30 March 2008

Arendt, work & change

I should (if only I would get started!) write an essay about Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition. I do find the book philosophically interesting, but I must say it's no easy task to disentagle what, in her book, may be understood as philosophical points, political points or (pseudo-) historical points. Because of this, it's also difficult to bring out the philosophical relevance of the text. In order to do that I have to, as it were, take a stand on which philosophical problem I think her book can shed a light on. There are lots of passages like this one:
The last stage of the laboring society, the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning as though individual life had actually been submerged in the overall life-process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality, the still individually sensed pain and trouble of living, and acquiesce in a dazed, "tranquilized", functional type of behavior.

Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago press, 1998), p. 322.

What she says here goes against the grain of most elevations of modern society - she sees in it decreasing individuality, functionalism and a clinging to Necessity. According to Arendt, modern society has turned everything into necessities, everything is consumed. The modern society is a transient world, in which nothing lasts. It's a world with no traces of meaning. It's a society beyond utilitarianism. As she sees it, the modern world is not even focused on "maximization of utility" - everything revolves around a primitive, reduced concept of "happiness". A de-individualized concept of happiness.

I guess her analysis of modern society is to the point in many ways (what she says about alienation from the world in relation to a society of consumers is, for example, very illuminating - to some extent). But which are the philosophical implications? Which philosophical questions are actualized by her text? It appears to me that her distinctions (between 'labor', 'work', 'action' etc.) do capture something that otherwise tends to be riddled by confusion - but that she might not be that clear about what kind of distinctions she takes herself to make (she talks as if she is making remarks about a historical development). I think, for example, that some sociologists (philosophers?) have caused some confusion by talking about work as a specific form of human activity that might appear meaningful, dreadful, meaningless, etc. and, within the same analysis, as something that can be accounted for as a process that has particular societal and historical developments - specific characteristics, as it were. Of course, these two aspects also go together - a specific activity may change due to changes in the surrounding world.

Are there specific reasons that makes it tempting to treat 'work' as something that yields accounts that are 'impersonal' or 'external'? Are there some pictures of 'work', which imply a mystification of the relation between 'personal accounts' and 'external' views?

My friend M wrote an article about the changing world of dock workers. He interviewed guys who'd been in the business a long time, and they talked about their experiences of work in the docks. They talk about increasing requirements of efficiency: ships are staying in the docks for a very short period at a time. The work performed in the harbor is also increasingly specialized, these tasks require a specific education. But one guy also talks about the concrete results he is able to see when performing his job. The activities in the harbor are divided between different actors. There is a company that covers every stage of the work process. My friend reflects on the way the harbor is a different place than it used to be. It's not accessible anymore, it's not a part of city life the way it once was. The architecture of the place he is writing about is described as well suited for its purposes; it's inhuman.

The background of my suspicion is this: there are a great many discussion about the way the modern world (???) has undergone some changes that forever has changed earlier conditions for the way work is performed and, also, the way work is experienced. Not only are these historical simplifications inappropriate but they also seem to be an expression of something else. Maybe we're talking about the same kind of confusion that discussions about "secularization" has given rise to. The idea is, of course, that christianity has lost a foothold in the modern world and that the reason for why this is so can be traced to a specific set of circumstances, be it 'science' or 'a culture of doubt' or something else. There's something fishy going on here, too, a mix-up of external and internal (internal = political, personal etc. aspects of change). My immediate impression is that these two discussions of historical & existential developments of labor & faith may shed light on each other.

Jacques Ellul has quite a few illuminating things to say about determinism and historical development. He describes a society dominated by 'technique'. But it is not an automatical process, of industrialization, or 'the take-over of the machines', that has led to this. His analysis seems to boil down to the conclusion that 'technique', meaningless efficiency and means-end rationality, is an expression of the state we are in - it's an expression of us, of our corruption.

God, I'm confused right now! Sigh. I don't even know if what I am concerned with here is a pseudo-problem, a mere play with words, or if I am inclined to dig into all problems at once and that's why I mix things up.

Through a glass darkly

Instead of attending to my professional duties (I should write a text for a seminar) I just watched Through a glass darkly (Såsom i en spegel) for the second time. Quite a few of Bergman's films are, in my opinion, pretty amazing, but this one has not made a great impression on me, nor did I become more symphathetic towards it the second time around.

