29 August 2008

w. 35

I am talked into; and write you back; she wears high heels & you speak words of warning; the ground might be bumpy; outside; you buy champagne & chocolat that looks like fish; your brother has mobile phones in his fingers; but I; loose at bingo; I fall asleep & dream of Friesland; and booze; you told me later you thought of me when you visited the islands; you where there with; your Man; I was unsure at first; but then I remembered; you were the thrifty girl; who speaks several languages; you are an institute now; a three-headed gloss; I am pleasure; and idleness; ; Max W, where R U now?; not in my room; not in my chair; not in my dim eyes or my ears that hear; badly; jelly & crumbs; a noise, a bang, a noise; yrs truly; can I have your Facebook?; I will pursue gentlemanly virtues; I will buy myself a stetson; a pig; a lawnmower; the wind is brisk here in Texas; something broke when I got there; kid, I am not your mother; that's why you & I; will never be friends; you google me & find out; that the world is a tunnel; did I write that?; maybe; I did;

Business ethics: how to forge trust

An article in The New Yorker tells about the precarious situation of managers, who during this time of "wobbly economy" are loaded with the nasty job of announcing to their underlings the names of those who are layed off and those who are spared (this time!). The article deals with the question of how managers can keep up trust and motivation among the employees that are left. I'm sure some of the business CEO:s and management researchers expressing their worries have the best of intentions - but the road to hell is paved... Of course, it's quite all right that employees are told about the reasons for lay-offs, and if there is more to come. Discussion is good. But I don't know; when I read this I am reminded of just how uncritical management theory tends to be, well-meaning on the surface, but general structures and attitudes are left unquestioned:

“It seems to me that the main job of any leader is to help define reality,” Professor Bennis said. Leaders who can help employees understand the reasons for layoffs, and also acknowledge the pain incurred, will have a better shot at rebuilding trust and motivating those who remain.

Employees need to hear right away where cutbacks are being made, and whether additional reductions are coming. Many employees wonder about the fairness of layoffs, and managers can go a long way toward re-establishing trust if they can describe sacrifices of their own, like pay cuts or forgone bonuses.

Help define reality? That is nice, of course, when discussions are open. But here it seems all too cleafr that the aim of the managers' efforts is to make employees feel at ease with lay-offs - which in turn will have a positive influence on performance. To me, this has the ring of persuasion, rather than discussion (in which managers may feel just as alienated as the rest of the personnel). And the end of the quote, the idea that managers should emphasize the sacrifices they have made, is simply grotesque.

But of course, the wobbly economy will dictate the actions of business firms. Or whatever...

25 August 2008

Röikfisk å rulltårta - Malax TV

Y told us about Malax TV. I don't know what to say. My brain is splattering out of my head, my eyeballs are popping out of their socks. I'm having a stroke.

"Eh... En nyckel har upphittats idag .. eller ikväll ... vid Metropollis pizzeria. O så här ser den ut. De e antagligen en bilnyckel eller eventuellt en traktornyckel. Den finns här ... Och kan återfås"!

- Handlar ni ofta här på s-market i ö malax?
- bara cider.
- eller trä...?
.... [indecipherable]
- tycker du de e trevligt när dom ordnar hästmarknad?
- va sa du nu?
- om det är trevligt när dom ordnar hästmarknad?
- jaa...de veit ja inte... där e nån billi vietnames tycker jag, men.... han går nu!
- kaffe serverar dom väl?
- ja, i dropp. ... så vi har de klart.

there's an archive of stuff at http://www.malaxtv.fi/. for me, this finding signifies the end of all depression and boredom. Whenever I feel down, I will watch some Malax TV.

24 August 2008

Gösta's debauchery

Gösta's debaucherous week is drawing to an end. Not jäger, but whiskey and rum. An ocean of beer & seas of wine. Gösta has been bad. Gösta has been silly. Gösta has been blabbering on about nothing (deeply felt apologies to the afflicted parties). "The red darkness / life is given a double form". Gösta has associated with artists, artillery colonels, philosophers & rock stars. Gösta has snored in his easy chair at work, book in hand. Gösta has been involved in discussions about radical politics, university rascals of the 17th century & the size of Paavo Nurmi's ass. Paavo Nurmi the statue, whose ass is huge. There are mysteries in the world. Gösta has indulged in them all. He has indulged in everything else as well. It is bad, it is good.
Dressed in sackcloth, ashes in his hair, he will now sit down at the pulpit, he will invest his mind in serious things & his tongue will be sewn to the path of virtue.

Finland & anti-democracy

Finland has a proud history of antidemocratic tendencies. During the cold war, with its heightened expression during the Kekkonen era of the 60's and the 70's, foreign policy was characterized by "finlandization", by a compliant & yielding relationship with the Soviet Union. In combination with this, Finland has a tradition of delegating politics to civil servants and bureaucrats, and at the same time parties of different political branches (social democrats and right-wing parties) are usually co-operating in the same government. This time around, we have the green party and the kokoomus (which is to the right) governing the country together. Party politics, even politics in general, does not occupy a very important role in this country.

As the newspapers are flooded with warning words about the coming recession, the Finnish bend of "anti-politics" is even more evident. A representative of some investment bank talks about tax politics & inflation in a recent column in Husis. She worries about the risks of inflation, but at the same time economic growth has to be secured. How is this done? Relieved taxes, along with balancing measures, she suggests. When reading accounts of Finnish day-to-day politics, it is a similar picture of politics that appears. Politics manages economic realities so that the outcome is optimal (not stagnation, not inflation, etc.). The main task for politicians is to govern the nation's finances so that future growth is made possible.

