Showing posts with label jean baudrillard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jean baudrillard. Show all posts

10 Jun 2020

Horrors of the Casting Couch


The only way to become a star is to get under 
a good director and work your way up.


I.

When researching a recent post on the 1959 film Horrors of the Black Museum, I came across this publicity photo featuring one of the female stars, June Cunningham, and writer-producer Herman Cohen getting an eyeful of the former in costume and presumably on set.

Clearly, it was meant at the time to be humorous, in a saucy postcard or Benny Hill-like manner. But today, when so many things are viewed differently, it does seem slightly troubling - and, indeed, will be for some members of the Me Too generation far more shocking and horrifying than anything that appears in the movie itself. 


II.

Of course, games involving the complex interplay of sex and power have a long history in the entertainment industry and the central role of the casting couch - upon which so many promises are made (by mostly male directors and producers) and so many favours granted (by mostly pretty young starlets) - has been an open secret from the beginning (so much so that casting couch has become a well-known euphemism for the sexual politics of showbiz and a popular pornographic trope).   

It would be wrong, however, to always interpret this phenomenon reactively and think only in moral terms of abuse and exploitation, vulnerability and victimhood. For one thing, power isn't something that one party exclusively possesses and the other doesn't; nor does power always express itself in a base or vulgar manner. Further, as Foucault recognised, power doesn't only weigh on us as a form of repressive violence; it also induces pleasures and is a great productive network running through the entire social body.

Looking at the above photograph, we might also recall Baudrillard's work on seduction and the revenge of the object that curdles conventional notions of agency, consent, and truth. If nothing else, it's important to know that appearances are deceptive, situations reversible, and tables can often be turned in the blink of a gouged out eye.

Thus who can really say who is fucking with whom here? Cohen wears the trousers; but Cunningham has the ability to charm the pants off him ...  


24 Sep 2019

On the Politics of Resistance and Refusal



Picking up on a footnote to a recent post in which I indicated that I'm more attracted to a strategy of refusal than offering a form of resistance, someone writes suggesting I'm being a bit pedantic:

"Whether D. H. Lawrence adopted various literary devices in order to refuse or resist the tragic reception of the times in which he wrote, doesn't really matter. The important fact is that he was not a tragedean in the conventional sense of the term. And besides, the difference between these two verbs is often fuzzy; a refusal of something often involves resisting its effects."   

I suppose that's true: though I'm not sure expressing a concern for semantic precision necessarily makes one a pedant. And, even if it does, there are worse things to be. So let me try to explain the distinction between resistance and refusal in a bit more detail ... 


Baudrillard has shown how the idea of resistance in a transpolitical era characterised by the techno-social immersion of the individual rather than their alienation, has become problematic and even a little passé. Absorbed within a global network, from where might one find a point of resistance? Or, to put it another way, in a virtual world, where all that is solid has been dissolved, how does one stand one's ground?  

We might, perhaps, internalise resistance and thus retain it as a kind of ethical component in our own lives (resisting, for example, the temptation to surrender to the molecular forms of fascism that haunt our dreams and fool us into thinking we might find easy or final solutions to complex problems).

Alternatively, we are obliged to do one of two things: either accelerate the process we might otherwise have resisted, pushing it beyond its own internal limits to the point of completion and collapse; or we can become like Bartleby and turn away from the things we find distasteful, refusing the game we are invited to play (a game in which the illusion of resistance is merely a complementary form of opposition).

The latter is the strategy of he or she who refuses to take tragically an essentially tragic age; who reacts with irony, indifference, or insouciance in the face of falling skies etc. Such a strategy may lack the optimistic possibility of political coherence, but, on the other hand, it might trigger a chain reaction of (rapid, violent, unexpected) events (destructive of what Lawrence terms the Umbrella).   

Refusal, then, is a form of nihilism and what Baudrillard terms abreaction, rather than a progressive politics of resistance and reaction:

"We have to make a clear distinction between reacting, which is to arm oneself against - and try to destabilize - the system, and abreacting. Abreaction consists merely in expelling something: you just don't accept it, but you don't fight it either, and you harbour no illusions about possibility of overcoming it. It’s simply unacceptable."

Arguably, Lawrence anticipated this line of thought in his late work, realising that even a desperate fictional analysis of the times written among the ruins and which ends a little droopingly, is preferable to writing another novel like The Plumed Serpent which fantasises about armed resistance and revolution.

Mellors would love to "'wipe the machines off the face of the earth [...] and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake.'" But he knows that's impossible. So, all he can do is hold his peace and try to live his own life as far as possible without compromising his manhood, as a kind of outlaw and refusenik.


Notes

Jean Baudrillard, Fragments, trans. Chris Turner, (Routledge, 2004), p. 72. In this same interview with François L'Yvonnet, Baudrillard says:

"I'm a bit resistant to the idea of resistance, since it belongs to the world of critical, rebellious, subversive thought, and that is all rather outdated. If you have a conception of integral reality, of a reality that's absorbed all negativity, the idea of resisting it, of disputing its validity, of setting one value against another and countering one system with another, seems pious and illusory. So there doesn't seen to be anything that can come into play except a singularity, which doesn't resist, but constitutes itself as another universe with another set of rules, which may conceivably get exterminated, but which, at a particular moment, represents an insuperable obstacle for the system itself. But this isn't head-on resistance. That doesn't seem possible any more." [71]

This nicely summarises his position, which is also pretty much my position. Readers who are interested should see my essay 'Jean Baudrillard: Thinking the Transpolitical', in Visions of Excess and Other Essays, (Blind Cupid Press, 2009), pp. 147-68.

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 220.


27 Nov 2018

You Can Take the Girl Out of Sodom ... (Notes on the Story of Lot and His Daughters)

Jan Matsys: Lot and His Daughters (1565)


I.

I've said it before and I'll undoubtedly have opportunity to say it again: the Bible is the world's most transgressive work of literature; a mytho-historical novel that contains page after page of terrible events and wtf incidents.

And there are none more shocking than the story of Lot and his daughters ...


II.

