Plato: Socrates and Phaedrus about Writing 37/40

April 5, 2007 at 3:13 am | Posted in Literature, Writing | 11 Comments
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SOCRATES: Yes, because there’s something odd about writing, Phaedrus, which makes it exactly like painting. The offspring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them a question they maintain an aloof silence. It’s the same with written words: you might think they were speaking as if they had some intelligence, but if you want an explanation of any of the things they’re saying and you ask them about it, they just go on and on forever giving the same single piece of information. Once any account has been written down, you find it all over the place, hobnobbing with completely inappropriate people no less than with those who understand it, and completely failing to know who it should and shouldn’t talk to. And faced with rudeness and unfair abuse it always needs its father to come to its assistance, since it is incapable of defending or helping itself.

Plato: Phaedrus. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press 2002, p. 70.

Lent “Daily” Lent – Day 37: Easter is coming soon! Soon I will be stuffing my face with cake, Wiener Schnitzel and Jagertee! Cookies, Brathendl and beer! Espresso with sugar, Gulasch and Blaufränkisch!

Post-lectem view on Pattern Recognition 29/40

March 27, 2007 at 7:35 am | Posted in Consumerism, Film, Globalization, Literature | 14 Comments
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Pattern RecignitionSo I’ve finished William Gibson’s Pattern recognition, but felt a bit let down by it in the end. SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read the book yet but intend to read it in the near future you probably should stop reading here.

I immediately liked Gibson’s take on our branded world and the idea of the main character, Cayce Pollard, developing an allergy against brands and labels. In terms of coherence, it didn’t quite make sense to me though why she had developed such an obsession with The Buzz Rickson’s, a Japanese designer version of a classic US Airforce flying jacket. You might say that this critique is beside the point – it probably is, and I probably read this book too much like I’d read a film (btw, have the rights for a film been sold already? must find out), and I very picky about narrative structure. It’s not at all like that that I expect every movie to tell a perfectly linear story – but if a film adopts a fairly conventional style (of cinematography and editing), then I do expect the plot information to be coherent. And PR is also written fairly conventional, hence my expectations towards coherence.

Back to the Buzz Rickson’s: I admit that until 2 minutes ago, I assumed that the Buzz Rickson’s had entirely been made up. It isn’t. How sad. It is available for € 455 from History Preservation Associates, and I really don’t like it. I had made up my own idea idea of a Buzz Rickson’s which had a slight velvety touch and a dark petroleum tint (wherever I got that from). That’s what it looks like:

Buzz Rickson

Cayce’s lack of reaction towards this iconic jacket probably has to do with the fact that it’s a slightly tweaked, Japanese version – Cayce also isn’t allergic to Hello Kitty characters, and this makes sense because branding and culture are related. But other than you’d expect, she feels at home at Starbucks, although Starbucks looks the same and operates the same way anywhere in our globalized world. The character Damien asks her this very question, but Gibson offers no answer to it. You might say I am just nitpicking, but I’m just a bit disappointed because I had expected a certain epiphany or revelation regarding the exact nature of Cayce’s allergy. In the end, the allergy is gone, and Cayce worries briefly whether she’d be able to continue working in her professing, hunting cool, but that’s it for that. No one knows what triggered it, no one knows why it’s gone in the end.

The end of the novel reminded be of what “Robert McKee”, in an impersonation offered by Brian Cox in Adaptation, said about voice-over:

…and God help you if you use voiceover in your work, my friends. God help you! It’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character. You must present the internal conflicts of your character in action.

Gibson’ voice-over are emails. Nobody knows in the end why the character Damien has to be shooting a documentary about a dig in Russia, where drunk fortune-hunters dig out WW2 treasures including a Stuka complete with mummified pilot. I thought the dig’s would have a function there, because the revelation of the identity of ‘the maker’ of the footage takes place in Russia, but Gibson doesn’t make use of Damien in that context. That leaves him with three story lines dangling loose after the revelation: The whereabouts of Damien, of Cayce’s Mom and of Voytek and his sister Magda, but instead of presenting the dénouement in action, all we get is a succession of emails (presented without subject line – I kind of resented that).

