26 February 2009

Själen och kapitalet.

Idag tar jag på mig ridstövlarna. Idag knyter jag kravatten. Framför spegeln trimmar jag en stram honnör. Det ser bra ut. Leendet: övertygande, handslaget: fast. Herr Bergsråd, Ni kan lita på mig. Herr Bergsråd, Ni vet att Ni behöver mig. Här har Ni en driftig forskare som har bevarat en känsla för det fosterländska i kombination med det progressiva, ständigt framilande näringslivet. Som Ni vet: i ansvarsfulla händer kan affärslivet bidra till ett stabilt, välordnat samhälle där det inte är en synd att tjäna en hacka eller att göra ett rejält arbete. Sånt ska ingen titta snett på, det är min åsikt. Inga konstigheter. Mitt hjärta bultar för det rättframma. Ett hederligt jobb skapar strukturer och meningsfullhet. Individen ska ges plats att förverkliga sig själv genom sitt arbete. Den som vill jobba hårt ska inte få ett lass hästskit över sig, som min partner in crime, Ole, brukar säga (visste Ni att vi har jobbat ihop i femton år redan?). Den på vetenskapliga grunder utarbetade modell som jag genom åren finslipat demonstrerar hur strategitänkande bäst implementeras genom att ta psykologins forskning om personlig motivation i grundligt beaktande. Min teori vilar på följande fundament: det ansvarskännande företaget; det innovativa tänkandet; det reflekterande jaget i dialog med sin omgivning. Kort sagt, jag hyser en stark övertygelse om människans vilja att skapa sådant som är gott och sådant som är vackert. Det är inte fel att säga att jag står för en renodlat humanistisk världsåskådning.

Herr Bergsråd, vi måste tänka framåt utan att överge de värden om vilka det råder en omfattande konsensus i vår kultur. Ett gott dagsverke är vad jag alltid har prioriterat. Att genom detta kunna sova gott om natten. Det gäller att skapa ett interface mellan skaparkraft och kommersiell innovation, en kombination av tro på framtiden och tro på människor är vad som efterfrågas i ett samhälle som präglas av kreativitet och dynamik. Som en dominerande riktning inom den senaste organisationsteorin visat (Bluetooth 1996, Redneck 1995, Hamster 1994) så består företagens utmaning av att skapa löst sammanhängande nätverk där självständigt tänkande, men också ansvar, sporras. Den hierarkiska organisationens tid är förbi. Detta indikeras av såväl solid empiri som teoretiskt nydanande modeller. Herr Bergsråd - för såväl forskare som praktiker gäller det att fördomslöst anta det moderna näringslivets mångskiftande utmaningar.

25 February 2009

Dagens ord


23 February 2009

Musil reading diary chapters 32-33.

The next chapter sort of continues with the theme I brought up in my two last updates: the experience of meaning. We begin with Moosebrugger, however. Ulrich is yet again contemplating his feelings for the Moosebrugger case, which engages him more than the events in his own life. Why? Actually, it's not that clear. There's something of a 'moral' reactions agains victimization. But in what sense is Moosebrugger a victim? A victim of the media attention? The scrutiny of the juridical system? Anyways, as alway, the foreground of Ulrich's attention is Ulrich himself. "Judge the sin and not the sinner". This seems to be the religious idea Ulrich is thinking about next. He muses on the "religious immoralists", according to whom there is always the soul of a man that remains pure irrespective of the deeds a person is responsible for doing. But still, there is something in the idea of the Soul that attracts Ulrich, even though he, a scientist!, in no way would desire to be associated with romantic chatterboxes like Diotima. Moosebrugger, in a way, comes to stand for this fuzzy "spiritual longing" that Ulrich is so obsessed with wiping out. A wrong-headed conception of the inner purity of the sinner evokes "the sickly breath of corruption [...] a room with yellow French paperbacks on the tables and glass-bead curtains instead of doors". We don't want to be one of those people, do we?

Next, Ulrich's attraction to the thinking of religious mystics is spelled out, mostly through his love affair with a major's wife which he pursued as a young man. The colonel's wife is a gorgeous piano player and she is - as is all the women in The Man without Qualities - called a "sensual woman". R asked me what I thought about Musil's own attitudes about gender - so far, I find it hard to tell. He's a good writer, and sometimes assholes are good writers, too, and one cannot always tell the difference based on the text alone.

As the love affair gets deeper, both lovers get scared. Ulrich tells his lover that he has to go on a furlough, the major's wife was relieved. But as Ulrich made himself a temporary home on some island he ended up on, he couldn't stop thinking about her. Or, should we say, he couldn't stop mavelling at the idea of her. As soon as the idea took a more concrete form, it faded. He saw mystic connections, a sense of coherence; nature made sense to him. "When the world surpassed his eyes, its meaning lapped against him within in soundless waves." Musil describes Ulrich's temporary sense of tranquility, unity and serenity, which soon enough "declined and suddenly ended". But this is something he struggles with, it seems: the spectre of "mysticism". We have already seen that Ulrich takes a quite ironic stance towards the pseudo-religious dreaming of the driving spirits behind the parallel campaign.

In the next chapter, we are back with the scene in which Bonadea gets dressed - she has stopped dressing - and in which Ulrich is deeply preoccupied with his own thoughts. This book progresses slowly. Or; progression is the wrong concept here. Ulrich's rude demeanor enrages Bonadea, who finally decides to leave him. She dresses, veil and all, and walks out. She understood that Ulrich had grown tired of here and she wanted to leave with dignity.

22 February 2009

"Credibility" & music

Me & my sister were listening to a country mixtape (cd...) in the car this afternoon. I know she likes Neko Case. I don't. I got into that tiresome "analytic" mood which is all about proving that one is right about something. Be that as it may. There's something about Neko Case I simply can't stand. No matter how conventionally beautiful her voice is, in my opinion her vocals are tediously one-dimensional. And the biggest problem with her music that I have is that I don't believe in what she sings. The only thing her dramatic lyrics make me feel is: oh, so you're tryin' to tell me you've seen it all & experienced it all. I don't know what kind of life you've lead, but dear Neko Case, your music does not convince me & it's not about you anyway. The songs are not credible; they don't evoke the sense of outlaw-ish thrill that they are appealing to. Not for me, at least.

