And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Thursday, May 30, 2024

You Xtians soooo Meta!

Brett McCracken, "Understanding the Metamodern Mood"
Why, when we look at contemporary pop culture—movies, music, TV, campus protests, meme culture, and TikTok (especially TikTok)—does the word “incoherence” often come to mind? Why does so much today feel random, disconnected, contradictory, aimless, and altogether void of coherent logic and purpose?

Part of it is that social media’s inherent denarratived randomness has powerfully shaped a schizophrenic cultural consciousness. We see the world as we see our scrolling feeds: one random thing after another, ephemeral and quickly forgotten, providing mild amusement and occasional resonance but without an anchoring narrative that offers lasting satisfaction. As Byung-Chul Han puts it in The Crisis of Narration, digital platforms provide “media of information, not narration. . . . The coherence from which events derive their meaning gives way to a meaningless side-by-side and one-after-the-other.”

Charles Taylor’s concept of “cross-pressures” also helps explain the situation. Contemporary people are bombarded from all directions by information, ideas, experiences, affinities, and spiritual quests—each pulling them in a different direction. Naturally, the experience of cross-pressured life (and its artistic expression) tends to be dizzying, conflicted, and incoherent.

One term academics, artists, and critics have started to use to explain what’s going on is “metamodernism.” For Christians and church leaders, knowing what this term describes—and especially how it finds expression in pop culture—will be helpful for our mission.

Metamodernism: What It Is

Metamodernism is what came after postmodernism, which is what came after modernism. If postmodernism cynically reacts against and deconstructs modernism, metamodernism reacts against modernism and postmodernism, affirming and critiquing aspects of both. Metamodernism opposes the “either/or” bifurcation of modernism and postmodernism. It refuses to choose between sincerity/certainty/hope (modernism) and irony/deconstruction/nihilism (postmodernism). It values both, even if—or perhaps precisely because—such a synthesis is, in the end, illogical and incoherent. Metamodernism accepts this incoherence because it values mood and affect (how I’m feeling / what I’m resonating with) more than rigid logic.

If this seems like a “have your cake and eat it too” philosophy, that’s sort of the point. Shaped by the endless, have-it-your-way horizons of the internet (a structural multiverse of innumerable “truths”), metamodernism is a worldview as wide open and consumer friendly as the smartphone. Take or leave what you want, follow or unfollow, swipe right or left: it’s your iWorld, so make it a good one."

The nice academic term for metamodernism’s hyperconsumerist, bespoke toggling between seemingly contradictory ideas is “oscillation.” The metamodern outlook constantly oscillates between the poles of modernism and postmodernism. This has the effect of making the metamodern posture impossible to pin down and ultimately hyperindividualistic. Each person, in any given moment, might swing multiple times between deconstruction and construction, truth and relativism. It seems to depend only on a vague mood disposition mixed with a cautious sense of avoiding “all-in” commitment to any one direction.

Here’s how one writer describes it:
Metamodernism considers that our era is characterized by an oscillation between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism. We see this manifest as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism, a moderate fanaticism, oscillating between sincerity and irony, deconstruction and construction, apathy and affect, attempting to attain some sort of transcendent position, as if such a thing were within our grasp. The metamodern generation understands that we can be both ironic and sincere in the same moment; that one does not necessarily diminish the other.
This last oscillation—between irony and sincerity—is especially noticeable when you start to look at contemporary pop culture.

Metamodernism in Movies

The best analysis I’ve seen on metamodernism in movies is a video essay by media critic Thomas Flight (embedded below). It’s long (about 40 minutes) but well worth the time if you’d like to learn how the cerebral concepts of metamodernism show up in concrete ways in contemporary movies.

Flight highlights Top Gun: Maverick as an example of a recent “modernist” film and gives an array of examples of “postmodernist” films (Pulp Fiction, No Country for Old Men). Among his examples of “metamodern” movies are the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (2022), and most of Wes Anderson’s filmography. These movies are characterized both by postmodern reflexivity (self-aware movies about the artifice of movies) and sincere appreciation for real, uncynical emotional encounters, both a postmodern suspicion of narrative optimism and an unabashed desire for the possibility of a “Hollywood ending.”

Three Recent Examples

Once you understand metamodernism, you start to see it everywhere in movies and TV. Here are a few examples of “metamodern movies” from the last year.

1. The Fall Guy (2024)

This recent Ryan Gosling action blockbuster epitomizes metamodernism. The “movie within a movie” plot follows a stunt man (Gosling) who, while on a film set in Australia, gets tied up in real-life peril as well as real-life romance (with Emily Blunt, who plays a film director). The Fall Guy is heavy on postmodern reflexivity and constant self-referential jokes about Hollywood. It’s hyperaware of its artifice.

And yet the film’s central romance is sweet and sincere and appeals to the audience’s nostalgic hunger for earnest, straightforward love stories in movies. In the film’s (spoiler alert) happily-ever-after ending, Gosling says, “What we got is even better than the movies.” The ending is simultaneously sincere and ironic, playfully acknowledging its “Hollywood ending” cheesiness, even as it gives audiences permission to sincerely love and desire such an ending.

2. Love at First Sight (2023)

This Netflix rom-com was a hit with audiences last fall, likely because it embodies the metamodern approach to ironic but sincere romance. The film follows a young woman and young man who meet on a flight to London and, you guessed it, fall in love. The Hallmark-esque plot is unabashedly cheesy but knows it, and this is the key.

The film is just self-aware enough to make it palatable to metamodern audiences who’d otherwise find its love story too naive. The film’s postmodern street cred is reinforced when one character regularly breaks the fourth wall, speaking to the audience in a wink-wink way. Yet this ironic detachment is interspersed with heaps of sincerity and real moments of emotional affect. “We know love stories like this don’t happen in real life,” the film communicates. “But it feels good and right to desire that they do.”

3. Barbie (2023)

Greta Gerwig’s record-breaking blockbuster showcases the “OK with incoherence” nature of metamodernism. The film constantly oscillates between detached, ironic self-awareness (“Yes, we know how ridiculous it is to take seriously a movie about plastic dolls”) and earnest attempts at meaningful reflection (“How might we see ourselves in Barbie’s and Ken’s existential conundrums?”).

As I wrote last summer, Barbie is disorienting yet “at ease in its contradictions.” I found the film unsatisfying due to its incoherent, “have my cake and eat it too” approach to questions of gender. But clearly, most audiences didn’t mind. Indeed, Barbie’s box-office dominance is the clearest signal yet that metamodernism has gone mainstream—and needs to be taken seriously.

Metamodernism’s Implications for the Church

Much more needs to be written about metamodernism’s implications for culture and Christianity, and I hope to revisit these questions in subsequent essays. But for now, here are two brief reflections on the “so what?” of this admittedly cerebral concept: one observation of concern and one reason to be encouraged.

1. Aversion to Logic and ‘Adjusted to Incoherence’

I’ve long been haunted by a phrase Neil Postman used in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death to describe the way television had eroded our logical faculties: we’d become “adjusted to incoherence.” How much more is this the case in the social media era? And this is indeed what metamodernism reflects.

Metamoderns have become so adjusted to incoherence that they no longer recognize inconsistencies and seem not to mind art, politics, philosophies, and activism rife with internal contradictions. This explains the illogical phenomenon of “woke jihad” that has become ubiquitous on college campuses of late: kaffiyeh-clad hipsters who denounce the patriarchy and promote LGBT+ equality even as they declare solidarity with patriarchal, anti-LGBT Islamist terrorists.

This is but one of countless examples of our adjusted-to-incoherence culture, which shows up in metamodernism’s oscillation between contradictory ideas (can you really believe in both absolute truth and relativism?).

The biggest challenge here is that many metamoderns don’t flinch when their illogical views are pointed out. They aren’t bothered by the internal incoherence of their contradictory stances. This will no doubt pose new challenges to Christian pastors, church leaders, evangelists, and apologists: How do we disciple people toward a coherent, consistently biblical view of the world when they’re increasingly at ease in whatever contradictions best suit them?

2. Real Desire for Meaning and Certainty

Likely because metamodernism is fundamentally subjective, it contains within it an awareness of subjectivity’s limits. Relativism won’t ultimately satisfy. There has to be more than me and my oscillating mood.

