#BasketofDeplorables

#BasketofDeplorables

Sunday, September 25, 2016

You're (Now, Less) Guilty!

On Crowd Formation
Writing in the nineteen-twenties, Siegfried Kracauer pointed to one such spectacular crowd formation that he referred to as the mass ornament (1995). What he had in mind, in particular, was a popular style of performance that became epitomized by the Tiller Girls, a group of young women dancers who dressed and moved identically in linear formations. Kracauer was fascinated by the mass ornament as an empty form or end in itself and how it reflected the limits or irrationality of capitalist reason. He wrote:
It is the rational and empty form of the cult, devoid of any explicit meaning, that appears in the mass ornament. As such, it proves to be a relapse into mythology of an order so great that one can hardly imagine its being exceeded, a relapse which, in turn, again betrays the degree to which capitalist Ratio is closed off from reason. (1995: 84)
What is interesting in Kracauer’s reflections is that the irrationality and the empty meaninglessness of the mass ornament is derived from capitalist rationality itself. Following Weber’s critique of technocratic rationality, and anticipating Horkheimer and Adorno’s writings on the dialectic of enlightenment, Kracauer locates mythology in the spectacular fetishization of form. The mass of performers, mirrored in the mass audience, does not become irrational or dangerous due to its being swayed by emotion (which is clearly lacking in the shallow, repetitive performances) nor in the influence of a great leader (since the spectacle is multitudinous there is no central figure that rises above the crowd). It is the emphasis on form for its own sake, deprived of ends or meaning, that becomes the vehicle for destruction. The consequences of this irrational drive of capitalist reason is not property destruction and street brawls, but rather, property itself and the diffuse symbolic violence that is produced in the form of social inequality.

Today, entertainment that draws its appeal from the spectacular repetitive and abstract movement of crowds can be found on a smaller and more participatory scale in flash mob performances. In flash mobs, social networking sites are used to gather large groups who surprise bystanders by performing a repetitive action in synchrony. Alongside these gatherings that emphasize the synchronicity of movement are crowds that are satisfied with a synchronicity of presence. I include here deviations from the classic flash mob that are geared towards greater social interaction such as metro parties, silent raves, zombie walks, and the apéro géant. The last of these are huge gatherings, popular in France, in which thousands and even tens of thousands of people converge on a public park or square, sit on checkered blankets, and partake in the French late-afternoon tradition of l’aperitif (the consumption of alcohol). The apéro géants are notable in that they are conceived by participants as a competition between cities to see who can gather the most people. The drive towards scale pushes the meaning of the event away from social interaction towards the simple knowledge of an enormous co-presence.
- Cayley Sorochan, "The Common in the Crowd"
The group (The Rockettes) was founded in St. Louis by Russell Markert in 1925, originally performing as the "Missouri Rockets". Markert had been inspired by the John Tiller Girls in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, and was convinced, "If I ever got a chance to get a group of American girls who would be taller and have longer legs and could do really complicated tap routines and eye-high kicks... they'd knock your socks off!" The group was brought to New York City by Samuel Roxy Rothafel to perform at his Roxy Theatre and renamed the "Roxyettes". When Rothafel left the Roxy Theatre to open Radio City Music Hall, the dance troupe followed and later became known as the Rockettes. The group performed as part of opening night at Radio City Music Hall on December 27, 1932.[1] That same year, they performed in the first Christmas Spectacular performed at Radio City Music Hall and have performed in consecutive annual productions of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular since then. Two numbers from the original production are still performed to this day.
-Wikipedia, "The Rockettes"

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Framed Frame

Kazimir Malevich, "The Black Square" (1915)
To recapitulate: for the transcendental approach, the a priori ontological frame is irreducible, it can never be inscribed back into reality as an ontic occurrence, since every such occurrence already appears within some transcendental frame. Hegel's way of overcoming the transcendental approach is to introduce a dialectical mediation between the form/frame and its content: the content is in itself "weak," inconsistent, barred, ontologically not fully constituted, and the form fills in this gap, the void of that which is "primordially repressed" from the content. This is why the form is not primarily metonymic with regard to its content: it does not express or mirror it, but fills in its gaps.