Having escaped the destruction of their hometown of Sodom and witnessed their mother turned into a human condiment, the two young women and their elderly father find themselves seeking refuge in a mountain cave.

Here, according to the account in Genesis [19:30-38], they ply their old man with wine and then engage in drunken sex with him over consecutive nights. This is done not only without his consent, but, apparently, without even his knowledge or memory of what occurred. In this manner, each girl conceives a male child as hoped, thereby illicitly preserving patrilineality or their father's seed.       

Now, I'm no prude - but, really, this is a bit much, isn't it?


III.

Having said that, there is something perversely pleasing about the daughters initiating and perpetrating the incestuous rape of their father, after he previously offered them as sexual playthings to the Sodomites if the latter would but agree to leave his angelic guests unmolested. For it hints at the idea of what Baudrillard terms the revenge of the object

However, some commentators prefer to turn the biblical account on its head and insist that women can only ever be victims of patriarchal power. Thus, they argue that it was more likely that Lot raped his daughters and that the narrative we are given in Genesis is a perversion first and foremost of the truth concerning incest and sexual abuse.

Such a cover-up - if that's what it is - may have been done in order to exonerate Lot and preserve the family honour. For whilst he may have been something of a black sheep, Lot was still the nephew of Abraham, father of the Covenant and progenitor of the nation of Israel. It could well be that the familiar practice of victim-blaming and shifting responsibility for sexual abuse away from the male perpetrator is first given religious sanction in this tale.  


Notes 

Readers interested in the idea that it was Lot who raped his daughters rather than vice versa, might like to see the following article by Ilan Kutz: 'Revisiting the lot of the first incestuous family: the biblical origins of shifting the blame on to female family members', in The BMJ, 331 (7531), pp. 1507-1508, (24 Dec 2005). Click here to read online. 

For a sister post to this one on strange flesh and sodomy, please click here.

  

18 Aug 2018

Day 369: Notes on the Case of Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan

Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan 


The case of Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan - two young American cyclists murdered in Tajikistan by Islamists who first drove into them and then stabbed and shot them - is tragically fascinating for what it tells us about evil and the naive optimism of those who foolishly deny the existence of such.

According to the above, the reason so many people believe that the world is a scary, dangerous place inhabited by monsters, is due to a conspiracy; the powers that be want to keep us all afraid and mistrustful of one another.

In a blog post published shortly before he and his girlfriend were slaughtered, Austin wrote: "Evil is a make-believe concept we've invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own ..." People are, he insists, mostly generous and kind.

Now, that last part might of course be true and I'm not one of those conservative commentators who wish to frame this event in Little Red Riding Hood terms, i.e. as a cautionary tale against straying too far from the safety of home, or messing with strangers, etc. Nevertheless, the fact remains that people are not entirely generous and kind.

And some, indeed, are malevolent and cruel; particularly when motivated by a religious ideology and deep resentment towards privileged Westerners who think the whole world is their playground - from Iceland to Timbuktu - round which they can pedal in perfect peace and harmony, admiring the views and patronising the locals, blogging and Instagramming as they go. 

But just like tourists and travellers, terrorists too like to use social media. And in a video released after the couple's death, the group of men responsible are seen pledging allegiance to the Islamic State and vowing to kill the infidels who have overrun their land. As Baudrillard said, the world isn't dialectical. It's a place of violent extremes and radical antagonism; not reconciliation or synthesis.

In other words, it operates according to a principle of evil ...


9 Jan 2018

On the Scintillation of Being

Sagus93: Every man and every woman is a star (2014)
(Acrylic on canvas 140 x 70 cm)


Every man and every woman is a star, says Crowley in The Book of the Law (1:3) and I suppose by this he references the singular nature of human being; the fact that, at the very last, one is not only unique, but also isolate and alone, beyond love or any personal relationship.

That's certainly how I've always understood the remark, in a very Birkinesque manner. But perhaps we might consider the idea of astro-ontology - or what Baudrillard refers to as the scintillation of being - in a bit more detail ...   

People like to think of stars as luminous objects reliably twinkling in the night sky. Look up, and there they are! But it's worth remembering that most of the individual stars in the universe - including all of the stars outside our own galaxy - are invisible to the eye, even when we gaze into space through powerful telescopes.

And, strange as it may seem, our own sun also retains something of its invisibility or, if you like, essential darkness ...

Count Dionys, the initiated occultist of D. H. Lawrence's novella The Ladybird (1923), teaches that true fire is invisible; that it burns with its back to us and is therefore always hidden from view. The golden light of the sun is, he says, only epiphenomenal; "the glancing aside of the real original fire".

This being so, continues the Count, even the sun is black: "It is only his jacket of dust that makes him visible. [...] And the true sunbeams coming towards us flow darkly, a moving darkness of the genuine fire. The sun is dark, the sunshine flowing to us is dark. And light is only the inside-turning away of the sun's directness that was coming to us."

He concludes that we have, therefore, a mistaken understanding of the world - and of love. That just as the "true living world of fire is dark", so too true love is "a throbbing together in darkness" and not something luminous or fully visible. What he terms white love is only an ideal surface effect. 

I don't know if this constitutes good science (I suspect not). But it nicely anticipates those object-oriented forms of philosophy which are full of strange speculations of this nature and concerned with the play of reality and the essential illusion of the world.

If nothing else, it's always amusing to think what follows from the fact that light from the stars can continue to shine for billions of years after they have disappeared from the heavens (that things - including people - are never quite what they seem).


See:

Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law, (Red Wheel/Weiser, 1976). Or click here to read online.  

D. H. Lawrence, 'The Ladybird', in The Fox, The Captain's Doll, The Ladybird, ed. Dieter Mehl, (Cambridge University Press, 1992). 

The above work by Lawrence can also be read online thanks to Project Gutenberg Australia: click here.


1 Jan 2018

Happy New Year from the Ghost of Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard Sticker


When asked during an interview in January 2006 with Antoine Perraud what it meant to wish someone Happy New Year, Baudrillard amusingly replied that it was "a collectively remote-controlled symbolic ritual that has its place in a [...] cost-free sphere". 

