Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Triumph of the Will: Leni Riefensthal (1934)

Riefenstahl’s propaganda film of the Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1934 has been hailed by critics as a ‘technical masterpiece’. However, the film also shows the extent to which Nazism can be viewed as an 'aestheticised politics'. The German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin famously that Nazism is an ‘aestheticised politics’; a politics of myth and the theatrical.

Additionally, the film stands a monument to the birth of a particular kind of modern politics and allows us to explore the relationship between Nazism and more contemporary forms of so-called ‘democratic politics’. It is easy to discern similarities between the spectacular nature of Nazi politics and more contemporary forms of ‘spectacular politics’ as seen on TV. For example, here you can see the birth of the mass ‘party rally’, the reduction of political message to rhetorical simplicities and the celbration of the almost messianic qualities of the political leader.

Another prophetic film in many respects

Neil Turnbull

Philosophy in Film: Ridley Scott's Black Rain

This film can be seen as an expression of the cultural anxieties about Japan at large in American culture in the 1980s. The film starts with images of modern America as powerful but decaying. Nick Conklin - played by Michael Douglas - is an aggressively individualistic cop whose individualism has gone too far (a metaphor, perhaps, for the current plight of US culture itself). Nick - like the US? - is not what he once was and he finds himself having to bend the rules in order to survive in an increasingly competitive world. His world is changed, however, when he encounters the Japanese mob - the yakuza.
The film is deeply racist in many respects, but in the end strives to reach some kind of mutual understanding/recognition between Japanese and US culture (although very much on the American hero’s terms). Japan is represented in strikingly ‘orientalist’ way in the film; the film’s ‘noir style’ is used to create a sense of the Japanese as ‘mysterious’ and ‘inscrutable’. However, more than this it depicts the ‘future as Asian’; Asian capitalism is represented as the next stage of capitalistic evolution because it is a pre-eminent centre of technological innovation, a culture based upon self-discipline and a culture that is the true heir to ascetic Protestantism with its now rapidly fading work ethic. A remarkably prescient observation in many respects.

Neil Turnbull

Philosophical Films - Pleasantville Director: Gary Ross, 1998.

This film attempts to make sense of the factors involved in the passage from modernity in the US - seen as a highly ordered, gendered, conventional and hierarchical society - to its postmodern variant, that it depicts as driven by more individualistic and aesthetic ideals. It begins with a rather pessimistic view of life in postmodern America: a place of emptiness and despair, where life is seen as ‘media saturated’, competitive and possibly on the verge of ecological catastrophe. TV offers the only escape from this ‘hell’ and the film uses this idea to try to account for the ‘fall’ of America from its moral zenith in the 1950s.

The story goes like this: David and his lustful sister Jennifer live in late 1990s California. They come from a single parent family; and David, in particular, manages to deal with his feelings of alienation from the American dream by becoming obsessed with a sitcom - ‘Pleasantville’ – that depicts life in 1950s America as everything that life in the 1990s isn’t: ordered, stable, familial and communitarian.

David’s TV remote control is broken in a fight with his sister. A TV repairman – who plays the role of God in the film – inexplicably turns up and offers them a new one…only this one transports them into the sitcom as brother and sister - Bud and Mary Sue. David and Jennifer quickly realise that life in Pleasantville is very different from the world they lived in at home. Here, it is assumed that they know their place (and the only person with the freedom to speak freely and openly is the deeply patriarchal and Masonic local Mayor).

At first it is David – the knowledgeable fan – who gets on best with this world. Jennifer simply sees this as an opportunity to satisfy her lust (Jennifer takes on the biblical role of Eve in the story and, more generally, the biblical story of creation and the fall is used allegorically to frame the historical narrative). But Mary Sue’s behaviour has some dramatic and far-reaching social and cultural consequences for the inhabitants of Pleasantville. In effect, her actions trigger off all the phenomena that we now associate with the dawning of postmodern consciousness: youth culture, feminism, a new popular appreciation of avant-garde art and, more over, a new ‘expressivist’ personal ethic. This transformation – in a reference to the Wizard of Oz – is explored through a cinematic device: the transformation from black and white to colour. In this way the social conflicts of the 1960s are translated into a conflict between ‘monochromes’ and ‘coloureds’(of course civil rights is also an implicit reference here).

In general terms, the film explores the meaning of postmodern nostalgic longings to return to the secuority of pre 1960s world by exposing it as a postmodern fantasy: a fantasy that only takes you back into another fantasy. In this the sense the film explores the how in postmodern culture our sense of the past weighs heavily on our minds but we have no clear/objective way of understanding what the past really signifies. The film shows how all roads out of the ‘postmodern condition’ only lead back to it: but in the encounter with the past something can be recovered or reclaimed.

