Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Monday, 29 June 2009

chilling out in the cities of the dead

Other commitments have swallowed up my blogging energy of late, but I've just read an extraordinary essay that breathes new life into many of the interests featured on this blog. I was doing some research for a new post on dark ambient music, but it seems I'll have to put that on the backburner. Until an opportunity arises then, here is something that speaks to me theoretically, in a way that nothing else I've read in the musical blogosphere has ever managed to do thus far.

Having read the piece I can now start to weave together thoughts about soundscapes in my mind. For example, let's imagine The Place Where the Black Stars Hang as a soundscape of space archaeology, and then relate these thoughts to the album's conditions of production and consumption. This essay allows me to hear Thomas Koner, Burzum, Lull et al in a new light. It's not as simple though as applying the insights of Roger Caillois, for example, given the dystopic inflection of these artists under review. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. I believe that the Caillois style reading of "play", "imagination" and "nature" is functionally equivalent to the interpretation of Myst in the book Digital Play, meaning that the de-centering [sic] of any signs of human labour in such instances follows on from the Doom-like entropic misanthropy of "isolationatism" evoked in dark ambient. Perhaps it's no coincidence then that artists in the latter genre are prone at times to abjuring rational planning and collaboration, substituting instead chaosmagik, [Nazi style] paganism, Deep Ecology etc. I'll hopefully get to say more about this later after refining my model thanks to an interesting essay by Michael Moorcock on the inherent limitations of libertarian and survivalist science fiction (i.e. there seem to be considerable crossovers between the latter, the virtual worlds featured in games, and dark ambient soundscapes).

But first, here's a representative sample from the mindblowing essay in question:

Perhaps one reading of the death of ambient is precisely in the failure to articulate an urban pastoral. The shift from an ambient music based on a pastoral idyll to an almost regressive pessimism could be attributed to a form of the pastoral which condemns the city, unable to sound within its steel canyons a harmonious ideal. However, this would not explain the pleasure produced by these dystopian soundscapes. One could argue that the New York art establishment only embraced ambient music in 1994 when this sort of dystopianism assumed declarations of avant-gardism.

Ambient music may bite the dust, nonetheless the ambiance of the city continues to surround us. If our cities are deceased and our ambiance DOA, then it is because spectacle culture purports to have raised the scene of social exchange to the plateaux of trans-national labor forces and global markets. In this environment, the interest owed on our musical enjoyment is in fact a global debt. A vital task for the composers of ambiance, then, would be to conduct a psychogeography of global space. One strategy for such a psychogeography of global space would involve an alliance of artists (ambient and otherwise) incorporating the culture of lawlessness and violence promoted by trade accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization. By claiming a subjectivity out of NAFTA, artists could devise strategies of cooperation (the mystifying buzz word of free markets) based on an erotics of ambient sound. This strategic cooperation would empower local artists through international action which utilizes and undermines the same capitalist flows.

Something must be done, if only to rescue our enjoyment from the deceptions of "chance" sublimation. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, the death enterprise serves only the designs of sublimation and capitalist appropriation.

In the world of popular music, it seems our entire culture preoccupies itself with the business of pronouncing death. From the subcultural death of ambient music and the mainstream embrace of electronica as a reaction to rock's demise, all the way through to the received wisdom that the Left is dead. Rather than properly asking from where this wisdom originates, we all too often devour these sound-bytes and spit out the logic of capital.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Individualised and State Murder in Nazi Germany

A couple of years ago, I saw a film on SBS about the case of a serial murderer in Nazi Berlin; unfortunately, I was unable to find any further info on the events depicted in the film. Recently, however, I stumbled across an article by the historian, Roger Moorehouse, on his blog and the BBC History Magazine site, in which he detailed the actual events of this long overlooked case. Paul Ogorzow, known at the time, as the 'S-Bahn' murderer, is significant in that his case highlights the tensions that exist when a more individualised form of murder occurs in the context of a State where mass murder is both institutionalised and legitimated by a political/racial ideology determined to remove all its' 'enemies'. In the case of Ogorzow, this meant that his killing spree (eight murders, and numerous attempted murders, within a ten month period) was unacceptable to authorities, particularly, as his crimes were against fellow 'racial comrades'. This case negates the fantasies and fascination of many modern day serial/mass murderers, such as, Ted Bundy, Eric Harris, etc, who saw Nazi Germany as an ideal- type society in which they, essentially, believed that had they lived at the time, they would have been able to run amok and murder at will.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Alien-ation/species being/Sim capital

