Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quentin Tarentino's Exceptional States of Exception

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is a surprisingly thoughtful as well as clever film. Tarantino establishes new kinds of multiple plotting within a five act structure (the film calls them chapters). Reviews thus far have focused either on the self-conscious references to other films, regarding Basterds as more or less typical Tarantino, or its alleged anti-Semitism. In my view, the film is not anti-Semitic. It allegorizes the politics of film violence in ways that puts intense pressure on an apparent distinction between the diegetic Nazi audience viewing the war film within the film (Hitler loves it) and the audience watching the Tarantino film (us). More interestingly, Tarentino indulges and interrogates a fantasy about ending WWII by killing Hitler et al and Nazism in toto through two scenes involving what Carl Schmitt (Nazi and Catholic political theorist) called the "state of exception." During a "state of emergency," Schmitt argues in The Concept of the Political, the state could suspends the laws and treat a certain class of people as exceptions to the rule (trials and appeals were done away with people the Nazis viewed as enemies of the state--non-persons, actually). The first state of exception scene involves calculating the odds.:"999.999" probability versus "fate" offering "a hand from the pages of history." A story that seems too good to be true actually is true. The second scene closes the film. The war is now over, yet Brad Pitt leaves his trademark on the Nazi collaborator /traitor who allows Hitler et al to be killed; Pitt carves very deeply a swastika into the SS villain's forehead and saying to the one surviving American soldier, "I think this is my masterpiece." In this closing scene, the exceptional part Apache practice--continues in peace time as a masterpiece--(Pitt is part Apache and is linked early on to John Wayne through a door frame shot straight out of John Ford's Searchers --that film's plot begins soon after the Civil War has ended; Tarantino's opening scene is reminiscent of the Indian attack near the beginning of The Searchers, minus the implied rapes). The war is over, but art allows for more violence in a single case. This kind of artistic ends the film but calls the status of ending through "good" violence versus "bad" violence into question. In the scene in the movie theater when the French Jewish heroine Shoshanah comes on screen and her boyfriend ignites the silver nitrate film behind the screen, the screen image goes up in flames. The diegetic cinema screen and her image seems to go up into flames as well, even as the heroine's laughter starts to seem banshee like (her laughter makes her sound like a witch--as if the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz hadn't melted.)The sequence recalls the "bad" Maria robot of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, on the one hand, and her destruction but also calls up the retaliatory fire bombing of German civilians (planned by the British since 1940) by the British and American in Dresden and other German cities. The tone of Inglourious Basterds is extremely well-callibrated--the violence is surprisingly toned down in almost even case and is done very quickly; suspense is created like in the usual (even good) war action films, and Tarantino's humor comes through in the monologues he gives some characters (the actors perform them wonderfully). But the humor is never so great that you can do more than smile. There is really no release in the film. The first violent film I found to be shockingly subdued. Tarantino has a character invoke Hamlet at one point, and QT's film indeed seems like a revenge tragedy (most of the "good" characters who die do so very abruptly). Justice and peace are seemingly impossible to combine, as we cycle past violence into the violence of the present, Nazi Germany having become much more than a specter that more than haunts the United States.