What has this to do with democracy, with political choices? Very little, almost nothing. But even so, left wing and right wing politicians alike are in agreement that economics is the backbone of politics (we have an imbecile prime minister who thinks media discusses poverty too much). How is economics described among politicans? As a mixture of magic, a domain for crystal balls and spells, something over and above interventions; or it is a domain for experts, for people who can do the analyses right, who will see the big pattern, who will reconcile different & conflicting economic thrusts. Political ideas, about justice, about concrete human beings, will only appear to be harmful here. Very rarely is economics an integral part of thinking about what kind of society we should live in. The most common perspectives when it comes to Finnish politics & economics is survival : the nation has to get by somehow, and for that, we need a rational economic policy, and here, we should not care too much about small things like poverty & hardship. All of it will be resolved in the long run, all of it will be solved by means of a balanced economy.

Just think of the following right-wing mantra: "work must pay off economically" (det måste löna sig att arbeta!). How many times have we not heard this? It seems to mean something like this: if the economic compensation for a job does not exceed the unemployment subsidies, then people, poor, lazy people, will choose the idle life. But with the possibility of consumption (by means of work) in view, even these idlers will be set in motion, and an ideal outcome will be reached: they will (re)turn and thus to work and thus to consumption which is the final goal (I've read some Zygmunt Bauman lately). And if it is not this, it is: if high-income workers are taxed harshly, they will flee the country and their money will no contribute to the national economy. Thus, they must feel that "working pays off". What do these mantras show? The all-inclusive idea about economy & consumption as the most important thing in life (which is only threatened by poor people's lack of morals, their subversive laziness).

Why do we think of economics as an independent subject matter? Why do newspaper have an "economics" section, that is, why is it separated from politics? Why do universities teach stuff like microeconomics and macroeconomics and not economy as a part of day-to-day activities, political ideals, anthropology, philosophy - etc (that is, economics as matemathics on a bed of utilitarian axioms about the nature of man & rationality)? Maybe these are stupid & naive questions, but I've been thinking a bit about them lately. I wonder what I should read to understand these things better. Maybe Deirdre McCloskey, maybe Thorstein Veblen & his followers in institutional political economy, maybe something else. Maybe I should do it the bloody hard way and learn all the traditional stuff. But as it is now, I am simply badly confused & understand almost nothing about contemporary politics (I have this theory, and I insist, it is not at a conspiracy theory, that politics are done in a way so that we should not understand, that it should, when addressing the "common people", be restrained to mantras about "how much more you will get in your wallet due to the tax policy our party has supported" and "kokoomus is the new working class party" or "Matti has a new girlfriend!!!!" - more on this sooon.).

23 August 2008

creativity & work

I'm reading a Swedish statistical investigation about well-being at work and its psychological effects. In the beginning of the investigation, it is stated:

"In order to attract and keep workforce on an increasingly more competitive labor market, organizations are required to create a climate that purports creativity and intellectual work. Not only is this a tactic for attracting the best employees, but it is also a necessary strategy for competing on a global market. For these reasons business firms have started to take an interest in 'soft values' and, even if this is often stated conventionally, have started to acknowledge that employees are primary assets."

This quote is riddled with ambiguity. Should we say that companies, for economic reasons, have good reasons to offer stimulating jobs ("ethics as an instrument") - or should we go even farther and say that even the concepts of "creativy" and "intellectual work" are tailor-made to suit the needs of the market? That is, "creativity" is a good word that is used to give the impression of a new reality, in which companies relying on workers performing simple, manual labor can no longer compete on the market. Well, the impression might hide the truth: that "creativity" is simply whatever "economic reality" requires at the moment (yet another level of nu-speak). Rather than building upon the idea that a stimulating job will enhance performance, this figure of thought seems to be imposed on employees, who are encouraged to think of their jobs in that way, even though in reality their jobs are far from the intellectual utopia they are claimed to be.

21 August 2008


Watching Marie-Monique Robin's documentary about Monsanto, the corporation that has plagued the world with various biotechnological products and ideologies, I realize how little I know about these things. I should try to learn more.

Monsanto has specialized in weed killing herbicides and, most importantly, GM and genetically engineered seeds. Its proud history includes products such as Agent Orange. One of the scary perspectives presented by the documentary is that Monsanto, by means of lobbying, patenting, suing and frauding combined with the "natural" spreading of their GE seeds, will eventually come to own the food of the world and make small-scale, independent agriculture almost impossible (due to, for instance, competition). From Greenpeace' review of Robin's film:

Over the last decade, Monsanto aggressively bought up over 50 seed companies around the globe. Seeds are the source of all food. Whoever owns the seeds, owns the food. The process of genetic engineering allows companies, such as Monsanto, to claim patent rights over seeds. Ninety percent of all GE seeds planted in the world are patented by Monsanto and hence controlled by them.
So far, Monsanto has been most successful among American farmers. They have a hard time touting their products in the rest of the world, as GE/GM food is prohibited in many countries.

An example: quite a few farmers have been sued for patent infringement because the wind has blown the seeds into their crops. That way Monsanto got their way into the farmer's production, whether he wanted it or not. In addition to this, Monsanto is accused of dumping toxic waste and offering harmful products (to the animals that make up the production* and to the consumers). They have also been said to have been selling fraudulent seeds ("the terminator seed"). Many claim that their policies and business have made many farmers fall into debt because they are persuaded into buying the "superprofitable" Monsanto seeds (in India, and elsewhere). One of the major points emphasized in Robin's documentary is the close links between government (governmental authorities) and Monsanto.

On their homepage, Monsanto makes it appear as if their main interest is global sustainability. It was a slightly different picture I got from Robin's documentary... "Conserve resources – Monsanto will develop seeds that will reduce by one-third the amount of key resources required to grow crops by the year 2030. We will also join with others to address habitat loss and water quality in agriculturally important areas." In the documentary, Robin explained how some of Monsanto's seeds for their successful growth required use of other Monsanto products....
Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto. (vanity fair)
"Help improve farmers’ lives – Our company is committed to help improve the lives of farmers, including an additional five million people in resource-poor farm families by 2020." There has been a wave of suicide among Indian farmers who, due to the Monsanto industry, have fallen into debt. Monsanto declares integrity (oh, yeah, they'll sue your ass all right!, so that one is true), transparencey (Monsanto chose not to appear in Robin's film because they feared she would not be "positive") and sharing (so get rid of those patents, then!) among their values.

