Category Archives: culture

Barbie @50

In 1959 the Barbie doll debuts.

There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do by you.

There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do

Today, Barbie has come to symbolize any stunningly beautiful, but stupid or shallow young woman (see bimbo and dumb blonde). Likewise her male counterpart Ken symbolizes an American college football jock. They both major in a Mickey Mouse course and are emblematic of American popular culture.

More specifically Barbie has been criticized for promoting a false female body image due to Barbie’s size zero (see heroin chic), perhaps most vociferously at the 2006 Madrid Fashion Week. Commercial appropriations have included The Body Shop‘s “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do” campaign; satirical variants include Todd Haynes‘s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. For an innocuous satire check “I’m a Barbie Girl.”

See also: stereotypes of white people and stereotypes of Americans.

Charles Darwin @200

Charles Darwin @200

Contemporary satirical drawing of Darwin

It is my fashion to view people’s careers in terms of their controversies and their influences outside of their own fields.

Darwin’s claim to fame in this context is that he said we are of common descent with “apes.”

Charles Robert Darwin (February 12, 1809April 19, 1882) was an eminent English naturalist who achieved lasting fame with his 1859 book On the Origin of Species which established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification in nature.

Influence on Naturalism

Writers who belong to the 19th century literary school of Naturalism were influenced by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin. They believed that one’s heredity and social environment decide one’s character. Naturalism attempts to determine “scientifically” the underlying forces (i.e. the environment or heredity) influencing these subjects’ actions. In fact, Zola wrote a long essay in which he mentioned Darwin in relation to contemporary literature. The essay was called The Experimental Novel and described the process of writing a novel as an experiment, in which the writer introduces “characters”, and the outcome is determined by heredity and mileu.

He wrote:

Sans me risquer à formuler des lois, j’estime que la question d’hérédité a une grande influence dans les manifestations intellectuelles et passionnelles de l’homme. Je donne aussi une importance considérable au milieu. Il faudrait sur la méthode aborder les théories de Darwin; mais ceci n’est qu’une étude générale expérimentale appliquée au roman, et je me perdrais, si je voulais entrer dans les détails.

If I remember correctly, Naturalism in literature shares its etymological roots with the Natural Sciences, of which Darwin was a practitioner.

Also, one-time-Naturalist-turned-decadent Huysmans‘s in Against the Grain has his alter ego Des Esseintes praise the “evolution of language so rightly insisted on by Darwin“. But that book appalled Zola, who felt it had dealt a “terrible blow” to Naturalism.

Influence on Bergson

Henri Bergson was highly influenced by biology, particularly Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species, which was released the year of Bergson’s birth. This leads Bergson to discuss the ‘Body’ and ‘Self’ in detail, arguably prompting the fundamental ontological and epistemological questions to be raised later in the twentieth-century French philosophy.

Related subjects

To say that Darwin has been influential is an understatement. His name has been linked to other controversial issues such as degeneration, social hygiene, color terminology for race, and social Darwinism, as well as the notion of the survival of the fittest.

See  reaction to Darwin’s theory

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.

Deaths in 2008


“Nobody had every done anything like this before” —Bebe Barron (1925 – 2008) on Anais Nin

Introducing Dino Valls

Introducing Dino Valls
Dino Valls by Mujer Lagarto
Click for credits

Barathrum by luogo

Click for credits

Dino Valls is a Spanish painter born in 1959 in Zaragoza, presently living and working in Madrid. This self-taught artist studied Italian and Flemish masters of the 16th and 17th centuries and currently makes use of egg tempera.


Having previously obtained a degree in medicine, he is now one of the Spanish representatives of the vanguard of new figurative art[1], along with Odd Nerdrum in Norway and John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage in America where there is also the Lowbrow art movement, presided over by critics such as Suzanne G..

His work is also classified as fantastic art.

Here is an interesting YouTumentary with a soundtrack by Funkstörung.[2]

What the Butler Saw in Düsseldorf

The butler visited Diana und Actaeon – Der verbotene Blick auf die Nacktheit with a fellow butler and a maid.

He was thrilled to see Étant donnés[1] by Marcel Duchamp. And he did not realize it also looked like this[2]. He saw the famous metal doll sculpture[3] by Hans Bellmer and Bad Boy by Eric Fischl. He saw the most beautiful penis in post-war photography, yes he meant the Robert Mapplethorpe one[4].