This is why the certainty and optimism of modernism appeals. Metamodern people have seen the unsustainability of postmodern deconstruction, and they desire construction. They want to believe problems can be solved and progress can be made. Even as they’re suspicious of absolute truth in theory, their existential reality leads them to desire it. After all, to construct anything, one must have foundations.

It’s here that Christians can find a hopeful inroad with metamodern seekers. Insofar as our faith offers solid foundations and, as a result, demonstrates ongoing construction in a world of deconstruction, it holds natural appeal. The church is well positioned to meet people in the acedia of postmodernity’s afterglow and invite them into a time-tested community of truth, growth, and purposeful mission.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Blowing Smoke

Nadeem F. Paracha, "Smoker's Corner: The Age of Psychopolitics" https://www.dawn.com/news/1835693/smokers-corner-the-age-of-psychopolitics
There’s a consistent pattern with vlogs and podcasts on YouTube. The more they succeed in finding larger audiences, the more they become about the persons that host them. The more this happens, the more they begin to sound like self-therapy sessions.

Nevertheless, the comments section is not always a very pleasant place and can seriously disrupt the self-therapy exercise. And then this happens: the hosts announce that they are ending their vlog/podcast because they have become disillusioned. However, more often than not, they then quickly bounce back after being ‘encouraged by the fans.’

This doesn’t happen all the time, but it is quite widespread. Increasingly, there’s also another outcome: a podcaster or vlogger switches sides after noticing that eulogising a particular ideology or personality — which they were previously criticising — can bag more views and subscribers. So, they conveniently flip.

Recently, some vloggers in Pakistan, who were once critical of a populist politician, suddenly switched sides to support him. The switch saw a manifold increase in views, ‘likes’ and subscriptions to their YouTube channels. But they rationalised the switch by insisting that they were simply on the side of democracy and free media, and were always ‘anti-establishment’ — entirely sheepish stuff.

While psychopolitics is designed to make us feel empowered and liberated, is also makes us into digital commodities and enslaves us to our emotions

Such observations can be better understood through the works of a most astute philosopher, Byung-Chul Han. Han is a South Korean cultural theorist, who is stationed as a professor of philosophy in Berlin. He is often perceived to be a recluse of sorts.

Yet, in 2017, his book The Burnout Society quickly became an important read. It explores the human condition in an era in which, supposedly, an individual has multiple opportunities to attain economic liberation, independence and freedom of expression, and to avoid the trappings of the conventional capitalist system.

According to Han, from the 1990s onwards, societies began being governed by “psychopolitics”, after the demise of what the French philosopher Michel Foucault had called “biopolitics”. Foucault had used ‘biopolitics’ to mean modes of controlling the human body to bolster the economics of modernity. Modernity required physical labour to fulfil its hefty manufacturing/industrial projects. To sustain this, modernity often applied ways to regulate, discipline and, if need be, punish the human body.

However, to Han, biopolitics became a thing of the past when major economies entered the ‘post-industrial age.’ The space left behind by the retreat of industrialisation and manufacturing was occupied by the expanding service industries. This outcome was the product of ‘neoliberalism’, which softened the disciplinarian and regulative forms of 20th century capitalism with a more appealing and ‘inclusive’ form that was suited to the service industries.

Neoliberalism posited itself as a system in which the individual’s talents and wants were not hampered by overt state regulations and restrictions. People were encouraged to freely use their minds in the most creative manner to accumulate wealth. Neoliberalism looked to free the individual from the clutches and gaze of the state. Such claims proved to be mighty appealing to many — especially to people whose economic and social activities were becoming increasingly tied to the internet.

Han, however, turns the resultant reality of the claims on its head. He asks: if indeed neoliberalism opened a whole new era of economic, political and social freedoms, then why has there been a continual increase in incidents and cases of mental illnesses? And I ask: why then is democracy facing serious challenges from demagogic populism and other strands of authoritarian politics?

Social media sites had insisted that they had introduced “direct democracy”, which cannot be regulated or repressed by the bad old state. The sites proudly own the fact that they are businesses, but add that they have created opportunities for their users to monetise their own ventures through the sites, using an array of digital tools.

To Han, however, all such talk is basically hogwash. Because, if biopolitics were a tool to control, regulate and even punish the body in an economy that was dependent on physical labour, then neoliberal economies driven by the service industries and digital technologies are being navigated by ‘psychopolitics’ that governs minds and emotions.

A free society in neoliberalism’s context means a society not of citizens, but of consumers. On the internet, for example, people consume products shaped from notions such as ‘free speech’/unregulated expression and emotions, which supposedly lead to social, political and individual freedoms. Since most of this takes place on the internet, it is thus, apparently, taking place away from the ‘dictatorial’ gaze of the state.

It makes people feel that they have become masters of their own destiny when, in fact, they themselves become commodities. Their online interactions are digitally designed to become products that can be monetised. And these, ironically, include products that are pitched against capitalism, oppression and the evil establishment.

This is the brilliance of neoliberalism and the psychopolitics that fortifies it. Whereas biopolitics wanted to govern the body, psychopolitics governs the mind and emotions. And it does this in a most subtle manner. In the online paradigm governed by psychopolitics, one can become whatever one wants to or, at least, how one wants others to perceive them: romantic, passionate, outraged, etc.

One can also shape oneself as a consumer brand, positioning oneself as conservative, liberal, leftist, woke, anti-woke, extrovert, introvert, pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia, pro-Palestine, anti-Israel, et al — a human brand that can be monetised, or at least get an ego boost.

The moment we decide to share our ‘thoughts’ and feelings in vlogs, or on Facebook, Instagram and X, we begin to be governed by psychopolitics. It is designed to make us feel empowered, liberated and purposeful. But to Han, these feelings are quickly followed by feelings of anxiety, depression and other inconvenient mental issues — a kind of hubris.

To Han, the state does not govern people the way it once used to. Thanks to the internet, people have started to govern themselves. They have become their own masters. But in doing so, they have also become their own slaves. Slaves to wants that are quietly ingrained in their minds by that (rather slippery) champion of ‘freedom’: psychopolitics.

A famous slogan by the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer comes to mind: “Protect Us From What We Want.” What one wants is not necessarily what one actually needs. This realisation is actual freedom, or a freedom that is not steered or compelled by psychopolitics.

Christian Atheism, et al

Matt McManus, "Žižek’s Left-Wing Case for Christian Atheism"
Review of Christian Atheism: How to Be a Real Materialist by Slavoj Žižek (Bloomsbury, 2024).

Slavoj Žižek is many things to many people: the “Elvis of cultural theory,” the most “formidably brilliant” left philosopher in the world, a fraud, a Marxist, an apologist for anti-wokism, and more. But probably few people think “Christian theologian” when Žižek comes to mind. Yet the iconoclastic Slovenian thinker has spent decades engaging deeply with Christian theology and history, from books like The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? to his debate with “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank.

All this, despite professing not to believe in God. Žižek’s new book, Christian Atheism: How to Be a Real Materialist, is his most developed account of his materialist theology to date. It is also, like most of his books, a microcosm of Žižek’s oeuvre as a whole — it sees him weigh in on topics from politics to psychoanalysis, from The Last of Us to quantum mechanics. This eclecticism will no doubt reinforce charges from many of Žižek’s critics that he is a dilettante, and his tendency to weigh in on topics without tackling them in depth is sometimes frustrating.

But even for those of us who are already familiar with his work, there is a lot to like about Christian Atheism. Žižek deserves serious credit for invigorating the long-needed debate about the relationship between religion and the broader left, helping move us away from both crude denunciation and simple liberal toleration. It’s a swell book that deserves praise for what it accomplishes and (appropriately) forgiveness for its myriad sins.

Left Hostility to Religion

The young Karl Marx observed that the critique of religion is vital to radical agitation. Marx insisted we realize that “man makes religion, religion does not make man,” as he put in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Criticizing religious dogma was needed for humankind to become self-conscious of its worldly constraints and its ability to change them, and to stop distracting ourselves from the task of remaking society with the promise of transcendent reconciliation beyond the temporal realm.