And what could more perfectly encapsulate Cybermarx's concerns in this instance than a preview of the latest instalment in the Aliens vs Predators franchise? (thanks ahuthnance for the tipoff). I concur that Alien[sic] ation "takes on a whole new meaning" in this context, premised, as it is, on the meeting of "sim capital" and the military-entertainment-complex. Moreover, the game may [eventually] prove prescient in the sense that the conditions of its production, in tandem with its explicit thematic concerns, reflect how technoscience, particularly its biological applications, are increasingly playing a constitutive, rather than an after the event role, in the shaping of social relations more generally, (inclusive of the "bioprospecting" taking place in poorer nations; here as well there is an uncanny parallel with the "colonial marines" featured in the Alien series, who have simply shifted such activities "offworld").

I recommend viewing the video to help flesh out Cybermarx's words, but don't even think about wasting your time by not watching it in High Definition. Be sure to savour the unselfconscious commentary by the games developer, as he demonstrates the capital spectacle of "trophy kills", which consist of the evisceration of human victims by the Predators (due to its graphic nature, the clip requires age verification). Here then is the passage on "sim capital" that particularly grabbed my attention:

What is at stake in the development of "general intellect" is nothing less than the trajectory of species being. "Species being" is the term Marx uses refers to humanity's self-recognition as a natural species with the capacity to transform itself through conscious social activity. In the era of general intellect the application of social knowledge to production make this issue urgent and concrete; e.g. the Human Genome Project. Given this context, the recent revival of the concept of species being by authors such as David Harvey and Gayatri Spivak, rather than constituting a reversion to a much-reviled "Marxist humanism," marks a crucial consideration about the collective control and direction of a techno-scientific apparatus capable of operationalizing a whole series of post-human or sub-human conditions. Alienation takes on a whole new dimension when it reaches up to the creation of "alien" - non-naturally occurring - life forms, and when the cut and paste biology of gene splicing and xenotransplants makes the body itself tend toward the status of "digital cultural object."

Thursday, 18 June 2009

"Alien" remake confirmed

I held off for as long as I could, but it is my sad duty to report all "significant" xenomorph related news.

Alien Remake Confirmed Posted By : thegoldensimatar, Saturday May,30
Filed Under : General Horror, Horror Sequels & Remakes,

A few days back we told y'all the rumor that Ridley Scott's classic Alien was going to be apart of the recent redux craze that has gripped Hollywood. The proposed remake is going to be produced by brothers Ridley & Tony Scott and longtime associate Carl Rinsch directing. While at a junket for Tony Scott's own remake The Taking Of Pelham 123, Collider walked straight up to Tony Scott and got the rumor confirmed.

Tony Scott: Yes, Carl Rinsch is going to do the prequel to Alien. He's one of our directors at our company.

Though, more interestingly, Scott uses the word 'prequel'. So, dunno exactly what that might mean. Will the film revolve around another hapless group of Weyland-Yutani employees sent to collect the Xenomorph or something a bit more interesting than that? Hopefully more word on the story will come out as the weeks go on. Though I'm opposed to a redux or whathaveyou of Alien, since Ridley Scott seems to be invovled with the remake more substantially than most directors are with a remake of their own film, maybe it might be decent. Tony Scott also revealed that they're looking to get the remake/prequel/redux thingy in front of cameras hopefully before the year's end.

