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Socialism and/or Barbarism
By Evan Calder Williams
Notes on a once & future nightmare. S a/o B 2008-2011 Follow @thickaswolves
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Violent Motion, 1

[Note: I've been away from writing online for while doing research for a couple projects. One is an experimental documentary film, out this fall – more on that to come. Another is connected to a book coming out this winter from Repeater Books called Shard Cinema, an archaeology of contemporary moving images.


While writing that, I’ve been struck by something that critics, film theorists, and people talking in the hallways of the Regal Crossgates Stadium 18 after Jupiter Ascending tend to claim (and bemoan). Namely, that the increasing prevalence of digitally composited, animated, and/or hybrid images means a flight away from the “real world” into the immaterial. Even when they like the results – shirtless Channing Tatum gravity boot-rollerblading across the polished surface of whatever exists, who wouldn’t? – and even when they get that “immaterial labor” still means real living people sitting for days on end texture mapping the buildings for Big Hero 6, the doxa goes that the results, and especially the spaces we see, have lost their ability to capture, index,  portray, or think through what really exists. Because, simply enough, they aren’t filmed but composited. Because there aren’t real waves, just Boris FX Native Filter Suite crunching the numbers. Because the wind that shakes the barley comes from an algorithm.

I’d argue the exact opposite of this. Coming to grips with recent years through a history and practice of animation – one centered on the construction of moving images, rather than the recording of the physical, fleshly, and gusty – shows that recent movies, games, artist’s video works, shows, and everything in between are uniquely thick with the social history of capitalism, especially the persistent legacies and cartography of colonialism. Moreover, they have started to reflect on and shape themselves around that fact, bringing the means of their making and all its echoes into plain view, provided we know how to get a good line of sight through all the lens flare and softly falling particles.

As noted, the key concept I’ve found to help wind through all this is animation.  So what I’ll share here over the next weeks will keep winding around that, beginning, below, with a specific instance in early film history that I’ll eventually circle back around to. One note/warning: tracking out this research won’t take the shape of cogent essays that tie themselves into neat bows by the end of each segment. More of a continually unraveling fabric divided into more readable chunks.]


A kinetoscope is an innocent looking piece of machinery

- “Reformed by a Picture,” from the inmate-written magazine of Sing Sing prison, 1901

As far as historians of early film can agree, cinema’s first special effect is used to depict its first execution – and its first death.  It comes in an Edison production, The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, from 1895, early years for what wasn’t yet a coherent industry, just a nascent array of competing technologies and their accompanying entrepreneurs.

Screenshot 2015-03-19 14.23.13

Both the film and its special effect are simple enough, as each functions to show just what the title promises. We will see an execution, a public decapitation specifically. That hadn’t actually happened to a flesh-and-blood British aristo since Simon Fraser  (the 11th Lord Lovat, for those counting) in 1747 or on US soil since 1811, when more than 21 slaves were beheaded following a show trial (and more than 100 in the massacre beforehand), and their heads stuck on pikes as warning to future insurgents, for their role in the German Coast Uprising in what later became Louisiana. However, not just capital punishment but beheading in particular remained widespread in attempts to quell revolt, in part because of its deep symbolic weight, transposing decapitation from arguably the major signifier of 17th and 18th-century regicide – the head of the head of state… – to the arsenal of colonial retribution. This continued straight through the formation of Atlantic power, even if, in the judgement of some of the colonial planters and bureaucrats themselves who ordered the acts, ‘such exercises in frightfulness proved of doubtful value.” 

What that history poses starkly is something we know all too well: that any attempt to draw a separation between this violence and how it is represented forgets that it already is both image and act, drawing a portrait of how the world is to the powers marshaling it. To look back across centuries of efforts to police dissent before, during, and after it makes itself visible reveals not just theses acts of killing, but also their display, serving as posthumous shaming, hypothetical warning, and, crucially, diversion for those who felt unimplicated. It treats the murder of slaves, rebels, and the poor as something for public consumption and as what would become, in the language of early cinema, an attraction, a self-same spectacle.

sick kitten

Coming to grips with the uncanny resonance between early cinema and the screen culture we live now has to include not just the kitten video – see 1901′s Sick Kitten – but also media spectacles of execution, above all the “lynching film,” already present in Edison’s 1895 Frontier Scene and only amplifying from there well into 1910s. The medium of film found an extant history of displaying the dead to remind the living what they should expect, and the coalescing industry of cinema wasted no time continuing this practice.