All right, the cinematoghraphy is great, the scenery is beautiful, and the actors are all right (Andersson/Björnstrand/von Sydow). But in contrast with Winter light (Nattvardsgästerna) I find the story too metaphorical, too far-fetched, too much of a construction. Young, scizophrenic girl, and her "encounter with god", combined with quirky relations with the other characters (incestuous relation with brother/older, "understanding" husband/asshole father who wants to utilize his daughter's illness in his quest for Great Art). Whereas the dialogues in Winter light, however serene & marked by particular film conventions of the time, felt real and relevant, in this film, it all seems too intellectual. The characters are mostly reduced to types, espially the character of the father, a self-obsessed writer, was really cardboard-y. The religious themes also felt much more like intellectual constructions than what was the case in Winter light. In both films, the question about divine love is explored, but in Through a glass darkly, I couldn't really even see how the different scenes were supposed to be interpeted at a metaphorical level (and I constantly felt that it was on that level the film was to be understood, which is not a problem as such). The ending of the film was particularly confusing, I simply couldn't make sense of it.

BTW: I watched a series of interviews by a Swedish journalist with Bergman a year or so ago, and one of the funniest parts (there were many! Bergman rocks! In terms of storytelling.) were the way he repudiated the lumping together of The Silence, Through a glass darkly and Winter light as his "trilogy about faith". 'That's just something I made up for the journalists' chuckled the old maestro.

25 March 2008

Bohren & der Club of Gore

By chance, I came upon the German jazz band Bohren & der Club of Gore. This is great shit: this shit is brilliant. The members started out as hardcore punk musicians, but their music took an unlikely turn when the band started playing jazz. So far, I've only heard one album, Sunset mission (from 2000). The most apt point of reference is Angelo Badalamenti's slow, creepy soundtrack music, Twin peaks, Mulholland Dr. Their music shares the elegance and otherwordly quality of Badalamenti's works. Lots of ambient drone. But I also associate Sunset mission with film noir; empty, rainy streets and a killer spying on her prey outside a sleazy nightclub while the street lights are glaring. Or, perhaps that image gets you the wrong ideas. What can I say? This is minimalist stuff, the backbone of everything spooky, yet beautiful. A bad dream one is unable to shake off.

I am not the right person to comment on the more structural aspects of the music. I suppose we're talking about fairly traditional stuff here, at times the music moves towards the seemingly horrendous territory of "lounge jazz". But, as I said, I find this interesting. Elements that one comes across in many forms of jazz seem to have been taken to extremes on this record, e.g. the use of wistful, sultry saxophone sounds and strumming double bass. And I guess that is what I like about it: re-invention, unexpected angles, curiosity. The pace is, on the entire record, really, really slow (believe me). But, again, as far as jazz is concerned, I am (sadly) a mere novice. If anybody has recommendations, feel free to enlighten me.

Doom jazz, dark jazz, funeral jazz. I don't know. Among the song titles, we find "Prowler", "street tattoo" and "darkstalker". Camp? Listen to the album before you get any ideas.

I like this band for the same reasons I ascribe divine qualities to The for carnations (from the same year, 2000 - a good year for slow, late-night noir-ish tales).

The album art is, of course, Gösta's cup of tea.

Hello, Dr. F

I have a recurrent dream (those you have at night, that is) that I am back in high school. There's just something I have to finish there; a course, an assignment. Whatever. The little visit I pay there in my dream is, without exception, angst-ridden; I wake up sweaty and think back on the bad high school years I did have in real life. High school sucked (luckily, for me, I was buried in books at the time - books I was far too immature to understand). In the dream, my old high school is a ghostly place, there are loads of faces I don't know and there are some that I know. The place is dark, even though the dream does not take place at night. Endless brown corridors. The high ceiling. Mostly, there is a lot of empty space, but suddenly there's an occasional, bustling crowd that passes me by. Somewhere, a door slams. I know I shouldn't be there and it's embassaring, but, for some reason, there is something I have to do.

Lately, there has been a new twist in this dream. I visit my old high school. The school is (also IRL) sharing its logistics with the school of commerce. In the dream, I stroll to a student café at the basement of the school of commerce. It's not clear why I go there, but that's where my steps are directed. The place is cosy, the café looks like a bar. A few students drop in, and I start chatting with them. I feel a bit awkward - what am I doing there? - but it's all right. I meet some old classmates, or, at least, I think it is them (they are all called Linda, anyway). We do shots. The shots taste like water.

