Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Matrix Reconsidered

I used to think that "The Matrix" films were using pretty eye-candy to sell radical philosophy. Now I think that they use radical philosophy to sell pretty eye-candy.

Intellectuals (real and pseudo- ) can smile knowingly to each other at references to Baudrillard, Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus, and all the brain-teasers from our freshman philosophy classes -- but the transmission of affect, as Theresa Brennan would put it, is the spectacle of Carrie Anne-Moss and Keanu Reeves in tight leather suits.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Images and an Aesthetic-Ethical Divide

What do I mean when I speak of a peculiar aesthetic-ethic divide? Do I mean the divide between aesthetics and ethics?

To get something across about this, say that the Wachowski brothers are playing one or maybe five steps ahead of the rest of us, including the "intellectual aesthetes," especially those who don't believe that anyone can be playing ahead of them.

The object of playing ahead is to suck people in and make them a target audience. There's no further alterior motive, and there doesn't need to be - this is already evil enough.

The Wachowski brothers know that certain motifs and symbols make the intellectual aesthetes begin to think that something is happening, and thus they begin to mobilize to try to get at that... they begin to "go to work" to find out what that is.

The Wachowski brothers are now the "employers" of these "workers."

The Baudrillard reference at the beginning of The Matrix set a lot of people trying to figure out the connection between the film and the writings of that French philosopher.

However, there is nothing there to get at. There was no connection between The Matrix and the writings of Baudrillard. These employers get these employees to work for free... they get these employees to pay the employers to go to work . The employees pay the employer.

What kind of work is it that the employees are doing?

I don't know how idiosyncratic this association is, but I remember reading " Our Lady of the Flowers," by Jean Genet, one of my favorite authors. Towards the end of the book, Divine, with whom I felt quite comfortable by that time in the book, quietly and somewhat daintily murders a small child by pushing it from a balcony.

I can't quite describe how I felt when I read that. It was partially as if someone much more intelligent than me had set me up and gotten me implicated in a heinous crime. As if I had been charmed and lulled and rolled along by someone who was charming and lulling and rolling me along with an aim toward my corruption, my ruin.

It is done in such a way that it isn't merely a fictional corruption, a fictional ruin. ( At least you can't get jail time for it - that is, in a way, the only reprieve.)

I've never seen a discussion about the work of the Wachowski brothers that did not end in confusion. ( Actually, the discussions are pretty messy throughout.) The people I discuss their work with are looking for some "deeper" message, and in the meantime, they are smacking their lips at such things as the humiliation and degradation of attractive young women, etc.
There is no "deeper" message. There is only their own deeper implication in desiring humiliation and degradation, in the desiring of their own repression and the repression of others.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Two Kinds of Critique

In an earlier post, Yusef suggested that there's a certain kind of critique, a Platonic critique, which is distinguished by the importance of "testing of claims and claimants." I want to take up a minor disagreement with this assessment, but it is always the minor points on which everything else turns.

Platonism (but not necessarily Plato himself) is the enemy for the historical-libidinal materialist tradition (Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Negri). Why Platonism? And what is Platonism?

In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze gives us the contrast: it is Socrates (speaking through Plato) who asks, "what is . . .?" Socrates/Plato asks for the definition, the identity, of the thing (of love, of virtue, of courage, of beauty, of justice). But Dionysus (speaking through Nietzsche) asks, "who is the one who says . . . ?" Dionysos makes the radically "relativizing" move by risking acknowledgement of the perspective which informs the assertion being made. Where Plato is the great de-contextualizer and de-perspectivizer, Nietzsche is the opposite.

But at the same time we cannot ignore the ways in which "the opposite of Plato" is itself another of Nietzsche's many masks . . . the hermeneutic problems multiply into a swarm of hornets when one considers how Nietzsche characterizes metaphysics as "the faith in opposite values," in Human, All-too-Human and in Beyond Good and Evil. The "faith in opposite values" is the faith that reason could not have emerged from the irrational, that what is noble and good could not have emerged from what is base and bad. If Nietzsche is "the opposite of Plato," then he is the opposite of opposition, and he himself is only one more metaphysician. I suspect that something like this underpins Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche as "the last metaphysician" -- the thinker whose opposition to opposition made opposition impossible.

