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The Loss of Self

 The Loss of Self:

On the Individual and Mass applications of
Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic”

Reading Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic” is like walking into a maze with no center – all paths are suitable, all have no end. This lack of center allows thinkers to pillage the dialectic for their own needs and purposes. It allows them to create their own internal (individual) and external (mass) centers and applications.

For example, some thinkers read Hegel and find only its internal application useful – for self-identity. While others, like Karl Marx, use a more practical, external application – class identity. But there are some thinkers, in particular W.E.B. Du Bois, who use Hegel’s dialectic in both its internal and external applications – self-identity (individual) followed by class identity (mass).

It is this final application – of the “Master-Slave dialectic” to all human relationships even, and especially, to the relationship with the self – which explains the purpose behind Hegel’s center-less style (for to have a center is to ignore all others).

Hegel opens his “Master-Slave Dialectic” with a circular discussion of self-consciousness being split into two “…extremes; and each extreme is [an] exchanging of its own determinateness and an absolute transition into the opposite” (631). He defines one opposite as recognized and the other as recognizing.

In Hegel’s words, “they exist as two opposed shapes of consciousness; one is independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is a dependant consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or be for another” (633). He further labels the independent as Herr and the dependent as Knecht (the recognizing/master and the recognized/slave).

Following Hegel’s logic, identity or self-identity is the process of the self recognizing the self that is of the self for the self. Or to “know thyself” is to eat your own tail creating no need of “…organs [to] receive… food or get rid of what [is] already digested, since there was nothing which went from [you] or came into [you]:  for there was nothing beside [you]” (Plato, Timaeus).

Because to “know thyself” is to walk the edge of a shale cliff, most thinkers turn to a more practical, external application.

In particular, Karl Marx (with Engels) in The Manifesto of the Communist Party uses Hegel’s writings as a prescriptive document, a practical method to diagnose and cure what physically ails the world – namely class division and the commodification of humanity.

Marx labels the Herr/recognizing as the Bourgeoisie and the Knecht/recognized as the Proletariat. In this relation, the Proletariat exists only to be recognized/exploited by the Bourgeoisie.  Marx writes, “The cost of production of the worker is… reduced to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance and for the propagation of his race” or the purpose of the Proletariat as a class is to live and breed and serve another (131).

Applying Hegel’s prescription, once the recognized becomes the recognizing then aufhebung[1] must occur (because “…each extreme [will be] exchanging… its own determinateness and [make] an absolute transition into the opposite”).

Marx believes in a continuing revolt where, “The real fruit of… labor lies not in the immediate result, but in the always growing unity of the workers” and posits an end goal: “Workers of all lands, unite!” (150).

By acknowledging the possibility of an end goal, Marx ignores the “Master-Slave dialectic’s” infinite, reciprocal nature – that there is no end in Hegel’s formula. Once “workers of all lands” have finally united, once they’ve obtained Herr status, there will be a Knecht waiting to be woken from its slumber and so on ad infinitum.

Mao Tse-tung in “Identity, Struggle, Contradiction” acknowledges this: “to establish the Communist Party is to… prepare for abolishing the Communist party…” (264) because “[w]ithout the other aspect which is opposed to it, each aspect loses the condition of its existence” (263).

Although Mao goes farther than Marx in admitting the “Master-Slave dialectic’s” infinite nature, he is hesitant, like Marx, to posit who or what this Knecht might be in regards to the Herr of Communism.

Specifically, he and Marx are hesitant to discuss the Proletariat/Communist base – individual beings. This may have been a choice (for the individual seems counterintuitive to a revolution based on unity) or it may have been neglected, unknowingly, by the personification of classes (Master and Slave).

In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” Du Bois not only describes the struggles of the American Negro (Knecht/recognized) against the American white (Herr/recognizing), he also describes the effects this has on the Negro’s (individual’s) soul – “One ever feels his two-ness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (2).

Du Bois argues that it is the “two warring ideals in one dark body” that must be quelled (or more rightly recognized) before mass change can occur. He writes, “the history of the American Negro is the history of this strife – …to merge his double self into a better, truer self.” (2)

Even though the double self may have been created by societal conditions (American slavery and racial prejudice, etc.), it is the responsibility of the individual to activate or, in the least, become aware of the struggle within and allow for aufhebung to occur – allow the snake to eat its own tail ad infinitum. Once this has occurred the individual will, “[begin] to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another” (5).

From this realization, by seeking true self-identity through the internal “Master-Slave dialectic,” he will be able to work outward and address the external, multiple Master-Slave challenges he will face in his lifetime (racial freedom, class struggle, etc). He will be able “to look with open eyes upon his conditions of life and true social relations” (Marx, 128).

To conclude, Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic” is a maze with no center (all paths are suitable, all have no end). This style allows thinkers to pillage the dialectic for their own needs and purposes. Marx takes a practical approach and applies the “Master-Slave dialectic” to class struggle and the commodification of humanity. But by positing an end goal (“Workers of all lands, unite!”) he ignores the dialectic’s reciprocal, infinite nature (that there is no end).

Du Bois on the other hand sees no external aufhebung without acknowledging the internal struggle first (“…to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.”). It is this application of the “Master-Slave dialectic” to all human relationships even, and especially, the relationship with the self, that leads to the purpose behind Hegel’s center-less style – for to have a center is to ignore all others.

Works Cited

“Aufhebung” LEO German-English Dictionary. LEO. Accessed: June, 17, 2008. http://dict.leo.org/

Du Bois, W.E.B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” 2, 5.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Master-Slave Dialectic.” Trans. A.V. Miller. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2001. 631, 633.

Mao Tse-tung, “Identity, Struggle, Contradiction.” Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings. 3rd Ed. Charles Lemert. Colorado. Westview Press. 2004. 263, 264.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. G. Polakoff handout. Burnaby. SFU. 2008. 128, 150.

Plato. Timeaus. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Released: 01 December 1998. Accessed: 16 June 2008. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1572



[1] Def. as noun: abolition, annihilation, sublation, etc. As verb: demand cancellation (LEO German-English dictionary).

HUNGER GAMES - a review of reviews (aka Criticism as Art)

Note: I wrote this after I saw HUNGER GAMES in theatres. So… that was a long time ago.

I have a dog in this fight. I have written at least two minimalistic action scripts centered on emotionally cold heroines (actually four - shit… and working on five-ish). So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume I assume I know what I’m talking about.

To complain about THE HUNGER GAMES is absurd. Whether of not you like it is fair. You’re allowed to not like THE HUNGER GAMES, I allow you to not like THE HUNGER GAMES. But complaints like this from the NY times:

“…now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission. The graver problem is a disengaged performance that rarely suggests the terrors Katniss faces…”

Or this from Roger Ebert:

“…But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism…”

This is exactly what is wrong with modern criticism. Okay, yes, a wiser person might say: ignore them, Dargis and Ebert are just expressing long-winded answers to a very simple question - did you like it or not? And some readers - of the careful, self-reliant, rational variety - may walk away content with this knowledge (and content with their own opinions of art and culture and the like). I am not one of those readers. I like my criticism as subtle and thought-provoking as I like my films. I expect greatness from all my entertainments (or, at least, attempts at greatness from all my entertainments), on their own terms, even from those who call themselves critics. Think Oscar Wilde. Art, motherfuckers! And that’s exactly my problem with Dargis and Ebert and all modern critics in the whole entire world (be they in print or poised on a couch or on the street standing on a box). They’re not the artists they should be. They tend to do away with groundbreaking critical analysis and replace it with weak polemic (or, at least, a few sentences of weak polemic and a high percentage of summary - of the film and, somehow, of their own essays and past likes and dislikes - as if mentioning Michael Mann or Oscar Wilde qualifies you to criticize others!).

One of my major dislikes, beefs, etc. with THE HUNGER GAMES’ filmmaking was the shaky cam close-ups. One, because they tend to force me to leave the theatre and vomit (which, I would hope, is not the intent of these stories), and, two, because they force me to figure out what the fuck is going on. Luckily, with THE HUNGER GAMES’ peculiar close-ups, nausea didn’t set in and I was able to discern information (I was able to adapt to the storytelling). If I wasn’t able to discern information then, of course, I would criticize it. I would say the director got in the way of the storytelling by his use of close-up (or any trick that brings attention to itself). That is a fair criticism, I think. Especially from my school of thought, that the storyteller is secondary to the story. And, I think, I’m addressing it on its own terms - this storyteller’s choice effected how I processed the story. But in this instance, I got used to this choice. I didn’t vomit and I picked up on its eccentric rhythms (yay me!). My viewing experience went something like this: “Okay, that was a hand, sparkle lip stick, okay the hand and lips belong to the same person, okay, yay!”

I even found it effective after a while and I forgot about Gary Ross and Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins and Jennifer Lawrence painted blue. Double yay! This happens with quality. I start a Cormac McCarthy or a Faulkner and with both of them, in the first 50 pages, the author is so present it’s hard for me to read. But I get used to their eccentricities and I begin to understand and I see the story and forget the rest.

It would be unfair of me to write a critique of THE HUNGER GAMES and say it fails because it uses shaky cam (or, worse, that I didn’t like it because it uses shaky cam) when this aesthetic did not hinder my understanding of the story. I wouldn’t have made that choice, but who the fuck cares.

So my criticism of the criticism boils down to this: Critics have no fucking right to tell me, the audience, how they would’ve made something better. They are not qualified to tell me about their choices. And not because they’re not filmmakers but because, even if they were filmmakers - those arm chair critics who have experienced the simplistic magic of production -, their choices have no bearing on the choices made in the film under review. You are not qualified to tell me about YOUR choices. Your choices mean squat to me because, guess what motherfuckers, I’m not watching your choices on screen. This is not your story. Get it? Your story is the criticism. Get it?

How can you criticize something that’s not there as Mr. Ebert does? You can only criticize it by putting yourself into the role of the filmmaker and to forget your role as the critic. It should have, could have is bullshit criticism. It did and this is how it did it and this is how it was effective and this is how it works and this is how it fails and this is my groundbreaking, earth-shattering, mud-slooping subjective experience of it. Whether or not you like it or if your thumb is pointed to heaven or hell matters not. What matters is whether or not the storyteller’s choices told the story, on its own terms. Perhaps those choices were fresh (to you), a new language (to you), confused (by you), or, perhaps, derivative of x, y, and THE RUNNING MAN (to you). It’s the critics job to expand my understanding via his or her understanding, not to tell me if I will like it or not or whether or not it would’ve been better if they were in charge. I’ll decide if I like it or not, whether or not it gives me joy, whether or not I’m willing to defend it with my life (or my blog). So there, Motherfuckers! Take that in your gob and drink it down with a glass of pepsi or some other carbonated beverage that will induce a modicum of pain in your sinus regions. Boom. The End. Percy Shelley!

starsintherocket said: really liked your thoughts about nietzsche, darwing, freedom and knowing nothing. I can say I agree 99% with all of it, and thats pretty hard to find (a person with who I agree that much). excellent way of choosing your words and expressing yourself (:

Thank you. I disagree with myself 99% of the time.

