Thursday, October 13, 2016

Another View from the Left

Two important papers on capitalism by Richard Smith were published in the last few years explaining how capitalism, due to its structural mechanisms, cannot be reformed in any way to make it “sustainable”. In Smith’s papers, Green Capitalism: the God that Failed and Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism, four primary dictates of capitalism illustrate that no matter how herculean the effort to “green the economy”, whether through energy or other areas, the end result of inexorable environmental destruction as well as incredible social inequality are inevitable.

1.) “Grow or die” is a law of survival in the marketplace:
In capitalism most producers… have no choice but to live by the capitalist maxim “grow or die.” First, as Adam Smith noted, the ever-increasing division of labor raises productivity and output, compelling producers to find more markets for this growing output. Secondly, competition compels producers to seek to expand their market share, to better defend their position against competitors. Bigger is safer because, ceteris paribus, bigger producers can take advantage of economies of scale and can use their greater resources to invest in technological development, so can more effectively dominate markets. Marginal competitors tend to be crushed or bought out by larger firms. Thirdly, the modern corporate form of ownership, which separates ownership from operation, adds further irresistible and unrelenting pressures to grow from owner-shareholders. And shareholders are not looking for “stasis”; they are looking to maximize portfolio gains, so they drive their CEOs forward.

“…relentless and irresistible pressures for growth are functions of the day-to-day requirements of capitalist reproduction in a competitive market, incumbent upon all but a few businesses, and that such pressures would prevail in any conceivable capitalism. Further, I contend that, given capitalism, the first result of any serious reduction in economic output (GDP) to get production back down to some reasonably sustainable level, would be to provoke mass unemployment. So here again, there will never be mass public support for de-growth unless it’s coupled with explicit guarantees of employment for redundant workers, which are unacceptable to capital and would require a socialist economy…”

2.) Maximizing profit and saving the environment are inherently in conflict:
“…Corporations can embrace pro-environmental policies but only so long as these boost profits. Saving the world, however, would require that profit-making be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…”
“Most of the economy is comprised of large corporations owned by investor-shareholders. And shareholders, even those who are environmentally-minded professors investing via their TIAA-CREF accounts, are constantly seeking to maximize returns on investment. So they sensibly look to invest where they can make the highest return. This means that corporate CEOs do not have the freedom to choose to produce as much or little as they like, to make the same profits this year as last year. Instead, they face relentless pressure to maximize profits, to make more profits this year than last year (or even last quarter), therefore to maximize sales, therefore to grow quantitatively…
In the real world, therefore, few corporations can resist the relentless pressure to “grow sales,” “grow the company,” “expand market share”– to grow quantitatively. The corporation that fails to outdo its past performance risks falling share value, stockholder flight, or worse… And if economic pressures weren’t sufficient to shape CEO behavior, CEOs are, moreover, legally obligated to maximize profits — and nothing else…”

3.) Consumerism and overconsumption are built into capitalism:
“…consumerism and overconsumption are not “dispensable” and cannot be exorcised because they’re not just “cultural” or “habitual.” They are built into capitalism and indispensable for the day-to-day reproduction of corporate producers in a competitive market system in which capitalists, workers, consumers and governments alike are all locked into an endless cycle of perpetually increasing consumption to maintain profits, jobs, and tax revenues. We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. The global ecological crisis we face cannot be solved by even the largest individual companies. Problems like global warming, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction, the changing ocean chemistry are even beyond the scope of nation states. They require national and international cooperation and global economic planning. This requires collective bottom-up democratic control over the entire world economy. And since a global economic democracy could only thrive in the context of a rough economic equality, this presupposes a global redistribution of wealth as well.”

4.) The masses are dependent on the market:
“Capitalism is a mode of production in which specialized producers (corporations, companies, manufacturers, individual producers) produce some commodity for market but do not possess their own means of subsistence. So in a capitalisteconomy, everyone is first and foremost, dependent upon the market, compelled to sell in order to buy, to buy in order to sell, to re-enter production and carry on.”