We will share knowledge and technology to advance scientific understanding, to improve agriculture and the environment, to improve crops, and to help farmers in developing countries.
A great part of the Monsanto homepage revolves around the idea that the greatest global problem of today is how to solve the problem of availability of food. But I've heard many commentators who take quite a different view on what the food crisis is all about. Fair distribution, not availability, is the problem, according to some (the controversy of how crops are to be used - for fuel or for the production of food? - belong to this difficult discussion, as far as I've understood).

And what's in the news section? Do the transparent Monsanto at least acknowledge their critics? "Monsanto fund gives §1M for teaching training." And this one is funny: "Monsanto launches centre for child labour". A training centre for former child laborers, of course. And does their history section include one of their most (in)famous products, Agent orange? You guessed it, no.

This is the picture Monsanto promotes of themselves. The documentary by Robin is available on Youtube.

* On a more positive note, Monsanto recently announced that they will no longer produce the controversial milk-boosting hormone Posilac that is said to be harmful to dairy cows but also to the consumers.

18 August 2008

Nina Ramsby & Martin Hederos

Some music benefits from being played on crappy sound systems. I listened to Visorna by Nina Ramsby & Martin Hederos on my mobile phone (it is equipped with tiny speakers) at 4 am in the morning. What a serene, elegant, but raw, sound! What I heard sounded like a demo version, recorded in a moment of inspiration, the vocals floating on a bed of piano and organ. When I listen to it on a somewhat more decent device, I am slightly (but only a little) disappointed. Paradoxically, the sound is flatter now. It's usually the other way around. Or maybe it's the timing. I don't know. (I remember car rides with my sister when I was in high school. It was raining all the time and we were studying for some exams in the fluffy room at the library. I was drumming stupid details into my mind, church history. "Saskia" and Dummy were on equally heavy rotation. And Vysotsky. )

Nina Ramsby & Martin Hederos have recorded their versions of more or less classic Swedish and Norwegian songs. So, how do they redeem themselves from the Cheese? For starters, their delivery lacks every attempt at being hip or cool. Instead, Ramsby's vocal performance is one of the most plain I've heard in a long time, plain as in "casual", not "painfully earnest". The combination of vocals and piano (the setting of most of the songs), and also one of the songs, "Jag vet en dejlig rose", pays homage to Monica Zetterlund and Bill Evans' Waltz for Debbie. It's almost just as magic as Evans&Zetterlund, and like Zetterlund, Ramsby conveys a lot of emotion with - this sounds like a cliché - small means. I really dig the way she phrases the songs so that they sound ordinary (sometimes "boring" is close at hand, but I'm, curiously enough, not sure whether that's even a problem!). How far is this not from the theatrical contrivance of the worst interpretations of figures such as Fred Åkerström, Bellman or Cornelis Vreswijk (not to speak of contemporary phenomena such as E. Dahlgren or BoKaspers!), in which musicians try to force some life into what, for different reasons, have become too familiar, too "dinner party friendly" and "cosy", by mounting up great Drama. I remember one album consisting of interpretations of Ewert Taube songs by Swedish pop/rock musicians that was exactly like that. The songs didn't feel any fresher, nor did the lyrics become any more urgent, just because the artists tried to move as far away as possible from the Taube burden: the archipelago, happy people, summer - the incarnation of "folkhem".

Martin Hederos (member of Soundtrack of your life, or whatever the group is called, a band that has never grabbed my attention) has gained a reputation for his treatment of covers. On Together in the darkness he and M. Hellberg present stripped down takes on raunchy numbers such as "No fun" and "Concrete jungle", along with their own songs. Visorna does not deviate from his earlier releases. And I have no problem with that whatsoever. I like this album more than I am ready to admit.

Ramsby & Hederos have also recorded an album with jazz covers, Jazzen, but that one I haven't heard yet. Some songs (some of them with Ludvig Berghe trio) are available on myspace. Sounds good. (Stiltje!) I salute Ramsby's efforts at queering the jazz! I'm excited to hear more about her different projects (she seems to be a very prolific artist). Homepage. There is an awesome clip on Youtube of her perfmance of "Konstnasaren" (Olle Adolphson), from Visorna. (But the album version is even better still) And some blues...

EDIT: I suspected I would tire easily of this album, that it would be too simple to be interesting in the long run. Man, was I wrong! I like it even better now. Each and every tune is growing and growing and growing.

17 August 2008

Gösta's trashy philosophy of waste

In the village where I live, there is a man who, by most, is referred to as Soptippin (the Dump). Behind his back, that is. For many years, he has been enraged at the neglect of the local authorities. He's been writing articles, formulating petitions, he has turned to the press. The man owns a camping place, and the dump is his neighbour. Even though I have lived in this place practically all my life, I have never seen the dump. Today, I did. We took a languid trip with the car to some places we haven't seen in a good while, and then it came to us, we haven't seen the dump. And there it was. A tiny, disorderly heap of things and shit (oh - literally too... Soptippin was right after all...).

The world of the philosopher consists of a neutral assemblage of stuff, ruled by the laws of nature. Humans gradually intervene in the world by learning how to interact with causality. Philosophers try to become clear about the ways in which human actions are part of the world, and there are certain philosophical presumptions about what this 'world' consists in. On the other hand, it is assumed that the actions of human beings are constituted by their being intentional. What does this mean? The actions of humans are directed at a specific desired state of the world. In this picture, every phenomenon in the human world is reduced to use, to things being objects of our desires. Our desires are connected with the world only in so far as they, for their practical realization, are dependent on beliefs about facts in the world. Actions are seen as changes in nature, interventions that alters some states of affairs.