I’m alive. I will be dust. And it will be good.

I’ve been reading about evolution. Lots and lots about evolution. I tend to be attracted to those things that make sense to me. Evolution makes sense to me (Darwin, at least, makes sense to me). Nietzshce makes sense to me too (not that one has to do with the other… although now that I mention it…). And it’s not because they hold the answers to the universe, it is because they don’t. They’re both guides I suppose. Ways to see the world and interact with it. A way to quell fear in the face of things that cause fear. But they’re also nothing. All of mankind’s creations are nothing. All its thinkers, all its paper, all the ones and zeros. Nothing. And there is freedom in this idea. To strip away all the bullshit of what makes up human life and realize, in the end, it is nothing. Not that it is not important, or it doesn’t have meaning, or that these things can’t help you make sense of the world. In Nothingness there is freedom. The freedom to live your life as you see fit, freedom in the knowledge of your speck-like, almost non-existence compared to time and space. Freedom in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario, maybe, you will turn to dust. That’s not so bad, because this knowledge cannot be realized unless you’re alive. I’m alive. I will be dust. And it will be good.

Black Hawk Up: Spec Ops Rescue Hostages in Somalia | Danger Room | Wired.com

vanityismyonlychild:

I’ve followed the plight of these sad fuckers (aka “Somali Pirates”) for a little while now and for multiple reasons. People approached me to write a movie about them a few years back. Their idea was basically an exact reenactment of what the Navy Seals team did in the Wired article (linked above). Simply, white guys shooting black guys and being righteous about it. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now.

I find this whole situation fascinating and depressing. Basically, because of a whole bunch of fucked up shit, Somalia became/is an anarchic state. No government. No rules. Pure chaos. But in this system of chaos, a form of order emerged. Former fisherman (with the aid of some criminal organisations) took their useless fishing vessels and used them to raid shipping lanes, kidnap Cargo and/or seamen. These “Pirates” were moderately violent but none of their captives were killed and most were never physically traumatized. And, for the most part, the pirates were fiscally rewarded for their endeavours (they found reward in a starving system of chaos) and therefore, based on positive reinforcement, the frequency of their piracy skyrocketed and other Somalis followed in their footsteps. Piracy boomed. Sure it wasn’t “government” sanctioned taxation for it lacked the legitimacy of an official governing body, but, essentially, it was, when you boiled it down, Somali citizenry taxing Cargo ships directly for passing through their water space (or near their water space). If the Cargo companies didn’t pay the tax, the Pirates would hold cargo/employees in collateral until the companies wised up.  Official governments do this all over the place, sure not with AK-47s, and not with human hostages (necessarily), but money does go from those who run the cargo ships into the pockets of those who run the countries. The only difference between the two is one is called a “pirate” and the other a “politician.” And what is the response of the politician to the pirate fucking with his gig - kill the fuckers.

Obama green lit two navy seal snipers (two guys who were also there when Bin Laden kicked it) to blow the heads off these fuckers’ bodies when they kidnapped Richard Phillips in 2009 (remember that, he’ll be played by Tom Hanks). And now they’ve (we’ve) gone and killed 9 more “pirates” (in their sleep and, although heavily armed, they were asleep!!). Richard Roeper will be interviewing one of the Seals on the radio. How fucked is that? 9 lives, man. Woot! We’re the kings of the world. They killed 9 guys who, yes, were heavily armed, who were asleep, who had imprisoned two people for three months (kept them alive and unharmed by the way) and whose training with said heavy weaponry has been limited to display and not actual use. Wow. Way to go Navy Seals.

The “Somali pirates” had nothing, no system, no way of making a legitimate income, no way to put food on their tables. So they could either just give up, choose to die, or, perhaps, do what all human beings have done through out time, god forbid, work with what they got (lemons to lemonade, people). And so they began to create a system, to create order in this fucked up place, that could aid in their own survival. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal system and these guys did have guns and were willing to poke them in peoples’ faces, but, least we forget, they weren’t the ones that killed first. It was the established system (Us - all of us!!!) that killed first and, being a part of that established system, being an apathetic loser with an internet connection, it makes me really sad and really sick to my stomach.

Civilization’s Insurmountable Mass: A Ballardian Interpretation.

To be or not to be… Ballardian.

            Ballardian. It’s a word that derives from a flesh, blood, and bone namesake (the physical Ballard), but also represents the inner workings of his psyche, his obsessions, and his fetishes (the metaphysical Ballard). It can even be detached from its source to encompass thoughts and ideas generated by other living beings not associated with his name in any way except of course that they have created something or were involved with something that could be labeled Ballardian (the extra-physical Ballard).

             By creating the word Ballardian, some philosopher or critic has done a very Ballardian thing – he or she has managed, through modern man’s need for neologisms (or what I like to call compartments), to semantically (if not psychologically) fragment the individual’s sense of self (his identity, his ego). As Freud puts it, “Normally we are sure of nothing so much as a sense of self, of our own ego…” and that “…this ego appears autonomous, uniform, and clearly set off against everything else” (4). But modernity acts to fragment or distort this sureness. To be J.G. Ballard is one thing, to be Ballardian is another but to be labeled both must cause doubt in one’s own ego.

            Whether or not Ballard experienced this semantic fracturing at a psychological or existential level, to the point where one loses his or her sense of embodiment (a being R.D. Laing would call a schizophrenic), I will leave to other thinkers. I am more concerned with how this act of semantic fracturing is symbolic of the definition of Ballardian. It is a manifestation of one of Ballard’s major themes: how modernity (in this case modern man’s need for neologisms) and, more accurately, how mankind’s hunger for modernity (what some might describe as the need for civilization) can affect the individual on an existential level.

            Whether it is the planes and their bombs in Empire of the Sun, the cement caves in High Rise, the island created from the wasteland leftover from constructed freeways in Concrete Island, or the semantic game of adjusting someone’s name to act as a compartment for fragments of the original (the physical, metaphysical, and extra-physical), they all share a solitary affect – they force the individual to become one of many cogs and wheels in the perpetually moving and growing machine called human civilization.


Cogs and Wheels; We, The Superorganism

            In the aptly titled essay “Ants,” Edward O. Wilson discusses ants and their overwhelming evolutionary success. If biomass was an indicator of evolutionary success, ants, it could be argued, are the most successful beings on planet earth. Wilson uses ant populations in the Brazilian Amazon as an example, “ants and termites together make up more than one-quarter of the biomass which includes everything from very small worms and other invertebrates to the largest mammals” (14). He points out that “…ants alone have more than four times the biomass than all of the land vertebrates combined – birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals” (15).  The reason for such evolutionary success – “Ants and other social insects are dominant because their social organization gives them competitive superiority over solitary insects.”

            AlthoughWilson never directly correlates the success of the social ants with the success of the social humans, he does say, “The evolutionary line that gave rise ultimately to ants and other social insects separated more than 600 million years ago from the line that gave rise to human beings” (13). This suggests, rather obtusely, a parallel evolution – two social beings originating from a single source developing, over time, similar methods for ultimate survival and dominance. Of course, ants are very different in their habits and structures than human beings and only superficially can be linked to the social ways of human kind. What is pertinent about ants is that they, like humans, dominate their continuum by being a complex social species. What is also interesting is that they combine, socially, through the many bodies of individuals, to become one giant biomass – a superorganism – all functioning to ensure that biomass’ survival. We, human beings, function in a similar way but instead of calling our combined flesh ‘biomass,’ we call it civilization.

            Wilson describes the ant superorganism as “…gigantic, amoeba-like entity that blankets the foraging field, collecting food, meeting enemies before they can approach the nest. At the same time they care for the queen and the immature ants that are sequestered with her in the nest” (15-16). We blanket the world in a similar way each finding a source of labor to add to the functioning of civilization (to feed, to fight, to breed). We, like the ants, “…accomplish all these things with high efficiency by a division of labor” and the ability to complete these tasks simultaneously (16). Wilson goes on to say, “individuals are able to risk or even to throw away their lives in suicidal ventures on behalf of the colony with-out greatly reducing the productivity of the colony” (16) or, I would add, risking the survival of the superorganism on the whole. What is the life of one ant in comparison to the biomass of all ants?

            What does this have to do with Ballard and his novels, I’m sure you’re beginning to wonder. Ballard is identical to Wilson in many ways. He is a scientist holding a magnifying glass up to the writhing pieces of a giant superorganism known as human civilization. In each of his tales, he focuses on a few individuals and observes how these pieces unwittingly function as cogs and wheels to ensure their civilization’s survival. Where Wilson and Ballard depart in their ‘science’ is in the examination of these individual’s inner lives. It would be difficult for Wilson to empathize with an individual ant since he is not of their kind; Ballard has the advantage of being of the species he’s studying. Ballard can penetrate the individual’s psyche through shared experience and show what affect being a cog or a wheel in some greater organism has on the individual’s ego, his or her sense of self (for what is the self in comparison to the biomass of civilization?). It is this work that is quintessentially Ballardian.

 

The Individual and Civilization in Empire of the Sun

            The chaos of war, Ballard might argue, reminds the individual of his or her speck-like existence on the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. Events occur seemingly out of the control of the individual’s hands. It is the end of the world and, in the face of chaos, each individual is asked to react. But their reactions are not random or chaotic like the events that preceded them. The individuals react in accordance to a higher biological order, reforming, in some way, the infrastructure that was destroyed by the chaos of war.

            Bombs fall in Empire of the Sun, ships sink, buildings crumble, and individuals die. It is much like slamming one’s hand down on an ant mound. The sand shifts and crumbles, the mound flattens, and individuals die. And in the aftermath of such upheaval, what occurs? The individuals reform and continue on as a massive whole, reforming their superorganism.

            Jim is unique to Ballard’s other texts because he is more raw and not as entrenched in his labours as those older than him. At least in the beginning, he is a child without a sense of civil purpose. At first, he does not have a labour that acts to make civilization function (other than that he is a spare part to be used when another part breaks down or dies off). Empire of the Sun, in a way, depicts Jim’s accumulation of an identity and labour. He acts as a lubricant, sliding around the POW camp, trading goods, and making this newfound micro-civilization motor.