To illustrate a case study in how impossible it is for even an “environmentally conscious” corporation to be sustainable, Smith discusses Ray Anderson and his company Interface, Inc.

Saint Ray Anderson and the limits of the possible:

“…CEO Ray Anderson has probably pushed the limits of industrial environmentalism as far as it’s humanly possible to go in an actual factory operating within the framework of capitalism. Ray Anderson is everybody’s favorite eco-capitalist and he and his company Interface Inc. have been applauded by virtually every eco-futurist book written since the 1990s as the eco-capitalist example to emulate. But what Ray Anderson’s case really shows us is the limits of the possible, especially under capitalism. For after almost two decades of sustained effort, the goal of “zero pollutants” is still as unreachable as ever at Interface Inc. It is not in the least to diminish Ray Anderson’s sincerity, his passionate dedication, his efforts or his impressive achievements. But the fact is, according to The Interface Sustainability Report of 2009, Interface has “cut waste sent to landfills by more than half while continuing to increase production,” “reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30%,” “reduced energy intensity by 45%,” while “over 25% of raw materials used in interface carpet are recycled and biobased materials in 2007,” and non-sustainable materials consumed per unit of product have declined from 10.2 lbs/yd2 in 1996 to 8.6 lb/yd2 in 2008. Read that last sentence again. Make no mistake: These are impressive, even heroic industrial-environmental achievements. But if after more than fifteen years of sustained effort, the most environmentally dedicated large company in the United States, if not the entire world, can only manage to cut non-sustainable inputs from 10.2 to 8.6 pounds per square yard of finished product, to inject a mere 25% recycled and biobased feedstock into its production process, so still requiring 75% of new, mostly petroleum-based nonsustainable feedstock in every unit of production, then the inescapable conclusion must be that even the greenest businesses are also on course to “destroy the world.” So if the reality is that, when all is said and done, there is “only so much you can do” in most industries, then the only way to bend the economy in an ecological direction is to sharply limit production, especially of toxic products, which means completely redesigning production and consumption – all of which is certainly doable, but impossible under capitalism.”
Source: Collapse of Industrial Civilization ~ Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram"

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

America B.C. - Before Columbus

Here is the story of the beginning,
when there was not one bird,
not one fish,
not one mountain.
Here is the sky, all alone.
Here is the sea, all alone.
There is nothing more
–no sound, no movement.
Only the sky and the sea.
Only Heart-of-Sky, alone.
And these are his names:
Maker and Modeler,
and Hurricane.
But there is no one to speak his names.
There is no one to praise his glory.
There is no one to nurture his greatness.

And so Heart-of-Sky thinks,
"Who is there to speak my name?
Who is there to praise me?
How shall I make it dawn?"
Heart-of-Sky only says the word,
and the earth rises,
like a mist from the sea.
He only thinks of it,
and there it is.

He thinks of mountains,
and great mountains come.
He thinks of trees,
and trees grow on the land.

And so Heart-of-Sky says,
"Our work is going well."

Now Heart-of-Sky plans the creatures of the forest
-birds, deer, jaguars and snakes.
And each is given his home.
"You the deer, sleep here along the rivers.
You the birds, your nests are in the trees.
Multiply and scatter," he tells them.

Then Heart-of-Sky says to the animals,
"Speak, pray to us."
But the creatures can only squawk.
The creatures only howl.
They do not speak like humans.
They do not praise Heart-of-Sky
And so the animals are humbled.
They will serve those who will worship Heart-of-Sky.

And Heart-of-Sky tries again.
Tries to make a giver of respect.
Tries to make a giver of praise.

Here is the new creation,
made of mud and earth.
It doesn't look very good.
It keeps crumbing and softening.
It looks lopsided and twisted.
It only speaks nonsense.
It cannot multiply.
So Heart-of-Sky lets it dissolved away.

Now Heart-of-Sky plans again.
Our Grandfather and Our Grandmother are summoned.
They are the most wise spirits.
"Determine if we should carve people from wood,"
commands Heart-of-Sky.

