Thursday, 28 February 2008


An interesting project for a sociology of knowledge occurred to me: Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds have done a fine job in my view in laying some foundations for an argument that something like an "interpretive community" (Stanley Fish's term) came into being around the Cyberculture Research Unit at Warwick University. With the inspiration of Sadie Plant and Nick Land, this "way of seeing" has spread out into the blogosphere, in addition to other manifestations (electronic music etc). Some of what I have to say here amounts to a kind of extension of an earlier post on this blog on the topic of "cultural journalism".

I don't wish to imply, with my [above] qualification, that this typifies the only possible response, so before getting to why I raise the issue in a posting ostensibly concerned with Ballard and technotheory, I can draw another distinction here. I think it unwise to lapse, other than when they are blatantly at issue , into discussion of personal motivations, so I believe the adoption of said approach by other critics in the blogosphere can be safely disregarded:
Perhaps the only part worth engaging with in the [above] link, has to do with the question of how to appraise the associated avant garde politics. Assessing the possible degree of truth in the satire might be a task that would benefit through comparison with the long standing critical exchanges between sociology and cultural studies. Perhaps one indicator of a search for a mediated position, which avoids the tar pits of a much older sociology of culture, is the formation of the new Sage journal Cultural Sociology. But this example also causes me to cast my mind back to the questions of disciplinary identity and politics, as they relate to interpretive communities. The one that most fascinates me has to do with the proximity of CRU to Steve Fuller at Warwick University; Fuller is a leading figure in Science Studies, and a known critic of Science and Technology Studies, especially in its most popular non-normative form of Actor Network Theory. In the absence of any published commentary by either party, my hypothesis is that Fuller's attitude toward the CRU would, in principle, be something like the position of "the intellectual" featured in the dialogue with a philosopher in his book "The Intellectual" (but see also the older posting on Acheron on "flexible fascism"). My feeling is that there is a story here waiting to be told, particularly as Fuller is increasingly trying to insert himself into debates ocurring in forums outside of the academy (witness, for example, his prominence in the "intelligent design" debate, on radio, assorted websites etc).
It can be no straight forward matter however of assuming apriori that one knows what constitutes "politics", and that a history of "British poststructuralism" could precede in the manner of Colin McCabe's (if I recall correctly) historical teleology, however much one might think such an exercise could tell us a great deal about the prominence of the journal Screen, as preparing the ground for the later cultivation of Lacan as pop philosopher, most notably in the form of Zizek. But this is hardly the only way of framing the Lacanian reading strategy. Reservations are also expressed by self-proclaimed post-structuralists and postmodernists of various stripes. For them, it simply will not do to propound Lacanian positions, when it might be said that Zizek, and their numerous clones and epigones, are themselves the paramnesiac symptom of a "body machine complex". This has to do in part then with reservations about the Lacanian reading method as being dependent upon an opposition between symbol and materiality. Lacanians, in this view, are simply a hindrance in coming to grips with the realities of technoculture, particularly its ascendant forms of power. This is a critique which is extended by posthumanists, who draw upon Deleuze and Guattari, and Luhmann, in an effort to move beyond the restrictions of an oedipalised subjectivity. Of interest to this blog's mission statement, this extends to consideration of forging new forms of interaction with non-human others, not least animals.
And then there is also, as alluded to in the reference to the "body machine complex", the consideration of human interactivity with technology, from the most mundane levels of tool use up to and including the crafting of new forms of subjectivity.
This introduction would seem to have finally brought this post up to speed on its foregrounding of the Ballardian chronotope. I am left wondering if it too needs to thought in terms of the limitations of "a paramnesiac symptom", and if the application of Lacanian procedures to his work [uncritically] confirms these limitations? On these grounds I raised the possibility of exploring a "circuit breaker" of the usual Lacan/Baurdrillard/Bataille lineup with Simon Sellars, the administrator of the Ballardian site (a thumbnail preview of which appears here):
Perhaps derridata and I might be able to collaborate on this project some day. Until such a time, I've posted for reference an excerpt from a feminist technotheoretical perspective here. It is too early to say whether, if the time comes, our response would diverge in any significant ways from this piece. But I am known to be paranoid about interesting material disappearing from the web before I have had a chance to follow it up, so a hefty sampling follows. The same principle applies to the resources on electronic music which appears below (and who is to say at this embryonic stage that no crossover in theoretical concern could take place?).
So firstly, here is the link for the interesting piece which deals, in part, with Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's "Crash", which argues that the film is deeply misogynistic:

"David Cronenberg’s allegiance to body culture is useful in illustrating how the man/machine interface affects the way female characters are portrayed in popular culture or cinema.For the purpose of this study, two of his films that I consider of paramount importance in investigating the representation or the treatment of women in science fiction and future noir texts, as they capture the paranoia about the insertion or invasion of machine/scientific experimentation into a human body, are The Fly and Crash. I would argue that whereas The Fly falls into the category of science fiction/horror hybrid, Crash is a future noir film. Famously (or notoriously?) dubbed as ‘ “King of Venereal Horror”, “the Baron of Blood”, and “Dave ‘Deprave’ Cronenberg’”,75 Cronenberg’s fascination with the human body is regularly epitomised by his films like Shivers, Videodrome, Rabid, The Fly and Crash. Critics of these films label him the master of body rupture and transformation, observing that he creates images that are truly the ‘most shocking, perverse, disgusting and truly inventive scenes of horror and bodily mayhem ever conceived for the cinema’.76 Indisputably an auteur, Cronenberg’s oeuvre is tied together by his interest in dissecting a human body that has been torn asunder, investigated and sometimes contaminated: in the case of Shivers, by excretory-like parasites. The genres’ different ideological frames consequently affect the meanings attached to the representation of the female characters especially at the level of ideological symbolism, which are vividly dramatised by these films – The Fly and Crash. I will be using them to demonstrate how the fundamental difference in ontological uncertainties moves the latter into the future noir territory. These uncertainties indeed are their most potent forces.
Whereas The Fly falls within the realm of the science fiction/horror hybrid, Crash is a future noir text in which the atmospherically bleak world is chaotic; ‘human beings’ struggle to find new meanings in their relationships with machines, culminating in the inescapable human/machine interface. What this suggests is that, unlike The Fly’s ending that is subliminally cathartic, Crash is sombre and cold throughout, sans peur et sans reproche, denying any purgation of the (audience and characters’) emotions. Likewise, although their interests in the interception of the machine by/in the human body are somewhat similar, the watershed lies in the ontological uncertainty of future noir that focuses on the interest in the way the female characters are represented. The films’ ontological instabilities, moreover, are drawn from the different metaphor that the interface represents, influenced in turn by the hybridity of the genres themselves. The fusion of science fiction and the gothic horror in The Fly is characteristically prevalent in the making of a tragic and melancholic hero (Although Cronenberg himself claims that The Fly is a metaphor for the ageing process and denies the idea that it is intended as an AIDS metaphor77), the film’s romantic angle is a chrysalis from which the treatment of the female character can be divulged, whereby, according to Chris Rodley, we see the film’s ‘triumph of love story over special effects’.78 Arguably, Crash, which is adopted into a film from one of J.G. Ballard’s novels, retains the future noir elements of the original text by combining science fiction elements with noir pessimism and inescapable fatalism – a postmodern hybrid. This bleakness may be a result of two authorial visions: Martin Barker, Jane Arthurs and Ramaswati Harindranath argue that Crash ‘is a very self-conscious film […] very evidently formed out of a combination of the visions of J.G. Ballard and David Cronenberg’.79 This is concurred with by Cronenberg who observes that ‘the sci-fi-ness [of Crash], comes from [J.G.] Ballard anticipating a future pathological psychology’,80 a vision that he himself tries to accomplish. This shared bleak vision of the future world engendered by psychopathology is the embodiment of noir’s vision of postmodern nightmare. Therefore, embedded in both films’ ideological differences are their ontological conflicts that offer different ways of reading the female characters. In other words, the portrayal of the female characters in The Fly and Crash as ‘hopeless romantic’ is also emblematic of the genres’ reaction towards Western culture’s interest in investigating a female body, sexuality, and subjectivity; and this is referred analogously to the human/machine interface.
One of the strategies employed in The Fly involves locating the metaphor of the interface in the ‘spatialisation’ of a female body. As an exploitable space, it is both intriguing and threatening, signifying the films’ inherent curiosity about the female body; thus, treating it like an object of investigation. There is no denying that the ‘spatialisation’ of a female body marks a new cultural attitude towards the human body itself; it is, however, mostly characterised by the pejorative representation of a female body as a landscape to be explored, manipulated, and ‘tamed’, but ultimately replaceable or dispensable. In David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) declares to Ronnie (Geena Davis), “What I am working on? I am working on something that will change the world and human life as we know it”. The ideological significance of Brundle’s experiment is embodied in the womb-like teleports, which in turn carry a bifurcate metaphor: In one sense, the teleports’ role, notwithstanding the fact that the fly’s being trapped in one of the teleports is purely an accidental circumstance, is to ‘reproduce’, taking away a woman’s unique ability to reproduce. When the teleports turn into a ‘gene splicer’, it creates a new breed of being - Brundlefly. The teleports in effect function as a mother’s womb and Brundlefly is its progeny. At one stage of the film, in encouraging Ronnie to experiment with the teleports, Brundle claims that ‘It makes you feel sexy’. It is sexy because the teleports ‘are’, for him, a female body that can be penetrated and analysed, the centre of his unique invention and exploration. Therefore, to a certain extent, Cronenberg’s The Fly can be seen as the modern reworking of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which the ‘scientific request is described in terms of sexual aggression against (female) nature’.81 The teleports in effect represent everything that is associated with a female body or a castrated mother: a symbol of fertility, fatal, evil, and mysteriously seductive; hence is required by patriarchy to be annihilated or controlled.
The Fly also manifests the paranoia of technological invention gone wrong, whilst simultaneously placing the female body at the centre of the chaos. ‘Locating horror in the body’, argues John Costello, ‘is therefore logical, with no spiritual battleground of “good” versus “evil”, and no promise of afterlife’.82 Costello’s argument is rather problematic, partly due to him eschewing a human body as a cultural site, making it a gradual yet incessant construct. Notwithstanding that, his view of the body as a site for horror gives prominence to the body as an abject essence, a site where ‘cultural abomination’ is finally personified. To a great extent, this is explained by Mike Merrin, who quoted Cronenberg’s talking about ‘the AIDS epidemic […] and asked the interviewer to see it from the point of view of the virus’,83 highlighting his tendency to dig deep beneath the surface of representation. Apparently, for Brundle, ‘I wasn’t just talking about sex and penetration. I am talking about penetration beyond the veil of flesh’, signaling his epistemological quest that directly puts the female character at the centre of his personal conflict with technology. This conflict is a construct, in which, Cronenberg, through his male protagonist, has moved the body out of the realm of the representational, making allowance for the protagonist’s flawed judgement to snowball. Technology is the enabler of the bodily transformation, but Ronnie’s body that raises Brundle’s curiousity is the catalyst, hence her role as his nemesis.
Misogynistic, the film is a strict revision of the Fall narrative, blaming the female character for the male protagonist’s downfall.The Fall narrative constructs the interest in Brundle’s experiment around the need to put fundamental blame on the central female character, alluding to her role as his nemesis.Though Brundle’s ultimate goal is to experiment with an animate object, his jealousy of Ronnie’s relationship with her boss precipitates the experimentation on his own body. Following the tradition of a romantic hero, Brundle is ready to cross the boundary of human possibilities by using his own body as the guinea pig in order to prove his heroism, taking the risk to change Mother Nature. If in the Fall narrative ‘what simultaneously subverted and energized the subject of Western culture was not desire per se [Original italic], but transgressive desire haunted by the death which it brought into being’,84 the transgressive desire in the film leads less to the invention of his project, and more to his own tragic death. His status as a tragic hero is due to the flaws in his own judgement, turning him into a sympathetic figure as his human body gradually disintegrates while the ‘fly’ concurrently takes shape. The film does not ‘let go’ of Ronnie that easily, complicating her in the loop of Brundle-fly’s desire to resist his dehumanisation, as he pleads with her to get into the teleports with him so that they can form ‘a family of three … more human than I ever long for’. When Brundle is transformed into a horror figure (or what Robin Wood classifies as ‘superego figure’ discussed earlier), the strategy of the rest of the narrative is to build around the conviction to complicate or punish her. Ronnie’s ultimate punishment is not only to carry the burden of her unwanted pregnancy, but also to be forced to ‘kill’ Brundle. The narrative strategically places Brundle as a tragic hero by demonstrating how his humanity supersedes his fly/machine side. In the end when Brundlefly pleads with Ronnie to shoot ‘him’, his heroism is again centralised, turning Ronnie into la belle dame sans merci instead. This narrative impulse can be cathartic, an element of science fiction that severs it from the future noir territory.
Crash, which according to Ian Sinclair is ‘the posthumous dream of a book that no longer exists’,85 is the manifestation of Cronenberg’s curiosity and vision about the interface of human and machine. It unashamedly investigates female desire, sexuality, and body, reminiscent of canonical noir’s treatment of women. This interface signifies the bleak collapse of the future into the present (“Vaughan: It’s the future, Ballard, you’re already part of it”), combining the physical fusion of a human with technology, which therefore undermines the Western binary system. The film’s ontological uncertainty originates in the conflicts between its spatial-temporal and ideological framework, culminating in the creation of a catalogue of characters who are blasé about their surroundings and are brought together by the obsessive desire for pleasure. The sexual act, as the narrative trajectory of the film itself, is an expression of the characters’ actions to transgress theological-cultural (the main characters are married) and physical boundaries. The result is a tremendous blurring of identity and sexuality, while consigning the female characters in the narrative of becoming the Other, who are usurped by hedonistic ‘epicurean’ ethics. These hedonistic ‘epicurean’ ethics are reminiscent of the portrayal of women as the embodiment of male fantasy, shaping them into bona fide femmes fatales. One may ask: are the female characters in Crash liberated? My analysis tries to prove that this is possible, especially by looking at noir elements available in the film.
Crash relies heavily on its visual86 style to articulate the basic premise of the story. The stream of light created by moving cars is resonant of the ‘running’ light in Chandler’s mean street or the neon lights of ‘techno noir’ in James Cameron’s Terminator, thus creating an atmospheric feast of noir darkness and a double-edged world that is not what it seems. The film’s tendency to invest a lot of its visual focus on both the body of a human and a car underlines the voyeuristic desire at play. The voyeuristic camera angle that focuses on a naked female body, scarred male and female body, and a wrecked car in equal measure creates a series of visceral images in an effort to unbalance and destabilize any moral judgement attached to the sexual body, resulting in the fragmentation of the ‘humanist’ self. These catalogues of conflicting images, coupled with some raw sex scenes, give the idea that all of entities in the film are penetrated bodies or perhaps penetrable, as body eroticism and car crashes are intertwined. Cronenberg’s characters are transgressors that reflect the insanity of society and challenge the spectators’ moral ground, as they are often covertly placed within a voyeuristic distance, the very essence of what constitutes noir disorientation of the audience. The antagonistic force that the inhabitants of this noir world have to face is no longer the gangster underworld but their own bodies and uncontrollable, ungratified sexual desire, which can only be satiated with mechanical invention and intervention. Cars are eroticised, as illustrated by the way Vaughan sensuously describes his James Dean look-alike’s car in great detail and with pleasure, before re-enacting some famous crashes involving celebrities like James Dean and Jayne Mansfield. The association that is made between car crashes and celebrities (who cash in on their public images) is also a sign that ‘auto-eroticism’ is related to obsession with images - in this case injured and scarred images of humans and automobiles. The characters in the film are to a certain extent eroticised, but they are fundamentally flat and ‘lifeless’, highlighting the sense that Crash is a film about visual fascination and not character development.
The central question that arises from this apprehension is: What is Cronenberg’s primary vision? I would argue that the film is misogynistic, characterised by the film’s effort to fuse desire of/for a woman with technology, which results in both the eroticism of technology and the castration of the female body. Technology, in effect, is the new expression of desire itself. The discourse of the encounter is gradually becoming the palimpsest of the interface, which is achieved not in stages but through the nullifying of female subjectivity. For instance, the use of the controversial three successive sex scenes at the outset of the film heralds and demonstrates Cronenberg’s vision of the Oedipal journey to reaffirm masculinity as normalcy, and femininity as its perversion. The first sex scene foregrounds the idea of a woman imitating technology. In the opening scene of the film:
As we float past the planes we notice a woman leaning against the wing of a Piper Cub, her chest against the wing’s trailing edge, her arms spread out to each side, as though flying herself. As we get closer we see her jacket is pulled open to expose one of her breasts, which rests on the metal of the wing.87
In this camera cue, Cronenberg creates a fusion with an image of a woman (Catherine) imitating technology while having sex; dehumanising her while simultaneously eroticising technology. Technology is aggrandised and has increasingly incorporated with the sexual scene, a strategy employed by Cronenberg to gradually fuse and eventually denounce the female body in sexual acts. In the second sex scene between James Ballard and his camera assistant, ‘[s]he is draped across a table strewn with camera parts’,88 signifying not only the curious blurring of technology, desire and the human body but also the fragmentation of the female body itself. Female identity and sexuality are constantly destabilized, the result of the inevitable fusion with technology. The third sexual scene finally demonstrates the detachment of desire for/from the female body, while foregrounding the theme of remoteness or alienation:
Their sex-making is disconnected, passionless, as though it would disappear if they noticed it. An urgent, uninterrupted flow of cars streams below them.89
The anal sex performed by the couple is designed by Cronenberg to show the distancing of desire from the female body and the lack of intimacy between them. A conventional female body, Cronenberg decided, is no longer attractive without the intrusion of technology, signifying a literal attack of culture on nature. The shift of desire from animate to inanimate objects signifies the vision of a neo-body as a masculine construct, enabling Cronenberg to create a mise-en-scene in which ‘passion’ is contextualised within the image of moving and crashed cars, apotheosising and eroticising technology as a result.
If Cronenberg himself admits to using sex as the plot,90 the characters are then reduced to being mere plot devices, which in turns helps to explain thecharacters’ ontological uncertainty, buttressed by their sexual practices that create not intimacy, but distance. The film centres on a protagonist couple (Jim and Catherine played by James Spader and Deborah Unger, respectively) who instead of exchanging everyday ‘husband-wife’ news, ask about each other’s sexual conquests (“Did you come?” and “Did she come?”). The couple’s quest for sexual gratification galvanizes the basic premise of the narrative, forming noir deterministic encounters with a series of other ‘damaged’ characters. Technology in the form of crashed automobiles is the bridge that brings them together, but never connects them at any level other than sexual gratification. Cronenberg creates characters who are both existentially detached (noir alienation) and suicidal/damaged (noir pessimism). When Jim is involved in a head-on crash, the line between physical pleasure and machine is inevitably crossed. Sexual pleasure and the crashed car are intertwining, marked by Dr. Helen Remington’s, the wife of the dead driver, accidental breast exposure at the accident spot. This intertwine eventually forms a knot of sexual gratification, when during a hospital visit, Catherine and Jim indulge in mutual masturbation whilst she is describing to him the condition of his wrecked car. Eventually, the couple (Jim and Catherine) meet Vaughan (Elias Koteas) who tempts them into the subterranean culture with a project that involves ‘something we are intimately involved in … the reshaping of human body with modern technology’, ‘the new flesh’ that the male protagonist, Max, in Cronenberg’s Videodrome is ‘forced’ to accept.
When conventional female bodies are no longer desirable and intimate, the film sets out to fuse them with technology in an effort to establish their status as the Other. In the third sex scene of the film, Catherine stands facing the outside of her apartment, exposing her buttocks to James. This act of mooning, according to Ian Sinclair, is ‘a metaphor of otherness’. 91 In addition to the sexual encounters, the scarification of the female body by machine is what Cronenberg does in order to dislocate intimacy of the female body, not gradually but with urgency, as embodied in the automobile crash itself. In other words, Cronenberg places desire within the context of crashed automobiles, which in turns associates women with cuts and bruises, a metaphor for castrated woman and her monstrous vagina. In the first car crash involving James Ballard and Dr. Helen Remington, Ballard sees her as ‘the other woman in the other crashed car [who] inadvertently jerks open her blouse and exposes her breast to James […] / In the strange, desperate privacy of this moment, the breast’s erect nipple seems somehow, impossibly, a deliberate provocation’.92 The breast is metonymical of the nurturing female body, foregrounding the ontological quest of the characters’ ultimate existential experience (Vaughan: […] the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event, a liberation of sexual energy). However, this very act of sexual liberation is placed within the metaphor of the Other. Therefore, the accident that Ballard was involved with is used by Cronenberg to decentre female subjectivity, causing it to function as a catalyst of his Oedipal journey into manhood. Cronenberg creates the visual language for Ballard to start seeing the women – Catherine and Helen – as ‘a bizarre mirror image’,93 ‘watches her (Catherine) microscopically […] as though, perhaps, she isn’t human’,94 or ‘Helen […] straightening her skirt around her hips like a department-store window-dresser jerking a garment on to a mannequin’.95 As a result, Ian Sinclair observed:
The ‘existential romance’ is between James Ballard and Robert Vaughan, that is the thrust of the narrative: a psychosexual alliance between the passive, voyeuristic Ballard and the deranged and driven Vaughan, with his prophetic tattoo and his programme of assassination/suicide.96
Women are hence castrated, and therefore disengaged from the narrative of quasi-homosexuality, consigning them to the role of the Other. In another instance, when Vaughan has sex with Catherine, the act is ‘like two semi-metallic human beings of the future making love in a chromium bower’, not only literally bruising Catherine’s breasts, ‘the marks forming a pattern like car crash injuries’, 97 but also symbolically marking the narrative’s usurpation of her subjectivity. Having relinquished a conventional female sex organ, bruises and cuts on the female body are important in Cronenberg’s oneiric visions, a masculinist effort to construct a ‘neo-sex organ’.98
As an oneiric vision, Cronenberg’s noir world is a mirage which alludes to the Oedipal dream itself, that is, a dream of castrating the mother in the Symbolic in order to identify with the Father. The man/machine interface in the form of cuts, bruises and the visceral, in Cronenberg’s vision, refers to the archaic - the primitive desire to blame the woman for the male’s downfall. In theoriginal script of the film, Cronenberg vividly demonstrates the dissolving of technology with human body, while at the same time putting the blame on the female character.
James There’s still a patch of blood there on the road. Did you see
Renata I saw the blood. It looks like motor oil.
James You were the last one I saw just before the accident. Do you
remember? We made love.
Renata Are you still involving me in the crash?
The film’s lack of moral foundation is increased by the visceral effect of watching the characters struggling to gain pleasure from car crashes. The more the couple associate themselves with Vaughan, the deeper they are sucked into the dark world of ‘psychopathology’ where ‘auto-eroticism’ and self-destructiveness are the order of the day, thus ‘redefining our relationship to the automobile in radical, psychosexual ways’.99 The crossing of the boundary between bodily pleasure and machinic intervention culminates in the death of Vaughan - but this is also the ultimate (sexual) goal of his ‘project’, rendering it a success (in the noir sense of the word). Forsythe in Cronenberg’s Shiver summarizes this sentiment, professing that ‘even dying is an act of eroticism’.100 The idea that the ultimate quest for pleasure has not yet been achieved ( Maybe the next one darling…Maybe the next one…”) leaves the film with a strong sense of determinism in which the characters are designed to be doomed and hopeless, that is, noir fatalism at its own zenith.
Noir fatalism is expressed through the characters’ obsessive relationship with death.For that reason, the film curiously explores the relationship between the sexual dissident and the death wish in an effort to feminise the desire for death itself. Jonathan Dollimore theorizes that
The sexually dissident have known that the strange dynamic which, in Western culture, binds death into desire is not the product of a marginal pathological imagination, but crucial in the formatation of that culture.101
When Colin Seagrave (Peter McNeill) - Vaughan’s stunt partner - dies in a road accident, that is, as the result of re-enacting Jayne Mansfield’s auto crash, he is found cross-dressed, and he has all the props needed to make it similar to Mansfield’s, including her pet dog. Since Seagrave’s ultimate goal is to die in the re-enactment of Jayne Mansfield’s ( a female) fatal car crash, it signals the importance of associating desire for death with femininity. Whereas Cronenberg aligns Seagrave’s death wish with femininity, in Vaughan’s case, the feminisation of the death wish is achieved by feminising his body and desire. Cronenberg feminises Vaughan’s desire by establishing him as a ‘feminine’ character, the one that is obsessed with being penetrated by both machine and another man. Dollimore argues that:
The Western preoccupation with death, desire and loss is also significantly gendered […] It was or is a narrative in which woman is held responsible for bringing death and mutability into the world […] there is no dearth of psychoanalytic explanations for this association of women with death, ranging from chronic unconscious male fear of engulfment or even castration during sexual intercourse, to the difficulty of the boy child leaving the mother for another woman.102
The extent to which his body and desire are feminised is later revealed as the personification of Catherine’s desire. Catherine, while having sex with her husband, Ballard, asks questions about Vaughan’s body and what Ballard would like to do with it, setting the sexual scenario subsequently implemented by Ballard. By being penetrated by Ballard, Vaughan’s body, as Cronenberg intends, is feminised. Therefore, his desire for death is not due to the castration complex, but due to his over-identification with the Mother. As the embodiment of an over-identification with the mother, Vaughan represents perverse sexuality, and in this case, he suffers from psychopathology.
Despite Cronenberg’s treatment of desire as feminine, which is conspicuously misogynistic, the film’s future noir elements allow the female characters to have their fair share of liberation. Catherine, as a wife in an open marriage, is in search for sexual gratification, to the extent that she is willing to cross the boundary between life and death. To a great degree, her quest for pleasure controls the narrative thrust of the film. It is her sexual fantasy about Vaughan that Ballard eventually experiences. She is therefore more than a wife, but also the controller of the narrative of ‘the next one’. Helen as a widow of the victim of the car accident caused by Ballard, also challenges the notion of a victim, having been ‘turned on’ by it. Her newly found pleasure resulting from the accident develops into a fetish that, like the protagonist couple, lures her into a world of obsession with the penetrated and injured body. She is a post-feminist figure whose principle in life is better explained by the popular adage of ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt’. Gabrielle’s (Rosanna Arquette) body sexily clad in an ‘S&M’ metal-and-leather outfit challenges the essence of scopophilia by stressing her vulnerability as an individual damaged by the flaw in her character. The effect is sickening voyeurism that challenges the viewers’ identification with the characters, disorientating them as noir texts usually do. In the original script, ‘it is obvious that they (Helen and Gabrielle) have become lovers’, a female bonding that signifies strength where everything else around them is falling apart.
Following noir tradition, the investigation of the female characters also exposes the instability and insecurity of the male characters. While having sex with her husband, Catherine vividly shows her interest in a scarred male body, asking her husband about Vaughan’s penis. She imagines and questions about the penis, creating a descriptive language that nullifies its symbolic power and displaces it in the realm of the real as a form of perversion or psychopathology, which is ‘suffered’ by Vaughan. Catherine’s line of questioning, ‘Is he circumcised? Can you imagine what his anus is like? Describe it to me’, is emblematic of Foucault’s philosophical understanding of ‘knowledge is power’. Her wanting to know, as illustrated by the questions, puts her in the position of the determiner of knowledge, the holder of the truth. That is why, at one point, she suggests to her husband, ‘I’d like to go back James …’, knowing what is ahead of her. In that vein, suddenly, the narrative engenders the idea that while scarification is associated with the vagina, it also generates interests that mystify a male body.
In conclusion, though the thrust of both films is towards scrutinizing female subjectivity, sexuality, and body, Crash’s bleakness sets it apart from The Fly as a future noir text. While the male protagonist in The Fly is resonant of the tragic hero whose greatness determines and informs how tragic his ending is later considered to be, it lacks both atmospheric anxiety and moral ambivalence which are two of the major defining criteria of a film noir. The Fly’s dark mood is raw gothic fear of the Other, or the personification of the evil and abject essence within a human body, as manifested by the Bundlefly itself. The protagonist’s disintegration, which culminates in his incarceration in a well-like prison, provides a closure and sympathy, giving a rather monolithic moral dimension to his fate, causing ‘him’ to function as a tragic figure in a cautionary tale rather than a transgressor in a noir world. On the other hand, the ending of Crash leaves the audience disorientated and to a greater extent disillusioned. The characters, in pursuit of the ultimate sexual pleasure, culminating in a fatal ending, i.e., death itself, are devoid of any moral standing or foundation. Their struggle represents a dormant anxiety that runs amok when triggered, leaving no space for moral speculation or anticipation. Knowing that the characters’ pursuit of the ultimate pleasure of death disregards their human dimension, the audience is left disconcerted. When their bodies are snatched by machines, the paranoia of ‘Maybe the next one’, which is embedded in future noir, begins".

