theory of malick


In short, the idea of Malick as a mystic, swapping philosophical discourse for a mythopoesis in which things “make themselves manifest,” is the symmetrical counterpart to a reductive method that sees him as a purveyor of philosophical profundity in narrative form, a sort of modern-day Voltaire. And here we get to the crux. Although the emerging philosophical criticism has the potential to make good some of the promises (and redeem some of the failures) of High Theory, it can never do so if it simply quarries movies for exemplary narratives susceptible of moral evaluation, or for illustrations of arguments elaborated in canonical texts—still less, if it conflates movies with screenplays.10 If this is hardly news, still Malick’s fate is instructive.11 He may be the most academically-credentialed director in Hollywood history, and has come to function as a “best case” for the film-and-philosophy genre. Yet it is merely tendentious to assume that the director’s pedigree should guarantee the accessibility of his films to academic philosophy; after all, Malick quit the field. Acknowledging that fact entails getting beyond thematics and taking seriously the look and sound of his films—which has proved surprisingly difficult, as Critchley can attest. Conversely, an invocation of mysticism would amount to a cop-out, suggesting the existence of some determinate content that cannot be named—and so justifying the gnawing suspicion of certain critics (like Pauline Kael, David Thomson, and Dave Kehr) that Malick is, in the end, a bullshit artist.

more from Richard Neer at nonsite here.

the catholic mcluhan


Critics like Miller are dead accurate on one point: the absolute centrality of Catholicism to McLuhan’s intellectual life. McLuhan was born in Edmonton to a generically Protestant family. His father, a good-natured but unsuccessful businessman, was a Methodist, while his mother, a strong-willed public speaker and actress, was a Baptist. He grew up in Winnipeg and would later claim that much of his personal life was shaped by his horrified reaction to that industrial city, which led him to search for a more humane culture in Europe. In a 1935 letter to his mother explaining his increasing interest in Catholicism, McLuhan noted that “I simply couldn’t believe that men had to live in the mean mechanical joyless rootless fashion that I saw in Winnipeg.” The young McLuhan was a romantic anti-industrialist who came to conclude that Protestantism was to blame for the ills of the modern world. His thinking was much influenced by the Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton, who advocated “distributist” politics that sought to restore the guild ideals of the Middle Ages as a counterforce to both capitalism and socialism. In the same letter to his mother, McLuhan noted that “I need scarcely indicate that everything that is especially hateful and devilish and inhuman about the conditions and strain of modern industrial society is not only Protestant in origin, but it is their boast(!) to have originated it.”

more from Jeet Heer at The Walrus here.

The Story of the Story of O

Carmela Ciuraru in Guernica:

Ciuraru-575 Not many authors can boast of having written a best-selling pornographic novel, much less one regarded as an erotica classic—but Pauline Réage could. Make that Dominique Aury. No: Anne Desclos.

All three were the same woman, but for years the real name behind the incendiary work was among the best-kept secrets in the literary world. Forty years after the publication of the French novel Histoire d’O, the full truth was finally made public. Even then, some still considered it the most shocking book ever written. When the book came out, its purported author was “Pauline Réage,” widely believed to be a pseudonym. Although shocking for its graphic depictions of sadomasochism, the novel was admired for its reticent, even austere literary style. It went on to achieve worldwide success, selling millions of copies, and has never been out of print. This was no cheap potboiler. There was nothing clumsy, sloppy, or crude about it. Histoire d’O was awarded the distinguished Prix des Deux Magots, was adapted for film, and was translated into more than twenty languages.

Desclos (or, rather, Aury, as she became known in her early thirties) was obsessed with her married lover, Jean Paulhan. She wrote the book to entice him, claim him, and keep him—and she wrote it exclusively for him. It was the ultimate love letter.

Whips and chains and masks! Oh, my. When Histoire d’O appeared in France in the summer of 1954, it was so scandalous that obscenity charges (later dropped) were brought against its mysterious author. Even in the mid-twentieth century, in a European country decidedly less prudish than the United States, the book struck like a meteor.

More here.

Libya not a War for Oil

Juan Cole in Informed Comment:

Juan-cole-headshot The allegation out there in the blogosphere that the United Nations-authorized intervention in Libya was driven by Western oil companies is a non-starter. The argument is that Muammar Qaddafi was considered unreliable by American petroleum concerns, so they pushed to get rid of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bloomberg details the big lobbying push by American oil companies on behalf of Qaddafi, to exempt him from civil claims in the US.

