Sunday, June 29, 2003
Ewan Thomas just ran a disasterous 400m at the Norwich Union International meeting in Glasgow. He breaks my heart, Ewan does, all that massive massive world-threatening potential he once had destroyed by injury and personal crisis. It must absolutely eat him up inside - he could have been a glorious, elegant presence on the world stage by now, other 400m runners would have respected and feared him, and yet he has to relearn his own event, accept times he could have beaten with little effort not so long ago, work his guts out to even qualify. You wish he'd just give up altogether, sometimes, because it's just too painful to watch.
Dwain Chambers, though, decimated the 100m, even leaving Mark Lewis-Francis, rising star of Uk/world sprinting, way behind. Chambers has got that nasty, hungry look of a man about to be eclipsed and hording all glory he can get before that happens. UK sprinting - how did it get so good? (Although, the 4 x 100 was a bit shit boys, better luck next time.)
Also, a lot of good looking female triple jumpers around at the moment, Ashia Hansen, Grace Upshaw, to name just two.
The Indonesian army have more than just British weaponry to use in their offensive against Aceh rebels, they've also got OV-10 Bronco counterinsurgency planes and F-16 Fighter jets from America, German warships and French and Russian-made armoured vehicles (oh, plus American-trained soldiers, not the best money can buy, but enough, especially against dead Libyan-trained geurillas). Certainly a sweet cache, but is it really necessary? Are they trying to keep rust at bay or something? Meanwhile, on Thursday two mass graves containing 20 bodies were discovered in south Aceh by soldiers. Local authorities are now searching for more graves containing 280 more alleged victims of extra-judiciary killings in the area, for which both the rebels and the military are responsible. The local population has, for its part, been coerced into rallying against the rebels (they can recognise a foregone conclusion when they see one, as well as a shit-load of deadly hardware heading their way. Having said that many complained of being forced to attend by 'community leaders', as well as the local civilian militia, Wanra, whose activities have resumed recently in response to renewed GAM actions. Young guys are virtually blackmailed into joining, says one: "If I did not join the organisation I was afraid i would be accused of sympathsing with GAM"). Crowds gathered in a football field on Thursday, among them farmers, civil servants, youth activists and militia groups, to pledge allegiance to the state, because centralist oppression seems a better deal right now than imminent, indiscriminate massacre. This tiny regency is now caught in an intensely depressing quagmire, and committed to a pointless, pathetic show-war.
Saturday, June 28, 2003
Get out into the sun today...waste no more time...worlds lay waste...arrows of desire to fire!!!! Get out of here, these shadows...to the sea! the sea! Don't waste time, don't waste
Friday, June 27, 2003
Anyway, Tomb for 500, 000 Soldiers...
I haven't read it yet, but I did read Stephen Barber's introduction in which he says that only one translation of the book has ever been attempted before Romain Slocombe's current version, by Helen R. Lane. Which interested me because she was one of the translaters on the definitive - the only - english language version of Anti-Oedipus (University of Minnesota, 1983). Barber says:
Soon after [Tomb]'s original publication, the sole typescript of an English language version by...Helen Lane was destroyed by fire, either by accident or intentionally; even Guyotat himself is unsure of the exact circumstances of this notorious calamity, though Helen Lane (who suffered a profound spiritual crisis during her work on the book) had certainly viewed its action - which she saw as being situated in a post-apocalyptic timeframe - as disorientatingly unlike any other work she had approached.
Don't quite follow Barber's mangled syntax - although who am I to talk? - but I can see that Helen Lane is an interesting person to know. Another one for my fantasy dinner party list, if not my 10-pin bowling team, alongside Sean Flynn, Nancy Cunard, Kenneth Tynan, Ingrid Pitt, Mercedes de Acosta and, I don't know, Cecil Beaton or someone. (Exotic spectators fascinate me.) (Actually I don't have a fantasy dinner party list. I just made that up.)
Just found out today that Creation books have finally - astonishingly - published an English translation of Pierre Guyotat's Tomb for 500, 000 Soldiers. The only Guyotat novel available in English before now was Eden, Eden, Eden, also published by Creation in 1995. Translating that was a minor miracle in itself. I don't think I've ever read it properly, even though I've read most of the actual text. To read it in the way it's intended - in one intense, unbroken burst (the 160-page novel is in fact just one continual sentence, a fervid, feverish series of clauses that break and bleed and clot) would just be too exhausting, too wearying, too dangerous. The only approach is a cautious offensive: attack and retreat, a succession of surges and breaks. It's a translation for which Graham Fox should take much credit, because there is nothing like this in the English language, not even Genet and Sade in translation match this damaged pitch of linguistic, visual and viseceral potency and force. First published in France in 1970 (and immediately banned) it's a novel that seems more startlingly portentious with each new decade of human debasement and atrocity (you thought it suited the 70s well, and that was that, but then it fitted Eastern Europe's 90s perfectly, and will carry on doing so, will always do so). Disturbing proof that experimental French novels are far from apolitical, because Guyotat writes the most extended, comprehensive, and acute political novels that I have read (or not read if you see, but experienced...).
She's got legs and she knows how to use them
Merlene Ottey is one of the most underrated athletes of all time. The fastest female sprinter to have never achieved a world record or won an Olympic Gold, in 2000 she competed at her sixth Olympic Games, having just turned 40.
Ottey has the greatest look too: her delicate, impossibly pretty features cold and taut with disdain and contempt, dyed plaits tied tight against her skull. No gurning, despite her excessive speed: her face is all solid, stony composure. The race is an insult to be stared down. That impeccable look of superiority, like Michael Johnson, but with all the grace and elegance that he so lacked, and weirdly emphasised whenever she loses. She is like the Jamacian Garbo of sprinting.