In an nutshell: While I enjoyed the read and eagerly followed in the footsteps of the main character through her marketing-imbued conspiracy, I was a but disappointed by the miserly secret that was to be uncovered. After that major build-up in which Gibson heavily drew on snippets of Baudrillard (having Cayce contemplate about Tommy Hilfiger clothes as simulacra of simulacra of simulacra), I was hoping for a bit more meat in the philosophical frying pan. And as conspiracy theories were one of its subtexts, I also hoped for a bringing together of all the plot lines that had been started.

I appreciate Cayce’s view on fashion though, while this might also seem to be completely beyond the point:-) Because she’s allergic to labels, she tries to give herself an ‘un-branded’ look, for instance takes her Levi’s jeans to a workshop to have the brand names on the buttons removed. Last week I went to one of those no-name fashion stores that flourish in suburban industry estates , and while most of the clothing there has the depressing appeal of poverty-chic (clothes that will fall apart in the wash quicker than you average H&M shirt), you can be lucky and find an absolute gem, something that looks completely underground-ish because it is so far removed from the available label styles but costs next to nothing. I bought a very odd looking T with a skull print (nothing special yet) for € 8, but the skulls were transparent (not quite sure whether intended or not) and a bit frillier than the rest, giving it a nice texture, particularly above the boobs;-) I like it particularly on top of a pink long sleeve – must post a picture some time…

Friendly Comment Spammers 29/40

March 21, 2007 at 7:32 am | Posted in Spam | Leave a comment
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Comment spam is a nuisance, but not an unsolvable problem if you’re on WordPress. Akismet catches most of the spam (after having given it some time to learn) and you only have to check every once and again whether it’s really all spam in the queue. Most spam turns out to be as nonsensical as this one (this, however, being an example of email spam):

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I can hardly imagine that anyone would buy Viagra from a website that presents itself in such a dyslexic fashion. The next one comes from almost the same category. Note the difference, however: They have built in something similar to the spam protection tricks on many websites. While you’d normally have to replace the [at] with @, they are asking you to replace the dash with a dot. I also enjoy the bit about Mr. Perkins and Mr. Crouch (why not ‘crotch’?)

Hi,

VIArrGRA $3. 35
VALrrIUM $1. 25
CIArrLIS $3. 75
XArrNAX
SOrrMA

FOR LESS!

http://www.kedrx-com

Replace “-” with “.” in the above link to make it working.

Its classified information, until such time as the Ministry decides to release it, said Percy stiffly. Mr. Crouch was quite right not to disclose it.

A cute translation trivia on the side: There is an old-fashioned German word for @ that was used by some in the early days of the internet, but has now fallen into oblivion: “der Klammeraffe”, meaning the clipping or clinging monkey:-)

Here is the friendliest comment spam so far. I almost de-spammed it, that’s how effective it was:

Comment Spam

Ooooooooooh! I just realized I forgot to capture the last line of this spam comment in my screen shot where it read I just wanted to write SOMEthing… and I thought that was kinda neat from a spammer. But I’ve already trashed it now.

P.S. So that was another trivia post. I must excuse myself for not coming up with anything more substantial at the moment. There are actual plenty of things on my mind, but I just don’t get around to writing them down. I also need to answer a couple of comments still (Baudrillard in particular, and read about Capitalism 3.0 and learn about the different epochs of American Naturalism). Hope to get around to this tonight.

Jean is dead 15/40

March 7, 2007 at 8:50 am | Posted in Lent | 14 Comments
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Jean BaudrillardI think I have now finally arrived in the blogosphere. I learned about the death of Jean Baudrillard not through tagesschau.de (my channel for IMPORTANT news in the classic newsworthy sense, ever since I stopped reading newspapers in 2000) and certainly not through television (stopped watching TV in 1998), but through Jetsam’s blog. Who is left now of our befabled postmodern thinkers and French countrymen? The famous dead so far are:

Pierre Bourdieu died in 2002 (age: 72), but he’s not exactly postmodern (but I deeply adore him for having explained to me why I felt so alienated in certain circles).