            For all the upheaval he experienced, the loss of his home, his parents, and the Shanghai he once knew so well, he, with the other POWs, have been bound back together to reform civilization. Each of these scattered individuals has found each other and each takes on a labour. When one dies, in the eyes of civilization, even in the eyes of Jim, it is inconsequential. Civilization will keep moving forward. Even the chaos of war, like the individual and his sense of self, is inconsequential in the face of civilization. War is, indeed, just a cog in the machine.            

 

The Individual and Civilization in High Rise

            The high rise, like war, is a cog in the machine and, like war, it performs an upheaval of the individual’s sense of ego. Instead of destruction causing the existential crisis, it is abundance or, more accurately, Stasis. The high rise is a place that functions with minimal labour and satisfies all of the individual’s basic needs (food, safety). It alleviates the need for the individual to get lost in his functional labour and gives him static time – alone, in a confined, protective dwelling – to ponder his or her speck-like existence on the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. In High Rise, each character comes to a similar conclusion – they are inconsequential and their potential deaths mean nothing in the big picture. Their existence is so inconsequential that the conscious pursuit of death and disorder does not seem like a bad idea.

            In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud comes to the conclusion “…that, in addition to the drive to preserve the living substance and bring it together in ever larger units, there must be another [drive], opposed to it, which sought to break down these units and restore them to their primordial inorganic state” (55). The drive to community is what Freud calls Eros. The drive to destroy is what Freud calls the death-drive. They function in complete contradiction to each other, they are enemies, Freud points out, like God and the Devil (he goes as far as to argue that God and the Devil are fictional representations of these innate drives; something so innate to human kind that we attempted to manifest them in our deities).

            In all of his works, Ballard seems to be inordinately influenced by Freud’s theories and specifically, in the case of High Rise, by Freud’s notion of the death-drive. A strict Freudian could argue Eros inspires Royal to design a community (a utopia, a micro civilization) and the death-drive innate to all human kind acts to destroy it. Freud writes, “…the tendency toward aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man and… represents the greatest obstacle to civilization.” This assumes that civilization is an end goal, something to be reached for, something to be designed and that does not yet exist. This statement dismisses what seems evident in Wilson’s study of ants – that human kind, as a superorganism, is civilization. Or to put it another way, civilization is an organic mass that cannot be controlled by any one individual’s innate drives. It even seems to contradict Freud’s own conclusions, “Communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any individual and presents a united front against every individual…. The replacement of the power of the individual by that of the community is the decisive step toward civilization” (32). Ballard expands on Freud and argues in High Rise that the death-drive doesn’t threaten civilization. Instead, it exists as a consequence of civilization. The technological advancement of civilization, with its bombs and its high rises, has created a perpetual interruption of the individual’s labour. Each time something is disrupted in the individual’s life, when he or she is distracted from her labour, he or she is faced with the reality of their speck-like existence in the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. When faced with such a crisis, it seems natural to move toward a general nihilism and even, as occurs in High Rise, an active will toward death (What does it matter anyway? My death will not be noticed).

            Laing survives this period of wanting death (he exhibits his death-drive by living and finding pleasure in his own filth as well as aggressive behavior toward others) to come out on the other side forgetting his existential crisis: “Laing was free for the time being to live within this intimate family circle, the first he had known since childhood” (172). The death-drive, it seems in a Ballardian world, is civilizations way of correcting itself. Instead of being an obstacle to civilization’s existence, it is a tool – a cog or wheel – that acts to correct civilization’s trajectory through the actions of its individual pieces. When Chaos or Stasis interrupts an individual from his or her labour and makes him aware of his speck-like existence, then something must occur to change course. These individuals, like Laing, must press the reset button (via the death-drive) so that either the problem individual is eliminated (through death) or if it survives it will find relative happiness in a new labour (until, of course, something interrupts them again). Laing finds this relative happiness in the labour to provide for and control his “intimate family circle.”

 

The Individual and Civilization in Concrete Island

            Although it is easily considered a Ballardian work, for its themes of existential isolation in the face of civilization’s epic mass, Maitland’s existential crisis in Concrete Island cannot be directly blamed on the technological advancements of civilization. War and buildings are the cogs and wheels in Civilizations’ perpetually moving machine, but the wasteland Maitland finds himself inhabiting has no perceived purpose or labour. Although it was created in the negative space provided by other functioning cogs and wheels (in this instance freeways and cars), its existence has no meaning. In a sense, it is analogous to what occurs to the individual in the face of civilization and its advancements. Each individual is a wasteland, an insignificant mass compared to the swirl of cement (and flesh) all around.

            Unlike Laing, Maitland does not seem to have an obvious death-drive. On the surface, all his actions seem to be in the interest of his survival (even at the cost of other’s lives). Where the death-drive in Laing seems to be obvious and active (he revels in his own shit), the revelation of Maitland’s death-drive comes toward the end of his story in a more subtle way. Jane offers Maitland escape and he refuses her. Soon after she abandons him, he has an opportunity to wave down a police car. Again, he refuses and hides. The death drive is so buried in him, so repressed that the novel closes with hopeful denial: “In a few hours it would be dusk. Maitland thought of Catherine and his son. He would be seeing them soon. When he had eaten it would be time to rest, and to plan his escape from the island” (176). What isn’t evident at the beginning of the novel, but becomes increasingly clear by the end, is that every action Maitland takes, even the initial crashing of his car, is an attempt at self-destruction. But instead of death, Maitland, in this little piece of forgotten wasteland, has found a place where an individual can survive on his own terms because the individual, once it becomes existentially aware of itself, like Maitland has (an event that occurs before the novel’s opening lines), becomes a useless part of civilization that either must die or learn to forget its new found awareness.  In a strange way, on the concrete island, an individual can live, at least existentially, happily ever after.

 

Conclusion

            Ballardian. It is a word that acts to define itself. It’s existence, due to the modern need for neologisms, acts to disrupt and fragment an individual’s sense of self. With that in mind, when you label something Ballardian, you are labeling a work or event that in someway shows, observationally, how the advancement of civilization acts to disrupt the individual’s sense of self. The need for neologisms is based on the notion of advancement (to advance semantic understanding, but also to advance civilization on a whole). Neologism is an inanimate cog or a wheel in the machine of civilization (or, more clearly, we are the cog and it is our tool). To be Ballardian is to find a tool like neologisms, war, or high rise apartments and examine how they disrupt one’s life. Ballard’s conclusion: these tools and technologies act to make the cogs and wheels of the machine of civilization (the individuals) aware of their speck-like existence in the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. This existential crisis is met with what Freud called the death-drive. Like individual ants whose death is inconsequential to the survival of its colony, so to is the individual human’s life when placed against the mass. What Freud called an obstacle to civilization, Ballard calls a consequence of civilization. The death-drive is a civilizational tool enacted when the individual, inevitably, becomes aware of its inconsequentiality. The death-drive wants to destroy the useless cog or, if the individual survives, it wants it to forget and get lost in some new, productive labour. This is not to say that those faced with existential crisis cannot be in crisis and live on happily ever after, it is to say that unless one find’s oneself forgotten on a wasteland, the odds against the individual staying aware of his speck-like nature are not good.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “Ballard’s ‘Crash.’” Trans. Arthur B. Evans. Science Fiction Studies.

            Vol. 18, No. 3, Science Fiction and Postmodernism (Nov., 1991), pp. 313-320 

            URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240083 Accessed: 03/08/2009 1:03

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. 1930. Trans. David McLintock. 

            London. Penguin Books. 2002.

Wilson, Edward O. “Ants” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol.

            45, No. 3 (Dec., 1991), pp. 13-23. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3824337

             Accessed: 05/08/2009 11:34

 

 

photojojo:

It’s almost hard to believe Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes of Google Street View is real, but these photos were indeed captured by Google Street View.

He’s been running the project since 2008. Here’s a fascinating essay by Jon on the project.

The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, a Project

sadvader:

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.
James Baldwin

sadvader:

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

James Baldwin

(Source: crudamoral, via myfirstfeaturefilm)

The Children of Jack: a short story or the start of something… maybe….

Much of what Jack Nicholson knew about life he learned from watching TV. He read on occasion, listen to music on occasion, he even graduated from high school, but there was something special about TV – documentaries, biographies, music videos, reality TV, basically a class for every day of the week. There were even religious channels. Jack loved TV.

Late one evening, Jack saw Val Kilmer reading a passage from the New Testament. Jack liked Val Kilmer very much and he had no previous indication that Val was a dirty Christian. Jack had an awe-inspiring talent for weeding out young, scary Christians. He could smell them and his stomach would knot at the very sight.

Jack usually disliked people even before he knew they were Christian, usually due to that person’s righteous behavior (Rip a cigarette out of a skinny woman’s mouth and Jack says: “Hell no!”. Go through a person’s garbage, searching for bottles, cans and the like, Jack says “I have condoms in there. Used dirty condoms.” ). Actually, most of the people Jack despised were Christians at one point and gave it up for other righteous pursuits. Most turned to environmentalism, politics, and swimming.

Jack has two defining characteristics, they are: his name and the scar on the edge of one nostril. When Jack was seven-years-old he saw the movie Chinatown. His mother told him of the actor Jack Nicholson. He liked the movie, but he believed that Jack Nicholson, the actor, was Jack, the child (himself), at a future and unknown date (fully sprouted with a receding hairline and a hankering for fully sprouted blonde women). Jack, the child, believed that all of the events that happened to Jack, the actor, would happen to Jack, the child at some point in his own, Jack the child’s, life.

To make a long story short, Jack, the child, to avoid any future conflicts with a certain Polish midget (Roman Polanski), took his mother’s Henckel, a ten-inch Chef’s knife, promptly stuck it up his nose, and flicked it outwards. Blood slipped onto the counter. Tears ran down poor Jack’s face. His mother explained that Jack Nicholson, the actor, and Jack, the child, were and are two very different people. Jack was satisfied with her explanation.

Jack’s hand ached. He had broken his wrist punching a car populated by Christian youth. It was a dull ache working from his wrist up into the palm, off towards the thick base of the thumb. A wise voodoo/Asian guy told Jack once that when you rub the fat part of your hand, it is as if you were rubbing your own intestine. He said it was something to do with nerves. Jack doesn’t like to talk to people much. Jack likes to play by himself.

            “Jack?” The Doctor said.

            “Yes,” Jack said.

            “So, what seems to be the problem?” The Doc said.

            “I broke my hand.” Jack said.

            “Okay… how did you break your hand?” The Doc said.

            “I punched a wall,” Jack said.

            “Oh… well, it’s just my medical opinion, but, maybe, it would be wise, for your health, not to punch walls,” The Doc said.