But I'm not really comfortable with talking about "credibility". I'll explain.

"I'm going away", a folk song by guitar player & singer called Elizabeth Cotten, has all those things that Neko Case doesn't. Cotten began recording late in life. She was born 1895 and she died in 1987. Cotten worked as a maid. She gave up her song writing after marrying & having kids. Later on, she divorced her husband & moved in with her daughter. In her 60's, she started performing & recording. She worked for some famous people (the Seegers) and they introduced her to the folk scene or, should we say, the folk scene was introduced to her. The Seegers recorded her songs at home on reel-to-reel machinery. One of her songs, "Freight train", stood out from the rest and many artists have covered this particular song. In the early sixties, she toured with a bunch of renowned folk and blues musician. She made another record in 1967, Shake Sugaree. "I'm going away" is on that album. She was 72 at the time. Cotten was touring for a long time after that. She died at 92.

Cotten learned to play banjo & guitar by herself. This is always mentioned in biographical notes about her. She was left-handed, too. She played the guitar "against the norms". For that she is famous. "Cotten picking". She called herself guitar Stella and somehow this evokes different associations than stories about heavy rock sleazebags who talk about their guitars as Brenda or Molly or Daisy.

But as soon as "credibility" is latched onto some biographical details, the heap of bullshit surrounding authenticity piles up. When I first heard "I'm going away", I didn't know anything about the artists; I knew nothing about the recording surrounding and I knew nothing about her particular guitar skills. What I heard was an elderly lady with a shaky, beautiful voice who sang a song about leaving her Man to pursue a better life. There's something about that guitar sound that shimmers, the notes padding by softly with an incredible warmth. When Cotten sings that she is brokenhearted, I believe it. When she sings about her man that spends all her money, I believe it too. "You never gave me no lovin' that's why I'm goin away". There's a thousand emotions in her vocal delivery, but nothing is on the surface. And, as I said, her shaky voice is hardly American Idol material; but that is hardly an important remark.

But for some reason it is hard to describe what is so special about this song without lapsing into dubious territory. It's not that her vocals break with conventions. It's not that she's old. It's not that she worked as a maid and taught to play by herself. Her delivery has authority. She knows exactly what she is doing and at the same time the song feels as if she sung it for the first time. It's edgey, it's passionate, it's fun, it's inspired - brimming with life.

Neko Case tries to be edgey, but I don't see that there's no edge nudging against my ears. What I hear is, as I said, somebody who tries. Eagerly. Cotten tries nothing. She does what she does. I am tempted to say that I imagine her singing on her porch but that is an example of just the sort of domesticizing appeals to authenticity that, in the worst case, glorifies the distance between myself and Cotten. Cotten is domesticized into a black, elderly woman who sits on her porch. I don't want to do that.

I read an article somewhere about how images of age, authenticity and rock music have begun to evolve from the youth-praising cult we used to have into something different. A more interesting discussion would raise questions about how we describe voices as "experienced", "expressive" or "soulless". Nobody would listen to American Recordings if Johnny Cash were a has-been who has lead a hard life. I don't agree with those who argue that the only thing that attracts us to these records, along with records such as Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin, is fascination with death. Of course, it's not irrelevant. But if you want to listen to thanatos, go listen to an upcoming show with the ever-recurring gentlemen of The Eagles. Don Henley has seen one thing or two in his day and he didn't mind the drugs either. But that doesn't make him interesting. His croon is basically the same as it was in the good (bad) old days: soulless, naive, reverberating with self-indulgence.

It might sound as if I'm trying to carve out one last territory for "credibility", but I'm not. I'm just trying to point out some descriptions of music that have had a certain bad influence on me which is why it is so hard to criticize Neko Case & to elevate Elizabeth Cotten (that I'm pursuing this comparison between them might seem sumptuous, but the only reason is that Elizabeth Cotten was on the mixtape, too).

("I'm going away" on Youtube)

17 February 2009

Chromatics: Night Drive (2007)

I'm working late. I'm brewing a huge pot of coffee while waiting for some inspiration. No album could be more perfect for this occasion than Night Drive, the only disco album I've ever liked (ok, so don't even ask me what Italo disco is, cause I don't know, I just googled that giorgio moroder guy). But it's a special brand of disco. Slow, minimal, punk-ish - drug-induced. The title, Night drive is very appropriate. Those monochrome synth loops chew asphalt & have the shimmer of seedy neon lights. You might think a lot of stuff upon hearing the word 'disco', but in this case, most of it is wrong. Still, the disco feel is there. Ambient disco might be an apt description for what some of the tracks sound like. During the last few years, indie music has been flooded by hip kids making dance music with a post-punk agenda. This is too slow and too monotonous to fit into that scene. Or maybe House of jealous lovers - era Rapture is a point of reference somehow ("I want your love" certainly reminds me of Rapture). Night drive shares some of the eerie darkness of The Knife's Silent shout. They have the minimalist synths in common, too. The vocals of Ruth Radelet veer from sweet to threatening to enigmatic. Beautiful stuff.

16 February 2009

A Walk

I have a Forrest Gump thing going on. You remember Forrest running from one part of the country to another, "I just like to run"? I feel like that. About walking. Lately, I've been feeling claustrophobic. I'm not sure why. Just am. The department drove me crazy for no reason at all. I simply couldn't focus on anything but sat there like a statue, gazing into the wall, thinking empty thoughts. Most days, I went home exhausted with the feeling of having accomplished nothing, of having spoilt my time, of having done badly. During coffee breaks, I just felt frustrated about stuff & couldn't enjoy the company of people anyway. I need silence, a bed to sleep in at 2 p.m. Endless amounts of coffee. I've started to work at home. (Yes, maybe I do cling to silly ideas about 'homeliness' after all) I want to listen to free jazz or hair metal or whatever, filling the tiny room with sound. Most of all, I sit around thinking about nothing, but not in the state of deadlock. I look out the window. Like a cat. I like my apartment, but being there all day is too much. I go for walks. There's the freshness of spring in the air, freezing cold, the air tugging at the throat. The sunshine bears hints of warmth. Even the FPA building looked beautiful in the sun. I walked around in the Port Arthur area and the blocks nearby. Very few people were on the streets so it felt like I had the place all to myself. The area with low wooden houses suddenly changes into big streets and anonymous-looking houses, with giant street-crossings that make the landscape appear ugly and naked, as if all life has been carried off someplace else. The mix of dirty snow & ice hardened into a thin gray layer doesn't make it any cosier. There's quite a few areas like this in Turku; busy, anonymous, clad with cars and maybe tunnels for walkers. I like to walk there sometimes. I walked along the train track and the traffic noise was comforting somehow. Ridiculous as it is, there are some parts of this city that I haven't seen yet. I will do something about that. For me, walking is not sport, "keeping in shape" (what shape? salmon?). I like to go look at stuff, to let my thoughts drift, to change the rhythm of the walk, from gait to slow shamble. I suppose that is how some feel about running, too. But I am not a runner. Never was. One of the problem with running is that I wouldn't be able to see stuff, I would, so to speak, just focus on the movement. For me, there is a certain meditative quality to walking; paying attention to small things, buildings, roads, backyards, shops, signs, people, smells, light, colors. Walking without thinking about anything in particular.