Furthermore, since every relation between a frame and its content is necessarily disturbed, there is a need for a supplementary element which will "suture" the entire field. In this element (baptized by Lacan the objet a), opposites immediately coincide, i.e., its status is radically amphibolous: it is simultaneously a particular idiosyncratic object which disturbs the frame of reality (the birds of Hitchcock's "The Birds", say) and the frame itself through which we perceive reality (the birds provide the focal point from or through which we read the story). This coincidence of opposites demonstrates Lacan's move beyond transcendental formalism: the fantasy frame is never just a formal frame, it coincides with an object that is constituitively subtracted from reality - or, as Derrida put it, the frame itself is always enframed by a part of its content, by an object which falls within the frame.

Such a disturbance in the "normal" relationship between the frame and its enframed content lies at the very core of modernist art, which is forever split between the two extremes marked at its very beginnings by Malevich and Duchamp: on the one side, the purely formal markings of the Place that confers on an object the status of a work of art (the "Black Square"); on the other side, the display of the common ready-made object (a urinal, a bicycle) as a work of art, as if to prove that what counts as art hinges not on the qualities of the art object, but exclusively on the Place the object occupies, so that anything, even shit, can "be" the work of art if it finds itself in the right Place. In other words, Malevich and Duchamp are like the two sides of a Mobius band, the front side and the obverse of the same artistic event, but for this very reason they cannot ever meet on the same side, within the same space. This is why the definitive kitsch saturation of modernism would have been to combine Malevich and Duchamp in the same exhibit - to put, say; a (painting of a) urinal in a frame (black square). But would this not simply be a return to traditional painting? Yes, which is why, once the modernist break has occurred, one cannot pretend that it hasn't happened, and any attempt to ignore it and to go on painting as before will be nostalgic kitsch, in the same way that, after the break introduced by atonality it would be kitsch to compose romantic music in the same old style. Putting a urinal in a frame would, however, remain a modernist gesture since the very obvious gap between the form (frame) and content (urinal) would raise the question "Why did the artist put such a common object inside a frame reserved for art objects?" and thereby preserve the gap. This is to say, the only possible answer to that question is: the artist put the urinal in the frame precisely in order to make it palpable that any object can become an art object the moment it occupies the Place of such an object.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"
Marcel Duchamp, "Fountain" (1917)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Language

If language were liquid
It would be rushing in
Instead here we are
In a silence more eloquent
Than any word could ever be

These words are too solid
They don't move fast enough
To catch the blur in the brain
That flies by and is gone
Gone
Gone
Gone

I'd like to meet you
In a timeless, placeless place
Somewhere out of context
And beyond all consequences

Let's go back to the building
(Words are too solid)
On Little West Twelfth
It is not far away
(They don't move fast enough)
And the river is there
And the sun and the spaces
Are all laying low
(To catch the blur in the brain)
And we'll sit in the silence
(That flies by and is)
That comes rushing in and is
Gone (Gone)

I won't use words again
They don't mean what I meant
They don't say what I said
They're just the crust of the meaning
With realms underneath
Never touched
Never stirred
Never even moved through

If language were liquid
It would be rushing in
Instead here we are
In a silence more eloquent
Than any word could ever be

And is gone
Gone
Gone
And is gone

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Love Thy Neighbor!

“The one measure of true love is: you can insult the other”
― Slavoj Žižek
“If you have reasons to love someone, you don’t love them.”
― Slavoj Žižek
"When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks."
― Slavoj Žižek

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“This Parrot is no More”: The 2016 Presidential Election Did Not Take Place

from The Peace and Justice Center
Rene Magritte, "The Treachery of Images"

The French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote a book in 1991 entitled The Gulf War did not Take Place .

In the same way, the 2016 presidential election did not take place.

Baudrillard did not mean to say, of course, that no war was prosecuted by the US and its allies, positioned in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, against the Iraqi occupation army in Kuwait, eventuating in the expulsion of the Iraqi tank corps.

He did think that for Western audiences, the war was a staged television conflict, an imitation of reality or simulacrum–a phony copy of reality. The weeks of US bombing of Iraqi lines that kicked off the war beginning in mid-January left behind black carbon dust. Iraqi soldiers, many of them poor Shiite conscripts, might have wanted to surrender. But they weren’t allowed to raise a white flag to the F-16s pulverizing them from 30,000 feet. That isn’t a war, that is shooting fish in a barrel. When the land war did begin, it was clear that the war directors connived at having the handful of Egyptian troops drive into Kuwait City first, for the cameras, so that Kuwait was liberated by the Arab League, not by 600,000 Western troops.