In other words, an empty gesture without value; a seasonal greeting from another time which, just like Merry Christmas, tries to desperately recreate a social bond or, more accurately, evoke nostalgia for such, via an exchange of disintensified signs. All the high days and holidays that we so want to enjoy and make special, invariably leave us feeling lonely and inadequate; hostages to our own lives of consumption.    

Having said that, Baudrillard hates to be thought of as a pessimist or a nihilist in the pejorative sense of the term.

And he does, in fact, still anticipate that there might be an element of radical newness in times to come; a counter-force lodged within the present that's the source of future ambivalence; a catastrophic force that enables individuals to change established forms and punch holes in the order of things; an unverifiable force which, inasmuch as it has "nothing to do with consciousness, common sense or morality", we might simply call evil.

And so, in wishing readers a Happy New Year, I suppose I'm wishing them the courage to become complicit with l'intelligence du mal.


See: Baudrillard, 'The Murder of Reality', trans. Chris Turner, essay in The Disappearance of Culture, ed. Richard G. Smith and David. B. Clarke, (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), pp. 266-71. 


8 Mar 2017

Forniphilia: In Praise of Becoming-Object (A Post for International Women's Day 2017)

Alva Bernadine: "The Philosopher Illumined by Candlelight" 
from the photographic project Forniphilia (Human Furniture)
www.bernadinism.com 


The above image, by British photographer Alva Bernadine, resonates powerfully with any reader of Jean Baudrillard. For in this picture, it is the woman-as-object who, crucially, sheds light on the philosopher or thinking male subject and not the other way around. Indeed, despite the latter's obvious love of books, the woman-as-object remains beyond his learning having escaped conceptual understanding and assumed a position from which she might take ironic revenge upon those who would have her give up her secrets.

In other words, it's no longer the rational subject in this photo - or even the photographer - who has a privileged vantage point from which to understand and master the world; rather, it's the woman-as-object, that strangest of strange attractors outside of all traditional aesthetics or games of gender and representation, with whom a kind of enigmatic power lies.

By lying naked on a bed with her legs in the air, whilst gripping her ankles and holding a candle in her vagina, the woman-as-object transforms herself not only into a decorative piece of furniture with obvious utility, but also a work of fetishistic art that stands out from the obscenity of commodification (i.e. a thing that exceeds both use value and exchange value).

Liberal feminists will doubtless assert that, via her sexual objectification, she's been "degraded" as a human being. For such women have always believed in the splendour of the subject contra the shameful poverty of the object; always subscribed to the reassuring fiction of a free-willing agent with an economy and a history and a smiling white face.

Well, ok, let's provisionally accept this claim. But then let's suggest the possibility that, in sacrificing her human and all-too-personal aspect, she gains something new and unfamiliar; not sexual freedom or ideal independence, but a seductive allure that is both monstrous and magical. 

In her silence and solitude, no longer allowing herself to be watched or judged, neither desiring nor being desired, woman-as-object - with or without a candle in her twat - becomes supremely indifferent and, if you like, the most radical form of femme fatale. For as Baudrillard says, the fatal is that which lies at the heart of this passionate indifference to the philosopher's desire for knowledge and power.   
          
Ultimately, it's not up to me to tell women what to do - least of all on International Women's Day. But just as the sphinx once posed the question of man, I think there's much to be gained by a queer-feminist thinking of the object ... 


14 Dec 2016

The (Displaced) Task of the Translator 2: Microdramas of Displacement - A Post by Simon Solomon

Dede Koswara, aka the Human Tree Man
Image Source: thechive.com


While we may be culturally instructed by Kenneth Goldsmith's undoubted flair for mediating the technological imaginary (albeit in a way that is perhaps already somewhat well-rehearsed, and which is, for me, more originally evoked by the writings of Jean Baudrillard), I feel more moved as a poet by his microdramas of displacement from real life. In his collection of anecdotal horrors and subcutaneous wonders - including, for example, the poignant story of a buried bullet beneath a boy’s face, its impact site permanently cauterised by the heat of the missile, that 'remains comfortably embedded' for the rest of his natural existence - there is a strange rapture of estrangement or post-modern beauty.

What Goldsmith ultimately discloses by telling us the story of a tree that grew around a metal grate erected to protect it until it became, in his luminously lyrical language, 'the guardian of the grate, swallowing it whole, nestling it deep within its core', is a beguiling phenomenology of incorporation: notes towards how we learn to take in and 'live with' foreign matter that have obvious affinities with literary (re)composition. I wondered what Goldsmith might make of less successful manifestations of human embodiment - such as the Indonesian carpenter, Dede Koswara, whose monstrous condition, a fantastically rare skin disorder called Lewandowsky-Lutz dysplasia (aka ‘Tree Man Syndrome’), caused bark-like cutaneous horns to sprout from his hands and feet and led to him being shunned by his community as an accursed object.

While doubtless more than a sliver of Schadenfreude attaches to such cases, in picking up his own bâton and running with it, Goldsmith extends his project into an inter-disciplinary revisionist thesis, in which acid rain is rebranded as 'displaced weather', petroleum as 'displaced prehistory', the melting ice caps as 'displaced Ice Age' and the Great Pacific garbage patch (aka the Pacific trash vortex) as 'displaced geography'. If this is a schtick of sorts, it is a thrilling one - though thrilling, perhaps, in the manner of a totalitarian music. By contrast, the niceties and decencies of the translator’s traditional craft - its meticulous attunements to the minutiae of syntax, the localities of diction and the pathos of distance - are derisively likened by Goldsmith to the cult of ‘slow food’. To pursue such an obsolescent quest now, on Goldsmith's thesis, is to be a wilful reactionary (though possibly a reactionary who enjoys better digestion), indulging a 'bourgeois luxury', 'faux-nostalgia' and 'a boutique pursuit from a lost world'. The good faith of the translator, that suspiciously friendly idealist forever trying to meet people halfway, is ultimately rotten to the core.