The world of soccer is said to be very heteronormative and even homophobic. This is very hard to believe when you look at a picture like this one (I'm not a soccer fan, I checked the Dagens Nyheter homepage a while ago and was fascinated by this). Bristling with romance, this is!

Musil reading diary chapters 28-31.

So, the last time we ended with Musil's thoughts on the impersonal and personal in thinking, and we'll continue with that theme in chapter 28, "A chapter that can be skipped by anyone not particularly impressed by thinking as a profession." (Do I love that headline! I'm going to use it in my thesis, for sure.) The blockheads behind the Parallel campaign are no great minds and they care little about thinking. What about Ulrich? He sits down at his desk, plunging himself into the problems of matemathics, but that he does merely to see "whether he could do such a thing". No matter how deeply he is entagled in the precision & vigor of thoughts, his thoughts begin to stray. He finds himself thinking about his friend Walter's wife, Clarisse.

Musil/Ulrich is right, it is difficult to depict the activity of thinking. There are no great novels, no great films either, about thinking as an activity. (There are very few literary works & films about philosophers, that poor, seedy profession.) Musil's book, in fact, might be one of the first novels I have ever read that is dedicated to a depiction of thinking. Even philosophers, for all their interest in thought (and have they ever been interested in anything else?) have had very little to say about the activity of thinking, the living, social, aspect of thinking. OK, so there's Wittgenstein, but few others.

Musil discusses a change of perspective with regard to thinking. When we manage to come up with something that is new, it is easy to think that hard work lies behind this fantastic idea. On the other hand, we might look upon the results of our mind's toil with surprise, or even, "with a disconcerted feeling", "as a dog with a stick in his mouth trying to get through a narrow door, he will turn his head left and right until the stick slips through." From this perspective, our thoughts appear as something external to us, and secondly, it is tempting to conceive of thinking as a process, the petroleum of which is some form of mental energy and the result of which are "thoughts". If this is how we talk about thinking, it is not surprising that thoughts appear to be impersonal. And, what is more, from this point of view, thinking starts to appear as something very uncanny: how come there are coherent thoughts and conclusions and reasoning at all? As you might have noticed, Musil has lots to say about what it is to abstain from thinking, to appear to be thinking while one is clearly avoiding any serious preoccupation. On the other hand, he is - or seems - critical of a certain glorification of thinking, of the kind that makes it into the result of mechanical, persistent training or an instance of sheer luck. For Diotima and her friends thinking is "soul"; for Ulrich it is the mechanical plodding of the mind that, for some strange reason, (some!) humans occupy themselves with.

["Say: “Yes, this pen is blunt. Oh well, it’ll do.” First, thinking it; then without thought; then just think the thought without the words. […] what constitutes thought here is not someprocess which has to accompany the words if they are not to be spoken without thought. (Phil. Inv. § 330.)]

"The better the head, the less evident its presence in this process." If thinking is born out of such an eerie, inner process, nothing much is left to say about it. Musil contrasts all this with Ulrich's straying thoughts. Thinking about the scientific description of water only to end up with Clarisse again (who is "no better educated than a little animal"). Damn her! Oddly, Musil/Ulrich goes on to point out that the "healing power of thought", as observed by doctors and psychologists, is related to its social character - but this social character makes it impersonal. I really hope this is, yet again, the confused mind of Ulrich talking. From his point of view, what would personal dimensions of thinking, responsibility, thoughtlessness, amount to? Social thought or thought as inner process - impersonal just the same.

As is the habit of Musil, the long section on thoughts and thinking is cut short with a description of the surrounding world. This might be read as one more way to explain why thinking is not "in the head", not an inanimate process. Because the thinking ego, Ulrich, sits at his desk in his bourgeoisie chateau, drooling all over the idea-of-Clarisse while laboriously trying to keep his mind off her. "On the street outside a violet haze of gasoline fumes hovered."

The next chapter is about Bonadea. As you remember, she is the veiled, mysterious woman who became Ulrich's lover after his little accident. Now, Bonadea likes the state of ressentiment. She wants to quarrel, she wants to hurt (but of course a lot of questions remain as to "wants"). Even though Ulrich tells himself that he didn't want her to come, he doesn't mind her erotic company - we may leave aside the obligatory moaning about "the irrational" on his part. "Once a little while ago [...] I was still working, and before that I was on the street and bought some paper. I said hello to a man I know from the physics society, a man with whom I had a serious talk not so long ago." He thinks about having bought some paper! His mind drifts off to Walter and Clarisse. He reassures himself he's not the type who steals others' wives. There's something about Walter that really eats at him. He is buried in a lengthy soliloquy about the effemite legs of Walter, Walter's sensitivity... He returns to the subject of thinking. Only familiar thoughts will find any resonance, which explains the general stupidity of man. Again: the social-the impersonal. In this section, "personal thoughts" refer to "the thoughts of a genius". I suspect that the Genius is the only form of "Person" Ulrich admires; everything else being reduced to "qualities".