They run their hands over the kernels of corn.
They run their hands over the coral seeds.
"What can we make that will speak and pray?
asks Our Grandfather.
What can we make that will nurture and provide?"
asks Our Grandmother.
They count the days,
the lots of four,
seeking an answer for Heart-of-Sky.

Now they give the answer,
"It is good to make your people with wood.
They will speak your name.
They will walk about and multiply."
"So it is," replies Heart-of-Sky.

And as the words are spoken, it is done.
The doll-people are made
with faces carved from wood.
But they have no blood, no sweat.
They have nothing in their minds.
They have no respect for Heart-of-Sky.
They are just walking about,
But they accomplish nothing.

"This is not what I had in mind,"
says Heart-of-Sky.
And so it is decided to destroy
these wooden people.

Hurricane makes a great rain.
It rains all day and rains all night.
There is a terrible flood
and the earth is blackened.
The creatures of the forest
come into the homes of the doll-people.

"You have chased us from our homes
so now we will take yours,"
they growl.
And their dogs and turkeys cry out,
"You have abused us
so now we shall eat you!"
Even their pots and grinding stones speak,
"We will burn you and pound on you
just as you have done to us!"

The wooden people scatter into the forest.
Their faces are crushed,
and they are turned into monkeys.
And this is why monkeys look like humans.
They are what is left of what came before,
an experiment in human design.
- Popol Vuh (The Creation)

Monday, October 10, 2016

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished...

Are these the honors they reserve for me,
Chains for the man who gave new worlds to Spain!

Rest here, my swelling heart! — O kings, O queens,
Patrons of monsters, and their progeny,
Authors of wrong, and slaves to fortune merely!

Why was I seated by my prince's side,
Honor'd, caress'd like some first peer of Spain?

Was it that I might fall most suddenly
From honor's summit to the sink of scandal?

'T is done, 't is done! — what madness is ambition!

What is there in that little breath of men,
Which they call Fame, that should induce the brave
To forfeit ease and that domestic bliss
Which is the lot of happy ignorance,
Less glorious aims, and dull humility? —

Whoe'er thou art that shalt aspire to honor,
And on the strength and vigor of the mind
Vainly depending, court a monarch's favor,
Pointing the way to vast extended empire;

First count your pay to be ingratitude,
Then chains and prisons, and disgrace like mine!

Each wretched pilot now shall spread his sails,
And treading in my footsteps, hail new worlds,
Which, but for me, had still been empty visions.
Philip Freneau, "Columbus in Chains"

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Ameriphobia - A fear of the United States of America. Because America is arguably the most powerful country with the widest influence in the world, many people fear their power. This fear is usually unprovoked, since America is a democracy and any idiots in power who screwed up (for all you Bush haters) will be gone by the next election, unlike dictators.

Because of this fear, people with Ameriphobia tend to become anti-American. These anti-Americans can form into groups, ranging from the typical radical muslim Al-Queda; to communist radicals, although they have lost power since the end of the Cold War.

You will never see a "Britiphobia" or a "Chinaphobia". The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and they will obviously receive the most criticism from around the world. Yet, the United States is also arguably the best country in the world, with a thriving economy and one of the highest standards of living in the world. They also commit to spreading democracy worldwide, so communist dictator shitholes like Cuba and North Korea cease to exist. So fuck off America haters.
kid 1: "Who's that one kid with Ameriphobia who went to the 'School of the Americas protest'?"
kid 2: "Oh, you mean John?"
kid 1: "Yeah, where is he, I thought they were supposed to be back a few weeks ago?"
kid 2: "I heard he went to some place called 'Guantanamo'..? It must be another protest location."
from the Urban Dictionary

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What's in the Hopper?

