Category Archives: critical theory

The Aporias of the Avant-Garde


Einzelheiten by Enzensberger

While I was in Amsterdam in the winter of 2006-2007 I asked the people in a philosophy bookstore: “If Slavoj Žižek and Sloterdijk are my two favorite contemporary philosophers, who would the third be?” They came up with Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Alain Badiou.

I had remembered Badiou but had almost forgotten Enzensberger, but last weekend at the used book store De Slegte I bought a Dutch translation of Enzensberger’s Einzelheiten, and was very much taken by his analysis of the concept avant-garde in his essay The Aporias of the Avant-Garde.

Aporias, published in 1962 in Germany, is one of the first essays that preached the “death of the avant-garde” which has been celebrated since the advent of postmodernism. It features good analyses too of Lukacs petty defense of literary realism and stimulating reflections on the absurdity of some critics’ grouping of individual artists into art movements, especially in cases such as expressionist literature (no writer has ever called himself expressionist).

On a general level it provides excellent etymological and semantic analyses of the term avant-garde.

P.S. Published in the same year was another work on avant-garde practices, which I suspect is more an eulogy: The Theory of the Avant-garde by Renato Poggioli.

Deleuze on Wittgenstein: a ‘massive regression’ of all philosophy


L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze (recorded in 1988, first broadcast in 1996)

An abecedarium is a a means to learn the alphabet. It is also used to denote an A to Z of a certain subject. Such as David Toop‘s A to Z of Dub and A to Z of Electro, and Gilles Deleuze’s A to Z of his thought, as interviewed (for seven and a half hours) by Claire Parnet.

On W, Wittgenstein, Deleuze says:

« Pour moi c’est une catastrophe philosophique […] c’est une régression massive de toute la philosophie […] S’ils l’emportent, alors là il y aura un assassinat de la philosophie s’ils l’emportent. C’est des assassins de la philosophie. Il faut une grande vigilance. »

In English:

« ‘a philosophical catastrophe’, a ‘massive regression’ of all philosophy »

Update: A summary to be found online says:

Parnet says, let’s move on to W, and Deleuze says, there’s nothing in W, and Parnet says, yes, there’s Wittgenstein. She knows he’s nothing for Deleuze, but it’s only a word. Deleuze says, he doesn’t like to talk about that… It’s a philosophical catastrophe. It’s the very type of a “school”, a regression of all philosophy, a massive regression. Deleuze considers the Wittgenstein matter to be quite sad. They imposed <ils ont foutu> a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty introduced as grandeur. Deleuze says there isn’t a word to express this kind of danger, but that this danger is one that recurs, that it’s not the first time that it has arrived. It’s serious especially since he considers the Wittgensteinians to be nasty <méchants> and destructive <ils cassent tout>. So in this, there could be an assassination of philosophy, Deleuze says, they are assassins of philosophy, and because of that, one must remain very vigilant. <Deleuze laughs>

Esotika wants your help

Esotika, the most adventurous film blog on the web, is self-consciously taking the nobrow route [1] :

“I’ve been throwing myself into contemporary critical theory … one of my main goals is to translate the idea of no-brow culture into criticism. What I mean by this is that I want to talk about and discuss the films that I’m writing about in a manner that isn’t obtuse and utterly academic, but I also don’t want to ignore the “academic” elements in the films reviewed, as for me that is part of their major fun.

By “academic” I mean to imply the elements of these films that are ostensibly more “intellectual” than a reductive cinema incorporates. Take, for example, the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Traditionally there have been two opposing ways to read his films (and very rarely do these readings overlap). The first way is to ignore the “intellectual” elements of the film and focus on the genre elements; vampirism, eroticism, le fantastique. The second method seems to ignore or pay little attention to the genre elements and their contextual implications, choosing rather to focus solely on ideas of critical theory; narratology, structuralist construction, montage. Alain Robbe-Grillet is probably the most blatant example of this cross-pollination of readings, but obviously there are many other films and directors that fall into this divide.

My goal, which has hopefully become clear, is to read the films from BOTH perspectives, allowing the “low-brow” and “high-brow” readings to play off each other in order to create a much stronger way to think about the film. “

I’m an eye. A mechanical eye.

Speaking of Ways of Seeing (see previous post).


Beginning of the first of four Ways of Seeing at the BBC

This is a first for me, I’ve read the book, but had never seen the documentary film. Fascinating.

It starts with Berger cutting a piece out of a quattrocento painting in a museum, moves to showing a printing press printing the cut-out, switches then to fragments of Man with a Movie Camera accompanied by the text of the 1923 manifesto Kinoks Revolution, by Vertov (see below). Please also the checkbook lettering which were en vogue at the time.

Notes how Berger constistenly says “camewa” and “woom”.

An excerpt of Vertov’s manifesto:

“I’m an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I’m in constant movement. I approach and pull away from objects. I creep under them. I move alongside a running horse’s mouth. I fall and rise with the falling and rising bodies. This is I, the machine, manoeuvring in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations. Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unkown to you.”

One just has to love Youtube for making all of this available. Filesharing has made music available (but not in real-time alas), Google books did the same for books, Youtube does it for the moving image. There is still a wealth of TV and radio documentaries waiting to be unearthed. I am particularly thinking of European state funded radio and television since the 1960s.

Music writing informed by critical theory


Beau Mot Plage (1999) by Isolée

This post dedicated to Woebot. Who else could write an article on canonical house music informed by critical theory? The answer is below the quote.

“I really admire exercises like Harold Bloom‘s “The Western Canon” and F. R. Leavis‘s “The Great Tradition“. It’s not just the critic’s job to dissect, it’s a crucial task to re-imagine and assemble. My recent idea has been, in the absence of any other strong generic competitor to it, to try and extract from within the tradition of House-music-proper a strand of what I’m calling “Mauve House”. If the methodology used in tackling the pyramidic proliferation of dance music genres, used to be naming each subset, nowadays a more appropriate approach might be like filleting a joint of beef, that’s to say stripping out one strand from the carcass.”

Answer: Simon Reynolds. Internal links are mine.