picture of action".' I hope our students didn't think about it in that way, but it was bothering me throughout the course. Our being "wishy-washy".

During my first years of studying philosophy, I was constantly worrying about philosophy inspired by Wittgenstein being "destructive", "not going far enough". It took me a few years to realize that my conception of philosophy and its tasks was not very clear from the outset. My conception about what philosophy is to "do" was very abstract. I don't know whether this has gotten any clearer now, but at least I am not bothered by that specific thing anymore. Usually - at times the old worries return to haunt me.

I hope we managed to convey to the students that a familiarity with the problems discussed in philosophy of action - the relation between intention and action for example, or the idea that actions are bodily movements "plus something more" - helps one get a perspective on a form of "scientific blindness" in analytic philosophy on a wider level. Applying what most resembles scientific models to things that cannot be dealt with in that way - at least not primarily. Fos this reason, we talked at length about the difference between empirical questions and conceptual questions, as this division is particularly muddled in the philosophy of action. Some philosophers are terribly unclear about what it is they are doing when they are structuring "a theory of action" - conceptual remarks? empirical remarks about a phenomenon and "the constitution of the action-machinery"? I suspect that Bratman's crew - the post-davidsonians, as I would like to call them - can teach us a great deal about a form of mystification going on in philosophy that we can find in moral philosophy and the philosophy of language as well - not to mention what the mainstream of analytic philosophy of religion looks like. The philosophy of Bratman's gang can be studied as a warning example of the kind of thinker who has moved extremely far away from her/his subject matter, without herself noticing how far off she really is (questions about "the structure of action" - structure? Come on!).

One of the best texts we read during the course was an essay ("where the actions are") written by Frank Ebersole, a philosopher who hasn't got the attention he deserves. Maybe because his philosophy is nothing like the mainstream of analytic philosophy, nor does it have much in common with the mainstream of continental philosophy. By means of metaphors, analogies and pictures, Ebersole puts the conception that action can be stripped down to "bodily movements" in a perspective where this idea comes to appear very strange. His point is that we have a hard time coming up with a substantial picture of the kind of bodily movements-qua-actions that philosophers have had in mind. In that way, he shows that this very philosophical conception is a chimera, an impossibility. When we try to think clearly about the bodily movements which are supposed to be the "core" of action would be, the subject matter slips away and we are at a loss of what to think. (His style could, perhaps, be compared to that of O. Bouwsma - and Wittgenstein, naturally).
From Wikipedia (my, er, source of knowledge...): "Besides his intense involvement with philosophical problems, he's also a parent, a photographer, a birder, and has written two books of poetry (Many Times of Year and Song of the Crow)." How often is it pointed out, of a male philosopher, that he is a parent? Interesting. Here's a poem from one of his books - it's adorable (for lack of other words of praise). Here is Ebersole's own description of what he is up to, philosophically:

"...As quickly as I can I try to get a problem for philosophical investigation or inquiry isolated from history and from the doctrines of philosophers and get it "personalized," "internalized." Then I get to work on it -- putting to use, where they seem to apply, certain procedures and methods which I have found helpful in dealing with other problems. Among these: (a) I try always to keep the discussion in my own terms and to avoid use of the terminology of the philosophers who have dealt with the problem. I do not want to take on more of its usual philosophical baggage than is absolutely necessary to give it form as a problem. I do my best to tackle the problem as though it were the first time the problem had ever been considered; I try to think everything clean through as though none of it had been thought about before. (b) Thus, I try to avoid polemic; I try to put down the philosophical urge to array all the many philosophers before me, and to refute them one by one and declare myself the winner. I avoid constructing theories or developing dosctines. I try to stay away from the theoretical, the general and explanatory and stick to particulars, details, to cases. I want to proceed as much as possible by inventing and thinking of examples. The examples I mean, of course, are bits of stories, involving scenes or situations in which a person will properly and sensibly say something or think something. The desire to theorize, though, is often overwhelming, and when it is, there is nothing to do except to face it for what it is. I know of no effective way to do this except to confront it with more and more examples, to present it with the details -- the facts. For I know from many past experiences that these philosophical theories which rush in on me not only make me distort the facts, they make me blind to the very facts they have led me to distort. I must not let my desire to theorize turn me away from a close consideration of examples. For once my mind is full of theory, I can no longer see the determining details of an example. There is nothing to do but to be more persistent in forcing the details of examples before myself."

Frank Ebersole, Meaning and Saying, University Press of America, 1979, pages vii-viii.

"The desire to theorize is often overwhelming" - I guess that was what me & my friend wanted to convey to our students. We wanted to convey how strong that urge is, how attached one is to it, often unknowingly. Theoretical philosophy is a maze.