The United States in any case did not spearhead the UN intervention. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, along with the Pentagon brass, considered the outbreak of the Libya war very unfortunate and clearly were only dragged into it kicking and screaming by Saudi Arabia, France and Britain. The Western country with the biggest oil stake in Libya, Italy, was very reluctant to join the war. Silvio Berlusconi says that he almost resigned when the war broke out, given his close relationship to Qaddafi. As for the UK, Tony Blair brought the BP CEO to Tripoli in 2007, and BP had struck deals for Libya oil worth billions, which this war can only delay.

Not only is there no reason to think that petroleum companies urged war, the whole argument about UN and NATO motivations is irrelevant and sordid. By now it is clear that Qaddafi planned to crush political dissidents in a massive and brutal way, and some estimates already suggest over 10,000 dead. If UN-authorized intervention could stop that looming massacre, then why does it matter so much what drove David Cameron to authorize it?

More here.

Ex-Spy Alleges Effort to Discredit Juan Cole

James Risen in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_05 Jun. 16 13.30 A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

More here. Juan Cole responds here.

The Origin of Our Species

From Guardian:

Cave-paintings-at-Lascaux-007 “If there has been no spiritual change of kind / Within our species since Cro-Magnon Man . . .” The poet Louis MacNeice was voicing a commonplace that was accepted by most experts on human evolution until very recently – in fact still is by some. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it like this: “There's been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilisation we've built with the same body and brain.” The Cro-Magnons were the creators of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira – the ice age hunter gatherers whose art astounds us (“We have learned nothing,” said Picasso, after seeing Lascaux). They were modern humans who entered Europe only about 40,000 years ago, and there, despite the hostile ice age environment, created the first artistically sophisticated culture. But that wasn't the end of human evolution. Modern genomics has now shown us that biological evolution actually accelerated from this point on, especially since the beginning of farming 10,000 years ago.

Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: “It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again.” The introduction of farming, first in Iraq and Turkey, was the single greatest event in the evolution of Homo sapiens since its emergence. From farming flowed, in an incredibly short time, population growth, craft, art, religion and technology.

More here.

Weighing cancer risks, from cellphones to coffee

From PhysOrg:

Weighingcanc You're sitting in a freshly drywalled house, drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup and talking on a cellphone. Which of these is most likely to be a cancer risk? It might be the sitting, especially if you do that a lot. Despite all the recent news about possible cancer risks from cellphones, coffee, styrene and formaldehyde in building materials, most of us probably face little if any danger from these things with ordinary use, say. Inactivity and obesity may pose a greater than chemicals for some people. “We are being bombarded” with messages about the dangers posed by common things in our lives, yet most exposures “are not at a level that are going to cause cancer,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer. Linda Birnbaum agrees. She is a toxicologist who heads the government agency that just declared styrene, an ingredient in fiberglass boats and Styrofoam, a likely cancer risk.

“Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam,” she said. Levels of styrene that leach from “are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting,” where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers. “In finished products, certainly styrene is not an issue,” and exposure to it from riding in a boat “is infinitesimal,” she said. Carcinogens are things that can cause cancer, but that label doesn't mean that they will or that they pose a risk to anyone exposed to them in any amount at any time. They have been in the news because two groups that periodically convene scientists to decide whether something is a issued new reports. Last month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the , said there is a possibility cellphones raise the risk of . “The operative word is `possibility,'” said Lichtenfeld, who among others has pointed out the thin evidence for this and the fact that cancer rates have not risen since cellphones came out.

More here.

Antimatter of fact

From The Economist:

20110611_stp003 Readers who were paying attention in their maths classes may recall that quadratic equations often have two solutions, one positive and one negative. So when, in 1928, a British physicist called Paul Dirac solved such an equation relating to the electron, the fact that one answer described the opposite of that particle might have been brushed aside as a curiosity. But it wasn’t. Instead, Dirac interpreted it as antimatter—and, four years later, it turned up in a real experiment.

Since then antimatter—first, anti-electrons, known as positrons, and then antiversions of all other particles of matter—has become a staple of both real science and the fictional sort. What has not been available for study until recently, however, is entire anti-atoms. A handful have been made in various laboratories, and even held on to for a few seconds. But none has hung around long enough to be examined in detail because, famously, antimatter and matter annihilate each other on contact. But that has now changed, with the preservation of several hundred such atoms for several minutes by Jeffrey Hangst and his colleagues at CERN, the main European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva.

More here.

The Wedding Dress: A Photographic Project

ScreenHunter_03-Jun.-15-20. Ab

Leticia Valverdes at her website:

In this project I invite women that married a few decades ago to be photographed with their original wedding dresses. Husbands might have gone but the dress was kept.

