Cold Storage: A Hazy Recollection of My Sick Days

Posted by Charles Reece, November 14, 2010 11:55pm | Post a Comment
I've had a horrible cold, and when I'm sick I lie around, sleep through DVDs and aimlessly look about the Web for things to entertain me. Here's some stuff that occupied my time:

"A hero to most," including me, I guess:

Ideological analysis as occasionally practiced on this blog can be tricky. One thing I don't like about so called culture studies (if I can make a blanket statement about a blanket term) is that while it's helped open the possibility of thinking seriously about pop culture, the aesthetic content of its subjects is often lost.  Notions of evaluation are either dismissed or ignored, treated as if they're otiose and old-fashioned. Contrariwise, I'd suggest that even if, in their respective times, both Frank Sinatra and Katy Perry served parallel functions in Ideological State Apparatuses, one shouldn't reduce them to the same level of aesthetic quality. There's something about art, even popular art, that's not reducible to the Culture Industry. Some commodities are constructed better than others. Now, usually I feel like I'm bungling my way through the history of ideas obtained from half-read books which I don't quite understand or explain properly, but when re-reading an old discussion I participated in a few years back, I actually (now from a distance) agree with the thought I was attempting to formulate. So, for posterity, here 'tis: 

Elvis was far more successful at doing rock & roll than his black predecessors. That's in large part because of the cultural context -- racism, in particular -- and how it shaped the music industry's expectations of what would sell and what wouldn't to a "mass" (read: white people with some disposable income) audience. Acknowledging (or analyzing) such reasons as his whiteness and male beauty shouldn't be a substitute for his very real and obvious talent. It wasn't merely because his music came in a readily digestible package (though it did), nor merely because he was more "iconic" or "mythic" than Big Mama Thornton (which is just another way of stating he was more easily commodified than a fat black woman in the 50s). The culture industry was what it was, but Elvis was what he was, too. [...] Lomax could've recorded Elvis on a porch in the hills and that talent would still be there.
-- from a thread on a comic book messboard in 2007

In other words, Chuck D was wrong to reduce Elvis' appeal to racism only. I had a lot of fun reading that discussion again. It's the kind of saltatory debate that could happen only after geeks began forming subcultures on message boards. Maybe it's just me, but with blogs now having taken over, you don't quite get the same level of wild rancor in tête-à-têtes between rival geek ideologues.

Herzog hates hippies:

   Brad: "Hey! Stop meditating, okay; open your eyes! Look, this is the river! This is
reality! We want people to think, come up with a coherent argument."

If I were to list my dream cast of living actors, it would be almost identical to that featured in Werner Herzog's latest, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009): Michael Shannon (Brad above), Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie, Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe and Brad Dourif. Really, each of them tweaks certain pleasure centers in my brain, making it impossible for me not to love this film. It's the story of an academically inclined actor, Brad, whose grasp on reality begins to dissolve, resulting in a murder and then a hostage situation. Told mostly in flashbacks, it feels like a series of lunatic comedy sketches, done with that really dry style Herzog has. I'm not sure whether he's becoming more like David Lynch or vice versa, but the latter's company "presents" the film, and there's definitely a kindred spirit on display. The scene quoted above is one the best, encapsulating Herzog's coldly Darwinian view of nature that was the basis for Grizzly Man. Rather than being one with nature, either through anthropomorphizing bears or meditating our consciousness into the Oneness, there's always going to be an otherness that demands our respect and fear. 

The Social Network of the Spectacle:

In "Generation Why?," novelist Zadie Smith provides an excellent analysis of David Fincher's The Social Network and a suggestive critique of the Facebook phenomenon in light of Jaron Lanier's new work of cyber-ideological criticism, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. I, too, find this troubling:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

Which is pretty much a rewording of Guy Debord's beginning aphorism for Chapter 2 ("The Commodity as Spectacle") from his The Society of the Spectacle (as translated by Ken Knabb):

35. In the spectacle’s basic practice of incorporating into itself all the fluid aspects of human activity so as to possess them in a congealed form, and of inverting living values into purely abstract values, we recognize our old enemy the commodity, which seems at first glance so trivial and obvious, yet which is actually so complex and full of metaphysical subtleties.

I'll have more to say about Facebook and Smith's essay when I finally get around to discussing the recent film Catfish (hopefully, in my next blog entry).