The athlete's body is something to be admired and feared, whether boosted synthetically or not, every muscle toned and conditioned to perfection, tailored in detail to each very specific physical demand. And with such excessive specialisation in contemporary athletics, and such awesome standards and expectations (and financial rewards), this reaches abnormal, ugly, almost terrifying proportions (e.g. Maurice Green's pitbull squat). But Ottey has that classic athletic body: lithe, supple, stripped down to strong bone and firm muscle
And from that to this, from things that happen, to nothing that happens. Keeping an eye on that business park across the street, where nothing happens, apart from things that do.
Microscopic events. Time stretching, yawning; unfolding, and folding. Transparent layers of insignificant events in obsessive focus, made translucent with pathological lucidity. What a release for the brain! The luxurious details of emptiness, the languorous sensuality of boredom!
I'd love to write like this, although I'm starting to worry about the mental state of the perpetrater, this voyeur of the banal. Is he waiting for something terrible to happen?
Thursday, June 26, 2003
And I mean, what the hell was John Simpson even doing out there? It must be terrible being his wife. You'd be like: "where are you going now? Do you hate me this much?
But Shining Path aren't the only Political Revolutionaries in Peru. Another group called the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement have stalked roughly the same terrain, but with less devastating results. Tupac Amaru base their ideology along Cuban lines, essentially Marxist, but cut with heavy doses of pragmatism and romanticism (or Che Guevarism). Shining Path consider them traitors to the revolutionary Marx-Maoist cause, a bunch of wimps and fadists trespassing on their own territory (drug rackets and peasants). Shining Path were once notorious for hacking their victims to death with machetes, cutting out the tongues of journalists, executing high-level assassinations and random bombings, but Tupac Amaru have always been happy to get by on extortian, armed robbery, kidnappings and swaggering around in fatigues with guns. When John Simpson met revolutionary fighters in the Andean jungle in the early 90s he was really pleased that they turned out to be Tupac Amaru, because it meant he didn't die. (This was before Guzman's arrest, before the 'defeat' and split of SP.)
Peruvian development hidden in the Guardian today: Shining Path querrillas killed a Peruvian soldier and wounded two others yesterday when they ambushed a patrol seeking the kidnappers of 71 people seized earlier this month.
This mass kidnapping occured on the 10th, and hit Agentinian, Columbian and Chilean workers who were building a gas pipeline for the Argentinian petroleum company Techint. Shining Path snatched them from their base camp in the Andeans and demanded a ransom of $1 million, 20 radios, 500 boxes of explosives, vitamins and antibiotics. Then the Peruvian government sent in the army, so Shining Path released the hostages the next day, dumping them in Palma Pampa, 250 miles south east of Lima. SP are supposed to be down to a core group of about 750, with very slight pockets of support remaining amongst the Andean peasants, so this attack was surprisingly audacious, if much less brutal than their former offensives. This, in fact, seems remarkably unlike them and more like Columbia's FARC who specialise in extraordinary kidnappings, like snatching prominent officals from government buildings and flying them into the mountains with helicopters, then holding them ransom for weeks at a time. Still, this is enough to add to rumours of a Shining Path resurrection, however unlikely and unfounded.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Bad Scene in Indonesia
Things are hot and heavy in Indonesia as the largest military operation since the invasion of East Timor in '75 continues apace against rebels in Aceh.
This all began in 1976 when the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) announced itself by demanding an independent Islamic State. By '89 the movement had found its feet with the return of GAM fighters from training in Libya, which led to military rule in Aceh under the Suharto regime throughout the 90s, with the death of 2000 civilians. Last December a ceasefire agreement was supposedly reached, but this had broken down comprehensively by April for various absurd and complicated reasons. In may, last-ditch peace talks collapsed in Tokyo, probably not helped by Jakarta's demand that GAM unconditionally disarm, accept Indonesian rule and just generally stop harping on about independence. Meanwhile, throughout the talks the Indonesian army openly prepared themselves for armed conflict. So, on May 20, Jakarta sent 13 Hawk jets into Aceh, and resumed conflict. Then on Monday they deployed 36 Scorpion tanks to the region and a mass of troops (Guardian 24.6.03).
Hawks, Scorpians...that's our kit, 100% Made In Britain hardware. Aceh will soon be feeling the brute force of British industry. This all dates back to a deal brokered by the Conservative Party just before New Labour's '96 election victory, and Robin Cook's doomed 'ethical foreign policy'. Indonesia was the first nail in the coffin of that, although Cook tried his best to reverse the deal in the law courts. "Ha!" said the Tories, "ethical foreign policy indeed! Yeah, right! Try that in the real world." "Shut up, you bastards," replied Cook, "this is all your fault." The deal was made with some (crucially non-binding) assurance on the part of the Indonesians that they would not use their new toys to the end of internal repression. Now they play New Labour newspeak beautifully. "We're not using this stuff for internal repression", they assure an anxious British cabinet and human rights groups the world over, "but we will be using it offensively."
So the massacres have already begun, with more to come. Don't expect too much Western intervention if things get really nasty, either, because the joker in the pack is a load of natural gas fields that are tapped by US oil giant ExxonMobil, which GAM would need to build a new independent Aceh, something that ExxonMobile, the White House, and just about everyone would baulk at. The battle numbers go something like this - Indonesian troops: 26,000; GAM guerillas: 5000. The majority of GAM rebels are, in fact, far from the Libyan-trained terror fighters of the late 80s/early 90s, and more like gangs of teenagers and young men living it up on bikes, with rifles strapped around their chests, playing out some warped Che Guevara-meets-Islam fantasy. So in this microscopic bedlam whole lines of geopolitical and economic catastrophe cut across each other: international trade agreements, independent business interest, religious ideology, micronationalist autonomy, internal State power, local counterinsurgency, cultural fantasy, and etc. down the scale, and back up again.
