Marcuse

“Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nation, mind and body are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.”

An Excerpt from Page 140 (Chapter 12, Section 12.10), Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy

“Levi-Strauss claims that, for the isolated tribe with whom an anthropologist makes first contact – the tribe who, after being studied will be decimated by diseases to which they’ve no resistance, then (if they’ve survived) converted to Christianity and, eventually, conscripted into semi-bonded labour by mining and logging companies – for them, civilization represents no less than a cataclysm. This cataclysm, he says, is the true face of our culture – the one that’s turned away, from us at least. The order and harmony of the West, the laboratory in which structures of untold complexity are being cooked up, demand the emission of masses of noxious by-products. What the anthropologist encounters when he ventures beyond civilization’s perimeter-fence in no more than its effluvia, its toxic fallout. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into mankind’s face.”

“John Wayne: American Icon, Patriotic Zealot, And Cold War Ideologue,” By Bonnie S. Jefferson, From War And Film In America: Historical And Critical Essays, Edited By Marilyn J. Matelski & Nancy Lynch Street

“Wayne was furious that all three of his films (The Alamo, Big Jim McLain, and The Green Berets) had been denounced by the New York critics but dismissed their criticism because he believed the critics to be communist sympathizers.”

“Fred Wiseman’s Kino Pravda,” From The Camera Age: Essays On Television, By Michael J. Arlen

(One should acknowledge here that a criticism that was originally directed against a certain loosely made and self-important style of verite filmmaking – namely that the camera’s presence has a tendency to distort the “truth” of particularly scenes – has lately become rather gratuitously expanded into an all-embracing cliche to the effect that any camera inevitably distorts, and thus renders “untrue,” any human environment it appears in. Sometimes even Heisenberg’s rigorous uncertainty principle had been put forward in expert support of this opinion, as if subatomic particles and human beings brushed their teeth in the same way. A more reasonable view, one imagines, would be that a camera held by a cameraman is not all that unlike – in intrusive social effect – a notebook held by a reporter. That is, in both instances, provided there is care, patience, self-effacement, and a willingness to be bored to death, a record of actuality may be obtained whose distortions, as a result of even unconscious “acting,” will prove to be negligible.)

“Filming In Africa,” From Cinema Stories, By Alexander Kluge

A film company in Lagos controls 200 subsidiaries that make popular films which never make it to the movie theaters but are instead distributed across Africa on DVD. 600 new productions every week. Is this a new flowering of cinema? The subject matter is certainly tough enough.

-What sort of things do they tackle?

-One film, for example, is about three women who go to Europe as sex workers. Before setting off, they go to their tribal medicine man to acquire some “good luck.” But they don’t have any good luck in Europe. The medicine man who sold them the charms has moved to New York. It turns out that a new baby needs to be sacrificed for the promised miraculous luck to become a reality.

-The women travel to New York.

-Yes, that’s exactly what happens in the movie. They force the magician to marry one of them and to sacrifice the child who is born soon afterward. And from then on they expect their second expedition into the heart of Europe to bring them the required good luck.

-Is there any censorship?

-The DVDs are beyond the reach of censorship.

-Do the critics help to disseminate the products?

-There are no critics.

-Is there any feedback to suggest how the products are received by the customers?

-The feedback of cash.

-Which suggests that this type of product is satisfying a real demand.

-Exactly.

Slavoj Zizek, “In The Grey Zone,” The London Review Of Books, February 15, 2015

In a memorable passage in Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (2001), Ruth Kluger describes a conversation with ‘some advanced PhD candidates’ in Germany:

One reports how in Jerusalem he made the acquaintance of an old Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auschwitz, and yet this man cursed the Arabs and held them all in contempt. How can someone who comes from Auschwitz talk like that? the German asks. I get into the act and argue, perhaps more hotly than need be. What did he expect? Auschwitz was no instructional institution…You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance. Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps, I hear myself saying, with my voice rising, and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for? They were the most useless, pointless establishments imaginable.