A lot of the criticism on rounds its alleged anti-semitism (american Jewish GIs act like Nazis) is based an failure to read the film's plot as well as it lessons in film history (the sequence on silver nitrate footage as explosive) and their integration. In terms of the plot, there are two conspiracies to kill Hitler and the audience. Both succeed. One includes the Jewish survivor of hte SS murder at the start of the film, who shoots the film's star (the German version of Sargeant York, according to the German solider turned star of the Nazi opposite film number, Pride of the Nation (a fictional film based Targets (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) based on the true story of the Texas Tower sniper and that ends in a drive in screening of a film starring Boris Karloff, who also stars in Targets) and then in turn is shot and killed by him though can't possibly have survived the three shots she gave him in the back, a sort of repetition of the brutal and surprisingly long scene in which the German film star (Diane Kruger) is strangled by Hans Landa, the SS villain. There's an overhead shot from the end of the climatic fight sequence from Taxi Driver here as well. As you can see, a lot of the film runs through late 60s into early 70s cinema--hence the spaghetti Western sound track themes). Nevertheless, the heroine's black lover gets her signal because it comes through her addition to the film. So her plot succeeds through film, through her film of the conspiracy, not by simple "action," and that action, of course, means using film footage as a bomb. And Hans Landa has left a bomb under Goebbels' seat which explodes before the bombs on the legs of the two GIs do. Moreover, it is Landa who lets the plot succeed. So there is a German-Jewish tension at the heart of the film's multiple plotting that cannot be resolved by equating of totally separating Nazis and Jewish civilian resistance fighters and Jewish GIs with Nazis. Moreover, the film again and again points to the centrality of film for the Nazis, much as it was central to the war effort in the U.S. Tarantino just literalizes the film as weapon metaphor, turning film itself into the explosive. Here Tarantino borrows a scene from Hitchcock's Sabotage--a film canister carried by Stevie explodes while he is on a London bus; the beginning of htis sequence appears in Tarentino's film). Just as Roosevelt had screenings of films like Olivier's Henry V and supporting Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, so Hitler viewed various films, including, according to the film the Lives of he Bengal Lancers (in which Gary Cooper also stars, as he does in Sargeant York, as a kind of take action, engage the enemy NOW officer). The film's references to UFA, Leni Riefensthal,ad son all work to make the point that violence in film is not separate from violence outside film either for liberal democracies or fascist states; moreover, propaganda films made by the U.S. and by Germany aren't that different. Tarantino keeps drawing parallels and doubles, but mixing things up as well. The people in the two conspiracies don't know about each other and act independently, and Hans Landa only knows about one of them. The logic of action movies like the Eagle Has Landed or melodramas like Casablanca is entirely subverted by vertiginous references to historical events that were filmed and to films about history that refer to other films. So when Tarantino says that the civilian french couple who run the French cinema are like suicide bombers, it is naive to think he is drawing a simple comparison between real suicide bombers and cinematic ones. We already know, don't we, that television, the internet, and film are all central to Al-Queda? That they post videos of violence--that the Americans engage in their own psy-ops and always have? That the distinction between terrorist violence either by Israel (settlements, bulldozing, bomb dropping, gun fire) or by occupied Palestinians is not to be reduced to the same or the totally opposite? IG doesn't deny a difference between "real" history and film history but prevents any kind of interpretation in which one kind of history is read as the master of the other: the specters of victims haunting the present produced by traumas of the past can ever be exorcised or "re-membered" because the trauma itself already included always already spectral media (film, photography) which always route evidence through fantasy.
The mark of the Swastika at the end of IG is a remarking, a repetition of an earlier scene. In the first scene, we see a the end that the soldier has a swastika carved in his forehead. So we know the "masterpiece" at the end can be hidden as well. What marks Naziism is not is not an open wound or scar, but a hidden wound. Nazism did not know itself for what it is. Neither do Americans know their liberal democracy for what it is, Tarantino implies, as we are mired in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know but don't want to know about the extralegal violence the government (even under Obama) commits in the name of "state security."
Daniel Mendelsohn's reading of the film as anti-semitic: (My thanks to Jimmy Newlin for this link).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

