28 May 2008
25 May 2008
This is not a flawless movie. I did not alway appreciate the use of music, pop music and classical music. The inclusion of Elliott Smith material felt awkward and ... sentimental. I also had some problems with the way some of the characters were reduced to stereotypes. At most times, van Sant displays a rare gift of giving an account of youth culture that comes out both real and relevant. For that reason, I was all the more surprised and disappointed to be introduced to the "typical popular girl" and "the tough kid at school". But his ear for dialogue is still remarkable. This is, in my opinion, something that sets him apart from most contemporary directors. But van Sant is not trading in grisly naturalism. The awkwardness & silences of the dialogues in his films create a tender, otherworldly atmosphere.
23 May 2008
1. Suicide - Suicide
2. Stina Nordenstam - And she closed her eyes
3. Bohren & der club of gore - Sunset mission
4. The Smiths - The Smiths
5. The Cure - Faith
6. PJ Harvey - To bring you my love
7. Nick Cave & the bad seeds - The boatman's call
8. Red house painters - Down colorful hill
9. Cowboy junkies - Trinity session
10. Television - Marquee moon
11. Dirty Three - Ocean songs
12. Low - I could live in hope
13. Diane Cluck - Countless times
14. Tim Buckley - Happy sad
15. The For carnation - The for carnation
16. Rivulets - Debridement
17. Mark Hollis - Mark Hollis
18. Songs: Ohia - The Lioness
19. Midnight choir - Amsterdam stranded
20. Patti Smith - Horses
21. Xiu xiu - Fabulous muscles
... Sleepless night... A list... Bullshit...
What are yours?
Nathalie Sarraute is associated with the nouveau roman scene, but she was inspired by Proust and Virginia Woolf. That is obvious in her book The Planetarium, which was published in 1959. I read the book in English, even though there is also a Swedish translation (that was perhaps how I heard about Sarraute in the first place). Stylistically, the novel builds on a form of stream-of-consciousness. The story - what little there is of it! - is told from the point of view of the characters of the book. But, really, this is not a narrative. If I were asked to sum up the story, I'd say it's about leather chairs, English club style. Door handles. A crammed apartment. That's about it.
On a more philosophical level, the novel explores a world of resentment. A young, procrastinating academic, and his quite anonymous wife, are offered ugly furniture by their in-laws. They live in a crammed apartment. Their eccentric aunt, who cares for nothing other than fancy furniture, offers them an apartment swop, but she regrets it instantaneously, to the bewilderment of all others, to whom she appears as a crazy hag.
The characters in Sarraute's novel hate each other dearly. They wallow in resentment and self-loathing. Their world is a world of small injustices, wrongdoing and pay-back. Malice. The real tense in the story is due to the different perspectives, clashing against each other. Sarraute's novel analyzes the way self-understanding & the way we understand others are connected, intertwined. But there's not much understanding here, even though there is a lot of psychological scrutinizing, mapping. The characters understanding of each others are connected with their attitudes; spite, impatience. Everything they say & think express a very intentional, but not very conscious, attempt at miscrediting everyone else. In a quite dostoyevskian way, Sarraute brings out why the characters live in a twiilght of consciousness & blindness. She describes a form of consciousness that comes to nothing, because it is expressive of the desire to destroy and to hide. One verb sums it all up: to beguile. Social calculation that never really works the way it is intended to - because it can't (a brilliant point in itself, I'd say).
These characters live in a mix of self-abasement and self-aggrandizing. They are the twin of Dostoyevsky's underground man. When trying to express the wrongs that have been done to them, they compare themselves to Caesar - that's their manner of talking. There are hints of self-understanding, but as soon as something like the voice of conscience worms into their blabbering reality, they take care to belittle it. The little there is of clarity, is brushed aside - in the name of "God, I'm a nasty person" and "well, I'm not that bad, after all, am I?" I'm sure you recognize this pattern from Notes from the underground.
Sarraute's story (or anti-story) is set against the backdrop of the "decency", the preoccupations, of bourgeoise life. Of what I've said so far, it might not have appeared as if she's interested in social critique - but in my opinion, she is. To make a name for oneself, to succeed, to fit in. The ever recurring easy chairs bring to mind a leisurly life, but for Alain & his ilks, life cannot be too leisurly (that would signify decadence). Alain himself is constantly blamed for being an effeminate good-for-nothing, too attached to nice things (too like his aunt Berthe). Alain is a worrying reminder in the heads of others. Alain's sleazy leather chairs constitute a reminder of himself, the way he understand himself, the way others impose their pictures of him on him. It is, thus, no coincidence that the leather chairs form the centre of the book. They stand for something that the characters are, but that they, at the same time, want to turn away from. The chairs are eponymous of the embarrassment, the shame felt by the characters in relation to themselves & others.
