Sunday, June 1, 2008

Forever the Twain Have Met

"From about the late 1500's to the 18th century, many thousands of European men--and women--converted to Islam. Most of them lived and worked in Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and the Rabat-Sale area of Morocco--the so-called Barbary Coast States. Most of the women became Moslems when they married Moslem men. This much is easy enough to understand, although it would be fascinating if we could trace the lives of some of them in search of some 17th century Isabelle Eberhardt. But what about the men? What caused them to convert?

"Christian Europeans had a special term for these men: Renegadoes, "renegades": apostates, turncoats, traitors. Christians had some reason for these sentiments, since Christian Europe was still at war with Islam. The Crusades had never really ended. The last Moorish kingdom in Spain, Grenada, was added to the Reconquista only in 1492, and the last Moorish uprising in Spain took place in 1610. The Ottom Empire, vigorous, brilliant, and armed to the teeth (just like its contemporary Elizabethan/Jacobean England), pressed its offensive against Europe on two fronts, by land toward Vienna, and by sea westward through the Mediterranean."

--Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, Second Revised Edition, pp. 11-12.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Intercultural Negotiations

(Frederick II & Al-Kamil, speaking the same language?)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Media and Form

"There are of course specific characteristics of different media, and these characteristics are related to specific historical and cultural situations and intentions. Much of the initial appeal of McLuhan's work was his apparent attention to the specificity of media: the differences in quality between speech, print, radio, television and so on. But in his work, as in the whole formalist tradition, the media were never really seen as practices. All specific practice was subsumed by an arbitrarily assigned psychic function, and this had the effect of dissolving not only specific but general intentions. If specific media are essentially psychic adjustments, coming not from relations between ourselves but between a generalised human organism and its general physical environment, then of course intention, in any general or particular case, is irrelevant, and with intention goes content, whether apparent or real. All media operations are in effect desocialised; they are simply physical events in an abstracted sensorium, and are distinguishable only by their variable sense-ratios. But it is then interesting that from this wholly unhistorical and asocial base McLuhan projects certain images of society: 'retribalisation' by the 'electronic age'; the 'global village'. As descriptions of any observable social state or tendency, in the period in which electronic media have been dominant, these are so ludicrous as to raise a further question. The physical fact of instant transmission, as a technical possibility, has been uncritically raised to a social fact, without any pause to notice that virtually all such transmission is at once selected and controlled by existing social authorities. McLuhan, of course, would apparently do away with all such controls; the only controls he envisages are a kind of allocation and rationing of particular media for particular psychic effects, w hich he believes would dissolve or control any social problem that arises. But the technical abstractions, in their unnoticed projections into social models, have the effect of cancelling all attention to existing and developing (and already challenged) communications institutions. If the effect of the medium is the same, whoever controls or uses it, and whatever apparent content he may try to insert, then we can forget ordinary political and cultural argument and let the technology run itself. It is hardly surprising that this conclusion has been welcomed by the 'media-men' of the existing institutions. It gives the gloss of avant-garde theory to the crudest versions of their existing interests and practices, and assigns all their critics to pre-electronic irrelevance. Thus what began as pure formalism, and as speculation on human essence, ends as operative social theory and practice, in the heartland of the most dominant and aggressive communications institutions in the world."

--Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form, pp. 127-128.

(Cross-posted to Elusive Lucidity, sans commentary.)

A few discussion questions, or guidepost comments:

1. We should be careful always to discern which arguments, and which types of arguments and reasoning, make the entrenched institutions (of society, of media, of government) happy and are deemed worth replicating or appropriating. There are discernible links between certain forms of academic writing, particular subfields & hot topics in scholarly and critical publishing, and ad copy. Some of yesterday's comp lit students are surely today's peddlers and 'media men.'

2. What are the similarities & differences of pre-modern art patronage and contemporary cinema/media business production?