WHen Did our Government Become a COVER-nment

Thinking back to the the exposure of the White House coverup of the Watergate break in that led Nixon to resign or face impeachment, I'm forced to wonder now if it is possible to prosecute government officials like Bush, Cheney, Rumsefeld, and so on, who were not forced out of office or appointment (maybe Rumsfeld was at the lsat minute). Nixon went back to California and became a recluse. But Cheney is out there all over the place, with one of his daughters too,defending what he did and denying that it was illegal and calling for the release of CIA documents even though his was the most secretive administration ever. And now we have Senators Lieberman and Graham saying that their law making it illegal to release the still unreleased photos and video of crimes committed at Abu Gharib MUST BE PASSED or they will block ALL legislation even though they have acknowledged that the unreleased materials show even more serious acts of violence and torture than those we have seen and even though Obama has already said, wrongly, that he will not release them. Is this not an open cover up? Isn't it tantamount to legalizing obstruction of justice since Lierman and Graham acknowledge that the evidence shows that (war) crimes were committed?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

“A Troubling Allegory: 1945”

Good evening, ladies and Gentlemen. Imagine, if you will, that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg succeeded in assassinating Hitler in 1944 and immediately negotiated Germany’s conditional surrender to the Allied Forces. It’s now 1945. Wounded war hero von Stauffenberg has just been elected Chancellor of Germany. The first one-eyed and one-armed man ever to be elected to office in Germany, Chancellor von Stauffenberg leads a liberal Democratic parliamentary majority coalition and promises an investigation into Nazi war crimes and the restoration of the rule of law. Nevertheless, some Nazis are elected and form a minority party. But the promised investigation of Germany’s recent past has been put on hold: no Nuremberg trials, “no criminalization of politics,” no punishment for mere policy differences the Nazis and with present liberal government, no banning of the Nazi party or destruction of Nazi insignias. Furthermore, no arrests of Nazi politicians have been made, and no deNazification program of the German population is in the works. The German economy is in shambles. The following is a speech given by a former Nazi leader at a press conference in 1946 held at an undisclosed bunker location, in response to the earlier release of footage of the death camps and the even further lowering of Germany’s standing in the eyes of the world. You have just entered . . . the Twilightenment Zone.

Good morning, everyone. Let me get right to it. Some say we tried to exterminate the Jews, that we deliberately set out to murder them, even creating so-called “death camps” to do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, we were attacked by Poland in 1939. And this attack happened only a few years after the Communists had burned the Riechstag. We responded in both cases by defending ourselves, eventually liberating the Poles. But Britain and France declared war on us. So then we had to invade France too and liberate it to protect ourselves. Luckily, we had built up our military in the previous six years, so the Rhineland, which France had stolen from us when forcing us to sign the illegal Treaty of Versailles, Austria and Czechoslovakia asked to be liberated and become part of a new, free Germany. So we made living room for them. And Italy supported us, of course, Japan too. We even reached an agreement with the Communist leader Stalin since all we wanted was peace in our time. Our soldiers honored their country with their service, many of them sacrificing their lives in the name of freedom. These brave men and women knew Germany had to be protected. The burning of the Reichstag had changed everything. So as our cities were being bombed by the Allied aggressors night after night, we knew we had to protect our civilian populations. And we were especially concerned for the safety of our minorities, the Jews first and foremost amongst them. Outside, foreign disruptors hoping to provoke war had already staged attacks on our Jews, just as the foreign Communists burned down the Reichstag, leading us to declare a state of emergency to preserve the Weimar Republic by destroying it. Am I the only one who remembers the burning of the Reichstag?

Since our Jewish populations already lived in ghettos--they preferred to live among themselves, as you know--we began building special new vacation settlements for them outfitted with the latest enhancements and hygienic facilities, located out in the countryside and out of harm’s way. We knew the Jews were in a rush get to Palestine. Zionism was all the rage, then, you know. So we used our own military transport cars, taking away valuable military assets from our war efforts, to move them to their brand new vacation settlements. After our porters took their luggage for them, they got enhanced showers, disinfectants, haircuts, and new clothes as soon as they arrived. They even got free dental work and universal health care at the local clinics where our leading medical doctors performed break through, cutting edge, life-saving experiments. The air was fresh, and they had full employment. We were fighting a war on two fronts at the same time, you may recall. Then the Communist leader of the U.S.S.R., Joseph Stalin, broke his pact with us, forcing us to invade Russia too—and still we saved as many Jews as we could. And let me tell you, the Jews really appreciated our help getting resettled. They got to work right away, helping us build their new settlements (which some call "death camps"), which were just going to be temporary, of course, and even helping us to run them. The Jews knew that war was hard work, but that work would make them free. Sure, some people (Jews included) died along the way. But they died of natural causes. It was wartime after all, and we couldn’t exactly use first class train coaches, which would have had limited seating availability. What we did for the Jews was entirely legal.

