Category Archives: critical theory

A specter is haunting the world: the specter of capitalism

I finally watched Cronenberg’s latest film Cosmopolis and understand why it was top ten film for both Cahiers du cinéma andRichard Scheib.

Memorable moments: the rats, the prostate that has to “express itself”, the Jenny Holzer-like LED screen with the slogan “A specter is haunting the world: the specter of capitalism ” (above), the Nancy Babich-scene, Robert shooting a hole in his hand[1]and of course the prostate examination in itself.

The film is World Cinema Classic #139.

It’s a political film and a philosophical film.

John Ruskin @190 and Siegfried Kracauer @120

British cultural critic John Ruskin (18191900), who I’ve mentioned here[1] would have turned 190 today if such a thing were possible.

By the same token, German cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer (18891966), would have celebrated his 120th birthday. I’ve mentioned him here[2] and here[3].

John and Siegfried were both cultural critics. Ruskin largely dealt with pre-industrial society, Kracauer with modern mass culture.

John Ruskin is best known for his work as an art critic and social critic, but is remembered as an author, poet and artist as well. Ruskin’s essays on art and architecture were extremely influential. He is perhaps best-remembered for the books Modern Painters, The Stones of Venice; the speculations surrounding his sexuality; and the art controversy with James Whistler on Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket.

Siegfried Kracauer was a German-American writer, journalist, sociologist, and cultural critic, particularly of media such as film, as well as the urban form. His best-known work is From Caligari to Hitler (1947), which traces the birth of National Socialism via the cinema of the Weimar Republic.

Kracauer analyzed and critiqued the phenomena of modernism‘s mass culture. He built up a general theories based upon dozens of smaller examples. His attention to detail lends itself to an inductive method. He was one of the first to treat the cinema seriously; in it he saw a mirror of social conditions and desires.

He applied his methods in such works as The Detective Novel, The Mass Ornament, The Salaried Masses, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film and Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.

From Caligari to Hitler by Kracauer by you.

German edition of From Caligari to Hitler

I like to imagine that From Caligari to Hitler sheds light on the process of desiring-production by Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand and Wilhelm Reich‘s fundamental question — why did the masses desire fascism? on the other.

Desiring-production is a term coined by the French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book Anti-Œdipus (1972). They oppose the Freudian conception of unconsciousness as a “theater“, instead favoring a “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack, but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “Desiring-Machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected.

Cult fiction item #9: “Language is to the brain as the tapeworm is to the intestines”

Cities of the Red Night

Cover art of Cities of the Red Night depicting Brueghels  “The Triumph of Death“.

I read Cities of the Red Night this July while in Spain; I had to let it ferment for a while and unfurl it. it was a profound reading experience; and my first semi-sustained one after my first and only aborted attempt to read Burroughs by way of Naked Lunch.

I have the fondest memories of Burroughs in Drugstore Cowboy, and his Gus Van Sant-directed appearance on MTV with Thanksgiving Prayer[1] (unavailable in Europe).

Cities of the Red Night stated that spontaneous ejaculation is a heroin withdrawal symptom. This caught my attention. Today, I looked it up and it is apparently confirmed by medical literature. The novel is the perfect introduction to Burroughs’s whole language is a virus trope, later adopted by the likes of Laurie Anderson, Steven Shaviro and other postmodernists.

From my wiki:

Cities of the Red Night is a novel by William S. Burroughs. It was the first book in the final trilogy of the beat author, and was first published in 1981. Drugs play a major part in the novel, as do male homosexuality. The plot of this non-linear work revolves around a group of revolutionaries who seek the freedom to live under the articles set out by Captain James Mission. At the same time in near present day, detective Clem Snide is searching for a lost boy, abducted for some sort of sexual ritual. Another subplot weaved in thematically through the narrative is a world plagued by a fictional disease, Virus B-23, that destroys humanity and is sexually transmitted and sexual in nature, causing for example spontaneous orgasms. Addiction to opiates provides some resistance to it. The disease is viral, and, at first, it appears to be an allusion to AIDS, although, it must be remembered that the first case of AIDS was not discovered until after the book was first published.

