31 January 2009

Buongiorno notte (2003)

The italian red brigades. 1978. A big shot politician, Aldo Moro, is held hostage in an apartment crammed with ideology-chirping "Red Brigade" terrorists. (Wikipedia-knowledge about Aldo Moro: he was a mediating force in Italian politics, a two-time prime minister (for Democrazia Cristiana) intent on opting for a compromise with the communist party in spite of pressure from the US. Italy was governed by coalitions for some years. The Red Brigaders were not happy about the situation.) Buongiorno, notte (2003) is a quite awful & lazy & slightly sexist movie about a fairly interesting theme. I mean, the story could have been dealt with in a different way & some political tensions were touched upon that could have been developed into an interesting movie. But no, that didn't happen. There is a clear agenda & that the film makes eager attempt to drive home a handful of points. Even though the Red Brigade members are not (exclusively) portrayed as ruthless killer types the film's take on "moral/political struggle" is far too simplistic, far too schematic & psychologized to be insightful. Although I know next to nothing about the red brigades & their activities in late 70's Italy (I know they were very critical of the communist party), I am convinced that this movie is unfair to everybody & everything. Of course, the movie had to focus on a sweet & innocent-looking young woman with eyes of a deer who is a communist radical because of what happened to Daddy. When she does not work in the library ("you are not allowed to smoke in here!"), she hangs out with ideology-crazed Terrorists. In a profound cut, the camera zooms in a copy of Marx' & Engels' The holy family resting next to the poor terrorist's crib. They read Marx, what a surprise! A young man at work tries to call the poor girl back to Conscience. He's a Poet. He serenades her with: "You act as though you were not the young and beautiful woman that you are". We are expected to symphathize with his insights & hold this to be a great way to tell a story about political fractions in late seventies Italy. The film ends with a bombastic scene from Moro's funeral. The pope is carried inside the church in a big chair as he is the official of the funeral. Regrettably, this movie did not provoke me to reflect on gruesome political violence or the call of Conscience. Instead, I wondered: what material is the pope's hat made of? Can I have one?

An interesting piece of information I didn't know about: Antonio Negri, who was a part of the autonomous movement at that time, was one of those accused of masterminding the Moro kidnapping & murder but the charges were dropped later on.

30 January 2009

Twin Peaks, midway through season two

Every Thursday, M, H, S & I watch a few (quite a few) episodes of Twin Peaks. Today we watched the first few episodes not written by David Lynch, mid-way through season 2. These are considered by most to be weaker, far less atmospheric episodes than season one and the beginning of season 2, but I've come to appreciate lots of things about them nonetheless. Though it might be the product of sloppy writing, there's something to the oddity of the post-murder mystery episodes that keeps me interested or, should we say, amused. Lots of new twists of the story are introduced, competing among themselves in looseness. Nothing is tied together, there's almost no progress of story and no meaningful connections between the threads are established. Whereas the humor of the earlier episodes focused on the dark and the morbid and the overly sentimental, the latter episodes mix the lowest of the low and the weirdest of the weird. The tension of David Lynch's approach is lacking. Here, everything is allowed. Sure, some parts are downright boring. I have never been too interested in the Windom Earle character. But there are scenes that are moronic in the best possible sense. Major Briggs is abducted by a UFO! Nadine lives her school girl reality and joins the wrestler team! Lucy, Mr Fashion and Andy tend to a diabolic kid! Mr Horne has gone insane and is now playing with civil war dolls! Cooper is suspended from FBI. A gentleman/woman called Denise Bryson (David Duchovny) shows up to investigate the circumstances of Cooper's professional misbehavior. "I might be wearing a dress but I still put my panties on one leg at a time if you know what I mean." This part of Twin Peaks is gloriously offbeat and a dignified sleazefest. I like it. I'm convinced that the writers intended these episodes to be silly and bizarre, and as a parody of the soap opera formula, this works even better than the first part of Twin Peaks! There is nothing here that is not over the top and that is exactly what makes it so good.

28 January 2009

In Treatment

I watched the first two episodes of In Treatment on TV tonight. My first impression is that this is very promising. The idea: each episode comprises one therapy session, 30 minutes. No flashbacks, no extra drama - everything happens in one room between two people, the therapist & his client. So far, it works. Don't miss it!

27 January 2009


There are times when I resent being a Ph.D student. Y & I talk a lot about the ups and downs of academic work. What it's like to go home with a queasy feeling & spend the evening cursing yourself for not having accomplished anything important. It's difficult to think about something else. Lately, there have been lots of the downs. Yesterday, however, was a good day. I talked to G, whose brutal & kind comments have helped me a lot through the years. "That fucking homeliness.... You have to do something with that part." Ouch. But he's right. That fucking homeliness has to go. Other stuff, too. I learned a lot & got tons of new stuff to digest. Regrettably, today my digestion is in bad shape. I'm trawling articles to put some recent & stylish references into my research plan. Even though I've left the field of business ethics behind, I will try to say something about why this field is so problematic. I read one article. It's about Levinas. Levinas and business ethics. Crazy as that may seem, continental philosophy is quite popular in discipline of business ethics among those who want to be "cutting edge" & those who, despite their attempts to contribute with some alternative views, express their critical stance towards the tradition (rule-obsession, virtue ethics flowerpatterns & so on). But what views do they express? That is often very, very unclear: in many articles, the message is simply that one should take an "alternative" stance and that some model will help us in doing this. It's Bataille & Derrida & Levinas & what not. Mostly, I've skimmed through recent volumes of Business Ethics - A European Perspective. I'm not too impressed. The article I read today (actually there is a recent Levinas-themed issue of that journal) suggested Levinas should be used not to revitalize the field of business ethics but, the authors contended, Levinasian ethics can be applied to management ethics. I suppose this means that Levinas is somehow to help managers in their "ethics issues". According to the article, Management = persons, while a corporation = not a person. (That's fine.) The authors argue that this & that concept may be applied to management situations. They take the example of sending e-mails. Proximity! Meeting the Other! The Encounter! Openness! What beautiful things can be done with Levinas & esp. with the concepts he uses!

Philosophical concepts are allowed a a life in their own here and it appears as if the mere evocation of a bundle of terms will open up a useful "framework" that can be applied to a specific activity (e.g. business). They are simply there. Openness, proximity, the Face. Ready to be utilized as tools for managers who want to devor a good night's sleep. (OK - so what I am so unhappy about is that these authors think that they have left the idea of applied ethics behind but then again they don't seem to have moved very far from that conception.)

And the one single thought in my head is: I did print this thing, didn't I, what a waste of paper! And life is too short for this etc, etc, etc.

At that point, I was ready to throw chairs out of windows & chew concrete. I didn't. Instead, I sit at home, listening to Eric Dolphy really loud (fuck you neighbors, you'd better commiserate). Moping & thinking that the research plan will never get written & that I'd rather dig holes in the ground and fill them up again than surfing the shit wave of my philosophical thoughts right now.