Having digested Ballard's thoughts in this clip, which almost sound suspiciously like technological determinism, (the technology makes us contemplate "ITS WORLD"!!), I can return to electronic music. Here then is my reproduction of Sean Albiez's useful posting (I also understand that Simon Reynolds is updating "Energy Flash"):

There has been worked produced post-2000 that looks at early 21st century
currents in electronic (dance) music - but has often focused more on IDM and
the experimental extremities of glitch, microsound etc. rather than
mainstream forms - but even this work has diminished since @ 2004.

Here are some potentially useful references (some of which will have to be cut n' pasted into browser as not html):

Butler, Mark J. (2001) ‘Turning the Beat Around: reinterpretation, metrical
dissonance, and assymetry in electronic dance music’, Music Theory Online,
Vol. 7 No. 6 December 2001
10th March 2006 <>

Byrne, David (2002) ‘Machines of Joy: I have seen the future and it is
squiggly’, Leonardo Music Journal,
Vol. 12, pp. 7-10, 2002

Chapman, Dale (2003) ‘Hermeneutics of Suspicion: paranoia and the
technological sublime in drum and bass music’, Echo – a music centred
journal, Vol. 5 Issue 2, (Fall 2003)
10th March 2006 <>

Cranfield, Brady (2002) ‘Producing Noise: Oval and the politics of digital
audio’, Parachute, Issue 107, pp. 42-51

Diedrichsen, Diedrich (2003) ‘Digital Electronic Music: between pop and pure
mediality’ in Van Assche et al,
Sonic Process, Paris: Actar

Emmerson, Simon (2001) 'From Dance! to "Dance": distance and digits',
Computer Music Journal, Vol. 25 No. 1,
Spring 2001, pp. 13-20

Garcia, Luis-Manuel (2005) ‘On and On: repetition as process and pleasure in
electronic dance music’,
Music Theory Online, Vol. 11 No. 4, October 2005
10th March 2006 <>

Hemment, Drew (2004) 'Affect and Individuation in Popular Electronic Music'
in Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swiboda
(eds.) Deleuze and Music, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.

Huegli, Walter and Jaeggi, Martin (eds.) Raw Music Material: electronic
music DJ's today , Zurich: Scalo

Loubet, Emmanuelle (2000) ‘Laptop Performers, Compact Disc Designers, and
No-Beat Techno Artists in Japan:
music from nowhere’, Computer Music Journal, Winter 2000, Vol. 24
No. 4, p. 19-36

Luna, Edward (2003) ‘Beautiful Noise: directions in electronic music’
10th March 2006 <>

Neill, Ben (2002) ‘Pleasure Beats: rhythm and the aesthetics of current
electronic music’, Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 12, pp. 3-6

Petridis, Alexis (2004), 'Bored of the Dance', The Guardian, 3/11/04
20th March 2006

Stuart, Caleb (2003) ‘Damaged Sound: glitching and skipping compact discs in
the audio of Yasunao Tone,
Nicolas Collins and Oval’, Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 13 No. 1,
January 2003, pp. 47-52

- (2003) ‘The Object of Performance: aural performativity in
contemporary laptop music’
11th March 2006

Van Veen, Tobias C. (2002) ‘Laptops & Loops: the advent of new forms of
experimentation and the question of
technology in experimental music and performance’
10th March 2006 <>

Weidenbaum, Marc (2005) ‘The Organization Musician - Monolake’
10th March 2006 <>

The Wire also regularly covers techno in one way or another ...

Sean Albiez

Nice work, thanks Sean.
I wonder if Tobias, who has also featured on this blog as my interlocutor, would fit in neatly with the interpretive community springing from CRU that I've referenced? My speculation may not be too off target, as he is in regular correspondence with Kode9, who Simon Reynolds associates with CRU (the Reynolds piece can be found on the kpunk blog). It sounds more plausible in light of the theoretical justifications offered on the following youtube clip. For the record, Tobias is known to have refused my association of his position with an historical avant garde. Let others decide perhaps. The clip is a bit old, but remains relevant as a indicator of Mutek as a possible nodal point of the aforementioned network. I should note at this point that I simply regard "network talk" as a more dynamic development of the conception of "interpretive community", with which I began this posting. However, I cannot speak here to the complication of such an assumption by the putatively more "posthuman" perspective of actor network theory, which was not the main focus of my argument anyway:

Diary of the Dead
Chewing over the Reviews

"Diary [of the Dead] may initially struggle to get up to speed as it reprises business from the earlier films, but Romero has lost none of his wild inventiveness. This film has more left-field weirdness and edgy suspense than Land, with unexpected characters (a deaf, dynamite-throwing Amish farmer), grim jokes (the zombie birthday clown who bleeds when his red nose is pulled off) and horror scenes you have never seen before (in a crowded, gloomy warehouse, amid reserves of gasoline, a single, hard-to-find zombie mingles with jittery, well-armed folk). It turns out that despite decades of experiment, there arestill spectacular new ways of killing zombies on screen (a slow acid-dissolve of the skull), while presenting state-of-the-art make-up effects vérité-style recalls the impact of the gruesome intestine-gobbling scene in 1968.