We have to abandon the idea that there is something emancipatory in extreme experiences, that they enable us to open our eyes to the ultimate truth of a situation. This, perhaps, is the most depressive lesson of terror.

TWO EXCERPTS FROM NIETZSCHE’S OVERMAN AS POSTHUMAN STAR CHILD IN 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BY JEROLD J. ABRAMS (THE PHILOSOPHY OF STANLEY KUBRICK, EDITED BY JEROLD J. ABRAMS)

1. This is the beginning of the age of nihilism, marked by three specific losses. First, we lose our normative account of the past, the view that God created us for a purpose. Instead, now everything appears contingent, evolutionary. Second, we also lose our sense of the normative groundwork in the present because there is no God-given “right” or “wrong” to guide our daily decisions. Finally, we lose our teleological end. Our future can no longer be said to lie in heaven, a messiah, or resurrection.

2. Yet ultimately, the higher men are doomed in both Nietzsche and Kubrick. They are doomed to become what Nietzsche calls the “last men.” As Gilles Deleuze puts it in Pure Immanence: “Following the higher men there arises the last man, the one who says: all is vain, better to fade away passively!” In other words, the once noble and brave higher men who fought and stood for humanistic values gradually settle into their new global, democratic, popular culture and eventually get tired and lazy. This is not to say that the higher man project did not work – certainly it did for a while, and it was essential in replacing religion with reason – but in the end, the higher man project was inadequate to replace the religious teleology of otherworldly bliss, immortality and near omniscience. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the higher men – really, the goal of the Enlightenment – was merely the liberation of humanity from the old noble lie and the establishment of secular society. But this goal is second rate at best, for once it has been achieved, according to Nietzsche, there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to hope for. And after enough time passes, one ends up with the finished product: Nietzsche’s “most contemptible” last man. He is a marketplace man without any higher ideal. He lives solely for his sensuous appetites, his “little pleasure for the day and [his] little pleasure for the night.” Basically, there is where we are now in secular culture with democratic capitalism – and as bad as it is, it is, in fact, going to get worse. According to Nietzsche, we have one more stage of descent to go before the philosophical vision of the overman can truly take hold of our minds. As Deleuze puts it, “Beyond the last man, then, there is still the man who wants to die. And at this moment the completion of nihilism (midnight), everything is ready – ready for a transmutation.

Two Excerpts from Understanding The Enemy: The Dialogue of Fear In Fear And Desire And Dr. Strangelove by Elizabeth F. Cooke (The Philosophy Of Stanley Kubrick, Edited By Jerold J. Abrams)

1. Part of the problem with these deliberations between nations and among branches of the same government is that the participants, rather than being individuals discussing a problem, are representatives of those larger entities. In all cases, these men are not individuals; they are their respective institutions, and they let those institutions determine their actions. Sartre refers to this pretending to be determined rather than free as “bad faith.” A person acts in bad faith when, for example, he allows his social role, such as his job, to dictate his actions, as if he were not free to quit that social role, as if that social role were something other than what he decided to make of it. In Dr. Strangelove, the procedures of international diplomacy are set up so that individuals represent their institutions, and those institutions are designed to engineer bad faith. Individuals are no longer free but are merely representations of their institutions. And the more an individual represents an institution, the less of an individual he is. This is exactly Camus’ own fear (for philosophy): that ideas take on a life of their own (as in Hegel), and people follow them as if they, as individuals, were not in control. Here Camus reminds us of the complexity of his view and that there are other ways to commit suicide-namely, forgetfulness of self. This is also Kubrick’s point: that institutions actually plan on forgetting the self and are, in fact, structured for exactly that purpose.

2. Kubrick shares the absurdist and existential philosophers’ view that we are ultimately alone, and we alone bear ultimate responsibility for our own lives. No universal truth can spare us this burden. And no shared cause or collective can offer a place to hide. Perhaps this is the contribution that Kubrick’s films have made to absurdist thought. Kubrick gives us nothing to hope for and nothing to escape into, but he helps us to recognize our condition and pushes us to be lucid about it. Whether we are up to the task is, or course, up to each of us alone.