There were good reasons for left-wing critics like Marx to be wary of religion. From the French Revolution onward, right-wing thinkers from Edmund Burke to Joseph de Maistre through R. R. Reno have often insisted that religion plays a fundamentally conservative role in society. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke lamented the new “all conquering empire of light and reason” that was stripping away all the “pleasing illusions” that glued society together in a pyramid of rank and order. To correct this, Burke insisted that “sublime principles ought to be infused into persons of exalted situations, and religious establishments provided that may continually revive and enforce them.” Otherwise, the “swinish multitude” might see through the sublime illusion of divine right and recognize that the king was but a man.

Today, in Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, Reno insists that Christianity is necessary to save people from the “shallow, lawless, and brutal” would established by “elite demagogues.” These liberal elites wage a “class war, a war on the weak,” which “is epitomized by the campaign for gay marriage.” This supposed class war has allowed the upper class to benefit from the corrosion of Christian morality so its members can live libertine lifestyles, the consequences of which will be “paid for by the poor.”

Given this long history of right-wing intellectuals claiming religion for themselves, it should come as no surprise that the Left has often followed Marx in seeing religion as something to be criticized and undermined. But these criticisms come in different forms, and many on the Left have adopted religious outlooks that go beyond simple rejection. Žižek’s “materialist” Christianity falls squarely in this camp.

Shadows of the Cross

There is a kind of vulgar, materialist critique of religion that has long had purchase on the Left, which holds, roughly, that God is an illusion appealed to by ideological institutions aligned with the ruling class, a main effect of which is to pacify dissent from the status quo. This view likely has roots in the caustic critique of faith and religious institutions by Enlightenment figures like Voltaire and David Hume. From this perspective, the Left ought to condemn and reject religion outright, so as to focus the attention of the oppressed on worldly injustices and potential remedies.

Marx advanced a more complex materialist perspective. He is sometimes read as crudely endorsing the vulgar materialist critique, thanks to his characterization of religion as the “opiate of the masses” in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. But in the full quotation from which that famous phrase comes, Marx describes religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” He held that the emergence of religion can be understood socially as a kind of psychic compensation for the alienation and suffering human beings endured on Earth. So long as oppressive social conditions persisted, we could expect people to hold onto religious “illusions.”

Materialist criticism of religion, on Marx’s view, is therefore not only or even primarily about condemning religious faith — but instead about understanding the social conditions that make it necessary and transforming them. Only when such a revolutionary change takes place will the feelings of estrangement that necessitated religion disappear, as human beings become able to resolve their problems directly and rationally.

A third materialist perspective on religion, drawing on Marx, G. W. F. Hegel, and others, sees in socialism and other left movements a secularized continuation of a fundamentally Christian project. They follow Alexis de Tocqueville in thinking there is a deep affinity between Christian doctrine and the Left’s push for more equality: with its traditional elevation of the poor and humble and its castigation of the rich and powerful, Christianity is in an important respect a more natural ally for the Left than for the Right. As Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America:
Of all religious doctrines, Christianity, whatever interpretation you give it, is also the one most favorable to equality. Only the religion of Jesus Christ has placed the sole grandeur of man in the accomplishment of duties, where each person can attain it; and has been pleased to consecrate poverty and hardship, as something nearly divine.
Critics of the Left have also suspected there was an affinity between its ideals and those of Christianity. Friedrich Nietzsche characterized socialism in The Will to Power as the “residue of Christianity and [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau” in a secularizing world. And Alasdair MacIntyre, back when he was a Marxist, argued in Marxism and Christianity that the Marxist tradition itself “humanized certain central Christian beliefs in such a way as to present a secularized Christian judgment upon, rather than the Christian adaptation to, the secular present.”

Žižek falls within this third tradition. The core of his argument, however, has always been more inspired by Hegel and French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan than by Marx. Following Hegel, Žižek argues that Christianity is distinct from many other religions in symbolically acknowledging the “death of God” through the crucifixion of Christ: God literally becomes humankind and then dies before being resurrected and ascending to heaven, after which the Holy Spirit comes to unite believers together in a community of free equals.

God Is Dead, and We Carry on His Legacy

Žižek’s reading of the Christian story is that God, as a transcendent guarantor of order and authoritative morality, dies, and human beings thereby come to understand that they are completely free. This is the ultimate “materialist” gesture, since it demystifies all the powers that claim legitimacy on the basis of a transcendent authority, and forces us to recognize the all-too-contingent and plastic nature of the social order:
What dies on the cross is not God’s earthly representative (stand in) but the God of beyond itself, what happens after the crucifixion is not a return of the transcendent One but the rise of the Holy Spirit which is the community of believers without any support in transcendence.
This echoes a similar claim that Nietzsche makes in The Genealogy of Morals, that it is misguided to see secularism as a force external to Christianity that undermined it. Nietzsche argued that the Christian belief in a transcendent God was in fact “destroyed by its own morality, in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish too. . . . After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself.”

Nietzsche wanted the death of God to herald the end of Christian morality, and lamented that it in fact survived in secular form in gentle egalitarian doctrines like liberalism and above all socialism. By contrast, Žižek sees Christianity’s self-secularization as the culmination of Christian ethics, with God dying and freeing humankind to take responsibility for its own existence.

This is where Žižek’s Christian “atheism” comes in. He holds that, historically, it is not sufficient to simply deny God’s existence, as though one can short-circuit ideology to directly apprehend material reality without illusion. A transition through religion was necessary, and Christianity deserves credit for narrativizing the death of God and the emergence of freedom and equality in the union of the Holy Spirit.

This idiosyncratic approach to religion is unlikely to win many converts from outside the Hegelian fold, though it is without a doubt suggestive and provocative. The claim that Christianity self-secularized and became leftist materialism suggests an interesting explanatory alternative to reductive stories about religion’s decline that (e.g.) simply assume religious faith lost its grip on the imagination with the rise of scientific rationalism.

It is unfortunate, then, that Žižek’s presentation of his arguments is not more rigorous or systematic, in the mode of, say, Charles Taylor’s epochal A Secular Age. A thesis as bold and controversial as the one advanced in Christian Atheism requires careful defense, beyond flashes of impressionistic connection and suggestive argumentation. It would require a deep historical exegesis that traces developments in Christian theology and practice carefully and programmatically, demonstrating how transitions and influences unfolded.

This could then be accompanied by a systematic theological defense of Christian atheism, in the vein of something like socialist Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology. Until we get such a treatment, Christian atheist materialism will remain more a provocative idea than a creed to live by.

Nevertheless, Žižek merits praise for presenting a distinctive take on Christianity, that, if nothing else, might persuade the Left to take religious issues more seriously. This is especially important in an era when forms of illiberal and authoritarian religious nationalism are on the march. Progressives and socialists need to avoid the kind of crude materialism implicit in Barack Obama’s dismissal of those who cling to guns and religion as a compensation for their material woes — they need a thoughtful perspective on the place of religious faith in history and in the social order.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Slavoj Zizek, "Do we Need a Global Restructuring?"

Slavoj Žižek, "Do not isolate yourself from us" (Google translated from Turkish)
'In Praise of the Party', which is considered by some to be the most problematic song in Bertolt Brecht's play The Measure Taken, is a much more accurate and unique proposition than it seems. In this song, Brecht seems to make the Party the epitome of the 'subject that is supposed to know', as if he elevates it to the level of the embodiment of Absolute Knowledge, which has complete and perfect insight into the historical situation: "If you have two eyes, the Party has thousands of eyes!" [*] But a close reading of this poem reveals a very different operation; The Chorus reproaches the young Communist that the Party does not know everything, and perhaps the young Communist is right in his objection to the dominant line of thought of the Party [*] :
Show us the path we need to follow, so that we
can follow that path just like you, but
do not cross the right path without us.
When we are not on that path,
it becomes the wrongest of all paths.
Don't separate yourself from us.
This means that Party authority does not consist of certain positive knowledge, but has taken the form of a new type of knowledge connected to the collective political subject. The only important issue that Koro insistently emphasizes is that if the young comrade believes that he is right, he must fight by taking his own place in the collective Party structure, and not go beyond it; In other words, to put it rather sadly, if he is truly right, then the young comrade is much more needed by the Party than other members. The Party's demand is that we ground our 'I' in the Party's collective identity 'We': fight with us, fight for us, fight for your truth that challenges the Party's dominant line of thought, as long as you do this struggle by going outside the Party. don't give it yourself. Just like in Lacan's formula of analytical discourse, what is important about the Party's knowledge is not its content, but its substitution for Truth.
From Revolution is at the Door

Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner

See “In Praise of the Internet” ~ Bertolt Brecht, “We Are the Party” Bertolt Brecht

Lost Harmony?