Neil Turnbull

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bruno Latour's Making Things Public

It took a great deal of effort to read this exceedingly complex academic text (if ‘academic text’ is in fact the right word for it). Part encyclopaedia, part occasional text, part social-theoretical user’s manual - with colour-coded sections for ease of use - this text is a book on only in the Deleuzian sense; a ‘machine’, or perhaps better a ‘thing’, that calls the very idea of a book, and a ‘thing’, into question. As such, it is a book that is dizzyingly self-reflexive: a book about things that presents itself as simply one more thing and yet also more than a thing – a kind of reflexive ‘meta-thing’, the thing of all things that is not itself a thing. And who better to edit the book than the perhaps the world’s leading philosopher of things – Bruno Latour.

According to the editors of this collection of short essays, today’s key philosophical problem necessitates putting ‘the thing’ back to the centre of our philosophical and sociological investigations. More specifically, in order to make sense of what post-structuralist philosophers have termed ‘the political’, Latour and Weibel argue that is necessary to make the link between 'assemblage' and 'assembly', in such a way that we begin to understand democracy not in terms of a sacred political ideal, but simply as a mechanism or a way of ‘making things public’.

Husserl’s famous demand the philosophy should return to the ‘thing in itself’ is here transposed onto a higher socio-political plane where the ‘representationalist’ political ideals of the Enlightenment are no longer fully operative when we recognise that the ‘object’ has become part of the body politic. In this case, according to Latour we are forced to concede that ‘parliaments are only a few of the machineries of representation among many others and not necessarily the most relevant or the best equipped’ (p31). Thus the overall aim of the book is to collect an ‘assembly of assemblies’ that is not reducible to the European tradition of parliaments and to explore the way in which we can make new kind of political assembly out of all the various object-assemblages in which we are always and already enmeshed.

Neil Turnbull

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Philosophy and Monotheism

i have just been reading one of my fantasy fiction books entitled "Dust of Dreams" by Steven Erikson and came across a paragraph that i thought was very interesting and would be grateful for your responses;

"There is no single god. There can never be a single god. For there to be one face, there must be another. The Nah'ruk (For all purposes we shall argue that they are, in our terms, a different culture or religion) did not see it in such terms of course. They spoke of forces in opposition, of the necessity of tension. All that binds must be bound to two foci, at the minimum. Even should a god exists alone, isolated in its perfection, it will come to comprehend the need for a force outside itself, beyond its omniscience. If it all remains within, - exclusively within, that is - then there is no reason for anything to exist, no reason for creation itself. If all is ordered, untouched by chaos, then the universe that was, is and will ever be, is without meaing. Without value. The god would quickly comprehend, then, that its own existence is also without meaning, and so it would cease. It would succumb to the logic of despair."

"I don't understand"

"In its knowledge, the god would understand its necessity for that which lies outside itself, beyond its deirect control. In that tension meaning will be found. In that struggle value is born. If it suits you and your kind, Destriant, fill the ether with gods, goddesses, First Heroes, spirits and demons. Kneel to one or many, but never - never - hold to a belief that but one god exists, that all that is resides within that god. Should you hold such a belief, then by every path of reasoning that follows, you cannot but conclude that your one god is cursed, a thing of impossible aspirations and deafening injustice, whimsical in its cruelty, blind to mercy and devoid of pity. Do not misunderstand me. Choose to live within one god as you like, but in so doing be certain to acknowledge that there is an "other", an existence beyong your god. And if your god has a face, then so to does that other. In such comprehension, Destriant, will you come to grasp the freedom that lies at the heart of all life; that choice is the singular moral act and all one chooses can only be considered ina moral context if that choice is free."

Just wondering what you make of this extract as i found it really interesting and wondered what your thoughts are??


Paul Geddes

Monday, 15 March 2010

NTU Philosophy Society: Ed and Fred on ACADEMOCRACY

We will introduce the ACADEMOCRACY; our own proposal for an ideal state with an ideal Government. Ideal, here, should be understood in a broad sense since our exercise is one akin to Morre's Utopia or Plato's Republic. We will propose a sate based entirely on an elitist and exclusive meritocracy and limited suffrage. A centralised state with marxist/leninist economics (although with a limited private sector. Education would be entirely reformed, a long with just about all the institutions, morals and principals of the occidental parliamentary-capitalist world. we would be delighted if you could come a long and hear how our own utopia serves as a potential antidote to the poison of the current system, and afterwards to hear your thoughts and criticisms of our ideas

This session will take place on Thursday March 25th @ 6pm in room 219

Hopefully we should see a good and lively crowd