Monday, June 23, 2003
Dark Knights Return
Best bird in town this season, fastest bird in the East, is the swift. They just dominate the clear blue sky with their dark, swarthy grace, their svelte speed, their supple swoops and arcs, and this is to understate the case, darting and weaving through the air, above streets and between houses, high-rise blocks, chimney stacks, and trees. Swifts are to inner cities what swallows are to open country: they announce the arrival of summer and so presage future events. Swallows are just gorgeous, and certainly rival swifts in terms of looks and moves, but if you are a fan of city summers, if you like sweating in the hot concrete jungle all though July and August, and if walking through the city is your idea of going on safari, then the swift is your bird. On the bus trundling through Stamford Hill this evening watching swifts slice and dance and cut through the air was stunning, dizzying. They feed on insects and their flight paths follow the patterns of insect flight, but because you can't see insects that far up you're left with an elegant dance, a dazzling display of aerial dynamics and split-second reflexes (watch out, they're like little ninjas!). There's also something slightly evil and demonic about them, something bat-like too (the way they move, their feeding habits - in some parts of Europe they do actually feed at night), an impression intensified by the shrill screams and swooping cries that echo through the summer air.
My mini derive
The East End of London is full of lovely roads and houses: an endless, dense, knotty maze of sandy brick and dark slate, green leaves and clumps of weed. So, I'm on the 106 bus puffing through Stoke Newington and round to Finsbury Park, to go and get groceries, and I'm noticing all these attractive roads again, and spotting new ones or seeing them in a new aspect, and thinking how you can do that with large clumps of the East End, and that this idea of bleak, concrete inner city ghettoes does not the correspond to the East End that I actually see. Go around Clapton, Stoke Newington, Hackney, Stamford Hill, for example, and you’ll see that they don't just consist of scuzzy main roads with greasy shop fronts, or 60s council flats and housing estates, but also rows and blocks of Victorian and Edwardian houses that age with a mellow, lazy elegance, and unexpected patches of nature, park, greenery and canal. If you wander from the main roads and routes you find a London hidden by habit, streets unseen except by the residents who live on them, and therefore no longer really see what surrounds them. Inner city residential areas are beautiful because they escape the stagnation and desperation of suburbia, and absorb the edgy energy and local colour of the inner city cultural tumult (although a lot of the richer young Stoke Newington residents get really nauseating about this, it's like social conscience by association, or, more accurately, proximity). The patterns of wealth are chaotic, they follow no logic. There is no reason why one road should be cheaper, dirtier and less cared for than another when the houses are pretty much the same basic standard; it's more to do with the complex layers and invisible traces of a street's microhistory, its own evolution that you can follow back through deeds, local memory, council statistics. Some are flats renovated with bohemian ingenuity and flair, some houses that share families because the tenants can't afford the rent alone, some privately owned and renovated by young media luvies who eat out on Church Street in 'Stokey' and take their kids to Victoria Park on the weekend with plastic pushchairs and all that caper. On my road in Clapton there's a rundown council block that leaks water like the Nile all night down one end, and down the other, private flats in a converted terrace with garages that are protected by alarms, lighting, and a steel gate that you have to open with a secret code. The East End is not so much a riddle, as a large and densely-woven patchwork. Its beauty resides in an act of perception that you are either born with or you acquire. (Or don't. You can see why some people just want to get out.)
So, I've got my groceries and the 106 is nowhere to be seen. There's a bus and there's Cameron Diaz surfing on the side of it, and that’s great, but, again, not the 106. So I walk down Blackstock Road, which is a really mundane road that breaks off from Seven Sisters Road, which runs right through Finsbury Park. Except that it's not a mundane road at all, if you look at it, it's fascinating. Blackstock Road starts as a Finsbury Park overspill of tandooris, off licenses and Greek grocers, new estate agents and telecommunication shops and that sort of thing, then turns into a middling-but-secretly-gorgeous residential road, and then back into another little hive of hidden pubs, bars, video shops and news agencies. Between the shops it blossoms with greenery, a lovely urban-pastoral weave of trees, weeds and grimy bricks, which is very East London, with shades and atmospheres peculiar and specific to it...
That's what I'm thinking as I stand next to a pile of rotting cardboard boxes and rubbish sacks outside the Arsenal Cafe. Highbury is like 3 roads away or something, so you can probably hear the football crowds from here on a Saturday afternoon. I'm opposite a place called Kasba, a halal meat and poultry purveyor (halal is a way of killing an animal as prescribed by Muslim law, as a noun it refers to the meat prepared in this way, in other words lawful food), and I'm thinking that this must be a unique shop, which is pretty dumb of me, to be honest. The meat looks awful, actually, but they do have a nice selection of fat, spicy sausages and salami in a fridge near the back, and some intriguing Arabic imports, like glass bottles of peach juice. There's also a nice hand-painted 'Pick Your Own' sign with lots of colourful fruit and veg on it, but I can't find any real fruit and veg to pick, except for a paltry selection on a table outside, wilting in the heat and attracting flies. Down the road there's another one called Butcher El Baraka, which has a much better name, but much worse fruit, and no attractive signs. And then opposite that there's yet another, called Interpacific Ltd. (how good is that?) and they roast chickens in the window, although I'm not sure that's strictly halal. Or, indeed, healthy. Talking of unique shops of a certain type - does that make sense? - if you go back onto Severn Sisters Road itself look out for Faros bakery, mainly because its decor has remained unchanged since the '50s or early '60s so it's a fascinating collection of antiquated and idiosyncratic detail, pale aquamarine tiles and hand-written signs (prices listed in felt-tip pen on a piece of ply-wood in the window), a blue-bar electric heater, old Pepsi and Real Dairy Cream window stickers, half-faded but eternally stuck to the glass door. And while you're there buy a cake and engage the old Greek lady behind the counter in conversation, because she's nice and the cakes are nice. All of these shops must contain great stories of personal migration, family upheavals and bonds, homelands and new lives, love, death, friction and assimilation. And in some cases crime, killing, gambling, drugs, and conspiracy. A secret source of endless stories within stories, a hub of tales.