25 January 2009

Are you afraid to die? - The Louvin Brothers

There's a surge of old country and gospel in my (digital!) record collection. I like everything from cheesy oooh-oooh and pom-pom-pom choirs of overproduced late 50's and early 60's country pop to god-fearing gospel of the forties. There's a place in my heart for George Jones, Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Buck Owens (and the Buckaroos, naturally!). I love overblown string orchestrations and the fiddles that are thrown in for good measure in some songs. Spoken love-lorn lyrics about death and longing. Who can resist classic lines such as "There's a tear in my eye / it's not water"? Nobody, that's who! (Tougher stuff like Hank Williams is fantastic, too, but in a somewhat different way)

The Louvin brothers, Charlie and Ira, started making gospel music in the forties. Their real name is "Loudermilk" but "Louvin" was apparently easier to pronounce. They're from Henegar, Alabama. In the mid-fifties their style was widened to include "secular" material as well even though they have little in common with the sound of more pop-oriented acts. They even toured with Elvis in the beginning of his career. There were lots of "brother-duos" before them, so they were not a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. Their perhaps best known album is Satan is real from 1959. The band split up in 1963. Ira died in a car crash in 1965 (along with his 4th wife). His brother went solo.

She picked up that silver dagger
and plunged it through her lily breast
Saying "Goodbye Mama, goodbye Papa,
I''ll die for th
e one I love the best"

Nick Cave's Murder ballads is a funny collection of murder ballads. You don't take these songs seriously. The Louvins made murder ballads, too. But instead of tongue-in-cheek, the style they pursue is grave and direct. The same goes for their religious material. Titles such as "Kneel at the cross", "The Christian Life" and "Leaning on the everlasting arms" speak for themselves. Their songs have been covered - by the Byrds, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, among others - but these artists make the songs their own. Ira & Charlie sing in close harmony, a style that pretty much resembles The Everly Brothers. But, be warned, there's hardly any puppy love to be found here:

Are You a stranger to God?
carried away by your pride?
tell me sinner did you ever step to think

Are you afraid
to die?

What are The Louvin brothers? Their music makes me smile ironically. I laugh at the campy cover art of Satan is real (a plywood Satan). How can that stuff be serious? But the music of The Louvin Brothers is spooky, it crawls under your skin and you start wondering who the hell these folks are. Ira was an alcoholic, according to one source "He sang like an angel but he could be as mean as a striped snake, almost as famous for his drunken, mandolin-smashing tantrums as for his hair-raising tenor." Charlie was more of a business man who has kept up a prolific career for many years. The band members is a mystery, but then there's the question: who listened to The Louvin brothers? How did their contemporaries receive them? Did rock n' roll kids appreciate them? Were they favorites among worshipping Christian? Was their music heard as the white robed men got ready for a KKK rally? Or did Ira & Charlie provide folks with a quick jesus fix before hitting the bar? In what spirit did people listen to them? I know there's a lot of religious themes in pop in the US and elsewhere, nothing strange about that, but this is something different. It's how the stern message and the sometimes jaunty sound of the songs create highly contradictory music ("....you can't find the lord too soon!" is a really, really strange song: chipper barrelhouse piano combined with lyrics bemoaning the fallen state of man....).

It's their attitude that spooks me. Matter-of-factedly, they croon about redemption and judgment day. Something ain't right in these songs. I don't get this feeling by The Carter Family, for example, whose music seems to be quite uncomplicated, earnest gospel. But the Louvins! The singing is so sweet, twangy, yet stern, while the arrangements (mandolin!) stick to the basics. I mean, they look so tidy! I start imagining things. The Louvins snorting a line. The Louvins at the strip joints (never parting ways). The Louvins in a chicken race. The Louvins on a merry hunting trip. The Louvins watch soap operas while tripping on pills ("man...satan is real!" - maybe that's how the idea for the album cover was born).

If I ever write a novel, it will probably be about the Louvin brothers (there's already a biography). For some reason, they kickstart my imagination. But does this music bemuse me & confuse me simply because I know nothing about the tradition of gospel music?

Satan is real
working in spirit
you can see him and hear him
in this world every day

satan is real
working in power
he can tempt you
and lead you astray.

(there's a youtube clip of a Louvin brother performance and a clip from a radio show!)

23 January 2009

Musil reading diary chapters 20-1.

After a depressing day at work (fuckery! ) there's no better thing than a beer and a nice discussion to keep one's mind busy.

So. Chapters 20-1. Two new characters show up. Paying heed to his father's advice, Ulrich calls on Count Stallburg in order to obtain a letter of recommendation to get invited into the jubilee project. As he enters Stallburg's pompous residence, he tries to stay aloof. "Ironic protest and bourgeois criticism". But there's something about Stallburg, this impersonal, unpretentious, orangutan-like man, that Ulrich finds trustworthy. A queer thing about Musil's writing is that even in the physical appearence of his characters a multitude of societal phenomena is inscribed. - In this case, the impersonal, hunched appearance of Stallburg is connected to the tendency among members of high society to imitate, as imitation will make holders of supreme power to look like servants. Are we to believe that the emperor of Austria looks like a orangutan? So, anyway, what does Ulrich do to impress Count Stallburg? Well, he lets go of himself - - he, who hates spontaneity! - - and brings up the subject of Moosbrugger, the sex criminal, whose case he begs Stallburg to look into. Surprisingly, this does not offend the count, who is rather delighted by this energetic young man. But as he finally receives his letter of recommendations, Ulrich feels like a child dismissed with a piece of chocolate. It is humiliating for him to be recommended. Ulrich, the independent Scientist, - a "high-spirited helper"!

In the next chapter, we are introduced to Leinsdorf, the driving force behind the "parallel campaign", the aim of which is to celebrate the 70th year of the reign of emperor Franz Joseph (the jubilee would take place in 1918) - and most of all, to boast of the greatness of the Habsburgi empire and convince the world of why it is a much greater country than PrussiaGermany. Poor Wilhelm II would have occupied the throne during the futile period of thirty years. (Franz Joseph died in 1916 and after world war 1 both empires changed their political systems) "His Grace the Imperial Liege-Count Leinsdorf" is introduced in a scene in which his secretary reads to him a section of Fichte. Wouldn't Fichte be one hell of a thinker to bolster the patriotic campaign? No, the count protests, Fichte represents a far too protestant view of the Church. Odd as it is, by "protestant" Leinsdorf seems to have in mind the elevation of "eternal verities" rather than a sound reliance upon symbols and "homilies" (this is my interpretation). Leinsdorf himself is not much of a thinker. He celebrates "contemplation in divine darkness, which is infinitely clear in itself but a dazzling darkness to the human intellect". This man is simply far too aristocratic to think. He has really no clue about what the patriotic campaign should work for, but the whole thing triggers his patriotic feels. Austria should be a shimmering model for the world (esp. Germany!) to admire and emulate. Leinsdorf is described as "nothing but a patriot"; he is not interested in politics, nor is he interested in learning about the diversity of society. As a man who has isolated himself among his upper-class comerades, the hustle and bustle of society is completely alien to him ("goldfish in a bowl"); for him, there is no difference between working class and middle class. Gold fish. All that matters is "fatherland".