"It's hard to tell when Romero is kidding. The hard-drinking British film professor Maxwell emerges as a comic creation more suited to Shaun of the Dead, with his pseudo-profundity or quoting from Dickens provoking perhaps unintended giggles. This taking Maxwell lightly mutes powerful moments, as when Debra thanks him for disposing of her zombified loved ones. The mostly young and attractive student crowd are in line with typical horror-film disposables, though even among this fairly privileged group Romero still finds an interesting range of social classes and attitudes. The more naive characters believably act as if they haven't seen such movies before and have to come to terms with the necessity of shooting their former friends or recognising that the support services are unlikely to help - snippets of news footage make this a post-Katrina rather than a post-9/11 movie.

"In the coda - a YouTube home video of rednecks amusing themselves by shooting zombies - Romero revives the Vietnam-era violence of Night but also evokes new horrors such as Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo. The Dead films are the director's own take on the rolling apocalypse of modern American history - and the real chill of Diary is that his vision is as biting now as in 1968."

Bite of the living dead
Film of the Month: Diary of the Dead
Kim Newman
Sight & Sound

"Repeatedly, Diary finds ways to locate its old plot in a new time. As in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, the panic over the zombies triggers a realignment of communities according to visible differences. The black militia men, black men with lots of guns, are not about to be isolated and killed by cracker vigilantes like Ben (Duane Jones). They mean to survive, and though Diary leaves them before you see their fate, that very move—to leave them—speaks to the film’s point about difference and fear and the ways that image-makers decide on who’s in the images. When one of the militia men admires Debra, noting their similar toughness and determination, it’s a brief bit of bonding and mutual admiration that goes a long way in a film that is so suffused with brutality and betrayal."

Cynthia Fuchs

"As a group of University of Pittsburgh student filmmakers headed by the compulsive Jason (Josh Close) and his recalcitrant sweetheart Debra (Michelle Morgan) witness the technological civilization around them abruptly crumbling under the assault of the brain-munching undead, they keep doggedly editing and uploading their videos to the Web. Everything we see in "Diary of the Dead," in fact, is supposedly shot by Jason and his friends and later edited by Debra, who explains her methods in an arch opening voiceover: "In some places I've added scary music to the video. Because I do want to scare you. Maybe it will wake you up."

"Meanwhile, all the background video Romero uses to indicate the encroaching chaos around them is real, and a lot of it's recognizable: Desperate crowds outside the Superdome in New Orleans; street riots in Latin America and Asia; genocidal civil violence in Rwanda and elsewhere. As usual with Romero, the social and political subtext is barely veiled, if at all. "Diary of the Dead" is thematically ambitious and at least mildly ingenious in form (although it's too bad for Romero that the similarly structured "Cloverfield" came out first). His zombies, if you'll forgive me saying something so tedious, are always metaphorical, and represent the yawning darkness that lies beneath the sleek but fragile surface of our techno-consumer culture.

"OK, that's the end of the good news. As long as I live I'll have a soft spot for Romero, a genuine filmmaking maverick of the pre-indie age who scared the living crap out of us while making us believe that resisting the Hollywood machine was both possible and necessary. Each of the films in his original trilogy has spawned its own genre, and I continue to believe that the unjustly neglected "Day of the Dead" (last of the three), claustrophobic and apocalyptic nightmare that it is, marks the creative end point of zombie cinema.

"None of that excuses me from telling you that "Diary of the Dead" is a limp and dreary experience, at least after you get past its intriguing premise. It's poorly written and woodenly acted, completely formulaic and hopelessly imprisoned by both its genre and finally its form. I mean, it's great that George Romero knows about MySpace, I guess, but spicing up a middling, muddling zombie flick with a few electronic-lifestyle fillips is beneath him, frankly. Romero didn't actually go back to Pittsburgh to make this movie; he shot it in Canada just like a middlebrow Hollywood director would, and something about that fundamental betrayal seems to infect the whole enterprise like a single zombie bite."

"Zombies eat YouTube!"
Andrew O'Heir

"There's a lot of huff and puff here about the media and its messages as Diary tracks the camera-wielding coeds on the road to nowhere in a zombie-splattered Winnebago. The dialogue can be overly self-reflexive ("If it's not on camera, it doesn't exist!"); the sharpest words tend to sneak in at the margins of the sound design ("The problem used to be people crossing the border," a radio pundit comments). Visually, Romero's ersatz-DIY experiment isn't as suave as Brian De Palma's similar effort in the recent and risible Redacted, nor as exactingly engineered as the video convulsions of Cloverfield, but its scrappy, ultra-low-budget edges are part of its charm. Romero initially conceived the project for Web-only broadcast, and if Poppa Zombie isn't quite the second coming of McLuhan when it comes to media critique, his return to small-scale indie filmmaking delivers big genre kicks.

"The devil's in the details, and Diary is diabolically resourceful within its circumscribed framework. Conceptually abstract as it is, the movie is vividly grounded in place: the institutional banality of university housing and deserted hospitals (priceless defibrillator- to-the-head bit here); the cluttered, shadow-strewn warehouse hideout where the kids meet up with a radicalized band of black survivors; the frightfully porous farmhouse of Samuel, a dynamite-chucking, deaf-mute Amish zombie slayer; the suburban McMansion, replete with six bathrooms, indoor pool, and steel-reinforced panic room ("We can sit and play Nintendo until this whole thing blows over"), where Diary climaxes as a kind of Zombie Year at Marienbad.

"Shades of 28 Days Later's finale there, though Romero claims never to have seen it. He has been watching the news, however, and Diary makes chilling appropriation of Katrina footage to double for the zombie disaster. To what end? "I don't try to answer any questions or preach," Romero explained following Diary's ecstatic midnight premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. "My personality and my opinions come through in the satire of the films, but I think of them as a snapshot of the time. I have this device, or conceit, where something happens in the world and I can say, 'Ooo, I'll talk about that—and I can throw zombies in it! And get it made!' You know, it's kind of my ticket to ride."

"Vlogged to Death"
Nathan Lee
The Village Voice

"Diary of the Dead (Weinstein Co.), George Romero's fifth contribution to the zombie-movie-as-political-satire genre that he almost singlehandedly invented with 1968's Night of the Living Dead, is hardly top-drawer Romero. In fact, it may be his worst zombie film yet. But even bad Romero is a far sight more interesting than the coolly sadistic guts-porn that currently passes for mainstream horror. Diary should have been called MySpace Page of the Dead. It uploads the director's usual obsessions (governmental paranoia, race war, and vigorous neck-chomping) into the global stream of images pouring out of our cell phones, laptops, and messaging devices. It's no surprise that one of the movie's sacrificial heroes is a deaf Amish farmer. Diary of the Dead is almost Luddite in its skepticism about the now-ubiquitous technology of information."

"Diary of the Dead: George Romero's bleakest zombie movie yet"
Dana Stevens

"Most seem to agree that Land is the weakest of the first four films (Hopper and the black zombie apart, its characters are not very interesting, and too much of the first half merely repeats the now-familiar slaughter). Diary, though it lacks the controlled and compressed intensity of Night and the bright colors and energy of Dawn, may prove to be the series’ supreme achievement, Romero’s most inclusive statement. Its premise is brilliant. In a gambit of characteristic aplomb, Romero establishes that he has no responsibility for the film we are watching: the opening segment has been downloaded from the Internet, and what follows is the work of a group of film students from the University of Pittsburgh, and in particular of an aspiring young filmmaker called Jason Creed (Josh Close), introduced directing his own student horror movie in which a mummy pursues a young woman through the woods at night. When the first news of the zombie attacks comes in, Jason is quite ready to leap at the opportunity to make the abrupt transition to a “reality” movie. We are not permitted to see Jason clearly until well into the film, as he is wielding the handheld camera, blocking his face; his film’s title is not Diary of the Dead but The Death of Death.

"Romero’s decision to attribute his film to a group of students is a masterstroke. The handheld camera continuously underlines the sense of the instability of a world in which nothing is reliable, anyone may turn out to be a zombie. Detached (at least partly) from the nuclear family, looking ahead to a still undefined future, with a certain freedom of choice, the young people are the ideal protagonists for a Romero movie. Even in the midst of the pervasive horrors, the constant reminders of the handheld camera, the youthful spontaneity and emotional openness of the group, also combine to give the film a surprising freshness and exhilaration that’s lacking in the previous films (and especially in Land), while the group’s relative innocence gives the film an unexpected and touching poignancy.