Edward Hopper, "A Woman in the Sun" (1961)
Edward Hopper, "Cobb's Barns, South Truro 1930-1933"


The shed behind the barn behind the red cottage I wait

for her in the fescue grass the rye I hear it grow over me

Wait for my friends in the distance on fire their full heads

of rust (I love how the clothing drips off them I hear myself say)

If the beekeeper doesn’t come chasing behind with a hatchet

I’ll wait behind Cobb’s barn watching the distant houses

She will come down this road my shadow is paving for her

a stalk of honey and the rye grass grows from her arms

(She was raised in these hills looking down on Elk Creek)

and behind her the bluegrass it’s reaching to touch her ankle
- Danniel Schoonebeek, "A Woman in the Sun"
Edward Hopper, "Burly Cobb's House, South Truro 1930-1933"

Friday, October 7, 2016

Five Books

“Mans desire is the desire of the Other*” - Jacques Lacan

The philosopher and cultural critic [Slavoj Zizek] recently made a foray into drama when he reworked Sophocle’s Antigone—not out of admiration for the original, but to examine the “stupid and morally problematic” character at its heart. Here he selects five plays he admires—but declines to see performed.
Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen each of these plays?

At first, the five plays look like a jumbled heap lacking any common feature—what could they have in common? The bitter end of the old Oedipus who cannot reconcile himself with his fate; Richard II’s descent into madness after he is deprived of royal prerogatives; the meaningless self-sacrifice of a woman married to a man she despises; the ruthless killing of a young Communist who has shown too much compassion; and the confused mumbling of an old senile Irish woman?

To each of these plays, one can easily substitute another piece by the same author which deserves much more our attention. For example, is the ethical fidelity of Antigone not much easier to identify with than the vicissitudes of the old Oedipus? Are the doubts and procrastinations of Hamlet not infinitely more interesting than the endless narcissistic complaints of Richard II? Does the terrible burden imposed on the heroine of Claudel’s Annunciation of Marie not touch us much more directly than Sygne’s eccentric act in Hostage? How can the minimalist staging of the Stalinist meanders in Measure Taken even compare with the wealthy texture of Brecht’s Galileo? And, last but not least, does the sheer wit of Waiting for Godot not immediately eclipse the rather boring monologue of Not I?

You’ve given us reasons not to read these plays! Is there something that pulls them together? A theme, perhaps?

I clearly see a feature they all share: they all push our subjective experience to its extreme, they all enact what Lacan calls “subjective destitution.” In every play, the hero is pushed beyond a certain limit, out of the domain in which rules of normal human existence apply; he or she finds him or herself in what Lacan called “between-the-two-deaths”: dead while still alive. Oedipus is thrown out of human community, wandering around as an excremental/sacred outcast with no place in any polis—he has seen too much. Richard II is gradually deprived of his royal symbolic identity and authority, reduced to a point of madness with nothing to rely on. Sygne de Coufontaine first sacrifices everything for a higher, Catholic, cause, and is then forced to sacrifice this cause itself, so that she finds herself in an existential void.

In a homologous way, Brecht’s anonymous hero has to sacrifice sacrifice itself, to disappear and to accept the disappearance of his very disappearance. Last but not least, the speaking mouth in Beckett is directly deprived of personality and reduced to a “partial object,” something like the smile of the Cheshire Cat which survives the cat’s disappearance. The underlying premise of all five plays is that this extreme limit-position is not just a point of total annihilation or destruction but, simultaneously, the unique chance of a new beginning.

‘The chance of a new beginning’ is an interesting point. I’m not sure these plays are usually characterised as hopeful! Is there a strand of hope and possibility running through each one, then?

I am well aware that all five plays are usually perceived as dark, if not hopeless—how can one imagine a more desperate situation than that of their heroes? What I try to do is not to simply turn around their predicament and discern a hidden optimist reversal, but something more subtle, a minimal subjective change, a change of the hero’s innermost stance which, while not making the situation in any sense less desperate, executes a kind of transfiguration opening up a new space. Towards the end of Oedipus at Colonus, the blind hero calls for Theseus and tells him that it is time for him to give the gift he promised to Athens; filled with new strength, he stands up and walks, inviting for his children and Theseus to follow him—the play ends with a gift as a political gesture. At the end of Richard II, the hero finds unexpected solace in music, fully identifying himself with its rhythm. In The Hostage, after losing everything, even the justification of her loss, Sygne enacts her resistance with a weird tic of her face. A weird spirit of calm concludes The Measures Taken, the hero dies reconciled with his fate, tenderly embraced by his comrades. And even in Not I, what then happens in the final shift of the play is that the speaker accepts her trauma in its meaninglessness and thereby gets rid of the entire topic of sin and punishment; there is no longer despair in the Mouth’s voice, the standard Beckettian formula of persistence is asserted (“no matter. . . keep on”). Such moments continue to fascinate me, one finds them also in other works, say, at the end of Coetzee’s Disgrace. It seems to me they can all be described as religious conversions for those who remain total atheists.