So in a film from the last years of the nineteenth century, a head will be severed from its neck before our eyes, although it will as sanitized and distanced as could be: a white head, and a royal one no less, from another country, from another century. Like so many of the shorts from the first years of recording moving images, the film will do little beyond support this central attraction. It is a gag’s small vessel, a container shaped around the thing it aims to do.  Which, in this case, means a cut, both technical and represented, centered smack-dab in the middle of its 13 second running time, bisecting the film’s duration as plainly as its splits the body that kneels in the frame’s center. The film hinges on this, its atrocious binary switch: head on, head off.

Screenshot 2015-03-19 14.22.45

At first, though, Mary is not kneeling. She is standing when the film starts, facing to our left. To her right are two lines of men, arrayed to face her and, therefore us. Except it is perhaps wrong to say us, because the film was meant for a Kinetoscope, which initially allowed only a single viewer at a time, one who must bend her head down to peep in, baring the back of the neck in echo of what is watched.

(This direct and directed physical parallel of watcher and watched persists.


transformers 3 open mouth2

harry potter sky fall3

Recent large-scale cinema has become obsessed with providing us images of astonished viewers as mirror portraits, as though to slowly goad us into matching their gape. As if well-aware that what we’re shown isn’t genuinely sublime, at least not in the way that its characters seem to be feeling it, just unprocessable in the sheer screen data and the scope of the labor behind it.)

Screenshot 2015-03-19 14.23.02

The men stand up straight, though. With the exception of the executioner himself, they seem continually unsure what to do, what they are there for anyway.  (To watch, evidently, to remind us that this is worth watching.) They spend most of the film raising and lowering weapons in a gestural sympathy with the axe, in contradistinction to how the Kinetoscope viewer must adopt the victim’s curved spine. None of these men seem more superfluous than the second executioner, who is, we suppose, a back-up or reserve for case of emergency, a pinch killer. He does even less than the others and never raises a hand or a weapon. Once the deed is done, he bends down and stares at the severed neck like it had something else to say or, like a Kinetoscope, had a tiny picture galloping along inside it, an instant replay.

The whole layout is geometric,  less theater than layers of planes, and so Mary, who is played by a man named Robert Thomae, is also a shape in a row with others: a stump and a woman behind her who knots the blindfold. On my third viewing, I realize that the blindfold is already on, even if not tied, when the film starts. Cinema’s first execution is not seen by the executed. That’s what we are there for.

Screenshot 2015-03-19 14.23.25

Mary kneels. The axe raises all the way up and behind the back of the executioner, before it falls, slowly, almost drowsily, to cut the head from the body in one fell swoop.  The head rolls away, rolls back a bit. No matter how many times I’ve seen this, I still shudder a little each time, no matter that the effect is “crude” – or, more likely, exactly because of that.



Méliès the GIF

As for the effect itself, that stop trick/splice substitution – in this case, stopping the camera and swapping out a beheadable dummy for the live actor – comes to form the star technique of more famous films from George Méliès, Cecil Hepworth, and others in immediately following years. The operator stops the camera mid-action, anyone in the shot freezes, and some element is changed, moved, or removed before the camera starts again, picking up from the next frame. When watched at speed, an object will disappear, transform, or appear without a transition, which is evidently what we often mean by “like magic,” as if gradualism promises realism.

Only a few decades later, though, special effects will start to get criticized when their transitions are too sharp, when technique can’t smooth its rough patches and the gaps between difference are too wide.


No wonder that Terminator 2‘s T-1000 had to move like wet chrome, because liquid makes a promise of change without frames or leaps. That liquid is both the ultimate slapstick material, already a gag – Arnold punching the head, unaware that it can just morph into a hand – and never very funny, without enough stubbornness to build a good joke around. Just an endlessly self-repairing and humorless cop. Except, of course, for when it gets frozen and, in trying to walk, breaks itself again and again, like a glass horse that doesn’t know its own strength.


The Haunted Castle

Méliès himself claims that he discovered the technique accidentally. Filming a city street, his camera jammed a moment before starting again. When he prints and projects the film, “having joined the break, I suddenly saw an omnibus changed into a hearse and men into women.” He first uses it intentionally in The Vanishing Lady (1896), whose title says it all, and by the winter of that same year, in The Haunted Castle. There, it turns a dangling bat into a battish man, complete with a small puff of smoke, thereby inaugurating a cinematic line that found itself, exactly one century later, watching Quentin Tarantino arrange to get himself bled to death by Salma Hayek as a vampire stripper.

