#Milosexual and the Aesthetics of Fascism


Daniel Penny in Boston Review:

In her 1975 New York Review of Books essay “Fascinating Fascism,” Susan Sontag interrogates what was then a growing trend within 1970s popular culture of reviving fascist imagery after three decades of total rebuke. Sontag begins by examining Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl’s photography book, The Last of the Nuba, in light of Riefenstahl’s involvement in the Third Reich. Sontag tracks a set of visual sensibilities across Riefenstahl’s filmmaking career, arriving at a kind of taxonomy of fascist aesthetics, which she calls “both prurient and idealizing.” For Sontag, fascist artworks share:

a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, and extravagant effort; they exalt two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry . . . around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader figure or force. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets.

Sontag connects these obsessions with theatrical control to the rise of Nazi imagery in cinema, erotica, and fine art in the 1970s. Arthouse films such as The Damned (1969) and The Night Porter (1974) use the “supremely violent but also supremely beautiful” imagery of the SS to lasciviously explore the twisted psychologies of sadomasochism-loving Nazis; while films such as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) epitomize the cresting wave of Nazisploitation, in which “far-out sex has been placed under the sign of Nazism.” As Sontag sees it, the unique appeal of Nazis in the context of sadomasochist fantasy is twofold: first, by the 1970s, fascism had become both novel to young people, yet also taboo; and second, fascism provides a readymade sexual fantasy that requires little imagination, “a master scenario available to everyone,” replete with a highly organized visual system: “The color is black, the material is leather. . . .”

More here.

‘Better Is Good’: Obama on Reparations, Civil Rights, and the Art of the Possible

Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic:

Lead_960 (1)Coates: I thought we’d talk about policy today. I wanted to start by getting a sense of your mind-set coming into the job, and as I’ve understood you—and you can reject this—your perspective is that a mixture of universalist policies, in combination with an increased level of personal responsibility and communal responsibility among African Americans, when we talk about these gaps that we see between black and white America, that that really is the way forward. Is that a correct summation?

Obama: I think it’s a three-legged stool and you left out one, which is vigorous enforcement of antidiscrimination laws. So the way we thought about it when we came in is that—and obviously we came in during crisis, so how we might have structured our policy sequencing if, when we came in, the economy was okay, and we weren’t potentially going into a great recession, and folks weren’t all losing their homes, might have been different. But as a general matter, my view would be that if you want to get at African American poverty, the income gap, wealth gap, achievement gap, that the most important thing is to make sure that the society as a whole does right by people who are poor, are working class, are aspiring to a better life for their kids. Higher minimum wages, full-employment programs, early-childhood education: Those kinds of programs are, by design, universal, but by definition, because they are helping folks who are in the worst economic situations, are most likely to disproportionately impact and benefit African Americans. They also have the benefit of being sellable to a majority of the body politic. Step No. 2, and this is where I think policies do need to be somewhat race-specific, is making sure that institutions are not discriminatory. So you’ve got something like the FHA [Federal Housing Administration], which was on its face a universal program that involved a huge mechanism for wealth accumulation and people entering into the middle class. But if, in its application, black folks were excluded from it, then you have to override that by going after those discriminatory practices. The same would be true for something like Social Security, where historically, if you just read the law and the fact that it excluded domestic workers or agricultural workers, you might not see race in it, unless you knew that that covered a huge chunk of African Americans, particularly in the South. So reinvigorating the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, making sure that in our Department of Education, where we see evidence of black boys being suspended at substantially higher rates than white boys for the same behavior, in the absence of that kind of rigorous enforcement of the nondiscrimination principle, then the long-standing biases that I believe have weakened, but are still clearly present in our society, assert themselves in ways that usually disadvantage African Americans.

More here.

the art of heather phillipson

Article00Martin Herbert at Artforum:

ARTIST RECITES POEM. That sounds bad, even given the past decade’s bed-hopping between the literary and visual art establishments. But let’s establish Phillipson’s bona fides. She has won a prestigious award for poets under thirty; had her first collection published, to acclaim, by Faber & Faber in 2009; and has since published two more, NOT AN ESSAY (2012) and Instant-flex 718 (2013). She discovered her writerly aptitude while studying art in London: Focusing on audio works and performance, she took a module in creative writing and fell for poetry—particularly the New York School (itself reciprocally involving a proto-Pop impulse toward linguistic assemblage). In parallel with her writing, and stemming from visual backdrops created for poetry readings, Phillipson makes videos—digitally driven, candy-colored, texturally shifting, kinetic, talky, and associative—and, since 2011, has been conflating them with elaborate sculptural environments.