Do you think all great writing has to have the potential for a (non-)religious conversion? The writing, in order to be good, has to be able to change the reader?

Yes, but this conversion is profoundly atheist—it is not a discovery of transcendence, but of the void obfuscated by the mirage of transcendence. The best definition of this conversion was provided by Shakespeare in his Midsummer Night’s Dream, act 5, scene 1, where Theseus says:
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing.
Shakespeare proposes here a triad: a madman who sees devils everywhere; a lover sees sublime beauty in an ordinary face; a poet who “gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” In all three cases we have the gap between ordinary reality and a transcendent ethereal dimension… This happens in art, and this happens exemplarily at the end of all five plays I listed: at the end, each of its heroes finds a relief in assuming the void.

This sense of simultaneous relief and dread must be difficult to communicate to an audience. Have you seen any truly great productions of any of the plays you’ve listed and have any of them captured that sense of relief at the end?

Now comes the big surprise: I haven’t seen on stage any of my favourite five plays – with the exception of a totally irrelevant, bad staging of Brecht’s The Measures Taken in Berlin.

Why haven’t you seen any of your favourite plays?!

It’s not just the empirical fact that I am not aware of any great performances of these plays in the last decades (although I was told that, a decade or so ago, there was a good staging of Richard II with Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre in London). I want to keep these plays free for my imagination – whenever I re-read them, I always try to imagine some key scene in cinematic terms.

“At the end, each of its heroes find a relief in assuming the void”

Dorothy Sayers wrote a wonderful essay on Aristotle’s Poetics as a theory of detective novel—since Aristotle didn’t have at his disposal detective fiction, he had to refer to minor theatre pieces. I claim the same goes for Sophocles: since he didn’t have at his disposal cinema, he had to deal with theatre in all its clumsiness. Can one imagine anything more cinematic than the scene of Oedipus’s death—in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm, the blind Oedipus walks towards the abyss, and then we pass to a flashback, the messenger reports: “We couldn’t see the man—he was gone—nowhere! And the king, alone, shielding his eyes, both hands spread out against his face as if some terrible wonder flashed before his eyes and he, he could not bear to look.”

Similarly, is the finale of Richard II not calling for a crazy psychedelic combination of reality and cartoons, with Richard turning into a gigantic clock? When, in Hostage, Sygne intercepts the bullet aimed at her worthless husband and then dies with an obscene tic on her face, can this scene work without a cinematic close-up? The same goes for The Measure Taken: the finale (the young comrade accepts his death) only works when the declamatory dialogue is contrasted by the young comrade’s subtle bodily signs of distress and uneasiness? And, to conclude, how can Beckett’s Not I work without a close-up of the gigantic lips as an autonomous partial object?

Do you also “protect” other pieces of art—like film adaptations of favourite novels and the like—so that your imaginative responses can remain unfettered by other people’s interpretations? Or is it only plays?

In a strange way, I am not protective in the same way about novels—I always want to see the cinema version of a novel that I love, if there is one, for a simple and stupidly naïve reason: I want to see how the people I’ve read about really look and act! Furthermore, I am always in search of a movie that is better than the novel it is based upon, which is quite often the case. For example, although I admire Russell Banks, I think Atom’s Egoyan’s cinema version of The Sweet Hereafter is much better than Banks’ novel. But what really interests me are those rare cases when both the novel and its cinema adaptation can be worse—how can this be? The cinema version of Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the spectre of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed—this is not the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition — of a failed novel in the failed film — thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. The film does not repeat the novel on which it is based; rather, they both repeat the unrepeatable virtual x, the ‘true’ novel whose spectre is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality: it is the absolute point of reference of the failed real attempts.