22 January 2009

Badawi - Bedouin sound clash

I have a thing for dub. Deep rhythms. No, or only hints of, melody. Badawi's Bedouin Sound Clash works its magic on me. It was released in 1996. You should listen to it. B, if you read this, thanks for introducing me to this one!

Dagens visdom.

Vissa uttalanden baxnar man av. Här är ett. Det kommer från samlingspartiets ungdomsorganisation:

[HBL frågar] - Förra veckan kommenterade statsminister Matti Vanhanen i Hbl ert uttalande [om flyktingpolitik, min anm.] med att utlänningar inte skall framställas som ett hot, och att man inte ska måla upp skräckbilder om sådant som inte är verklighet. Har han fel?
- Nej inte alls. Men vi måste diskutera sakligt. Vanhanen har rätt i att vi inte ska vara rädda, men okontrollerade strömmar av utlänningar är ett hot.

Tack & gonatt.

21 January 2009

On conversation and mutual understanding

Every now and then, I feel envigorated by conversation, great conversation. There are also moments when I am depressed by how a discussion makes it only too clear how distant we are to each other and how little we care. Working with philosophy makes one think about these things. Philosophy and philosophical discussion, at worst, is indulgent, self-important prattle, and at best it testifies of the joy of exploring and being together. Thinking back on my training in philosophy, I think that we have got our share both of the virtues and vices of discussion. During my years of studying philosophy, I think that the most valuable things I've learned has concerned a certain degree of persistence in discussion. On the more negative side, I suspect philosophy has made me wearier, more paranoid, and more prone to focus on Points and the tedious making of them in conversation. I wish I could have more of the former, more persistence, and less of the latter self-awareness, the opposite of which is not forgetfulness or indulgence but rather joyful discussion immersed in mutuality.

I often wonder what it is that makes something a good conversation. I would never say that a good conversation produces new knowledge. And it has nothing to do with "coming up with solutions" or even "coming to an agreement about something". In some sense, the conversations I've enjoyed the most are characterized by a certain kind of openness between people (....), but I am puzzled about what this openness is about and what sets it apart from the bad conversation, the clumsy conversation, the embarrassing conversation. We may be tempted by the image of the good conversation as the situation in which persons become irrelevant, the point at which personal stuff is obliteratad to give way to a pure intermingling of thoughts. I think that's wrong-headed and that this may even epitomize the worst kind of alienation between people, "pure minds".

I don't know S very well. We've met on several occasions, but I guess most of the time I've been too shy to talk to him because of language difficulties &, I must confess, out of sheer laziness. We walked home together from the bingo (yes, I am 70 yrs old) and for some reason the language barrier just withered away and so did the shyness and we were suddenly able to talk to each other. We talked about what it is to produce text in relation to different standards with regard to language skills. He said that most of all he wants to express himself clearly. I agreed with him & added that sometimes I have the feeling that people don't even care about whether they are understood or not and whether what they've said was clear or not.

Misunderstandings may arise in the best of conversations. That's no problem in itself. But sometimes a situation is suffocating to the point that every little thing, every small misunderstanding, becomes a fatal blow that undermines the conditions for honest discussion. Misunderstanding do not matter in themselves. In this case they are symptoms of what kind of relation we have with each other. It's better to say that the spirit of a discussion will determine the role of misunderstandings. One could talk about smugness here, or good and bad intentions, or benevolence.

A misunderstanding is corrected. When it has dawned on me that I misunderstood what you said the whole thing is forgotten and there's no longer a need for clarification. I made a mistake, that's all. But there's other, more serious forms of lack of understanding. The possibility of clearing up the mistakes to proceed with what is important does not even arise. There are variations here. There's open hostility and there's wavering embarrassment as one dares not even look into the other's face. The more we talk, the more we realize that we don't want to understand each other. We are not interested in each other. Other stuff may be of importance. The manufacturing of a profound point, the need to impress, the gratification of a successful provocation, the titillation of tease.

But let's be clear on this. I would not say that the single thing that matters is that I understand what you say. Your message might be all too clear, and that makes the situation even worse. And, as I said, the same goes for "not understanding". Everything boils down the content of the notion of understanding. I would even say that a real conversation is one in which we have something to say to each other. But having something to say is not at all understandable in terms of "originality" or even "relevance". You might be profound & you might have tons of new stuff to tell me. But if I don't feel that these things are told to me, then what you say leaves me cold. If I feel that you are performing, and if I realize I am not really interested in our conversation here and now, but rather in some future gain (your acceptance etc.). But what does it mean that what you say is said to me? Flattery is directed at me. By flattering me, you bring out the worst in me, and I am the one to feel responsible if I am flattered. But flattery & sugary ingratiation hardly makes for great conversation.

If my memory does not deceive me, Rush Rhees (whose style of writing keeps inspiring me as it is conversational and inviting and truly exploratory) writes about the spontaneity in relations that is central to the concept of "having something to say". I think this is Wittgenstein and the possibility of discourse, a quite tedious, but also very wonderful, book about philosophy of language that, in my opinion, is not like anything written in that field. While philosophers of language have usually been going on and on about sentences, grammar and the structural side of language, not to mention the relationship between language and reality, very few have, I suspect, talked about conversation/discussion. Rhees can't quite get over the image of the builders in Philosophical investigations. Can they be said to have language if all they say to each other is "block", "pillar" and "slab"? Rhees is very troubled by this and his at times rambling text struggles with this issue in a very down-to-earth way. For Rhees, language is about having something to say (rather than, for example, "having words"). Rhees is sympathetic to Wittgenstein, of course, and the idea of meaning as use. But he his not satisfied with this. He wants to see how "use" of words cannot be thought in isolation from the discussions we have with each other. He writes about discourse and what it means that what is said within the course of conversation in some sense is saying something new.

In a good conversation I am not taking any positions and I am making no points and I am not trying to bring anything home and I am making no conclusions. So, if this is not the case, in what sense, if any, is a good conversation demanding? What does it demand and in what sense? It has nothing to do with standards. As soon as I start to worry about my lack of eloquence, as soon as I feel I am stupid and that I bore you with my infantile views on things, our conversation is doomed. I will not talk to you. I will talk to your ego while I am convinced that you are talking to the Eternal tribunal of Intellectual Standards.

I think it would not be completely stupid to say that a good conversation lacks all forms of external demands. It does not demand anything and as soon as it does something has come up between us that is an obstacle to honesty. That's why there is no distinctions to make in terms of subject matters. I may talk to you about beer or Kant. It doesn't matter as long as our relation lacks compulsion, as it lacks cramps.

A good conversation veers from the silly to the serious, from the offbeat to the highly intense. In some situations, I am scared by the sheer intensity and energy of a certain discussion. But I know I shouldn't. A good discussion doesn't throw me out in the dark and neither am I treading scary unknown lands by myself. It's not a minefield of embarrassment and shrewdness or soliloquy and taking turns.

A robust bond. Joy. Curiosity. Mutuality.