Entertainment Weekly, who has been keen on reporting ill news as of late (Scream remake), is claiming that 20th Century Fox has yet to sign off on commercial director Carl Rinsch to get behind the camera for the Alien "prequel", news we broke here on B-D a few weeks back. "The filmmakers and Fox, the studio that owns the rights to the franchise, seem to have conflicting ideas about who should direct," they write adding that the studio wants Ridley Scott to return to the helm, "the studio is not interested in greenlighting a prequel unless Scott himself directs." Thanks for the credit EW.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Thank you Melissa Gregg for this honest, damning indictment

God help you if you're a young scholar just starting out. Why isn't it mandatory then for academic departments to hand out copies of this article to their aspiring postgraduate students? Don't be fooled that you will be pursuing your research interests wherever they take you, and answerable only to your peers, when key decisions about research impact factors are made by bureaucrats and publishers. To be sure, what Gregg says here basically echoes something I had read years ago about the "crisis of scholarly publishing" written by John B. Thompson in Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States, but I still feel her article is invaluable by offering local evidence of a more global trend.

But Gregg's testimony should also be a sobering reminder for bloggers, given how much of the research produced in universities later becomes fodder for the blogosphere. It puts paid to the thinly disguised, self aggrandising recent claim of kpunk, for example, who argues that the best work in institutions are produced by those who had faced a period of destitution "outside". The problem is that his category is simply too broad (given the continual influx of "new blood"/postgrad students, along with young academics just starting their careers) and that the kinds of authors kpunk routinely cites as his confirmatory authorities where theoretical matters are concerned are themselves among the most successful byproducts of the institution, rather than shaped by any formative experience of "destitution". Perhaps such a characterisation holds to some extent in the independent/avant garde vs "the mainstream" music circles kpunk moves in, but if it is up to the critic to "redeem" these artists by interpreting them through academic concepts, then "destitution" starts to look more unconvincing as an apriori indicator of quality in that context as well.

Here's why: if you're a "teledon" like Badiou or generally otherwise renowned as per Fred Jameson, you will have so much autonomy in your work that the vagaries of anything like the ERA need never be of any real concern: you will be a nodal point in the academic network that exerts a huge gravitational pull, meaning you will be orbited by a large number of "satellites" i.e. other academics writing second order observations of your work, thereby consolidating your centrality in the collective attention space. As highlighted by the concept of "mundane excellence", the monopoly on resources available to you and the associated high comfort level act as a feedback mechanism, in turn generating more confidence and, not least, the ideas that power your productive output. This means it's not necessarily any experience of destitution "outside" the institution that makes a qualitative difference, given how the internal networks of each institution, and the larger interpretive community of which they form a component part, are themselves internally divided. Melissa Gregg really drives home this point. Oftentimes the central figures are able to produce the best work simply because they have the biggest monopoly on the resources needed to get things done.

But for those less fortunate academics, the only major problem used to be that you had considerable latitude to work to your own standards, with the result that you were never sure if you had achieved them or not. It is a problem that has been relativised since, rather than removed, given how the government now prescribes more targets. Then as now, this working environment can lead to a lot of depression and burnout (confirmation of this plight can be found in Fred Pahl's ethnographies of his fellow sociologists, virtually anything written by my sociological hero, Ian Craib, as well as in Andrew Metcalfe and Anne Game's Passionate Sociology). The academic might find themselves in a state of constant anxiety: no matter how many or how quickly the buckets are filled, they can still potentially spring a leak as soon as a peer identifies an omission in the argument or even the cited literature. Leaky academic papers can result in leaky selfhoods, which means a leaky agency lacking the resilience needed to push on through a fallow period. If nothing is ever definitively accomplished, in the same cut and dried manner as something as mundane as, for example, winning a tennis match, one becomes more susceptible to the structure of feeling known as melancholy (cf Gershom Sholem). It too can be understood as a kind of feedback mechanism, but one that fails to indemnify those who experience it. This results in a curtailing of creative expression and sometimes even dropping out altogether. Once this occurs the dominance of the more central figures in the interpretive community becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

And then there is the feeling of powerlessness, of being fatuous, forced to live with a Cassandra complex in a world where revolutionary change is not close at hand. This is exactly the kind of dilemma that Adorno talks about in Minima Moralia. So basically the problems Melissa Gregg describes compound the earlier ones by adding a level of pressure from publishers and government alike. No doubt accountability is required to some extent, but surely not if it seriously compromises the historical function of the university as a site of free enquiry to the point where Australian academics can no longer even write about their own country!!