“This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality”

There is another similar case, The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick’s alternative history classic from 1963. It takes place in 1962, fifteen years after an alternative ending to World War II, in which the war lasted until 1947, when the victorious Axis Powers—Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — rule over the former United States. The novel features a “novel within the novel” which describes an alternate history within this alternate history wherein the Allies defeat the Axis… We can read this double reversal as a dark allegory of our own time in which, although Fascism was defeated in reality, it is more and more triumphing in fantasy.

However, such a reading neglects the fact that the alternate reality described in the novel-within-the-novel is not simply our reality but differs from it in many crucial details. If we follow Lacan’s claim that the ‘real’ as a rule appears in the guise of a fiction-within-a-fiction, we should thus conceive alternate reality—depicted in the novel—and our reality as two realities, two variations of reality, while the ‘Real’ is the fiction—the novel-within-the-novel, or, in the TV series version, the film-within-the-film—which is neither of the two realities; our reality is one of the alternate realities with reference to the Real of the truth-fiction.

In order to understand our reality, we should first imagine the possible alternate realities, and then construct the ‘impossible real’ which serves as their secret point of reference, as their hard core. What we have here is a kind of Freudian version of phenomenological eidetic variation: in Husserl, we vary the empirical content of, say, a table in order to arrive at what unites all empirical variations, the absolutely necessary and invariable components that make a table what it is, the eidos of table; in psychoanalysis, one collects all variations in order to reconstruct their “absent centre,” a purely virtual (inexistent in reality) form negated (distorted, displaced, et cetera) in a specific way by every variation given in reality.

Just to go back to your reluctance to see performances of the plays you love, you have actually written a play—Antigone—but considering you tend to see things more filmically than theatrically, are there any obvious cinematic affinities with your version of Antigone you can tell us about?

I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it. It’s too much part of me, and it’s obscene for me to love oneself. The ideal version of my play would have been a weird impossible combination of minimalist theatre and big spectacular cinema, superficially akin to Olivier’s version of Henry V.

Most of the action would take place on an almost barren stage, with just some half-abstract objects (a large rock, a small bamboo forest…), and with all actors dressed in simple ordinary contemporary clothes (old jeans, faded T-shirts). There would just be some details strangely sticking out—say, Ismene’s mouth would be painted by an extremely strong and fluorescent red lipstick. In one of his reflections about the stage, Brecht ferociously opposed the idea that the background of the stage should render the impenetrable depth of the ‘All of Reality’ as the obscure ‘Origin of Things’ out of which everything we see and know appear as fragments. For Brecht, the background of a stage should ideally be empty, white, signalling that, behind what we see and experience, there is no secret ‘Origin’. This in no way implies that reality is transparent to us, that we know all; of course there are infinite blanks, but the point is that these blanks are just that, blanks, things we simply do not know, not a substantial “deeper” reality.

“I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it”

Furthermore, this minimalism should also affect the way actors perform their roles. I think Elfriede Jelinek’s advice to theatre writers is not only aesthetically correct, but has a deep ethical justification: “Characters on stage should be flat, like clothes in a fashion show: what you get should be no more than what you see. Psychological realism is repulsive, because it allows us to escape unpalatable reality by taking shelter in the ‘luxuriousness’ of personality, losing ourselves in the depth of individual character. The writer’s task is to block this manoeuvre, to chase us off to a point from which we can view the horror with a dispassionate eye.”

This is what I want: people reduced to their ideologico-political stance, no depth of the real person behind.
Only in a couple of passages, this minimalism should be interrupted by a mega-spectacular cinematic mise-en-scene. For example, the final minutes of the second version of the denouement, the desperate Antigone wandering around Thebes in ruin, should be done with thousands of extras, gigantic sets of the town and special effects of fire and destruction, all these epic shots combined with extreme close-ups of the details of Antigone’s face—trembling lips, et cetera. The final killings should also be done in a pseudo-authentic ancient surroundings, with old swords, etc.