            “Yeah, I guess so,” Jack said.

            “How old are you, Jack?” The Doc said.

            “I’m thirty eight.”

There was a knock at Jack’s door. Jack took his eyes off the TV set for a moment and then he brought them back. There was another knock. Jack was not annoyed. He would have preferred that no one came to visit him, but he didn’t mind the company from time to time.

            “Hello—” Jack said.

            “Have you found Je—”

Jack slammed the door. He jogged straight to the garage, through the kitchen, riffled through masses of junk (footballs, lawn mowers, and the like) and retrieved a hammer. It was one of those strange hammers, with an axe on one side and a flat, oval shape, knobby thing on the other. The flat, oval shape, knobby thing was the part that primarily struck the head of the nail. Today it would strike the head of a dirty Christian.

Killing the father was easy, but the child… Jack couldn’t quite bring himself to kill the child. He dragged the father’s body through the kitchen into the garage. His hand ached.

The child was strange. He did not cry. He did not pray. He followed Jack around as if Jack was his savior. And big Jack Nicholson felt like the savior, pulling children from the evil dirty arms of the Christian hoards. He thought that if this was a different world he would be a great man and this child, the child that he saved with a drywall hammer, would be his second in command (like Judas or Chewbacca). Together they would create an army – The Children of Jack. They would burn churches, turn over rocks, they would dig up and kill everything with a cross, every last dirty Christian they could find. AndThe Children of Jack would save all the children, free them from mental slavery, and make a new world, a world without Christianity and, of course, Jack would be its almighty savior… the father, the son, and the holy ghost!

The blood from the father’s head left a trail from the front door, through the kitchen, and into the garage. The child walked with his head down, followed, and avoided the slippery substance as best he could.

            “What’s your name?” Jack said.

            “My name is Job.” The boy said.

            “Job, as in ‘I have a job’ or as in Job from the bible.” Jack said.

            “Job from the bible, but I say it different,” The boy said.

Jack wrapped the father in a horse blanket. Jack used to be an equestrian, in his youth. Actually, Jack used to work at a stable. He was a caretaker. He got lessons for free. He stole the blanket.

            “Do you ever feel like there’s somebody controlling your every move?” Jack said.

            “My daddy says that God controls everything,” The boy said, fiddling with his ear.

            “Okay, but do you ever feel like your life is a plot,” Jack said.

            “Like a plant?”

            “No… a plot, a story?”

            “Like Morris’s Disappearing Bag?” The boy said.

            “Is that a story?”
           

            “It has rabbits.”

            “Yeah, like Morris’s Disappearing Bag.” Jack said.

            “We owned a rabbit once.”

            “Oh?”

            “His name was Ezekiel.”

            “Oh, good.”

            “Yeah, he was a nice rabbit.” The boy said.

It was like the only things that had ever happened to Jack were written down. He can remember Jack Nicholson, the actor, and how he, the child, got the scar on his nose. He can remember watching Val Kilmer, even an incident or two with some righteous environmentalists, but he never quite understood why he did what he did. It was a given that Jack hated Christians, but Jack didn’t know why. Now he was stuck with this fuck wit child, his second in command. Jesus-Christ-Almighty-God, our lord and our savior, Jonathan F. Nicholson and his sidekick Job, pronounced job as in the work one does, here to save the world from itself once and for all.

“Your son is handsome,” some would say. “He looks just like you.”

Others would just stare.

The Children of Jack had one Christian notch on their collective belt (they only had one belt between them). That notch belonged to Job’s old dad. Jack was Job’s new dad and Jack taught Job all about his hatred of Christians and how The Children of Jack would sweep all them Christians into the ocean, ideally the Atlantic (because it was the shittier ocean of the two big ones, the one Jack did not visit when he was a child).

More Notes from the Tourist Class: a short story

Naples, Italy

He cut his wrist. He was dizzy. The train rocked and he could see the grass and earth pass underneath the toilet. The tracks were covered in shit, piss and blood. He smiled and then he hacked. He was going to be very sick. He wasn’t going to throw up. It was in his lungs and his head, unsettled mucus in his sinuses. He was not going to die.

The Muslim he shared his cabin with smoked all night. He smoked his cigarettes like all Europeans. He smoked them one after the other.

The sun had just broken and his sick mind did not recognize the world passing before his eyes. There were skinny trees, dry grass, and small roads. He held his wrist and watched the Muslim bow and pray.

“My name is Robert?” He said. The Muslim smiled then nodded. There was ten minutes of silence and then the Muslim began to beat his chest.

“Mateo…” He said. There was a smile, silence, and a cigarette.

“So, where are you from?” He said.

The Muslim gave a nod,  said, “Mateo…,” and then he smiled.

Robert should have taken conversational classes before he left, that’s what he thought. He took kickboxing classes  instead.

“You’re from Naples? That’s where I am going… Napoli?” Robert said.

“Napoli… si, si.” A nod and a smile. Robert smiled too.

The bleeding on his wrist had stopped. The train was about two hours late. He had taken too many books. Ten in total. Hardcovers. He had read three of the ten - Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an early Orwell about a man and his bathtub, and some short stories from Kafka. He could not dispose of them. He was very particular with his collections and even though the books were recent editions, with no value at auction, he would still feel empty if he left them behind for some vagrant or non-English speaking local to fondle and not read. So the books sagged in his bag. They would poke out and scratch at his back. They would tear, get wet, fall apart. And at the end of his trip, when he returned home, Robert intended to place them back on their shelf, their home, where he had displaced them so many months before.

Naples had tight streets. Scooters would blaze past, inches from unpredictable bodies. The women were beautiful, north to south, darker and darker, shorter and shorter too.

The only friends Robert had made were homosexual. Niccolo was small, bound with deep brown skin, filled with frail bone. Tomaso was a plump, pale older man. His hair was still black, but soon would fade. Tomaso introduced Niccolo to homosexuality. They were not lovers.

Robert’s belly ached. Everyday he drank liters and liters of pepsi or coke (not diet), whatever sugar fluid he could get his hands on. He ate asiago with stale bread and large amounts of cookies for dessert. On occasion he ate chocolate. When mixed together, over a month, it equaled a chubby traveler, carrying too many books and tending to the wounds on his wrist.

It throbbed. It was a pink scratch that would bleed every time it rubbed against a pant leg or his forehead. Robert liked to touch his hair.

“Are you okay?” Someone asked (in English mostly).

“Yes, just a scratch…” He said.

“It’s bleeding.“

“It’s okay.”
”I have a kit.” She was plump. Her accent hinted at Deutschland, but it was a little softer. Maybe Swiss. Austrian. French.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m Swedish.” She suddenly became more attractive. She was a brunette and very tall.

“Ilsa?” He said.

“No, Sara.”

“Like in Wild Strawberries?”

“Ingmar Bergman?”

He nods

“Sure like Wild Strawberries.” She said.

“Your English is amazing.”

“I give tours.”

“In Naples… Napoli?”

“No— Rome, the Forum.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah… do you know anything Swedish other than Bergman?”

“Meatballs… Stockholm… Copenhagen…”

“That’s Denmark.”

“I know.”

“You’re still bleeding.”

“Yes.”

She smiled, but she seemed unimpressed. He placed his wrist to his lips.

“That’s not good for you.” She said.

“It makes me feel better….”

Before he met Tomaso and Niccolo, he met a woman named Susan. She was beautiful. She was American.

Susan lived in Rome. She ate pizza and let darkly tanned men follow her from gelataria to gelataria. She did not let them touch her. She was an uptight Catholic looking for her next fix, some boy to pump in and then throw away. She didn’t screw them. She just liked to play. She would pull out her cross when things got too serious. Robert liked talking to her and debating with her, he even liked fighting with her with words. They  never touched, not really, not satisfactorily.

There were points on the map of Naples where Robert tried to go, but couldn’t quite make it. He was sick. He had mucus in his lungs and his sinuses. Usually these places were high up a flight of stairs, to glimpse a view or a church. His lungs would burn half way up. He would cough. His eyes would tear. He blamed the Muslim. He blamed Europe. “Fucking Smokers.” He blamed himself. He was bored with Italy, the land of homosexuals and un-amenable women.

He was to wait for Tomaso and Niccolo in Naples and they would ferry to Nicollo’s family in Orestano, but they were already two days late. No Sardinia for Robert. He met this Swedish girl again, but other then a band-aid and a memorable masturbation session in a restaurant’s washroom (alone while she ate pizza), it led to nothing.

He left Italy.

Avanos, Turkey

Pottery was the main trade. They all spoke French. He met a girl named Megan. Blonde with perfect titties, he thought. Californian all the way.

Some of the merchants were nice. All would harass in their own way. Some would tug at a sleeve, others would yell and smile, all would offer tea.

Turkey was filled with rugs. Avanos with pots. There was a man with a moustache, who smelled like lemon wash. He had pulled Robert into one of his shops and had sold Robert a plate with the Arabic Allah engraved. There were pictures of a man that resembled this merchant all over the shop. Some French tourist told Robert that the man on the wall was Ataturk.           

Megan was offered an internship. She was to stay on with this “Ataturk” and be his apprentice. She would get free room and board – a creaky room that was clean and dry with meals consisting of long green peppers and uncooked chicken. She would collect red clay from the hills and make like Patrick Swayze every night.

Robert’s “Ataturk” had many real pictures of himself. One was of him holding a gun. One was of him standing beside some Prime Minister or President. Another was of his travels in the Congo. He was a dear friend to some French ambassador.

Robert’s wrist was mildly infected. He got an email from Niccolo, it read: “Sorry about Sardinia.” He got an email from Susan, it read: “I miss you”. He got an email from himself, it read: “Go home!!!!!!!!!!!”

 He Left Turkey.

Sofia, Bulgaria and on through Yugoslavia

Fourteen hours down, twenty more to go. Destination: Budapest. A stern looking ticket taker with a nice ass, she resembled a man, was Robert’s new best friend. He had thirty-five American dollars, five counterfeit. He had no food. He had no toilet paper. He was the foreign man who smelled like shit. And all he had to hold on to was a heavily muscled eastern European lady that just so happened to have a nice ass, and a window seat that looked out onto a cemented, Communist world. His head bounced against the window.

The Yugoslavian border was mild. He thought it would be more difficult to cross. He imagined a crater-filled country, women with dying babies, and men with guns. There were some guns, but mostly all he saw were small houses, the odd car, and green. The whole country was green.

He smiled.

The Loss of Self

 The Loss of Self:

On the Individual and Mass applications of
Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic”

Reading Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic” is like walking into a maze with no center – all paths are suitable, all have no end. This lack of center allows thinkers to pillage the dialectic for their own needs and purposes. It allows them to create their own internal (individual) and external (mass) centers and applications.