Among a raft of concerns here, one might wonder what place authentic nostalgia - or just real history - could play in such Goldsmith's vision of our creative dispossession, since translation is inescapably also a tradition, not merely a metamorphic instrumentality. Perhaps, indeed, the translator, at their finest, is a kind of time-travelling cultural attaché, drawn back like the former English Laureate Ted Hughes to the shape-shifting mythology of the ancient world, retracing and reimagining their embedded civilisations to keep the culture’s collective unconscious awake.

In a way that stirs my desire to unsettle the strategic dualities of his thought, Goldsmith views displacement as a binary trader, harnessing what can be displaced and jettisoning what cannot, while eschewing what he calls the 'messy questions of morality, ethics and nuance' in favour of 'the craft of the kludge'. Leaving aside the manifold ways in which both literature and life are endlessly (if not necessarily) entangled in such varieties of disorder, I would be interested to learn more about those poetogenic entities the author thinks by implication might defy displacement - about what, in other words, might not get lost in translation ...


See: Kenneth Goldsmith, Against Translation: Displacement is the New Translation, (Jean Boîte Editions, 2016).

Note: Simon Solomon (aka Dr Simon Thomas) is a poet, translator, critic and tutor. He is a professional member of the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin and currently serves as managing editor with the academic journal Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. He blogs at simonsolomon.ink and a full (non-abridged) version of his essay will shortly be made available here.  

Simon appears here as part of the Torpedo the Ark Gastautoren Programm. I am very grateful for his submission of a lengthy text that he kindly allowed me to edit into three separate posts for the sake of convenience. Part 1: Magical Realism without the Magic can be read by clicking here. Part 3: On the Limits of Zeitgeistiness (Or How to Have Your Displaced Cake and Eat It), can be read by clicking here.


10 Nov 2016

On the Triumph of Donald Trump: Don't Say I Didn't Warn You ...

Photo credit: AP/LM Otero


I hate to be one of those people who says I told you so, but, back in 2008, in a series of essays on myth, history and cultural despair, I did suggest that - thanks to globalization - we in the West find ourselves today in very similar position to the people of Austria during the 19th century and that the potential for a new type of pessimistic and reactionary politics, based on notions of race, religion, and national identity, was thus a very real danger.   

Such a desperate response, I noted, might not be very desirable, but was perfectly understandable when mass immigration had resulted in the internal exile of indigenous populations in their own societies and concern over their future survival as ethnically and culturally distinct groups was increasingly widespread.

In order to provide some theoretical support for this argument, I referred to an essay by Jean Baudrillard in which he offered a painfully revisionist explanation for why it is that only figures on the far-right seem to possess the last remnants of political interest. This passage in particular seemed at the time - and still seems - absolutely spot on:

"The right once embodied moral values and the left, in opposition, embodied a certain historical and political urgency. Today, however, stripped of its political energy, the left has become a pure moral injunction, the embodiment of universal values, the champion of the reign of virtue and the keeper of the antiquated values of the Good and the True ..."

In short, the left has become boring and this results not only in their abject surrender, but in a situation where it’s only neo-fascist and populist politicians who have anything interesting left to say: "All the other discourses are moral or pedagogical," writes Baudrillard, "made by school teachers and lesson-givers, managers and programmers".

In daring to embrace evil and reject political correctness, I concluded, the far-right looks set to scoop the political jackpot ...

Now - just to be clear - this didn't mean back in 2008 and it doesn't mean now that I support or necessarily share the views of Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage, or Donald Trump. But it does mean I can understand the attraction of these figures to voters who are sick to death of being spoken down to by those in power who think they know better than the people who have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

And it does mean I'm conscious of the more prosaic reasons why the above seem to speak to and for an angry white working-class who feel increasingly marginalized by high-tech industries and the enforced integration of ethnic minorities into their communities.

For, unfortunately, globalization doesn't only unleash flows of capital, information, and talent across national borders, it also brings with it crime, disease, and barbarism (by which I mean unfamiliar and often antithetical customs, norms, values and beliefs). And so, unsurprisingly, defensive ideologies arise that promise to counter threats to national and cultural identity and restore order.

And so Brexit and the triumph of Donald Trump ...


Notes

Stephen Alexander, 'Reflections beneath a Black Sun', The Treadwell's Papers, Vol. IV, (Blind Cupid Press, 2010).

Jean Baudrillard, ‘A Conjuration of Imbeciles’, in The Conspiracy of Art, trans. Ames Hodges, (Semiotext[e], 2005). 


31 Oct 2016

In Praise of Shadows and the Beauty of Japanese Ghost Girls (A Post for Halloween 2016)

A Japanese Ghost Girl or Yūrei [幽靈]


The Land of the Rising Sun is also the Land of the Falling Shadow; a place in which the gathering gloom of twilight and the brilliance of daybreak are held in equal regard and darkness causes no anxiety or discontent. The Japanese accept the moon at midnight and resign themselves to the presence of bats, ghosts, and witches, etc.  

Perhaps no one writes more profoundly in praise of shadows than Junichirō Tanizaki. He understands that the power and the beauty of the object - its allure - is tied precisely to that aspect of it which is forever concealed in darkness and which withdraws from sight (that is to say, its occult aspect).

Take, for example, the fairest and most seductive of all objects - woman - who is arguably never so lovely as she is when at her most spectral, like a phosphorescent jewel glowing softly in the night that loses its magic in the full light of day. In the erotic imagination of the Japanese male, woman is inseparable from darkness; cosmetically enhanced and concealed in the folds of her robe or gown; her raven black hair framing (and often hiding) her white face.       

This is not, typically, a Western aesthetic. For Westerners, beauty is that which shines forth, which radiates, which loves, like truth, to go naked and which can be perceived by the eye. There is, thus, something obscene about our theory of beauty in that it ultimately rests on indecent exposure (not least of sun-kissed female flesh).

And we really rather despise shadowy existence: our quest for enlightenment never ceases and we spare no effort to eradicate even the faintest trace of darkness. Indeed, as Jean Baudrillard pointed out, we would, if we could, leap over our own shadows into a world of pure lucidity and transparency in which to accomplish perfect self-actualization.