The decapitation and the vampiric metamorphosis are enabled by the same technique, the stop trick, but they work to opposite ends. In Execution, it shows two distinct bodies – one human, one inhuman; one alive, one neither alive nor dead – as identical, joining them together within a feigned unity of time through a split as invisible as possible. The effect aims to shroud itself in order to direct attention to bigger tricks: to make a third body, that of the dead, or, in films to come, to advance a story by piecing together camera positions and locations.  In The Haunted Castle, though, it replaces one body (a bat) with what is blatantly a different one (a man). It doesn’t hide its cut but brandishes it, under the sign of the supernatural and the joy of the trick itself.

What joins them a sense of time both seen in the films and seething behind them. That sense derives from one of the most basic properties of film, and later analog and digital video: the time of recording does not have to be identical to the time of watching. There can be a gap, a crack or yawning.


The most extreme example is stop-motion animation, including hand-drawn cartoons, where there is no “natural” motion whatsoever. Any movement we see has to be built out of a set of stills, not in the way that all film/mechanical cameras divide motion into discrete photos but in the more extreme sense of laboriously constructing, over hours, days, and weeks, a series of minute differences that aim to vanish into a unified sweep of seconds. In a sense, this split belongs to an extremely old division, one drawn by Aristotle in Physics: between “violent motion” (things “whose motion is violent and unnatural are moved by something, and something other than themselves”) and “natural motion” (those that “derive their motion from themselves”). Animation, in this schema, would be the pinnacle of violent motion, even more than films in general which require the projector – “something other than themselves” – to allow us to process an illusion of motion. With animation, every single gesture is pre-loaded with other gestures, a nest of movements and exertion crystallized into it. A week of work of many gets sunk into the Coyote falling to his non-death again, hole-punching a silhouette through each smog cloud as he goes. No wonder cartoons get criticized as violent.


The same is true of the effect at work in Execution. To make the fall of an axe appear seamless in time, there had to be an entire other set of movements and efforts. Thomae stands up and hustles out of frame, pulling the blindfold off first. Everyone else holds still as possible, the axe wavering a bit, and uncredited persons drag a dummy into frame. I can only imagine that people laughed, like whenever we run to set ourselves up as a tableau in front of a self-timer, and they were surely told to be serious, this being an execution and all, and they laughed harder.





The Fiat Ducato being assembled at the SevelSud factory in Val Di Sangro

At the broadest, we could say that every cut, in camera or in post-production, describes a version of this same split in time: between two scenes/locations within the film, sure, but also between a time of mechanical advance and a time of everything else that makes that advance go and provides its materials.  It’s like what Romano Alquati heard in his interviews with machinists at the Fiat factories. Automation for them hardly meant deskilling or relaxation but rather a constant and anxious effort to tweak, repair, supplement, and route around automation in order for the allegedly “automatic” work to look like it actually worked – that is, to become an image of what was supposed to need none of that.



It Came From Beneath the Sea, 1955

This technical capacity (to stop the camera, and so to have the time of recording and time of watching differ) is an extremely obvious one. So much so that it wouldn’t be worth dwelling on, were it not for the fact that so many of the following century’s moving images, and the efforts to talk and write about them, come to be structured the idea that “naturally” (albeit via mechanical processes), those two times – recording and viewing – should be identical. That an attempt to capture a “living” temporal succession is the special province, if not moral duty, of mechanically-recorded motion, and that any deviations from this are therefore special effects. In short, that despite a few allowable creative dilations (for things like dream sequences, or vampires, or earthquakes, or, as I prefer, some combination of the three), things should come before our eyes as they came before a camera, with a minimum of distractions or Vaseline between each.


But to call something a special effect is no more a neutral designation than to call it natural. It draws a line in the sand, traces it over and over again until it becomes a trench, a fact of the historical landscape that our thinking comes to shape around.  We can see this with stereoscopic (3D) film, which gets recurrently posed as something extra, a supplement or cheap trick that demands that a literally intervening layer of red/blue or polarized plastic.  But the stereoscopic is not a technical exception or latecomer.


It was being experimented with and developed from the 1890s on, from before the Lumière workers left the factory (and kept sneaking glances up at the camera) and the train left Ciotat. It is a historical exception, one that appears out of joint only insofar as it measures the inseparability of moving images from the movement of capital. Because for that tight bond, 3D has only functioned as an occasional spur to help goad viewers back to media whose centrality is uncertain and whose profitability is hemorrhaging. 