For example, some thinkers read Hegel and find only its internal application useful – for self-identity. While others, like Karl Marx, use a more practical, external application – class identity. But there are some thinkers, in particular W.E.B. Du Bois, who use Hegel’s dialectic in both its internal and external applications – self-identity (individual) followed by class identity (mass).

It is this final application – of the “Master-Slave dialectic” to all human relationships even, and especially, to the relationship with the self – which explains the purpose behind Hegel’s center-less style (for to have a center is to ignore all others).

Hegel opens his “Master-Slave Dialectic” with a circular discussion of self-consciousness being split into two “…extremes; and each extreme is [an] exchanging of its own determinateness and an absolute transition into the opposite” (631). He defines one opposite as recognized and the other as recognizing.

In Hegel’s words, “they exist as two opposed shapes of consciousness; one is independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is a dependant consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or be for another” (633). He further labels the independent as Herr and the dependent as Knecht (the recognizing/master and the recognized/slave).

Following Hegel’s logic, identity or self-identity is the process of the self recognizing the self that is of the self for the self. Or to “know thyself” is to eat your own tail creating no need of “…organs [to] receive… food or get rid of what [is] already digested, since there was nothing which went from [you] or came into [you]:  for there was nothing beside [you]” (Plato, Timaeus).

Because to “know thyself” is to walk the edge of a shale cliff, most thinkers turn to a more practical, external application.

In particular, Karl Marx (with Engels) in The Manifesto of the Communist Party uses Hegel’s writings as a prescriptive document, a practical method to diagnose and cure what physically ails the world – namely class division and the commodification of humanity.

Marx labels the Herr/recognizing as the Bourgeoisie and the Knecht/recognized as the Proletariat. In this relation, the Proletariat exists only to be recognized/exploited by the Bourgeoisie.  Marx writes, “The cost of production of the worker is… reduced to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance and for the propagation of his race” or the purpose of the Proletariat as a class is to live and breed and serve another (131).

Applying Hegel’s prescription, once the recognized becomes the recognizing then aufhebung[1] must occur (because “…each extreme [will be] exchanging… its own determinateness and [make] an absolute transition into the opposite”).

Marx believes in a continuing revolt where, “The real fruit of… labor lies not in the immediate result, but in the always growing unity of the workers” and posits an end goal: “Workers of all lands, unite!” (150).

By acknowledging the possibility of an end goal, Marx ignores the “Master-Slave dialectic’s” infinite, reciprocal nature – that there is no end in Hegel’s formula. Once “workers of all lands” have finally united, once they’ve obtained Herr status, there will be a Knecht waiting to be woken from its slumber and so on ad infinitum.

Mao Tse-tung in “Identity, Struggle, Contradiction” acknowledges this: “to establish the Communist Party is to… prepare for abolishing the Communist party…” (264) because “[w]ithout the other aspect which is opposed to it, each aspect loses the condition of its existence” (263).

Although Mao goes farther than Marx in admitting the “Master-Slave dialectic’s” infinite nature, he is hesitant, like Marx, to posit who or what this Knecht might be in regards to the Herr of Communism.

Specifically, he and Marx are hesitant to discuss the Proletariat/Communist base – individual beings. This may have been a choice (for the individual seems counterintuitive to a revolution based on unity) or it may have been neglected, unknowingly, by the personification of classes (Master and Slave).

In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” Du Bois not only describes the struggles of the American Negro (Knecht/recognized) against the American white (Herr/recognizing), he also describes the effects this has on the Negro’s (individual’s) soul – “One ever feels his two-ness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (2).

Du Bois argues that it is the “two warring ideals in one dark body” that must be quelled (or more rightly recognized) before mass change can occur. He writes, “the history of the American Negro is the history of this strife – …to merge his double self into a better, truer self.” (2)

Even though the double self may have been created by societal conditions (American slavery and racial prejudice, etc.), it is the responsibility of the individual to activate or, in the least, become aware of the struggle within and allow for aufhebung to occur – allow the snake to eat its own tail ad infinitum. Once this has occurred the individual will, “[begin] to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another” (5).

From this realization, by seeking true self-identity through the internal “Master-Slave dialectic,” he will be able to work outward and address the external, multiple Master-Slave challenges he will face in his lifetime (racial freedom, class struggle, etc). He will be able “to look with open eyes upon his conditions of life and true social relations” (Marx, 128).

To conclude, Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic” is a maze with no center (all paths are suitable, all have no end). This style allows thinkers to pillage the dialectic for their own needs and purposes. Marx takes a practical approach and applies the “Master-Slave dialectic” to class struggle and the commodification of humanity. But by positing an end goal (“Workers of all lands, unite!”) he ignores the dialectic’s reciprocal, infinite nature (that there is no end).

Du Bois on the other hand sees no external aufhebung without acknowledging the internal struggle first (“…to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.”). It is this application of the “Master-Slave dialectic” to all human relationships even, and especially, the relationship with the self, that leads to the purpose behind Hegel’s center-less style – for to have a center is to ignore all others.

Works Cited

“Aufhebung” LEO German-English Dictionary. LEO. Accessed: June, 17, 2008. http://dict.leo.org/

Du Bois, W.E.B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” 2, 5.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Master-Slave Dialectic.” Trans. A.V. Miller. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2001. 631, 633.

Mao Tse-tung, “Identity, Struggle, Contradiction.” Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings. 3rd Ed. Charles Lemert. Colorado. Westview Press. 2004. 263, 264.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. G. Polakoff handout. Burnaby. SFU. 2008. 128, 150.

Plato. Timeaus. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Released: 01 December 1998. Accessed: 16 June 2008. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1572



[1] Def. as noun: abolition, annihilation, sublation, etc. As verb: demand cancellation (LEO German-English dictionary).

HUNGER GAMES - a review of reviews (aka Criticism as Art)

Note: I wrote this after I saw HUNGER GAMES in theatres. So… that was a long time ago.

I have a dog in this fight. I have written at least two minimalistic action scripts centered on emotionally cold heroines (actually four - shit… and working on five-ish). So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume I assume I know what I’m talking about.

To complain about THE HUNGER GAMES is absurd. Whether of not you like it is fair. You’re allowed to not like THE HUNGER GAMES, I allow you to not like THE HUNGER GAMES. But complaints like this from the NY times:

“…now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission. The graver problem is a disengaged performance that rarely suggests the terrors Katniss faces…”

Or this from Roger Ebert:

“…But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism…”

This is exactly what is wrong with modern criticism. Okay, yes, a wiser person might say: ignore them, Dargis and Ebert are just expressing long-winded answers to a very simple question - did you like it or not? And some readers - of the careful, self-reliant, rational variety - may walk away content with this knowledge (and content with their own opinions of art and culture and the like). I am not one of those readers. I like my criticism as subtle and thought-provoking as I like my films. I expect greatness from all my entertainments (or, at least, attempts at greatness from all my entertainments), on their own terms, even from those who call themselves critics. Think Oscar Wilde. Art, motherfuckers! And that’s exactly my problem with Dargis and Ebert and all modern critics in the whole entire world (be they in print or poised on a couch or on the street standing on a box). They’re not the artists they should be. They tend to do away with groundbreaking critical analysis and replace it with weak polemic (or, at least, a few sentences of weak polemic and a high percentage of summary - of the film and, somehow, of their own essays and past likes and dislikes - as if mentioning Michael Mann or Oscar Wilde qualifies you to criticize others!).

One of my major dislikes, beefs, etc. with THE HUNGER GAMES’ filmmaking was the shaky cam close-ups. One, because they tend to force me to leave the theatre and vomit (which, I would hope, is not the intent of these stories), and, two, because they force me to figure out what the fuck is going on. Luckily, with THE HUNGER GAMES’ peculiar close-ups, nausea didn’t set in and I was able to discern information (I was able to adapt to the storytelling). If I wasn’t able to discern information then, of course, I would criticize it. I would say the director got in the way of the storytelling by his use of close-up (or any trick that brings attention to itself). That is a fair criticism, I think. Especially from my school of thought, that the storyteller is secondary to the story. And, I think, I’m addressing it on its own terms - this storyteller’s choice effected how I processed the story. But in this instance, I got used to this choice. I didn’t vomit and I picked up on its eccentric rhythms (yay me!). My viewing experience went something like this: “Okay, that was a hand, sparkle lip stick, okay the hand and lips belong to the same person, okay, yay!”

I even found it effective after a while and I forgot about Gary Ross and Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins and Jennifer Lawrence painted blue. Double yay! This happens with quality. I start a Cormac McCarthy or a Faulkner and with both of them, in the first 50 pages, the author is so present it’s hard for me to read. But I get used to their eccentricities and I begin to understand and I see the story and forget the rest.

It would be unfair of me to write a critique of THE HUNGER GAMES and say it fails because it uses shaky cam (or, worse, that I didn’t like it because it uses shaky cam) when this aesthetic did not hinder my understanding of the story. I wouldn’t have made that choice, but who the fuck cares.

So my criticism of the criticism boils down to this: Critics have no fucking right to tell me, the audience, how they would’ve made something better. They are not qualified to tell me about their choices. And not because they’re not filmmakers but because, even if they were filmmakers - those arm chair critics who have experienced the simplistic magic of production -, their choices have no bearing on the choices made in the film under review. You are not qualified to tell me about YOUR choices. Your choices mean squat to me because, guess what motherfuckers, I’m not watching your choices on screen. This is not your story. Get it? Your story is the criticism. Get it?

How can you criticize something that’s not there as Mr. Ebert does? You can only criticize it by putting yourself into the role of the filmmaker and to forget your role as the critic. It should have, could have is bullshit criticism. It did and this is how it did it and this is how it was effective and this is how it works and this is how it fails and this is my groundbreaking, earth-shattering, mud-slooping subjective experience of it. Whether or not you like it or if your thumb is pointed to heaven or hell matters not. What matters is whether or not the storyteller’s choices told the story, on its own terms. Perhaps those choices were fresh (to you), a new language (to you), confused (by you), or, perhaps, derivative of x, y, and THE RUNNING MAN (to you). It’s the critics job to expand my understanding via his or her understanding, not to tell me if I will like it or not or whether or not it would’ve been better if they were in charge. I’ll decide if I like it or not, whether or not it gives me joy, whether or not I’m willing to defend it with my life (or my blog). So there, Motherfuckers! Take that in your gob and drink it down with a glass of pepsi or some other carbonated beverage that will induce a modicum of pain in your sinus regions. Boom. The End. Percy Shelley!

starsintherocket said: really liked your thoughts about nietzsche, darwing, freedom and knowing nothing. I can say I agree 99% with all of it, and thats pretty hard to find (a person with who I agree that much). excellent way of choosing your words and expressing yourself (:

Thank you. I disagree with myself 99% of the time.