These projects have steadily grown in scope. For example, her recent show at Plymouth Arts Centre in Devon, UK, “TRUE TO SIZE”—which opened early this past summer, during the hallucinatory moment of the country’s vote for Brexit—featured seven videos embedded in an eponymous colorful, nerve-jangling multipart installation, dated 2016, that intermingled eBay-sourced, sad-eyed, made-in-China bears, more umbrellas, and blown-up cutouts of various emojis: rainbow backdrops, flames, falling leaves, Holbeinesque anamorphic skulls, cigarettes, raindrops, clouds, tsunamis, blood-filled syringes, and nosediving planes. You navigated gingerly through these jutting artifacts toward the short digital films.

more here.

James Baldwin and the Struggle to Bear Witness

A484d4341abc4eb235fcf81b108f384c24c04f21Lovia Gyarkye at The New Republic:

In 1948, James Baldwin left Harlem for Paris to save himself. After his friend Eugene Worth jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death, Baldwin was afraid that he would suffer a similar fate. In a 1984 interview with The Paris Review, he said: “My luck was running out. I was going to go to jail, I was going to kill somebody or be killed.” It was because of this desire to escape the dire situation of being a black male in America that Baldwin found himself alone in France with only $40 in his pockets. Years later, Baldwin would write a series of essays reflecting on his Paris years. It was in Paris that he found his voice and also came to understand the complexity of his American identity. “The very word ‘America,’” Baldwin wrote in his 1959 essay “The Discovery of What It Means to be An American,” “remains a new, almost completely undefined and extremely controversial proper noun. No one in the world seems to know exactly what it describes, not even we motley millions who call ourselves Americans.

Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, which opens on Friday in select theaters around the country, revisits Baldwin’s interrogation of what it means to be American. The film is not just a factual report about a particular event or person. Like the famed works that are its inspiration, it is an essay. And like any good essay, it begins with one question, and, over the course of its 90 minutes, asks a set of new ones. Similar to its literary counterpart, the essay-film escapes clear definition. It is the problematic stepchild in a world insistent on categorization. But the film’s troublesome, inquisitive nature is in keeping with what Montaigne, the inventor of the essay, meant his “Essais” to be—attempts, trials, experiments.

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Jane Jacobs’s clear-eyed vision of humanity

JanejacobsRebecca Tuhus-Dubrow at The Nation:

Jane Jacobs was born in 1916 with a decidedly less euphonious name—Jane Butzner—in the coal town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The third child of a doctor and a teacher, she was delivered by her own father. In her childhood home, her parents encouraged her inquisitive mind and accepted her rebellious streak. Jacobs read widely, wrote poems, and held imaginary conversations with interlocutors like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Despite her precocity—or more likely because of it—the young Jane was never a good fit for school. She barely made it through high school and, instead of college, took a course in stenography. Her parents had instilled in her the importance of both learning a practical trade and pursuing her calling, which she determined early on would be writing.

In 1934, during the depths of the Depression, Jacobs moved to New York, where she lived with her elder sister Betty in Brooklyn Heights. In the mornings, she took the subway to Manhattan to interview for secretarial work; in the afternoons, she wandered around the city. On one outing, she discovered Christopher Street in Greenwich Village and promptly informed Betty that they’d be relocating to that neighborhood.

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Even on his birthday, don’t say Darwin unless you mean it

by Paul Braterman

How Darwin's name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders


From Darwin's Notebook B, 1837

Don't say Darwin unless you mean it. Don't say theory when you mean historical fact. And don't say you believe in evolution, when you mean you accept it on the basis of the evidence.

Don't say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don't say "Darwin" when you mean "evolution". It's like saying "Dalton" when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton's time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin's. Neither of them knew, or could have known, anything about what caused the phenomena they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded.


From John Dalton's A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808)

Imagine if a lot of people decided that atomic theory was against their religion. We would see a parallel world of sacred science, in which molecules were "intelligently constructed", and real chemistry would be referred to as Daltonism, or possibly, these days, neo-Daltonism. The scientific dissidents from Daltonism would invoke Dalton's name on every possible occasion, and draw attention to the many inadequacies of atomic theory as he presented it in 1808. Dalton didn’t know anything about the forces that hold atoms together, which depend on electrons and quantum mechanics. In fact, he didn’t even know about electrons. Worse still, he was hopelessly muddled about the difference between a molecule of hydrogen and an atom of hydrogen. He thought that the simplest compound between two different elements A and B would have the formula AB, so that water must be HO, not H2O. And of course he knew nothing about the origin of atoms, a problem not solved until the 1950s, over a century after his death. Shot through with errors and inconsistencies; nonsense, the lot of it!