Even in a far less philosophical picture, it seems natural to think about "waste" as the darker side of what defines human activity. We exploit what we can, and the rest of the world, when no longer exploitable, is perceived by us as waste, as garbage, meaningless stuff (or as the fleeting, fragile objects of our disengaged aestethic gaze). Waste is, when we talk about the world and human actions in this vein, a natural result or by-product of human life.

I am inclined to agree with much of this picture. Still, it contains problems, fundamental problems.

In Sein und Zeit Heidegger shows that we must not think about use as a specific attitude towards a world that in itself is beyond our reactions, inclinations and feelings. For Heidegger, use is not external to the world as it presents itself to us, but it is internal to it. A plough is a plough by virtue of the use to which it is put, the understanding of what a plough is depends on a familiarity with how a plough is used (Heidegger is fond of everything rootsey). As a person not acquainted with many agricultural techniques, I will, perhaps, wonder what a machine is used for. There are no things in themselves, independent of our activities in the world. But in the context of Heidegger's (existential/ist) project, it is important to point out that this world of use also tends to break down, and it is in these instances that we become aware of the way we are "thrown into the world". (A stupid example: when my MP3 player crashes, I start to think about why I can't move around without music plugged into my ears) A Heideggerian concept of waste would be the beginning of an important existential realization: our corporeal, finite existence in the world.

From the heideggerian point of view, garbage is a material reminder of meaninglessness and death; things that persist to exist (a broken refrigerator) even though 'dead' to the world of men. Garbage reminds us of the usefulness and familiarity of things, but at the same time it confronts us with temporality: with decay, fragility, change. With an even more pessimistic bend, one could say: "all the fruits of your labor will, eventually, turn into waste". (A philosopher like Hannah Arendt approaches that perspective, following from her notion of 'labour'.)

“Garbage is the formlessness from which form takes flight, the ghost that haunts presence. Garbage is the entrails, the bits or scraps, the mountain of indistinguishable stuff that is in its own way affirmed by a resolute dismissal: it is refuse-d (not accepted, denied, banished). Garbage is the tat, the lowly that has sunk to the depth of a value system . . . the mucky handprint of a being that carries on regardless, a dirty trace, the wreck of beauty, and in the most recognisably banal sense, the excrement of a body.” writes garbage philosopher (sorry, couldn't resist) John Scanlan in his book On Garbage. I agree with Scanlan that garbage, for different reasons, haunts us (esp. materially), but I'm not at all sure if I would call garbage formless.

Garbage is in our way in many senses of the word. In some cases, things are perceived as garbage simply because they are in the wrong place. We want to get rid of it, to dispose of it so that it will end up somewhere else and, if possible, transformed into something useful. Europeans ship their shit to Africa, forgetting that our junk ever existed or at least living as though it didn't. But even though garbage is often the expression of and the object of human self-deception, I would hesitate to say it always is. But think about these examples: A teacher tells his repelled 11 year old students: "In Stockholm during the days of Gustaf Vasa, people threw out their garbage directly on the street." And I'm sure you've heard the complaints of the traveller: "They don't dispose of their garbage the way we do... I can't believe it... All that rubbish on the streets." Littering may cause a fine, a shout ("hey, young man, don't leave those cans of beer here!") or an environmental problem somebody will (hopefully) end up dealing with. These examples tells a lot about us. For a completely different example, that also somehow says something about rubbish, do you recall that scene from American beauty in which the odd boy is showing his clip of the plastic bag tossed around in the wind? What was so striking about that scene was how the attention of the boy turned some litter into a metaphor illuminating the smallness and greatness of life.

A few years ago, I came upon a homepage that I can't stop thinking about. A Russian writer/photographer travelled with a motercycle into the Chernobyl area. She took photographs of the deserted houses, the things left behind. Everything bore witness of the passing of time: for us, but not for the Chernobyl area, which is forever (?) stuck with a flag honoring the 1st of May celebrations of 1986. The time before the catastrophy is encapsulated in the garbage. Despite being deserted and left to rust and moulder, those objects were ingrained with humanity, they bore witness of what life in the Chernobyl area used to be. What I saw in these pictures were not mere garbage in the sense of "meaningless objects" that no longer are of use to us. When looking at the pictures, I thought about destruction, not malfunction or lack of use. In that sense, an understanding of waste exclusively in terms of usefulness will not do. This example shows that there are other dimensions. (When I tried to find the homepage, I find out that some consider her project a sham and the pictures she took were, some claim, fake.)
Garbage is not a reminder of temporality (or death) in some general sense. I have certain qualms with Heideggers being-to-my-death. Let me expand on this. When I was a kid and got presents, my joy was usually mixed with a sort of melancholy. I will not be a kid who enjoys to play with dolls forever. My dolls will become waste as I will become another person. A person for whom dolls have no use. My now-so-fluffy stuffed animal, forgotten by the world, will collect dust. (Perhaps this perspective is also, in some sense, encouraged by the adult world, for whom childhood and its things is a passing phase). But let me take another example. As you can see in the picture below, some perfectly usable chairs have been dropped off at the dump. "People pay good money for chairs like that" A said when she saw them. For the person who got rid of them, the chairs were garbage, but for us, they were neglected furniture. Had we been people of more energy & initiative, we would have saved those chairs from the fate of being rained on and snowed on - the fate of decay. So, in that case, garbage simply was a sign of neglect, of the laziness of people (including ourselves). It is with garbage as with dirt, it is, conceptually, related to specific human activities, reactions and perspectives. For that reasons, dirt and garbage are not really natural objects like stones or trees. "Garbage" signals a form of attention.