...or Musical Alchemy?
"Alchemy is not interested in truth like the scientific method, it's interested in operational success."
George Soros, "The Alchemy of Finance"
The naturalist is led from the road by the whole distance of his fancied advance. The boy had juster views when he gazed at the shells on the beach, or the flowers in the meadow, unable to call them by their names, than the man in the pride of his nomenclature. Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of its large relations, and, that climate, century, remote natures, as well as near, are part of its biography. Chemistry takes to pieces, but it does not construct. Alchemy which sought to transmute one element into another, to prolong life, to arm with power, — that was in the right direction. All our science lacks a human side. The tenant is more than the house. Bugs and stamens and spores, on which we lavish so many years, are not finalities, and man, when his powers unfold in order, will take Nature along with him, and emit light into all her recesses. The human heart concerns us more than the poring into microscopes, and is larger than can be measured by the pompous figures of the astronomer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Conduct of Life: Beauty"

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Chase Padusniak, "Embrace Negativity or Risk Never Being Happy"
Today I opened my inbox to an exciting offer from an American mega-corporation. The body of this digital communique announced its magical power loud and clear: “Making Your Inbox Happy.” The content of this happiness? I might be able to save up to 25% on future furniture purchases from their online store. My joy—or more correctly the joy of my digital inbox—is supposed to be savings offered by a corporate behemoth, rewarding me for a recent purchase of off-gray sheets for a twin-size bed. Happiness is not even a click away; it is already here.

Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues that such an offer of happiness is depression in disguise. He ties our constant and overriding desire for positivity to our increased instances of ADHD and our ever-increasing diagnoses of anxiety and depression. In 2015’s The Burnout Society, Han writes that “The violence of positivity does not deprive, it saturates, it does not exclude, it exhausts.” (7). Everything tells us to enjoy, to just keep looking on the bright side. If we keep believing, if we just keep purchasing and spending, we will feel whole. We are taught to discipline ourselves: stay positive, forget about it, keep smiling. The most terrifying part, Han warns, is that the command has been internalized. It requires no outside monitoring, only the will to keep believing the sloganeering: “In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. This labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetrator. One exploits oneself. It means that exploitation is possible even without domination” (19).

In other words, we freely promote happy versions of ourselves at the expense of our actual happiness. Our projected digital euphoria passes data on to corporations, who then market us back to ourselves. And yet we cannot outrun our tiredness. Our self-discipline becomes inadequate and we burn out. Positivity transforms into its opposite; our enforced happiness becomes dogged sadness. Describing this phenomenon, Han indicates that “As its flipside, the society of achievement and activeness is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion. These psychic conditions characterize a world that is poor in negativity and in turn dominated by excess positivity” (31). Embrace negativity, Han seems to say, or risk never being happy.

Ironic as it may seem, this warning is precisely what makes Han a useful philosopher of joy for Christians today. An excellent recent essay, “Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation,” argues that “Han’s philosophical reflections are a gift for Christians.” They teach us to stop and smells the roses; they counsel us to understand the beauty of contemplation and liturgy. But most of all Han’s philosophy invites us to consider the importance of negativity to happiness—a path long-honored by the Christian tradition and made all the more important in our vigorously-anemic society.

Be Mindful!

Stopping and contemplating in general are not enough to counteract this current. In fact, very often the prescription to stop, pause, and reflect comes from precisely the same culture of positivity that Han indicts. Mindfulness is popular with Silicon Valley, precisely because the system recognizes that its mandatory positivity burns people out. Downtime, then, must become the site for cultivating an even more chipper attitude. The corporation offers transparency. It claims to make clear how it works. It gives its employees yoga mats and pool tables; it allows them to wear jeans to work. It is friendly and positive. In return, it expects its employees and clients to do the same—to remain smiling and transparent to themselves, that is, to be mindful of who they are and all that they want to achieve. This, for Han, is the essential kernel of our society:
No buzzword dominates contemporary public discourse so much as “transparency.” Above all, it is emphatically invoked in connection with the freedom of information. The omnipresent demand for transparency, which has reached the point of fetishism and totalization, goes back to a paradigm shift that cannot be restricted to the realm of politics and economics. Today the society of negativity is yielding to a society that progressively dismantles negativity in favor of positivity. Accordingly, the society of transparency manifests itself first and foremost as a society of positivity (The Transparency Society 1).
In other words, contemplation and stoppage that are merely conceived of as ways to be transparent to oneself, to become happier, are traps. They betoken only further enmeshment in the cult of positivity we have created and in which we participate. As long as achievement and self-improvement are our goals, stopping and thinking will remain nothing more than steps on our paths to burnout and depression.

Why is this? Shouldn’t we just be able to pause and contemplate if we feel like it? The question, for Han, is one of ends—is the goal merely optimization and further achievement? Does contemplation count as contemplation if it is a means to self-transparency? Pausing geared toward positivity stands as another form of self-policing. It is part and parcel of the commandment to enjoy. In a passage worthy of Han and geared toward the sort of pop contemplation ubiquitous in our time, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek cuts right to the chase:
[This is] the point in which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment. […T]he New Age wisdom of recovering the spontaneity of your true self seems to offer a way out of this . . . predicament. However, what do we get effectively? . . . [You] must do your duty of achieving full self–realization and self–fulfillment because you can. This is the reason why we feel, at least I do, a kind of terrorist pressure beneath the compliant tolerance of New Age preachers. They seem to preach peace and letting go and so on but there is an implicit terrorist dimension in it (“The Superego and the Act”).
Happiness and contemplation are not simply connected. Rest to the end of pure self-regeneration is no escape from what Han calls “the Burnout Society.”

Be Negative!

The path to happiness in our age is paradoxically the path of negativity. According to Han, we must be willing to say “no” to the world; we must accept our power to reject the command to be positive. Drawing on Hegel, he clarifies that negativity is a constituent part of a balanced, happy life. Imbalance—forced positivity—is the gateway to depressive torpor. A hard week of work, smiling, helping, clicking, sharing, and Instagraming quickly becomes a restful, Netflix-filled weekend. This turns into lethargy and anxiety, pure unmitigated, unmoving positivity. The society of positivity destroys our very ability to handle stress and sadness; it deprives us of the language necessary to form, understand, and bear these weights. It makes us forget, as Han puts it, that “Negativity nourishes the ‘life of the mind’” (The Transparency Society 5).

While this all may sound very depressing it is a wisdom buried in the Christian tradition that Han enjoins us to reclaim. In particular, his critique recovers a mystical tradition of negativity that seeks to bring the Christian to true knowledge of God, one that removes him or her from the clamoring and diluting world into a kind of contemplation that breeds joy. Specifically, Han’s thought calls to mind the work of Meister Eckhart, who emphasized negativity in two ways. First, as an antidote to becoming dissipated in the world (we might say “burned out”) and second as a path to knowledge (we might say “true contemplation”). Where Han lights the way of negativity, a return to the tradition may fortify us for the journey.

In one of his sermons, Eckhart seems to speak to our digital age. He rails against the mind’s being pulled in many directions at once; he castigates people for making their lives aimless precisely by being obsessed with knowing more and achieving more: “If your eye wanted to see all things, and your ear to hear all things, and your heart to remember all things, then indeed your soul would be dissipated in all these things” (“Sermon Two,” Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, Vol 1, 20). For Eckhart, to desire to do all and be all not only means to lose God but also to lose oneself. The positive desire to grasp things, to mind things, and to improve oneself is the surest route to self-destruction. The light of understanding and motivation becomes the darkness of failure and depression.