I don't have an institutional affiliation, so I have no vested interest in saying these things to damn bloggers and independent researchers alike tout court. To be sure, I've written before about academic "peer review" as a potentially more democratic distributive mechanism than the blogosphere, but I'm forced to concede it can be open to abuse too, in the sense that the "invisible college" can mean editorial panels can be stacked by personal acquaintances, acting under the pretence of anonymity, meaning that decisions are not always truly merit based. And of course, anonymity can make it harder to prove that someone has appropriated your ideas for their own gain if your work is rejected. But I am still confident that these reviews can be "blind" enough in most cases to ensure that abuses are not always the order of the day.

I've also previously mentioned how bloggers and independent researchers could be empowered if they could break the deadlock of publishers protecting their intellectual property rights: let's hope a greater push towards "open access" is not far away then. Academics could be held more accountable too if they were obliged to more often meet the independents "on their own turf" (i.e. journals), thereby having to respond to criticisms rather than just dismissing them as usual because of the medium in which they appear (i.e. blogs, or smaller publishers without the same standard [sic] of recognised gatekeepers). Open access would be a great way too for academic libraries to save on the hefty journal subscription costs that publishers force them to pay.....

Sadly though, this reference to libraries also leads me to think that the "Right Foucauldian technicism" that characterises theoretical research in cultural policy has come back to bite us on the arse, in the sense that the people who graduated with this mindset in the late 1980s have since gone on to staff the government departments that are now reshaping our educational policies in terms of the ERA "targets". Putting to one side, for the moment (as this mindset dictates), how education is supposed to be critical, the fact that it should also be practical has been subsumed by the understanding that it is primarily a technology for reshaping the conduct of liberal subjects. This in effect means that your subjectivity is perpetually problematised by being made aware of contingency. Capitalising on the dilemma Adorno spoke about (my "buckets" analogy), these Foucauldians then argue that culture offers a range of "solutions", that the citizen will then buy at the marketplace (I'm thinking here of Toby Miller's The Well Tempered Self, but I could also be talking about Tony Bennett, or older texts, such as Culture and Anarchy). Of course, these solutions only hold for a short time, and then new answers will be sought. It's the "society of control" described by Deleuze all over again, but the great irony is that many of those familiar with this text, be they in academia or the blogosphere, seem not to have thought too reflexively about their own information seeking habits in these terms. This is no trivial matter to consider: I certainly can't think of even one case when any of these people have explained how they found the current text they're writing about by visiting a library. Why this blindspot then? Is it because the required voracious reading habits can only be accommodated by the liberal solution of private consumption? Is this what it really means to always be on the "cutting edge"?

So Melissa's article has haunted me, as I've started to think more about how academia, and its variants in the blogosphere, can be easily co opted by the society of control. Indeed, this may well be the dark truth of Foucault's remark, "people know what they do and why they do it. Fewer of them know what they do does......" For example, this critical dimension regarding institutions is unfortunately lacking in Jodi Dean's contribution to Framing Theory's Empire. Dean contends that some people will become so disenchanted with difficult continental theory that they will turn back to simplistic empiricism. Dean compares this reactionary attitude to her own Southern Baptist upbringing, when she was told that all that was needed was the Holy Spirit contained in the Bible. I am arguing though that it is worth looking for a more reflexive, critical approach in the interest of navigating between the Charybdis of [certain strands of] continental philosophy and the Scylla of positivism. Clearly then it is not just the privatisation of research habits I'm concerned about, but how Dean writes as if the "difficulty" of her preferred texts somehow automatically exempts them from the locus of control, when in fact the opposite may be true. It hardly seems coincidental either that she also make disparaging references to "mainstream" and "conventional" theorists in a way that reminds me of the shortcomings in kpunk's piece (he's on her blogroll too, offering some proof of the continuities in their thought). In short, I was disappointed by Dean's response as Framing Theory's Empire was supposed to be focused on institutional histories, and such "social epistemologies" are in short supply nowadays. It's not clear to me that the dozen or so Zizek texts (!!!) Dean says are awaiting her attention next will offer any real assistance in this regard.