"Whatever Romero had in mind when he began, his ambitions, the seriousness of his commitment, have developed and revealed themselves well beyond the expectations we bring to a genre movie. For the record, Diary is the first of his films that has made me cry, no doubt partly because the characters, with their youthful energy and thirst for life, remind me of the students in my graduate film studies courses: they may not be facing zombies but they will also be struggling to survive within a relentlessly disintegrating culture. Romero never idealizes his young people. Jason’s motivation, for example, is repeatedly called into question, notably by Debra (Michelle Morgan): is his determination to continue filming through all the horrors callously self-serving, or justified by an authentic desire to establish truth? Both seem present, but Debra’s final acceptance of him, and her desire to continue his work after his death, acknowledge a degree of integrity."

"FRESH MEAT: Diary of the Dead may be the summation of George A. Romero’s zombie cycle (at least until the next installment)"
Robin Wood
Film Comment

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Inner Ear Infection

This was a promotional video executed for the track "Yog-Sothot" from the Nyarlathotep release by the stellar French electronic music composer Gwenn Tremorin of Flint Glass. This 2006 joint release is available on Brume & Funkwelten Records. An excellent dark atmospheric embodiment of novelist H.P. Lovecraft's cthulhu mythos. Remixes by Ah Cama-Sotz, Disharmon, This Morn' Omina, Empusae, and Xabec
There is some chance that as of next week personal developments may deprive me of a further 50 hours or so I could have devoted to updating this blog, so I was relieved to catch sight of the blog Inner Ear Infection, the most interesting blog on music and related matters I've seen since Infinite Frequencies. Then I learned that the young Canadian guy responsible for IEI hasn't updated this year, so I'm despairing of how many of the blogs I would like to monitor on a more regular basis seem to languish as archives. Be this as it may, the archive is quite large, and from the blogger profile one can get to Bruce's homepage, which features a selection of his more academically oriented writings. The standout for me was his piece on themes of miscegenation, amounting to a kind of "Darwinism in reverse", in the work of H.P. Lovecraft (and therefore in keeping with Acheron's interest in bioculture more generally; that particular case also makes it more abundantly clear than even Houellebecq's extended fan letter to Lovecraft, how much of a thematic influence the old master was on the younger reactionary postmodernist). Such theoretical meditations are in turn neatly complemented by IEI's highlighting of select Lovecraftian "dark ambient" artists, such as Flint Glass. Perhaps some of the other more avowedly "industrial" artists make for a mixed bag, quality/conceptually speaking, but this doesn't diminish my interest in tracing any correspondences with the marvellous Isolationism compilation I picked up, when was that, ten years ago or so?
As this blog's primary function is as an exchange network among a group of friends, I have no idea off the top of my head if IEI is already on the blogroll of Simon Reynolds or other likeminded folks, and it follows with this audience in mind that I don't really [have to] care either.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

A Hermeneutics of Suspicion: The Technological Sublime

"Fredric Jameson, among others, has articulated a notion of what might be called the “technological sublime.” If the concept of the sublime had previously been used to articulate the inadequacy that the human subject felt upon trying to represent Nature, the postmodern condition—in which Nature itself has been effaced—has produced a sense of the sublime in which humans find themselves up against their own creations, and find themselves wanting (34–35)".

Dale Chapman uses this postmodern conception of the technological sublime to come to terms with the relationships he sees between paranoia and the technological sublime in the genre of "DRUM & BASS" music. Eschewing the more Durkheimian style of analysis which has characteristically considered the role of electronic music in generating episodic forms of collective effervescence in response to local conditions, Chapman reaches for the utopian affect he believes prefigures possibilities outside of contexts of immediate consumption, paralleling, as they apparently do, the contingencies of an ascendant, global "trauma" culture.

In my view, there are strong parallels here with a recent tome, The Lacanian Left, insofar as the focus on utopian hope may have to do with which Lacanian approach one chooses to adopt. One can invest The Real with positive, even contestatory impulses, or choose rather to follow Laclau's more sobering, even pessimistic, assessment of the possibility of articulating a realistic counter-hegemonic moment from the atomised fragments of "society" (without necessarily evoking Lacan per se, this stance basically correlates with the more negative strand of Lacan's thinking). It was, afterall, a difference on this very issue that led to the falling out between Zizek and Laclau.

There is much to consider in this piece, but my only criticism is how the organisation of the argument tends to mimic the torsional movement of the breakbeats and so forth it describes. For example, a passing reference is made to Williams' conception of "structures of feeling", while no attempt is made to capture the "tragic", "emergent" structure of feeling that would have helped flesh out the argument in relation to cultural studies style forms of musicology. One can see this problem replicated in the latest issue as well, which foregrounds "public sphere" as its organising metaphor, and then does nothing to situate Habermas' text. This seems strange and disappointing as Habermas was addressing issues of communication, and indeed counter public spheres, which have much to do with the experience of contingency that Chapman et al refer to. Indeed, it is only because of the "emptiness" at the heart of the social constituted by communication, that one can even speak of the existence of forms of contingency that are not strictly disciplined by neoliberal commodification. I am not convinced that the positing of a "trauma" counter public sphere is either necessary or capable of capturing the utopian, contestatory impulses of the public sphere as indicated by either Williams, Habermas, or even Lefort. Chapman's focus places him much closer to Mark Seltzer's new historicist formulation of a pathological public sphere, which, perhaps not coincidentally, arose in opposition to the Williams school of cultural materialism.

Having said that, there is still much to savour in Chapman's efforts to offer a more expansive account of the mediation of ritual by not only symbols, but as an embodied, material, technological practice. And so here is a preview of his reading of the "technological sublime":
In this light, it becomes all the more important that we understand the ethical implications of a music that is largely disembodied in its execution and yet deeply embodied in the dancers that respond to it. The dancer—whose role it is to embody the intricate rhythms pounding forth from the speakers—has to attempt to take up a kinesthetics of the superhuman, has to bring his or her body up to the threshold of realizing the bodily implications of these radically disembodied rhythms. This, otherwise stated, comprises the sublime: the fractal-like complexity of the rhythms that the producer conceives of in the abstract have to be met by the imagination of the dancer, “imagination” in this context consisting of the dancer’s fundamentally embodied “envisioning” of the music. Insofar as rhythmic patterns form analogies of manipulating the body in time, the mechanistic virtuosity of the sequenced rhythms of drum and bass frequently results in a situation where the body is at a loss to respond to all of the music’s intricacies. In this moment of failure, the dancer’s body becomes enraptured through the ways that it has extended its capacities, and yet much of this rapture derives from the terror that it experiences in not being able to live up to the metaphors that the computer is generating.
It is important to note that there is a racial dimension to this notion of an embodied sublime. One of N. Katherine Hayles’s principal concerns in How We Became Posthuman is the question of “how information lost its body,” the complex process through which the Cartesian mind/body split has become radically reinforced in discourses about information technology and cyberculture (2). In doing so, she sets up a dichotomy between the contemporary posthuman and an earlier notion of the “human” that is based upon the hegemonic liberal humanist conception of subjecthood. However, Alexander Weheliye has taken Hayles to task for her failure to confront the specific ways in which subject positions outside of this Westernized humanism might complicate her historical narrative. For Weheliye, black subjectivity has always stood in problematic relation to that of liberal humanism, owing to the particular historical profile of a people that has often been systematically reduced to bodies, each one denied the status of personhood (21–6).
The challenge that black subjectivity poses for the posthuman manifests itself with particular intensity in the sphere of black popular music. Weheliye foregrounds the inescapable remainder of the body that resides in even the most radically synthetic forms of contemporary hip-hop and R&B, with technologies such as the vocoder or the digital sampler being used to smuggle the traces of embodied experience into the realm of the artificial (30–40). Against this backdrop, the context of the dancefloor in drum and bass magnifies this racialized dimension of an embodied posthuman in a powerful way. This music harnesses a specific tension between the suppleness of its appropriated Afrodiasporic stylistic gestures and the mechanistic coldness of its cyborg complexion. This tension carries an especially frightening expressive force, because the dance floor is a site that dramatizes the radical split between cerebral producer and embodied dancer.