As an antidote, Eckhart does not merely offer contemplation as withdrawal from the world, as a regenerative measure geared toward positivity and happiness. Instead, he points to the value of negativity as such, as the path to union with God (and thus, to happiness). We are called to approach the world with an attitude of negation, to cultivate a passive ability to linger. Paradoxically, for Eckhart, it is our desire to be active that destroys us. But God, he reminds us, is a giver of gifts, the Lord of All Graces. Our task as his creatures is to prepare ourselves to receive and nurture the graces that he chooses to share. This requires an ability to negate what the world asks of us. It calls for a willingness to reject the commandment to keep going, keep working, and keep sharing. To seek and grasp after happiness is to allow it to elude us. Patient waiting, by contrast, clears away the barrage of mundane things and creates space for joy.

Negativity and passivity, however, do not rule out all activity. They do not require us to be Carthusians; rather, they are the grounds on which we can act in Christian love. In another sermon, to make this point, Eckhart turns to the Apostles:
Again, some people hope to reach a point where they are free of works. I say this cannot be. After the disciples had received the Holy Ghost, they began to do good works. And so, when Mary sat at the feet of our Lord, she was learning, for she had just gone to school to learn how to live. But later on, when Christ had gone to heaven and she received the Holy Ghost, she began to serve: she traveled overseas and preached and taught, acting as a servant and a washerwoman to the disciples. (“Sermon Nine,” Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, Vol 1, 88).
Sitting, waiting, and lingering—turning off the world—are not done to the end of happiness or positivity. Instead, they shirk forced smiles—premature good works, in Eckhart’s language—and opt for negativity and passivity. Patience, a willingness to negate false positivity, makes room for grace. From here, good works arise, not because one is self-transparent or because one must constantly share their beneficence with others, but because one loves God and neighbor, not falsely, but in all the world’s suffering and pain. Life’s perils and burdens may once again be embraced rather than imagined away.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Eckhart is only one example from the tradition, but Han’s work opens up many possibilities, perhaps allowing us to revisit a treasure trove of patient, even grumpy saints—Jerome, in particular, comes to mind. It invites us to look to the past, placing Han in a line of thinkers that (some might say) culminates with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose encyclical Spe Salvi connects hope and negativity:
A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world. This is why the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, were equally critical of atheism and theism. Horkheimer radically excluded the possibility of ever finding a this-worldly substitute for God, while at the same time he rejected the image of a good and just God. In an extreme radicalization of the Old Testament prohibition of images, he speaks of a “longing for the totally Other” that remains inaccessible—a cry of yearning directed at world history. Adorno also firmly upheld this total rejection of images, which naturally meant the exclusion of any “image” of a loving God. On the other hand, he also constantly emphasized this “negative” dialectic and asserted that justice —true justice—would require a world “where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone.” This, would mean, however—to express it with positive and hence, for him, inadequate symbols—that there can be no justice without a resurrection of the dead. Yet this would have to involve “the resurrection of the flesh, something that is totally foreign to idealism and the realm of Absolute spirit” (§42).
For Benedict, the Frankfurt School theorists are inadequate because they cannot imagine the Resurrection of the Dead (the prerequisite for the transformation of past and present suffering). He pauses, however, to emphasize that negativity is a central aspect of hope. Suffering is eschatologically sublated, but it is does not disappear from this life. As he writes elsewhere in Spe Salvi, “Theodor W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb. Now this is certainly an aspect of progress that must not be concealed” (§22). Here we see a perspective not dissimilar from Han’s linked to creating right and fitting Christian hope. Cheap expectation of joy is hollow and fails to take seriously the pain and degradation of this life. Negativity—true contemplation—stays with such sorrow.

This does not merely sound like Han; his musings are, by his own admission, the legacy of Adorno and Horkheimer, and Meister Eckhart himself. Eckhart’s work on negativity was influential for Hegel, whose speculations about negation would go on to shape the theorists of the Frankfurt School. In their view, “progress” understood rightly is progress understood negatively, not as an exponential curve, but as hope dogged by suffering. Further, the medieval mystic’s theology of detachment (including the thoughtful negation of modern dissipation in a world of distractions) shaped the thought of Martin Heidegger, about whom Han has written an entire book not yet translated into English.

All of this is to say that, per Benedict, there is room for Han within the Christian tradition. Even more than room, we might say that it is necessary that we turn to Han in order to retrieve a vigorous understanding of hope and joy for an age insidiously tasked with constant (and thus cheap and simple) happiness. To theorize the eschaton, to foreground the redemptive power of Christ for a pious, longsuffering life, we can do no better than to think alongside Byung-Chul Han.

This renewal of hope through negativity is thus a sort of “traditional” road to happiness. Admittedly, Han himself speaks fairly little of happiness. In one interview, when asked if he was a happy person, he responded “I don’t ask that question . . . It is actually a meaningless question. Happiness is not a state I aim for.”

As dour as this might sound, I would lay stress on his use of the word “aim.” Our society constantly wants us to aim at any number of things. Corporations e-mail us with offers of happiness so that we will “aim” to buy more things. Our bosses encourage happy work environments, transparent ones, so that we will work harder and faster than ever. To avoid aiming, to stand squarely and negatively against such a world, is Han’s wisdom, one that invites us to a deeper reflection on our traditions of patience and passivity. That way, according to Pope Benedict XVI and Meister Eckhart anyway, lies true joy and happiness.

And there is, of course, that bit about the lilies of the field, or, more aptly, about bringing not peace, but the sword.
So maybe its' time to take OFF the "Happy Helmet"!

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Consumer Profilicity - Building your New Profile through a System of Objects

"Everywhere today, in fact, the ideology of competition gives way to a 'philosophy' of self-fulfillment. In a more integrated society individuals no longer compete for the possession of goods, they actualize themselves in consumption."

 - Jean Baudrillard, "The System of Objects" 

The choice between the blue pill and the red pill in the first Matrix movie is false, but this does not mean that all reality is just in our brain. We interact in the real world, but through our fantasies imposed on us by the symbolic universe, in which we live. Symbolic universe is “transcendental”; the idea that there is an agent controlling it as an object is a paranoiac dream. Symbolic universe is no object in the world; it provides the very frame of how we approach objects. In this sense, there is nothing outside the symbolic Matrix since we (subjects) cannot step out of ourselves, i.e., as it were stand on our shoulders and draw a clear line of distinction between what only appears to us and what belongs to “the things in themselves.” The Machine in the sense of the symbolic big Other is Kant’s transcendental frame, which structures our approach to reality.
- Slavoj Zizek, "A Muddle Instead of a Movie"

Basically, what goes for commodities also goes for meaning. For a long time capital only had to produce goods; consumption ran by itself. Today it is necessary to produce consumers, to produce demand, and this production is infinitely more costly than that of goods (for the most part, and above all since 1929, the social arose out of this crisis of demand: the production of demand largely overlaps the production of the social itself).4 For a long time it was enough for power to produce meaning (political, ideological, cultural, sexual), and the demand followed; it absorbed supply and still surpassed it. Meaning was in short supply, and all the revolutionaries offered themselves to produce still more. Today, everything has changed: no longer is meaning in short supply, it is produced everywhere, in ever increasing quantities - it is demand which is weakening. And it is the production of this demand for meaning which has become crucial for the system. Without this demand for, without this susceptibility to, without this minimal participation in meaning, power is nothing but an empty simulacrum and an isolated effect of perspective. Here, too, the production of demand is infinitely more costly than the production of meaning itself. Beyond a certain point, it is impossible, all the energy mustered by the system will no longer be enough. The demand for objects and for services can always be artificially produced, at a high, but accessible cost; the system has proved this. The desire for meaning, when it is in short supply, and the desire for reality, when it is weakening everywhere, cannot be made good and together threaten total ruin.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Searching with Hope?

Felix Palent, "Review of 'The spirit of hope' by Byung Chul Han"
Summoning the spirit of hope in a time of overlapping wars? When everything is armed verbally and actively to speak out against fear? To exert the spirit of despair would be purely present. - However, anyone who invokes the spirit of hope today is suspected of either having taken something semi-legal or of being a right-wing fool.