Darwin was ignorant of transitional fossils, and in words still quoted by creationists deplored their absence as the greatest objection to his theory. He was equally ignorant about the origin of biological novelty, which comes from mutating genes. In fact, he didn't even know about genes. And because he did not realise that inheritance occurred through genes, he could not explain why favourable variations were not simply diluted out.

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Populists and Plutocrats Unite!

by Michael Liss

7-11-used-gamesI was in a 7-Eleven last Sunday morning for a restorative post-jog donut, when a big, late-middle-aged man with a MAGA hat and a matching red face came in. He grabbed a few tall-boys and a bag of ice, and made his way to the check-out line. To my reasonably educated eye (and nose) those particular tall-boys weren't going to be the first of the day.

In all the kaleidoscope of images from the first two weeks of Trump's reign, there is something about this man that I cannot get out of my head. To say he seemed out of place in my 83%-for-Hillary Congressional District would be an understatement—but there he was. Wow—a perfect specimen of a stereotypical Trump voter as if drawn in an editorial cartoon! Obviously, I wasn't actually going to interact with him, but this rara avis had somehow wandered into my cloistered neck of the woods and even allowed himself to helped by the Pakistani staff in the store.

I know this sounds idiotic, like the crowing of a rock-hound who found a really exciting piece of quartz. But I'm a politics junkie, and I had just finished reading Barron's Magazine's annual Roundtable. Several of the ultra-wealthy panelists were absolutely giddy about the possibilities of a Trump Presidency. All they could see was the banquet of tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks and unlimited drilling, without those nasty environmental rules. In my naiveté, I expected some concern about international trade agreements, immigration, engagement with Europe, relations with China and Russia, and just "Presidentialness," but these shrewd businesspeople seemed quite blasé. Trump was going to be good for the balance sheet, and everything else was irrelevant.

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Current Genres of Fate: Pokémon and Margaret Thatcher

by Paul North

ThatcherAt key moments in policy speeches, Margaret Thatcher used to say "there is no alternative." After a few years and too many repetitions, the phrase became a joke. Journalists abbreviated it: TINA. There Is No Alternative. When TINA became a reflex, after it became her signature phrase, it lost its bite. Before becoming an empty slogan however, when Thatcher really meant it and the UK was listening, it was formidable. And it was already questionable too. One of the ironies about TINA was that Thatcher could only really say it in a situation where there was in fact at least one viable alternative. Why would you say There Is No Alternative if things couldn't possibly be otherwise? That would indeed make it a joke.

So, you only say TINA when there is another alternative so strong that you have to pretend it doesn't exist. A prime piece of rhetoric, TINA also alludes to a dearly held belief. The phrase was—and is—a statement about how we think things are, a belief about how the world is made. Say TINA and you imply this belief. As I say, you don't really call it an alternative, if there is only one. That is called reality. And this is just the point: TINA implies a single world with a single theory that fits all of the facts. So, if someone says TINA, listeners are reminded of their belief that, yes, there is one way that things are and one correct account of it. We can in good conscience ignore anything else. There is no decision left to make. The belief that goes along with TINA and which TINA reinforces we can call TOOT: There's Only One Theory. When she was saying TINA, Thatcher was implying TOOT at the same time. Mine workers striking? TOOT: there's only one theory and it tells us to break the back of their movement because the free flow of labor is best governed by the market. Jobless rate high? The same theory—the only one—says: inflation is the greatest evil in a post-industrial economy. That economy sluggish? The very same theory says: privatize national industries and increase worker productivity. Question is, can there really be only one theory covering human matters?

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Monday Poem

..[Listen below]

Pattern Language


I take the sidewalk a step at a time,
shards of its exposed aggregate form archipelagos,Pattern Language
and there’s Jesus in a cloud, or is it Lao Tzu
explaining Is without a word

Deep clefts in the bark of a tree just passed
define the humps of Appalachians.
I saw Scranton strewn along a gully on the lichen side
of the fat trunk of a sugar maple when I glanced

A net of angst chokes a birch in the side yard
of a small house, but it’s just Bittersweet being a garrote.
Its hot orange berries are incendiary cherries.
Its network of vine is untamed thought

A wall of desiccated siding, its south face
so in need of paint some of it is dust
some parched raised grain, is the surface of Mars.
What’s left of its spent red pigment
is the feel of utter space