I’m alive. I will be dust. And it will be good.

I’ve been reading about evolution. Lots and lots about evolution. I tend to be attracted to those things that make sense to me. Evolution makes sense to me (Darwin, at least, makes sense to me). Nietzshce makes sense to me too (not that one has to do with the other… although now that I mention it…). And it’s not because they hold the answers to the universe, it is because they don’t. They’re both guides I suppose. Ways to see the world and interact with it. A way to quell fear in the face of things that cause fear. But they’re also nothing. All of mankind’s creations are nothing. All its thinkers, all its paper, all the ones and zeros. Nothing. And there is freedom in this idea. To strip away all the bullshit of what makes up human life and realize, in the end, it is nothing. Not that it is not important, or it doesn’t have meaning, or that these things can’t help you make sense of the world. In Nothingness there is freedom. The freedom to live your life as you see fit, freedom in the knowledge of your speck-like, almost non-existence compared to time and space. Freedom in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario, maybe, you will turn to dust. That’s not so bad, because this knowledge cannot be realized unless you’re alive. I’m alive. I will be dust. And it will be good.

Black Hawk Up: Spec Ops Rescue Hostages in Somalia | Danger Room | Wired.com

vanityismyonlychild:

I’ve followed the plight of these sad fuckers (aka “Somali Pirates”) for a little while now and for multiple reasons. People approached me to write a movie about them a few years back. Their idea was basically an exact reenactment of what the Navy Seals team did in the Wired article (linked above). Simply, white guys shooting black guys and being righteous about it. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now.

I find this whole situation fascinating and depressing. Basically, because of a whole bunch of fucked up shit, Somalia became/is an anarchic state. No government. No rules. Pure chaos. But in this system of chaos, a form of order emerged. Former fisherman (with the aid of some criminal organisations) took their useless fishing vessels and used them to raid shipping lanes, kidnap Cargo and/or seamen. These “Pirates” were moderately violent but none of their captives were killed and most were never physically traumatized. And, for the most part, the pirates were fiscally rewarded for their endeavours (they found reward in a starving system of chaos) and therefore, based on positive reinforcement, the frequency of their piracy skyrocketed and other Somalis followed in their footsteps. Piracy boomed. Sure it wasn’t “government” sanctioned taxation for it lacked the legitimacy of an official governing body, but, essentially, it was, when you boiled it down, Somali citizenry taxing Cargo ships directly for passing through their water space (or near their water space). If the Cargo companies didn’t pay the tax, the Pirates would hold cargo/employees in collateral until the companies wised up.  Official governments do this all over the place, sure not with AK-47s, and not with human hostages (necessarily), but money does go from those who run the cargo ships into the pockets of those who run the countries. The only difference between the two is one is called a “pirate” and the other a “politician.” And what is the response of the politician to the pirate fucking with his gig - kill the fuckers.

Obama green lit two navy seal snipers (two guys who were also there when Bin Laden kicked it) to blow the heads off these fuckers’ bodies when they kidnapped Richard Phillips in 2009 (remember that, he’ll be played by Tom Hanks). And now they’ve (we’ve) gone and killed 9 more “pirates” (in their sleep and, although heavily armed, they were asleep!!). Richard Roeper will be interviewing one of the Seals on the radio. How fucked is that? 9 lives, man. Woot! We’re the kings of the world. They killed 9 guys who, yes, were heavily armed, who were asleep, who had imprisoned two people for three months (kept them alive and unharmed by the way) and whose training with said heavy weaponry has been limited to display and not actual use. Wow. Way to go Navy Seals.

The “Somali pirates” had nothing, no system, no way of making a legitimate income, no way to put food on their tables. So they could either just give up, choose to die, or, perhaps, do what all human beings have done through out time, god forbid, work with what they got (lemons to lemonade, people). And so they began to create a system, to create order in this fucked up place, that could aid in their own survival. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal system and these guys did have guns and were willing to poke them in peoples’ faces, but, least we forget, they weren’t the ones that killed first. It was the established system (Us - all of us!!!) that killed first and, being a part of that established system, being an apathetic loser with an internet connection, it makes me really sad and really sick to my stomach.

Civilization’s Insurmountable Mass: A Ballardian Interpretation.

To be or not to be… Ballardian.

            Ballardian. It’s a word that derives from a flesh, blood, and bone namesake (the physical Ballard), but also represents the inner workings of his psyche, his obsessions, and his fetishes (the metaphysical Ballard). It can even be detached from its source to encompass thoughts and ideas generated by other living beings not associated with his name in any way except of course that they have created something or were involved with something that could be labeled Ballardian (the extra-physical Ballard).

             By creating the word Ballardian, some philosopher or critic has done a very Ballardian thing – he or she has managed, through modern man’s need for neologisms (or what I like to call compartments), to semantically (if not psychologically) fragment the individual’s sense of self (his identity, his ego). As Freud puts it, “Normally we are sure of nothing so much as a sense of self, of our own ego…” and that “…this ego appears autonomous, uniform, and clearly set off against everything else” (4). But modernity acts to fragment or distort this sureness. To be J.G. Ballard is one thing, to be Ballardian is another but to be labeled both must cause doubt in one’s own ego.

            Whether or not Ballard experienced this semantic fracturing at a psychological or existential level, to the point where one loses his or her sense of embodiment (a being R.D. Laing would call a schizophrenic), I will leave to other thinkers. I am more concerned with how this act of semantic fracturing is symbolic of the definition of Ballardian. It is a manifestation of one of Ballard’s major themes: how modernity (in this case modern man’s need for neologisms) and, more accurately, how mankind’s hunger for modernity (what some might describe as the need for civilization) can affect the individual on an existential level.

            Whether it is the planes and their bombs in Empire of the Sun, the cement caves in High Rise, the island created from the wasteland leftover from constructed freeways in Concrete Island, or the semantic game of adjusting someone’s name to act as a compartment for fragments of the original (the physical, metaphysical, and extra-physical), they all share a solitary affect – they force the individual to become one of many cogs and wheels in the perpetually moving and growing machine called human civilization.


Cogs and Wheels; We, The Superorganism

            In the aptly titled essay “Ants,” Edward O. Wilson discusses ants and their overwhelming evolutionary success. If biomass was an indicator of evolutionary success, ants, it could be argued, are the most successful beings on planet earth. Wilson uses ant populations in the Brazilian Amazon as an example, “ants and termites together make up more than one-quarter of the biomass which includes everything from very small worms and other invertebrates to the largest mammals” (14). He points out that “…ants alone have more than four times the biomass than all of the land vertebrates combined – birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals” (15).  The reason for such evolutionary success – “Ants and other social insects are dominant because their social organization gives them competitive superiority over solitary insects.”

            AlthoughWilson never directly correlates the success of the social ants with the success of the social humans, he does say, “The evolutionary line that gave rise ultimately to ants and other social insects separated more than 600 million years ago from the line that gave rise to human beings” (13). This suggests, rather obtusely, a parallel evolution – two social beings originating from a single source developing, over time, similar methods for ultimate survival and dominance. Of course, ants are very different in their habits and structures than human beings and only superficially can be linked to the social ways of human kind. What is pertinent about ants is that they, like humans, dominate their continuum by being a complex social species. What is also interesting is that they combine, socially, through the many bodies of individuals, to become one giant biomass – a superorganism – all functioning to ensure that biomass’ survival. We, human beings, function in a similar way but instead of calling our combined flesh ‘biomass,’ we call it civilization.

            Wilson describes the ant superorganism as “…gigantic, amoeba-like entity that blankets the foraging field, collecting food, meeting enemies before they can approach the nest. At the same time they care for the queen and the immature ants that are sequestered with her in the nest” (15-16). We blanket the world in a similar way each finding a source of labor to add to the functioning of civilization (to feed, to fight, to breed). We, like the ants, “…accomplish all these things with high efficiency by a division of labor” and the ability to complete these tasks simultaneously (16). Wilson goes on to say, “individuals are able to risk or even to throw away their lives in suicidal ventures on behalf of the colony with-out greatly reducing the productivity of the colony” (16) or, I would add, risking the survival of the superorganism on the whole. What is the life of one ant in comparison to the biomass of all ants?

            What does this have to do with Ballard and his novels, I’m sure you’re beginning to wonder. Ballard is identical to Wilson in many ways. He is a scientist holding a magnifying glass up to the writhing pieces of a giant superorganism known as human civilization. In each of his tales, he focuses on a few individuals and observes how these pieces unwittingly function as cogs and wheels to ensure their civilization’s survival. Where Wilson and Ballard depart in their ‘science’ is in the examination of these individual’s inner lives. It would be difficult for Wilson to empathize with an individual ant since he is not of their kind; Ballard has the advantage of being of the species he’s studying. Ballard can penetrate the individual’s psyche through shared experience and show what affect being a cog or a wheel in some greater organism has on the individual’s ego, his or her sense of self (for what is the self in comparison to the biomass of civilization?). It is this work that is quintessentially Ballardian.

 

The Individual and Civilization in Empire of the Sun

            The chaos of war, Ballard might argue, reminds the individual of his or her speck-like existence on the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. Events occur seemingly out of the control of the individual’s hands. It is the end of the world and, in the face of chaos, each individual is asked to react. But their reactions are not random or chaotic like the events that preceded them. The individuals react in accordance to a higher biological order, reforming, in some way, the infrastructure that was destroyed by the chaos of war.

            Bombs fall in Empire of the Sun, ships sink, buildings crumble, and individuals die. It is much like slamming one’s hand down on an ant mound. The sand shifts and crumbles, the mound flattens, and individuals die. And in the aftermath of such upheaval, what occurs? The individuals reform and continue on as a massive whole, reforming their superorganism.

            Jim is unique to Ballard’s other texts because he is more raw and not as entrenched in his labours as those older than him. At least in the beginning, he is a child without a sense of civil purpose. At first, he does not have a labour that acts to make civilization function (other than that he is a spare part to be used when another part breaks down or dies off). Empire of the Sun, in a way, depicts Jim’s accumulation of an identity and labour. He acts as a lubricant, sliding around the POW camp, trading goods, and making this newfound micro-civilization motor.