After all the halal butchers you start to get to the residential bit of Blackstock Road which is nice and overgrown, like residential roads tend to be in the East End, which is one of their best features. People actually let their hedges grow around here. Trees are all tall and twisting and healthy, and look as if they feel appreciated. Great rushes of green weed shoot up from the pavement. Ivy and other creepers climb all over buildings and houses. Ambler Primary School is a very proud but scruffy looking Victorian schoolhouse that still retains its old wooden sash windows and has a playground that melts into a dense cluster of trees and weeds, a tiny patch of dreamy arcadia, which must be like a miniature universe to a kid's eyes. And then, if you go to the second set of shops there's a flat above Snax Sandwich Bar, and the tenants have created a little mid-air garden. The shop front juts out into the street and they've erected a fence around the flat roof, which brims with weeds, flowers, potted ferns, and they only have to climb out of their open sashes to enjoy the sun and the street (or the muggy, stormy, early evening, fat drops of rain falling through thick humid air and plopping on the pavement below). Bits of old road all over the East End like this. It's so easy to forget how green this place actually is - the old forests and marshlands break through the pavement, seep through the cracks. Look at the green rather than the brick, focus on it as the most permanent and important, solid and dominant aspect of what you can see, imagine buildings growing between the trees and so on, you can do this very effectively with some East London roads and houses. Then trace the invisible flight lines of birds, listen out for the inaudible rustle of insects. You'll be somewhere else entirely. Welcome to Finsbury Park.
Friday, June 20, 2003
Simon doesn't find the D/G quote that Mark uses very helpful in elucidating current world events, and thinks it confuses things. But what about the following? I find it pretty clear, lucid and useful; plus it seems to describe Al Qaida very well, and goes some way beyond the analysis of cause and effect, or moral condemnation (with out in fact discounting either), and also absolves D/G of the State = bad, nomadic war machine = good accusation/reduction.
We are referring to religion as an element in a war machine and the idea of holy war as the motor of that machine. The prophet as opposed to the state personality of the king and the religious personality of the priest, directs the movement by which a religion becomes a war machine or passes over to the side of such a machine. It has often been said that Islam, and the prophet Mohammed, performed such a conversion of religion and constituted a veritable espirit de corps: in the formula of Georges Bataille, "early Islam, a society reduced to a military enterprise." This is what the West invokes in order to justify its antipathy toward Islam. Yet the Crusades were a properly Christian adventure of this type. The prophets may very well condemn nomad life; the war machine may very well favor the movement of migration and the ideal of establishment; religion in general may very well compensate for its specific deterritorialization with a spiritual and even psychic reterritorialization, which in the case of the holy war assumes the well-directed character of a conquest of the holy lands as the centre of the world. Despite all that, when religion sets itself up as a war machine, it mobilizes and liberates a formidable charge of nomadism or absolute deterritorialization; it doubles the migrant with an accompanying nomad, or with the potential nomad the migrant is in the process of becoming; and finally, it turns its dream of an absolute State back against the State-form...The necessity of maintaining the most rigorous of distinctions between sedentaries, migrants and nomads does not preclude de facto mixes; on the contrary, it makes them all the more necessary in turn.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Bloody flows...that's more Irigaray's scene, right?
(Don't be disgusting.)
No, really, I'd challenge Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds to a D/G showdown but I've lost my thesaurus and there's a hot blonde having a fag on a spiral staircase three stories up in the air and making eyes at me, so it's somewhat distracting.
I will just say: desire, delerium, J.M.W Turner, Henry Miller, submarines, birdsong, etc. etc.
All D/G acolytes are useless too, particularly the campus academics fiddling with their new discovery, or extending their lifespan a little longer, selling a few more boring books and collecting another paycheck. Keep D/G away from campus life, museums, galleries, and journals, because it just drains the life out of them. And D/G are about life
not just bloody flows and cyberbollocks
but pragmatism and poetry
romantic impulse and geopolitical strategy
art and science
fissile material rather than smooth fusion
I find this ubiquitous conflation of Deleuze and Guattari with 'cybertheory' to be quite bogus, actually (c.f. Blissblog today), and even just applying D/G as a complete text is a defeat (and a retreat) for everyone involved. Don't have the time or spare intelligence to go into this in detail right now - I am in work after all, and a bit lazy and preoccupied too - but I have a strong sense that A Thousand Plateaus does have a lot of relevance and use-value in helping to elucidate much of the world's cluttered, convoluted craziness. And one of the things about D/G and TP is that they were criticised for setting up these binary terms and concepts with implicit value judgements attached, but that happens more in the critic's readings than in TP itself. The book makes a point of highlighting mixtures, inbetween points etc. not one thing or the other, but one thing and another/the other...Maybe they do confuse the issues in some way, just by taking a detour from conventional articulation, but then again they can push you into mad clarity and stretch reading and insight somewhere else entirely, and I find them as lucid as a Hobsbawm or a Hitchens, but then perhaps I'm just nuts.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Liberal-baiting Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens points out something amazing in a recent essay on the Iraq War ('After the Fall'): apparently 30,000 'American' soldiers sent out to the Gulf were green card holders! A substantial bloc of America's army is comprised of economic immigrants without papers of citizenship. Even better, if you happen to be a green card holder in the American army and you are killed in action, you recieve full citizenship posthumously. Great deal!