The sense of anxiety that emerges from this approach to music-making—the exertion of absolute control coupled with its radical renunciation—comes to inform the aesthetic of the musical sounds. The intricacy of the breakbeats and the sense of anticipation that they create indicate one area where the cyborg collaboration of producer and sampler can create a situation of expanded consciousness reminiscent of the sublime. The ability of the musician to program patterns that would be beyond the capacities of a live drummer creates a situation where he or she has powerfully extended the body’s capacity. Moreover, the constantly shifting orientation of the beats—their seemingly inexhaustible variety—gestures towards one of the central themes of the movie π, that is, the mind’s effort to encompass conceptually the infinite randomness of the universe. However, in the cultural context of drum and bass, this gesture towards the sublime takes on a radical new significance: the potential meaningfulness of every gesture and every silence only serves to facilitate the paranoia of the listener, the sense that dark, nameless forces are constantly at work. Seen through this lens, the technological sublime loses its idyllic aura and takes on a more sinister aspect: the infinite capacity of technology to inflict damage. Technology loses its peripheral status and becomes the motor that drives societal norms, taking on a life of its own.
This more sinister face of drum and bass—its celebration of technology’s seeming alienation from the humans that create it—can be represented through numerous strategies, and it is important to take note of the particular strategy that is employed here.
Parkes is a huge Japanophile; even though he admits to never having visited the country, he has developed a fascination with the sensibilities of certain aspects of traditional Japanese culture through his training in martial arts (Parkes).

One idea that seems to manifest itself extensively in Parkes work—particularly on this track—is his accentuation of space or silence as a palpable quality that resides between objects, gaining significance through the way those objects mark out space and time. In this instance, the discourse of Japanese aesthetic appropriation maps out against other discourses of the kind mentioned earlier: rupture, paranoia, and a suspicion of silence in a world view where the appearance of rest can never be wholly trusted.
In short, what “Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu” dramatizes is the capacity for drum and bass to powerfully evoke the terrifying specter of otherness. Here, as in other Photek tracks (“UFO,” “Hidden Camera”), or in darker compositions by Ed Rush, Panacea, or others, specific musical devices—rhythmic tension, silence, unsettling textures—are harnessed in the service of placing the listener in opposition to a nameless, terrifying presence located somewhere beyond the confines of the work.

Part of what we must do, then, to understand the cultural ramifications of drum and bass is to set the music within this larger context. Previous discussions of the music have concentrated upon its relevance to understanding urban postindustrial society against the backdrop of economic changes in 1990s Britain, or its role within Afrodiasporic conceptions of modernity (Reynolds; Gilbert and Pearson 79–80; Collin and Godfrey 243–66). However, the resonances of musical practices often exceed their immediate social context, and it is important to understand the ways in which the structures of feeling embodied in music can perhaps tell us things we might have initially thought beyond its purview.

The same productive excess that manifests itself in spectacles of destruction also gestures towards the utopian promise of technical innovation itself. As an aesthetic mobilization of this productive excess, the bleak wakeup call of drum and bass bears within itself the possibility of a more utopian world. In the expansion of the mind (and body) that derives from the experience of the sublime lies the potential for additional strength, for critical awareness. In its pairing of mechanistic rigor with neurotic, fragmentary rhythms, the works of this genre constitute their own self-critique. In the end, the hermeneutics of suspicion inspired by drum and bass might help to foster a conscious world-view in which we are ready for the contingencies to come.

Echo: A Music Centered Journal:

Monday, 18 February 2008

There Will Be Blood:
“The Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition.”

"Peak oil?: Oil supply and accumulation"
By D. T. Cochrane • January 4th, 2008
Cultural Shifts

"Although a peak and decline in oil production is a geological certainty, we should question whether it is actually occurring right now. The supply of oil within the global market depends on much more than the geological realities of production. Governments of all sorts - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, the United States, Russia - are heavily involved. Its corporate players are among the world’s most powerful and profitable businesses. The goings-on within the market are of interest to every other business. Speculation is rife. Examination of recent price increases need to consider these factors and many more.

"One of the pieces of evidence offered by advocates of the theory is the uncertainty surrounding the actual quantity of oil in the Middle East. The size of the reserves controlled by the big oil exporting countries is unknown. There is some evidence that Saudi Arabia, in particular, has routinely overstated the amount of known reserves. However, although these countries do not want to lose the political clout they enjoy from their control of the great global lubricant, it is not difficult to see how they benefit from such uncertainty. Uncertainty drives up prices; higher prices, higher earnings.

"Another source of uncertainty has been the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This one-sided war is routinely labelled as a ‘War for Oil’ by its critics. The standard idea behind the slogan is that the U.S. wishes to control the global oil supply in order to ensure the easy access required by its corporations. However, the war has hardly brought an increase in supply. Instead, it has coincided with a rather drastic increase in oil and gas prices. The oil exporting countries are hardly the only beneficiaries. The oil companies have been enjoying record profits.

"An increase in prices, rather than supply, as an outcome of the invasion, was predicted by political economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler in their 2003 article “It’s all about oil.” The pair challenged the conventional wisdom that the war was meant to undermine OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and ensure the free flow of oil. They demonstrated that the fortunes of the oil companies and OPEC move together. Far from seeking to loosen the supposed iron grip of the dictators who control the global oil supply, the corporate petroleum giants have benefitted from their interventions. In fact, the invasion of Iraq was partially motivated by the the oil cartel’s ineffectiveness at raising prices. Nitzan and Bichler have shown that ‘energy wars’ in the Middle East have followed upon periods of deaccumulation by the oil giants relative to the members of what they call ‘dominant capital.’ For example, in 1988, although the return on equity of what Nitzan and Bichler call the ‘Petro-Core’ was more than 12%, the Fortune 500 - a proxy for dominant capital - had returns greater than 15%. This means that the oil giants fell behind their capitalist cohorts: they failed to beat the average. For the entire second half of the 80s the Petro-Core lost ground. The situation was not reversed until the early 90s when Bush the First invaded Iraq (see Nitzan and Bichler, 2002, ch. 5).

"However, from the differential perspective it becomes clear that the interests of other capitalists are not being served by the wars in the Middle East. When the oil companies are accumulating relative to dominant capital as a whole, others must be losing - although we cannot tell exactly who unless we disaggregate the picture. An end to the U.S. occupation will likely come when the (relative) losers within dominant capital finally exert sufficient pressure upon the politicians in Washington. The oil companies realize that they cannot hold court indefinitely and it is likely the political-military tide will turn against them. Yet, they would like to retain their accumulatory advantage. If military adventures can no longer drive up oil prices, then perhaps talk of diminishing supplies will.

"Peak oil will come. When it does, its effects on the global economy are uncertain. In the meantime, the oil companies must keep the following plates spinning: faith in oil as the energy source of capitalism, a high enough price to remain on top of the corporate world, a low enough and steady enough price to avoid contributing to a lengthy recession, or even a depression. While the differential perspective on accumulation makes it clear that growth is not synonymous with the corporate interest - as long as everyone else is declining faster than you, then you are differentially accumulating - depressions are dangerous for their unpredictability and their potential to threaten the capitalist status quo (see, Nitzan, 2001). Undoubtedly, one of these plates will drop. The question is: which one? The consequences of the answer to that question will come more immediately than the geologically necessary peak in production and should be of greater concern."

Nitzan, Jonathan. (2001). “Regimes of differential accumulation:mergers, stagflation and the logic of globalization.” Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 226-274.

Nitzan, Jonathan & Shimshon Bichler. (2002). “The Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition.” The Global Political Economy of Israel. London: Pluto Press.

—–. (2003). “It’s all about oil.” News From Within, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 8-11.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

BLDGBLOG: I’m interested in the possibility that literary genres might have to be redefined in light of climate change. In other words, a novel where two feet of snow falls on Los Angeles, or sand dunes creep through the suburbs of Rome, would be considered a work of science fiction, even surrealism, today; but that same book, in fifty years’ time, could very well be a work of climate realism, so to speak. So if climate change is making the world surreal, then what it means to write a “realistic” novel will have to change. As a science fiction novelist, does that affect how you approach your work?

Kim Stanley Robinson: Well, I’ve been saying this for a number of years: that now we’re all living in a science fiction novel together, a book that we co-write. A lot of what we’re experiencing now is unsurprising because we’ve been prepped for it by science fiction. But I don’t think surrealism is the right way to put it. Surrealism is so often a matter of dreamscapes, of things becoming more than real – and, as a result, more sublime. You think, maybe, of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, and the way that he sees these giant catastrophes as a release from our current social set-up: catastrophe and disaster are aestheticized and looked at as a miraculous salvation from our present reality. But it wouldn’t really be like that.

I started writing about Earth’s climate change in the Mars books. I needed something to happen on Earth that was shocking enough to allow a kind of historical gap in which my Martians could realistically establish independence. I had already been working with Antarctic scientists who were talking about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and how unstable it might be – so I used that, and in Blue Mars I showed a flooded London. But after you get past the initial dislocations and disasters, what you’ve got is another landscape to be inhabited – another situation that would have its own architecture, its own problems, and its own solutions.

To a certain extent, later, in my climate change books, I was following in that mold with the flood of Washington DC. I wrote that scene before Katrina. After Katrina hit, my flood didn’t look the same. I think it has to be acknowledged that the use of catastrophe as a literary device is not actually adequate to talk about something which, in the real world, is often so much worse – and which comes down to a great deal of human suffering.