Similarly, to call the beheading in Execution a “special effect” is only to make it retroactively so, to align it with a certain tendency in screen culture that came to dominate economically. That tendency, beginning in the first decades of the twentieth century, is for commercially-produced moving images to become increasingly, if not exclusively, committed to showing bodies do things with and to each other at velocities we learn to think of as human. Yet what falls under that baggy category gets equally restricted, especially in terms of a dual space.

gun crazy ending fog3


gun crazy ending fog3

First, as screen space that’s overwhelmingly treated as a coherent volume, where dissolves, overlays, and anything else that might reminds us how screens are not pools but textures will be restricted to title sequences, witches’ spells, scenes of nervous excitation, or films talked about as art.

Tormento orgy3

Second, as a space and time of viewing that encourages paying attention to the film as if it was a text, specifically, a plotted work in line with the bourgeois novel. Fitting, given the increasing organization and marketing of films, from the early 1910s on, around the principle of a story, a plot by which an individual’s progress can be charted rather than a field of collisions and affects. That effort, in line with the attempt to create tiered class systems of viewing capable of securing spaces where middle class viewers didn’t have to mix and mingle with the nickelodeon mobs, required real concrete shifts, like raising ticket prices, stopping the booze, and eventually assigning specific start times for a film (breaking the film off from the flow of images to declare it a unitary, complete thing.) Thankfully, none of this ever worked like it was supposed to.


But one of the side effects was to declare any disruption of that naturalized rate of motion, in which what you see feels like what the camera saw, to be a “special effect”: as something that’s endlessly present and always at work behind the screen, but that becomes only visible as an exception. What conveniently got hid along with this sense of time was the sense not just of the human labor embedded in it but the inextricability of that labor from the mechanisms and systems it used: that is, of the violence of its motion. It’s been cyborg cinema from the start, from long before green screens and motion capture and fluid effects, before a robotic cop gets frozen, shot, and shattered into a million little pieces without anyone having to yell cut.

Free speech, and other things that cost $91,000,000.00


In the midst of the nearly universal denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo killing, an ethics and worldview so generic as to approach being simply “The West”* sought to bolster its already secure position.   The basic mechanism was plain as can be: appeal to long and cherry-picked historical precedent (Voltaire, the Rights of Man, constitutions French, American, and otherwise, etc), complete with the usual talk of pens and swords, albeit weirder than usual, with the former made comically huge and carried aloft as though literally the latter.

(Note: this, and what follows, isn’t to speculate on the reasons that 4 million people came out onto the streets, in ways that obviously can’t be reduced to them being “duped” or “manipulated.” That’s a question I won’t even begin to approach, being neither there on those days nor living in France generally. This long text on libcom, just translated, tackles that at length, especially in terms of the notion of the citizen. My concern, instead, is how a certain world view, one pushed both by states and in the media, has attempted to frame and give image to a situation that far exceeds it and, by so doing, reinforce its position.)


It’s unsurprising, for instance, that Albert Uderzo, creator of Asterix, came out of retirement to draw his support for Charlie: what emblem more fitting for the entire discourse than a 20th-century cartoon of an ancient plucky Gallic warrior fighting off the Romans, i.e. a martial empire that, in Asterix, doesn’t know how to take or recognize a joke. Yet in Uderzo’s new drawing, the shoes from which the enemy has been punched free are not Roman sandals but babouches – heel-less slippers unmistakably coded in France as North African. The symbolism is so overt that it barely counts as symbolic, just the direct expression of a sneering imperial whimsy. Asterix, defender of old Gaul, comes back from the mythical past to expel the clear and present threat to French liberté, égalité, and fraternité: the descendants of those whose enslavement and colonization so profited France, from before it declared the rights of man in 1789 to when it ratified the Constitution of the Fifth Republic in 1958, that it literally forms the basis of its wealth and geopolitical clout today.



