31 January 2008
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
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
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
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
Well, that was it. But it was a great documentary.
22 January 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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
8 January 2008
Frank Ebersole, Meaning and Saying, University Press of America, 1979, pages vii-viii.
6 January 2008
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.
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
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
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
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.