A bad conversation is laborious. The other is suffocated rather than let in. It's a trial of strength. A test. I've always hated the way challenging discussion is compared to training in boxing or martial arts ("sparringpartner"). My discussion partner is not a boxer. We are not taking turns of thinking aloud, trying out jabs on each other. Every time I feel that I am genuinely thinking with another person, I exprience it as a bliss.

Still, I find it very hard to describe the mutuality of discussion. There are so many false pictures of the personal and the impersonal at play here.

When everything works, what you say is an invitation.

19 January 2009

This is what I've been thinking about today. Hannah. Ernst-Hugo. Progress at work.

Musil reading diary chapters 18-19.

R & I have gotten into the Musil rhytm very successfully. We meet up one or two times a week, working our ways into the book without it becoming too laborious.

A new character is introduced: Moosebrugger. He's a killer & there's something about him (his "dimly discernible principles") that makes Ulrich curious. Moosebrugger has killed several women. Let me spare you the details. He's a poor carpenter, a journeyman who regards himself as an isolated universe, unable to connect with anyone. Women "are conspiring". In the trial, Moosebrugger tries to appear sane and principled, as an anarchist, a political criminal. Ulrich reads about him in the newspapers, and he shows up at the last day of the trial, listening to the judge pleading a death sentence. Musil's - or is it someone else's? - analysis of Moosebrugger's unnatural sexuality has the ring of Bad Psychoanalysis:

"[His] poverty was such that he never dared speak to a girl. Girls were something he could always only look at, even later on when he became an apprentice and then when he was a travelling journeyman. One only need imagine what it must mean when something one craves as naturally as bread or water can only be looked at. After a while one desires it unnaturally. [...] So it is understandable that Moosebrugger justified himself even after the first time he killed a girl by saying that he was constantly haunted by spirits calling to him day and night."

Is this Ulrich's interpretation? This is the reason why Musil is quite difficult. There has been several sections in which I have had some issues with understanding whose perspective it is that we are presented with. But be that is it may. In this chapter, Musil proves to be very insightful regarding the ways juridical & psychiatric discourses are used for different purposes, and that we need to look at the purpose to understand the content. His depiction of cold-blooded journalists who seek contradictions in Moosebrugger's good-natured physical appearance, while being blind to the contradictions in their own whereabouts, is also very intriguing.

By means of a letter from Ulrich's father, the next chapter introduces a major strand of the book. Quite a few stern exhortations are directed at poor Uli by his father (who is, we remember, a conscientious lawyer). He has not advanced in his career as his father has hoped."Just as little can I suspect, after the experience of a hardworking life, that a man rely on himself alone and neglect the academic and social connections that provide the support by means of which alone the individual's work prospers as part of a fruitful and beneficial whole." A sermon as good as any, to be sure! So there better be some changes from now one. Papa has spoken to his friend, "my old and trusted friend and patron, the former President of the Treasury and present Chairman of the Imperial Family Court Division, Office of the Court Chamberlain, His Excellency Count Stallburg". (Dammit why don't I have friends like that?) Ulrich will (his father is sure) talk to Mr. Stallburg about the Jubilee of Franz Josef in 1918 (celebrated just because Germany has a jubilee for their emperor, too). Ulrich will most probably be granted a place on the planning committee. What else?

"From your sister I hear only that she is in good health. She has a fine, capable husband, although she will never admit that she is satisfied with her lot and feels happy in it."

18 January 2009

The Wrestler

What drove me to go watch Mickey Rourke's bulging muscles in The Wrestler? I will confess. Darren Aranofsky has made a couple of movies that I've - I won't say enjoyed because that would give the wrong idea - appreciated. Pi & Requiem for a dream. Emotionally exploiting as they may be, they appeal to the side in me that longs for the Apocalyptic. And then there's Mickey Rourke.

The Wrestler has been compared to Rocky and, sure, I see the connection there. But The Wrestler introduces a far more complicated perspective on the activity for which the protagonist has dedicated his life than does, I think, Rocky (OK so I haven't seen the last Rocky movie). Aranofsky does not mock wrestling. He doesn't sneer at the pretense, the rowdy crowd, the silly names. He describes. That's one of the things I liked about this movie. It describes how wrestlers cope with pretense, with silly tricks and bloated bodies. The Wrestler is not a Comeback movie in the sense of tough training & an against-all-odds reappearance of the Star.

In the 80's Randy "The Ram" was a star. But he's still in the business. The games don't actually pay the rent, but still. Then "The Ram" has a heart attack. He ends up at the deli counter at the store for which he has worked during some time anyway. This is the more interesting and sparkling aspect of the film. The gritty life "The Ram" is leading, how he tries to live up to the picture of action doll hero. A less successful part of the film is, in my opinion, "Ram's" nonprofessional relations. Of course, there's the somewhat stern stripper who's got a heart of gold (even though Aranofsky depicts the stripper world in a quite unromantic way) and the daughter who was left behind as "The Ram" pursued his wrestling career. It's not that these segments of the film are boring, but they verge on the sentimental and the clichéd. The scenes with "Ram" in his shitty car or in the dressing room going through wrestling tactics and logics are far more interesting & fun to watch.

So, not a bad film.

16 January 2009

Musil reading diary, update, chapter 15-17.

R & I met up at Kerttuli to discuss the next three chapters of The Man without qualities, that is, chapter 15 to 17, in which the spirit of early 20th century Austria is analyzed. As usually, the depiction of contemporary life is a contradictory affair, the only common denominator of which is very banal: either modernity appears as the big blessing or it appears to be a degeneration in relation to the purity and vigour of older times. What is most clear hear is that the concept of "a cultural revolution" (one of the chapters bears that title) is primarily an expression of an attitude, rather than an objective characterization. But Musil gives a few outlines of a description, anyway. "Talents of a kind that had previously been stifled [because the earlier era could not stand "eccentrics"] or had never taken place in public life suddenly came to the fore." But this is a bit later on counterposed with the assertion that modern society had embraced the avant-gard and that the avant-gard therefore could not be trusted as anything other than an expression of folksy taste.

The modern Austria has nothing to offer Ulrich. His talents (whatever they are) do not seem to have a function. "There is no lack of talent or goodwill or even of strong personalities. There is just something missing in everything; though you can't put your finger on it, as if there had been a change in the blood or in the air..." Ulrich bemoans the mutation of stupidity into the reasonable (how stupidity nestles its way into the accepted). He believes in truth. "The truth [....] has only one appearance and only one path, and is always at a disadvantage." Ulrich, it seems, feels overpowered by the blandness of the times and in some undefined way (that is much harder to grasp than Walter's outlooks) he feels an aversion to modernity (Tennis playing ladies! motorcycles! racing horses bestowed with the quality of genius!).