France, the plucky historical underdog…


… Romans as the faceless, humorless enemy, with shields as veils

Even aside from giant foam pencils getting waved about like a NHL game costumed by Max Ernst, the entire affair has bordered on the surreal, with all the fitting marks of a late-stage and freaked-out colonial power. For behind all that talk of unity lies a manic and fractious instability, as the state and its mouthpieces, official and otherwise, swerve between pulling punches one moment (“it was all just satire, we swear, they mock all religions equally, they only drew Taubira as a monkey because that’s what Front National says”) and lashing out the next (up to 100 arrests and counting, for violations of free speech by those who sympathized with the attack, or with the anger behind it).  All, of course, underwritten by continual recourse to levels of self-caricature (about that transhistorical French spirit) that one expects more from Fox and a seriously surging and actually frightening brand of white ethnonationalism that would make Fox proud.


But just prior to this, the words free speech were getting thrown around with the same frequency and conveniently sloppy ease for another situation dominating the American news cycle, that of The Interview. The film itself is, of course, just the n-th iteration of Appatow-Dugan-Stoller bromantic banality. It’s replete with spite for any humans other than its chosen few, which primarily means straight white guys so consumed with a deep and unabiding horror of any real existing queerness that they set up a blind of fake transgression – oh God, what would it mean for two men to care deeply about each other?, oh God, we do care, we do! as if that wasn’t the plot-line of a good half of all American movie and TV production –  while quite literally cramming missiles up their asses. And so it spits in the cake of others and eats it too.  The only salient difference from the previous offerings of this ilk is that this film is actually, rather than just implicitly, supported by the State Department.

What happened needs no rehashing, other than to note just how sacrosanct and widespread was the idea that the film’s embattled release had everything to do with freedom of speech, that this freedom is a right at the heart of American experience, and that it must be protected – which essentially means helping cover the losses of an enormous multinational by paying to see the film. An editorial from The Washington Post sums up the basic position: “Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are hallmarks of American life, and we must jealously guard these values from both internal and external threats.” But it wasn’t limited to conservative rags, as even The Onion‘s AV Club, normally at least semi-intelligent, hails it as a “triumph of free speech” – even if it notes that it doesn’t make its satire particularly good.

What went missing through all of this, though, was any recognition of a full-scale category error at work, itself a product of a slow historical erasure that renders the phrase free speech at best null and void, at worst a tool of those from whom speech is supposed to be protected. This error can be seen in a simple fact. Thanks in part to the Sony hacks, we know just how much the entire apparatus of The Interview cost. $44 million production (including $8.4 million for Rogen and $6.5 million for Franco), plus $35 million domestic marketing budget, plus $12 million foreign marketing budget. In short, this alleged triumph of subversive expression, the plucky underdog uncowed by pressure foreign and domestic, cost $91 million to produce, with the hope, of course, that it would earn global returns far beyond this. (Indeed, its stunted release is by no means a threat to this: it’s already hit $40 million in online sales and streaming, making it Sony’s biggest online release by more than 400%, as the #2, Snowpiercer, came in at $8.2 million. Besides, given how shitty the film is, the scandal was the best thing that could have happened to it, expanding its nervous titter into a public cause.)

To get a sense of this scale, $91 million dollars also happens to be the price of:

Utah Air National Guard refueling F-35 Lightning II and F-16

One Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II fighter jet (with a million or three to spare), provided that production hits expected capacity in 2018.


The Chelsea Football Club, at least when Roman Abramovich bought the team in 2003.

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One of Laksmi Mittal’s mansions on Billionaire’s Row in London where Abramovich also lives.


The amount that Suntech Power Chairman/CEO Dr. Zhengrong Shi made from the $290 million market value leap in Suntech Power stocks after the company announced its plan to invest $10 million to build its first solar factory in the US.

Secil (Companhia de Cimentos do Lobito) Cement company’s investment in a cement and clinker factory constructed in Angola’s Benguela province and which has the production capacity of 600,000 tons of cement per year.


The seven-year contract that kept Mike Piazza at the Mets.

The amount that Chicago’s Northern Builders Inc. made by selling six suburban industrial buildings comprising a 1.4 million-square-foot portfolio to Hillwood Development Co.


The 2009 auction cost of Titian’s Diana and Acteon.


The sale to Kimco Realty Corp of the Crossroads Plaza shopping center in Cary, NC, which is 670,000-square-feet and includes more than 60 restaurants and stores, including Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Toys ‘R’ Us, Old Navy, and Marshalls.

The aquisition cost of Enfield-based New England Bancshares Inc. by United Bank a year ago.


$24.9 million more than the 2015 $66.1 operating budget of the city where I live along with 50,000 other people, a food desert whose planners dream of gentrification and where stretched-thin resources mean it takes more than 1 hour to commute by bus to a city only 14 minutes away by car.