            For all the upheaval he experienced, the loss of his home, his parents, and the Shanghai he once knew so well, he, with the other POWs, have been bound back together to reform civilization. Each of these scattered individuals has found each other and each takes on a labour. When one dies, in the eyes of civilization, even in the eyes of Jim, it is inconsequential. Civilization will keep moving forward. Even the chaos of war, like the individual and his sense of self, is inconsequential in the face of civilization. War is, indeed, just a cog in the machine.            

 

The Individual and Civilization in High Rise

            The high rise, like war, is a cog in the machine and, like war, it performs an upheaval of the individual’s sense of ego. Instead of destruction causing the existential crisis, it is abundance or, more accurately, Stasis. The high rise is a place that functions with minimal labour and satisfies all of the individual’s basic needs (food, safety). It alleviates the need for the individual to get lost in his functional labour and gives him static time – alone, in a confined, protective dwelling – to ponder his or her speck-like existence on the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. In High Rise, each character comes to a similar conclusion – they are inconsequential and their potential deaths mean nothing in the big picture. Their existence is so inconsequential that the conscious pursuit of death and disorder does not seem like a bad idea.

            In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud comes to the conclusion “…that, in addition to the drive to preserve the living substance and bring it together in ever larger units, there must be another [drive], opposed to it, which sought to break down these units and restore them to their primordial inorganic state” (55). The drive to community is what Freud calls Eros. The drive to destroy is what Freud calls the death-drive. They function in complete contradiction to each other, they are enemies, Freud points out, like God and the Devil (he goes as far as to argue that God and the Devil are fictional representations of these innate drives; something so innate to human kind that we attempted to manifest them in our deities).

            In all of his works, Ballard seems to be inordinately influenced by Freud’s theories and specifically, in the case of High Rise, by Freud’s notion of the death-drive. A strict Freudian could argue Eros inspires Royal to design a community (a utopia, a micro civilization) and the death-drive innate to all human kind acts to destroy it. Freud writes, “…the tendency toward aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man and… represents the greatest obstacle to civilization.” This assumes that civilization is an end goal, something to be reached for, something to be designed and that does not yet exist. This statement dismisses what seems evident in Wilson’s study of ants – that human kind, as a superorganism, is civilization. Or to put it another way, civilization is an organic mass that cannot be controlled by any one individual’s innate drives. It even seems to contradict Freud’s own conclusions, “Communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any individual and presents a united front against every individual…. The replacement of the power of the individual by that of the community is the decisive step toward civilization” (32). Ballard expands on Freud and argues in High Rise that the death-drive doesn’t threaten civilization. Instead, it exists as a consequence of civilization. The technological advancement of civilization, with its bombs and its high rises, has created a perpetual interruption of the individual’s labour. Each time something is disrupted in the individual’s life, when he or she is distracted from her labour, he or she is faced with the reality of their speck-like existence in the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. When faced with such a crisis, it seems natural to move toward a general nihilism and even, as occurs in High Rise, an active will toward death (What does it matter anyway? My death will not be noticed).

            Laing survives this period of wanting death (he exhibits his death-drive by living and finding pleasure in his own filth as well as aggressive behavior toward others) to come out on the other side forgetting his existential crisis: “Laing was free for the time being to live within this intimate family circle, the first he had known since childhood” (172). The death-drive, it seems in a Ballardian world, is civilizations way of correcting itself. Instead of being an obstacle to civilization’s existence, it is a tool – a cog or wheel – that acts to correct civilization’s trajectory through the actions of its individual pieces. When Chaos or Stasis interrupts an individual from his or her labour and makes him aware of his speck-like existence, then something must occur to change course. These individuals, like Laing, must press the reset button (via the death-drive) so that either the problem individual is eliminated (through death) or if it survives it will find relative happiness in a new labour (until, of course, something interrupts them again). Laing finds this relative happiness in the labour to provide for and control his “intimate family circle.”

 

The Individual and Civilization in Concrete Island

            Although it is easily considered a Ballardian work, for its themes of existential isolation in the face of civilization’s epic mass, Maitland’s existential crisis in Concrete Island cannot be directly blamed on the technological advancements of civilization. War and buildings are the cogs and wheels in Civilizations’ perpetually moving machine, but the wasteland Maitland finds himself inhabiting has no perceived purpose or labour. Although it was created in the negative space provided by other functioning cogs and wheels (in this instance freeways and cars), its existence has no meaning. In a sense, it is analogous to what occurs to the individual in the face of civilization and its advancements. Each individual is a wasteland, an insignificant mass compared to the swirl of cement (and flesh) all around.

            Unlike Laing, Maitland does not seem to have an obvious death-drive. On the surface, all his actions seem to be in the interest of his survival (even at the cost of other’s lives). Where the death-drive in Laing seems to be obvious and active (he revels in his own shit), the revelation of Maitland’s death-drive comes toward the end of his story in a more subtle way. Jane offers Maitland escape and he refuses her. Soon after she abandons him, he has an opportunity to wave down a police car. Again, he refuses and hides. The death drive is so buried in him, so repressed that the novel closes with hopeful denial: “In a few hours it would be dusk. Maitland thought of Catherine and his son. He would be seeing them soon. When he had eaten it would be time to rest, and to plan his escape from the island” (176). What isn’t evident at the beginning of the novel, but becomes increasingly clear by the end, is that every action Maitland takes, even the initial crashing of his car, is an attempt at self-destruction. But instead of death, Maitland, in this little piece of forgotten wasteland, has found a place where an individual can survive on his own terms because the individual, once it becomes existentially aware of itself, like Maitland has (an event that occurs before the novel’s opening lines), becomes a useless part of civilization that either must die or learn to forget its new found awareness.  In a strange way, on the concrete island, an individual can live, at least existentially, happily ever after.

 

Conclusion

            Ballardian. It is a word that acts to define itself. It’s existence, due to the modern need for neologisms, acts to disrupt and fragment an individual’s sense of self. With that in mind, when you label something Ballardian, you are labeling a work or event that in someway shows, observationally, how the advancement of civilization acts to disrupt the individual’s sense of self. The need for neologisms is based on the notion of advancement (to advance semantic understanding, but also to advance civilization on a whole). Neologism is an inanimate cog or a wheel in the machine of civilization (or, more clearly, we are the cog and it is our tool). To be Ballardian is to find a tool like neologisms, war, or high rise apartments and examine how they disrupt one’s life. Ballard’s conclusion: these tools and technologies act to make the cogs and wheels of the machine of civilization (the individuals) aware of their speck-like existence in the face of civilization’s insurmountable mass. This existential crisis is met with what Freud called the death-drive. Like individual ants whose death is inconsequential to the survival of its colony, so to is the individual human’s life when placed against the mass. What Freud called an obstacle to civilization, Ballard calls a consequence of civilization. The death-drive is a civilizational tool enacted when the individual, inevitably, becomes aware of its inconsequentiality. The death-drive wants to destroy the useless cog or, if the individual survives, it wants it to forget and get lost in some new, productive labour. This is not to say that those faced with existential crisis cannot be in crisis and live on happily ever after, it is to say that unless one find’s oneself forgotten on a wasteland, the odds against the individual staying aware of his speck-like nature are not good.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “Ballard’s ‘Crash.’” Trans. Arthur B. Evans. Science Fiction Studies.

            Vol. 18, No. 3, Science Fiction and Postmodernism (Nov., 1991), pp. 313-320 

            URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240083 Accessed: 03/08/2009 1:03

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. 1930. Trans. David McLintock. 

            London. Penguin Books. 2002.

Wilson, Edward O. “Ants” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol.

            45, No. 3 (Dec., 1991), pp. 13-23. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3824337

             Accessed: 05/08/2009 11:34

 

 

photojojo:

It’s almost hard to believe Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes of Google Street View is real, but these photos were indeed captured by Google Street View.

He’s been running the project since 2008. Here’s a fascinating essay by Jon on the project.

The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, a Project

sadvader:

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.
James Baldwin

sadvader:

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

James Baldwin

(Source: crudamoral, via myfirstfeaturefilm)

The Children of Jack: a short story or the start of something… maybe….

Much of what Jack Nicholson knew about life he learned from watching TV. He read on occasion, listen to music on occasion, he even graduated from high school, but there was something special about TV – documentaries, biographies, music videos, reality TV, basically a class for every day of the week. There were even religious channels. Jack loved TV.

Late one evening, Jack saw Val Kilmer reading a passage from the New Testament. Jack liked Val Kilmer very much and he had no previous indication that Val was a dirty Christian. Jack had an awe-inspiring talent for weeding out young, scary Christians. He could smell them and his stomach would knot at the very sight.

Jack usually disliked people even before he knew they were Christian, usually due to that person’s righteous behavior (Rip a cigarette out of a skinny woman’s mouth and Jack says: “Hell no!”. Go through a person’s garbage, searching for bottles, cans and the like, Jack says “I have condoms in there. Used dirty condoms.” ). Actually, most of the people Jack despised were Christians at one point and gave it up for other righteous pursuits. Most turned to environmentalism, politics, and swimming.

Jack has two defining characteristics, they are: his name and the scar on the edge of one nostril. When Jack was seven-years-old he saw the movie Chinatown. His mother told him of the actor Jack Nicholson. He liked the movie, but he believed that Jack Nicholson, the actor, was Jack, the child (himself), at a future and unknown date (fully sprouted with a receding hairline and a hankering for fully sprouted blonde women). Jack, the child, believed that all of the events that happened to Jack, the actor, would happen to Jack, the child at some point in his own, Jack the child’s, life.

To make a long story short, Jack, the child, to avoid any future conflicts with a certain Polish midget (Roman Polanski), took his mother’s Henckel, a ten-inch Chef’s knife, promptly stuck it up his nose, and flicked it outwards. Blood slipped onto the counter. Tears ran down poor Jack’s face. His mother explained that Jack Nicholson, the actor, and Jack, the child, were and are two very different people. Jack was satisfied with her explanation.

Jack’s hand ached. He had broken his wrist punching a car populated by Christian youth. It was a dull ache working from his wrist up into the palm, off towards the thick base of the thumb. A wise voodoo/Asian guy told Jack once that when you rub the fat part of your hand, it is as if you were rubbing your own intestine. He said it was something to do with nerves. Jack doesn’t like to talk to people much. Jack likes to play by himself.

            “Jack?” The Doctor said.

            “Yes,” Jack said.

            “So, what seems to be the problem?” The Doc said.

            “I broke my hand.” Jack said.

            “Okay… how did you break your hand?” The Doc said.

            “I punched a wall,” Jack said.

            “Oh… well, it’s just my medical opinion, but, maybe, it would be wise, for your health, not to punch walls,” The Doc said.

            “Yeah, I guess so,” Jack said.

            “How old are you, Jack?” The Doc said.