This means that the American army is, in part, a mercenary army, probably the largest mercenary army in recent history, at least since the nineteenth century when armed conflict was firmly tied to national ideology and destiny. What's funny, though, is that the American army is still very much defined as a national army, defending the idea of the homeland, the national ideal and mystique. Which is still possible, actually, if you think of America as an abstract political and cultural idea/l, based not on territorial alliance, but mental allegiance, aspiration and empathy (across the world, from Bhutan to Russia, America is not just the Enemy, Satan, etc., but the Promised Land, the Ideal of Liberty, however flawed, the centre of power = freedom, security, luxury.)
Norman Mailer said that when he last went to Russia he was requested to give a lecture to a group of students and afterwards they asked him what he thought the main difference between America and Russia was. He replied: "you have better McDonalds over here". They were delighted!
On a calm summers day in 2100, Venice will be at least two feet more under water than it was in 1900.
Venice, the greatest medieval city state, and the world's most beautiful monument to the ability and venality of man, is sinking. Actually, it's not as bad as I thought, my mother goes on about this all the time and she makes it sound apocalyptic, as if the city itself is actually sliding back into the mudflats on which it was built. The main problem, though, is the global rise in sea level (about 9 inches since 1900), which means that the city is being slowly eroded from its very foundations. Some think this is undignified, but that's not it, in fact the city crumbling has a certain romantic/decadent appeal - J.K.Huysmans would love Venice now, the dying, fetid carcass of a once glittering world power, haunted by its own past, shadows of beauty and corruption etc. But he would have hated the one thing that keeps the city alive (in a loose sense): tourism. The really tragic thing about Venice in decline is the theme park aspect which is a disaster for a city that is all about secrecy, hidden pacts and deals, liasons, dreams, prayers, betrayal, that breathes its own enigmatic, delicate mystery, works a fine occult spell...completely ruined by a group of fools falling out of a gondola. In one sense Venice is made for tourism - it has all the reducible elements - but on the other it was never meant for this, and remains in some ways admirably resistent to the hordes (they get lost, don't like the smells, the oily canals, swarms of cats...). But Venice doesn't work as a city now: families move out, industry and finance is negligible, nightlife is virtually nonexistent, so that leaves only...a playground, a package holiday destination, a corny romantic weekend break away...meanwhile Venice, this sickly, dark, dying demon, feasts on its flickering shadows, gazes at its own fading image, and slowly expires. And I don't really know how you reverse that, or what the point would be, but anyway...
A good cause to leave money to when you die.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Rupert Murdoch vs. Himalayan Buddhism
Very good feature in the Guardian Weekend magazine on Saturday, written by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. In it they talk about the effects of TV on Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist nation located in the Himalayas, to the East of Nepal. Bhutan was the last society on earth to acquire TV in 1999 after the football world cup of the previous year, when popular demand forced their monarch, the Dragon King Jigme Singye, to erect a giant screen in the stadium of the Kingdom's capitol Thimphu. This instigated a technological revolution that gathered a rather hot head of steam with rumors that the Dragon King was happy to watch 46 cable channels in his palace and enjoy the fruits of Western culture (action movies, pornography and wrestling?) while denying his subjects the same pleasure for reasons of Spiritual Well-Being and The Social Good. A double standard typical of authoritarianism: we know what's good for you, because we do what's bad for you. Which is a bit like our favorite dictator-for-life, Kim Jong-il (remember him? 'Freddie'?). Freddie is internationally renowned for his extravagance, for his love of fast cars, blonde models, soap starlets, Western movies, surfing the net, wild parties. He is known to demand outlandish luxury requirements that would make J-Lo flush with shame and likes to dine on steak and cognac with his entourage, who call themselves - seriously - 'The Pleasure Squad' (East London, are you listening?). All of this while his subjects just about subsist on crap food rations, and spend their lives gawping at boring Social Realist paintings of fictional NK military victories, practicing air raid drills, and baffling over the alien enigma of Elvis, their one glimpse at Western pop culture. As Shining Path put it with typical brute clarity: Everything except power for The Party is illusion. (North Korea is bizarre. Actually, it's not, it's more like the most cynical, shrewd and internally effective dictatorship in recent history; an inspired and indomitable combination of communism and monarchism. Likewise, certain American officials have been heard to opine "how do you negotiate with a madman?", when they know better: Jong-Il is a fairly shrewd political strategist and stake-player, undermined by a tendency to over-play his hand. Extravagance and a flair for brinkmanship and apocalyptic rhetoric doesn't constitute 'insanity' (although Reagan did end up with alzheimers...) W., Dick, Donny and Wal could crush NK like an ant, but the people wouldn't know what to do, no Iraqi-style slipper-slapping, just a numbed adrift ness, a weird emptiness. They've been wound down into a dazed submission, a glassy dependence. This despite famine, which is denied with a sad and assertive assurance. The Party Line is a lifeline: don't underestimate the enchanting and terrifying powers of Absolute Authority. You can never assume a response either way.)
Back to Bhutan:
(which is nothing like NK in actual fact, these two forms of paternal dominance serve totally different ends and ideals. Do you believe in Shangri-la, or would you at least like too? Perhaps this is equally open to Abuse of Power, a paradoxical underpinning, the Tyrrany of Peace...)
since the introduction of TV in 1999, Bhutan has recorded its first serious and sustained crime wave, a social rupture in a society previously devoid of vice, violence and venality (although this is surely relative). In the last four years this small kingdom has witnessed political corruption, high-level fraud, a farmer driving his in-laws off a cliff, and a heroin addict bludgeoning his wife to death. More importantly a distinct and disturbing generation gap has emerged between Bhutanese youth and their elders, the kids ditching traditional Bhutanese values for Oprah, WWF, and MTV (or put more simply: the USA). The elders - and the authorities - blame this solely on new TV imports (the national Bhutanese TV network was a dismal failure, mainly due to technical incompetence, pop cultural naivety, and woefully inadequate funding; the people stayed tuned to Rupert Murdoch's Star network, happy to make the critical distinction, unsurprisingly).