Within the scenery of a romantic walk, rottening leaves are not garbage, but if I am about to rake the lawn, that's exactly what these leaves are to me: something to get rid of. By calling something garbage, I make it clear that I care nothing about it. "Her house is filled to the brim with garbage" my father says derisively whenever his sister's interest in antiques is highlighted in conversation. (Note the conceptual transition taking place when "antiques", for a person like my father, is perceived as "unneeded things that are destined to litter in a drawer." which is quite different from other concepts of garbage: "I can't even visualize what this used to be..." or "it used to be a leave, now it is a heap of mud")

This text is inspired by this and this and this.

14 August 2008

The sublime

As I am contemplating Kant's concept of the sublime (via Iris Murdoch, "The sublime and the good") I am startled by my colleagues' shouts. What now, what now? O has ordered a fly bottle from Germany. My colleages tear up the package. After that, they throw pieces of plastic at each other. After that, they admire the fly bottle for a real long time. O talks about rottening mice. Y talks about rottening mice. My stomach rumbles. The fly bottle looks nice, and now I understand Wittgenstein's metaphor a bit better. "We call the sublime that which is absolutely great." The sublime unsettles our reasoning faculties, which is doomed to fail in its attempts to grasp this Greatness. The sublime is a formless object. The overwhelming effect of the sublime is connected with fear. The next day, T and I enjoy a few beers. A drunken åländer joins us at our table. The bartender has told him we speak Swedish. "All them Finns..." drawls our new friend. The åländer studies to become a captain. He tells us stories about the Sea. When he has finished, he tells us it's time for Jäger. Yes, yes. The barman bring them to our table while the åländer is smoking outside. "Be warned, last time, he ordered 10 rounds!" he chuckles. He is right. In ten minutes, the åländer offers us another round. "the mind feels itself set in motion in representation of the sublime in nature; this movement, especially in it inception, may be compared with a vibration with a rapidly alternating repulsion and attraction produced by one and the same Object. The point of excess for the imagination is like an abyss in which it fears to lose itself."

11 August 2008

Detektivbyrån - Hemvägen (ep)

The secret behind Detektivbyrån is twinkling xylophones and accordion that conjure an image of a dance in the outbacks of Sweden 80 years ago. The sound of "Hemvägen" is fresh but in no way does it summon up the indie-schmindie hipster's chase after extravaganza & cool effects. Magic. I look forward to the new release in September. There's quite a few bands out there who trade in the same "sugary nostalgia" (Beirut, Hannu, CocoRosie and many others) but never quite with the same overwhelming effect.

9 August 2008

intention and action

When one expresses what one intends to do, the seriousness with which the intentions were confessed is judged on the basis of one's actions. If I'm never doing what I say I intend to do, people will start to have doubts about the things I say. For the other, my intentions will soon start to evaporate, if my words are not accompanied by actions. Intentions are not an inner "force". We have to apply a first & third person perspective on intentions. I do not have the exclusive right to decide whether my words are seriously meant, or not. You might know me better than I do (that's one reason why "decision" and "intention" are not always used in the same way). Contrary to what many philosophers say, the relation between intentions and actions is not very difficult to understand. You look at me, and it is clear to you that I intend to leave soon (maybe you witness my increasing unease with the people we are socializing with). Nothing special hangs on the word, to "intend". You see I am about to leave. "Are you about to leave, are you not enjoying yourself?" "Yes, yes. I'm fine." I lie, and you know me good enough to see through my assurance. I do intend to leave, I just don't want to acknowledge it, maybe not even to myself. Philosophers tend to break down the concept of intentions into beliefs about a specific situations and desires as to a specific course of action. The intention "to fetch the umbrella" (what a classic!) is translatable into "I believe it is raining and I desire not to get wet". For much it is worth, this way of putting it does not say very much, and at worse it may lead to a lot of confusion (what, exactly, is "belief" here? a silent conviction?).

What about intentions in politics and war? Medvedev tells the press that Russia does not intend to engage in a full-scale war in Georgia. They are simply carrying out "peace enforcement". What does he mean? My suspicion: He wants to describe the killing of 1.600 people as the keeping of "peace" in the area, a way of justifying death and destruction. "We intend to do what is good." "We have good intentions." Peace is war, war is peace. Go read Hardt and Negri: Multitude.

8 August 2008

Conversations iii

In his autobiography, the English philosopher (and historian) RG Collingwood brags that as an eight year old child, he picked up a book by Kant, and immediately understood it to be of utmost importance that he understand it. "I felt that the contents of this book, although I could not understand it, were somehow my business: a matter personal to myself, or rather to some future self of my own." When I was a nosy eight year old, I built snow castles and admired the velvety voice of Joey Tempest & Tommy Nilsson. I played with dolls and had troubles apprehending the arcane principles governing expressions such as "twenty past eight". Now I'm a nosy xx year old, and on my way home from work I'm plagued by the following internal dialogue:

- So you're having a difficult time grasping Marx' critique of Hegel, eh?
- ---
- At your age, you should be more familiar with the thinking of Marx. Jesus.
- I've been busy reading other stuff...
- Busy? You're lazy. Lazy!
- Philosophical texts should not be read in a rush.
- Bullshit. That's just because you've got a slow brain. Or lack of work morale. Both.
- Wittgenstein...
- Shut up, go watch some Teletubbies!

7 August 2008

open access journals & film & bela tarr

My colleague informed us about this list of open access philosophy journals. The idea is great. Free access to philosophical texts on many different subjects & no big, evil publishing firms who profits on the (mostly) unpaid work of academics. Yay! I haven't looked through the entire list yet, but I already found one interesting journal: Film-Philosophy, which features longer essays on various topics, but also reviews. I found one good article on Bela Tarr, for example. The author, Daniel Frampton, suggests a very interesting reading of Werckmeister harmóniak. He tries out the idea that Tarr, using long, inquisitive shots, wants to illuminate the "gaplessness of human experience":
But most interestingly, this kind of
thinking physicalises relationships between characters (the
film wants us to *feel* this physicality). The most
beautiful example in Werckmeister Harmonies occurs in the
main square of the town, where visiting showmen have brought
an enormous stuffed whale. The townsmen (seemingly *all* the
men of the town) stand around in loose groups, perhaps
waiting for work, or simply there to keep warm by fires. At
this point the film begins to tour the faces of the men,
tenaciously, almost impertinently, gliding from one cold
furrowed brow to another: here the film seems to be asking
the men something, demanding a response, forcing a
realisation perhaps. Each time the film settles on another
face, the pause seems to reveal a 'questioning' nature to
the film's thinking. Thus the film not only connects each
man to the other, but politicises this linkage -- the film
is joining the men together and asking something of them (to
wake up, to revolt, to *move*).