My argument therefore is that more thinking about what we do does, and its relationship to our information seeking behaviour, is a step in the right direction. Melissa Gregg offers a useful guiding light in her critique of business as usual in academia, and for this we owe her our thanks.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Resources of Critique

Derridata, you were referring to Paul Bowman's The Truth of Zizek, in the context of a discussion of some (belated) reservations of late about the canonical status of such figures in the blogosphere. But have you followed up yet on Alex Callinicos, who speaks admiringly of Peter Hallward (principally because of his critiques of Badiou, but Hallward has also disputed the idea of the "Deleuzian century")?I admit I was pleasantly surprised by Harman's comments on Speculative Heresy regarding Hallward, as there was no great effort to downsize the significance of "the empirical", unlike many of the bloggers I've seen extolling the virtues of Badiou et al on account of how "abstraction" can [allegedly] act as a critical sensitising device against "finance capital". It would be foolish though to suggest that Callinicos and Hallward have signed, sealed, and delivered to us a definitive critique (remember this?), so it's probably better to think in terms of a starting point that echoes, to a certain extent, some of the reservations already expressed on this blog regarding continental philosophy more generally. Send me an email if you have any more thoughts about this....

Friday, 12 June 2009

Space archaeology

Given this blog's iconography, I obviously make no secret of my abiding interest in "ancient astronauts", spanning from the more ridiculous Chariots of the Gods variety through to the sublime Space Jockey in Alien. Other than reading and films, I love to lie back in the dark and allow an appropriately eerie soundtrack to wash over me as this sci fi imagery runs through my mind. Sure, there is Belbury Poly's From An Ancient Star, but my long time personal favourites in this regard are Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 (once described, I recall, as "the musical equivalent of The Martian Chronicles") and Lustmord's (and Robert Rich's) bleak masterpiece Stalker.

So imagine my surprise when I came across this article the other day on the subject of space archaeology in The Los Angeles Times, "We have the opportunity now to ensure that there will still be something there to see when tourists eventually visit, and for our descendants to understand and appreciate." Fascinating stuff, not least because the implicit assumption is that there is a future need to regulate the commodification which would bring artefacts within the reach of not only space tourists specifically, but space travellers more generally. Alien could be construed as a warning against the lack of such regulation, given that the company's science officer risks the crew's lives by recovering a lifeform from the derelict spacecraft on the remote planetoid called Acheron. Or rather, to expand on the subject of Peter Dickens' contribution to the recent book Space Travel and Culture, the horror portrayed in Alien takes place once the cosmos ceases to function as "capitalism's outside". Remoteness, "the final frontier", is apparently no substitute for risk management of a profit driven technoscience...

One of the other contributors to Space Travel and Culture has an interesting blog entitled Space Age Archaeology. Her name is Alice Gorman. The link I've posted here takes you to the chapter titles of said volume, but there are many compelling variants on the basic theme to be found on Gorman's blog, so I'd recommend having a look around while there. For example, I savoured her description of how, "similar to the cliche of Egyptian mummies astronauts are; wrapped up, with the body inside virtually invisible, except through the faceplate, somewhere between life and death like Schrodinger's cat..." In a similar vein, the "aesthetic significance of material culture in space is all about how things look" (because astronauts are cut off by their spacesuits from the sensorium of taste, touch and smell).