Thankfully, however, a being devoid of their shadow, of their mystery, of their object-allure, is no more than a mad fantasy. No matter how bright we make the lights, no matter how much we bare our flesh and reveal our innermost thoughts and feelings, we'll never transcend the night or escape the shadows.

Happy Halloween ...


See: Junichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, (Vintage, 2001).

26 Apr 2016

Why I Don't Much Care for the London Marathon

Logo of the 2016 London Marathon (with official corporate sponsor) 


A friend, Annette, sends me a text from the London Marathon. "How wonderful", she says, "to see 40,000 people - all shapes and sizes, all creeds and colours - running in perfect harmony and raising money for good causes." 

She's German. And a vegan. So her idealism and admiration for körperkultur doesn't surprise me. But I was a bit disappointed that she should know me so badly, after so many years, that she thought I'd share her enthusiasm for this ersatz sporting event. Because I don't.

In fact, I find its mix of fun-running, charity, narcissistic athleticism, media hype, and commercial sponsorship all wrapped up in Lycra and covered in sweat, deeply offensive. It's an example of what Lawrence terms sport in the head and, like him, I loathe those individuals who parade the self-conscious mechanism of their bodies whilst reeking with smugness and self-regard.       

Baudrillard is no fan either of idiots endlessly pounding the pavements. He rightly characterizes jogging, for example, as a type of ascetic idealism born of consumerism and the Californian cult of the self; a form of socially approved masturbation, the pleasure of which has nothing to do ultimately with either sport or sex.

I can't imagine what Pheidippides - who ran with real joy and purpose and not simply to comply with an obligatory performance principle - would have made of what passes for heroism today ...


12 Mar 2016

Luis Quiles and the Transparency of Evil

Louis Quiles: self portrait and Twitter profile picture


The work of Spanish artist Luis Quiles brilliantly reveals what Baudrillard describes as evil.

That is to say, that which belongs to the order not of morality, but of invisibility; that which is usually concealed and circulates in secret; that which, despite the best efforts of our society to deny its existence, eventually shines through (thus Baudrillard's notion of the transpiring of evil).

We like to think that our idealism has triumphed in a world unified by technology and illuminated by the light of reason; that the good, the true, and the beautiful are now the supreme values and we should therefore all be wearing a permanently happy face.

Un/fortunately, however, evil remains within our society and, indeed, it continues to provide the indispensable energy needed to drive it forward. 18th-century Anglo-Dutch philosopher and political economist, Bernard Mandeville, was right when he asserted, scandalously at the time, that society operates and advances on the basis of its vices, not its virtues or positive qualities.

Quiles, I think, recognizes this - recognizes, that is to say, that corruption has a vital function within the world - even if, as a liberal humanist, he finds it difficult to countenance greed, violence, exploitation, and hatred. Thus the terrible tension and ambiguity within his images. They clearly satirize the pornographic character of contemporary culture and consumer capitalism, yet nevertheless they are complicit with it.




A friend of mine compared the images to those of English graffiti-artist Banksy. But, at their best, the comic-book style pictures by this young, Barcelona-based artist are almost as unbearable to look at - their content as profoundly troubling - as the so-called Black Paintings produced by Goya during the final period of his life. They're that good; they're that appalling.


Note: the above picture, as well as many other works, can be found on Luis Quiles's Facebook page by clicking here.
 

11 Mar 2016

Deborah de Robertis: The Naked Truth

Deborah de Robertis (self-portrait, 2014)


Deborah de Robertis is someone I'm very fond of. For not only does she have a lovely face, but she provocatively blurs the lines between art, performance, criticism and flagrant self-promotion. Of course, she’s not unique in this by any means, but she does it with rather more style and chutzpah than most.

In May 2014, for example, wearing a beautiful gold sequin dress, she entered the Musée d’Orsay and posed in front of Courbet’s obscene masterpiece, L’Origine du monde, displaying her own sex and silently challenging passersby to gaze into what the artist does not dare to reveal in his painting; the concealed eye or black hole of the vagina that lies beyond the fleshy lips of the labia; the sticky abyss which stares into those who foolishly stare into it; the zero point where philosophers and insects lose their way.

De Robertis thus seductively turns the tables upon those who would not only objectify the female body, but render it passive via its representation. She seems to say: ‘You want to see a cunt? Here’s a cunt!’ knowing full well that the museum authorities will rush to cover it up just as the news media will censor their own images in their coverage of the story (whilst nevertheless hypocritically reproducing Courbet’s 1866 oil painting of Joanna Hiffernan’s nether regions).

Then, in January of this year, de Robertis repeated her stunt; though this time she stripped naked in front of Manet’s celebrated (but equally controversial) Olympia and ended up in a police cell for two days (held for indecent exposure), as well as the in the international press once more. Stretched out on the museum floor, she adopted the same confident and unabashed pose as the reclining nude in the 1865 portrait.

Unlike the latter, however, she had a miniature camera strapped to her head in order to record those who came to voyeuristically gaze at her. In interviews afterwards, de Robertis explained that her aim was to bring Olympia to life and reverse the usual relationship between model and viewing public; to extract what Baudrillard famously described as the revenge of the object.

For these twin operations of vulva activism (or what the brave women of Femen term sextremism), I salute her. Torpedophiles who are interested in seeing footage of the events should click here (Origin of the World) and here (Olympia).


14 Feb 2016

The Art of Love

 Franz Von Stuck: Cupid at the Masked Ball (1887)


We have long endeavoured to make love identify itself to us; to have Eros speak his name and reveal the truth of sex. And, historically, there have been two main methods for achieving this; a scientific method (based on interrogation) and an aesthetic method (based on amplification of effects). 

I suppose, push comes to shove - and without wishing to suggest that these two methods are diametrically opposed - it's the latter which continues to most fascinate and which seems to hold out the most promise in a transsexual era described by Baudrillard as existing after the orgy.  

The promise not necessarily of producing still further truth, but of creating new pleasure understood as a practice that is not considered "in relation to an absolute law of the permitted and the forbidden, nor by reference to a criterion of utility" [57], but only on its own terms (evaluated, that is to say, according to what is queer and kinky, rather than normalizing moral and medical standards).