The business-related accident with my foot has obviously fucked up my mind. I'm trying to cope by drinking coffee, listening to Billie Holiday & reading some good ol' Norman Malcolm.

23 March 2008

Labor phenomena: the luddite movement

England. The beginning of the 19th century. Industrialization is evolving. 1811. English (e.g. textile industry) workers break into factories to destroy machines. They are outraged about low salaries, poor working conditions and they are afraid that machines would de-skill their jobs or make them redundant. A certain mr. Ned Ludd is said to be amongst those who inspired the riots, but that is probably a legend. The luddite movement spread to various part of England during 1812. Parliament passed a law according to which machine breaking was to be punished with death penalty. Several riots were violent, both workers and factory owners were killed. Famine, the Napoleon wars (which disturbed export of textiles) and high wheat prices contributed to an even more aggravated situation, involving many riots, and many people were killed.
Nowadays, to be a 'luddite' usually signifies that one is opposed to technology. The term is often used pejoratively. Still, when I google the term I come upon a very diverse assortment of contemporary writers and activists. One of the few whom I've read is Jaques Ellul, a French writer (The technological society) who describes a society penetrated by technique. By 'tecnique' he refers to a mechanical, rational or even blind preoccupation with means - the ends, to which they are associated, do not concern this perspective of technique. Ellul's book challenge us to think about the different sectors of society that are driven by a 'technological' logic, for which the sole objective is EFFICIENCY.
Speaking of tech-scepticism: I'm happy to have bumped into this blog. A tiny little counterbalance to the massive amount of blogs dedicated to gizmo & gadgets.
Valerie Solanas also talked about fucking-up work. Non-work, refusal to work, and destruction of machines, are integral part of her SCUM Manifesto. In that sense, also she may be called a present-day luddite.
I also come to think of other forms of rejections of today's system of work. Paul Lafargue's The right to be lazy is accessible as a book and there are also homepages like this one. There is also a popular self-help:ish book encouraging the reader to be lazy at the office, but I can't recall the name of that book.
Here's a useful place if you want to know more about all things luddite.

22 March 2008


When the villagers gather around the coffee table, they discuss things that's happened recently, a month ago, a year ago, and forty years ago. I've already talked about this; the temporal horizon is, at times, stunning. Examples from the past are picked out so as to prove some general point about a person or a group of persons. Things tend to evolve around proving things to be one way or another. I don't know the impetus behind this urge, but that's how it is with them. The topic of debate today was romani people, or, as the villagers would have it, gypsies. They complained a while about the "gypsies" who come to their houses and try to sell stuff. It's hard to make them realize that their attitudes towards romani people, who they consider to be dishonest and somehow asocial, express racism. They just defend themselves by mentioning yet another example, yet another experience, of "being fooled by a gypsy". We (my sister and I) try to set things in perspective: we go through social-economic history and we try to make them understand that they project their own stereotypes upon these people, and that these stereotypes will end up living their own, destructive lives.

I'm not saying that I am a person who lacks every tendency towards racist thinking. But I hope that whenever these tendencies pop up, I will abstaim from rationalization and, instead, try to deal with them for what they are: corrupt.

Obviously, the problem with racism is not that it expresses a misunderstanding of the facts, so that racism would disappear were we simply given the correct information about the world. My relatives don't want to think about their own attitudes to these people, they don't want to think about how they treat them. They explain away the things that would place them in a bad light; "well, I don't think he's bad, but it's something wrong with how they live..."

In a newspaper article a few days ago, a very strange and scary idea was stated. Helsinki people are, according to the article, bothered by the romanians who are seen begging for money. A guy representing some public authority claimed that the problem is that Finnish citizens, who live in a wealthy EU country, tend to react negatively when they are confronted with begging. In my opinion, this is like saying: "we don't want to see these people, they make us uncomfortable. We are rich, but we don't want to think about that. We don't want to see other people's misery. Just send them back to their own poor society."