            “I’m thirty eight.”

There was a knock at Jack’s door. Jack took his eyes off the TV set for a moment and then he brought them back. There was another knock. Jack was not annoyed. He would have preferred that no one came to visit him, but he didn’t mind the company from time to time.

            “Hello—” Jack said.

            “Have you found Je—”

Jack slammed the door. He jogged straight to the garage, through the kitchen, riffled through masses of junk (footballs, lawn mowers, and the like) and retrieved a hammer. It was one of those strange hammers, with an axe on one side and a flat, oval shape, knobby thing on the other. The flat, oval shape, knobby thing was the part that primarily struck the head of the nail. Today it would strike the head of a dirty Christian.

Killing the father was easy, but the child… Jack couldn’t quite bring himself to kill the child. He dragged the father’s body through the kitchen into the garage. His hand ached.

The child was strange. He did not cry. He did not pray. He followed Jack around as if Jack was his savior. And big Jack Nicholson felt like the savior, pulling children from the evil dirty arms of the Christian hoards. He thought that if this was a different world he would be a great man and this child, the child that he saved with a drywall hammer, would be his second in command (like Judas or Chewbacca). Together they would create an army – The Children of Jack. They would burn churches, turn over rocks, they would dig up and kill everything with a cross, every last dirty Christian they could find. AndThe Children of Jack would save all the children, free them from mental slavery, and make a new world, a world without Christianity and, of course, Jack would be its almighty savior… the father, the son, and the holy ghost!

The blood from the father’s head left a trail from the front door, through the kitchen, and into the garage. The child walked with his head down, followed, and avoided the slippery substance as best he could.

            “What’s your name?” Jack said.

            “My name is Job.” The boy said.

            “Job, as in ‘I have a job’ or as in Job from the bible.” Jack said.

            “Job from the bible, but I say it different,” The boy said.

Jack wrapped the father in a horse blanket. Jack used to be an equestrian, in his youth. Actually, Jack used to work at a stable. He was a caretaker. He got lessons for free. He stole the blanket.

            “Do you ever feel like there’s somebody controlling your every move?” Jack said.

            “My daddy says that God controls everything,” The boy said, fiddling with his ear.

            “Okay, but do you ever feel like your life is a plot,” Jack said.

            “Like a plant?”

            “No… a plot, a story?”

            “Like Morris’s Disappearing Bag?” The boy said.

            “Is that a story?”
           

            “It has rabbits.”

            “Yeah, like Morris’s Disappearing Bag.” Jack said.

            “We owned a rabbit once.”

            “Oh?”

            “His name was Ezekiel.”

            “Oh, good.”

            “Yeah, he was a nice rabbit.” The boy said.

It was like the only things that had ever happened to Jack were written down. He can remember Jack Nicholson, the actor, and how he, the child, got the scar on his nose. He can remember watching Val Kilmer, even an incident or two with some righteous environmentalists, but he never quite understood why he did what he did. It was a given that Jack hated Christians, but Jack didn’t know why. Now he was stuck with this fuck wit child, his second in command. Jesus-Christ-Almighty-God, our lord and our savior, Jonathan F. Nicholson and his sidekick Job, pronounced job as in the work one does, here to save the world from itself once and for all.

“Your son is handsome,” some would say. “He looks just like you.”

Others would just stare.

The Children of Jack had one Christian notch on their collective belt (they only had one belt between them). That notch belonged to Job’s old dad. Jack was Job’s new dad and Jack taught Job all about his hatred of Christians and how The Children of Jack would sweep all them Christians into the ocean, ideally the Atlantic (because it was the shittier ocean of the two big ones, the one Jack did not visit when he was a child).

More Notes from the Tourist Class: a short story

Naples, Italy

He cut his wrist. He was dizzy. The train rocked and he could see the grass and earth pass underneath the toilet. The tracks were covered in shit, piss and blood. He smiled and then he hacked. He was going to be very sick. He wasn’t going to throw up. It was in his lungs and his head, unsettled mucus in his sinuses. He was not going to die.

The Muslim he shared his cabin with smoked all night. He smoked his cigarettes like all Europeans. He smoked them one after the other.

The sun had just broken and his sick mind did not recognize the world passing before his eyes. There were skinny trees, dry grass, and small roads. He held his wrist and watched the Muslim bow and pray.

“My name is Robert?” He said. The Muslim smiled then nodded. There was ten minutes of silence and then the Muslim began to beat his chest.

“Mateo…” He said. There was a smile, silence, and a cigarette.

“So, where are you from?” He said.

The Muslim gave a nod,  said, “Mateo…,” and then he smiled.

Robert should have taken conversational classes before he left, that’s what he thought. He took kickboxing classes  instead.

“You’re from Naples? That’s where I am going… Napoli?” Robert said.

“Napoli… si, si.” A nod and a smile. Robert smiled too.

The bleeding on his wrist had stopped. The train was about two hours late. He had taken too many books. Ten in total. Hardcovers. He had read three of the ten - Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an early Orwell about a man and his bathtub, and some short stories from Kafka. He could not dispose of them. He was very particular with his collections and even though the books were recent editions, with no value at auction, he would still feel empty if he left them behind for some vagrant or non-English speaking local to fondle and not read. So the books sagged in his bag. They would poke out and scratch at his back. They would tear, get wet, fall apart. And at the end of his trip, when he returned home, Robert intended to place them back on their shelf, their home, where he had displaced them so many months before.

Naples had tight streets. Scooters would blaze past, inches from unpredictable bodies. The women were beautiful, north to south, darker and darker, shorter and shorter too.

The only friends Robert had made were homosexual. Niccolo was small, bound with deep brown skin, filled with frail bone. Tomaso was a plump, pale older man. His hair was still black, but soon would fade. Tomaso introduced Niccolo to homosexuality. They were not lovers.

Robert’s belly ached. Everyday he drank liters and liters of pepsi or coke (not diet), whatever sugar fluid he could get his hands on. He ate asiago with stale bread and large amounts of cookies for dessert. On occasion he ate chocolate. When mixed together, over a month, it equaled a chubby traveler, carrying too many books and tending to the wounds on his wrist.

It throbbed. It was a pink scratch that would bleed every time it rubbed against a pant leg or his forehead. Robert liked to touch his hair.

“Are you okay?” Someone asked (in English mostly).

“Yes, just a scratch…” He said.

“It’s bleeding.“

“It’s okay.”
”I have a kit.” She was plump. Her accent hinted at Deutschland, but it was a little softer. Maybe Swiss. Austrian. French.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m Swedish.” She suddenly became more attractive. She was a brunette and very tall.

“Ilsa?” He said.

“No, Sara.”

“Like in Wild Strawberries?”

“Ingmar Bergman?”

He nods

“Sure like Wild Strawberries.” She said.

“Your English is amazing.”

“I give tours.”

“In Naples… Napoli?”

“No— Rome, the Forum.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah… do you know anything Swedish other than Bergman?”

“Meatballs… Stockholm… Copenhagen…”

“That’s Denmark.”

“I know.”

“You’re still bleeding.”

“Yes.”

She smiled, but she seemed unimpressed. He placed his wrist to his lips.

“That’s not good for you.” She said.

“It makes me feel better….”

Before he met Tomaso and Niccolo, he met a woman named Susan. She was beautiful. She was American.

Susan lived in Rome. She ate pizza and let darkly tanned men follow her from gelataria to gelataria. She did not let them touch her. She was an uptight Catholic looking for her next fix, some boy to pump in and then throw away. She didn’t screw them. She just liked to play. She would pull out her cross when things got too serious. Robert liked talking to her and debating with her, he even liked fighting with her with words. They  never touched, not really, not satisfactorily.

There were points on the map of Naples where Robert tried to go, but couldn’t quite make it. He was sick. He had mucus in his lungs and his sinuses. Usually these places were high up a flight of stairs, to glimpse a view or a church. His lungs would burn half way up. He would cough. His eyes would tear. He blamed the Muslim. He blamed Europe. “Fucking Smokers.” He blamed himself. He was bored with Italy, the land of homosexuals and un-amenable women.

He was to wait for Tomaso and Niccolo in Naples and they would ferry to Nicollo’s family in Orestano, but they were already two days late. No Sardinia for Robert. He met this Swedish girl again, but other then a band-aid and a memorable masturbation session in a restaurant’s washroom (alone while she ate pizza), it led to nothing.

He left Italy.

Avanos, Turkey

Pottery was the main trade. They all spoke French. He met a girl named Megan. Blonde with perfect titties, he thought. Californian all the way.

Some of the merchants were nice. All would harass in their own way. Some would tug at a sleeve, others would yell and smile, all would offer tea.

Turkey was filled with rugs. Avanos with pots. There was a man with a moustache, who smelled like lemon wash. He had pulled Robert into one of his shops and had sold Robert a plate with the Arabic Allah engraved. There were pictures of a man that resembled this merchant all over the shop. Some French tourist told Robert that the man on the wall was Ataturk.           

Megan was offered an internship. She was to stay on with this “Ataturk” and be his apprentice. She would get free room and board – a creaky room that was clean and dry with meals consisting of long green peppers and uncooked chicken. She would collect red clay from the hills and make like Patrick Swayze every night.

Robert’s “Ataturk” had many real pictures of himself. One was of him holding a gun. One was of him standing beside some Prime Minister or President. Another was of his travels in the Congo. He was a dear friend to some French ambassador.

Robert’s wrist was mildly infected. He got an email from Niccolo, it read: “Sorry about Sardinia.” He got an email from Susan, it read: “I miss you”. He got an email from himself, it read: “Go home!!!!!!!!!!!”

 He Left Turkey.

Sofia, Bulgaria and on through Yugoslavia

Fourteen hours down, twenty more to go. Destination: Budapest. A stern looking ticket taker with a nice ass, she resembled a man, was Robert’s new best friend. He had thirty-five American dollars, five counterfeit. He had no food. He had no toilet paper. He was the foreign man who smelled like shit. And all he had to hold on to was a heavily muscled eastern European lady that just so happened to have a nice ass, and a window seat that looked out onto a cemented, Communist world. His head bounced against the window.

The Yugoslavian border was mild. He thought it would be more difficult to cross. He imagined a crater-filled country, women with dying babies, and men with guns. There were some guns, but mostly all he saw were small houses, the odd car, and green. The whole country was green.

He smiled.

The Loss of Self
HUNGER GAMES - a review of reviews (aka Criticism as Art)
I’m alive. I will be dust. And it will be good.
Civilization’s Insurmountable Mass: A Ballardian Interpretation.
The Children of Jack: a short story or the start of something… maybe….
More Notes from the Tourist Class: a short story

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