What appeals about an ars erotica is that its most important elements are not to be found in the "humanist dream of a complete and flourishing sexuality" [71], nor in the obsession with orgasm. Rather, it involves playing a secret and sophisticated game with sign and symbol in which lovers wear masks, not because they are ashamed or because there's what Michel Foucault terms an element of infamy attached to love, "but because of the need to hold it in the greatest reserve" [57]

Ultimately, I don't want to reconsecrate love and make of it again our highest ideal. I may want to dress it up and disguise it, but I don't want to put Eros back on a pedestal. I am, if you like, a fetishist, not a priest of love. I want so-called desires to be deferred (or sublimated), not fulfilled. And I want any truths that are produced to be paradoxical.      


Note: Lines quoted are from Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality 1: The Will to Knowledge, trans. Robert Hurley, (Penguin Books, 1998).  


14 Jan 2016

The Case of Thomas Townsend (Germ Free Adolescent)

Your deodorant smells nice ...


An inquest into the recent death of 16-year-old Thomas Townsend found that he died from the effects of butane inhalation, following excessive use of spray-on deodorant.

The Kent teenager, concerned about body odour but unwilling to shower, used multiple cans of deodorant in order to stay fresh smelling, if not actually clean. Investigators at the scene of his death found over forty aerosols in his room, many of them empty.

The inquest heard that Thomas, a resident of a children’s care-home in Kent, was troubled and had a history of self-harm, but had expressed no desire to take his own life. Nor had he shown any interest in substance abuse (pathologists found no drink or drugs in his system). He simply didn’t want to stink as nature intended, nor be reliant upon such a primitive and bothersome solution as soap and water. And so he turned to science to counteract the bacterial breakdown of perspiration.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner declared that Thomas had simply succumbed to the effects of the gas. But surely we might say a bit more than this. For, if nothing else, his case illustrates perfectly the modern obsession with hygiene as a form of commercial and cosmetic artifice which, when taken to an extreme, becomes fatal; something which punk rocker Poly Styrene was singing about almost forty years ago and which Jean Baudrillard also often commented on with characteristic brilliance.

In the words of the X-Ray Spex front woman, Thomas aspired to be a germ free adolescent - one who, sadly, allowed his teenage anxieties and antiseptic fantasies to get the better of him to the point that he literally sprayed himself out of existence, leaving behind nothing but a nice smelling corpse.


Note: Those readers who wish to hear Germ Free Adolescents, by X-Ray Spex, should click here, for a TOTP recording from 1978 conveniently uploaded to YouTube.   


18 Dec 2015

Francesca Woodman: An American Genius

Francesca Woodman: Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (1976)
Tate / National Galleries of Scotland (AR00352)
© George and Betty Woodman


I have to confess that I only recently came across the work of American photographer Francesca Woodman, but I was immediately fascinated by her beautiful (often disturbing) black and white images which have a queer, gothic and surreal quality that is seductive in the sense that Baudrillard gives the term. That is to say, the photos partake of a game of slow exposure that is all to do with appearance and disappearance, and playing with the signs of sexuality and self-hood.

Woodman works in a manner that is not only highly stylized and disciplined, but also ritualistic and fetishistic; a combination of primitive magic and aristocratic aestheticism. She turns her own body into just another object, semi-exposed, but mostly withdrawn and concealed, existing in relation to other things (chairs, doors, mirrors, a bucket full of eels) that are equally real, equally fragile, and equally mysterious.

Born in 1958, Woodman was only twenty-two when she committed suicide in 1981, pissed, apparently, with the slowness with which her work was garnering critical attention or achieving commercial success. In a letter to a friend (written around the time of an earlier attempt to end her life), Woodman says she’d rather die young and leave behind her a delicate body of work, than see herself and her pictures fade away or be slowly erased by time.

Death, she realised, would be the making of her; for hers, like Nietzsche's, would be a posthumous existence. And this tragic realisation, coupled to her precocious talent for blurred image-making, makes me very fond of dear Francesca: an American genius.


23 Oct 2015

After the Orgy: Rise of the Herbivores

Édouard Manet: Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1862-3)* 


When asked, twenty-five years ago, to characterize the present, Baudrillard described it as after the orgy. It was then and remains now a brilliant characterization.**  

Although the orgy in question doesn't refer merely to a feast of the flesh, but, more widely, to modernity's explosive liberation in every sphere, this obviously includes a sexual component and it's this that I wish to comment on here, with reference to what are known in Japan as the herbivore men

The problem with revolutions, says Baudrillard, is that they never turn out as expected or as hoped - and this includes the so-called sexual revolution. By freeing sex from its containment within bodies and their organs and thereby allowing it to enter into a state of pure circulation and incessant commutation, it has become increasingly subject to indeterminacy and virtual indifference (in all senses of the word).  

Thus, rather than the promised utopia dreamed of by the priests of love who thought they could fuck their way into the future, we witness a gradual fading away of sexual beings, of men and women, of what we had mistakenly believed to be natural desire, and even of biological function. And we end up with asexual beings and celibate grass-eaters, who have little or no interest in dating, marrying, and reproducing (if pushed, they might express an interest in cloning or parthenogenesis).

And so to the land of the rising sun ...      

Sōshoku danshi is a term coined by the writer Maki Fukasawa to describe those young men who express no wish for a conventional love life, or, indeed, to struggle in the macho world of business. Recent surveys conducted amongst single Japanese males in their twenties and thirties found that two-thirds were happy to be considered herbivores (a figure large enough to seriously concern a government which was already worried about falling birth rates).

According to Fukasawa, such men are not entirely sexless, but they have a non-assertive and casual attitude towards pleasures of the flesh; many choose to have exclusively on-line relations, for example, or to masturbate with pornography; others enjoy the company of actual women, but prefer loving friendships that are free from sexual imperatives and conjugal duties.