It cannot be assumed that the philosopher Byung-Chul Han handles substances in his thinking room; rather, his speaker position has been productively shifted in relation to our collective everyday experience for years. That means: Byung-Chul Han always tries to move forward and set accents of knowledge and change.

With his famous early books "Transparency Society" and "Fatigue Society" he hit the heart of the present and formulated the dark sides of transparency and ubiquity. Han doesn't just "just" analyze the present, but rather aims for change. Reading Byung-Chul Han also means waking yourself up from digital sedateness.

So when this philosopher comes up with a title called “The Spirit of Hope – Against the Society of Fear” that sounds like mindfulness and self-optimization, then it’s quite a shock. – Which, however, disappears at the latest on page 16, when Han very logically differentiates his thinking of hope from optimism:
"In contrast to hope, optimism lacks any negativity . It knows neither doubt nor despair. Sheer positivity is its essence. (...) In contrast to optimism, which lacks nothing, which is not on the move , hope represents a search movement It is an attempt to gain support and direction. In doing so, it also advances into the unknown , into the unexplored , into the not - yet - being , by reaching beyond what has been, beyond what already exists to."
What follows is a convincingly expanded philosophy of hope. Ernst Bloch and Martin Heidegger serve as opponents, Paul Celan, for whom language was the place of hope, and Vàclav Havel are cited, among others, as supports. Byung-Chul Han's hope as a way of life does not come from the new and it is not a consumer element either, his hope is conservative.

He conjures up ideas from Spinoza and Wittgenstein, Simone Weil and Ingeborg Bachmann, Kafka, Goethe and Walther Benjamin - but not to celebrate yesterday, but rather everything for a bright tomorrow: "In the spirit of hope, we see what is to come, even in the past.

Lingering Perfumed Scents... and some 'Stinky' Concepts of Eternity

Something from the earth came 
Something for the world 
Mosaic of broken fragile pieces 
Tesserae of the deceased 
Born to a novel world 
Endless chain unbroken 
Silent clocks rewinding 
My song it is for mankind 
Embers to the stars 
We are their heir, dust on their palm 
We are because of a million loves 
We´re the perfume of the timeless 
Last sighs on a death bed 
Time set 
For a curious ghost 
Lives lived plain and epic 
Of eudaemonia 
12 score and 1 chain of lives unending 
Welcoming as my offspring 
Walks me to the weave
Anders Dunker, "A time for everything and nothing"
When our faith in grand narratives erodes as our lives become increasingly hectic, time itself loses its direction and meaning.

The South Korean, German-based cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han has gained renown for a series of short, philosophical books. Each one is intended as an intervention in the conditions of contemporary society, where the tendencies of our time are examined against a philosophical backdrop. In The Scent of Time the topic for scrutiny is time itself. How does the experience of time affect us as human beings and as political beings? Han anchors the discussion in the philosophy of modern thinkers like Nietzsche, Heidegger and Arendt, while also consulting postmodern thinkers like Lyotard and Baudrillard. This way the problem of our perception of time is connected to the question of grand narratives and historical myths.

Faster and faster
Time, in our traditional conception, is like a river: It floats onwards and carries us on a long journey where the life of the individual moves together with the collectives of culture. We humans alternately drift and navigate from the past towards the future. This perception of time is about to be unsettled: We are getting busier so that time squeezes us – it seems to push us from behind without opening up ahead of us.
The problem of our perception of time is connected to the question of grand narratives and historical myths.
However, the problem goes deeper than the qualms of everyday psychology. Historically things are obviously speeding up – communication, transport, calculations and the transformation of society itself. In ecological and critical parlance, the period after the Second World War has been dubbed «the great acceleration» – an intensified modernisation and interconnection of all production processes. Time is carried along by a sequence of events that is too rapid for the individual to keep up with.

Post-historical panic

Han also refers to the sociologist Hartmut Rosa, who talks about a «social acceleration», where a plenitude of possibilities makes the life of the individual exceedingly complex and manifold. Where life formerly appeared to be a sequence, it now resembles an explosion: The movement unfolds in several directions simultaneously, in an abundant and momentous realisation of different possibilities of life.

We are going everywhere and nowhere.

At first glance this sounds fantastic – to be allowed to live ten lives in one lifespan – but Rosa also describes how this uncontrolled acceleration leads to a peculiar form of stagnation: a «frenetic standstill.» On a higher level this state of things can be described as post-historical. Han points out that the plethora of actions and events not only veils the stagnation, it signifies the end of history. We are going everywhere and nowhere. When events and actions are no longer part of a superior movement that can collect them and keep them together, the result is that nothing is really completed. No goals are achieved, no conclusions are drawn. Consequently, time is fragmented into endless tasks – some trivial, others urgent, some expressive, others preventive. Nothing is rounded off to become a real experience; neither does anything grow to maturation.

The shrinking moment
Maturation and growth are among the slow phenomena that require another kind of time and rhythm. Rhythm and direction are what make time into real time – what Bergson called «duration» (la durée). Memory creates a consciousness of time that preserves the past in the present. In the same way that the continuity of a biography can orient the individual, the collective narratives help us to orient ourselves in history.

Contrary to both Christianity, which longs for individual liberation and the kingdom of God, and the modern ideologies, which still dream of progress, postmodernism is marked by the failing of bigger stories. Communities no longer share a common story and consequently time also fragments. Everyone lives in their own time, without taking part in greater time-spans or projects, like the building of cathedrals. Without the long time-spans the scaffolding that should support time vanishes, and nothing is left to guarantee pauses and intervals and to allot each thing its time. Byung-Chul Han sees such disintegration everywhere: in the constant flow of information, in the endless operations of digital work.

Each of us must find ways to win back slow and lingering time.

Behind Han’s criticism there is of course an affinity to Heidegger and his concerns over the instrumental approach to life. Like Heidegger, Han seeks to play out the problem of time in an existential philosophy that is both poetic and critical. Distractions, busyness and technological activity are all marked by in authenticity. The counterbalance is found in a quiet acceptance of the slow moment. Han lets Chinese poetry meet with Heidegger’s dwelling upon boredom and the time where nothing comes to pass – a sort of Daoist emptiness, where restless desire is vanquished, and time returns in the form of pure contemplation.

The hyperactive life

What Hannah Arendt cherished as vita active – «the active, productive life» – has, according to Han, become something we could call a vita hyperactiva. In a somewhat contrived argument, Arendt is charged with underestimating the value of meditative states of mind. This argument also brings us to the conclusion of the essay: Each of us must find ways to win back slow and lingering time. This endnote seems a bit faint and particularly unsatisfying because he has also pointed out that Heidegger’s analysis of our existential situation is not timeless and universal, but rather springs from a crisis of meaning in modernity. At the beginning of the book, acceleration, the technical goal-oriented rationality and the vanishing of grand narratives were the central points of argument. Thus, it appears strange that Han looks not to the political, but rather to Proust and his In Search of Lost Time to find a solution. Poeticising about the scent of time, the taste of madeleines dipped in tea and the smell of old-oak furniture does not bring us to the root of the temporal crisis the author has sketched out.

Dangerous absence

What is missing in The Scent of Time is a thorough inquiry into direction and goals over which stories can structure time anew and that can bind cultures together in a real community. The author captures the issue of a «post-historical» disorientation, but offers conspicuously weak and apolitical solutions.

Heidegger’s attempt to project himself into history under the Nazi regime is an ominous example of how willingness to take part in the grand events of history can become fatal. In the age of global ecological crisis, it can also prove dangerous to be too wary of collective narratives. The real counterbalance to a fragmented, accelerated and individualistic time should be a kind of collective long-term thinking – a shared time for growth and learning.


Frontal Cortex Chronologies - Don't they all smell 'Disgusting' ?  

Something is Rotten in America

As for my last post...

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What do Plant's Crave?

If YOU don't know, who does?

From now on, I'm going to Outsource all MY questions (and Intelligence) to Google with its' OpenSource AI 4o Assistant!  The "technology" that REALLY knows the answers.