Hairline cracks in river ice in the dam pond
are rifts of splintered glass silvered on one side
full of mere reflections falling to the sea

A crow measures distance between
gutter pebbles with her beak
aligning as if she were a smart array of atoms
laying out the footings of a house or universe

The patterns in her brain must be
the forms she seeks

Jim Culleny

10 great or near-great comix you might think about reading

by Dave Maier


Fatale (Ed Brubaker, writer; Sean Phillips, artist)

Once upon a time there were comic books about superheroes, which only juvenile delinquents read. Then there were graphic novels, which were respectable (and mostly not about superheroes). Comic books were still around, though, and it eventually became respectable to read them as well, if at first only under cover of irony. But just as TV viewers binge-watch whole seasons on DVD or stream, so now many comix readers spurn single monthly issues in favor of collected story arcs in books. However, although this does blur the line, they’re still comic books rather than graphic novels. Again, though, just as good TV is better than a lot of cinema, good comix are still well worth your time.

In any case, here are several such things I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years. There's nothing really obscure here, but I’ve omitted some rather better-known and/or justly famous titles like Hellboy, Sandman, Lucifer, Preacher, and Fables. Some I discovered from an article I saw a while back recommending such series as potential TV shows, so if we’re lucky we may eventually see those as well.

1. Fatale (Ed Brubaker, writer; Sean Phillips, artist)

Brubaker and Phillips have been around for a while, it seems, producing several series of mostly hard-boiled and noir-type stories (e.g. Criminal and The Fade Out, both excellent). Fatale, as the name suggests, is in this line as well, but with an important difference. The main character is indeed a femme fatale, with an unnatural power over men; but here “unnatural” is quite the operative word, as Fatale is an ingenious merger of two distinct genres, as if Raymond Chandler were channeling H. P. Lovecraft. I won’t go into the details – lest the mind-melting horror beyond time and space itself cause you to become hopelessly insane – but just think “tentacle noir” and you’ve got the general idea. This might simply strike you as a novelty, but this experienced team brings the same tight plotting and darkly effective art to this one as they do to their other works, achieving some truly creepy effects, even for hardened horror fans, and Fatale would indeed make an excellent TV show.

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The Only Way To Fight Trump: Eternal Resistentialism

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Fire his fat assWith the advent of President Trump, the absurd confronts America. His existence proves once and for all that we live in an amoral, godless universe: our current deity is a serial-lying orange-coiffed cartoon Daddy Warbucks whose business model includes fraud and stiffing his suppliers.

Trump strikes me like 9/11 did: suddenly, the veil is ripped off reality, to reveal the worm inside our apple, the ugly truth lurking behind the beautiful bliss of simply being alive.

Here is the hard face of the Real: America is now stuck in a paradigm shift that promises the chaos of anything goes and nothing matters.

Trump is the ultimate reality-distorting Braudillardian simulacra mindfuck deluxe: he spins a cosmos of "alternative facts" for us; he is the Big Lie Incarnate; he magicks the "Bizarro World" spoofed in old Superman comics, where up is down and war is peace and wrong is right, trenchantly embodied in Orwell's 1984 — now racing up the best-seller charts, as America wokes to the birthing mewls of a fascist stench turlesquing from the swamps of fake news and post-truth factoidiness and that snake-nest of sexual predators, Fox News.

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Are we deranged? (global warming part 2)

by Leanne Ogasawara

GhoshAre we deranged?

In recent days, watching friends and family reeling over the Trump win, I keep thinking that climate disaster will be a disaster-of-denial just like this. Shell-shocked and busy blaming, who will be in a position to lead the way forward when the unthinkable happens?

Why do we remain in denial about climate change?

And by denial, I mean, why aren't we making the changes we need to make in our own lives to reduce our carbon imprint and step away from the systems and corporations that are destroying our planet? Is it because it seems too impossible to imagine that our beautiful and perfect earth will suddenly become less hospitable? Or hard to really understand that species of animals we love are disappearing? Impossible to wrap our minds around what warmer oceans mean?

For me, the most compelling description I have read of imagined things to come was the last chapter of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. By the time things fall apart in the world, according to Mitchell, it is too late for most people to protect themselves, as governments collapse and the world is divided into a few oil states with the rest of the world descending into pure chaos. In the novel, we find ourselves in rural Ireland, in 2043

as the electricity’s running out, the Internet seems about to crash for good and people are reduced to foraging for rabbits and eating dried seaweed.