To my critics, let me say this. Yes, there were a few bad apples among the Nazi guards we left in the enhanced settlements to help the Jews keep order and to protect the Jews in case of attack by anti-Semitic Russians or, even worse, by those racist Americans with their Indian reservations, Japanese-American internment camps, and segregated South with signs saying “whites only” and “dogs and coloreds keep off the grass.” But these bad apples in the Nazis who were helping to keep everything in order inin our settlements have been prosecuted, convicted, and punished. And, yes, it’s true that my attaché Herr Oberleutnant Libby was convicted and yet never served time for his crime. But I personally saw to it that he was never pardoned. It’s time to move forward, while always remembering the Reichstag. Now is not the time for anger. As Chancellor Bush and Minister of Propaganda Condoleezza Rice have said repeatedly, Germany does not torture, much less exterminate. We saved the Jews. Any murders of Jewish populations occurred after our watch, committed by foreign agents. Now, the present administration has taken measures to release classified documents about our war efforts. The von Stauffenberg administration is keeping Germany less safe. Let me remind you that Stalin is still running the Soviet Union and still poses a grave danger to our homeland. Remember his gulags, his mass murders, the war crimes of his soldiers? Well, History will be our judge. Future generations of Germans will look back at the past few years, remember the burning of he Reichstag, and deeply appreciate that everything we did, we did for them. There was only one leader of Germany, and we know who he was. That’s something the present administration will just never understand. Thank you.

Fux News Reports: Headline: Extermination? Or Salvation?

Some say that former Nazi Minister Cheney was an exterminator, others a savior, a Moses, if you will, helping to lead the Chosen people to their homeland. You decide! We’ll provide full coverage and fair and balanced analysis, with Minority House WhipTom “the Hammer” Delay as our guest commentator.

Breaking News: Chancellor von Stauffenberg has decided not to release any more footage of the death camps, er, settlements, for fear of endangering the German troops. He is unable to close the enhanced settlements or transfer the remaining prisoners of war, whom he continues to hold indefinitely in prolonged but not permanent detention.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bare(ass) Life in the Swirl

As you age, you reach point where you feel that your life is in the toilet. You reach this point regardless of how happy you are with your life (you may love and desire your wife, love your kids, if you have any, love your job abd colleagues, love where your live, and so on). But let's consider that toilet metaphor. The metaphor brings with it a narrative that breaks down into three crucial moments, before the flush, after the flush, and the brief but most crucial swirl that begins the flush. In the face of impending disasters (loss of job due to budget cuts, global warming, etc) I reassure myself by thinking about the swirl. Even if someone hits flush, there's always the swirl. You can surf it even if your life now stinks and is totally going down the toilet.

It's Not you, It Is you

The experience of reading or hearing about how other people respond to Blu-ray discs on flat screen TVs has led to say that expereience" is ovr-rated. What you think is your experience is actually eceryone's. You say to the BestBuy salesman, "It has a kind of 3-D effect," as if you were making an acute observation like you might on a painting. But the salesman replies, "Oh yeah, everyone says that," thinking he is affirming what you have said. Only you don't feel affirmed. You are recognized as not you, not even as one of many, but as everyone, and this recognition obliterates the specificity of what you thought was your experience and your articulation of it. Both are mass-prodcued as much as the Blu-ray and its marketing are.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is (fill in the blank with the name of a dead person everyone knows is dead) dead?

OK, I heard in the audiocommentary or maybe it was an interview supplement on the new DVD edition of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left that the film was given this title because no went to see the film when it was shown with its original title.  Something about the word "last" seems to hook audiences.  Also appears to be the case as well as with the "death of" whatever, at the moment.  But consider Mark Twain's title "Is Shakespeare Dead?"  It's kind of funny, both comic and weird.  How can it be a question? What does it mean?  Is Twain serious?  Twain doesn't address the title in his book, which is about the authorship question.  And then we have the death of various isms, like Marxism in Derrida's Spectres of Marx (is Marxism dead?).  Derrida ends his postscript-mortem essay on Foucault "To Do Justice to Freud" (which turns out to be a line Foucault wrote) by twice using the metaphor for keeping the questions Foucault raised "alive."   My favorite example is in  Son of Frankenstein when Igor (Bela Lugosi) says joyously that he is "alive dead," but the people who tried and final to execute him by hanging  are "dead dead" (because he had the monster kill them in retaliation).  