In some ways Baudrillard’s point goes back to an insight of the early twentieth century Belgian painter, René Magritte, who adhered to the surrealist school. His 1928-29 painting, “The Treachery of Images”shows a pipe, but then underneath it Magritte wrote in French, “This is not a pipe.” Of course it is not a pipe. It is just an imaginary copy of a pipe. It now hangs in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If the Gulf War was a television spectacle, the 2016 election is much more of one, with the added phony copies of reality flying around on social media. Not only did the election not take place, Donald Trump did not run. He has virtually no campaign machine, few functioning district offices. He holds rallies, which are dutifully televised by the cable “news” networks– they actually just turn their airtime over to him on a regular basis (while not doing any such thing for Hillary Clinton). His campaign is his staged rallies, which then are piped out to millions gratis. Trump is given free airtime because he is a creature of television, a reality show star, famous for being famous (i.e. for no particular reason; lots of real estate magnates are not famous, e.g.) He is given air time because viewership rises when he is on tv, and networks can charge advertisers more if they have more viewers.

Trump, in other words, functions for cable news in the same way as the ghostly Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 did for CNN in particular. Apparently hundreds of thousands of Americans were riveted by 6 months of rank speculation as to whether the airliner had landed in Tibet’s Shangrila or been kidnapped by Vladimir Putin’s air force.
We are told that

“From 10pm-12am, [CNN’s] All Business: The Essential Donald Trump ranked #1 among adults 25-54 with 448k, beating the combined delivery of Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News averaged 193k. MSNBC trailed with 101k.

Let’s repeat that. A quick and dirty basic cable documentary on Trump outdrew both Fox and MSNBC live magazine news shows among the target demographic (the elderly, from a marketing point of view, do not actually exist). The non-Trump, the copy of Trump over at CNN, overshadowed Greta van Susteren and Lawrence O’Donnell’s news shows, which faded into unreality in comparison. Van Susteren demonstrated her own inability to grasp reality when she doubted that Fox poobah Roger Ailes had been a serial sex harasser; but then as reality sank in, she began to flicker and after a while, when she had accepted the non-televised non-Fox reality, she could no longer be found on the airwaves herself. Not only is there no election, but those who acknowledge the hard facts obscured by the 24 hour “news cycle” also come not to exist.

Did the press demand that Trump, the oldest person ever to have the prospect of taking office as president for a first term, reveal his physician’s health report?

Trump has an eccentric doctor write up a very brief one-pager, and then Trump shows it to Dr. Oz, Oprah’s physician, on afternoon television. Done. The health report is “public” because televised. No matter that it was a skeleton report, and raised questions about weight and cholesterol. There was no real health report of the sort the reporters had in mind, and which past candidates had released. There was only a phony copy of such a report in the form of a t.v. broadcast with a t.v. quack, half of whose statements about medicine and treatment appear to be ungrounded in reality.

As with a scripted reality show, Trump creates and keeps tension in his story line. His character is the grumpy anti-immigrant who shouts, “You furriners get off my lawn!” But if he does that consistently there is no tension. So in late August he asked the audience at a “town hall” (a phony t.v. town hall) whether he should “soften” his stance. He created a frenzy. Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, bit players in the reality show, are stricken, in tears, angry and betrayed. Donald, you were our great white hope– how could you do this to us. Serious journalists were made to sit in televised roundtables (phony t.v. substitutes for actual reportage) and discuss ad nauseam whether Trump was “softening.” Or the serious journalists were switched out for campaign “surrogates” like Corey Lewandowski, hired by CNN to parrot Trump even though he was still on Trump’s payroll. Cable news journalism made its own journalism disappear. “This is not a journalist,” the ticker underneath should read.

Then the scripted reality character grumpy Trump comes out and gives a fiery speech denouncing immigrants, resolving the tension he had artificially created.

The one-week “softening crisis” never actually took place. There was no softening. Just as there is no election.