A garment that carries memories and made its wearer feel special. A woman that carried with her love, happiness hope of an endless future…or perhaps anger, fear or sadness.

A dress that is used once but often kept for many years. A piece of cloth that yellows, resists changes, separations, time….

More here. [Thanks to Adrian Toll.]

Faiz for Dummies

Bilal Tanweer in The Caravan:

ScreenHunter_02 Jun. 15 20.06 STEP 1: Get yourself born into a middle-class family in Karachi where books are considered the least useful of all forms of pulped wood—including pulped wood itself. Ensure that your father, who used to read Jasoosi Digest until a few years ago, now reads only Aurad-o Waza’if (Book of Daily Devotions and Prayers). Ideally, your mother should be an expert on all kinds of waza’if, big and small.

STEP 2: To really get going, however, you need even more discouragement. Pick an inauspicious moment, such as right after your parents’ shouting match over your mother’s shopping habits. Ask your father with great trepidation if he has a book of Faiz’s verse. Hear him tell you flatly: “Beta yeh sha’iri to bhand, mirasiyo’n aur kanjaro’n ka kaam hai; tumhara iss se kya lena dena?” (“Son, poetry is for wags and pimps—what do you have to do with it?”) Please note that while saying this, he will have his gaze fixed on a handsome saas on TV conniving against her sexy bahu.

STEP 3: Now go to the nearest bookstore (which also sells cheap plastic toys and boardgames to keep the business on lubricated tracks) and ask the bookstore owner—a man most accurately described as a talking heap of flab piled on a chair, reeking of paan—if he has Faiz’s book of verse.

“Poetry?” he will ask, scowling (ignore this). He will then wipe the paan dribbling from the corner of his lips, cock up his chin to balance the red saliva floating inside his mouth and say, “Only schoolbooks here. And Islamic books. Oh, and cassettes too. What do you want?” Say uncomfortably, awkwardly: “Err… I’m looking for poetry.”

“This has nice poetry too.” He will try to sell you Junaid Jamshed’s new Naat album.

STEP 4: Go all the way to Urdu Bazaar and locate the book. Now you have it resting calmly in your hands. To be perfectly honest, you don’t feel good about this. The title reads something in difficult Urdu: Nuskha -baa’ye… Bye? Your Urdu is exhausted already. Perhaps it’s some Persian phrase. Or Arabic? Who knows. And how will you ever know? Feel desperate. Think about what made you like Faiz in the first place. And what does faiz even mean? Does it mean anything at all? Why are we all here? When is the next Big Bang? Help.

Feel stupid. Pause. Breathe. Listen to the car stereo outside playing ‘Jhalak Dikhlaja’ at full blast. You understand everything in the song. Your Urdu is not so bad after all. Feel better.

More here.

Herman Melville’s “The House-top. A Night Piece.”

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_01 Jun. 15 19.54 I can’t get over the first two words of the poem: no sleep. No sleep. That's how Herman Melville began his poem, which is called “The House-top. A Night Piece.” It was written in July of 1863. America was in the midst of the Civil War — really in the thick of it.

In July of 1863 the action was in New York City. That's where the Draft Riots took place. For those who like to think of the story of the Civil War as roughly a story in which Right vanquishes Wrong, the Draft Riots are a troubling episode. The people of 1863 New York City were not happy with the Civil War and they didn't much want to fight in it. Many were particularly displeased by the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln had announced earlier that year. A new round of the military draft was begun in July. Violence erupted quickly. And the violence was directed (also very quickly) at the free Black population of New York City. Black men and women who were captured by the marauding bands of rioters were beaten to death, tortured, set on fire. For a few days, the city descended into a nightmare. Melville describes it like this:

All civil charms
And priestly spells which late held hearts in awe—
Fear-bound, subjected to a better sway
Than sway of self; these like a dream dissolve,
And man rebounds whole æons back in nature.

Melville was always interested in the ways that man rebounds whole aeons back in nature. A biblical man and a fully contemporary man live simultaneously within the souls of the otherwise selfsame characters Melville created in his greatest literary works. “Call me Ishmael,” says Ishmael at the beginning of Moby-Dick. That opening line is so stark, so bold that it can hold its own against any literary work of the 20th or 21st century. There is nothing old fashioned about it. And yet, Ishmael wants his name to resonate back to the Old Testament, to the first son of Abraham about whom an angel of God proclaimed, “he shall be a wild ass of a man.”

More here.