("The Way that Movements Speak", vol. 5, nr 10 (2001).)

6 August 2008

Gösta's blues

Gösta tries to walk some things out of his system. A gang of hammered toughies swagger outside Bristol. One of the hoodlums hollers "SAATANA" while his mate verbalizes his anxieties by shouting, on the top of his lungs: "cunts, it's the fucking KARJALAISUUS". Gösta walks down to the river, trying to forget the strange conversation today, about what can be profited on, humans (everything). He clutched the Marx book to his chest like a teddybear.
Not much is left of the ship yard anymore. A sign: No trespassing. A few buildings. There's a nice path through the woods, but Gösta has forgotten where it is.
The sun sets on good & wicked alike. Gösta remembers stuff. It's darker now. Gösta thinks he smells rotten leaves, but it is only some garbage lying around.
Gösta does not know what this is. Do you?

Gösta tries to peek inside, and what he sees looks like a space ship. Gösta enrolls to leave.
This is romance in the outskirts of Turku. This is why Gösta loves this town, because there are places like this.

5 August 2008

Мать и сын (Mother and son, 1997)

When I say that Mother and son, one of Aleksandr Sokurov's films from the 90's, remind me of Tarkovsky, you will probably think that this is a sloppy and tired comment. Of course. But the first thing I thought about when I watched the opening scenes was Stalker*. And, indeed, even though the two films have little in common with regards to story, Tarkovsky & Sokurov, in these films, pay close attention to nature and its movements, colors and sounds. If you've seen Stalker, you remember the spooky creaks and indefinable sounds of the Zone, the place where even the laws of nature have lost some ground. Tarkovsky makes a puddle of water, or a roaming dog, stand out like a revelation, something sacred.

Sokurov has the same gift: in one scene, located in the sun-drenched woods, a fly suddenly dominates the scene with its buzzing sound. There are two characters in his film; the dying mother and her son who tenderly takes care of her. Then there's a third actor: the wind. It howls, whispers, wheezes, breathes, gushes, hums and roars. The intimacy between mother and son is contrasted with the unruliness and grandeur of nature. That said, I never get the impression that Sokurov depicts nature as impersonal or indifferent - nature is life, smells, sounds, light. Visually, there's not so many links between Mother and son and Tarkovsky. Sokurov's film creates scenes which resemble impressionistic oil paintings (somewhat in the same vein as Barry Lyndon), while he also experiments with angles and perspectives, which add some tension to the pictures, which seldom are left static.

The story is stripped of everything inessential. A mother and a son. She is dying. He talks to her about a dream he had. He carries her outside, and she rests on a bench. He shows her a couple of photographs. There is no reference to time or place. It could be anywhere, fifty years ago, or last year. Few films have dwelled so intensely on the physical aspect of relations: the son combs his mother's hair, carries her up the dusty road, holds her hand, and everything is portrayed with slow, long shots. There is, I would say, nothing artsy or self-indulgent about this film (even though what I've said might have made you think so). It is a very, very simple film about death and nature, more a visual poem than a narrative in the traditional sense.

Sokurov also directed the overwhelming Русский ковчег (Russian ark/2002). Regrettably, I haven't seen any of his other films.

* Recently, I happened to come upon the manuscript (translated to Swedish) on which the movie Stalker is based. I read half of it at the library, but couldn't go through with it - it was so funny. Can you believe it? Funny! Tarkovsky did certainly change one or two things as he went about making the film.

4 August 2008

Blind Willie Johnson & Paris, Texas

A few month ago I was listening to Last.fm radio. I find a lot of music that way, new artists. I guess I was listening to something related to blues. Suddenly, there was this captivating, unusual voice. The artist's called Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945), and his music could be said to blend blues with gospel. He sings in a growly, yet sensitive & modulating, voice that one does not forget easily. Most (all?) of his songs contain religious themes. What a contrast to some other blues artists I listen to at the moment, from (about) the same period, women who sing about killing their husbands, boozing and having sex - they're great, too - check out Memphis Minnie or Ma Reiney or Lucille Bogan... I'm digressing. Even though the religious language used in Johnson's songs isn't exactly familiar ground to me, I feel completely at home in his music, in the spirit of the songs. This is, somehow, music unlike anything else I've heard before. The backing vocals of his wife adds yet another flavor to the sound.

Ry Cooder used Johnson's song "Dark was the night - cold was the ground" as a blueprint for his sountrack for Paris, Texas (1984/Wenders), which I watched tonight. Not only was the soundtrack marvellously well suited for the film, the visual style of the film blew me away (one of the visually most riveting films I've come across so far). Almost painfully sharp colors, often using fluorescent light to a great effect, function as the emotional backdrop of the film. The stark colors of the sky, in particular, were used brilliantly: the blue sky of midday, the heavy blue-red of deep night. I bet there would be no "No country for old men" (and tons of other indie-ish movies) without this, in my opinion, obvious source of cinematrographical inspiration.