One of the interesting things about the book, and I understand it as no mere stylistic tool, is that it is not always clear whose perspective is presented. In this way, the reader is invited to reflect on the world of the different characters - how similar the characters are, because they share everything: envy, disgust, grudge. Is this yet another book, elevating alienation to the status of "authentic being"? Nope. The characters of the book are depicted as closed systems, planets, who have no real contact with each other besides that of envying & holding a grudge against everyone they know (and everyone they don't know, too). All confrontations end with anti-climax, a form of spiritual suffocation. These people treat each other as means-to-an-end -Sarraute brings out the absurdity in this, and this she does better than anyone. Sarraute is no Sartre, no Camus, even though her book shares with them some main themes.
In one especially devastating scene, Alain, the failed academic, receives some visitors in his crammed apartment. His artsy-fartsy "friends" pay him a visit with the sole intention of humiliating him, of relishing his crazed demeanour. Alain is embarrassed. He doesn't know what to do with himself. He is ashamed of his furniture. His friends ridicule his attempts at respectability.
"Good evening...delighted...Good evening...Why, not at all, come in...No, you're not disturbing me...Certainly not, what an idea, you know quite well that I'm very glad..." His smile is edgy, constrained, he feels this, his voice is badly pitched... He offers them seats, clumsily displaces an easy chair, he all but knocks over a small center table which, calmly, skillfully, they catch just in time, set straight again, all his gestures are jerky, awkward, his eyes must have a feverish light in them...
But what kind of petty novel is it that revolves around furniture? Well, Sarraute's style is more stringent, more systematic than most of the things I've read in my life. The broken, dissociated sentences mould the precise, yet somehow streaming, language. I don't mean that she strangles the life of her characters (or, well - a little...) - their lifelessness is part of the perspective she conjures up. Resentment: dying, while struggling to keep up the appearence of projects, initiatives, activity. She writes about the way self-deception can be seen as a kind of death (hello, Mr. Kierkegaard). In this respect, she is not cynical at all, even though her novel is no-nonsense darkness.
22 May 2008
Stand-out tracks include "Nin-com-pop", "faking the books" and "everywhere and always". And don't miss their (Morr) labelmates American analog set. Their earlier records were fantastic. I don't know about the later ones. Lots of xylophone & dreamy soundscapes.
black hair, brown eyes
If you want to know who I am
just ask me
17 May 2008
14 May 2008
Plato argues, in The Republic, that philosophy should not be pursued when one is too young. Young people should, he recommends, hang out at the gymnasium, or cool themselves down with disciplined music (not the vulgar kind that stir up all kinds of mixed emotions). S/he must be steered away from the things - "affluence and similar resources" (Rep., 495a) that are prone to corrupt young minds. The reputation of philosophy is tarnished, Plato advocates, because philosophers live the wrong kind of life; philosophy does not have the role in it that it should have. In Gorgias, Socrates attempts to offer a satisfying reply to the accusation that philosophy is not a worthy occupation "for a grown man" (and, in particular, for a grown manly man). Socrates' interlocutor for the moment, the beastly Callicles, throws a heap of shit at poor Socrates:
When I see an older man still studying philosophy and not deserting it, that man, Socrates, is actually asking for a whipping. For as I said just now, such a man, even if exceptionally gifted, is doomed to prove less than a man, shunning the city center and market place, in which the poet said that men win distinction, and living the rest of his life sunk in a corner and whispering with three or four boys, and incapable of any utterance that is free and lofty and brilliant (Gorgias, 485 a-d).
This is slander, of course (and Socrates knows it). Hanging out with young boys is very nice, thinks Socrates (for several reasons). But isn't there a familiar ring to Callicles' rant - even applied to our own times? "Why don't you get a real job...? You can't spend your whole life on education." But philosophy is not a career, not something one pursues with the intention of increasing the odds of "success". Socrates was aware of that, too. Philosophy is no incidental occupation, Plato says, but it should be reserved for the old, for a period of life when people are "allowed to roam free and graze at will, and to concentrate on philosophy, with everything else being incidental." (Rep., 498 b-c) I am a little sympathetic to what he says here.