While Ulrich impatiently waits for Bonadea to get dressed - and get out of his little castle - he ruminates on the case of Moosebrugger, the sex killer. Ulrich seems to identify with the way Moosebrugger feels threatened by women. He starts talking to Bonadea about the criminal but she finds it most indecent. He goes on to give her a little lesson on morality, fidelity, rules etc. "Bonadea said nothing but sat down, with a disdainful look, in one of the luxurious armchairs and stared up, insulted, at the dividing line between wall and ceiling."

15 February 2009

Fassbinder: Fear of fear (1975)

I've seen quite few horror movies and even fewer have had what I would call the depth to evoke real fear. I thought about that after having watched another one of Fassbinder's films made for German TV - Angst vor der Angst (1974). Thematically similar to both Martha (familial abuse) and Herr R läuft amok, there are still many differences and there are quite a few things that makes Fear of fear unique; an exciting film to watch. Again, this is a sparse film with regard to locations and character gallery. Margot lives with her husband, who is at pains to pass an exam. They have two kids. Marha talks about her feelings of fear with her husband, but he doesn't pay much attention. Accompanied by her husband, she visits the doctor, and he prescribes Valium for her. She takes comfort in a mix of Valium and cognac, while her nosy mother & sister keep telling her what a bad mother she is. The pharmacist next door gives her more Valium, and she gives him sex. A strange neighbor - a most brilliant Kurt Raab, from Herr R Läuft Amok - sneaks up on her as soon as she leaves the house.

But you may not get a good idea about what this film is like based on this shallow description. In quite a few scenes we see Margot watching herself in the mirror, stone-faced, even making faces at herself. Suddenly the picture gets all blurry. The effect is harrowing. There are many small cinematic effects that contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the film. We see a face from a distance, but suddenly the camera makes a sudden zooming movement. The way scenes are interrupted by small black screens is also very effective. The frozen pictures of herr Bauer, the unnerving neighbor, create the feel of horror movie. A lot of scenes made me ask myself what exactly it was I was seeing, and whose perspective is evoked. For this reason, it would perhaps be a good idea to watch this film several times, to fully grasp the details. But the confusion of watching the emotionally packed images also worked as a spot-on description of Margot's state of mind: she fears something, but it is not a particular something. Focused in time & place as this film is, a no-budget effort, one might think, a lot happens in each scene.

13 February 2009

Cormac McCarthy - The Road

A boy & his father. They are travelling the road down south. There are few people left on earth. There is no sun. Everything is covered in ash. The father and the boy look for food in deserted houses. Death and decay is all around them. Everything is dying; people, nature. Gangs of robbers hover in the back of their minds. The father carries a pistol. He tries to tell the boy everything will be okay and that there is a point in continuing. They have no choice. To walk or to die.

This is the plot of Cormac McCarthy's book The Road, one of the bleakest books I've read to this date. How does McCarthy doing in describing a world that consists of nothing but ash, dead trees, slush and empty houses? Very well. In tiny sections of text, with language descriptive rather than emotive, McCarthy conjures up scenes few of us who've read the book will ever forget.

An evening of dull sulphur light from the fires. The standing water in the roadside ditches black with the runoff. The mountains shrouded away. They crossed the river by a concrete bridge where skeins of ash and slurry moved slowly in the current. Charred bits of wood. In the end they stopped and turned back and camped under the bridge.

A lot of stuff is merely hinted at. The father tried to convince his wife that life would be okay despite the miserable circumstances. Something bad happened. He set out on a journey with the boy. They have been travelling for a while. We know next to nothing about the life that the father led before the - whatever it was - happened. The boy has lived in an ashen, dead world all his life. The only person he has talked to, leaving aside a few people on the road, is his father. McCarthy describes their gentle intimacy, the physical dependency, but also fear and hopelessness. The boy asks his father whether they will die. His father answers him back that they won't. This is repeated over and over again. What is supposed to happen when they have reached the sea? We are not too sure. We just know that nothing did happen. And they don't seem surprised.

A cruel novel. Still, McCarthy's depiction of cruelty and the protagonists' reactions is believable; he is not a cynic but not sentimental either. Best of all, The Road is not one of those novels that carry out a thought experiment: "what would humans do, given...." In a good way, this is just a story. He is not trying to describe "human essence" in "bare life". He's telling a story & it feels real most of the time. A film will soon be released that is based on this novel. Viggo Mortensen plays the father. John Hillcoat, director, is responsible for stuff like Ghosts.....of the civil dead. And The Proposition. This looks promising indeed.

10 February 2009

The Caretaker: Persistent repetition of phrases

I'm in the middle of the Dr. Mabuse film from 1922 (hey, it's long!) and I am also in the middle of The Road (which I was reading until 5 a.m. this morning) a novel by Cormac McCarthy that has gained quite a reputation, I think. Then I put on The Caretaker by chance. Strangely, Persistent Repetition of Phrases works as a soundtrack of both of these things. Twisted proto-noir from the 20's and a post-apocalyptic book about faith, love and desolation. The album conjures up McCarthy's ashen, desolate world as well as the spooky gambling rooms of Dr Mabuse.

I didn't know anything about the Caretaker until I *somehow* (don't ask) got hold of this album. It's some kind of ambient music, that's for sure. Spooky piano loops plod about somewhere in the background in the mix and, yes, the music evokes a bar room from the 20's. Scene1: a merry night of carousing lowlives has ended in a blood bath. Spectral horns join in on some tunes, to a great effect ("von restorff effect", "false memory syndrome"). I even think that James Kirby, who is the person behind the Caretaker, has used samples from the 20's and the 30's in his music. It works. It's strange to listen to songs with the sound of an old record being played somewhere in a barren room but still all the crackle lets you think that you have your ear pressed to the phonograph. Other tracks build upon a carpet of ambient sounds, quite like the stuff you often hear in this genre nowadays: icy, thick, floating sounds. (Still I don't have the impression that this is derivative.) On top of all this are a few threatening, cascading layers of crackle and echo, with an ever changing sound; from the sound of dripping water to rain to falling stones & wind & static noise from a radio - or, as I said, the breathing & toiling of a phonograph which has survived everything. There's a constant drifting hum of something ("there's always music in the air....").

Scene2: the winding corridors of Last year in Marienbad. The "theme" here is memory, too. "Unmasking alzeimer's", "Lacunar amnesia". Threads are picked up, associations drift for a while, then they are cut short, and another theme, close to something we've heard before, is played. Unsettling, disorienting music that takes you places, but only to throw you somewhere else the next minute.