...cuz it says that what plant's crave is "electrolytes"!

from Google Search of "What do plants crave?":
Plants need electrolytes, which are ionic compounds with high electrical conductivity. Plants use electrolytes for many purposes, including:
Ion exchange: Plants use ions like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, nitrate, and chloride through cells. 
Plant cell life: Plant cell life thrives in an aqueous environment with an ionic/electrolyte background.

...and Brawndo HAS what plant's crave.  It's GOT ELECTROLYTES! 

What could go wrong?

You want the "appearance" of Enlightenment or the REAL THING?
Gnothi Seauton!

...or at least, 'Temet Nosce'

...else you ain't living in Reality.  You're living in a Hyper-Reality.  The digital world of images and appearances (Simulacra)  that are "The Matrix".

Monday, May 20, 2024

Food for Thought

The Sound Continuum - Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image: Ch 9 - The Components of the Image, Part 2:
We are sometimes reminded that there is not just one soundtrack, but at least three groups, words, noises, music. Perhaps an even greater number of sound components should be distinguished: noises (which isolate an object and are isolated from each other), sounds (which indicate relationships and are themselves in mutual relation), phonations (which cut into these relations, which can be shouts, but also genuine jargons', as in the talking burlesque of Chaplin or Jerry Lewis), words, music. It is clear that these different elements can enter into a rivalry, fight each other, supplement each other, overlap, transform each other: this was the object of thorough research from the outset of talking cinema by Rene Clair; it was one of the most important aspects of Tati'swork, where intrinsic relations of sounds are systematically deformed, but also where elementary noises become characters (the ping-pong ball, the car in Mr Hulot's Holiday), and where, conversely, characters enter into conversation through noises (the pfff conversation in Playtime).21l All this would be a sign, following a fundamental thesis of Fano, that there is already a single sound continuum, whose elements are separate only in terms of an ultimate referent or signified, but not ofa 'signifier'.21 The voice is not separable from noises, from the sounds which on occasion make it inaudible: this is indeed the second important difference between cinematographic and theatrical speech-acts. Fano cites the example of Mizoguchi's A Story from Chikmatsu, 'where Japanese phenomena, sound effects and punctuations by percussion weave a continuum whose mesh is so fine that it seems impossible to find its weft'. All of Mizoguchi's sound work goes in this direction. With Godard, not only can music hide the voice, as at the beginning of Week-end, but First Name Carmen uses musical movements, speech-acts, sounds of doors, sounds of the sea or the Metro, cries of seagulls, pluckings of strings, revolver-shots, slidings of bows and machine-gun bursts, the 'attack' of music and the 'attack' in the bank, the correspondences between these elements, and especially their displacements, their cuts, in such a way as to form the power of one and the same sound continuum. Rather than invoking the signifier and the signified, we might say that the sound components are separate only in the abstraction of their pure hearing. But, in so far as they are a specific dimension, a fourth dimension of the visual image (which does not mean that they merge with a referent or a signified), then they all form together one single component, a continuum. And so far as they rival, overlap, cross and cut into each other, they trace a path full of obstacles in visual space, and they do not make themselves heard without also being seen, for themselves, independently of their sources, at the same time as they make the image readable, a little like a musical score.

If the continuum (or the sound component) does not have separable elements, it is none the less differentiated at each moment into two diverging directions which express its relation to the visual image. This double relation passes through the out-of-field, even though the latter is fully part of the cinemato-graphic visual image. It is true that it is not sound that invents the out-of-field, but it is sound which dwells in it, and which fills the visual not-seen with a specific presence. From the outset, the problem of sound was: how could sound and speech be used so that they were not simply an unnecessary addition to what was seen? This problem was not a denial that sound and talking were a componen of the visual image; on the contrary: it was because it was a specific component that sound did not have to be unnecessary in relation to what was seen in the visual. The famous Soviet manifesto already proposed that sound referred to a source out-of-field, and would therefore be a visual counterpoint, and not the double of a seen point: the noise of boots is all the more interesting when they are not seen.22 We may recall Rene Clair's great successes in this area, like Under the Roofs of Paris, where the young man and the young girl pursue their conversation, lying in the dark, all the lights out. Bresson maintains this principle of non-redundancy, non-coincidence, very firmly: 'When a sound can suppress an image, suppress the image or neutralize it.'23 This is the third difference from theatre. In short, sound in all its forms comes to fill the out-of-field of the visual image, and realizes itself all the more in this sense as component of that image: at the level of the voice, it is what is called voice-off, whose source is not seen.

In Volume 1 we considered the two aspects ofthe out-of-field, the to-the-side and the elsewhere, the relative and the absolute. Sometimes the out-of-field is linked to a visual space, by right, which naturally extends the space seen in the image: in this case the sound-off prefigures what it comes from, something that will soon be seen, or which could be seen in a subsequent image. For instance, the noise of a lorry that is not yet visible, or the sounds of a conversation only one of whose participants is visible. This first relation is that of a given set with a larger set which extends or encompasses it, but which is of the same nature. Sometimes, in contrast, the out-of-field shows a power of a different kind, exceeding any space or set: it is connected in this case to the Whole which is expressed in sets, to the change which is expressed in movement, to the duration which is expressed in space, to the living concept which is expressed in the image, to the spirit which is expressed in matter. In this second case, the sound or voice-off consists rather of music, and of very particular speech-acts which are reflexive and not now interactive ones (the voice which evokes, comments, knows, endowed with an omnipotence or a strong power over the sequence of images). These two relations of the out-of-field, the actualizable relation with other sets, the virtual relation with the whole, are inversely proportional; but both of them are alike strictly inseparable from the visual image, and already appear in the silent film (for instance, Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc). When cinema acquires sound, when sound fills the out-of-field, it therefore does so in consequence of these two aspects, of their complementarity and inverse proportionality, even if it is destined to produce new effects. Pascal Bonitzer and then Michel Chion have called the unity of voice-off into question, by showing how it was necessarily divided according to the two relations.24 In effect it seems as if the sound continuum was constantly differentiated in two directions, one of which carries noises and interactive speech-acts, the other reflexive speech-acts and music. Godard once said that two soundtracks are needed because we have two hands, and cinema is a manual and tactile art. And it is true that sound has a special relation with touch, hitting on things, on bodies, as at the beginning of First Name Cannen. But even for a person with no arms, the sound continuum would continue to be differentiated in accordance with the two relations of the visual image, its actualizable relation with other possible images, realized or not, and its virtual relation with a totality of images which is unrealizable.

The differentiation of the aspects in the sound continuum is not a separation, but a communication, a circulation which constantly reconstitutes the continuum. Take, for example, The Testament of Dr Mabuse according to Michel Chion's exemplary analysis: the terrible voice seems to be always to the side, in accordance with the first aspect of the out-of-field, but, as soon as there is a move to the side, it is already elsewhere, omnipotent, in accordance with the second aspect, until it is localized, identified in the image seen (voice-in). None of these aspects, however, negates or reduces the others, and each survives in the others: there is no last word. This is also true of music: in Antonioni's Eclipse, the music that first surrounds the lovers in the park is discovered to come from a pianist whom we do not see, but who is to the side; the sound-off thus changes its status, passes from one out-of-field to the other, then goes back in the opposite direction, when it continues to make itself heard far from the park, following the lovers in the street. 25 But, because the out-of-field belongs to the visual image, the circuit passes equally through the sounds-in situated in the seen image (hence all the instances where the music's source is seen, as in the dances beloved of the French school). This is a network of sound communication and permutation, bearing noises, sounds, reflexive or interactive speech-acts and music, which enter the visual image, from outside and from inside, and make it all the more 'legible'. The prime example of such a cinematographic network is Mankiewicz, and especially People Will Talk where all the speech-acts intercommunicate but also both the visual image to which these speech-acts refer, and the music which harmonizes and goes beyond them, carrying away the image itself. Hence, we are moving towards a problem which does not now concern only the intercommunication of sound elements on the basis of the visual image, but the intercommunication of the latter: in all its forms of belonging, with something that goes beyond it, without being able to do without it, without ever being able to do without it. The circuit is not only that of sound elements, including musical elements, in relation to the visual image, but the relation of the visual image itself with the musical element par excellence which slips everywhere, in, off, noises, sounds, speeches.