The point is that things that cost $91 million are not speech acts, free or otherwise. They are mergers and contracts and weapons, the rarest of old commodities and the new fortresses which hold them. They are facts of industry and territory, the Mets and the metropolis. They can only be, because that level of coordination and extraction make them the property and extension of states, corporations, or individuals with so much amassed wealth that they may as well be states or corporations, even if they prefer to call themselves collectors or philanthropists or James Franco.

$91 million things are ventures and investments, acts of war against what could never be worth that much. They do not need to be protected. They are what we need to protect ourselves against, future-shaping dreadnoughts of force that structurally cannot opine or express themselves, and especially not against injustice. They just do. And no matter what they say, or who does what to whom with what kind of missile in what setting, the only opinion they actually hold and send out “through any media and regardless of frontiers” is in the name of the disastrous continuity of what already is and the further extension of that across and into whatever small corners of existence remain at odds with it.


To imagine that The Interview has anything to do with free speech wrongly imagines that it has anything to add to the world other than a recitation of the current state of American empire. It’s the Pledge of Allegiance wreathed in cut-rate dick and weed jokes. Only those who consider a factory or a football club or a shopping mall or a fighter jet to be an unalienable right – in short, only those who see property as an expression of individuals, rather than the historically-produced category that underwrites such a notion of individuals – can hold this position of it as being free speech. It is, not coincidentally, the default position of a long moment where conditions of global wealth that support it make it more unstable and volatile, just as the idea of national unity channels a nostalgic call for a socially-secure and homogeneous national composition that simply doesn’t exist.

In this regard, the link between Charlie Hebdo and The Interview has less to do than it seems with satire, the limits of humor, and whether one should be killed for a cartoon. (No, but there are so many other things for which people should not be killed but are, like being black in America, that it adds little specificity. Moreover, the category of offense/being offended misses the point so often, given that “equal opportunity offenders” doesn’t mean as much when some of those targets of satire – say, North Africans living in France – are recurrently targeted by police in much more literal ways.) Instead, they’re linked by something else that goes missing amongst all the talk of free speech, a simpler double question: protection from whom or what? protection by whom or what? There is a tremendous difference between, for instance, demanding the state protect your right to vilify those who that state actually kills overseas and targets at home, and demanding that the state not beat, kill, or incarcerate those who express opinions hostile to the predominant situation. The former is not actually a demand, just an exhortation for things to remain constant, if not to return to “how they were” for a certain segment of the population. And the latter is a not a demand that can be answered by the state, because it is a challenge to it, one that people work tirelessly to raise and raise again.

Nearly four decades ago, Serge Daney wrote that “All films are political films,” by which he meant that there’s just no such thing as neutrality. Everything that is made, whether on the cheap with stolen equipment and images or for literally hundreds of millions of dollars, is partisan. The question is partisan for what, in defense of which grasp of the world, on the shoulders or at the throat of whom. It seems to me that any real engagement with cultural production of any variety, an engagement able to be both rigorous and reckless, subtle and furious, deserves to start with that question, and with taking jokes too seriously and stone-faced solemnity as the farce that it is. Where it goes from there strays into questions of method, which open conversations worth having again and again far outside academic journals, far beyond paywalls and gallery walls, and far outside some delimited terrain of “culture” picked over by ideology critique. It likely means working to see something like the cinema, for instance, not as a collection of films but as an enormous and contentious circuit in which the films, and especially their plots and how it “codes politically,” are only one tiny moment. 

But those are a longer and thornier questions, ones that should be conversations than a monologue. What seems clear enough, looking back over the last months, is something that has been said again and again over the last century. That to fully recognize the contours and history and projects of things that cost $91 million will require leaving behind, together, a form of criticism where we comment on these juggernauts as if they were speech and where we act as they were the expressions of individuals who might listen when we tell them that Avatar is imperialist bullshit.  Or, equally, where we think piece, where we pretend that they smoothly and conveniently translate a hidden logic of the period into narratively-coherent form.

In place of all that, we need forms of critique that are actually inseparable from our efforts to develop communities of care and struggle, where the point of criticism isn’t the thing to be decoded (or to be rewarded for doing so) but the development of actually popular cultures that will never be worth $91 million and the amplification of what otherwise goes unheard. I think we already have these, if not as forms than as instances and moments, but they often go unrecognized because they just don’t align with what we have been taught – and perhaps what we teach, when we’re lazy – that criticism means. These kind of critiques alone might be able to help withstand the present, which means, in no small part, destroying the notion that money is an opinion to be expressed freely.