References? Well lots of stuff from Angelo Badalamenti to the noisier moments of Library Tapes come to mind. Grouper, too. On the more experimental side; William Basinski, Philip Jeck. The Caretaker sense of spooky haunts me on the same level as The Conet project (of which I've written before) even though this is music intentionally created, notwithstanding the samples , crackle and all.

FYI: Many of the albums by The Caretaker are available for free! Go get! I'm listening to A Stairway to the stars now and it's great! "Cloudy, since you walked away" - a brassy tune including the most outright eerie vocals I've heard for awhile. Sounds like Frank Sinatra music warped in a cement mixer.

9 February 2009

Musil reading diary chapters 25-27

In the following chapters, we get more acquainted with Mr & Mrs Tuzzi. Mrs Tuzzi, Diotima, is a sensitive soul, "intuitive", "sensibility" and "soul" are recurring words here. Diotima is depicted as a woman whose most serious enemy is her own "sensitivity". She is married to Mr Tuzzi, a conscientious official who goes about his business in an orderly, efficient way (whose concerns are limited to power, duty & status), and for whom love is a mundane activity on a par with chess games and meetings, a duty to be executed in the same "reasonable" way as anything else.

Unsurprisingly, Diotima is unhappy. Tuzzi despises her; her silly salon & her intellectual endevours. What Tuzzi wants is, to quote Valerie Solanas, a hot water bottle with tits. R suggested he might be gay. But what would it mean to say that? That he prefers "the other sex" and that he would reach perfect bliss were he only to allow himself a proper affair with a man? No, I'm not confortable with that; it might, perhaps, be more to the point to say that Tuzzi is stuck with being a Man, and that that may mean a lot of things. But, then again, if Musil will allow Tuzzi to fall into the arms of count Leinsdorf, and if this turns him into another type of person - that would lack the sexual metaphysics often inherent in the idea of being gay/being straight in terms of finding bliss in as a potential course of life (the point I'm making is that happiness is found with another person, not with a Representative of a form of an idea of a Body - inconvenience of writing intended).

But I'm digressing. It is not easy for Diotima to face her situation. At one point it is conceded that she is "enslaved" by Tuzzi, but she prefers to think of herself as trapped in an unhappy age, characterized by atheism, positivism, socialism and other nasty things. In these sections, Musil seems very critical of overblown talk of "civilization" and "culture"; he gives many examples of how people talk about themselves as having fallen prey to the "spirit of the modern age" so as to direct attention away from the problems they have with themselves.

Diotima's "platonic" idealism attracts men, which her ever flourishing salon is proof of. Her idealism excites them and it is clear that this interest is of a sexual nature. But for Diotima, the attention from distinguished men is flattering, and what could be more flattering than having the rich Dr. Arnheim as one's visitor? Arnheim is quick to praise Diotima's intellect and that makes her happy, of course. Their common interest is the parallel campaign. As we saw before, it lacks a bearing idea. Diotima suddenly comes to think of one. I had to read the chapter twice to realize that the "grand idea" is simply to let Arnheim lead the campaign. Arnheim, you see, is gifted in how he combines Soul with Economy, he poses an alternative to traditional politics and diplomacy (why, because he is rich? German?). Relieved, Diotima observes that Arnheim "did not look in the least Jewish" and she is very impressed by his little companion, a black slave, what a splendid way to regain a "picturesque aspect of high society"!

Arnheim & Diotima engage in moronic chit-chat about the Soul. "There is such blithe soulfulness in this city." "We know too much these days, reason tyrannizes our lives." "Nevertheless, a beautiful woman understands far more than a man, who, for all his logic and psychology, knows nothing at all of life." Arnheim is critical of her idea of a "democratic" system of committees that would represent the campaign in all sections of society; no, the campaign should be tended to by strong, individual personalities. Diotima goes along with that; she was never a democrat anyway.

No wonder there was such a thing as The Vienna Circle. Hanging out with types like these, if they are successful parodies of the "spirit of the age", must've been one heck of a drag. Thankfully, Musil delivers just as harsh descriptions of the blabbering of "soulful" intellectuals as he does of the elevation of a scientific conception of the world. But let's see.

In the last few chapters, Musil has been musing quite a lot about having a strong feeling that something is meaningful. In his brutal way, he highlights the distinction between the appearance of meaning ("everything feels true", "it seems to fit together") - "a vague, thrilling feeling of joy and expectancy" - and true insight. In short: the feeling of meaning in itself amounts to nothing. "Meaning" and "truth" are not psychological states. The idea of "a parallel campaign" rouses much emotion and plenty of inspiration, but it rests on lofty half-thought ideas (the crude essence of which are still, Musil cuts short, jealousy of Prussia). Musil depicts people who do not want to think, but who nonetheless constantly praise the virtues of thinking, intellect, and soul. This is also the theme of the following chapter, "A chapter that may be skipped by anyone not particularly impressed by thinking as an occupation", in which Ulrich reflects on personal and the impersonal dimensions of thought.

8 February 2009

V. 6

Marken går från vitt till grått till svart och grått igen. Jag promenerar i snörusket en dag och stöter på följande skyltfönster. Carrot är tydligen ett bemanningsföretag. Jag tittar på deras hemsida. Nej, jag söker inte jobb, inte just nu, och inte som 'lihankäsittelijä'.... Företaget bedyrar att man är en trygg arbetsgivare som sätter Din trivsel i första rummet och som ger dig ditt Livs Chans. Hur det än är med den saken - den här reklamen gives me the creeps. Vaddå "riktiga jobb"? Bara att kalla företagsåbäket "carrot" är motbjudande (är poängen att de anställda förvandlas till grönsaker eller att det är just grönsaker som man helst vill ha på jobb? Morotspush för vaddå, snuttjobbsparadiset?).