Deleuze, on the other hand, attempts to side-step this problematic by adopting the Spinozist assertion, Non opposita sed diversa -- "Not opposed but different" -- as the watchword for a very different kind of ontology, a flat ontology of virtual multiplicities and processes of actualization. And corresponding to this ontology is a different kind of critique than the Platonic critique. The Platonic critique seeks the heights; its mere inversion, which is the Heideggerian, seeks the depths. What neither Plato nor Heidegger know how to do is how to say on the surface.

But how might a critique stay on the surface and yet be critical? There is a model for this that is even older than Plato, against whom Plato is reacting: the History of the Peloponessian War of Thucydides. One need only think of his work as "On the Geneaology of the Peloponessian War" to see the convergence with Nietzsche. Thucydides asks, "who is the one who says . . .?" in the famous dialogue of the Athenians with the Miletans, in Pericles' funeral oration, and throughout the History.

So here, too, there is a "testing of claims and claimants" -- but of a very different kind.

Where Plato looks for Ideas, Thucydides looks for the tangle of motives and desires. It was Foucault who said, "People know what they do, and they frequently know why they do what they do, but what they don't know is what what they do does." This is a Thucydidean thought, and one alien not only to Plato, but also to Aristotle, who rated history as even further from truth than poetry is.

If one considers the Greece of Democritus and Thucydides, it is clear that Plato is reactionary. But what makes him reactionary? It is not that he demands clarity of definitions, but that he uses this demand in the service of myth. No careful reader of Plato can fail to be amazed at the parade of myths, metaphors, and stories in the Platonic dialogues. Everywhere Socrates says, "I don't know what it is, but I can tell you what it is like": the Myth of Er in Republic, the story of Eros in Symposium, Socrates' death-bed revelation in Phaedo.

What is remarkable about Plato, and what marks him out as a reactionary, is that mystification and mythification are presented after the First Greek Enlightenment (the physicists, sophists, and historians). Not that mythification is itself reactionary, but to present myths in a deliberate, self-conscious fashion, after enlightenment, as a response to enlightenment -- that is reactionary.

(However, one might point out that this is not entirely fair to Plato; if mythopoesis is a reaction to enlightenment, it is not necessarily reactionary -- otherwise Blake's response to Newton would also be reactionary.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Images are Slick; Resistance, maybe not.

“Overall, I reject the idea that images are somehow not real, so that “the image of revolution” is not real, or has nothing to do with actual revolution. Images are as real as anything else, they are a big part of what we live today as the social, so of course images of revolution are as important as anything else. The fascist leaders are killed in the film before Parliament is blown up; but it is necessary (for the narrative and for the revolution being narrated) for Parliament to be blown up as well. Symbolic power, and the symbolism of monuments, imposing buildings, etc., is an incredibly important componet of how power works. We shouldn’t make oppositions between “merely” symbolic power and “real” power.” – Steve Shaviro, The Pinocchio Theory, April 9, 2006

“What is the relation between the work of art and communication? None whatsoever. The work of art has nothing to do with communication. The work of art strictly does not contain the least bit of information. To the contrary, there is a fundamental affinity between the work of art and the act of resistance. There, yes. It has something to do with information and communication as acts of resistance. What is this mysterious relation between a work of art and an act of resistance when men who resist have neither the time nor sometimes the necessary culture to have the least relation to art?” – Gilles Deleuze, Having an Idea in Cinema (On the Cinema of Straub-Huillet), translated by Eleanor Kaufman.

Today, I am going to type in a bunch of comments into this awkward little square that is my computer, and not take too much time to worry about the coherence or the quality of my writing. I am planning to be away from computers over the next few days, and I am afraid that if I don't begin to get out some ideas I've had recently, I may let them pass, even though I think they're very important. Maybe it is not letting them pass that I am worried about, but letting them submerge - they are volatile and jagged - I guess that I don't want them sitting in my gut for much longer.