Within months of what becomes known as the "global endarkenment," gangs are roving the countryside stealing and killing and even the most common medications are no longer available. It all happened so quickly so that no one had the time to really prepare before resource scarcity caused total collapse. Toward the end of the novel, a young gangster is robbing an old woman of her solar panels; and when she protests, he says,

"They had a better life than I did, mind. So did you. Your power stations your cars, your creature comforts. You lived too long. The bill; due today."

The old woman protests, "But it wasn't us, personally, who trashed the world. It was the system. We couldn't change it."

Not missing a beat, the young gangster retorts: "Then its not us, personally, taking your panels. It's the system. We can't change it.

Like Trump, the end of the world kind of crept up on people.

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A Call to Arms

by Akim Reinhardt

A call to armsI have a friend of Indian descent who was born in Africa, but raised almost entirely in London.

Or, I should say, I had such a friend. About a year ago, maybe more, we got into an online argument about the Pope, and that was that. Much to my surprise, he de-friended me from social media. And since we haven't lived in the same town for well over a decade, it was over.

That we're both atheists just makes the whole episode even stranger.

No matter. The point is that I recently heard from a mutual acquaintance who said my ex-friend is now attempting to move back to Great Britain.

"Have you spoken to Nigel lately?" the mutual acquaintance asked me

"Not in about a year," I replied, not wanting to give anything away. This mutual acquaintance didn't speak with Nigel much after the latter had moved, but remembered him fondly and had occasionally asked about him.

"Not in about a year," he echoed. "Well, he's looking at a job in London. He wants to move out of the country because he cannot abide the Trump administration."

"Ah, I see. That's all well and good I suppose until England gets its own strong man."

The mutual acquaintance, an elderly gentleman from sub-Saharan Africa, smiled and chortled. Then his chuckle bubbled up into a laugh, as loud a sound as I've ever heard emanate from this very calm and quiet man.

He knew. My quip wasn't just a commentary on Brexit and lord knows whatever comes next after the towering doltishness of Theresa May. He knew that it can happen anywhere. No society is immune from falling under the spell, either through ballots or bullets, of a shitty nationalistic strongman; the kind Donald Trump aspires to be, although he is probably too inept to ever attain such lofty heights of villainy.

We each turned and wandered off to our respective destinations, the mutual acquaintance still laughing.

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Walls, Bans and Border Patrols: The Fearsome Fallout for Children

by Humera Afridi

Img_8575 (1)At the age of ten, my biggest fear was a dread of heights. Childhood weekends were sun-drenched (chlorine-filled) idylls during which I worked myself up to fling my body off the high board at the Sind Club into the gleaming swimming pool below. I lived in Karachi, and, yes, in a bubble.

We were surrounded by inequity, yet my ‘innocence’ or, rather, naivete remained intact. I was certainly aware of the sudden, politically motivated strikes and pained by the striking poverty—lame beggars who hopped over to car windows at traffic stops; gangs of wily, threadbare children left to roam the danger-filled streets. Nevertheless, within the highly-selective, members-only club, the harsh world outside with its mayhem of cars, motorcycles, trucks and water lorries threatening to run over the cripples weaving their way through the honking maze, seized to exist for me. The water shimmered, spangled with sunlight; I can still recall the sensation of my toes curling on the edge of the cement precipice, and a frisson of nervous excitement overcoming me in those excruciating moments before leaping towards the joyous shouts that rose to greet me as I plummeted. The beleaguered world of the city at large disappeared.

That life seems unthinkable, unconscionable, today, especially after having lived away for many years, first as an expatriate and then an (accidental) immigrant. But that was how things were: the disparity was deep-rooted and historical. Even as a child I learned to build invisible walls.

Fast-forward to the next generation and a change of setting: my son who is nine and a half, born and raised in America, possesses an awareness around issues of social justice and race, and nuanced identity politics—LQBTQIA is the more current, more inclusive term I learned from him two weeks ago—that simultaneously awes and alarms me. Even as I am grateful for his attunement and ability to perceive and articulate feelings arising from instances of injustice that he witnesses, hears about, or personally experiences, a part of me wonders: isn’t he too young to know all this? Isn’t it too soon to have to create the space in his mind to sort through a myriad possibilities of how to be? And what about facing the facts—far too many— of a cruel and unjust world?

But the age of innocence has vanished. And children aren’t exempt. Last week, over an ice-cream after school, he casually slipped in, “Mom, today I pulled my teacher aside because I was feeling really depressed.”

Words to make a mother’s heart sink.

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