There is a reason why I am babbling about Plato. Y & I had lunch and our discussion was slightly bend towards melancholia. Our short life, etc. We discussed philosophers and philosophy, and we both realized that most of the philosophers from which we have actually learnt something (not merely having picked up one or two fine & dandy arguments), are all 50++. Old. The only philosophers we know, who are young and wise, are our friends... This sounds arrogant, of course. But, really, when I skim philosophical journals, I get depressed. I get the impression of 30 ++ guys who, instead of going to the gym or hitting on "the opposite sex" or building a summer house or riding on a roaring motorcycle, write technical articles with lots of technical jargon. "An analysis of Dummett's conception of mathematical infinity compared to his views on truth-conditions". "Deleuze & Aquinas - a comparative analysis". "Fifty-five Cogent Arguments for why Killing Babies Does Not Belong to the Class of Permitted Actions." "A mathematical take on the ontological proof for the existence of God." "The différance of difference - deconstructing the de- of deconstruction." "The young Wittgenstein and the later Wittgenstein - My conceptualist reading, influenced by my very radical re-reading of Frege's nachlass".
Sometimes I am afflicted by the biggest misfortune of all, according to Plato, misology. Hatred of reason. Perhaps that shows that I'm too young for this business. Take your time, the motto of the philosopher, says Wittgenstein (or something like that). But, as you also know, we have to go the bloody hard way. (LW said that, too.) But walking the bloody hard way takes a lot of time. A lot of patience. It's easier to pick up an argument, polish it a bit, and rush onwards. And it's far too easy to write sarcastic, know-it-all blog posts.
But I admonish you: don't grow too old. Towards the end of his life, David Hume was a wealthy man. He had done this and that, and his writings sold well. Hume's publisher asked him to write another book. Hume responded: “I must decline not only this offer, but all others of a literary nature for four reasons: Because I am too old, too fat, too lazy, and too rich.”
9 May 2008
1. Suppose I am with Smith. He points and says to me: “What a pretty girl that is!” But I reply: “Smith, I’m not so sure that’s a girl.” How could we check this? “You ought to look for a penis.” But why would this be conclusive? The first problem: what kind of a role do propositions like “that girl is pretty” play?
2. “The general form of a proposition is: This is how things stand.” A proposition makes a picture of reality. It says: “Things are like this!” It points to something - “That’s what it’s like!” For the proposition to have a sense I must understand what it is pointing at. I must know what the picture is representing. A proposition on its own does not explain anything past: “It’s like this!”
20. How do we know: “that’s a boy, that’s a girl”? Where do we learn this? Rudimentary biology. But this has nothing to do with sexuality. I can imagine situations where typical sexual biology breaks down.
21. In the last half-century or so it has become fashionable to think of people as either “heterosexuals” (men attracted to women and women attracted to men) or “homosexuals.” (just the opposite) This gives people the impression that eventually biology and psychology are going to perfectly explain “sexual aesthetics.” This is why Freud is so misleading. But what am I doing when I try to “explain” something like this?
23. Suppose Smith gets a little drunk one night and accidentally has sexual relations with someone who has a penis. Or, suppose he abuses himself to a picture which is actually of a boy rather than a girl. Surely we can’t blame him for this, everyone will make bad choices now and then. But how do I understand what has happened?
27. “That’s a girl!” “No, she has a penis.” Is this a contradiction? What is the “penis” doing here?
**PS: For those of you who always suspected there were some queer stuff going on with Wittgenstein's builders at the beginning of Philosophical Investigations - have a look at this site...
PS2: This cute cat is resting on Wittgenstein's grave. I found the picture on a homepage for a Wittgenstein workshop. Strange idea of a picture.
8 May 2008
It's 4 a.m. It's the middle of the week. Work-day tomorrow? Fuck, yeah. Gösta drinks beer from a coctail glass and enjoys life. Cheers.
6 May 2008
Think about the different contexts in which somebody might say "This is simply my job." We ask the guy working at a home for elderly people: "Isn't it a heavy load to bear, to take care of old, dying people?" "Well, this is my job" I tell the sales manager how happy I am with the results of the latest quarter, but she says, humbly, "I'm just doing my job, it's nothing". I shout at the meter maid when I run towards my car "Don't give me a ticket! Please!" but she snarls at me "Goddamit, you people, I'm just doing my fucking job!" It's interesting that these examples contain very different pictures of what it means that something is "just my job". There's different distinctions; "this is just my job, and not a personal offense", "this is just my job, it has nothing to do with me, I perform it as a robot".
One summer many years ago, I worked at a firm that provided laundry services. Most of the people hated their jobs. When we arrived at work in the morning, we used to say to each other: "And now we're here again...", "here we are...." and "yet another day..." and "this day, too..." One of the ladies used to grab her mate's arm and walk out of the canteen, jokingly singing "Let's woooork!" And then we were back at the line. We were doing our job, all right, and we hated it. It was just a job. Afterwards, I've come to think how different doing that job was for me, compared to my mates who'd been working there for twenty years. For me, it was just a summer job, a few months of toil and drudgery at which I look back with a feeling of nostalgia. For them - it was life, the routines of everyday life. While working there, it was, in a sense, not "just a job" for me, or anyone else: it was our reality, our world, our habits. But from a different perspective, it was just a fucking job; something you do without joy, without passion, without commitment. You do it, you get paid for it.