It should and will be read


The careers of great artists seem preternaturally suited to give rise to great ironies. This is probably to do with the fact that personal demons tend to be sublimated into art, as well as that the greatest artists are visionaries, leaving the culture to stumble as it catches up with them. Certain of these ironies can be seen in the reviews since the publication of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous notes toward a novel, now known as The Pale King. The irony here is that, though Wallace devoted no small part of his fiction to dissecting the dangers of addiction, fame, and celebrity in an American society that has fostered it to a more extreme degree than almost all others, a large chunk of the American critical establishment reacted to the publication of his final fictional blast as addicts to celebrity culture. Apparently, the withdrawal has even gotten so bad that at least one commentator even declared The Pale King Wallace’s greatest “novel.” The hyperventilation and hyperinflation surrounding The Pale King is directly attributable to two things: the reputation Wallace developed as the author of Infinite Jest and the reputation Infinite Jest itself developed. Almost immediately upon publishing his masterpiece, Wallace was rocketed to the very front ranks of American writers. In the culture’s estimation, he became not only a gifted wordsmith and a philosophical intellect worthy of wrestling with the great ideas that animated millennial America; he also developed his own cultish legend, that of damaged genius who had almost been felled by his own immense powers, then had gloriously triumphed over them and bent them to the production of an almost unimaginably large and complex novel. After Infinite Jest, so the story went, he was on the loose, looming at large with shotgun cocked and ready.

more from Scott Esposito at The Quarterly Conversation here.

Oh, Infinite Stream of Data and Light


We live, increasingly, in a world ruled by data. Countless rituals in our lives are tethered, umbilically, to a set of gadgets through which a smooth river of data brings us good news, bad news, flirtations, tasks, financial debits, credits. This stream brings us, in some odd sense, our lives. These little machines, these data portals, are—like us—finite and mortal. Their memories are vast, but limited. The data they access and open into our lives, however, can be potentially infinite. They buffer their numerically coded information into our line of sight for a moment before it disappears, like an invisible snakeskin that’s always being shed and grown anew. Our bodies aren’t built to understand this data, but Japanese sound artist (and former club DJ) Ryoji Ikeda has made repeated attempts to give sense to this flood. “The Transfinite,” his most recent multimedia project—on display earlier this month at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory—confronts viewers with a “datamatic” sound and light show that promises to reveal the shadows of the infinite that ghost the data passing through our lives. Ikeda pledges that his “symphony” will deliver no less than the transcendental, the sublime, pure awe, the “vast magnitude of the universe.”

more from Beatrice Marovich at Killing The Buddha here.

siren song


In the first years of the twenty-first century, New York City police officers had six different siren noises at their fingertips to alternate and overdub as they attempted to bore through stagnant traffic. The “Yelp” is a high-pitched, rapidly oscillating, jumpy sound that suggests a small dog with large teeth has hold of your thigh and is not about to let go. The “Wail” is the classic keening noise that the Furies might release while pursuing vengeance. The “Hi-Lo,” or “European,” is whiney, forlorn—prone to depression, but undeniably civilized. The “Air-Horn” is vulgarity incarnate—a burp, a rasp, an all-out bursty blast. The “Fast” or “Priority” resembles a hysteric who’s just mainlined crystal meth. The “Manual” is an outcast loner raising its rifle in a solitary low-to-high pulse. The summer of 2007 saw the first broaching of the possibility that a seventh instrument might be added to the ensemble.1 The Rumbler™, developed by Federal Signal Corporation, is described in the company’s promotional material as an “intersection-clearing system.” The “revolutionary new concept” behind this technologically simple combo of an amplifier, two high-output woofers, and a built-in timer is the Rumbler’s capacity to interact with most existing siren amplifiers and create secondary, low-frequency tones.

more from George Prochnik at Cabinet here.

Bollywood’s global push

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Shahrukh_Khan Nabila Kanji was 7 years old when she fell for Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. She vividly recalls watching him in “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (“The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride”), the epic love story of two first-generation British Indians struggling to persuade their culturally conservative parents that they should be together. “I remember thinking they were so hip and cool but I could still relate to them because they were like me, like my family,” says the second-generation South Asian who grew up in Markham, Ontario. Ms. Kanji wasn't alone in her love for “DDLJ,” as it is referred to by its millions of fans. Released in 1995, it was really the first Hindi film to present a story from the perspective of nonresident Indians. It went on to become the largest-grossing film in Bollywood history and the first to make a significant chunk of its earnings in Western markets. Kanji has never lost her love of Bollywood or Mr. Khan, who she hopes will make an appearance at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) being held in Toronto on June 23-25. She snagged two $300 tickets for the glamorous awards show and has been offered up to a thousand dollars per ticket. For Bollywood fans, “it's kind of like the royal wedding,” she says.

The Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai has had a global following among the South Asian diaspora and in other Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries since the 1950s. But over the past decade, the world's most prolific film industry has been making inroads into mainstream North American and European consciousness and in so doing seems to be helping to burnish India's global sheen or its “soft power,” to use the term coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye. Just as the American culture industries, especially Hollywood, were instrumental in constructing and disseminating the narrative about the attraction of the United States that helped make it the most influential player on the world stage in the 20th century, the rise in the popularity of Bollywood films could help to do the same for India in the 21st, Professor Nye says by e-mail from a book tour in Europe.

More here.

Mind Matters: Resilience

From Science:

Mind-matters-blue Debra Jackson and colleagues published a literature review on personal resilience as a survival strategy for nurses. 3 It proposed five self-development strategies: Building nurturing professional relationships and networks, staying positive, developing emotional insight, achieving life balance and spirituality, and becoming more reflective. A 2005 dissertation looked at factors that enable resilient doctoral students from nontraditional backgrounds to overcome adversity. 4 The study found that resilient students were more likely to come from families who are supportive of their education, believe in a higher power, have a sense of purpose, have mentors during their graduate school years, view obstacles as challenges, and give back to their communities and to others. Science and engineering attract a sizeable proportion of international students, who face additional stressors: use of a new language, distance from home and family supports, immersion in a new and different culture, and sometimes racism and xenophobia. In one of the first studies to examine resilience among international students, 5 researchers found that a high level of resilience was the best predictor of adjustment in international graduate students.

Taken together, these studies suggest that it's possible to mitigate the ill effects of workplace stress.

The Road To Resilience, a publication developed by the Practice Directorate of the American Psychological Association, 6 identifies 10 ways to build resilience:

-Make connections with people who can provide social support (e.g., mentors, friends, and colleagues)

-Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable and maintain a long-term view toward the future

-Accept that change (and the need to adapt to it) is part of living

-Focus on small steps and realistic goals that can be accomplished on a regular basis

-Take decisive action rather than wishing problems would go away

-Look for opportunities for self-discovery; learn lessons from stress and adversity

-Nurture a positive view of yourself that allows you to trust your instincts

-Maintain perspective and don't blow things out of proportion

-Take care of yourself mentally and physically

-Meditation and spiritual practices are helpful to some people.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

by Dorothy Parker
from Poetry Outloud
The Poetry Foundation, 2005

intern nation


The most telling characteristics of a society are often those that pass unnoticed. No one pays much attention to interns, for instance, yet the simple fact that at any given time hundreds of thousands of jobs are being performed for little or no pay is surely an important development in our political economy. Perhaps it says something about the value we place on work. According to Ross Perlin, the author of Intern Nation, the rise of this relatively new employment category, which is taken for granted by everyone from the antiunion governor of Wisconsin to the managers of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, is a clear indication of the decline of labor rights in the United States. Definitions of what exactly constitutes an internship vary widely. Are interns trainees, temps, apprentices, servants? Since the rules are vague or at least unenforced, employers simply fill in the blank with whatever tasks need doing, and interns often end up stuffing envelopes, fetching coffee, answering the phone, or collecting the boss’s dry cleaning. Not all their work is trivial, of course, and some internships offer useful training, but it is safe to say that vast numbers of interns are condemned to performing the mundane, vaguely humiliating chores that are the necessary if despised conditions of life in the white-collar world of work to which so many young people aspire. Far from providing an educational benefit or vocational training, internships have simply become, for many businesses, a convenient means of minimizing labor costs.

more from Roger D. Hodge at Bookforum here.

tableau form


THE ART PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE PAST two decades has been marked by the appearance of color photographs on a monumental scale, works conceived and produced to address the public rather than an intimate audience. This work, for instance that of Jeff Wall or Andreas Gursky, embodies what the critic Jean-François Chevrier called, in 1989, the “tableau form,” a term subsequently taken up by Michael Fried. Even to those of us who remain skeptical of Fried’s claim that this development accounts for “why photography matters as art as never before” (to quote the unwieldy title of his 2008 book), it is clear that the form has given us works of extraordinary artistic quality. It has also changed photography’s relation to the art market by providing the kind of “trophy” pieces on which collectors dote. To some extent, the museumization and marketization of photography through changes in scale parallels replacement of monitor-based video works with mural-size video projections during the same period.

more from Barry Schwabsky at Triple Canopy here.