For Walter, Ulrich's boyhood friend (whom he now feels distant from) the 20:th century has brought with it a destruction of purity and a destruction of "greatness". As we remember, both Walter & Ulrich are obsessed with greatness. None of them thinks they have achieved greatness, however, so both feel like losers, and both hold the other to be a lazy loser, too. For both, the lack of (meaningful) activity is intolerable. According to Walter, Ulrich is an expression of the modern times. Ulrich does not look like anything. In earlier times, Walter explains, there were different professions, all of them recognizable in their bearers' appearance. A doctor was a doctor and a painter was a painter. Today, only the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church has kept its traditional look while the matemathicians, who have gained such an important position, have no distinguished external marks. In other words, modern society is imbudie with a form of intelligence that has no distinguished marks, that floats around cloaked in different appearances. Society is cold and mechanized; "I came to the conclusion that in the old days, instead of death and mechanization, blood and wisdom reigned." Poor Walter. [How typical is it not that the degeneration of "modernity" is brought forward with an argument about the decline of professions, the decline of "honest work"!]

Walter is a sensitive spirit, for whom "the very act of moving his arm was fraught with spiritual adventure". He regards himself as a man of qualities, if only he would not have ended up in such a catatonic state, stiffened by anxious ambition. Ulrich, he says to his wife Clarisse, has no qualities, even though he "knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. He can put his mind to any question at any time. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fearless, tenacious, dashing, circumspect and - yet he has none of them!" Walter considers himself to be an honest man, a man with a deep interest in art, while Ulrich's every action is set in contradiction. But, at this point of the novel, it seems as if Walter's self-consciousness is as riddled with illusions as Ulrich's. (In passing, I think about Kierkegaard & how he analyzes "wanting to be the person one is", "wanting to be a different person than what one is" in Sickness unto death) While the illusion of Ulrich is the twisted, grandiose belief in detachment, becoming a non-person, Walter's illusion consists in his idea that his emotional sensitivity is a guarantor of reality and of something genuine. He brags about his undivided mind (to allude to Kierkegaard again) - every mundane thing is granted the status of ethical movement - but Musil's depiciton of him indicates that his understanding of himself is dependent on the deeply deluded way in which he perceives the relationship between himself and society. He is fine, but society is depraved and decadent.

What Musil gets at here - it seems - is that there is a societal dimension of the way we are deluded in relation to ourselves, and that this will have a bearing for our perception of society & our place or lack of place in it. Is Musil a cynic? I must say I am not too sure yet.

Hair metal from the 80's - part two

So I know my dear readership is bent towards the philosophical. This one is for you fuckers. Subtle & sublime, the way we like it.

Nina Ramsby

I've said it before & I'm saying it again: Nina Ramsby is damn great. Whatever she does, whatever constellation she is a part of, no matter whether she is in a band or in a duo or performing by herself, no matter what music she is playing - be it trip hop or grunge or jazz - she is fantastic. I found a video clip on Youtube in which she performs a cover of Anna Järvinen's song Koltrast. But I must say, those people prattling in the background should have their organs sliced off.

13 January 2009

Ekonomin, ekonomin! (Den ja?)

HBL, sönd. 11 jan, försäkringsbolagsgubbe tillträder ny post & intervjuas om bl.a. pensionssparande, ingress: "pengarna måste placeras rätt så att de ger rätt avkastning":

- Att placera pengar är lite som att forska.
- Och jag tror det är viktigt att man sysslar med det man har passion för!
- En viss försiktighet förenar mig med mina företrädare. Man kan kanske säga att vi tillagar en rätt på samma kryddor.
- Sällan är det aldrig en dålig idé att spara. Fast just nu måste man komma ihåg att konsumera också så att ekonomin hålls igång [jag antecknar i minnesboken].
- Här gäller ändå den gamla regeln att inte lägga alla ägg i samma korg, alltså inte satsa allt på samma bolag [begrundrar denna insikt].

"Dock ska vi inte vänta oss några fagra löften från börsbolagens sida nu när marknadsläget är svårt." "För bolag som M-real är läget kärvt, samtidigt som arsenalen för verkningsfull moteld är nära nog tömd."

HBL, tisd. 13.1; skattebetalarnas centralförbund (?) har räknat ut hur mycket köpkraften hos finländare ökar p.g.a. skattesänkningar;
"-Det är en mycket uppmuntrande utveckling, säger Teemu Lehtinen, VD för skattebetalarnas centralförbund."
"Teemu Lehtinen tycker att löntagarna nu skall sätta sprätt på det som blir över och inte spara pengarna."
"- Att handla och köpa tjänster är ett sätt att bidra till att fler har jobb och att staten får skatteintäkter." [Öh....nu var det alltså viktigt med skatteintäkter plötsligt, men han kanske tycker att varor ska beskattas & inte löntagare....vem gynnar det?]

Ingenstans i artikeln nämns vad slags organisation Skattebetalarnas centralförbund är och vilka intressen de driver; ytligt sett ger artikeln intryck av/sken av en GOD NYHET mitt i krisens mörker. Rubrik: "Låg inflation, sänkta skatter ger mera pengar i handen". På SC:s hemsida tillkännages det att organisationen vill ha en måttlig beskattning och en "effektiv offentlig hushållning". Samtidigt verkar man bedriva vettig verksamhet som att ge upplysningar i beskattningsärenden.


Jag håller på att läsa - i snigeltakt som vanligt - Johan Ehrenborgs och Sten Ljunggrens Ekonomihandboken (Etc. förlag). På ett föredömligt sätt visar författarna det ideologiska innehållet i påståenden som har fått status av att vara Nationalekonomisk Järnhård Lag - t.ex. just att Inflation = dåligt & inflationssänkande manövrar = bra eller påståenden om hur en kombination av konsumtion och aktiva investeringar säkrar pensionerna i framtiden för dagens löntagare. Rekommenderas varmt för dem som, liksom mig, inte kan nästan någonting om ekonomi och för vilka många grundbegrepp är grumliga och som förgrumlats än mera av ekonomisidebullshit som ovanstående tyvärr exemplifierar.

Det som jag funderar på nu är varför påståendet "att handla och köpa tjänster är ett sätt att bidra till att fler har jobb" i det slags ekonomiska system som det vi har tycks så "naturligt" men att det samtidigt ger uttryck för ett starkt ideologiskt ställningstagande - att jobb kommer till och dras bort i och med något slags konsumtionsvågors fluktueringar som bl.a. skattehöjningar och -sänkningar kan påverka och att konklusionen i och med detta är skattesänkningar och maxad konsumtion.

I'm confused.

The Knife - The Knife

I'm listening to The Knife's eponymous album. I cannot stop. This album is brilliant to the extent that I forget that they ever made other albums. Whimsical? Yes, in some way. But sad as hell. Enigmatic lyrics. K. Dreijer is a fantastic writer, and one hell of a singer. "Kino" is upbeat, with a strange bounce, eerie singing. "Neon" has a fine saxophone part, and great lyrics, banal as they might appear. Music & lyrics fit perfectly. Generally, the album is characterized by a minimalist sound that still manages to contain tons of variations and small twists. "I just had to die" sounds like Islaja's electronic twin, surreal, scary. "I take time" is dominated by a heavy guitar (?) riff; it comes across as fierce and fragile at the same time - most of the songs combine these two modes. "Parade" epitomizes the slightly whimsical sound; a marching song, with lyrics as strange as anything! "N.Y Hotel" is nothing short of genius. "I'm darth vader / I know what I'm made of" - When K. Dreijer delivers these lines, she twitches them into something emotionally relevant, funny, depressing; a fucking entire register of feelings crop up within one single song. And nothing of it is whining self-indulgence. Because, you know, these guys sing about reindeers.