In the general discussion (in newspapers etc.) about "those people" who come here to "live off our great welfare system" we easily get the impression that Finland is a great country for everyone to live in, a paradise on earth. This is hardly the case. From a recent article in Helsingin sanomat:

The Roma say that they are ashamed of begging, but that they have no alternatives. They say that they want to go home as soon as they get the money they need to travel. Two families have already left. "I don't recommend Finland to anyone. It is cold here, you don't get anything on the streets, and nobody gets work", Trandafir Musca says. The streets are not always safe, either. "We have been kicked and spat on. One passer-by grabbed the coin cup and spat in it.

18 March 2008

Time regained

I bought Le temps retrouvé (1999) a few months ago, but I haven't watched it until now. To begin with, I was quite worried about how a film based on Proust's Time Regained might turn out. It's not the kind of book in which A happens, then B, which leads up to C, ending with climax D. Proust wrote about memory, about self-deception, and how these two intertwine. How we gain a perspective on the way we deceive ourselves, and how this changes how we remember things. His book evolves around the protagonist's changing understanding of himself and of other people, but these changes are not described by means of linear storytelling. Rather, the book unravels a world of details, characters (hundreds of them!), smells, associations - and it is among this myriad of impressions that the reader gets a glimpse of the protagonist. This is not Hollywood material, to be sure.

I knew next to nothing about Raoul Ruiz, who directed the film. I've heard he's often considered a surrealist, but what that means nowadays, I'm not really sure. The film keeps the "loose" (from one perspective) associative style of the books. Marcel Proust remembers things on his deathbed, and the film consists of a weave of memories, knit together by small transitions in the images. A door leads to a new landscape, a different scenery evolves in a mirror, etc. I guess that might cover the "surrealist" part, and, for me, it was the part of the film that I was less impressed by. The transitions did work, sometimes, but many times I got a sense of construction (something I never thought about when reading Proust).

Some of the scenes were absolutely stunning. In one scene, Saint-Loup (the protagonist's close friend) and Marcel are dining. Saint-Loup chows down his food and brags about the virtues of the French army. We watch him eating and bragging for several minutes, and the scene is painful and funny at the same time. "God, that was good meat!" In other scenes, the protagonist is simply walking around; at parties, numbly, seemlingly slightly amused, listening the créme de la créme's chit-chat about relatives and .... more relatives.

In Proust's book, we get a quite clear picture about the protagonist. It is his own image of himself that is put in question by his confrontations with his memories and with other characters. In the film, the protagonist is a much hazier character. Given the book's sense of subjectivity expressed by a narrative from the protagonist's - however deceitful - point of view, subjectivity is, in the film, transformed into the gaze of the protagonist; the things he focuses upon, the things he does not see. But I guess this is something about which I could say a lot more were I to watch the film again - and I really think I will.

It was also interesting to see that the film stayed true to the book in the sense that the multitude of characters causes confusion for the reader/viewer. The book and the film are swarming with people, but the means of evoking a sense of crowdiness (in mind & physical space) were, of course, quite different.

A sinner's tale

Yesterday, at noon, I heard a knock on my door. I dragged myself up. It took a while for me to get there, on crutches, that is. Two elderly ladies were standing at the door. "Gosh, what happened to you?", they exclaimed, eying my bandaged, purple foot. "We've come to invite you to a party, a celebration of the death of Christ", the other lady said. "But we realize you can't make it, but we'll give you this, anyway", she said, and handed over a brouchure, from which the bloody head of Christ was gazing up at me. The face on the brochure, somehow, reminded me of Captain Haddock. The ladies were Jehovah's witnesses. As I retired to my room, I though about how they must think of me as a great sinner.

The brochure is clearly inspired by trailers for Hollywood movies ("Passion of the Christ"). "NOBODY has shown GREATER LOVE", "WHO showed this love, and HOW?", "You're welcome to find out, the answers to these URGENT QUESTIONS will be SETTLED." "How does the death of Jesus affect YOU? Why do we call his death the greatest proof of love? Are you among JESUS' FRIENDS?"

"YOU are ALSO invited to join us at our special Bible lecture: 'WHO is competent to be in charge of HUMANITY?'"