The message of this contrast is clear: reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream.

You say you don’t love your play—because it’s somewhat tainted by being associated with yourself—and so I wonder why you wrote it? Why a play? Why now?

The reason I wrote it is a simple one: the topic haunted me for years, and I just wanted to get it out, to get rid of it. What lurked in the back of my mind was Glenn Gould recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas, sometimes characterized as “wilfully idiotic”: he recorded it to demonstrate how bad the sonatas are, how low they stand compared to Bach’s piano works. I had the same idea with Antigone: I wrote it to show how stupid and morally problematic the girl is.

“Reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream”

And why a play? The reason is again a simple and straight one: it’s easier to write, it’s just dialogue, there is no need for descriptive passages—brief stage indications suffice—plus there is no first person voice of the writer: only others talk, never me. I find terrifying the idea of disclosing my emotions in first person, there is something obscenely exhibitionist in it, not unlike masturbating in public. No decent person can recite his or her poetry in public. The only poetry I can tolerate is the minimalist one, with no overflow of emotions or experiences—think of someone like Paul Celan.

Plato’s reputation suffers because of his claim that poets should be thrown out of the city—a rather sensible advice, judging from the post-Yugoslav experience, where ethnic cleansing was prepared by poets’ dangerous dreams. True, Milosevic manipulated nationalist passions—but it was the poets who delivered him the stuff which lend itself to manipulation. They—the sincere poets, not the corrupted politicians—were at the origin of it all. To put it in a brutal way, behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet.

“Behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet”

And, last but not least, why now? It’s politics, of course. It would be very depressing to see the recent revival of the Left end up in another quagmire like the previous ones, in another missed opportunity. One can effectively say about the Left in the last decades that it never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity, so it is very important to delineate the basic ethico-political choices this revival faces. That’s why I wrote in the introduction to my Antigone that it’s not a work of art but an ethico-political exercise.

Are the five plays you’ve selected also ‘ethico-political exercises’? Or are they about ‘never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity’?

The five plays are precisely not about missing an opportunity, the ‘suicidal’ gesture with which they close is an authentic act—in contrast to Sophocles’s Antigone which, I think, is about a missed opportunity, and the point of my rewriting is to reintroduce into it the dimension of authentic act, with direct relevance to our contemporary predicament.

We live in times of pseudo-conflicts: Brexit[‘s] yes or no; in Turkey, military or Erdogan; in Eastern Europe, new Baltic-Polish-Ukrainian fundamentalists or Putin; in Syria, Assad or Isis…

“There is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin”

In all these cases, although one might slightly prefer one side to the other, the ultimate stance should be the one of indifferences: there is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin. And it is here, at this formal level, that I see the ethico-political relevance of my rewriting of Antigone. The conflict between Antigone and Creon is for me also a pseudo-conflict: the only way to resolve it is to change the terrain and introduce another dimension (the intervention of the Chorus in my version). Exactly the same thing is needed in today’s struggle for emancipation: to move beyond our pseudo-conflicts—liberal permissiveness versus religious fundamentalism, et cetera—and to draw the coordinates of the true conflict which is, to put it bluntly, today’s form of what once was called class struggle. Who will be today’s Chorus? Refugees? Unemployed? A Chorus that I have in mind already appeared in what I consider the theatrical event of the 20th century, the Chereau-Boulez staging of Wagner’s Ring in Bayreuth [1976-1980]. What remains on stage after the twilight is the human crowd silently observing the cataclysmic event, a crowd which is left staring into the spectators when the music ends. To quote Chereau:
The Redemption motif is a message delivered to the entire world, but like all pythonesses, the orchestra is unclear and there are several ways of interpreting its message… Doesn’t one hear it, shouldn’t one hear it, with mistrust and anxiety, a mistrust which would match the boundless hope which this humanity nurses and which has always been at stake, silently and invisibly, in the atrocious battles which have torn human beings apart throughout the Ring? The gods have lived, the values of their world must be reconstructed and reinvented. Men are there as if on the edge of a cliff—they listen, tensely, to the oracle which rumbles from the depths of the earth.
There is no guarantee of redemption here: redemption is merely given as possible. Everything rests on them, the anonymous Chorus, without any guarantee in God or any other figure of the big Other—it is up to them to act like the Holy Spirit, practicing agape, or political love, as Terry Eagleton proposed to translate this term.
Interview by Liza Thompson on October 3, 2016, Source