He saw and liked photographs[5] of the Linley Sambourne collection, paintings by French figuratist Jean Rustin[6], paintings by Michael Kirkham[7], his first viewing of the fauvist Erich Heckel[8], Phryne[9] by French academic cult painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, waxworks by Belgian sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere[10], and paintings by Roland Delcol[11].

The butler was also very much taken by Johannes Hüppi[12]; his first viewing of his fave John Currin[13]; his first real Félix Vallotton; and a Lisa Yuskavage[14]. But not that one.

Butler wants you to know that the works he pointed to are for reference only and may not correspond to the works at the exhibition. He also wants you to know that some of the links may be NSFW.

Introducing Moviedrome

Alex Cox was responsible for a substantial part of my 1980s and 1990s film education with his show Moviedrome on BBC television.

That, I wrote a year ago, when I found  the Laura Gemser interview from the Alex Cox documentary “A Hard Look”

Last week, I find the very first introduction of the very first broadcast of the cult television programme on cult films.


Moviedrome (first broadcast, May 8th, 1988)

The first film was The Wicker Man. To my knowledge, the transcripts of the introductions by Cox were not published. I do suggest that any serious film student would “read” them from start to finish. I wish I could.


Maybe there is a way to find the missing texts. Cox has just published an autobiography so it seems.

Has anyone read this?

X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker (2008) []

[FR] [DE] [UK]

I am the Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul

I am the Dying Gaul

This is my death scene, I was not given a deathbed. I do not represent the most famous death scene. I am outdeathed by Jesus Christ who died on the cross and Jean-Paul Marat , both after me.

I seem to have been born in a culture of death, yet I was not given any last words. This fascination with death in Western culture. Why? Why so pervasive?

Why did Jane write A Death-Scene?

So I knew that he was dying-
Stooped, and raised his languid head;
Felt no breath, and heard no sighing,
So I knew that he was dead.

Why this fasicnation with crime scenes?

Why did Andy Warhol produce The Death and Disaster paintings?

And why is every sensationalist  corner of video-libraries around the world filled with copies of Faces of Death?


Bonnie and Clyde

Why do we enjoy the slow motion death of Bonnie and Clyde and countles other movie death scenes?

Aristotle, had I known him, would have answered me:

Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.Aristotle via the Poetics.

Indescribable, unspeakable, ineffable and inexplicable

The Aigiulle Blaitiere. c. 1856 by John Ruskin by you.

The Aigiulle Blaitiere. c. 1856 by John Ruskin

A painting by Thomas Hill dated 1870 by you.

A painting by Thomas Hill dated 1870

Reading the opening chapter of Ivins‘s Prints and Visual Communication[1] on the indescribability of things (and the need for photographic representations) reminded me of the garland and the Greek Anthology.

Googling for “indescribability” brings up this interview regarding the sublime, indescribability and mountain literature and mountain art.

The trope of unrepresentability is probably the commonest of all in mountain literature and art: the throwing up of the hands, the confession of the inadequacy of representation to catch the phenomena of the mountain world. I remember reading the journal of an Edinburgh bishop from the 1760s who’d gone on a mini-Caledonian tour. He writes: “I looked north and saw rank on rank of unspeakably beautiful…” He crosses out “unspeakably”—he’s obviously unhappy with it—and writes instead “mountains so beautiful I could not describe them.” Then he crosses that out, and we get four synonyms for “indescribable,” the first three crossed out. What’s exciting about Ruskin is that instead of acquiescing to indescribability, he tries to enact it, to let his art or prose take the forms of their subjects. In his drawing of the Glacier du Bois, near Chamonix, for example, the whole image is vortical; everything is being tugged by some centripetal force which has no apparent center but which is clearly at work. It’s hard to say what that force is, but it has something to do with time, a kind of deep time that is at work in that viewing moment. The glacier looks like a river in flood, in spate; the sun looks to have been absorbed by it, and there’s an inexplicably detached tree bole and root in the foreground. Even his curving signature seems to be vulnerable to the vortex. –Brian Dillon interviewing Macfarlane [2]

My love for subjects starting with un-, in-, a- and variants is great and started with with the notion of unfilmability. Notable related concepts to indescribability include unspeakable, ineffable and inexplicable.

They connote to absence, lacking, contrary, opposite, negation and reversal, concepts and tropes very apt to denote their positive counterparts.

For what is there to say on effability if one does not investigate its negative: ineffability?

The whole of this subject touches on representation in the arts and of course, medium specificity.

Older links to this subjects are general aesthetics and the sublime.

To end with a quote which I cannot reproduce verbatim:

Sex begins where words stop”. —Georges Bataille.

I’ve explored the previous notion here[3].