(Jehovah's witnesses also have a homepage! Yeah it's... http://www.watchtower.org/)

16 March 2008

Ricochets - the ghost of our love

I was introduced to Ricochets when I saw them live at Roskilde one summer a few years ago. The concert was great. The audience went crazy; people threw beer pints at each other and sang along with the lyrics. After that, I bought The ghost of our love. I return to it now and then, and I haven't got tired of it yet. If the music and lyrics were just a tad bit different, I am sure I would hate it. I would reject it as the worst and most sentimental kind of machismo self-pity combined with a traditional approach to rock. Well, the lyrics do express self-pity, but somehow the excessive way these dark tales are told makes me less prone to, you know, react with disgust. And, true, the music is quite traditional. But I don't care - the record is fucking brilliant. It's one of the very few straightforward rock n' roll albums I actually like.

14 March 2008

risky business

I've learned something today: I should stay clear of business.

Two years ago, I was working in a weird place and we had to show up at a lot of pointless seminars, packed with boring people. There was a lot of opportunistic and/or technical management theory, of which I understood very little, but I still disliked it very much. After one of these horrendous seminars, we were all going on a small cruise (initiated by pink, sweet drinks). It sucked. I hurt my foot when jumping down from the boat and then I had to make civilized conversation for the rest of the night even though the pain was quite unbearable. During a few months, my mobility relied on a pair of crutches.
This morning, I was late for some silly presentation at a business ethics course I never should have attended in the first place (see previous post). Suddenly, I tripped over something, and found myself lying on the ground. I stood up, the foot was hurting quite a bit, but I didn't think about that. I endured the first presentations, but after that I was subdued by pains and went to see a doctor instead. Which was a good thing. My foot is now covered with plaster. I feel like a mummy.

On the plus side, I didn't have to make a stupid presentation today, in which I would have, seriously! - been blabbering on about irrationality and rationality, the stupidity of men and the futility of revolting against the Laws of Economics.

But that is poor consolation. Admittedly, I am the clumsiest creature on Earth.

whazzup, Gösta?

Gösta's paws

Lights shine upon Turku & Gösta eats the best junk food man has ever created. Gösta, belly of the beast.

Somewhere among those cords, there's a thought. The thougth ain't Gösta's.

Rain & lights.

13 March 2008

sexism of the day

"Hey, you guys..."
"Not all of us are guys..."
"Har Har Har"

Then "the guys" carried on discussing how irrational consumers are & how fantastically Rational economic theory is, and how it is such a shame that people don't live up to the rigor of economic theory in their ordinary lives.

Well, it's a shame, boys!

11 March 2008


I have a sore back. I can't bend forward and that means I cannot even read. Goddamn. I should finish The Human Condition soon. I'm puzzled by it. Some of her distinctions are interesting (that between 'work' and 'labor', for example), but I still have the feeling that they are somehow off the mark. I like Arendt's style, though. The book is very clearly written (I expected something much more like Heidegger).
Instead of working, I am lying in bed, gazing into a patch of sunlight on the wall, listening to Fake books by Lali puna (shit, it's great) and thinking about pointless things such as what I'm gonna have for dinner and why I haven't talked to a particular friend for a long time.
Today I've learnt how to write an academic CV. What is considered a great accomplishment, and what is not. Most of what I've done fits into the "not" section. I've lost almost all interest in going to conferences, for example. It's on occasions like this that I'm wondering what the hell I am doing in this "business". But don't get me wrong, it's good that we (doctoral students) are offered practical information about how to write CV:s and that kind of stuff.
I need to read stuff and think about stuff. Have something to say.
I want to complain and complain.

9 March 2008


Morphine was a band that traded guitars for bass guitars and sax. Damn, it works. Their songs are groovy & catchy alternative rock gems that haven't lost anything in terms of originality and a sense of "I haven't heard this type of music elsewhere". During the 90's, the band delivered several great albums. One of my favorites is Cure for pain (1993). The title of the album probably refers to drugs and several of the songs include lyrics in which it is not clear whether the singer, Mark Sandman, talks about lovers or drugs (he died on-stage. Overdose). The sound is straightforward and the songs conjure an irresistable gush of life (however drug-induced...). Check out "All wrong" or "I'm free now". Morphine's third album, Yes, is also a fine proof of their skills.

The legacy of Morphine is, I think, honoured by spiky blues rock acts such as The Gossip and The BellRays. I also want to mention Norwegian band Ricochets, who represents almost the same kind of straightforward yet not boring type of rock n' roll outburst that Morphine was an embodiment of.

