Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Pleasures of Film

"It is occasionally agreeable to gaze upon charming girls, new fashions which will be forgotten tomorrow, or pretty children--but it will be even more agreeable to see them twenty years hence." Robert Brasillach and Maurice Bard├Ęche, The History of Motion Pictures, 1935.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Why Iranian Events are Relevant to Your Life

Interesting short article by Iran specialist Gary Sick. Relevant paragraph:

This is a formula for the kind of militarized and nationalist corporate state under a single controlling ideology that is not dissimilar to fascist rule in an earlier day. Like fascism, it defines itself not only in terms of its own objectives but even moreso by what it opposes: liberalism, individualism, unfettered capitalism, etc. There is no need to push the definition too far, since fascism tended to be specific to a particular time and set of historical circumstances. But the resemblance in nature and practice seems to justify use of the term.

I like that he includes those caveats. I like this as a thought experiment. I don't like that it gives less scrupulous people, some of whom have motives that are more admirable than others', the excuse to start throwing around the f-bomb. But I'm increasingly coming around to this viewpoint, that fascism is specific to a certain time and place (and level of technological development--not to say that Twitter is necessarily teh bomb). I'm not sure if that's just because I'm a historian instead of a political scientist, but it has something to do with it.

Now that Iran coverage is entering the hangover stage, and I'm starting to think about it more philosophically, I think that everyone's interest in these kinds of events is probably structurally similar to that of the neocons: we're all just trying to grasp a moment of global redemption which seems so much closer in revolutions than in ordinary times, and trying to read the signs to see how the final liberating revolution might come about. It's like trying to read the mind of god. Revolution is a spiritual need. It's no accident that the neocons are descended from Jewish Marxists who thought they found salvation in America (or Israel, but let's leave that aside for now). It's also no accident that the Iranian revolution was made by a coalition of Marxists and messianic Islamists. So when an analyst says "this revolution threatens the Islamic Republic," which seems too radical a statement to be merely a prediction that the Islamic Republic will evolve in a more democratic direction, am I supposed to read it instead as a neocon prediction that American-style secular democracy is coming to Iran? This seems unlikely, especially when one notes that the Jewish-American intellectual tradition might be particularly unsuited for analyzing an Islamic revolution--or is it? How else can I read that statement, given the inherent unpredictability of revolutions? This seems to me to be an urgent question, but one that's incredibly distracting when one is trying to write a dissertation. On fascism.

This is all just to say that obviously Walter Benjamin invented the way neocons think about the world, and the way we all think about fascism, and that everyone needs to go back and read the Theses on the Philosophy of History again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shopping in Iran

Unconfirmed tweet from persiankiwi, 9am EST 6/23, (that's Tuesday afternoon in Tehran) via Sully:
Mousavi - the objective is to bring Tehran to standstill - millions of people go shopping but NOBODY SHOPPING - #Iranelection RT RT RT
Even if this is rumor or misinformation, I think it's interesting. Has anyone heard of this tactic before? The first thing that comes to mind is that this is a specific d├ętournement of Bush's response to 9-11, when he told the American people that the best response was to go shopping. Here you go shopping without going shopping.

But there is a specific context here which complicates any attempt to see this tactic as anti-capitalist; as I understand it, the bazaars are allied with the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard, so this kind of active boycott looks more like the economic version of the street fighting we've seen the last few days. Falling short of pitched battles, these low-level skirmishes are the way a disorganized movement tests a more coherent, better armed force. Shopping-without-shopping is a similar process of flirtation and probing, where bazaari and customer eye each other the way policeman and rioter do. But the positions are reversed: in the street it is the rioter who coyly tempts the policeman to break out his truncheon, while in the bazaar it is the shopkeeper who tempts the customer to break out the wallet. And although it's hard to see from my vantage point, the gender roles are likely reversed as well. Men traditionally make up the shock troops in street fighting, although we've heard reports that in this case at least women are playing an important role urging them on. Will the women play a more primary role in the shopping conflict? Will men support and protect them in turn? In any case this seems more subversive than reading Lolita. I eagerly await further developments, without knowing what source will be able to adequately report on them.