I was happy to experience the elusive Harry Dean Stanton again. Mostly I've seen him in eerie minor roles in Lynch movies. And there's a lot of strangeness in this one, too: the first thing we see of Stanton is him walking alone, in the desert. After a while he is picked up by his brother, and it turns out he suffers from amnesia. He goes back with his brother to return to the life he once turned his back on. The first part of the film is great. After that some things start to bother me, issues not completely dissimilar from those I was disturbed by in Himmel über Berlin. Often, I find myself thinking that film makers should not go into those failed, tragic, oh-so-troubled romantic relationships at all, because the result is almost always the same schmaltz we've seen a million times (or more) before. OK, there are a few (quite many, actually) redeeming things that could be advocated for this movie in that respect, but I won't go into that. The only thing I want to say is that there are a few scenes that makes the film less believable than it could have been (a matter of taste, perhaps, also).

Himmel... had a lot of great moments, and so do this one, by which I was even more impressed. Great film!

Open plan office = panopticon?

"The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad [...] to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power."

I just watched a Danish TV program about the emergent popularity of the open plan office (kontorslandskap, in Swedish). The justifications given for this architectural solution were very interesting, and reminded me of the ideological aspect of the organization of buildings and other places. (T & I once joked about writing a tract on the philosophy of corridors. Maybe we will, someday.)

A researcher at the university of Århus claimed an idea about work embraced by more and more people to be that work should not be limited be to a particular place. Work can, and should, be done anywhere; at the beach, at home, in a café. People are not meant to stay at their office station all the time, that is part of the point with open plan offices. On a practical level, this means, I suppose, that people should be available at any time, prepared and willing to reply to e-mails, to reply to phone calls, to write reports. Work is, potentially, anywhere and always.

Workers are, it was said, supposed to move around, talk to each other and be concerned with the job tasks of their colleagues. It is a bad thing to be too invested in one's own work - this was the main point in the program. One person reassured the viewers that those who are not so impressed by the open plan office usually has not worked in such a place. Once one has experienced it, one will accept it and like it. A woman talked about the regularity with which she, and other co-workers, had to move around, from desk to desk, and this seemed to be part & parcel of the work routines at her office (I wonder whether the same was true for senior mgmt). One should not be too attached to one's work task, nor should one be too attached to a particular place.

I thought: Perpetual adaptability. An anonymous space is designed to look "cosy" and "relaxed" by means of lounge areas and other paraphernalia; a really expensive coffee machine will induce the conviction that one is not at work-work - this is a space for self-realization and social, friendly relations.

The open plan office has its roots in taylorist & fordist ideas about efficiency. Clerks and typists performed identical tasks at identical desks. But moving around a lot, engaging in conversations and the work of others does not really sound like the taylorist utopia, does it? Or are we simply seeing another version of it...? "Endless work" (endless exploitation)? "Open plan" as in "open to control"? Movable units are more manageable? (Foucault-ish) Internalized surveillance ? Open space office - open in many senses -the spaceless office. "Surveillance" is, not so much, a specific group of management, but it is anyone, you are it, in relation to yourself.

I worked in a place like that once. It scared the shit out of me. But maybe somebody else has different experiences of it? But this is, for sure, a scary description of office work and office space.

3 August 2008

Don't ask, don't tell

The latest edition of The New Yorker features an article about the US army's "don't ask, don't tell"-policy. After he died, in Iraq, Alan Rogers got some attention for his activism. His former colleagues, who held Rogers to be a respectable M.I major who devoted all his energy to the army, weren't too happy about the revelations of this part of Rogers' life:
“To a person—I really mean every person in the office was completely surprised,”Hardy told me, referring to Rogers’s private life. Hardy’s officemates knew Rogers as an easygoing college-football enthusiast and a capable volleyball player—their team captain, last June, at the annual office picnic. “ ‘The first openly gay soldier to die in Iraq,’ ” Hardy said, recalling Pilaud’s Wikipedia entry. “We’re, like, ‘Hold it. If it’s a surprise to all of us, that can’t count as the first openly gay soldier to die in Iraq.’ And we just felt there was an agenda that wasn’t Alan’s.” Hardy said that he did not know who had made the Wikipedia edits, but he mentioned a recent article in USA Today in which a soldier’s mother expressed some unease about the specificity of the instructions her son had given her in the event of his death—which friends should speak on his behalf, what songs to play at his funeral. “Nowhere—and I read the will—did Alan leave any piece of paper that said that,” Hardy told me. “He did not make any moves to be remembered as a gay soldier. Nowhere in those phone calls home did he say, ‘Let everyone know that I died a proud gay officer.’ ” Of course, being a proud gay officer is tantamount, under the current military policy, to being a retired gay officer with no pension.

The Savages (2007)

Philip Seymor Hoffman is, by far, one of my favorite actors. In The Savages (2007), directed by Tamara Jenkins, he plays the son of a man who is suddenly diagnosed with dementia. Hoffman's offbeat, subdued performance, in an otherwise offbeat film, is nothing short of brilliant (Laura Linney, who plays his sister, is not as good, but her performance gets better towards the end of the movie, I think). All in all, the film is a moving potrayal of people who take care of their aging parents, who have to make decisions they might not want to take. The film really brings out what it is like to be thrown into new & scary situations. What makes this film special, aside from the warm & humane treatment of the story, which rings true, is the combination of music and cinematography. The pictures are, I would say, very clean (for some reason I come to think of some Todd Haynes films), the effect of which is an almost serene atmosphere. The music draws on the same emotions - the soundtrack consists of some classical music, but also a song from the threepenny opera opera - Hoffman's character is a Brecht researcher. There are many reasons for watching this movie.

2 August 2008


When I go to the library or a book shop, I have a really hard time finding a book I could bear with. Mabye I don't like literature. Or maybe there are just so many books out there that I have zero interest for. Does that sound arrogant? Well, that's because I am.