12 January 2009

Proust: The Captive

The narrator of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of things past is a windbag and a self-pitying whiner. Of course, he is a very philosophical windbag. Well, many windbags are, so we need not marvel at that. I read part 5, The Captive (Den Fångna, in Swedish), with gritted teeth. It's not a bad novel. Not at all. But it's a most horrible perspective that this novel is anchored by. What makes Proust so good, however, is that he is relentless, he dares to tread were most would prefer not to. In other words, he takes the windbaggery of his dear narrator (he calls him Marcel...) seriously and turns the guts of the narrator inside out. This might surprise people who have only read the first and maybe the second part of Remembrance of things past. In those parts, the tone was swirling with coquetry, oscillating from the light-humored to the nostalgic. In these books, Proust focused on the intricate patterns of memory, how our memories are not something over which we have control. One of the most interesting things about Proust is the way he unravels the narrator's reminiscenses from the perspective of increasing insight and maturing, but on the other hand, as becomes very striking in The Captive, the mind of the narrator is numbed by bitterness and resignation.

The previous part, Sodom & Gomorrah, ended with Marcel's & Albertine's departure, from Balbec to Paris. Shattered by the news that a certain Mlle. Vinteuil has been a kind of foster mother for Albertine, he does everything he can to get her away from ravenous lesbians and her own, as he sees it, secret desires. Desire and jealousy. These are the main themes of The Captive. A claustrophobic novel mostly taking place in Marcel's apartment. I would hesitate to agree with Mr. Windbag himself (Sartre, that is) that the book is a true-to-life depiction of the essence of love; how love is an eternal struggle, in which we desire the beloved in her free submission. The lover wishes to capture a consciousness. Sartre: we do not want to be loved by slaves, then it would not be love. But then again: We desire the beloved to give herself over, to succumb - freely. Proust, for his part, seems more clear than Sartre. The narrator sometimes insists that he loves Albertine. But the next sentence reveals that his love is constituted by jealousy and total emptiness.

Marcel holds Albertine captive in his apartment. Francoise is there, too, of course. She doesn't approve. Marcel wallows in his jealousy of secret female lovers of Albertine's. She is allowed to go out with her friend Andrée. But, who knows, Andrée might not be so dependable after all? What triggers Marcel's jealousy? Clearly, it is the insight that he doesn't love her anymore. He wants to desire her. Only jealousy, only the vision of her together with a man, or, even more so, a woman, can make him interested in her again. Marcel fears, not other lovers, but the emptiness of his own "love". He has to keep up the illusion.

To Marcel, Albertine is at the height of desirability when she is asleep. He sits close to her body, admiring her sleeping face, her thoughtless expression. And only then is he able to fully "love" her. In that state, she seems to have fully submitted to him, no trace of a will, no bothering thoughts, no sneaky plans or hazy intentions. She is a body; and it is within his control. Ah, so this is beauty. When she is not asleep, Marcel is mostly bored with Albertine. He has taught her a thing or two about literature and art, and in conversations with her he installs himself as her Tutor. All in all, there is little we know about Albertine. Everything is filtered through Marcel's twisted jealousy, and she hardly has a voice of his own. Her voice is suffocated.

Some of the characters from Sodom & Gomorrah reappear here. There is the little Verdurin circle, centred around the High Arts and bitchy gossip. There is the notorious struggle between the upwards-moving bourgeoisie (represented by the Verdurins, I reckon?) and the Families with Ancestors who attempt to pull at every wealthy man's or woman's hair in order to stay put at a position of power and who don't mind a little bit of genealogy. In one striking scene, the Verdurins do their best to humiliate the baron, Monseur de Charlus, whose relation to the young violinist Morel they find increasingly annoying (but it has nothing to do with some bias against homosexuals, it is explained, they are fine, when they don't disturb the peace of upper class chit-chat). But it is clear that Marcel is no longer as thrilled about high society as he used to be. Albertine is waiting at home. He has got his prisoner to tend to. Even when listening to the haunting piece of music by Vinteuil, the empty obsession with Albertine does not leave him. Marcel no longer tries to elbow his way into every circle. But, as he dryly remarks, that only makes him all the more desirable as a guest!

Proust is creepier than you might think. He really is. The Captive is not a pleasant book to read. Marcel is a cesspool of bullshit, repeating himself incessantly, the same wallowing analyses over & over & over again. That's jealousy talkin'. Sure, this makes the text far less elegant than the earlier parts - but I guess that is exactly the point (or am I too sympathetic a reader?). I don't know exactly what reputation Proust has in literary circles, but I guess he is not famous for having depicted relations of gruesome power. But that he does.

I'm not quite sure how to read the book. There are tons of open questions. The story is told from a strange perspective of half-awareness. Marcel seems to understand in what position he has put Albertine; he talks about her as his slave; but the awareness of what he describes as her suffering does not affect him the least. He observes it, that's all. So, does he undestand? The book is written from the perspective of stupor, haze, eloquent somnambulism.

I'm excited to read the following two parts, even though I know it will hardly be a joyride.

Word of the day

(v): wish, long, or crave for (something, especially the property of another person)

11 January 2009

An orderly update on Musil

.... In my not so orderly life. R & I go for pizza. I have a hangover to cure. A bad one. You don't even want to know (neither do I). I've been acting cartoonish. While Ulrich fails at becoming a great man, I an doing fine in my own pursuits which involve emulating film heroes like Nick Nolte and Mickey Rourke. Here's a picture of me:

In conclusion, I'm good. R & I talk about strange encounters and eerie non-encounters. We sit down at Proffa, a student hang-out close to my house. Proffa treats us with Don Henley's velveteen croon and also with a bustling crowd of chess-players. The reading for today included a description of the sensualism of Bonadea, Ulrich's married girlfriend who despises her husband. Contempt is the order of the day. Ulrich despises himself for failing to be a great man and he despises his friend Walter for failing to be a great man. He is a dilettante. Walter dabbles with art, but as of late he is so disencouraged by the futile results of his thrivings that he shuts himself in at home, playing Wagner (whom his wife hates because Wagner epitomizes how Walter has changed). I come to think of the double sense of "dilettante". On the one hand, a person not formally schooled in something may be called a dilettante. But often it is used pejoratively, of persons who dabble with something pretending to do it in earnest, but lacking both talent and persistence. The dilettante is an idle admirer, often a know-it-all who brags about his insights. Dilettantism is Ulrich's worst nightmare, a picture constantly hovering over him. He must find a path on which his talents will be put to use. Ulrich doesn't want to be a superficial. But his worries about being just that makes him superficial, a person never satisfied with himself, others figuring in his life merely as props for his self-esteem. Ulrich is a child of his times. Musil describes the change in how the concept of genius is used. Nowadays, he writes, it is used about sportsmen and racing horses. Genius has become a neutral concept depicting skills that can be used for moral or immoral purposes. That genius is ascribed even to horses makes Ulrich understand something. He starts to be suspicious of mathematics, its concept of reason. Will Ulrich get softhearted? We'll see.