What else? Well I have to have some admiration for the single mindedness of anyone devoting a blog to the ideas behind the Alien series. I haven't yet checked some of the claims, such as how Ridley Scott supposedly took inspiration from The Tomita Planets, but I'm putting that on my To Do List. Switching to a more theoretical mode, although I feel the passages in Cyclonopedia discussing Lovecraft's "ancients" mythology are very evocative of the Space Jockey, I'm particularly taken by Melanie Rosen Brown's Dead Astronauts, Cyborgs, and the Cape Canaveral Fiction of J.G. Ballard: A Posthuman Analysis. What interests me in this case is how the "dead astronaut" does not intimate the horror of encountering a limit, (embodied by the xenomorph that blindly assimilates all difference within a fixed biological teleology by using other lifeforms as mere hosts; i.e. the ignominious fate of the dead Space Jockey and all but one of the Nostromo's crew), suggesting instead the positive transformative power of a prospective ideal. Which is to say, the dead astronaut is the remnant of our collective shedding of an outmoded corporeal form, thereby signalling the inauguration of the posthuman adventure.

Monday, 1 June 2009

I blame Comme de Garcons or Junya Wantanabe

Derrdata, I've not forgotten your "Torture Fashion" post of many moons ago. Here is a recent companion piece....

Degenerate Utopia

I almost neglected to mention a complementary piece to my previous posting. One has only to think of Disneyland as the space where such creations are given free reign (on a massive scale with seemingly no expense spared). So we can start to think about their "natural" habitat in terms of a degenerate utopia.

But this term might also provide an entry point for further critiques of the Brian Eno event we attended. Eno went to great lengths to try to make his point that "art was all the things we don't need to do". We agreed in our discussion afterwards that his logic was quite muddled and fanciful at times, especially when he claimed that art criticism is largely "worthless". So how did he prove this? Eno claimed to have used his computer to automatically generate a typical piece of art criticism using terms such as "commodity" and "gender", meaning that art critics are no different than Turing machines. If this was true, then why did he acknowledge at the beginning of his talk how there were protests outside by more impoverished artists, who objected to the allocation of government funding to such a high profile festival that paid Eno for his appearance? To claim, with Eno, that art gives an individual a space to themselves is to risk flirting with liberal conceptions of creativity, which underplay our interdependence. Eno wavered on this point, insofar as the later part of his talk switched abruptly to how environmentalism was the most important problem for us all to address, and this requires the participation of people from all walks of life.

I think we agree that the problem with this talk then was its underestimation of network ties as a feature of both the artistic and scientific scenes. Any artist wishing to show their work in a public forum immediately becomes reliant on sponsorship to provide such a space. Of course, the Luminous Festival Eno headlined was no exception, as besides funding from the state government, Sony were major sponsors. This suggests that Eno's silence and inconsistencies on this vital point were really symptomatic of a problem that more reflexive artists such as Hans Haacke have used as the focal point in their work. Although Haacke targets museums specifically, it does not take much of a leap in logic to see how his critiques are equally applicable to arts festivals. Haacke seeks to expose the ruse of the autonomous realm of the aesthetic, aka Eno's "space", and how sponsors attempt to portray themselves as enlightened benefactors. Obviously his intention in so doing is not to argue that art is stripped of all emancipatory potential; I see him rather as opening up a space for a more democratic dialogue about how and why funding is allocated, and by whom? These are the same sorts of questions we should ask about the funding of science, and if Eno wishes to pontificate about the environment, he should really be acknowledging how these issues crosscut the sciences and his own area of expertise i.e. the arts. Failure to do so means complicity with an ideal of degenerate utopia, wherein corporate branding has the permanency of a grave marker.

A spiritual jolt on a larger than life scale that liberates from habit and known codings?

Before I get round to posting sometime on the Acheron team's postmortem of Brian Eno's lecture (which we took in last Friday), I thought I'd dig around a bit more for material related to the politics of modernism. Mhuthnance, you were expressing regrets about not getting to the Salvador Dali show, but have you read this? Something else I've found particularly rewarding of late is Junk for Code's critical appraisal of Hans Bellmer. After dwelling on that for a while I somehow ended up at the clip for the gigantic marionette doll I've posted here. I find it quite eerie because, aside from any Bellmer-like associations, it brings to mind the closing scenes of Paprika.