This rapid introduction of global media aesthetics, a fast track cultural induction, corresponds almost totally with the emergence of social schisms and eruptions; like a virus these aesthetics infect the delicate social constitution, and corrupt traditional structures of organisation, behaviour, thought. They split asunder and polarise a previous equilibrium. Social desire intensifies with extreme speed, almost in one huge, volatile, destructive surge, urges spill and spew across the cultural landscape; reconfigure time, space, identity, love, the imagination. We've had generations to adapt and acclimatise; most of us have never even had to, climbing out of the amniotic sac straight into a cocoon of images, signals, signs, brands, artificial dreams and ideals. Bhutan has had four years, and is suffering from chronic fast-forward.
It's not just cause and effect, obviously: in Bhutan TV has channeled generations of frustration and desire, an invisible and unimaginable event that is too fast, too fundamental, and too ferocious to be called a 'process'. This is an unleashing of desire, the sudden apparition of demand, expectation, possession, and the mania fermented by proscription of behaviour, enforced isolation of those who don't want to grow up isolated from the Global Village (or bazaar, or battlefield, or whatever). TV has brought into being a new molten society of Bhutan, still in the crucible, forming, hot and seething, new behavioural patterns and codes, new identities, mores, orbits, and aspirations (a Bhutanese survey showed that 1/3 of girls wanted to look more American, with whiter skin and blonde hair). It would be stupid to deny the net impact of global popular culture, which is inescapably violent, sexualised, explicit, often nihilistic, often mystical, often virulently materialistic and culturally imperialist. Stupid because mostly these are its very strengths, what makes it aesthetically domineering and effective: a destructive sublime and an impersonal seduction, the pleasure principle and the death drive.
Some of the best bits of the article are quotes from the Bhutanese themselves, which I quote without any kind permission, and hope for the best:
Scott-Clark and Levy asked a class what they liked about TV and they replied:
Posh and Becks, Eminem, Linkin Park. We love Rock. Aliens. Homer Simpson.
Domination of the mind: the Nuevo-riche and trailer trash finally colonise the Himalayas (while Manuel de Landa looks the other way, watching Everest grow another millimetre).
Then Sangay Ngedup chips in with this beautiful eulogy to a lost society:
We used to think nothing of walking three days to see our in-laws. Now we can't even be bothered to walk to the end of Norzin Lam High Street.
And then Doriji Penjore, a researcher, goes one further and really breaks my heart:
When I was growing, WWF meant World Wild Fund for Nature.
(Me too actually, and I'm only 25.)
But then Sangay comes back in for the killer jab, knocks me, laughing, to the floor:
Until recently we shied away from killing insects and yet now we Bhutanese are asked to watch people on TV blowing heads off with shotguns. Will we now be blowing each other's heads off?
An incredibly thought-provoking piece of reportage.
Monday, June 16, 2003
PROPHECY HAS PASSED AND ONLY DREAMS REMAIN
Friday, June 13, 2003
Missive from Mr. Watkins out in Shanghai, which I reproduce in its entirety for your pleasure...
> As you know 'twas my birthday this weekend so I made my
>weary way to Shanghai. Due to transport difficulties I arrived there
>late Saturday afternoon and so was unable to nose around the abode
>of China's favourite saint Sun Yat-sen, as was my original plan. The
>battle against Sars seems to be entering endgame here, for while
>doctors still catalogue buses as they drive through the myriad
>checkpoints around the city not one of my fellow travellers on both
>trips were wearing masks. That said the disease has noticibly
>affected Shanghai's tourist industry, the human sea that normally
>flows down Nanjing Donglu has noticably decreased to a weekday
>Oxford St level. At the more expensive eateries and fast food joints
>around the Bund masked staff continue to serve food to couples and
>families, now less likely to take their meals from a communal pot
>(Of course down the narrow side streets you can still buy snacks
>from a toothless crone with a wok that hasn't been cleaned since the
>end of the cultural revolution). While during my time here I diddn't
>see one person hock up a chunk of phlegm- the no.1 hobby in China
>enjoyed by all the family, due to intensive anti-Sars policing.
> The city was a haze ridden saunasphere that afternoon,
>despite the way the centre sits at the Huangpu it drinks in only a
>warm, fetid breeze. I waited till evening to take my first sojurn,
>drifting up Fuzhou Lu before the place stuttered to a halt, though
>the farmers remain at the corner of every street throughout the
>night, selling their fruit in wooden buckets, always ready to cart
>their wares away before the police turned up. It gets dark here fast
>and early at about seven 'o' clock. By then I had moved up to
>People's Square, once the sight of the Shanghai Race Club, now a
>faux marble public space bathed in luminous green, where shoppers
>rest in front of the Art Museum (sadly closed) and men and children
>fly kites on the updrafts from the surrounding skyscrapers. I
>drifted around for about three hours, watching caravans of families
>dart from Deparments stores, boyfriends attempting to elicit chaste
>embraces with their girls behind constructivist sculptures and
>unlegged beggars drag themselves around for the richest pickings. I
>toured the waterfront, now filled with sightseers having their
>pictures taken in front of the neon vision that is Pudong, on the
>other side of the river. Another great thing about the city is that
>is perfectly allright to walk around at night in your pjamas, I
>passed masses of middle aged sleepwalkers as I went back to the
> My room was expensive but luxurious, a wide creme
>double bedroom with a view of the Russian Embassy and a bathroom you
>could park a car in. The room led out to a victorian style polished
>wooden hall that was a cross between an art gallery and an asylum-
>the floor being haloed by an iron walkway that led to the rooms
>above me. Despite the temptation of CNN and HBO I had a schedule to
>keep to, besides I wanted to use my spacious digs for a DIY ritual
>that I had cobbled together from my reading of Crowley and Osman
>Spare in preparation/celebration of my birthday. That took about
>fourty-five minutes. After a quick stop at the hotel bar I was ready
>to take a step into the next year of my life.