7 March 2008

dr. P.

This week, I met an acquaintance of mine that I haven't seen in quite a few years. He's been living in the woods, alone, in a cave in the ground. When I first saw him, I didn't recognize him; he now looks like a monk. (My sight is really bad, so things like that happen all the time, people greet and I have no idea who they are, but that's not the point now.) I am not proud of my immediate reaction that day. Looking at him from a distance, I was a bit afraid but I didn't know why I felt that way. When I realized who he was, I was no longer scared. He's a nice guy, very open, and I do admire his life, even though it would be (or would it?) impossible for me to live that way myself. But reflecting on this, I tend to go astray. I become too self-involved, too self-aware. "What is possible for me?" Soon I realize that my reflections on possibilities amount to nothing. It's just a self-loathing, intellectual excercise in which I come up whith one example after another of how big a brat I really am. These thoughts don't change anything. That doesn't take away how meeting him changed something, how I learn things by talking to him. My immediate reactions also taught me something about myself. It is not fun to realize what an asshole one is. But, again, it is hard not to aberr from what I really learn. As a matter of fact, it's surprisingly easy to despise oneself. But self-loathing is static, it's the cynical, weary "well, this is who I am...". Despise and grandeour tend to go hand in hand: "at least I am able to despise myself!" Nitzsche: "Whoever despises himself still respects himself as one who despises."
When I started talking to my friend, all these thoughts disappeared.

6 March 2008

Solanas - again

S was kind enough to give me a copy of the introduction of a new edition of The SCUM Manifesto, written by Avital Ronell. Ronell situates Solanas in a Nitzschean tradition. Not only do they have philosophizing with a hammer in common, Solanas is also employing the figure of "reversal of all values" that we are familiar with in Nietzsche's writings. For Solanas, this reversal concerns "male" and "female". Males try to uphold a picture of themselves as strong, independent and intellectual, but in reality males are, Solanas writes, projecting unto females the characteristics that are true of themselves: corporeality, dependence and weakness. But the reversal does not end in a simple standing-on-its-head. If it would come to that, she would be stuck in the same male language & form of life that she is criticizing. Ronell highlight the endless chain of projections that Solanas talks about, and in this endless chain, there is no end ("our gendered identities"), there is just more shit. Ronell writes:

"Here the goal is set not mereley on subversion. Her relation to the enemy will prove more subversive than subversion because the invasion which Solanas envisions involves secret strikes, consistently covert actions - invasions on the order of microbial assault: 'SCUM will always be furtive, sneaky, underhanded (although SCUM murders will always be known as such)'." (Introduction to SCUM Manifesto, Verso books, 2004, p. 28)

Paraphrasing Peter Winch (his excellent essay, "Can We Understand Ourselves"), one could say that the world depicted by Solanas is not a seamless weave, even though what she wants us to see is a form of life that is centred around our attempts to prove that we are something that we are not.

Were the mission of Ronell's introduction to make the manifesto intellectually respectable by comparing Solanas to Big Philosophers like Nietzsche and Derrida, then I'd be suspicious of it. But I think that is not what she is up to (at least not all the time). She takes the text seriously and develops some ways of approaching it. She presents unexpected angles and horizons. I do, however, agree with the New Statesman reviewer that Ronell's appeal to biography, "Solanas' miserable life", gives rise to many questions. What function are the biographical remarks to have? Do we need them for understanding the text?

One of Ronell's interesting remarks is about how the title of the book, SCUM manifesto, has usually been understood as "a society for cutting up men", the "cutting up" being understood to refer to literal violence. She suggests another possibility; "cutting up" also means "montage". If so, the manifesto is a montage, a re-arrangement of the familiar, our common ways of thinking about gender. A montage or collage functions as an injection of new ways of seeing.

5 March 2008

idolizing wednesday: Marine girls

Marine girls were an obscure, Brittish indie pop group in the early eighties. Pre-Everything but the girl Tracey Thorn at her best. Everything they did is not great, but several songs stand out ("On my mind", among others). Most of all, I like the band's rough, timeless sound. Marine Girls were like a DIY version of the Shangri-Las (they deserve their own entry).

PS: Googling for this picture was not so fun. "Marine girls"... Girls in tiny costumes. (One pic was labelled "girls with guns"... OMG.)