6 January 2008

The Big Kahuna

Generally, I'm not a fan of comedies. The Big Kahuna (1999), featuring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito was, however, a comic feast for me. A boring hotel in Whitchita, Kansas, is the setting of the film. Three sales reps are planning to set up a meet & greet party, the main purpose of which is to allure a potentional client ("the big Kahuna") into making a Big Business Deal with them. The elusive 'cahuna' turns up for the party, but is only recognized by Bob, a rookie in the field, who converses with him about dogs and Jesus - to the disappointment of the others, keen on a business deal. Being based on a play, the film revolves around conversations between these three people: a young, gentle-mannered Baptist zealot, a cynical 'business is business' type (Spacey), and a life-weary man (DeVito) who is on a quest for meaning in life. Perhaps due to my philosophical interests, I could even stomach the talkey monologue part towards the end - I prefer to think about it as a presentation of one man's perspective, rather than as a philosophical indulgence on the part of the writer.

The film is packed with witty observations and the tension between the characters is well worked-out, so that the film is never heading towards stereotypes. It is one of the most interesting films about religion I've seen in a while. And business, of course. I'm planning to watch Glengarry Glenn Ross to which this film is often compared.

Larry Mann: There are people in this world, Bob, who look very official while they are doing what they are doing. And do you know why?
Bob Walker: Why?
Larry Mann: Because they don't know what they are doing. Because if you know what you are doing, then you don't have to look like you know what you are doing, because it comes naturally.

more movies

I didn't know much about Alice doesn't live here anymore before I watched it. I had a vague hunch it would be some romantic Cheese. It isn't. The film is, like many other US movies from the 70's, gritty and mostly uncompromising. The acting was great - Jodi Foster was stunning as a tough, foul-mouthed kid. It's hard to know what to expect of a Scorsese movie, as he's got films such as Kundun (the horror, the horror!) and Gangs of New York on his conscience. But then again, he directed Bringing out the dead which is one of my favorite movies. Alice... is one of the best character dramas I've watched in a while and here Scorsese actually deals with the subject of Machismo.

I also watched another film tonight, El Perro, a film about a man and his dog. It's a short little film about dog shows, dog breeding and our relation to animals. This was an interesting film to watch for me, as I sometimes wonder about the strange phenomenon of dog breeding and dog shows. At one point in the film, one of the characters said of his "business" that it's simply a factory. The scenes displaying breeders' ("the factory owners") ideas about dog sexuality were both funny, disturbing and absurd. I was a little bit disappointed about the portrayal of the main character, unused to the many conventions of dog shows, and his attitude towards it all. Maybe it was too subtle for me to get but I felt something was being glossed over. It was, however, a likeable, down-to-earth film I am really glad I watched.

4 January 2008

Shit about shit

Let me indulge in whining for a while:

1) Due to an ailment of my ears, the state of my auditory world is like that of a late 80's Hal Hartley movie - on a crappy VHS tape. These movies resemble my life in other respects as well: stiff dialogue, detachment, quiet surrealism. (Hartley, by the way, is great - I love his work, especially Henry Fool and some of his early stuff! - I would like to watch more stuff of his, however.)

My present condition makes me feel an urge to shout not so gentlemanly things at people at our neighbour department: "shut the FUCK up or I'll prove, by means of syllogistic reasoning, the mediocre nature of Finnish-Swedish literature!". But I am a nice person. Or, if not, I do at least have some half-proper sense of conventions of courtesy.

2) For consolation, I read Thomas Bernhard. Together with Thomas Mann, he is the master of depicting discourses attached to sickness. At times, he is boring, at times, he is funny and ironic, at times his descriptions are really moving.

3) I worry about my academic pursuits not being concrete or focused enough. What if I am doing this for nothing, if, in a few years' time, it will turn out that my project is muddled through-and-through? "Well, I did try..." Did you really? Don't ask questions, punk. What if my research school will sue me for not having done what I was supposed to do? Can they do that? Maybe not, but still.

4) It's cold outside.

5) Everything else is humdrum rubbish.

6) Boring stuff on TV.

2 January 2008

Geopolitics, retropolics, oilpolitics

I know all too little about these things - international politics and economics, that is - but this was interesting. Even though the arguments are quite compressed, there were many points that were new to me or that I have only reflected on in passing.


From the same blog: about nu-speak in politics, business and academia. A well-written, well-argued post about the harm of waffle dressed up as 'political message'.

On feminism

Faux white-chocolat-because-you're-worth-it feminism is teared to pieces in this blog entry. I couldn't agree more with the following insight: "Stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover."

For me, feminism is about revealing and elucidating things in ours lives, things we would rather leave unacknowledged. Feminism is about truth, how we perceive the world and ourselves. Perception of possibilities and of change. Feminism is not theoretical. Even though it might sometimes be difficult to approach gender issues, this difficulty is of a moral, rather than theoretical, nature.

Feminism is about scrutinizing why it is that a specific issue is gendered, why something has a gendered meaning. An example: think about the gendered pictures associated with the idea that motherhood is a major change in a person's life. Think about the following concepts and the images they conjure up: sassy, respectable, provocative, ugly, fag, breast, adolescence, hormones, fireman, lipstick, diesel motor. I don't intend to say that concepts have an inherent, fixed meaning. Neither are concepts simply the results of conventions ("well, I choose not to see it as gendered even tho' most would!). What I were rather thinking of is the way we talk about lipstick, brests, diesel motors and hormones. And what sense something has is to be seen against the background of a life*. Referring to Tarantino once again: in Death Proof he plays with the idea of what a professional stuntman looks like - and the pictures that don't seem to "fit in". One critic on IMDB bemoaned Tarantino's lack of realism by appealing to the contraction between "a bunch of girls" and "fung fu stunts"!