In the end perhaps the most we can say is that this is an example of the macro shift away from the primacy of the producer to that of the consumer. And a reminder that despite the rumored "end of history" and the supposed importance of religious and tribal rather than economic loyalties, socio-economic realities are still important and perhaps decisive. See the New Yorker's summary of the Iranian economy for background on that.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


This is about a week late, but here's an artist's representation of a pandemic:

From here.

Trying to See Post-Fordism

Note how some cities move beyond the extent of the original instantiation. This is a result of cities holding inertia as they travel towards their destinations. Cities are not aware of their arrival time, so when they reach their destinations, they are traveling too fast to stop, and shoot beyond it. Slowly the cities oscillate and stop precisely at their destinations.

(Click on picture for a minute or so of intriguing confusion. Via.)

Two interesting pieces on what a post-Fordist economy will look like. The shorter one (from Richard Florida at the Atlantic) is a breakdown of some very-hard-to-interpret poll numbers about what appliances and objects Americans think of as necessities. Basically, it seems like a shift away from the "auto-housing industrial complex," but perhaps not moving towards "tech-driven consumption" as quickly as one might expect. The point is that even if we're right that the post-recession economy will have to be more green and more information-centered, it will take a while to get there, and we don't know exactly what it will look like.

The longer article (by new urbanist Ben Adler in the American Prospect) is a contrast between two Washington, DC suburbs, one walkable and one not. Shocking differences, as one would expect. Two ideas were new to me. First, that "traffic is good." Congested roads encourage people to take subways. I'm not sure this is the best way of thinking, and I'm positive that it's not the best way to win over skeptics. Second, that Kentlands, the walkable suburb, was constructed before the public transportation that now serves it--bus lines were added thanks to public demand. It required a leap of faith. As with the "necessary" appliances, trying to forecast a less auto-centric future is difficult.

There is something to be said here about the role of utopian imagery in providing the initial blueprint for a hazy future. I just wish the imagery for new urbanism didn't try to look so traditional.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Film Posters

I'm as much of a fan of Criterion covers as the next guy, but I'd like to see more DVD releases that just use old posters, because a lot of them are just fantastic.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Poem from My Music Library

I am a kitten
I am an astronaut
I am mops
I am Star Wars
I am the cosmos
I can't stand the rain
I could never be president
I did acid with Caroline
I don't care what the people say
I need the sun
I walked with a zombie
I want to be President
I'm allergic to flowers
We're from Barcelona
I'm in love with a German film star
I'm lonely
I'm on fire
I'm your teenage prayer
I've been mistreated

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thoughts on Dubai

Ant sculpture outside Dubai International Financial Exchange. The message: work hard, know your place, and we can build something big out of sand.

Really fucked-up story about the real estate crash in Dubai. I'm really interested in Dubai as a nasty social experiment that in retrospect was bound to fail, but we're still not sure HOW it's going to fail. Like, will there be a revolution by the migrant workers? (Population is 3/4 foreign workers, mostly construction I think; male/female ration is 3:1) Will the Emirates clamp down even harder (somehow)? Will everyone just go home and leave a ghost town of empty skyscrapers? The metaphor of castles built on sand is unavoidable, but exactly how they're going to fall is going to be instructive to watch.

But the way this is presented is even weirder. First, the video seems like half business report and half promotional video--look at the great deals on houses! Only 12 million Euros! Second, the end of the article is basically just there to make fun of the superficial nouveau-riche, a palm-tree-shaped island being the scaled-up equivalent of a pink flamingo lawn ornament. I have no problem with spotlighting the foibles of the super-rich and criticizing those who profited from creating a hollowed-out bubble economy, but I suspect that bad taste in apartments was not among the worst of their sins. The article suggests that cultural value gets created at the bottom, then gets diluted on the way up the food chain, and Dubai's biggest problem is not having enough hipsters. Never having been to Dubai, I don't know if there is an autonomous culture among the migrant workers, but if there is I suspect that it's too conservative for the authors of this article to be able to recognize or admire it.

But this trickle-up model of cultural economy just suggest an infinite regression: if all this is based ultimately on hipsters, what is hipster value based on? Maybe it's just turtlenecks all the way down.

More pictures here.