7 February 2009

Brokeback - Field recordings from the cook county water table

Douglas McCombs play(ed?) bass in Tortoise and For Carnation. Brokeback is his side project. I've heard one album so far, and it blows me away. A six-string Fender bass is the central sound here. McCombs has said that it is the combination of twang and low tone that has drawn him to this instrument, which makes perfect sense when you listen to the album. I, uneducated as I am, was not aware that such dynamic sounds could be created by a bass. The songs move on drowsily, creating a somewhat pastoral desert feel comparable to a Ennio Morricone soundtrack (an obvious reference upon hearing the whistler in "The great banks"). The first song, "After the International", sets the pattern. A pretty abstract melody revolving around McCombs' bass guitar gains concretion when a cornet joins in. The second track, "Returns to the orange grove" starts with shuffling train sounds and gradually a dreamy melody, as always revolving around bass, creates a sound so vivid that it feels like you could almost touch the texture of the song. For some reason Anouar Brahem springs to mind. "The field code" has steel guitar (?) and bass and what sounds like maraca. It's not country and to talk about "post-rock" seems wrong-headed too. Perfectly timeless music (what does one mean by that, anyway?) as this is, it's stupid to label it. Field recording from.... is a tremendeously crisp album, a breath of country-side air. Don't get me started on walking on gravel roads & sitting on rocks contemplating the changing of the seasons & watching rusty trains go by. This is impressively cohesive music, too, that really invites one to a scenery, but that said, I would not reduce it to "atmosphere music". What stuck with me after a few listens was the mood, rather than the songs itself, but the melodies grow on you & there are lots of small details to pay attention to.

Usually, when an album is presented as a "side project", you easily think that the whole thing is interesting only to those familiar with the main project of the artist & that this side project thing is the outlet for the introvert experimentation of some artistically undernourished bass player or drummer or yet another lascivious output by an artist involved in a thousand different projects of shaky quality. In this case, that doesn't hold. I am not crazy about Tortoise. In my opinion, this is much better. Field recordings gains my applause simply for revitalizing the only instrument I could manage: the triangle. And introvert? The opposite is rather the case: here's music that strolls & flies & ambles & drifts.

5 February 2009

Broadcast: Tender buttons

All songs on Tender buttons (2005) evoke the feeling that something bad is about to happen. Soon. The record conjures up the state of waiting; foreboding; dry anxiety. Even when Trish Keenan sings about dancing you know something awful has happened. "My feet are dancing so much and I hate that." David Bowie? Indie-Schmindie? Maybe, but, really, Keenan sounds as if something terrible is lurking around the corner & the song revolves around this weird synth pattern. A guitar riff brings some weight to the sound & contribute to a certain "thickness" that dominates the other songs as well - which sits perfectly with the minimal, somewhat gritty, arrangements. "Michael Michael Michael / Come on your father was a teddy boy" Keenan drones on "Micheal A Grammar".

Most songs are built around two or three instruments. A bass line, a few snaring beats of a drum machine along with a crunchy synth churning out sounds both lovely and brutal. On one or two songs, kraut-y guitars tag along. Lazy vibraphones! Keenan's vocals, however, always remain the backbone, even when she is doing spoken parts. Suicide might be a point of reference, the combination of sweet & gruesome, raw and blissful; listen to "America's boy" and maybe you'll agree with me. "Quaker toil, texas oil". Indeed, what a rhyme. It would be an exaggeration to call Broadcast an experimental band, even though they are interested in experimental music. They play around with sounds and minimalist combinations of instruments (cf. Young marble giants), that's all, but Tender buttons has an indubitable pop sensibility and melodies that are easy to make out.

Lyrics? Well, some of them, most of them, are strange, elliptic and border on the surreal. But lyrically, there is also some weaker material. It is the voice & the synth that makes this a perfect album. Trish Keenan's plaintive, yet neutral wording is peculiar - it's different. (The reviewer at Pitchfork calls her voice frigid - have you EVER heard anyone say that of a man's voice? Women, of course, are suppose to chirp and coo. Maybe the Pitchfork critic finds the word "anatomy" too illicit to be sung by a woman? Would he talk about castrated voices?) Surprisingly, there are times when Keenan sounds like Ian Curtis but you might not believe it at first but she does: the ghostliness, the hollow, is there. Here, however, a strange warmth seeps in when you least expect it to, and that is one of the reasons why I find this album so exciting. Not only does Keenan remind me of Ian Curtis, her vocals have the elegance of a 60's diva or perhaps the iciness of some of Nico's stuff.

"Arc of a journey" showcases a dreamy mix of synth & vibraphones. The result is stunning. A slow song about .... eh machinic memory or something. "The axis of feeling". The dissonant "You and me in time" is another highlight. The jarring soundscape of the song is a perfect contrast to the wistful lyrics. As many have pointed out, this could, with a different synth line, be a Julee Cruise song. "I found the F" bristles with live drumming plus the inescapable jarring synth. Keenan picks up a girl group sound that only adds to the spook-factor.

And, damn, I like the fact that the title refers to a book by Gertrude Stein. I like Gertrude Stein. Her texts are elliptic, too, and enigmatic, just as this album, which starts with a song called "I found the F" and ends with "I found the end"!

4 February 2009


"All writing is pigshit.
People who leave the obscure, and try to define what goes on in their heads, are pigs. The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially this one.
All those who have vantage points in their spirit, I mean, on some side or other of their heads and in a few strictly localized brain areas; all those who are masters of their language; all those for whom words have a meaning; all those for whom there exist sublimities in the soul and currents of thoughts; all those who are the spirit of the times, and who have named these currents of thoughts - and I am thinking of their precise works, of that automatic grinding that delivers their spirit to the winds -
are pigs."

I'm reading Deleuze. He (and his militant buddy Guattari) quotes this kind of thing. Poor pigs. Poor me. Poor us. Poor trains of thought.

"Mama, Ich bin in Deutschland!" - Der Amerikanische Soldat (1970)

I'm starting to realize the stylish diversity of Fassbinder's films but all the more does his fondness for kitch and melodramatic scenes and twists dawn on me. A quote on the folder of Der Amerikanische Soldat gives a hint of what the film is about: "Ich zeige, dass die staatliche Gewalt letzlich über Gangster-Gewalt siegt, und zwar im Princip mit den gleich Methoden."