The unreality of the election is easily demonstrated. The controversies broadcast both on television and radio and on social media do not refer back to any verified, reasoned facts. More dramatic tension was introduced just yesterday when the Trump campaign (which doesn’t really exist) announced that Barack Obama was not actually born in Kenya. But the star, Trump, is sulking and won’t say that, won’t allow the concrete reality of the hospital in Hawaii in 1961 to seep into the televised rally, the holodeck of Trump’s spaceship.

The controversies are not about farm policy or who will be appointed to the Treasury, as in the actual elections of the past. They are over whether Hillary Clinton has a brain tumor, or whether her cough indicates she might expire any moment, like Monty Python’s parrot(which the pet shop owner insisted was alive, insofar as it was only a television simulacrum of a parrot, sort of like Magritte’s non-pipe).
The controversies are over whether Trump is a Manchurian candidate being run by Russian President Vladimir Putin or whether Hillary Clinton deliberately endangered national security with classified emails (not marked classified) that would inevitably fall into Putin’s hands.

The figure of Putin as the eminence grise of the non-election underscores its unreality, since Putin has nothing to do with the “election.” Aside from a few ineffectual sanctions over Crimea (increasingly resisted by the Europeans), the Washington power elite has acquiesced in eastern Ukraine as a Russian sphere of influence, and increasingly in Syria as a Russian sphere of influence. Trump and Clinton may talk a different game around these realities, but neither of them is likely to depart dramatically from Obama’s current course. Putin is irrelevant to domestic politics But in the un-election of 2016, he is elevated to a spectral presence standing behind everything from Trump’s hotel deals to Clinton’s fiendish email ploy.

Likewise with climate change, which Trump and most of the Republicans insist is a mirage, just as the pet store owner insists that the parrot is alive. Although Hillary Clinton says she believes in the reality of climate change, she has given no indication at all of wanting to move dramatically to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. When she gave conditions under which she would now not support fracking, she did not bring up its CO2 emissions! She seemed to want localities to make the decision (but many Red states are forbidding localities to make the decision). Hydraulic fracturing is the single biggest threat to climate change amelioration, but that doesn’t cause her simply to call for it to be banned. What is the difference between denying that human beings are altering the climate with their emissions and acknowledging it but doing nothing significant about it?

In short, friends, this is not a pipe. As for the parrot, it “is no more”, “has ceased to be”, is “bereft of life”, and “this is an ex-parrot.”

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How the Left 'Members Another "Consumer"

Box on a desk
Next to a castle of glass
That they bought from the airport
The price on the back

Shelves overflow
With photographs and bones
A museum of someone
That will never be known

Pennies for thoughts
That cost a mountain of debt
Rusting in bottles
They’ll never come to collect
They’ll never come to collect

And you were sure that you could keep it all
Off in a tower where there’d always be space
And you were sure that if you read it all
You would eventually come across your own name

Daffodils hanging off a rearview of lies
You keep your foot on the pedal
And you can’t see outside.

Boxes of novels
Fill all the seats and the trunk
There’s barely room for a driver
In this treasure chest of junk

And the tower is crumbling
And you are thinking of running
From all these years of commitment
To keep this dead garden growing
To keep this dead garden growing

And you were sure that you could learn it all
And if you did than you would always be safe
And you were sure that you could use it all
To build a fortress they could never take

It’s got to be around here somewhere
Maybe you’re really going mad
Maybe it’s buried in the old school
Maybe you never really

And now you’re starting to look
A little like someone in a book
You’ve tucked yourself inside
Your body pressed and dried

Fairies and princes
And the story doesn’t change
He keeps on slaying the dragon
She’s still chained to the cage

And it’s time to retire
But you can’t give up the title
As the head of collections
For these dead letter files
As the head of collections
For these dead letter files

And you were sure that you could keep it all locked
And all the nice dark things would never get lit
And you were sure that you could keep them out
And you were sure that you could keep yourself hid

It’s got to be around here somewhere
Maybe it’s under mom and dad
Maybe you wrote it in your diary
Maybe you never really
It’s got to be around here somewhere
Maybe you gave it to your son
Maybe it’s time you just admit that
Maybe you never really had
A past worth passing on.
... and other fallacies of the "perfectionist" future trap.

How the Left Envisions Les Deplorables..

...vs their actual course
James Gillray, "Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis" (1793)