See also:’the cities of the red night were six in number, alternate history, Dr Benway, Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted

Finally, whence the quote came:

Self-identity is ultimately a symptom of parasitic invasion, the expression within me of forces originating from outside. Language is to the brain as the tapeworm is to the intestines. Even more so: it may just be possible to find a digestive space free from parasitic infection, but we will never find an uncontaminated mental space. Strands of alien DNA unfurl themselves in our brains, just as tapeworms unfurl themselves in our guts. Not just language, but the whole quality of human consciousness, as expressed in male and female is basically a virus mechanism.” —Cities of the Red Night

Triumph of Death (1562) – Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Hauntology’s preoccupation with the aesthetics of death in a post-9/11 world

Both Sam Shackleton‘s “Hypno Angel”[1] and Kode9 and Spaceape‘s “9 Samurai”[2] feature references to Chopin‘s Funeral March[3]. The first quite literally at 3:12 in the track, the latter throughout the recording.

Both tracks are in the dubstep genre, dubstep is related to hauntology. Both these two recording exemplify hauntology’s preoccupation with the aesthetics of death in a post-9/11 world. Musical hauntologists are advised to read the music sections in the as of yet untranslated French book Principles of an aesthetics of death, with its references to the “Funereal” outings of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin (“Funeral March“) and Schubert (Death and the Maiden [4]).

In the hauntosphere, Esotika has a post on hauntology and John Maus.[5]

Beyond the critical theory babble, “Hypno Angel” and “9 Samurai” are excellent dub music recordings.

Everything feels fucked up. The environment, the economy, war, terrorism, …

It is time for WMC #54


You Can’t Always Get What You Want“by Soulwax

I may have dismissed Philip Sherburne‘s piece on the current state of beats too quickly in my recent comment.[1]

The piece came my way via Simon Reynolds[2] a couple of days back:

Philip Sherburne addresses the malaise in electronic dance culture (i didn’t know the economic side of it had gotten that parlous) and convenes a kind of brain trust to come up with remedies.” —Simon Reynolds

And thus starts Sherburne’s piece:

Everything feels fucked up. The environment, the economy, war, terrorism, …” Philip Sherburne [3]

Regarding the economic side Sherburne says:

“Still, dance music is suffering from some very real maladies, many of them economic. Record sales are declining– labels that once could confidently move 1,000 copies of a 12″ single now struggle to sell 250– and legal downloads, while presumably growing, aren’t taking up the slack.”

As I said in my comment I find it hard to imagine that beats are going out of fashion.

Witness these beats set to The Stones‘s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want[4] remix[5] by Belgian dance-punkers Soulwax. Listen for the choral arrangements by Jack Nitzsche.

Regarding beats going out of fashion from a theoretical point of view.

The beat is a celebration of dance, dance is a celebration of hedonism. Hedonism flourishes in economic booms. Today is an era of poverty. Beats do not fit in poverty. Perhaps. But. Counter example one: the beats of Lindy Hop during Depression America. So evidence inconclusive, but if I had to investigate I would follow the economic boom/malaise route.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in its original Stones version is WMC #54

May 1968 remembrance day

Paris May 1968 revolt, photo credit unidentified

Photo of Situationist Graffiti, Paris '68.

“Beneath the boardwalk, the beach.”

European media have started to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the May 1968 revolution which spread from Paris to the rest of Europe. Ironically, May 1968, coincided with the gradual demise of the Situationist International, the Marxist movement, an important precursor of May ’68.

Similar events took place two years later in the United States, with more tragic consequences.