> I headed over to the French Concession, where I found
>a bar I vaguely remembered- a cramped red lit place with an L shaped
>bar and low tables in the backroom. The clientele was mostly young
>Chinese, the fashionable and well off that could afford the
>exhorbitant 25Y a drink fee, though I saw three other foriegners
>there. Nu metal was the bar's din of choice, luckily I came armed
>with "Heavy Mental" on the minidisc, which lasted me three beers.
>While working on my fourth I met a girl whose english name was Lena,
>a pleasant, slight (Chinese women are too thin), cute nosed girl who
>said she wanted to practice her english. This term is commonly used
>by Chinese and forreigner alike regarding pulling, though often it
>is exactly what it says on the tin, one of the many grey areas in
>the big moral smudge that is China. We chatted and played drinking
>games for about an hour, involving a cup and set of eight die, a
>cross between poker and yahtzee. Perhaps she was interested, perhaps
>not, I can never tell these days (could I ever?), but the nuanced
>diplomacy of romance was not my intention that evening so I took my
>leave(though I still have her card) and decided to move to another
> A couple of blocks away I found a large nightclub
>behind a colonial plantation facade(I forget the name), a crowded
>two story venue that had plaques on every pillar warning about
>whores, despite the fact that they surrounded the bar. A black band
>played cover versions at the centre of the ground floor. Space was
>limited so I stayed close to the booze, politely declining the
>owners of the thin arms that occasionally came to rest on my
>shoulders. I spent my time watching the dance floor, as usual
>comprised by young chinese couples, forreigners dancing with their
>girlfriends and gangs of girls leaping around together. The music
>was to loud to properly talk to people, the couple of conversations
>I had were exercises in futility, so when the band began signing
>Robbie Williams tunes I thought it best to go.
> It took a while to find another bar, I'm not quite
>sure where I wandered or for how long. Shanghai's streets are
>rationally planned out and disturbingly similar, cement grey avenues
>lined with petrified trees, the bottom half of their trunks painted
>white due to the often non existant lighting, while yesterdays'
>washing hung over the power lines. Of course by this time I was a
>bit worse for wear, obviously the fault of the white rice liquer,
>and had obviously veered way of course. I decided not to turn back
>but to push ahead along the deserted road. With hindsight this was a
>mistake, ocassional cars drove past but no taxis. Your head starts
>to play tricks on you when your lost,drink and apparently alone in a
>crowded city. This feeling got worse when, when travelling down one
>such litter strewn street I began to here to hear high, slow,
>weezing dirge of doom that grew louder as I tentatively walked
>along. I met a small, cadaverous Chinese bloke in a faded suitjacket
>playing an out of tune accordion as he went. No-one in China has an
>acordion, this can not be true but that idea kept reparting through
>my head as he advanced. I got a lot more nervous when he gave me a
>toothless smile and began talking in what seemed like perfect
>German. It was as if I was in a film co-directed by Sergio Leone
>and David Lynch and I did not like the plot was going. Maybe I was
>antsy but I still think he was trying to freak me out. I stared back
>at the infernal box player and said "Its'my birthday. Don't fuck
>with me", walking on as he laughed while the dirge grew fainter.
>Luckily I found a taxi a few minutes later and took the piss out of
>my growing paranoia on the way to the other side of Shanghai.
> I went to Mao Min Lu, another goodtime street encrusted
>with neon drinking dens along its right side. It gets hazy here so
>you'll have to bear with me. I remember going to Judy's Too, a
>crowded club playing house. I also recall getting pissed off at the
>repeated entreaties of child beggars as I progressed along the
>street, causing me to find the Fagin like figure hidding in a door
>way and start pushing him while yelling "Ren Pigu" (Stupid Arsehole-
>the only swear word I know). This was extremely stupid, shithead
>could have been packing a knife, luckily it remained a rather
>pathetic scene of Three Stooges style psuedo violence witnessed by
>three minors. Later I hooked up with an Australian and two Brits.
>Rob, the rugger bugger Antipodian is the only one whose name I
>remember. It started out well for a couple of rounds, however it
>went downhill when we had a long argument about Australia. I not
>sure how we got there, but he did not like my views on how his
>country; a true cradle of trade union rights and the home of rousing
>speeches about the brotherhood of man, has been consistantly racist
>throughout its history. This wasn't about aboriginal rights (a point
>he readily conceded) but its attitudes towards Asia from William
>Morris Hughes to Woomera. I made some good arguments, even if they
>were perhaps poorly expressed with frequent use of the word
>"cunting". I don't think he was impressed, as the next (half
>serious) argument was about whether or not he could hit me on my
> After that his friends decided they should "go home",
>leaving me after strained farewells to move on to Windows, the
>Kenyan bar I've told you about. The manager, Edward was very helpful
>in sorting out a much need cup of coffee. By then people were
>trickling out of the place, leaving half a roomful on the ground
>floor. By then the DJ was back to playing hip hop so I sidled
>over,told him it was my birthday and inquired about what he had. I
>went through his records: Ja Rule, Dre, Missy,etc-good but not quite
>right. He said he had some other records in his bag so I looked
>through, third record in: Show and A bloody G. I took it out, I
>smiled, he smiled, I went back to the bar, one of those little
>moments of poetry you get in your life every once in a while. I
>spent the rest of my night listening to good tunes playing pool with
>an American, a Chinese beatnik (striped long sleeve T shirt,
>sunglasses and goatee) and two fetching girls. When the women and
>the Yank left Edward kicked us out, while China is not a democracy
>its bars close on the pleasingly egalitarian principle that when the
>bar staff outnumber the clientele in the morning its time to shut up
>shop. I happily slid into a waiting taxi and, at quarter to five
>reached my wonderful hotel room with the pick of two beds to crash
> Not a bad birthday I think, and as you say certainly
>diffrernt to the ones I normally have. I have to sleep so I'll tell
>you about my birthday party next time.