Some claim feminism to be beyond politics (Swedish politicians, sometimes, seem to think along those lines). For them, feminism is exhausted by the term 'equality'. I think equality has a role, but not an exhaustive one. Gender permeats our lives in ways that are not made visible if sexism and injustices due to gender are depicted as something that can be fixed by some institutional changes.

If we are ready to challenge how we understand gender, that means we have to challenge many other things as well. Gender is not a tidy box. Maybe that is what feminists have had in mind in coining the term 'intersectionality' but then again, why do we need a technical term for this simple fact?

One of the few texts that have really challenged me to think, shaken me, battered me, is Valerie Solana's SCUM Manifesto. Her text contains many layers and it is packed with irony, metaphors, references and jokes. It is nonetheless a serious text. Or: this is the way I read the text, you might read it differently. The SCUM Manifesto is a text about me and you and the world. Solanas is angry, analytic, witty, furious, sarcastic - but at the same time she is open for hope and love. If she has a thesis, it is this: being a 'woman' and 'a man' is something we've done to ourselves, it is something we have forced upon ourselves and upon others. She understands gender as a form of ever-lasting project by which we become the beings we are now. "The male" is dependent on "the female" - masculinity is "strenght" and "intellect" but behind all this are beings who want to masqurade themselves as "strong" and "intellectual" and doing this is, of course, a way of relating to others, the others being "weak", "female", "bodily". Solanas toys with gender concepts; on the surface she might resemble an essentialist, "men are weak, not strong", but what she is doing is, rather, taking the whole thing apart by means of a form of dialectical reasoning. Dialectical, that is, referring to the juxtaposition of concepts, put side by side. She discloses "femininity" and "masculinity" from a perspective of how these concepts make a difference. She is, as it were, rooting gender in a history of violence.

Pictures of gender, life and politics are thrown into her conceptual mill and after grinding (we are grinded!), we will not be able to return to being "daddy's girls" or "strong men" anymore. She writes about gender as a form of self-deception and her project is, in a way, to make us stop deceiving ourselves, to make us see the world as it is. Her manifesto can be compared to Nitzschean ideas about self-deception - there are a lot of similarities here. The difficulty of reading Solanas is quite the same as the problems one encounters when reading Nietzsche. They share the same kind of brutality. And many times such a brutality is exactly what is needed. But at other times the rampage of brutality is all too invincible when facing another person.

The changes she envisions are not easy; they are violent and hard. But it is up to the reader to interpret what the nature of "violence" here is. Solanas digs in a heap of (bull)shit, but she comes out alive - or does she? Do we? Can we? Read the manifesto here.

* Sorry, this is a Wittgensteinian cliché I cannot resist employing here.

1 January 2008


Since I wasn't in a mood for partying last night I spent most of the evening watching movies (and listening to new favorite artist AGF). I watched films that I've been planning to watch, but that have fallen in between somewhere. I didn't have any expectations about The Assassination of Richard Nixon but it was actually a good film - at least the most parts of it. Sean Penn is great, as always (mostly). Questions about prestige, work and self-deception were brought up in the film and no easy answers were given. Then again, it tended to make things too easy - especially the description of the man's relation to his ex-wife was the type of thing one has seen in movies a thousand times.
People have recommended Pan's laryrinth so I decided to watch it at last. My feelings about it are mixed. I like the unusual way of dealing with issues about war. The elements of fairy tale and fantasy worked quite well. But at the same time, the characters never really came to life and I felt they were achetypes, rather than real people. If characters turn into archetypes, then I consider that as a problem - at least in the most cases.
Even though I've watched almost the entire Tarantino oeuvre, and even though I've found most of his films entertaining, there are quite few of them that have made an impression. Jackie Brown and Natural Born Killers (which he wrote) are my favorites. Kill Bill was fun, but the motherhood part was bogus. Reservoir dogs, of course, is a film that sticks with you. To be honest, I wasn't really interested in dedicating two hours to his latest movies, but some people have tried to talk me into watching it. So I did. Death Proof was, in fact, a pleasant surprise. All right, I didn't like the sexualization of his female characters but to his defense one can say that it was not done entirely uncritically. If one wants to read the film with a considerable amount of charity, then one could say that the film is about sexualization of women, rather than being an instance of it. I think there are some reasons to read it charitably. Tarantino's slimeball asshole characters beats, I think, most of what I've seen. In this way, he seems conscious about a lot of things. Besides that, it was a very entertaining movie, well worth seeing.

It a new year and all that shit. 2007 was gone in a second. I am getting old, it seems, ready for rocking-chair on a porch, buying "the best of the 80's"-records and start whining that people should live healthier, getting a bigger flat ("get rid of that student pad of yours!"). Well, the F-word is a proper response to that.