Of course, this trend is observable in many advanced societies and is not exclusively a Japanese phenomenon; who hasn't inwardly groaned on occasion with displeasure and boredom at the thought of having to groan with sexual pleasure and excitement; what man (or woman for that matter) hasn't resented the pressure to perform and conform to gender stereotypes?

After the orgy, one just wants to chat over coffee, go for a stroll in the park, order a salad, or roll over and sleep ...


Notes

* For me, Manet's picture provides evidence that there have always been young dandies more interested in discussing fashion and philosophy, oblivious to the appeal of naked female flesh. Arguably, the rather bored young woman peers out of the canvas in the hope of catching the eye of a carnivore.   

** See: Jean Baudrillard, 'After the Orgy', in The Transparency of Evil, trans. James Benedict, (Verso, 1993). 

This post was suggested by Katxu, to whom I'm grateful.


5 Sep 2015

We're All Austrians Now (Reflections Beneath a Black Sun)



No one knows for sure how the current migrant crisis in Europe will unfold or what consequences it might entail; as I have said elsewhere, it's a wicked problem and a real mess. However, it seems to me that one of the things that might result is the recreation of the social and political conditions in Europe as a whole that were last witnessed in Austria in the 19th century and that the potential for a new form of völkisch nationalism (or fascism) is thus a very real possibility. 

Such a desperate and virulent reaction might not be welcome or prove to be very helpful, but it is perhaps understandable when mass immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Arab world results in what Jean Baudrillard once described as the internal exile of the European citizen in their own society. 

This sense of alienation and the perceived threat to the future of Europeans as an ethnically and culturally distinct group with their own history and traditions is almost certain to grow and, far from being a paranoid and pessimistic fantasy on behalf of a small number of individuals, there is clear evidence from the maternity wards that the continent is undergoing a rapid and major demographic change. As one critic notes:

"In 1900 the white European races constituted some thirty-five percent  of world population. Owing to declining birth rates among whites in advanced industrial nations, coupled with the explosion of the Third World population ... the figure is now just under ten percent in global terms." [1]

What is more, these same nations are accommodating ever larger numbers of immigrants, having committed themselves with ideological fervour to their own fantasy of multiculturalism no matter what the cost. For those Europeans concerned about their own identity - whether that's primarily based on racial, national, cultural, or religious grounds (and regardless of the fact that those grounds might be entirely spurious) - this places them in much the same position as the German-speaking Austrians during the final years of the Habsburg Empire; i.e., one of perceived disadvantage and ever-decreasing influence.

This, as Al Gore might say, is an inconvenient truth that is rarely addressed or even acknowledged within the dominant and self-legitimating forms of political discourse. To even raise the issue not only offends the sensibilities of the age, but risks legal action under the highly dubious law of incitement to hatred. As Martin Amis writes, any acknowledgement of white anxiety about becoming a numerical minority within Europe invariably results in accusations of racism. But this isn't simply about race, it's also about political values and ethics:

"If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are; but if some of them believe in sharia ... then the numbers are clearly crucial." [2]

What has become clear, is that commentators on the far right have a much more radical and astute understanding of what's going on and what's at stake; they might arrive at deeply troubling solutions, but they identify genuine problems and concerns. Baudrillard offers a painfully revisionist explanation of why the left have failed us and why the right today possess the last remnants of political interest:

"The right once embodied moral values and the left, in opposition, embodied a certain historical and political urgency. Today, however, stripped of its political energy, the left has become a pure moral injunction, the embodiment of universal values, the champion of the reign of virtue and the keeper of the antiquated values of the Good and the True ..." [3]

In short, the left has become ... boring! Political correctness, on which the left now prides itself, has reduced politics to a zero-point of moral and intellectual banality. This has resulted not only in the abject surrender of the left, but also in a defeat for critical thinking.

And so, today, in this transpolitcal era, if politics can be said to exist at all, it has slid over to the far right. Rather shamefully, it's Europe's neo-conservatives and neo-fascists who still have something to say worth hearing; all other discourses are moral or pedagogical, says Baudrillard, and made by a mixture of lesson-givers, aid workers, and bleeding heart celebrities who believe in peace and love and a universal humanity.

This doesn't mean you should all rush out and vote for those on the far right, but it does mean that if you really want to hear a wild analysis of the times in which we live, there's little point in listening to those on the left - including its more colourful figures, such as Russell Brand - who always speak with a tremor in their voice either of righteous anger, or full of pity for the suffering of the world. If these idiots fail to see things clearly it's partly due to the permanent presence of tears in their eyes.

Unfortunately, globalization doesn't merely unleash massive flows of capital, information, and skills across borders, but also disease, crime, and barbarism. Nation states are compromised and traditional cultures are confronted with unfamiliar customs and values that many find threatening and unwelcome. Thus defensive and reactionary ideologies begin to emerge based on notions of identity and in violent opposition to pretty much everything that is going on around them.

"We cannot know", writes Goodrick-Clarke, "what the future holds for Western multicultural societies, but the experiment did not fare well in Austria-Hungary ..." [4]


Notes:

[1] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun, (New York University Press, 2003), p. 2.
[2] Martin Amis, 'Demographics', in The Second Plane, (Jonathan cape, 2008), p. 157.
[3] Jean Baudrillard, 'A Conjuration of Imbeciles', in The Conspiracy of Art, trans. Ames Hodges, (Semiotext[e], 2005), p. 31. 
[4] Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun, p. 306. 

This post is a revised version of the opening remarks to an essay I wrote in 2008 entitled 'On the Spirit of Terrorism', in Reflections beneath a Black Sun, Volume IV of The Treadwell's Papers, (Blind Cupid Press, 2010).


11 Jul 2015

Ours is the Day of Realization

Cover (detail) of the 1961 Penguin edition


The latest news from the Lawrence world is of a new adaptation of Lady C. made by the BBC and to be broadcast this autumn. Do we really need such? I don't know: it's debatable. What was once a vital and necessary book no longer seems so today. Nevertheless, the news has made me want to rethink the novel and, here, look again at Lawrence's surprising defence of it in the opening pages of his posthumously published essay A Propos of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'. 