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Strangeness of Cinephilia

I was watching Marathon Man again for the umpteenth time yesterday and it dawned on me after all these years that the music was composed by the same guy who did the soundtracks for Klute and All the President's Men.  And then I remembered that I had seen Marathon Man many times when it first came out because I was living in Buffalo then (I spent a semester in grad school there before returning to Berkeley); the movie theaters there were few in number and showed the same film for what seemed like incredibly extended periods of time.  Because I loved going to the cinema so much, I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Tenant, Marathon Man, and Carrie repeatedly.  I realize now that I developed as a consequence my ability to do a close reading of a film as I watch it.  I remember surprising a friend who gone with me to Carrie by giving her my reading of the film as we got up from our seats after the film ended. I don't know if that was the first time I saw Carrie or not. Still, it was a repetition of the same that is no longer doable now that one repeats a viewing of a film on DVD or Blu-ray. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Image Quality versus Image Delivery

DVDs and Blu-rays are most frequently evaluated in terms of image quality, that is, the resolution and density of the digital image. the higher the resolution, the better the image.  The importance of the delivery system is less often commented on, but deserves attention since screen sizes, projectors, and kinds of screens all make a huge difference.  To give one example, I have been watching DVDs on a 52" LCD with a Sony Blu-ray player that I had seen before on a 32" cathode ray TV set.  I generally feel like I am watching a new film.  I can see all kinds of things I missed the previous viewings.  One thing I appreciate about the reviews at is that the reviewers list the specs of the equipment they use to watch the DVDs and Blu-rays they review.  I hope that info becomes standard practice for reviewers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Did I really meet I.F. Stone?

When I was 18, I did my European vacation alone by thumb and eurorail pass.  When I was in Venice, I took a boat one night from one island area to another and this old guy introduced himself to me and said he was I.F. Stone.  We talked during the boat trip, but I didn't really believe him.  I didn't ask him for ID, but I thought to myself that he was some old guy trying to pick me up thinking he could do better by impersonating I.F. Stone.  But maybe I was just being paranoid and he really was I.F. Stone.  But maybe he really was I.F. Stone trying to pick me up!  I would have gone on my merry way alone in any case.  I got to wondering today because Harper's has a post about its I.F. Stone memorial award.  

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Happens When Your Name Becomes an Adjective?

Is there a price to be paid for being so incredibly bright that you become really famous and people start using your last name as an adjective, as in Freudian, Derridean or Foucauldian?  Does a certain notion of what your writing practice is, in functioning as a descriptive, modify and limit the reception of your works to what readers expect to find?   Foucault said the more famous he became the less widely he was read.   Derrida frequently said of his critics that they hadn't read him.  One can read Freud with Freud or Freud against Freud, but can one read for unFreudian moments in Freud?  Cane one read / not read the writer / not writer?   I have found moments in Derrida's works that strike me as being very unDerridean, either because they contradict his practice or turn it into a patois (this usually happens in interviews).  For example, he regular questions a Heideggerian distinction between the human and technological, between physis and techne.  But when questioned about his paradoxical critical practice bears on his political commitments, he responds: "If every project were a reassuring project, the logical or theoretical consequence of a knowledge that  was guaranteed--euphoric, without paradox, without aporias, without contradiction, with no undecidability to be resolved--it would be a machine functioning without us, without responsibility, without decision, ultimately without ethics, law, or politics. There is no decision or responsibility without the trial of aporia and undecidability."  Bad reading is mechanical, good reading is not.  Are moments like these to be dismissed?  Or may they be used to produce productively resistant (un)readings?  In the case I cited above,  there seems to be a potential danger in characterizing one's reading practice in stark binary terms, the danger of being unnecessarily dogmatic, of limiting resistance to one's work by charaterizing it in entirely negative terms; that is,  the oppositions Derrida draws self-deconstruct:  what Derrida describes as not being a machine could easily be described as a machine or program without resistance.  Hence,  you find your aporias, paradoxes, contradictions, and so on.  Are unreading and nonreading the same thing?  Is unreadability a quality one wants one's writings to have?  