** spoiler alert **

Ricky returns from the US & from the Vietnam war. Gradually, it is evident that he is a contract killer. He is hired by a bunch of cops to kill a few people. The police officers seek revenge. For Ricky, this is just a mission, that's what he is told to do. As I watched the film, I was confused as to the identity of many of the characters. Are these types criminals? Or are they police officers? The confusion seem intentional. Fassbinder, as the quote makes us understand, wants to question the right and legitimacy of violence exerted by the state. However interesting this theme is, I felt that the film dealt with it in a less than original way. This is not a big complaint. Stylistically, the film is a working whole but thematically, it is somewhat of a mess, maybe intentionally so.

Much of Der Amerikanische Soldat follows a restrained but tongue-in-cheek film noir aesthetics. It's filmed in black-and-white, with lots of flickering lights and some sudden camera pannings zooming in a face. The lines are short and understated, the effect is comical. Ricky visists his mother and his brother still living with Mutti. A huge pinball machine dominates the frame. "Was machst du in Deutschland?" "Geshäfte, Mama." The brother's clearly in love with Ricky. Ricky & mum? Don't even ask. (Deleuze: "an uncle in america, a brother who went bad, an aunt who took off with a military man..."; on the unstable triangle & leaking familial bonds spreading out in all directions. - "Is Fassbinder's film about Oedipus....?" Eh.) In another scene, we see a love-strucken couple walk up to an apartment. Ricky sits stiffly in a chair, whisky bottle in hand (he drinks whisky throughout the film). Firstly, the cuddling couple does not see him. Ricky shoots them and even as he is dying, the drunk man will not stop laughing. As they drop to the floor, Ricky takes another chug of whisky. Ricky, who is called "Killer", is a character that has just walked out from a pulp fiction story, outfit, talking style and all. He's an expressionless zombie, seemingly going about his business as if this would be the most natural thing in the world, killing a few people in between ordering beef with ketchup & engaging in sex with prostitutes. - Tarantino could have been the director of this film but creepiness of it all is more affiliated with Blue Velvet.

In another scene, there's a closu-up of a woman singing a cheesy song in a somewhat shaky voice. She holds a cigarette with a gigantic holder. Dim lights. The woman has an accent. Ricky arrives at the joint, "Lola Montez". He gets the advice he needs. The place is positively cavernous. "Ich brauche auskünfte." He talks to another woman. He knows her. He asks her: "Was machst du?" "Ich bin verheiratet, mit ihn." She points at a guy that looks like a fish. Ricky is off to meet a schwule gypsy called Tony who reads hands & who knows certain people.

The ending scene is, as always in Fassbinder's film, striking. Ricky opens a deposit safe containing a revolver. Suddenly, his employers arrive & shoot him down. His brother & mother show up (!). The two brothers, one of them dead or half-dead, roll around on the ground, wrestling, hugging, while the mother stands statue-like, dressed in black, in the distance, looking. At least some of this was displayed in slow motion, with a static camera, to the most tacky & strange music ever made, written by Fassbinder himself. "So much tenderness is in my head, so much loneliness is in my bed..." When you think the scene is over, it just continues in the same vein: the brothers roll around, the mother is looking. Ironically - and this might be important for the point of the film - in Ricky's & the brother's "death hug" Ricky looks more alive than ever elsewhere in the film.

There's a lot of fun stuff to marvel at. One of them is the 'reference' to a Fassbinder film later to be done - Angst essen Seele auf - in one of the lines by a maid who recites a story on the bedside while Ricky has sex with another woman. Strange? Very.

Perfectly enjoyable to watch, stylistically brilliant - but the content was not so thrilling this time around. A wonderfully sloppy movie. Accusing it for not being "believable" is, of course, nonsense.

I put on The Blue nile's wonderful 80's noir-ish Hats album & call it a night.

PS: One of the actors is called Gustl Datz. Do you folks think it's his real name?

2 February 2009

Amazon recommends me....

Amazon.Uk advises me to buy this book. How to lead by Jo Owen. "Owen dispenses with management-school jargon and education babble and cuts right to the heart of the matter, breaking leadership into four areas: foundation, practice, mastery and the leadership journey. In each area he spotlights a number of features: focusing on people, being positive and being professional. Additional topics in each area address leadership from the entry, middle or top levels." EACH SECOND OF LIVING WITHOUT THIS BOOK IS UNBEARABLE! I can't take it anymore. GIVE ME THIS BOOK TO DEVOR NOW! I really need to learn about those four areas of leadership, I do. I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO LEAD! (Leading is fun! It has to do with people! You need to stay positive! Be a professional!)

(Book-cover: neo-fascism. That's all.)

Musil reading diary chapters 22-24

It's Sunday night, chilly as hell but the atmosphere at Kerttuli is all right, as usual. Except for that drunken poet who asks indecent questions & obviously has no sense of what he should do & what he shouldn't. I imagine him sitting at home, red wine, dim lights, a poem with lots of Greek goddesses & whores & some communist history, too. The Twin Peaks factor heightens as he, out of the blue, encourages us to look into the defeat of the Spanish armada by Elizabeth 1. The barman pours him yet another drink while trying to talk him into going straight home afterwards. "Don't spill that drink, you hear! I just fixed that floor, for fuck's sake, I did!"

Chpt. 22. Ulrich was supposed to call on count Leinsdorf to make himself available for the parallel campaign think-tank. He didn't. Instead, he visists a person whom people have told him to meet but of whom he has previously had many prejudiced conceptions. People have talked about this woman's "ineffable spiritual grace", and the prospect of meeting yet another "high-minded beauty" finally set him in motion. Mrs Tuzzi is married to an official at the ministry of foreign affairs; one of the few commoners to work there, a man whose sense of propriety has made him an important man in European politics. Mr Tuzzi - "a leather steamer trunk with two dark eyes." Decency & propriety is also what occupies Ulrich as he meets Diotima, who does not at all embody his idea of a no longer young bourgoisie hag. In other words, he is attracted to this woman even though her elevation of the parallel campaign as "the greatest and the most important thing in the world" and the privilege of "calling on a whole nation" bemuses him. He finds Diotima's "spirituality" charming, but apparently her ex cathedra statements about the soulless age etc, etc. frightens him, too. Diotima, on her part, saw in Ulrich a man too entangled in intellectual exhibitionism, but a handsome man nonetheless. - Reading this chapter, I wonder about the "spirituality" of women, a concept loaded with contempt as well as reverance. There are few descriptions in old novels of spiritual men. Descriptions of a "spiritual woman's intellect" are kneaded in dirt.