10 January 2009

Hristina’s Huizen (The Houses of Hristina)

I just watched one more documentary about labor/work. So, I try to watch a few documentaries to get inspired to think; about my thesis, about stuff in general. My thesis is about labor & moral questions, so it's hardly a coincidence that I write about these (sadly) not very well known documentary films. Suzanne Raes' film about Hristina, cleaner of upper class Dutch homes, is another gem of insights about the complexities of work and labor in a world that is all capitalism and class differences and national borders. Hristina was born in Bulgaria. She moved to the Netherlands, illegally. She has studied agroeconomics. The film depicts Hristina's goings about in the homes of people whose desire it is not to bother about things such as cleaning. They want Hristina the cleaner to be discreet, invisible; as if the cleaning got done automatically, by itself. A wonderful stuffing away of stuff, a wonderful oder of things. Well, she is there, even though she says she has a hard time understanding it herself. She discusses the strange feeling of loss of reality she gets. Hristina discusses her job and her mixed thoughts about it, her mixed feelings about her own position & role. Hristina says that her employers want her job to be invisible, that her presence is invisible; mostly, she works when they are not at home. But then she adds that she wants her personality and heart to be present in her job. That's, of course, a highly political clash of perspectives. These people for whom Hristina works want an efficient cleaner, one who is cheap and unobtrusive ("they are not interested in my stories.") - they end up with human workforce but everything "human" about it is very inconvenient and upsetting for the employer, the wealthy family with work & kids to tend to. Hristina is a photographer, too. She asks her employers if she can shoot pictures in the house. "Yes, but not today," responds one family via the glorious media of post-its, "our house is too messy".

This is an important film.

(I think about my relatives. Some of them are cleaners. Other have 2-3 jobs and employ cleaners of their own.)

Losers and winners (2006)

On one of those slouching coffee days, E talked about a documentary he'd seen on TV a while ago about the dismantling of a coke refinery in the Ruhr area (coke as in the making of steel, of course). I watched the same film on TV tonight and it really was an interesting thing to watch (OK, I might have some peculiar interests, but still). The documentary is called Losers and winners and it was made in 2006. The main focus is the interaction between the Chinese workers decomposing the refinery (which is to be shipped to China where it will be reassembled) and the Germans who have been working in the factory and who take very different stands on the project.

What was interesting about Losers and winners was its portrayal of day-to-day conflicts at a specific workplace, at which the situation of course was very animated due to the circumstances. Some of the German workers bitterly commented on the Chinese takeover. "They are like ants!" "They don't know how to rebuild the refinery!" "We've been here for a long time!" "They don't care about safety!" But different voices were heard and even though there was some harsh criticism of the working procedures of the deassembly not all of it was raised in a spirit of ressentiment. The Chinese workers, on the other hand, were not moulded into one big, anonymous mass. Instead, there were scenes with persons from upper management who were visiting the car dealer, looking for the flashiest cars, while listening to songs on the car radio with lyrics about Mao's gentle smile. For the majority of workers, the coke refinery decomposition presented no promise of economic riches for themselves. They were paid a very modest salary and some explained that this thing was just another project they got involved in with hope perhaps of doing something different in the future.

Highly recommended, sometimes subtle, film about global economies, labor and labor relations, but also about such things as "honor" in labor. It was very fascinating - more than you probably think - to watch a grand refinery being disassembled by 400 workers.

6 January 2009

Etc., etc. Musil.

My neighbor upstairs has taken to singing. She growls arpeggios for hours on end. Or that's what I think it is. I'm not one to delay revenge, so I play Spacemen 3 and Suicide on max volume. My ears respond, chirp, chirp and that's fine. I don't know her name but maybe she is called Kreetta and she is probably a student of engineering and most likely she was born in Lahti. There's something of a blizzard outside as I drag myself off to Bristol. R & I have already discussed the spirit of Kakania and now we are done with the attempts and failures of Ulrich at becoming a Great man. Being an admirer of Napoleon (for being a tyrant) he joins the army. But the position of a simple army officer did not promise eternal greatness. After an unhappy concurrence with a financier (and some lady) he ends up drunk on a desolated square, accompanied by "the paving stones". So after that he tries out engineering. The engineer is the emblematic Hard Mind thrusting reality in accordance with his tools, right? Hard-boiled no-nonsense forcing of nature into some shape or other, depending on what sort of things we fancy. But the engineer has one fault. He does not use the tools on himself, he doesn't apply his method on himself, and therefor Ulrich has to look elsewhere for the realization of heroic deeds. The essence of matemathics, however, is exactly what Ulrich is after; for him, science is the rebuke of silly people with a stern belief in goodness who are only too intent on keeping their paltry lives unchanged. Science, man, what a great thing. "To be efficient, one cannot be hungry and dreamy but must eat steak and keep moving." Ulrich does not want to be a dreamer, science promises Reality. For all his lofty thoughts about rigor and exactness, Ulrich's motives for turning to science appear very self-centered, moralistic and, well, comic. So, that's for now.

PS: In my village, "paying Ulrik a visit" is an euphemism for puking. I wonder how regional that expression is.

4 January 2009

Into the wild

It's a slow day. I decide to rent a couple of movies to pass the time. It's freezing cold outside, so even the small walk to the movie monger's is an ordeal. I watch Into the Wild while eating the last Christmas chocolates.

You know the story. Kid grows up in a dysfunctional family. Kid finishes college. Kid sets out on a long journey. Into the wild. Along the road, he meets some people. They are nice to him. They help him. But he's afraid to develop strong bonds to people so he's gotta move on. Kid travels to Alaska and settles down in a magic bus. It all ends in tragedy.

I understand the tradition of this movie. Emerson, Thoreau, yada, yada. The spirit of America. And don't get me wrong, it was a pleasant enough viewing experience & some scenes moved me (a lot of the smaller roles were great!). But the story and the way it was told bugged me quite a bit. Alienated, sensitive, freedom-loving guy wants to stay clear of "society" (his parents). So we see him kayaking, walking, socializing with people he befriends but decides to leave because he has this idea about ALASKA. His pompous ways ("let me refer to Thoreau here...") are treated as partly insightful, yet very tragic and the oh-so-majestic crooning of E. Veddar only adds to this wallowing in Young Man's Fragile Psyche. Blergh. OK, maybe I'm a little bit unfair. But there were one scene that was quite symptomatic. Young Chris hangs out with a girl at a hippie camping. They are friends. But, you guessed it, he decides to leave because he has this idea about Freedom. So, the camera frames her teary face. Cut: His stoic departure from the camp. Blergh, again!

I'm not saying that Penn applaudes the idea that happiness is realized in its fullest form without other people. So, he investigates Chris' very adolescent ideals and how he is gradually confronted with their immaturity. So, that's quite all right. But for me, this progression did not have any real depth (even though, as I said, there are some beautiful scenes here). In my opinion, Penn is trading in stereotypes and stereotypical ideas, but he doesn't seem to be aware of this. It doesn't reach under the surface of anything.