Burt in a China Shop?

Sometimes I'm afraid I act like this when I make a new friend: "Out of flowers?  OK, let's play 'throw each other in the pond!' Oops, you don't know how to swim?! Oh no, neither do I!"

Then I'm afraid this will happen to me as a result:

Dead Friend(ship), R.I.P.

Did you have ever have a good friendship that died?  I did.  I had a friend who connects with friends by disconnecting from them. After tiring of being repeatedly disconnected, I tried to force through a better connection and called him (to re)collect.  But my friend refused to accept the charges and so the operator hung up on me.  After awhile, because I missed my friend, I tried to force a connection again.  But this time, my friend got really angry at me and cut the line.  I got a "this number is no longer in service" recording when I dialed his number.  I think my friend misheard me and mistakenly thought I was making an obscene phone call.  Anyway, the phone friendship went dead.  Perhaps it was a phoney friendship all along.  Still, I miss it. It was weird to delete his number from my cell phone.  

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Please Rewind Me to Tell You!

Isn't it interesting that we use other people (very politely, of course, and kindly) to remind us to tell a story as if our memories / stories were stored somewhere else and had to be postponed to an undefined but near future time before being retrieved and activated by our listeners?  As if we were inviting our listeners to press play in the future and rewind us so we could then playback our already taped before a non-live audience story for a now live audience?  Here the postponing of our storytelling us in the name of displacing responsible for the telling of it on to a listener with a promise that the story will be good shows us that as  narrators of stories we want to retell, we are broken tape machines in need of rewinding and sweeding by and for our listener.  All we want is more time to tell.  Again.  Does this mean that our repetition compulsions are really death drifts rather than death drives since our compulsive narrative repetitions require the listener's hand or voice to (re)activate us?

Against Using

In a somewhat recent issue of PMLA (2007), Peter Stallybrass responds to an article in PMLA on the database with a polemic entitled "Against Thinking."  It's worth a read.  But here's a thought about not thinking.  By refusing to think the database, Stallybrass presents a host of symptoms, release their own fantasies about data storage, data retrieval, and research (as use, as data processing).  Once archival documents have been copied, they assume, a researcher will work on them continuously only his or her research is completed.  The data will never be corrupted.   Completetion and perfection of archival research (outside the physical archive) are not a problem.  Data processing promises a beginning and an end in terms of orienting a research project (you go to the archive, then you go home).  Home trumps the library (or the library as Borges imagines it); you can go home again, but apparently you never have to go back to the library because you need more documents or because your photos were degraded or destroyed.  This "historicist" account of the archive and database leaves itself up wide open to a psychoanalytic and deconstructive broadside:  being against thinking is a necroacademic fantasy of the archive as tomb, the researcher as mummy.  The user, once again, reveals the uselessness of his own so-called historicist scholarship masquerading and misrecognized as productive.  If you don't think, you sink.  Better to think more about the value of uselessness and frivolity.  See Derrida on Condillac.  I will post soon on uselessness.

Friday, March 27, 2009

(Un)Thinking the Unthinkable

Is thinking the unthinkable unthinkable because the unthinkable is worth thinking if you could or because it isn't? Is the unthinkable thought the most valuable or least valuable of thoughts?  Is thinking about the unthinkable the next best or the next worst thing?


What to do about university administrators who betray the mission of the university, who mismanage higher education because they could care less about it and who hire more administrators to do more harm?

Why You Should Watch a Film Until the Very End

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Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.