Chpt. 23-4. Earlier that same day, Diotima was even more impressed by another visitor, the "immensly rich" Dr. Arnheim, whose father is a mogul in "Iron Germany". Mr Tuzzi advises his wife to treat her guest with due respect; you never know who will be the next Reichsminister. Arnheim stirs up contradictory feeling; Diotima wants to distance herself from everything, including "men in trade" that may be considered middle-class but on the other hand the image of "the brimming profusion of freely piled-up mountain of money" evokes something she cannot resist. The fact that Arnheim was accompanied by a little black slave did not lessen Diotima's admiration. Her own background is modest; raised by a secondary school teacher, the marriage to Tuzzi caused her predilection for ambition and dreaming to bloom. As her husband built a career for himself, Diotima was admired for her "intelligence" in her newly erected salon, which gradually had become something of a social institution - "a church", swarming with high-ranking officials as well as artists and, above all, scientists. Women, yes, they too were welcome, but Diotima like her girls "unfragmented", not too intelligent. These unfragmented women bolster the Intelligence of Great men - and this made her salon popular among the nobility.

Leinsdorf is Diotima's friend, too, which helps boost the salon. Leinsdorf, as we know, is a man of principles who has only a dim conception about his own ideals. He is religious, but religion cannot, he thinks, be applied to business. Leinsdorf's "professional conscience" still allows him to drive his interests without losing a solid conviction that his every action thrives towards the Good. "He realized the prime importance of establishing a connection between the eternal verities and the world of business, which is so much more complicated than the lovely simplicity of tradition, and he also recognized that such a connection could not be found anywhere but in the profoundities of middle-class culture." The only thing important to him is patriotism (he won't even court Diotima!) and according to his views, every citizen serves society (THE CROWN) in everything she does. We are all civil servants (Count Stallburg subscribes to this view, too, and as for Leinsburg, this is something of a power technique: to say "we are all equal, we are all servants" to wipe out inequalities and unfairness.). Even though Leinsdorf holds the view that Diotima expresses herself far too freely, he does not develop a salon of his own because that would easily "get out of hand". As R aptly remarked: Leinsdorf is lazy.

Beneath the surface of spirituality, Diotima is getting cynical. She no longer flows on the stream of imagination and her distinguished guests had come to appear monotonous. To marvel at human inventiveness in general becomes, in time, a tiresome affair. Civilization, not culture, was the problem. "Civilization, then, meant everything that her mind could not control."

1 February 2009

Entre les murs (2008)

Laurent Cantet's Ressources humaines (1999) is, in the best sense possible, a film which has very outspoken political dimensions. The story is about a twenty-something who returns to his home town to join the company for which his father has toiled as a welder for all his life. But while the father works on the shop floor, the son is offered a managerial position in which he is expected to carry out the downsizing of the company and the laying off of workers. Perhaps there are scenes that overdoes it in terms of dramatizing political struggles (which intermingle with familial issues but one could just as well say that even family bonds are politicized) but at least this seems like an honest enough attempt to depict political reactions in a society that, however much a certain ideology tries to conceal it, contains many contradictions. In comparison to the zany apocalyptic choirs that make up the economy pages of most newspapers these days of "crisis", lay-offs appearing like the workings of a natural law, a film like Ressources humaines gives voice to alternative views about work & class society. The film poses important questions about loyalty & sacrifice as well in a very critical manner.

I am glad that Cantet's latest film, The Class (2008), can be viewed in Finnish cinemas, thanks to otherwise crappy, monopolistic, shitwit company Finnkino. Like Ressources humaines, this is a political film, but in a perhaps quieter (not literally, though) and more ambiguous way. Whereas the former film had something of a political message, The Class paves the way for a political perspective on something that is usually not given a political interpretation by discussing issues such as kids being bothered by the prospect of a Career from an early age. Ideas about teaching and discipline, learning and "learning for the future", are constantly questioned.

The Class is a very intense movie with strong scenes that jolt the guts of the audience. Initially, I was worried that the character of Monseur Marin, teacher of rumbustious 13-year old kids in a Parisian suburbian school that is not considered top notch (here, a class perspective is introduced), would stand out as yet another messianic Dead Poets' society teacher figure who convert unruly students to drink the wells of Wisdom. Well, he doesn't. Most of the action takes place in the class room, within the setting of day-to-day conflicts, verbal battles, boring grammar assignments and problem kids. There's no "story" per se. The film has a very documentary feel (after the film we discussed what, if anything, it means to say that an illusion of documentary is created) and basically we are introduced to a class of kids and the interaction between the kids and the teacher along with the worries of the teachers of the school. Interaction, rather than "story" or "narrative progress", is focused on here. For this film, this approach is perfect.

The film is based on a novel written by the actor who partially acts as himself in the movie. Watching the film, I didn't give any thought to that. Basically, the tension of the scenes is created out of the uncertainties & strains of the classroom, the students & the teachers uncessantly exploring the boundaries of their roles. Marine teaches French. In a poignant scene, Monseur Marine teaches the intricate use of the subjunctive. The teacher scribbles on the blackboard while the kids eagerly question the point of the whole thing. Who talk that way, anyway? Is he gay, by the way? In the end, the teacher submits to admit that "it's mostly snobs who use the subjunctive". So, what is first presented as Neutral Facts is suddenly contextualized into a reality in which language and the teaching of it cannot be reduced to lifeless structures.

As a teacher of French, Marine is confronted with the students' thoughts on France and what it is to be or not to be French. Is French=white, is French, the language, a language ruled by a white élite and are the students to submit to a colonialist teaching of language? The teacher seems aware of these things but that does not make anything easier. The students take very different attitudes to this. The explores the theme of racism and national belonging very well (by, for example, portraying a conversation about the African football cup). Indirectly, Cantat connects the world of the school with governmental decisions about immigration: one of the bright kids' mother is sent away from France; the expulsion of one of the problem kids raises questions about whether this will hazard any family member's asylum permit.

The Class is a fantastic film and mostly this is due to its quite bold decisions in concentrating what is shown to the classroom, the teacher's lounge and the boardroom.