* In this case, Zizek's "desire" is really "Jacques Lacan's" (Antigone/The Hostage)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Candaules' Pride

Salvador Dali, “Leda Atomica” (1947)
“"Dalí shows us the hierarchized libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern 'nothing touches' theory of intra-atomic physics. Leda does not touch the swan; Leda does not touch the pedestal; the pedestal does not touch the base; the base does not touch the sea; the sea does not touch the shore. . . ."”
Philippe Halsman, "Dali Atomicus" (1948)
In 1941, American photographer Philippe Halsman met the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí in New York City and they began to collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, water thrown from a bucket, an easel, a footstool and Salvador Dalí all seemingly suspended in mid-air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica (at that which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats.) Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result. This is the unretouched version of the photograph that was published in LIFE magazine. In this version the wires suspending the easel and the painting, the hand of the assistant holding the chair and the prop holding up the footstool can still be seen. The frame on the easel is still empty. The copyright for this photo was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office but according to the U.S. Library of Congress was not renewed, putting it in the public domain in the United States and countries which adopted the rule of the shorter term.
from Wikipedia
from the Evening Standard, 21 August, 2014
TAKEN in 1948 this image memorably depicted gravity defeated, a moment in time plucked from a chaotic convergence of flying cats, water, chairs, paintings and the magnificent showman Salvador Dali.

The image is in many ways a photographic rendering of Dali's paintings, with their trademark melting watches, looming telephones, minaturised landscapes and women's bodies in various worrying states of disintegration.

Named Dali Atomicus, this image was created by Austrian photographer Philippe Halsman, who collaborated with Dali throughout the 1940s.

The apparent levitation of furniture was an effect created through using various "invisible" supporting devices but it took 28 attempts to get all the moving parts working in harmony.

Halsman went on to capture Einstein in a miserabilist portrait that would eventually grace the cover of Time magazine, to accompany their article on the father of relativity being named the "Person of the Century".

Dali had his sights set very firmly on being a "person of the century" and dedicated his life to achieving fame and notoriety. He was undeniably a virtuoso artist and certainly one of the most recognisable painters of the era.

His eccentric moustache, bohemian dress and bizarre lifestyle earned him acres of column inches and press photographs but often obscured thoughtful analysis of his work.

As one of the founding members of the Surrealist movement in 1920s Paris, he was a flamboyant exponent of the Surrealist manifesto: the liberation of the human spirit through a release of libidinal desires and suppressed emotion.

Whether Dali was as strange a man as the persona he projected is moot but he certainly had a number of eccentricities that put him just shy of mental aberration.

Purportedly he had an intense fear of grasshoppers, was afraid to expose his feet and always carried a piece of driftwood around to ward off evil spirits.

His wife Gala suited his strange lifestyle perfectly. She met Dali in Spain having ended a three-way relationship with Max Ernst and her then husband Paul Eluard, both artists.

Gala's strong sex drive meant she had many affairs during her marriage to Dali, which he possibly encouraged given his practice of candaulism: a penchant for showing his naked partner to others for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Andre Breton, the leading light of the Surrealists, who largely formulated their approach to art and life, was profoundly influenced by his training in medicine and psychiatry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Sounds of Consumerism...

Deceit, my throne
Agony, my crown
Within an ocean of tears, the silent man drowns
Pain so clear, across this grim façade
Life serene, cut so close, by this paper god
This seed of market and stock, supply and demand
The story of capitalism written by greed’s melancholy hand
A story so sad, imbued with regret
Consumerism the tragedy- heresy is debt
- Drake Brayer, "Economy" (10/21/14)

Okay, heresy isn't debt... heresy would be an absence of debt.