One of Freud's most famous sentences is "Wo Es war, soll Ich werden."  The German has been translated into English in various ways, among them:  "Where Id was, there shall Ego be" and "Where it was, shall I be." The translation teaches us something about psychoanalysis as a textual practice involving spatial and temporal impossibilities.  The German cannot be translated literally become a tense problem as well as a preposition problem.  Consider the tense problem.  "Sein" is the German verb for to be." "War" means "was," and "werden" means "to become." "Werden" is also a helping verb in German for the future tense, as in "Ich werde gehen" ("I will go").   But one can drop "werden" in German and use the same words  for the present and future tenses. "I go to the store"  could mean I go to the store or I will go to the store (later).   So transliterated Freud's sentence would be "Where I was, shall I become." And that's an ungrammatical sentence.  Moreover, the helping verb "soll" may also mean "should."  Though "soll" clearly means "shall" here, it may also call up the sense of "should be," as in the tentative "well, he should be there (as far as I know)" or even the more urgent "he should be here by now" where "should" takes on moral urgency as in "I should do that."  So "soll" does not predict the future of the Ego but gives a kind of qualified temporal trajectory--the Ego should be there, but maybe it isn't or won't be there; maybe it has taken a wrong turn, a (yo)uturn, a detour or been unavoidably delayed.  There is another problem of translating Freud's sentence in terms of location:   "Wo" means "where" the Id was but the Ego's future has no corresponding "there."  Freud does not use the word "da" (German for "there"), though some translators supply the word.  Freud, by the way, he did make a big deal about "da" in his discussion of "Fort Da" in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  Moreover, the Id does not exist either.  "Where Id was" means that the Id no longer is there, that it has expired and cannot be placed.   So what does Freud's sentence mean about?  Well, a number of things:  1. It's a theory about about learning, about self-understanding and self-misunderstanding. 2.  The Ego is never itself, never unified, but always beside itself, split as it goes toward the place it will be eventually and driven there (nowhere) by the Id, or unconscious, which cannot be mapped or made present. 3. The place the Ego "shall be" at also does not exist.   The ego has no destination.  Something, namely, the ego always gets lost in translation, so  to speak. (I still wonder the film Lost in translation has such a long opening take and close up of Scarlet Johansen's rear. Anybody?)  the Ego has no destination, and will arrive at itself, where it should be, only in its annihilation; that is, it will "be" only in  death.  4.  There is no final destination.  There is always a deja revu or redo, a sequel, Final destination 2, Final Desitnation 3. I hear there will be a Final Destination 4.I look forward to seeing it.   5. You cannot "be yourself" or "self-help yourself" as ego psychologists Fritz "this is the first day of the rest of your life" Perls and Dr Phil, or Dr. Swill as I like to call him,(you can improve yourself, find yourself) would have it.  For Freud you just can't help yourself because you are never progressing or regressing but going in circles, compulsively repeating your past but never returning to where you started exactly.  In Dr. Phil's self-help terms, you start in a bad or not so good place and go to a better or great place (sort of like heaven--these AA people are all alike when it comes to higher powers; personally, I am into the High 5 power). It's like you could take a plane from one place to another.  Your narrative is progressive even if it involves repetition (if you fall off the [fill in the blank] wagon, get back on; if your flight is cancelled, rebook it). Put in terms of a cinematic analogy, Run, Lola, Run is like Dr. Phil and Blind Chance is like Freud. Both films have the same narrative structure:  the same story is told three times, each time in a somewhat different way.  In Run, Lola, Run, we move from an unhappy ending in the first version to a happy ending in the last one.  This is pre-Freudian notion of will power.  You can will your future.  Just be yourself, and your gamble will pay pay off eventually; the third times a charm, and so on.  By contrast, in Blind Chance, the story begins each time with a man trying to reach a train so he can leave Warsaw and get a plane to Paris. The first two times,he misses the train.  The last time he gets it.  The film ends with a shot of a plane in the air just after takeoff, as if the guy made it.  But then the plane explodes.  So the happy ending is exploded, as it were.  For Freud, there is no happy ending. There are only unhappy endings.  We all die.  What a bummer.  Here's what's wrong with ego psychology in a nutshell:  The very fact that you have "be" yourself means that you are always already never yourself. If you were yourself, you would not have to be it.  So you will always need S(h)elf-help.  