The sadness of the rich


Oscar, an AKC-certified fawn French bulldog and a savage critique of consumer society, has a weeping eye, and so it rains in the halls of the hearts of the rich.

One actually cannot die from a broken heart, the rich have experimented on this front, as they did with trenches and Lorca in the past,  or the generalized orphaning of fauna, or the placing of the sole of a clad foot on a heart held between two clad hands, or et cetera. A heart so held will stretch beyond repair, a melted clock of heart, a sunned wheel of Appenzeller of heart, one scrambles to pick it from the earth it litters, as with flags that are not to know dirt or fire but which find it faster than bleached moths, one bends down and fills hurried hands with ruined heart, it spills from the palm in intestinal coils having forgotten what kind of organ it was supposed to be, all stretched and routed, and laid end to end, until the heart so pulled measures the distance between colony and grave.

But the rain that pours the stairs of the hearts of the rich is a different matter altogether, it swells, it con-cat-e-nates, because Oscar’s sneeze sounds serious this time, plus the eye’s winsome weep, plus the delivery is late, plus the streets are scattered with dead cops and live cops, the latter turning in place to face the sun and mourn the former and scorn the uncarapaced, and with them the heliotropic rich cry out to the darkened air to never forget the boys in blue and curse the sun for not dimming itself in tribute and promise vengeance on whatever clouded the window to the soul of Oscar, that savage critique of consumer society.


Yes, the ruble’s still falling and the Russian driver of the rich is nipping about the continent and then some for them, flogging caviar spoon over fist like it was coke and coke was oil back in the naughts, but still they cannot be cheered, their sadness knows no limits, they pace the sodden floor in oxen heart slippers as Oscar, incorrigible, huffs moths like bags of diesel, and in Brescia, hucksters passed chows off as pandas, because that’s the way things go now, the rich sigh, the fucking fount of the Occident, they point out with a lofted spoon, has to copy the fucking Chinese who themselves passed off tremendous hounds as lions, the fur of their scruff teased to the point of regality with Russian off-brand Aqua Net, the dogs continually passing out from all the hair spray and attention, they became prima donnas, their riders were tremendous in scope and length, the details crystalline, literally, as in they wanted every object coated in crystals, not just the water dish but the water itself, undrinkable and fit only to scatter across the floor as spited milk, the thirsty dogs asked for big cats on the brink of extinction, Goldschläger sliders, antique weapons that double as vibes, other dogs even, as if by demanding so far beyond their means, they would actually transmute into lions and so open a tear in the fabric of space and cash, like Cortazar’s axototls and their tremendous golden eyes, gobbling the gawker men up in a wondrous act of transubstantiation and empathy.

But in Brescia the chows were plainer, just dyed white and black to be a panda for those who didn’t know what pandas were, their rider was simple, its demand central, asking only stop  in bold letters of mucous secreted from the eyes of the pandas, who were not pandas, which showed what the Brescian veterinarian called un’accentuata lacrimazione oculare, a heightened weeping of the eye, caused from excessive exposure to the flash of the hundreds of photos daily taken of pandas who were teased to the point of species treason, and the children, conned to hell and back, weep shining tears, and Oscar feasts on the brined remains of the deposed and outside the day is bright as looted milk, no filter.


cartography’s nausea


It is well known that the atlas made in Japan and the atlases made abroad, let’s say in London, have different compositions. That is, Japan is placed at the center in the former, and England in the latter. As a result, the Pacific Ocean spreads vastly, with North and South America placed on the right side and Africa on the left in the former atlas, while South America and Africa face one another closely across the Atlantic Ocean in the latter atlas. Of course the Pacific Ocean gets divided in half, and if you look for Japan, it barely retains its trace, like a stretched scar at the top corner on the right.

As I write this, it may appear commonsensical and hence not move you at all, but, by way of experiment, I suggest actually buying two maps and place them on both sides of the wall for comparison. When placed between two maps, we would actually feel the transformation of our own worldview. In my case, when a printing gets shifted slightly, things whose existence I took for granted are transformed into a source of tremendous shock that even causes a sensation of nausea.

(Matsuda Masao)

In the future



Screenshot 2014-11-11 16.00.59In the future, when the remains of this age are sifted through by chatbot archaeologists, they will shake their little algorithmic heads and sigh and sigh and sigh