What is philosophy, or, when there is no longer anything to ask

Deleuze and Guattari

Unidentified photo of see also Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

“The question [What Is Philosophy?] can perhaps be posed only late in the life, with the arrival of old age and the time for speaking concretely…It is a question posed in a moment of quiet restlessness, at midnight, when there is no longer anything to ask. It was asked before; it was always being asked, but too indirectly or obliquely; the question was too artificial, too abstract. Instead of being seized by it, those who asked the question set it out and controlled it in passing. They were not sober enough. There was too much desire to do to wonder what it was, except as a stylistic exercise. That point of nonstyle where one can finally say, “What is it I have been doing all my life?” had not been reached. There are times when old age produces not eternal youth but a sovereign freedom, a pure necessity in which one enjoys a moment of grace between life and death, and in which all the parts of the machine come together to send into the future a feature that cuts across all ages…”–Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (1991). Trans. What Is Philosophy? (1996).

Cruelty. Manipulation. Meaninglessness.


Trailer for I Heart Huckabees

There are so many reasons to like I Heart Huckabees: the film stars French belle Isabelle Huppert, American veteran Dustin Hoffman (who I’ve actually come to like in his later years in supporting small roles such as A Series of Unfortunate Events, Perfume and Stranger Than Fiction, I’ve even come to appreciate his mouth-mannerisms, which I disliked so much), and cult favorite Lily Tomlin.

Huckabees’ director David O. Russell seems to belong to the club of smart, intellectual and philosophical North-American filmmakers which also includes P. T. Anderson, Michel Gondry (I know he’s French), Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, and to a lesser extent Vincent Gallo, Hal Hartley, Alexander Payne and Terry Zwigoff. British film critic James MacDowell, in a semantic approach I also worked on at [1], dubbed these directors the “The ‘Quirky’ New Wave”[2], for their “quirkiness“. The denotation of MacDowell overlaps with the recent spate of what has come to be termed “Indiewood” features.

The film is indeed overtly philosophical, with special attention given to concepts such as existentialism and pure being. In my limited philosophical expertise, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin represent good old American positivist, buddhist-inspired, self-help therapy and Isabelle Huppert, personified as Caterine Vauban (whose business card reads: “Cruelty. Manipulation. Meaninglessness.)”, represents evil French Deconstructionist continental obfuscating philosophy.

Fear not, the two strains are reunited towards the end, all to the sounds of a beautiful soundtrack by Jon Brion, who you may be familiar with via his work on Magnolia (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003).

Huckabees’ is a 2000s entirely sympathetic entry for the anarchic comedy film category.

This post is a continuation of sorts of this post.

Aimé Césaire (1913 – 2008)

[FR] [DE] [UK]

Aimé Fernand David Césaire (25 June 191317 April 2008) was a French poet, author and politician. He was with Léopold Sédar Senghor one of the figure heads of the négritude movement, the precursor to the Black Power movement of the 1960s. His writings reflect his passion for civic and social engagement. He is the author of Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) (1953), a denunciation of European colonial racism which was published in the French review Présence Africaine. In 1968, he published the first version of Une Tempête, a radical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest for a black audience.

The shoe of a dead woman at the bottom of a cupboard


The Critical Dictionary (French: Dictionnaire critique) was a regular section of the journal Documents. It offered short essays by Georges Bataille and his colleagues on such subjects as “Absolute“, “Eye“, “Factory Chimney”, and “Keaton (Buster)“.

In the entry for aesthete one finds the following sentence:

“When it comes down to it, these words have the power to disturb and to nauseate: after fifteen years, one finds the shoe of a dead woman at the bottom of a cupboard; one throws it in the rubbish bin.” […] The unfortunate who says that art no longer works, because that way one remains disengaged from the ‘dangers of action’, says something deserving of the same attention as the dead woman’s shoe.” (translation by Art in Theory).

Bataille never fails to intrigue me. I must confess – and I always do – that I do not understand one iota of what he means by the image of a dead woman’s shoe in relation to art and aesthetes, but not understanding is a very big part of the attraction. As I stated before, I like my philosophy poetic and incomprehensible.