I object very strongly to the absence of an ethical dimension in the remarks I've been reading recently from commentators who focus on what I guess they think is a separate realm of thinking - the realm of the aesthetic. I don't think that the unethical is very pretty or appealing or that it feels good, or that the aesthetic can be enjoyed, at least in contemplation, if it is divorced from its perspective with the ethical.

Because I admire and am loyal to Gilles Deleuze (although this loyalty includes being critical of his work, I'm not to that point yet), I cannot bear that his ethical thought, which I consider rigorous, be severed away from the rest of what he wrote so that he appears to be neutral on the most important political matters of our time, something I am sure would have horrified him and against which he would have fought - fought in opposition.

As a matter of fact, Gilles Deleuze theorized revolution, and his theory of revolution has a great deal to do with his extensive theory of sense and sensation and art. It has nothing to do , however, with aestheticized revolution, or with a notion that we engage in revolution when we become theater critics and commentators. He wrote extensively about cinema, and he took the cinema as real; but there is no confusion that I've ever come across to indicate that he thought that the reality depicted in cinema is reality- that cinema is giving us the real.

Something might be real - an image might be real - I don't want to question that. It might be real as " anything else," as Shaviro says in the comment above. Being real doesn't make something be ethical, however. It sure as hell doesn't make it revolutionary. Some real image could be stultifying, stupifying, and reaction inducing. Any analysis or interpretation of theater would need to go a whole lot further than pointing to the reality of an image in order to determine what the image was doing or whether it was as "important for revolution" as anything else.

If someone doesn't go any further in analysis than pointing to the reality of something, their hold on the idea of revolution is gone. (I note that Shaviro, at least in his blog, does not have a critical stance firm enough to challenge authorizations or authority.... after all, even the most abusive authorizations and authorities are "real." He can't show when an authorization or an authority, which these days might very well act upon society through pretty and slick images, by manufacturing consent, by working the unconscious, is unethical.)

I not only make oppositions, Shaviro. I man the barricades for them. Try to tell me in person what I shouldn't be doing.

Images are real; symbolic power is a very important component of how power works in society. Power in our society works unethically. Symbols are real, but symbolic gratification is not real. Symbolic gratification defers and diffuses and interiorizes the vital forces of revolution. It makes these forces work against themselves - it makes them take themselves apart. We can and must understand how symbolic power works, but we can't start thinking that the gratifications we receive from symbols have power. Symbols are acting on us.... when do we again begin to act on them? I haven't seen that kind of action in cinema in a long, long time. I haven't seen a sign of cinema resistance in a long, long time.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Testing of Claimants and Ideas for a Different Kind of Critique

"Is the thought here that "ontological anarchy" should let anything go, so denying any sort of claim is tantamount to metaphysical dogmatism?"- Dr. SpinDroza, taken from the comment section beneath his “Scientism and Fundamentalism” post.

Testing of claims and claimants is at the heart of Platonism.

What is at the heart of " ontological anarchy" is not to test claims or claimants, but to get to an event of thinking.

Does getting to an event of thinking necessarily require any testing of claims and claimants? I want to say here - no, this process of testing claimants sidetracks the processes which might lead to an event of thinking... it is not necessary to these processes.

How do I know this? A good question to which I must return at a later date.

How could we know an event of thinking had been reached unless we tested various claims and claimants of "events of thinking" so that false, illusory claims of what it is to think could be discarded, and true claims recognized?

Here, I think it is possible to distinguish ideas of critique which have a Platonic genealogy from those which have a different genealogy.

The ideas of critique which have a different genealogy do not rest on a model of testing claimants. An event of thinking is not recognized by a process of judgment. It is known by whether it has been productive. It produces a difference - which politically might be known as having produced an alternative. If this alternative is more vital, then it will endure.

It may appear that my proposal for a different kind of critique rests on substituting one set of evaluative terms for another, displacing the older ones, but not changing them.

This is another issue which must be addressed at a later date.

The kind of critique which I want to be able to perform does not seek to judge and glorify or condemn theories or practices. It seeks to produce alternatives which, through their greater vitality cause weaker theories and practices to dry up through disuse and abandonment.