4 March 2008

Ludwigian obscurantism

In 1937, Wittgenstein wrote:

"The light work sheds is a beautiful light, which, however, only shines with real beauty if it is illuminated by yet another light."

(From Vermischte Bemerkungen (Culture and Value)).

This is a beautiful formulation - but I have almost no clue what it means. The beauty of work is to be seen in relation to other forms of beauty? Well - what would it mean to say that work itself is important, beautiful (etc.)? No matter what forms of work that are performed? Maybe that's the point. (Btw: Wittgenstein visited the Soviet Union in the late thirties, but he returned quite soon...) Perhaps he is talking about the work of a philosopher.

"I had a dream about this place."

Remember that scene from Mulholland Dr.? It's one of the scariest things I've ever watched on film. Recollection, foreboding and dread. Two men sit in a café and one of them talks about a dream he's had. In the dream, he is at Winkie's, it's half day, half night. He looks at his friend across the room. He goes on talking about something terrible he saw in the dream. It's something in the back yard. The two men walk out to see if it's still there. They walk slowly round the corner. It feels like an endless walk. The spooky sunlight. And there it is...

3 March 2008

Morning recordings

Every once in a while, I trawl the net for good music. It takes some effort, and most of what I find is either boring or rubbish. But I also come upon some (for me) unexpected, never-heard-of gems. A while ago, I randomly downloaded an album by Morning recordings called The Welcome Kinetic. Even though I've never been too much of a chamber pop fan (Belle & Sebastian is good if I don't listen to it too often), I would still use that concept to describe their dynamic, floating music. We're talking about beautifully orchestrated pop and post-rock that never feels over the top or too lush or too laid-back. "Elegance" might not strike you as a virtue when it comes to pop music, but I must confess that this album is elegant in a spaced-out, eerie kind of way. Most of the songs contain vibraphones, and it is these sounds that build the backbone of the music. Some songs are vocal. The vocals remind me of a lot of things, ranging from Broadcast, Parker & Lily, Panda bear to early Beach Boys. Musically, the albums makes me think of The Sea & Cake, Lambchop and The Gentleman losers. And some old movie soundtracks.
I like this album because it contains so many influences without sounding like the type of music that tries to draw on different sources because that is what cool music "should" do. It's not inward-looking, nerdy eclecticism. The atmosphere of the album displays a sense of warmth I think I come across all-too seldomly.
The other finding of this week is Karate. I've only heard one album so far, but I hope the others are just as great. Compared to Morning recordings, Karate is much edgier. But some of the instrumental interludes could be said to have something in common with the other band. A hint of jazz. Groove.

2 March 2008

There will be blood

There will be blood starts off with almost 20 minutes of silence. We learn how the main character, Daniel Plainview, abandons silver mining for the oil industry. He meets a young man who tells him that his family could easily be fooled to sell their land, under which oil is flowing. Presenting himself as a familyman, a little boy at his side, the rest of the villagers are gulled into making leases for a far more timid price than what it is really worth, taking into account the possibilities of oil findings. The character of Plainview could easily be a pastische of greed and general contempt for humanity. Towards the end of the film, I really had some doubts about the dramatic turns of the story and the way the film repeatingly presented Plainview's actions of greed in different settings. The ending, however, convinced me that the story is not so much about a morally corrupt individual, but the film is, rather, an allegory of (American) capitalism, a form of economic (albeit human) exploitation, exemplified in the interaction between Plainview and the other characters. Some reviewers have bemoaned the very dominating role of Plainview and the lack of illustrations of the nexus of capitalist institutions. But it is, I think, wrong to see the viable alternatives as "a presentation of social history" OR "individual psychology". In that way, There will be blood is a challenging film. Almost any scene in the film can be, or so it appeared to me, read on a more general, metaphorical level. I won't indulge in puny interpretations here, but I doubt that it is a mere happenstance that Plainview's kid is deafened in the accident on the derrick.

In an industry ruled by self-made men and the American dream, There will be blood is a rare phenomenon. I tried to come up with some Hollywood productions that deals with the subject of capitalism, but I can't recall any films like that from the last twenty years. Except for American Psycho (but is that Hollywood?). I haven't watched Syriana. Any suggestions?