Movement in space expresses a whole which changes, rather as the migration of birds expresses a seasonal variation. Everywhere that a movement is established between things and persons, a variation or a change is established in time, that is, in an open whole which includes them and into which they plunge. We saw this earlier: the movement-image is necessarily the expression of a whole; it forms in this sense an indirect representation of time. This is the very reason that the movement-image has two out-of-fields: the one relative, according to which movement concerning the set of an image is pursued or can be pursued in a larger set of the same nature; the other absolute, according to which movement, whatever the set which it is taken as part of, refers to a changing whole which it expresses. According to the first dimension, the visual image links up with other images. According to the other dimension the linked images are internalized in the whole, and the whole is externalized in the images, itself changing at the same time as the images move and link up. Of course, the movement-image does not only have extensive movements (space), but also intensive movements (light) and affective movements (the soul). Time as open and changing totality none the less goes beyond all the movements, even the personal changes of the soul or affective movements, even though it cannot do without them. It is thus caught in an indirect representation, because it cannot do without movement-images which express it, and yet goes beyond all relative movements forcing us to think an absolute of the movement of bodies, an infinity of the movement of light, a backgroundless [sans forufJ of the movement of souls: the sublime. From the movement-image to the living concept, and vice versa ... Now all this already applied to silent cinema. If we ask now what cinema music contributes, the elements of a reply appear. Silent cinema certainly included a music, improvised or programmed. But this music found itself subject to a certain obligation to correspond to the visual image, or to serve descriptive, illustrative and narrative ends, acting as a form of intertitle. When cinema develops sound and talking, music is in a sense emancipated, and can take flight. 26 But what does this flight and this emancipation consist of? Eisenstein gave a first response, in his analyses of Prokofiev's music for Alexander Nevsky: the image and the music had themselves to form a whole, revealing an element common to the visual and the sound, which would be movement or even vibration. There would be a certain way of reading the visual image, corresponding to the hearing of the music. But this thesis does not conceal its intention of assimilating the mixing, or 'audio-visual montage', to silent montage of which it would just be a special case; it fully preserves the idea of correspondence, and replaces external or illustrative correspondence by an internal correspondence; it believes that the whole should be formed by the visual and sound which go beyond themselves in a higher unity.27 But, since the silent visual image already expressed a whole, how can we ensure that the sound and visual whole is not the same, or, if it is the same, does not give rise to two redundant expressions? For Eisenstein, it is a matter of forming a whole with two expressions whose common measure would be discovered (always commensurability). Whilst the achievement of sound consisted rather in expressing the whole in two incommensurable, non-corresponding ways.

It is in fact in this direction that the problem of cinema music finds a Nietzschean solution, rather than Eisenstein's Hegelian one. According to Nietzsche, or at least according to the still Schopenhaurian Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy, the visual image comes from Apollo, who causes it to move according to a measure, and makes it represent the whole indirectly, mediately, through the intermediary of lyric poetry or drama. But the whole is also capable of a direct presentation, of an 'immediate image' incommensurable with the first, and this time musical, dionysian: closer to an inexhaustible Will [Vouloir sans foruIJ than to a movement. 2M In tragedy, the musical immediate image is like the core of fire which is surrounded by apollonian visual images, and cannot do without their procession. In the case of cinema, which is first of all a visual art, it will be music which will be thought to add the immediate image to mediate images which represented the whole indirectly. But the essential point has not changed, namely the difference in nature between indirect representation and direct presentation. According to musicians like, Pierre Jansen, or, to a lesser degree, Philippe Arthuys, cinema music must be abstract and autonomous, a true 'foreign body' in the visual image, rather like a speck of dust in the eye, and must accompany 'something that is in the film without being shown or suggested in it'.2!l There is certainly a relation, but it is not an external correspondence nor even an internal one which would lead us back to an imitation; it is a reaction between the musical foreign body and the completely different visual images, or rather an interaction independent of any common structure. Internal correspondence is no more valid than external, and a barcarole finds just as good a correlate in the movement of light and water as in the embrace of a Venetian couple. Hans Eisler demonstrated this, criticizing Eisenstein: there is no movement common to the visual and to sound, and music does not act as movement, but as 'stimulant to movement without being its double' (that is, as wilI).30 For movement-images, visual images in movement, express a whole that changes, but they express it indirectly, so that change as property of the whole does not regularly coincide with any relative movement of persons or things, not even with the affective movement internal to a character or a group: it is expressed directly in music, but as contrast or even in conflict, in disparity with the movement of the visual images. Pudovkin gave an instructive example: the failure of a proletarian demonstration should not be accompanied by melancholic or even violent music, but constitutes only the drama in interaction with the music, with the change of the whole as rising will of the proletariat. Eisler gives many examples of this 'pathetic distance' between music and images: an incisive fast music for a passive or depressing image, the tenderness or serenity of a barcarole as spirit of place in relation to violent events which are happening, a hymn to solidarity for images of oppression ... In short, sound cinema adds a direct, but musical and only musical, non-corresponding presentation to the indirect representation of time as changing whole. This is the living concept, which goes beyond the visual image, without being able to do without it.

It will be noticed that direct presentation, as Nietzsche said, is not identical to what it presents, to the changing whole or time. It may therefore have a very discontinuous, or rarefied, presence. Moreover, other sound elements may assume a function analogous to that of music: hence the voice-off in its absolute dimension as omnipotent and omniscient voice (Welles's modulation of the voice in The Magnificent Ambersons). Or again the voice-in: if Greta Garbo's voice stood out in the talkie, it is because, at a certain point in each of her films, it was capable not only of expressing the internal, personal change of the heroine as affective movement, but of bringing together to form a whole the past, the present and the future, crude intonations, amorous cooings, cold decisions in the present, reminders from memory, bursts of imagination (from her first talking film, Anna Christie).31 Delphine Seyrig perhaps achieves a similar effect in Resnais' Muriel, gathering together in her voice the changing whole, from one war to the other, from one Boulogne to the other. As a general rule, music itself becomes 'in'32' as soon as its source is seen in the visual image, but without losing its power. These permutations are better explained if an apparent contradiction between the two conceptions that we have discussed, of Fano's 'sound continuum', and of Jansen's 'foreign body', is cleared up. It is not enough that they are both opposed to the principle of correspondence. In fact, all the sound elements, including music, including silence, form a continuum as something which belongs to the visual image. Which does not prevent this continuum from being continually differentiated in accordance with the two aspects of the out-of-field which also belong to the visual image, one relative, and the other absolute. It is in so far as it presents or fills the Absolute that music interacts as a foreign body. But the absolute, or the changing whole, does not merge with its direct presentation: this is why it continually reconstitutes the sound continuum, off and in, and relates it to the visual images which indirectly express it. Now this second movement does not cancel out the other, and preserves for music its autonomous, special power.33 At the present juncture, cinema remains a fundamentally visual art in relation to which the sound continuum is differentiated in two directions, two heterogeneous streams, but is also re-formed and reconstituted. This is the powerful movement by which, already in the silent film, visual images are internalized in a changing whole, but at the same time as the changing whole is externalized in visual images. With sound, speech and music, the circuit of the movement-image achieves a different figure, different dimensions or components; however, it maintains the communication between the image and a whole which has become increasingly rich and complex. It is in this sense that the talkie perfects the silent film. Silent or talkie, we have seen, cinema constitutes an immense 'internal monologue' which constantly internalizes and externalizes itself: not a language, but a visual materia1 which is the utterable of language (its 'signified of power' the linguist Gustave Guillaume would say), and which refers in one case to indirect utterances (intertitles), in the other case to direct enunciations (acts of speech and of music).

‘Carla/Etude’ is the second track Elton did with the London Symphony Orchestra (after ‘Tonight’ on ‘Blue Moves’) and is featured on his fifteenth studio album ‘The Fox’, released in 1981. Carla is the name of the song's co-producer (and Elton’s long-time sound engineer) Clive Franks’ wife who was a makeup artist on Elton’s tour at this time. The arrangement is by James Newton Howard, a premiere film composer credited for compositions on blockbusters such as Pretty Woman and Space Jam. The end of the track is known as ‘Fanfare’.
Difference and Repetition?