3. We need, in politically committed media commentary, better attention to form! The aegis of formalism gets a conservative ring not because close attention to aesthetics and style are reactionary, but because the cordoning off of all political questions is. (And so formalism's historical and empirical functions are worth opposing, but this reactionary arrival is of course not a determined fate of closeness and sensitivity to form.) We don't always need form to unpack and explicate popular products for the masses--as though journalists and instructors have no more vital goal than to teach viewers how to "properly" appreciate Buffy or Family Guy. A political attention to beauty includes instruction on how beauty is mediated (and blocked) from us, how our standards are perverted, our individual reactions nurtured on a mass scale to receive blindly certain forms, to not think of forms as forms.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Strutting with Purpose

The film, Rockers (directed by Ted Bafaloukos, 1978) is lots of fun, but its central problem is wealth (re)distribution.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quei loro incontri

Europa 2005 - 27 Octobre

"an unsigned cinetract ... the first of a series commissioned by Enrico Ghezzi for Fuori Orario (a legendary mavericks-and-visionaries-only Italian TV show) to celebrate Roberto Rossellini’s centenary. Asked to imagine a moment in the life or the death of Ingrid Bergman’s character in Europa ‘51 (1952), their reading of Rossellini yielded a video-ugly pamphlet—as subtle as a knee to the groin—mourning the death of two Parisian youngsters who, chased by the police, hid in a high-voltage electric transformer and burned to death. A little later, the banlieus were burning. The film is like nothing else in Huillet and Straub’s oeuvre since Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene (1972), their tract on Modernism and collaborationism, WWII and Vietnam, the Old World, the New World, and the Third World.

"Only 12 minutes long, Europa 2005 - 27 Octobre is obviously an incidental work, but it’s nevertheless/therefore important, for it reminds us that Huillet and Straub are political artists who recurrently tackled very real, precise, and timely political subjects, something too many of their self-appointed acolytes couldn’t be bothered with. And even if Straub’s overly judgmental musings get on one’s nerves, they’re still preferable to the docile, “understanding” silences or demagogic ravings which make up the present style of political non-discussions: with Huillet and Straub one can at least fight. They possess unquiet hearts and minds, unreconciled, unconsoled, hopeful. They care."

--Olaf Möller

Monday, August 13, 2007

Personal Politics

(Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

My favorite book title ever is for Althusser's memoir, which I haven't read: The Future Lasts Forever. (So many chances to keep trying, at least...)

I have not yet read any of the news pieces about Rove's departure from the White House staff--the headlines alone induce in me intense revulsion. Why celebrate his departure? Because a "bad guy" is gone? Because the Bush administration is a sinking ship? Please. The damage is done. The engines for further profit-making have been put firmly in place. No "electable" Democrats will be able to--or want to--change it either. My only hope for the Democratic candidates, one of whom will surely win the 2008 election, is that maybe they'll be able to help the American working class. A little. No more.

Once I felt something secured within me. One of those very rare moments when you know you've changed a bit. I was reading a collection of texts related to the Paris Commune. The journals of the Goncourts gave very interesting descriptions of the Commune's former members, its then-victims, after the workers had been crushed by the military. The way the writer (which Goncourt was it? I don't recall but think it was Edmond) wrote with such humanistic sympathy for the downtrodden, ugly, defeated masses. All this energy put into the proper eulogistic tone for failed revolution, for utopia deferred, denied, and instantly I thought, as though I were talking to the author himself, "You didn't help them. You stood back while they were slaughtered, you and your kind, and all your sympathy came to naught because it wasn't solidarity."

Nice fairweather progressive and liberals ... we stand by while the monstrous machine keeps going. And people wonder why Marxists disdain Democrats, why radical people of color distrust white liberals, why "clerks" in and around the academy (I include myself in this group) are ridiculed and largely powerless. It's because we're the ones who watch the resistance get murdered and then shed a tear for it.

When I had an idea for what From the Clouds to the Resistance could be, it was to break out of this mold and to latch on to the struggle of those who knew better.