After briefly detailing the various pirated editions, Lawrence claims that he wrote and published his most notorious novel in good faith as an honest, healthy book containing an obscene litany of four-letter words that shock at first, but "don't shock at all after a while". Is this because we as readers are rapidly depraved by familiarity? No, says Lawrence, it's because such words only ever troubled the eye and ear and never really disturbed the mind which has evolved far beyond the body and its overly-sensitive organs prone to "violent and indiscriminate physical reactions" that threaten culture and society.

This, it has to be said, is a rather astonishing argument coming from Lawrence of all people. For it implies our sensory organs work independently of consciousness and that their perceptions are superficial, dim-witted, and dangerous. Lawrence thereby not only reinforces a damaging mind/body division, but unexpectedly opts to come down squarely on the side of the former. Indeed, he says quite openly in this astonishing essay that individuals without minds don't interest him and don't matter.

Modern men and women, he continues, are superior to the people of the past precisely because they are capable of a more sophisticated and relaxed relationship with language; they can assign to words "only those mental and imaginative reactions which belong to the mind" and thus not respond like crude savages to every provocation and stimulus without thinking. 

Thus, whilst Lawrence wants us to act, "the great necessity is that we should act according to our thoughts" and not allow ourselves to be so feeble-minded  that we are incapable of contemplating our own bodies (and the words that relate to bodily functions) without "getting all messed up" and carried away. In particular, Lawrence wants us to be able to think sex

This, he writes, is the real point of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's neither a manifesto for sexual liberation nor an apology for adultery. Rather, it's a bold - and puritanical - attempt to realise sex in the head; "fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly". Lawrence knowingly aims at an explicit literary representation of desire; that is to say, he wants to transform the intensity of physical experience and erotic sensation into a pure piece of knowledge. 

Indeed, it's his conviction that a large number of people are happiest "when they abstain and stay sexually apart, quite clean: and at the same time, when they understand and realize sex more fully". He continues, in a startling passage that anticipates Baudrillard's thinking on the world that exists after the orgy:

"Ours is the day of realization rather than action. There has been so much action in the past, especially sexual action, a weary repetition over and over, without a corresponding thought, a corresponding realization. Now our business is to realize sex. Today the full conscious realization of sex is even more important than the act itself. After centuries of obfuscation, the mind demands to know and know fully. The body is a good deal in abeyance, really. When people act in sex, nowadays, they are half the time acting up. They do it because they think it is expected of them. Whereas as a matter of fact it is the mind which is interested, and the body has to be provoked. The reason being that our ancestors have so assiduously acted sex without ever thinking it or realizing it, that now the act tends to be mechanical, dull, and disappointing, and only fresh mental realization will freshen up the experience."

Lawrence, we might conclude, ultimately encourages us to spend less time in the bedroom and more time in the library. Lady C. is a book for thinking, nothing else: a call for a new form of chastity, it belongs to those thought-adventurers for whom the pleasure of the text is the greatest pleasure of all. 

I'll be extremely impressed if Jed Mercurio's new BBC adaptation manages to get this point across and isn't merely another lame and ludicrous work of pretentious soft-porn. We'll see ...


Notes

A Propos of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' can be found in the Cambridge Edition of  Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (CUP, 1993), pp. 303-35. The lines quoted from this essay here can be found on pp. 307-08. 

Readers might be interested and amused to know that later in the same essay, Lawrence flagrantly contradicts what he says here by arguing the complete opposite and indulging in a far more familiar anti-mind, pro-body rant; calling for greater harmony between the two, whilst still keeping them separate within a system of metaphysical dualism. As with Nietzsche, you can find textual support in Lawrence for almost any position; the challenge is not to determine the author's genuine view, but to critically examine all perspectives and realise that truth can never be fixed or given absolute moral-logical consistency. 

   

7 Feb 2015

Just Saying Something on Subjects and Objects

 

Cambridge Professor of Philosophy, Rae Langton, makes it very clear why she values people over objects. For whilst conceding that the former are a part of the phenomenal world of things, she insists that human beings (as subjects) have a uniquely rich inner life and a moral-rational capacity to make choices. To be an object, she writes, is to be something which isn't free; something that is stabilized and whose movements are all-too-predictable. She continues: 

"It is to be something incapable of the activities of knowledge, communication, love, respect. It is to be something that is merely a sensory appearance, something whose qualities are exhausted by how it can look, feel, sound, and taste to a perceiver. It is to be merely a body, something solid and extended in space. It is to be a tool, something whose value is merely instrumental, something which is a potential possession."

Obviously, as an object-oriented philosopher, I don't agree with this. For me, it's an anthropocentric conceit to believe that we belong to a superior ontological order to all other entities; be they organic or inorganic, natural or artificial, real or virtual objects. For me, our subjectivity is really just a peculiar way of being an object - much as life is simply a rare and unusual way of being dead (to paraphrase Nietzsche if I may). 

The question, I suppose, is why do so many thinkers like Rae Langton continue with this conceit? That is to ask, why do they continue to think of the object with such contempt and dogmatically privilege the position of the human subject?

Baudrillard, who has a far more interesting and philosophically provocative view of the object, provides us with a convincing explanation. Those who continue to support the fiction of an autonomous subject do so because it has "an economy and a history which is quite reassuring; it is the equilibrium between a will and a world ... the balancing principle of the universe". 

If we are more than mere objects, then we are not delivered up helplessly to a monstrous and chaotic universe of chance. Nor are we simply the unfortunate victims of surrounding forms or fascinating and fateful events that exist beyond our control.

In other words, to believe in ourselves as free-wheeling and free-willing subjects makes us feel safe and secure, as well as significant. That's comforting, but it's a lie. Perhaps a necessary lie that allows us to live and which it would be nihilistic to expose as such, but a lie nonetheless.

I'm just saying ...


Notes

Lines quoted from Rae Langton and Jean Baudrillard can be found in:

Rae Langton, Sexual Solipsism, (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 329. 
Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies, trans. Philip Beitchman and W. G. J. Niesluchowski, (Pluto Press, 1999), p. 112.