1. For starters, I have a very limited tolerance for storytelling bravura. "That's a book with an interesting story." OK, I will avoid that one, then. That is, if I am not told anything about the way the story is told, from what perspective, etc. "An epic story about three generations of women..." Sorry, I'm very anti-humanist when it comes to levnadsöden (a very Heideggerian Swedish word, it's not easy to come up with an English translation... "Life story" does not really capture it.). In addition to boring me to death, these "epic stories" take for granted an outlook on life I'd like to call, for lack of other words, heterosexist. I have in mind stories that in some sense revolve around Reproduction, the "fate of the generations", a fate built on the attraction "between male and female", each equipped with their set of ideosynchrasies. There is a certain branch of literature which is fond of looking down on humanity as simply a bunch of "interesting stories". One hundred years of solitude is the paradigm of Epic in this sense. As I remember the book, Márquez' style alters between contempt for humanity in general and an even greater contempt for the particular human being, who is always reduced to a foolish type/psychological tic.

2. "Literary descriptions". Let me provide you with an example, from The Prussian Officer, a short story by my nemesis Nr. 1, DH Lawrence:
The captain was a tall man of about forty, gray at the temples. He had a handsome, finely knit figure, and was one of the best horsemen in the West. [...] The captain had reddish-brown, stiff hair, that he wore short upon his skull. His mustache was also cut short and bristly over a full, brutal mouth. His face was rather rugged, the cheeks thin. Perhaps the man was the more handsome for the deep lines in his face, the irritable tension of his brow, which gave him the look of a man who fights with life. His fair eyebrows stood bushy over light blue eyes that were always flashing with cold fire. He was a Prussian aristocrat, haughty and overbearing. But his mother had been a Polish countess.
Here, Lawrence grabs onto the idea that our appearance tells something about the persons we are. This is not completely ill-founded, but it is more the use to which he puts descriptions I have problems with here. Thus, I have no qualms with descriptions of physical appearances per se. But when layed out like this, disattached from the rest of the story, as a prolegomena to it, a disengaged introduction, then the desccription has already killed my imagination and I start to feel that there's nothing left to reveal, the "character" of the persons have already been circumscribed. The characters are easily flattened out because of this. At this point, the author has simply to fool around with his predestined puppets a bit, and they may perhaps change a bit, depending on the things that bump into their set of character traits.

It's another matter altogether if physical appearance is described from a particular point of view (by another character, for example), in a context where it is relevant. Not as a presentation of puppets.

3. Love stories are very rarely interesting to me. I've read a few, and appreciated a few. But usually not.

4. Detective stories. I don't get this genre at all. As a kid, I read some sleazy Swedish author who re-wrote the same story about the detective who drinks too much, has trouble with the womenfolk etc., etc, a thousand times. Only the crimes varied, but there was not much variation there, either. Why did I keep reading? The satisfaction of recognizing familiar patterns. "Whodunit"-stories simply don't have the force to engage me. I am unmoved by them and I can't even muster up enough energy to follow the story. So I stop reading.

5. If a book is presented as a "historical novel" on the blurb of the book, I am immediately turned off. It's not that I crave for the Contemporary. But I don't like novels whose only charm is the author's industrious historical research.

--- That leaves me with almost no books. But there are a few. Now, I am reading Léonora Miano's L'intérieur de la nuit (Inside the night). I got interested in the book when I read that her style of writing is inspired by music, jazz. Her novel unravels a series of horrendous events in a fictional African country. She depicts, in raw details, what happens to people who parttake, or witness, cruelties. At the same time, social interaction is described vividly, not without irony or humor, but always with compassion.

--- And, yes, I shouldn't complain so much. But I can't help myself...

Up the Yangtze (2007)

The flood on the Yangtze river caused by a big dam project is chronicled in Up the Yangtze (2007), a recent documentary by Yung Chang. By following a few workers on a cruiser catering to affluent Americans, the film provides many perspectives on a country in drastic change. Going up and down the Yangtze river, the cruiser passes by cities and villages doomed to be drowned in a few years time. The inhabitants are left with no choice: they are forced to move (the documentary offers us hints of what kind of changes those concerned will be confronted with). One elderly woman has decided to stay. We see her kneeling in front of a cross, praying for the younger generations. What the inhabitants by the river have to say reveal their often suspiscious relation to the government and government officials.

The workers on the cruiser are given American names, they are called stuff like "Cindy", "Jerry". The training of the staff involves language skills, but also the ability to tend to the needs of the tourists in a "fitting way". It is obvious that the film maker's perspective on tourism is very critical. In one scene, a boy carries an elderly woman's bags. She offers him a generous tip, "I expected you to be much more intrusive!" she barks. Next scene: The young kid is beaming: 30 dollars. The dreams about progress are illuminated with equally critical pictures. We are shown people who are dragging all their property along to a very uncertain future. The cruise passengers relish the scenery of the Yangtze river before the floods will change the landscape, while the inhabitants, of course, have no such romantic interest in "Old China".

IMDB users reviewing Up the Yangtze mention Sanxia haoren (Still life), a film directed by Zhang Ke Jia, which is another portrayal of life around the Three Gorges dam. I haven't seen that one yet. I also want to recommend Xi wang zhi lu (Railway of hope) by Ning Ying because it taught me a lot about China. The film crew follows a trainful of people, mostly female peasants, hoping to find cotton picking work in the northwest. It is a very moving account of work, hope, desperation - and travelling in a hot, steamy train for 3 long days. Somehow, the film maker has been very successful in reaching out to the people on the train as the documentary simply felt very sincere.

The dam project has been called an environmental catastrophy, causing floods, triggering andslides, altering ecosystems and causing pollution (among other things), and in addition to this many suspect that it will not turn out to be the huge electricity producer it is assumed it will be (it is presented as the world's largest hydroelectrical power station). 1.4 million people have to move away because of the rise of the water level, which will destroy fertile land. The promise of economic compensation to the inhabitants for the relocations has not been fulfilled completely either. On the other hand, it will be a solution to energy needs, it will help reduce the emission of greenhouse gas and the dam is also actually an attempt to come to terms with flooding (but the efficiency of the dam in this respect has also been contested, while the dam is also said to have caused draught at some places). Read about the project here and here.