Readers versus Processors / Losers versus Users

One thing I dislike about the empiricist and positivist turn in recent so-called materialism is that reading goes missing.  It's all about the device and how it may be used.  Nothing goes missing, supposedly, and nothing gets lost.  Reading is processing information.  Texts thus become irrelevant.  It's all about the data. Today I returned to Geoffrey Hartman's The Fate of Reading (1975) and was drawn to the subheading of his lead essay, entitled "Reading: Alive or Dead?"  Hartman's humanism gets in the way of an analysis of reading and writing machines (he wants to keep reading and writing mutually reenforcing activities), but it's still worth a look.  See p. 272 for example:
"I hate to end on a question that sounds like a dignified whimper.  but modern "rithmattics"--semiotics, linguistics, and technical structuralism--are not the solution.  They widen, if anything, the rift between reading and writing.  They convert all expression into generative codes needing operators rather than readers."

From a Freudian perspective, however, all readers are operators, their close readings driven by their obsessive compulsiveness.  reading is not "semi-automatic," it is always already automatic (the essence of the human is a machine).  Avital Ronell maintains in the Telephone Book that readers and writers are always effectively telephone operators, subject to hang ups, obscene phone calls, dropped calls, time lags, belated transmissions, missed calls, and so on.

For a more probing account of writing and reading, I recommend Derrida's Paper Machine and Lacoue-Labarthes on the auto in Tyopgraphies.

On not being read or misread: Resistance to resistance

A number of very famous philosophers who regard their writings as resistant nevertheless sometimes get angry and defensive when they think they have been misread or not read at all.

Foucault is both hilarious and angry about the reviewing / nonreading process in his essay "Monstrosities of Criticism," diacritics 1.1. (1971).

Jacques Derrida frequently complains about how his works or the works of others have gone unread, especially by those who attack.
Here are just three examples:

The Haunting in CT--I See Photos of Dead People

The Haunting in CT is a decent, campy horror film.  The template is Amityville Horror (with some Monster House) and bits of The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, The Others, Firestarter, The Shining, and so on.  The most interesting thing about the film is the way it camps out Catholicism so that the sick boy (with cancer) merges with a badly burned dead boy who are then successively literally resurrected (back to life).  First, the wounded cancer boy comes back to life, his wounded body now healed, while the other (dead) boy returns as a ghost, but his burned body restored to its pre-burned state, before he disappears. The father is a drunk (on and off and back on the wagon) while the Mom is good, a Virgin Mary type.  All in all, a good laugh.  Many teens in the audience screamed when I saw it, and two said things about having done things that required them to go to the bathroom.

Self-repair as Injuneering

Can you you repair yourself after (self)injury without doing further injury to yourself and / or to others?  Is there always a tear in the repair?

Aporias of details

I am totally into Georges Didi-Huberman's work, especially his book Confronting Images (see the chapter, published also as an article, entitled "The Absent Wound.").  he's the most interesting intellectual around, and almost the best writer.

Excavation and Memory

Insignificance as Significant


Just because I don't work doesn't mean I'm out of whack.
Just because you're broken doesn't mean you're broken down.

"It's Your Time" another "Call me crazy, but . . ." Thought

Did you ever notice that the sentence "It was his time" or "It's your time" is about time that you never have because it is the instant of a person's (or your own in a film like The Seventh Seal) death?  So if given your time, you always want to give it back, as in, "No, it's not my time yet.  Come back later."  Of course, you can have the time of your life, but that's not a lifetime of time, it's your life but not your time.  So life and time remain forever separated, as if your lifetime excluded your time.  I think this is another case of Death being a practical joker:  "Here, have your time.  Ha ha, time's up!"  Your time does not belong to you; it's like a debt you owe that may be called in at any moment.

Updating "Call me crazy, but . . ." Thought

Why is that you can update but not downdate?  Why can't you nowdate? Or latedate? Or belateddate?  Up and down and front and back go together, but not in the case of updating.  You can, of course, go up a hill and back down it, or go back and forth, but in those cases you are always going and returning to the same two  places.  Backdating is not apposite updating the way back and forth are but the opposite of updating:  to backdate is to lie, falsify, to forge a date that didn't exist.  To update, by contrast, is to revise and give the most correct, accurate account.  But is updating really totally opposed to forgery?   If you are always saving by erasing earlier versions (like Freud's mystic writing pad), is the saved version not also a forgery of sorts, a cover up?