5 May 2008
Det er umuligt, sandt at fremstille denne Art Fortvivelse uden en vis Tilsætning af det Satiriske. Det Comiske er, at han vil tale om, at have været fortvivlet; det Forfærdelige er, at hans Tilstand efter at have, som han mener det, overvundet Fortvivelsen, just er Fortvivelse. Det er uendlig comisk, at der til Grund för den i Verden saa meget prisede Livs-Klogskab, at der til Grund for alt det Satans Meget af gode Raad og kloge Vendinger, og Seen-Tiden-an, og Tagen sig i sin Skjebne og Skriven i Glemmebogen, ideelt forstaaet ligger en fuldkommen Dumhed paa, hvor Faren egentligen er, hvilken Faren egentligen er. Men denne ethiske Dumhed er igjen det Forfærdelige (Samlede Værker 15: Sygedommen til Døden (København: Gyldendal, 1963), p. 112).
2 May 2008
Upon hearing this, G, who was on the alert as usual, was critical. Not only did he point out what a huge generalization this idea amounts to, but he also talked about what a strange picture of "faith" is put forward here. Faith as something one can detect overtly. What does it, he asked, mean that we have lost faith "in the west". He refered to Vattimo, who denies that secularization necessarily implies that people have lost faith. Secularization, G pointed out, is simply the disappearance of certain forms of organized religion. And organized religion is not the same as faith. Leaving aside the question of how Fisk's comment is to be understood, I think there is a point in what G said. It is, of course, a common picture of religion that it is something that permeats societies to a lesser or greater extent. Newspapers report about religious parties loosing their foothold in a particular country, or a particular region. There is statistics about churchgoers, churchmembers - etc. (And there are these strange polls in which people are asked how much they trust specific societal institutions) But does societal development, figures and statistics pies, reveal anything about faith? Is faith expressed in people's lives in predictable ways? No. If I understood G's point correctly, he wanted to say that there is no necessary connection between "organized religion" and faith. He mentioned the lutheran frenzy and strivings for dogmatic purity in the Nordic country during the 17th century (known in Swedish as "ortodoxins tid") . Organized religion has had its heyday(s), for sure. But is it possible to say anything about people's relation to God based on historical or sociological facts? Hardly.
(One of G's reasons not to equate organized religion and faith is that an equation will make it look like there is a neutral, a-religious, way of describing "the holy", "the sacred", "sin". As if the majority could decide - as if God was a marginal concept.)
If we look at faith in this way, haven't we turned faith into a privately held opinion, something impossible to criticize (i.e. fideism)? But G said something smart here as well (in connection with a slightly different question): people within the church defend their refusal to accept female priests by referring to it being a religious, rather than political (democratic) question. But of course we are not satisfied with this withdrawal of the question from the sphere of politics. That was not the point from the start. The point is, I take it, that it is hard to take their views seriously as religious views. And that it is obvious that they want to defend the indefensible by emphasizing the religious character of the issue.
Faith is not something arcane or hidden. Not in the way a coin is hidden in my pocket. But faith is also not a specific form of actions or thoughts. Descriptions of secularization typically transform faith into an opion (the popularity of which can be measured) or habits (to be measured in terms of how widespread they are). In most representations of "secularization", religion is a political or societal force among others - think, for instance, about how we talk about the history of Iran; the sixties, the revolution, Iran after the revolution... This way of speaking is not a problem in itself, given that one is aware of the level at which one's argument is operating.
"In the west, we've lost faith" is uttered as a comment to something, in the context of a particular conversation. This might be important to keep in mind. Fisk's comment is related to his wanting to say something about our relation to the part of the world that is called "the muslim world" (a label that is quite interesting in itself). The idea that religious faith can be reduced to overt, social institutions is, I think, partly to be explained by a temptation to explain (away) differences. If something is explained by "religion" we seem to have reached a level of explanation that is indubitable, straightforward, clear. "They do it because it's their religion" - this is said in response to e.g. the desire to explain gender roles, war or politics. It's far easier to talk about faith as a "world view" that gains and looses popularity depending on historical setting, than it is to go deeper into the ways it may be relevant or irrelevant to talk about oneself or others as believers or non-believers. If Fisk wants to point at a problem of understanding - exactly what kind of problem is it?
In his interview, Fisk confessed that he wants to stay clear about framing the world as "civilizations". But he was still talking about the west and the muslim world as two "civilizations", one of which is deeply rooted in religion, the other not. What is it that made it so easy for Fisk to, for an instance, forget everything he said before?