Friday, February 7, 2014

   I was watching Andrew Bujalski's film Computer Chess the other day for the 10th time. I was with my rather brilliant friend who was seeing it for her first time and we got into some analysis. (My idea of a perfect evening.) For me the film is like a mirror image of Lucas' THX-1138, there you have a protagonist trying to escape a numb cold technological nightmare labyrinth so that he can feel sexual love and the passions of freedom. His escape leads him to a gigantic sunrise in a natural world at the films end. Here, the argued protagonist Peter is seeking an escape from the confusions of feeling and desire, his piers and his mentor seemingly trapped in conspiracy and delusion, and the sexual predators who use a false love as a mask for abuse are his enemies, he seeks pure logic, and just wants an answer to the problem. The artificial intelligence seemingly in the chess program is striving to connect with another intelligence, something living and free; this is a mirror for his inability to connect with the living about intelligence. At the end of the film, a documentary filmmaker (in reference to sunrise of THX-1138) points the camera at the sun burning out the camera tube, this scene is connected with Peter in a room with a woman, supposedly a prostitute, who turns out to be an android. THX is alone in his escape. He lost his female companion and his journey ends/begins in independence; without a society in sight. Peter's story ends/begins either seeing the intelligence in those he wants to connect with or cursed to feel all around him is just artificial because we may in fact be more artificial than our creations. 

   Zizek once talked about the paradox of kindness. There is a play by Brecht "The Exception and the Rule," from the 1930's in which a rich man trapped in the desert is allowed to get away with the crime of killing his slave/man-servant in fear that in a desperate moment of starvation, the slave was attempting to kill him, (In reality the slave, also starving, is still trying to help the master and was approaching him with water.) The judge rules that no human being could be expected to not doubt such an act of extreme kindness and so self defense was merited. The notion that we are constructed by not only the world around us, but almost directly by the very humans around us and in such a way as to mistrust or even hate them on the zero level is akin to all existential fear. Bryan Fuller's Hannibal brilliantly captures this notion of being driven mad not by the meat of the mind or by genetic fault or even environment, but as a result of the intention of another. The subject seeks to be recognized by the other but only as what the subject wants, and must mold the other into the subject. One human being can drive another mad simply by needing recognition from them: the madness of paranoia, doubting kindness, doubting love. The moment in Computer Chess when the leaders of the New Age physical/spiritual exploration conference expose themselves in a creepy sexual proposition toward Peter, that moment when his instincts for self preservation are in conflict with expected behavior, that moment of madness is when your attempt to heal or purge yourself of something sick is seen as sickness itself. 'Iatrogenesis' is for me the beginning of intelligence, it the recognition of one's sickened state. The need to transcend it, and the escape and loneliness it creates. The world around is making us self-conscious, but is also not recognizing us in the Hegelian sense. We are alienated from our community, our friends, our loved ones. That alienation is the sickness that forces a confrontation with self. We must see alienation as recognition because we are in the end nothing but the alienated self.

   Another brilliant film on this is Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow, the story of a young captive of a seemingly benevolent institute for health and enlightenment but in actuality a horror show prison of failed psychedelic experiment and obsession. Elena's escape from Nyle is a reversal of the sickness caused by the attempt to transcend by Nyle in his youth, killing Elena's mother the wife of the Dr. Arboria whose institute Nyle has seized. Cosmatos used this film as an exorcism of his own alcoholism, we can only hope he succeeded. Again, like Computer Chess the spiritual tenants of the New Age and of drug experience are seen as a source of sickness, not enlightenment. Also, both films are a reference to the 1980's which in contrast to the 1971's THX-1138 prophecy, I see them as a strange reversal of a generation's perception of that era, the era of innocence, Reagan revolution and rebirth is in fact an era of bourn infection, invisible imprisonment and of a strange cynical 'profit-cy' from which we all now suffer.   

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reasons to keep fighting . . . 

If I had to list three of the most influential thinkers in the last
five years I would have to say: Hitchens, Zizek and Krugman.

The Hitchens love affair started with this video, an argument against a 
hate speech law in Canada.


I tried to absorb all his talks and writing after this, especially the Atheism debates and
through youtube's filmarchive his early 80's and 90's appearances on C-SPAN's Washington Journal with Brian Lamb. Something very romantic about pre-Clinton news media . . his death was a worldly sadness. 

Zizek was around the same time, one of the most brilliant philosophers of the 21st century whose combination of communism, psychoanalysis and film critique opened up everything for me. I would say any chance for intellectual revolution, artistic antagonism and/or a future of a loving community comes from this man.

Krugman is an old reliable and although his liberalism still ends up being an argument for capitalism none the less his analysis of the financial collapse and the failure of politicians to use economic theory as a tool for self preservation earns him a place in my last five years, not to mention he has a good ASMR voice.