For the time being, our hope rests on Paul Virilio (thanks to n00ne), born in 1932, meaning that he has already outlived everyone but Baudrillard agewise.

****************************************
EDIT: While my original Baudrillard post was secretly converted into a Günther Anders post, I’d like to give a slightly different note to it at the end of this day. I spoke with a number of people about Baudrillard today, I even promoted him to a colleague who works in the mechatronics department during our staff meeting.

The staff meeting was a disaster. For years now, the board of directors have been trying to get more control of the lecturers. They have introduced several measures already, one being an online system in which you have to enter your hours and specifiy what you have done and when.

The system doesn’t work (apart from the fact that such a system is irreconcilable with the nature of the work of a lecturer). I tended it accurately and then was summoned by HR to change a whole month’s entries because I had entered that I had been working “more than I was allowed to” and at times that I “wasn’t supposed to”. In other words: I was asked not to work less, but to enter figures that would correspond to the work regulations for office workers (I am not a secretary, I am lecturer).

The have “improved” the system now which was announced today, and I will now have to choose from 13 different categories (instead of the two of the first system) and assign them to all my hours worked (only the hours spent in class and with preparations will automatically be added). I am still not allowed to enter my actual hours if I work more or at times that I shouldn’t be working. I am actually happy to work more if the results I get improve by doing so and I normally wouldn’t demand to have every hour recognized. But if a system is forced upon me that seeks to control and record what I do, then I do of course want proper recognition.

What I tried to explain to my colleage was that we are forced to partake in a simulation of control (to please the patriarch – I didn’t say that bit in brackets). I am asked to create a digital simulacrum of myself, of me as a workforce, broken down into hours and up to 13 different tasks, which may not correspond to my actual work hours, but to the hours and pattern of work that are acknowledged by the system. This is farcical!

That experience made me think of Jean Baudrillard in a much more affectionate way. A colleague pointed me to an article in The Guardian which has already won my prize for my favourite quote from Baudrillard – a punch in the face of the people who think that The Matrix (the film) offers a demystification of the politics of the real:

“The most embarrassing part of the film is that the new problem posed by simulation is confused with its classical, Platonic treatment … The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to produce.”

Thanks, uncle Jean!

****************************************
Continued: List of dead French philosophers.

Have I forgotten anybody? Who might still be alive? They are all so French and male… what this list also shows is that it seems less likely that you would live to be very old or die of age if your are a French, 20th century philosopher. Unlike Günther Anders who, by many outside of the German-speaking countries, is mainly known as a poet or the first husband of Hannah Arendt (which is why there is only a tiny stub about Anders in the English Wikipedia). Anders actually pre-empted Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacra, and in my view with even more verve and political concern, in his volume Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution* with his description of the world as a phantom and a, uh, how to translate Matrize, (matrix? stencil?), in German Die Welt als Phantom und Matrize. If you read the chapter on television, in which he proposes a phenomenological analysis of TV, you’ll find that Adorno seems to have copied from him too in his own writing about the role of television within the culture industry.

But Anders never had his breakthrough in the philosophical arena, probably because he was a “too” serious philosopher. The atomic bomb plays an important role in his thinking, as the most atrocious example of a technology that has become too big and too cumbersome for us to understand, in particular to understand it morally. Instead of sucking up to the conference circuit, he consumed himself in the anti atomic energy movement.
With that stance, he could impossibly be welcomed by the later to be postmodern crowd, although he survived quite a number of them, dying on 17 Dezember 1992 at the age of 90, still giving interviews weeks before his death.

N.B.: The great anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is still alive!!! He is 98 meanwhile… just another thing I learned through blogs today.