Reconstructing a deconstruction:

What a bargain! For 69 bucks, I have online access to every article published in The New York Review of Books since 1964. Thus, I've been whiling away the time with past (often enjoyably nasty) debates in its history. A particularly juicy one occurred in 1984 between the philosophers Louis Mackey and John Searle regarding the latter's review of Jonathan Culler's On Deconstruction ("The World Turned Upside Down"). (By the way, Mackey, who teaches at the University of Texas, can be seen in two of Richard Linklater's films, Slackers and Waking Life.) You can read their squabble here without a subscription. At the center of the debate is the philosophical version of geek rivalry, the analytic versus continental traditions. Searle had been the butt end of a fairly mocking treatment by Jacques Derrida in "Limited Inc a b c" after the former had been dismissive of the latter's way of doing philosophy in  "Reply to Derrida: Reiterating the Differences" (read all about it in Limited, Inc.). The review of Culler's book was, you might say, the next round. It's certainly true that analytic philosophers will too often play the commonsense card, relying on an intuition of truth, to counter or merely dismiss the more radical pronouncements from continentals with their tendency towards a more elliptical and poetic style (despite a higher degree of tolerance for the elliptical analytic radicals -- cf., the subject of nothingness; in particular, Rudolph Carnap's treatment of Martin Heidegger). However, there are times when lucid prose and precise thinking will just cut through the bullshit. And when that happens, the effect is beautiful. Case in point, Searle's demolishing of Culler's Nietzschean deconstruction of causality:


  • Suppose one feels a pain. This causes one to look for a cause and spying, perhaps, a pin, one posits a link and reverses the perceptual or phenomenal order, pain … pin, to produce a causal sequence, pin … pain. “The fragment of the outside world of which we become conscious comes after the effect that has been produced on us and is projected a posteriori as its ‘cause”’ [p. 86].
  • Let us be as explicit as possible about what this simple example implies …. The experience of pain, it is claimed, causes us to discover the pin [his italics] and thus causes the production of a cause [Searle's italics]. To deconstruct causality one must operate with the notion of cause and apply it to causation itself [p. 87].
  • [T]he deconstruction reverses the hierarchical opposition of the causal scheme. The distinction between cause and effect makes the cause an origin, logically and temporally prior. The effect is derived, secondary, dependent upon the cause. Without exploring the reasons for or the implications of this hierarchization, let us note that, working within the opposition, the deconstruction upsets the hierarchy by producing an exchange of properties. If the effect is what causes the cause to become a cause, then the effect, not the cause, should be treated as the origin. By showing that the argument which elevates cause can be used to favor effect, one uncovers and undoes the rhetorical operation responsible for the hierarchization and one produces a significant displacement [p. 88; Searle's italics].


  • There is nothing whatever in the example to support the view that the effect “causes the production of a cause” or that the effect “causes the cause to become a cause.” The experience of pain causes us to look for its cause and thus indirectly causes the discovery of the cause. The idea that it produces the cause is exactly counter to what the example actually shows.
  • The word “origin” is being used in two quite distinct senses. If “origin” means causal origin then the pin is the causal origin of the pain. If “origin” means epistemic origin, how we go about finding out, then the experience of pain is the origin of our discovery of its cause. But it is a simple confusion to conclude from this that there is some unitary sense of “origin” in which “the effect and not the cause should be treated as the origin.”
  • There isn’t any logical hierarchy between cause and effect in the first place since the two are correlative terms: one is defined in terms of the other. The OED, for example, defines “cause” as “that which produces an effect” and it defines “effect” as “something caused or produced.”
  • Contrary to what Culler claims, nothing in the example shows that causation lacks any “rigorous justification,” or that any “significant displacement” has come about. Our common sense prejudices about causation deserve careful scrutiny and criticism, but nothing in Culler’s discussion forces any change in our most naive views about causation.

That makes me feel good inside.

"Fade away the duller shade of living": 

A belated nod to the late, great producer, Dino De Laurentiis:

Barbarella (1968, produced by De Laurentiis): One of the greatest intros in cinematic history.

Relevant Tags

Sickness (1), Facebook (9), Geeks (1), Elvis Presley (26), Louis Mackey (1), Zadie Smith (1), Jonathan Culler (1), Deconstruction (1), Philosophy (1), Jacques Derrida (1), John Searle (2), Dino De Laurentiis (1), My Son My Son What Have Ye Done (1), Werner Herzog (7), Guy Debord (3), Social Network (5), Ideology (7)