One other thing that let me down in this movie was that I thought the outdoors scenes would be much more interesting. In quite a few scenes, I got the impression of Postcard Beauty, rather than a more, how should we put it, sublime depiction of nature.

And if I see another film in which a fuzzy-haired character is so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that they have to SCREAM IN JOY I'll choke on my fries (or whatever).

I prefer Grizzly man a hundred times to this....pretentious little thingy.
I put on Dutch Harbor: where the sea breaks its neck instead. What a great album!

2 January 2009

Still reading Musil.

Yesterday, I was floored by the aftermath of drunken craze. Today I was exhausted by my own inherent laziness. To wrestle with my inane proclivities, I read a few chapters of Musil. As I strolled to Wanha Mestari, two blocks away, I noticed the snow. A tiny, friendly layer of snow and a chilly gush of wind. The streets were empty. Wanha Mestari is one of those pubs that has undergone a change for the worse. A few years ago, it was a cosy place where people were having quiet discussions and where university people and regular drinkers intermingled without friction. Recent changes have introduced a sense of inconvenience, in the form of loud music (a strange mix of light entertainment music and heavy metal) and the notorious screens streaming football, golf or what not. These screens crop up in all bars and the result is that there is a new level of distraction, noise and unpleasantness. Regarding pubs, I am very conservative. I want pubs to correspond to my picture of the English countryside. Give me a pork pie, now.

The main topic of today's conversation about Musil was the notion of possibility in chapter 4, "If there is a sense of reality, there must also be a sense of possibility". In the previous chapter, Musil gives a characterization of Ulrich's father. Ulrich, of course, is the man without qualities. His father is a lawyer, respected in high society for his trustworthy behaviour. He has settled down in his own role and for that he is respected. Ulrich's father is outraged by Ulrich's purchase of a chateau, a small castle. Domesticity and an ordered life is fine, of course, but to inhabit a place that is a small castle - that affronts his "sense of propriety". Ulrich's father is a man of principles, to whom the acquisition of the castle inevitably seems like a transgression.

A man of possibilities doesn't identify himself with social reality in the same way as Ulrich's father. He is usually perceived as a know-it-all, a weakling, a troublemaker nourished by hazy dreams. But there's also another description, a quite nitzschean depiction, I reckon.

"A possible experience of truth is not the same as an actual experience or truth minus its 'reality value' but has - according to its partisans, at least - something quite divine about it, a fire, a soaring, a readiness to build and a conscious utopianism that does not shrink from reality but sees it as a project, something yet to be invented."

Is Ulrich the kind of man who invents reality and sees it as a project? Well, the purchase of the small castle and the endless possibilities of decoration and design would lead us to think so, and that is what upsets his father. But what happens is that poor Ulrich is so frightened in front of this grand challenge that carpet sellers, interior decorators and furniture dealers are entrusted with this heavy burden. For Musil, even the seemingly mundane activity of house decoration takes on philosophical and socio-political proportions. Ulrich realizes he has to take recourse to traditions and prejudices because it is within these that possibilities are shaped. Reading the very first chapters of The man without qualities gives one a hint that Ulrich's sense of freedom is quite impossible and that it springs from a cultural background from which he tries to alienate himself.

The man without qualites is a person for whom nothing is real; not himself, nor society, nor other people. "As if life suddenly has been given a sleeping pill and was now standing there stiff, full of inner meaning, sharply outlined, and yet, in sum, making absolutely no sense at all."

1 January 2009

It's a new year and I'm going to spend it with Robert Musil

As a matter of course, 2009 began with a massive hangover that was not without some elements of what in Finnish is called "morkkis". It's a very heideggerian term that denotes the uncanny, remorse-like state in which one senses the solitary nature of being-thrown in its fullest force. Finns are Heideggerians, if you didn't know. My day took a more positive turn as I sat down with R at Kerttuli to discuss chapters one and two of Robert Musil's mighty book A man without qualities. Invigorated by delicious soft drinks and a fog of cigarette smoke, we had an excellent conversation. Reading Musil with R is pleasant in a lot of ways. Not only is she the best conversation partner one could ever wish for (she is the kind of person with whom one feels at ease so that one can try out one's ideas freely, not afraid one will say silly or immature things - one can throw away all posturing and self-conscious reservations), Musil's style is also very, very compact so it is inevitable that one misses a great deal when one reads it alone.

The Man without qualities spans 1100 pages. Reading it with R will take a lot of time, but we will persist, limiting each session to three or four chapters. Usually, the chapters are short. Today, however, we read only two. That was a good idea as the writing style of Musil, the themes of the book and the story itself, unfolded as we took our time to discuss the introducing chapters in depth, almost sentence-by-sentence.

In chapter 1, Musil introduces us to the urban life of Vienna in the year 1913. At that time, Vienna was capital of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Already at this point it is evident that Musil plays with the language of science, with detached descriptions attempting to describe the world from a perspective of nowhere. And that Musil employs the form of satire is apparent from the first paragraph, in which scientific descriptions of the weather are concluded by the following sly remark about the barometric low hung : "In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913." He goes on to make a few observations about urban life and how it intertwines with class differences. The rich are not necessarily bragging about their dignified names, but the mentality of self-importance is worn like initials embroided on underwear. A well-tailored couple walk the streets together. "Their name might have been Ermelinda Tuzzi and Arnheim - but then, they couldn't be, because in August Frau Tuzziwas still in Bad Ausse with her husband and Dr. Arnheim was still in Constantinople; so we are left to wonder who they were." That's the style of Musil. Funny, witty, serious nonetheless.

R reads a Swedish translation of the book, while mine is in English. This makes the discussion interesting. I realize that the Swedish translation is very idiomatic, very elegant, while the English version highlights abstractness and Musil's ironic use of scientific language. It's a pleasure to read the book in English as this is a treasure of linguistic twists for the learner to devour.

In chapter 2, we are introduced to The Man without Qualities, Ulrich. We learn that he measures silly things and that he applies a scientific perspective to strange things. Then there is the question of heroic deeds. Ulrich does not believe in that, but nor does he invest his beliefs in borgeoisie life. What matters for him is above all to thwart and resist one's inclinations. But as Kantian and pure that may sound, it's an impossible outlook on life. Ulrich ends up with an intellectual heroism that settles with the middle-class life, "the collective, ant-like heroism". And it is of importance that Ulrich takes a perverse pleasure in annihilating his "inclinations". So there he is, back with his own, personal reactins, however much he wants to remain at a distance from them! Ulrich takes pride in his intellectual posturing and that makes him into yet another form of Hero, the nothingness hero.

Chapter 2 resumes with a funny scene in which Ulrich, who intends his life to be a protest against the Person, wanders around the apartment and suddenly hits a punching bag with a "hard, sudden blow". Musil develops the art of understatement to perfection.

I suppose the next chapters will illustrate further the impossible project that Ulrich is engaged in and how it is linked to modernity and the decay of the Austrian-Hungarian empire.

ps: the word 'morkkis' seems to have been merchanised beyond the Finnish borders.