So there may have been surreal images coming out of the New Orleans flood, but that’s not really what we take away from it.

Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

31 Days in Iraq

"In January [2007] more than 1,900 people — soldiers, security officers and civilians — were killed in the insurgency in Iraq, up from 800 in January 2006. Many corpses showed signs of torture, meaning the victims were probably killed by religious and tribal death squads. This map, based on data from the American, British and Iraqi governments and from news reports, shows the dates, locations and circumstances of deaths for the first month of the year. Given the vast size of Iraq and the communications difficulties inherent in war, the information may be incomplete. Nonetheless, it is our effort to visually depict the continuing human cost of the Iraq war."

By Adriana Lins de Albuquerque, a doctoral student in political science at Columbia, and Alicia Cheng, a graphic designer at mgmt. design in Brooklyn. 2007, The New York Times.]

31 Days in Iraq - New York Times

A Year in Iraq

infographic representing the type and location of each attack in the Iraq war, responsible for the 2,592 recorded deaths among American and other coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and members of the peshmerga militias controlled by the Kurdish government.

A Year in Iraq - New York Times

No End In Sight

No End in Sight - a film by Charles Ferguson

Winner - Special Documentary Jury Prize
- 2007 Sundance Film Festival

"The most important movie you are likely to see this year."
- Richard Shickel, TIME

"Masterful. Enraging. Apocalyptic."

"The first film of its kind to chronicle the reasons behind Iraq’s descent into guerilla war, warlord rule, criminality and anarchy, NO END IN SIGHT is a jaw-dropping, insider’s tale of wholesale incompetence, recklessness and venality. Based on over 200 hours of footage, the film provides a candid retelling of the events following the fall of Baghdad in 2003 by high ranking officials, Iraqi civilians, American soldiers and prominent analysts. NO END IN SIGHT examines the manner in which the principal errors of U.S. policy – the use of insufficient troop levels, allowing the looting of Baghdad, the purging of professionals from the Iraqi government and the disbanding of the Iraqi military – largely created the insurgency and chaos that engulf Iraq today."

'No End in Sight,' A Direct Hit on Iraq War Makers

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007; Page C04

"The script of Charles Ferguson's 'No End in Sight' would certainly be in the hands of prosecutors in the event of impeachment hearings. The documentary is a furious, if quietly stated, indictment of the president and all his men in the debacle that our adventure in Iraq has turned into. Ferguson builds a compelling case of bad judgment, error, stubbornness, arrogance, all of it adding up to a mess with no end in sight.

"It's also, most impressively, an evocation of that horror. Astutely edited by Chad Beck and Cindy Lee, it assembles a depressing cascade of imagery from the war: the tanks pulling through the dusty, ancient towns; the young Americans scooting through the ruins in their Terminator shades; optics-festooned plastic rifles, looking for targets as the children and women flee; the detonation of a roadside bomb with its surreal combination of speed and energy; and, of course, the talking heads, who talk, then talk some more, then talk still more, that is, if they'll talk at all. (Wolfowitz, Bremer and Rumsfeld wouldn't; all are represented in archival footage.)"

'No End in Sight,' A Direct Hit on Iraq War Makers

Japan: Defying Gravity

"...the military code served Japan's rulers well. Without bushido's terrible sanction of dishonour, in 1944-45 a host of Japanese would otherwise have given themselves up, rather than perish to prolong futile resistance...Overlaid upon this, however, was a rational calculation by Tokyo. The superiority of American resources was manifest. If Japan pursued the war within the limits of conventional military behaviour, its defeat was inevitable. Its leader's chosen course was to impose such a ghastly blood price for each American gain that this 'nation of shopkeepers' would find it preferable to negotiate, rather than accept the human cost of invading Japan's main islands...If this assessment was fanciful, and founded upon ignorance of the possibility that a weapon might be deployed which rendered void all conventional military calculations, it offered a germ of hope to desperate men..."

Max Hastings, Nemesis: The Battle For Japan, 1944-45

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Mosquito: Sonic War Machine

One can easily imagine Mike Davis, kode9, subtopia, ballardian, and many others singing from the same song sheet on this issue. Whilst their characteristic modes of engagement are admirable in their own terms, I believe the piece from Spiked! I've chosen distinguishes itself, (blessedly sans the punditry of Civitas Institute miscreants such as Patrick West, which sometimes plagues Spiked!), on account of how it highlights the cultural and social lines of communication that need be opened up for the sake of a critical response; i.e. in Habermasian terms, a reinvigoration of a "public sphere", amounting to a more expansive solution than the "Buzz Off" campaign that has arisen in opposition to the device (to reiterate: commendable as that stance may well be in and of itself up to a certain point). A necessary theoretical supplement might also be found on the e-journal "Surveillance and Society", at least to the extent their Foucauldian perspectives on the panopticon are tempered by the aforementioned Habermasian approach.
In other words, stated as briefly as possible, it is my view that the disciplinary solutions in question fill the power vacuum that exists because of not exactly the absence of a functioning public sphere per se, but rather the depletion symptomatic of increasing privatisation by risk managers ("re-feudalisation" was Habermas' apt descriptive term for such a state of affairs). Although the video quality is poor, the chosen clip still manages to fulfill the minimal journalistic requirement of establishing the respective standpoints of the social activists involved (both pro and con the Mosquito).
The Mosquito captures adult fears and uncertainties about the next generation. This faceless, hidden device, which doesn’t have to be manned by anyone and which does not involve communicating any words or ideas to young people (just a piercing noise), sums up the authorities’ sense of distance and dislocation from youth. In this sense, the Mosquito could make matters even worse: it is a constant deafening reminder to those within range that they are untrustworthy and have a propensity for Doing Wrong. It treats young people effectively like roaming beasts, shunted from one place to the next by little more than noise. The buzz follows them as they wander around… reminding them they are not yet ‘fit’ for adulthood, or to be out in public. Is it any wonder that some young people feel alienated, even angry, and sometimes respond by smashing something up or getting pissed? The failure of adult society to reason with young people, to talk to them, or even to provide them with some half-decent facilities to hang out in, can only exacerbate their feeling of being cut adrift.
Getting the Mosquito to ‘buzz off’ is a good start. But let us also challenge the cultural and political view of young people as both dangerous and endangered, and instead try communicating with them.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

"Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show"

"The very public debate about child abuse is like Baudrillard's 'war porn'. It has parodied the horrible suffering of Aboriginal people. The crisis in Aboriginal society is now a public spectacle, played out in a vast 'reality show' through the media, parliaments, public service and the Aboriginal world. This obscene and pornographic spectacle shifts attention away from everyday lived crisis that many Aboriginal people endure – or do not, dying as they do at excessive rates."

"Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show"
Marcia Langton / Griffith Review

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Bush Moves Toward Martial Law


Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008
#2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
Toward Freedom , October 25, 2006
Title: “Bush Moves Toward Martial Law”
Author: Frank Morales

Student Researchers: Phillip Parfitt and Julie Bickel
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Merrifield, Ph.D.

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”

By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The 1878 Act reads, “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” As the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law—the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Historically martial law has been imposed by various governments during times of war or occupation to intensify control of populations in spite of heightened unrest. In modern times it is most commonly used by authoritarian governments to enforce unpopular rule.1

Section 333 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, entitled “Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law,” states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service—to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (or “refuse” or “fail” in) maintaining public order—in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”

Thus an Act of Congress, superceding the Posse Comitatus Act, has paved the way toward a police state by granting the president unfettered legal authority to order federal troops onto the streets of America, directing military operations against the American people under the cover of “law enforcement.”

The massive Defense Authorization Act grants the Pentagon $532.8 billion to include implementation of the new law which furthermore facilitates militarized police round-ups of protesters, so-called illegal aliens, potential terrorists, and other undesirables for detention in facilities already contracted and under construction, (see Censored 2007, Story #14) and transferring from the Pentagon to local police units the latest technology and weaponry designed to suppress dissent.

Author Frank Morales notes that despite the unprecedented and shocking nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007’s Defense Authorization Act contained a “widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order without the consent of the nation’s governors.”

A few weeks later, on September 29, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had “grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report,” the language of which, he said, “subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military’s involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law.” This had been “slipped in,” Leahy said, “as a rider with little study,” while “other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.”

Leahy noted “the implications of changing the [Posse Comitatus] Act are enormous.” “There is good reason,” he said, “for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.”

Morales further asserts that “with the president’s polls at a historic low and Democrats taking back the Congress it is particularly worrisome that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator.”

1. See, “Martial Law,” May 2007