LentDaily Lent (Day 15): If you are looking for a suitable philosophic diet for Lent, then I’d definitely recommend reading Günther Anders, instead of mourning Jean Baudrillard for too long. It will give you moral strength and fuel you with the energy that you need to not succumb to postmodern relativism and laziness. I would quote a bit from his work here, hadn’t I lent (sic!) my copy of the Antiquiertheit to a student. I don’t even know to how many students I have already lent this book – I am probably a bit missionary about it (simply because I never thought it was fair that Baudrillard became the shooting star of pomo with his often incoherent, sensational writing, whereas somebody who really made difference and never shmoozed with anybody is hardly known to a greater academic public).

*: (1956, roughly: The Antiquatedness of mankind: About the soul in the age of the second industrial revolution, the second volume – About the destruction of life in the age of the third industrial revolution followed in 1980)

Slavoj Žižek’s wives

February 10, 2007 at 10:41 am | Posted in Entertainment, Gender | 42 Comments
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Renata SaleclAnd there goes another post triggered by my recent quest to explore the public persona of Slavoj Žižek. I’ll stay comfortably on the surface of things, like a tabloid, to leave the rest to your own imagination. I can’t come up with a coherent story about Žižek’s wives, I couldn’t even find out whether he was married two or three times. What difference would it make anyway? According to Wikipedia, he married the second time in 2004, according to Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker, he was already divorced twice in 2003.

The top right image shows his first or second wife Renata Salecl, Professor at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Law Institute of Criminology, Centennial Professor at the department of law at the London School of Economics and a visiting scholar to various institutions (Duke University, Berliner Wissenschaftskolleg, New School for Social Research, to name a few). She has written and co-edited a number of publications, alone and with Žižek, and she is very attractive.

In 2004, Žižek, the psycoanalytic philosopher, married a woman by the name of Analia Hounie (sorry, couldn’t keep the emphasis to myself), who is also very attractive, yet in a different way (see pictures). She is a (then) 26-year old model from Argentina, and according to some “the daughter of a major Lacanian thinker and a very serious scholar herself” [I-Cite].

Ruflan via K-Punk writes about her as “Zizek’s new adquisition: the intellectual model”:

Someone was wondering if she’s a genius or something like that. Well, she is. And she is not.
She is: she’s a literature student and she married Zizek. (eeek) anyway, when the old man dies he’ll leave her a really important book collection.
She is not: i’m actually a literature student and the thing is i got to be sitting with her in the same class room several times. Legally blonde.

Zizek WeddingSee how a story is beginning to form in your head? No further comment from my side… I do, however, not want to withhold the wedding photograph from you, also courtesy I-Cite, with which she raised the question:

“Is tabloid coverage good for materialist, psychoanalytic, philosophy?”

Read the comments on I-Cite’s blog, they are entertaining.

(EDIT: Word on the street has it Žižek has already divorced Houni and hooked up with a blonde Harvard student – 2009-05-16)

Slavoj Žižek: Love is Evil

February 7, 2007 at 8:39 am | Posted in Entertainment, Youtube | 9 Comments
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Posting just this cliplet featuring maverick philosopher Slavoj Žižek probably means to discuss him (or whatever he stands for) out of context – but it might be fair if one considers how difficult it is to stay up to scratch with his thinking. I suppose that I don’t really understand any of Žižek’s theories. And even worse, the main reason for that might be that I don’t WANT to understand or think of psychoanalytic theory as anything more than a metaphore (even if it is of the Lacanian denomination). But Žižek is certainly entertaining, I have to give him that.

So even if I fail doing Žižek justice, this piece is still good for explaining why I am fascinated with the public persona Žižek, and at the same time sceptical regarding his coherence as a theoretician. He’s sharp and quick as silver (and in a way a world wonder in his own right), but I sometimes feel that he is missing out a few tiny logical steps in his argument. I saw him “perform” once in Cologne and also had the feeling then that he sometimes got carried away by his own inclination to hog the limelight when confronting an intellectual crowd.

Lest I forget: Johnny Malmedy posted about this two days ago, but I couldn’t find what he wrote about the sexual act in this video.

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