@voyou Extremely accurate summary of my 2021 film viewing from Letterboxd https://letterboxd.com/voyou/list/the-10-best-films-i-saw-in-2021/detail/ https://t.co/Dw90mT30A8 13 Jan 22 Reply Retweet Favorite

Magical theory

Why insist, against all hope, on the communist idea? Is such insistence not an exemplary case of the narcissism of the lost cause? And does such narcissism not underlie the predominant attitude of academic Leftists who expect a theoretician to tell them what to do?—they desperately want to commit themselves, but not knowing how to do so effectively, they await the answer from a theoretician. Such an attitude is, of course, in itself false, as if a theory will provide the magic formula, capable of resolving the practical deadlock (Žižek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce, 88).

There were a number of excellent papers at the Waiting for the Political Moment conference in Rotterdam last month, among which were keynotes from Benjamin Noys (which he’s put on line) and Jodi Dean (some of the key arguments of which are in this blog post). These two papers are interestingly read together, I think. Jodi argues that our concern about complexity and the difficulty of knowing enough functions as a kind of theoretical alibi for political inactivity: Read more↴

“But then again, who does?”

blade_runner_final_cut Taking a stand on the perennial Blade Runner debate, Žižek declares that Deckard is indeed a replicant, and that the fact that the film doesn’t make this explicit is a “conformist compromise which cuts off the subversive edge” of the film’s “blurring of the line of distinction between humans and androids” (Tarrying With the Negative, 11). But surely this is the wrong way around: if Deckard is simply a replicant, there’s no blurring of the distinction between humans and androids, because all Deckard’s apparently android qualities are explained by his actually being an android; the moral of the story becomes, “sucks to be a replicant.”

This is not to deny, of course, that there is a great deal of evidence in the film that suggests that Deckard is a replicant. But what blurs the distinction between human and android is the film’s refusal to confirm what it constantly implies about Deckard, which is the best illustration of Žižek’s point that “the difference which makes me ‘human’ and not a replicant is to be discerned nowhere in ‘reality'” (40). One could even defend the original ending in these terms (which Žižek calls an “imbecile happy-ending”); even if Deckard and Rachel did escape to live a complete life together, it would never be long enough to prove them human.

Dialectics

I’ve just realized why I enjoy reading Hegel so much. Compare:

The principle of family life is dependence on the soil, on land, terra firma. Similarly, the natural element for industry, animating its outward movement, is the sea. Since the passion for gain involves risk, industry though bent on gain yet lifts itself above it; instead of remaining rooted to the soil and the limited circle of civil life with its pleasures and desires, it embraces the element of flux, danger, and destruction. Further, the sea is the greatest means of communication, and trade by sea creates commercial connections between distant countries and so relations involving contractual rights. At the same time, commerce of this kind is the most potent instrument of culture, and through it trade acquires its significance in the history of the world. (The Philosophy of Right)

Watch: Vizzini on dialectics

On Shia LaBoeuf and the Big Other

screenshot1 I saw Eagle Eye on the plane back from England; it’s not as good as Singh is Kinng, which I also watched, but it’s not bad (except for Shia LaBoeuf’s acting; he’s like an ugly Keanu Reeves). I thought there was something kind of interesting about the central premise, which involves the Boeuf receiving orders from some mysterious agency that appears to have complete control of all electronic systems; sending text messages, looking through security cameras, derailing trains. The falsehood of this premise is pretty obvious; there is no homogenous system of “electronic equipment,” but a vast range of unconnected and incompatible electronic systems. The vague category of technology provides a materialization of the paranoid fantasy that is the traditional support of the conspiracy thriller, but it’s not less (and, I would imagine, no less obviously) a fantasy for all that. Read more↴

Tragedy of intelligence

I saw Burn After Reading a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t planned on writing about it. It’s a funny, smart, film, but pretty straightforward. Or so I thought, until I read some reviews. The New Yorker and Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian lead the field, I think, with their surprising failures to get the film, but  it’s amusing that the widespread critical criticism of Burn After Reading seems to be the same as the popular criticism of No Country for Old Men: that the film doesn’t have a proper ending. Read more↴

Voyous défoncés

The Homeland Security officer chasing Harold and Kumar attempts to force a confession from a Black "suspect" by forcing him to watch a can of grape soda being wasted.

According to IMDB, Amnesty International was “highly critical” of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay; aside from being an amusing example of taking a film too literally, it’s an illustration of the way a certain sort of liberalism requires authoritarianism to define itself against. This is particularly a problem if you’re criticizing Harold and Kumar, as the film spends so much of its time exposing this idea of absolute authority as a fantasy, one held by liberals of the right wing (the neoconservatives) and the left wing (Amnesty). Who would have thought someone would make a film of Derrida’s Rogues in the form of a stoner comedy? Read more↴