> Hope all is well
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
An Angel Weeping Over Your Carnal Beauty: Guy Bourdin's Cool Erotics
And yet the beautiful woman up there does not interest me, for I am enamored of another. My love is quite without hope, and I am far more miserable than the Knight of Toggenburg or the Chevalier in Manon Lescaut: my beloved is made of stone.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
What exact response do you have to the women in Guy Bourdin's Vogue photo shoots and Charles Jourdan shoe adverts? Sadism or masochism, elements of which each appear only in Bourdin's visions and methods and in the desire-struck submission of his models, although both are implicated separately in your gaze? Or something more refracted, more refined and more residual, and, in a large way too, more debased: the gaze that wanders over and then dives into these static, gaudy, cruel and sexually charged scenes with both a tyrannical violence and an abject subjection, crucified by contempt, lust, fear, and domination (of the image)? What exactly is the nature of this sexual charge so removed from the healthy norms or perverse cliches of eroticism? Not purely sadistic, or purely masochistic, not reduced to the spent imagery of erotic play and symbolism, and not twisted or contorted by the random imagery of the surreal.
This is more to do with blank and obtuse visual dynamics, the awkward and cruel pose of bodies, the sheen of skin glossed into a plastic (fetishist) desire, the sharp colours and angles of concrete curves and corners, corrugated iron doors, road signs, and the discreet order of rock formations (Bourdin's early photos of cliffs and granite structures, and his Kodak slides of LA buildings and road patterns set up the visual lexicon of his fashion photographs - a tactile and textural language is worked out before and directly informs these pictures). Bourdin creates an impersonal visual world (coldness and cruelty) that remains glacial and grotesque in its distance and distortion, and is therefore necessarily and inescapably seductive. A cold eroticism that freezes LA sun.
These pictures lack rapture, sensuality, the throes of ecstasy, physical chemistry: desire is fixed solely in the relation between the impersonal distance of the image and the violence and static brilliance of the erotic gaze, and the spatial and psychological play of power implicated in this relation (which can antagonise, challenge and seduce all at once). Bourdin is obsessed with the double image of woman, and in his magazine and advert photo shoots he deploys it in a way that conjures the dual phantasies of lesbianism and narcissism: in terms of the male gaze this conjures both terror and fascination (i.e. heavy erotic overtones), in terms of the female gaze it is altogether more urgent and profound, not to say ironic and spiteful. These are, after all, fashion items destined for women's magazines, and the ideals of beauty that adorn these magazines conform to an image of the self and a focus of desire. Bourdin makes this explicit and twists it, a cruel revelation, and a sadistic switch that nevertheless turns more savagely erotic in this very unveiling of Vogue-codes.
But it is all, purely, desire of the image, desire of AN image of woman, and this is the core of the seductive charge of Bourdin's pictures: the reduction to type, the cruel distortion of type, the frigid untouchable perfection of type. There are no women in Bourdin's photos, and in a way no Ideal Woman, but a profusion of reducible (but distinct) stony/plastic types (stone and plastic play complementary roles in these photos, as a phantasmic fixation of the female, desire and territory) that contort and glide through depopulated landscapes, claustrophobic rooms charged with terror and violence, disturbing locations like murder scenes, grimy alleys, dingy bathrooms, dark rooms with flickering TVs. You can't just see these photos within the narrow terms by which they are praised and rejected (misogyny, sexual violence, and death), and they cannot just be read as a series of literary motifs; there is a general and certain resistance to metaphor, and each photo challenges and exceeds theatrical representation. Unlike Helmet Newton, Bourdin didn't fabricate storylines for his magazine shoots, but arranged singular and ambiguous scenes, distinct, distinctive moments: in this sense one set of Vogue pictures has a cumulative effect, a heterogenous group of images that nevertheless share an atmosphere, an arrangement, a concept, or an obsession. No Court or novelistic narrative or structure, but poetic fragments, particles of desire, diffusion of desire, profusion of lust, its reversals (disgust), its channels and obscure byways, imperatives, and instincts. Each picture is an arrangement, a dissection and a divination of desire: desire turning into violence, cruelty, contempt; desire frozen, displaced, intensified, neutralised; desire caught in fixation, obsession, narcissism.
The fetish is not a symbol at all, but as it were a frozen, arrested, two-dimensional image, a photograph to which one returns repeatedly to exorcise the dangerous consequences of movement, the harmful discoveries that result from exploration; it represents the last point at which it is possible to believe...
Just one more thing (no, there's more, but for now...): physical obsessions and tactile impression in Bourdin, women in a petrification of plastic capture, hard angles, colour and material, and the fetish object, i.e. in his Charles Jourdan adverts, shoes substitute not just the penis, but love itself, the Ideal. In these adverts the woman is obscured, immolated, or murdered. One of his most famous photographs depicts the scene of a sidewalk murder, blood splattered around the chalk outline of an absent female body, two pink high heel shoes thrown along the concrete, but placed so deliberately that they obscure the central focus, which is the empty centre of the chalk outline (Charles Jourdan, Spring 1975). In these adverts pink, red, green and blue shoes dominate the gaze with a violent insistence as the female body is obscured, violated or totally removed, as if the image of woman cannot be tolerated, only sublimated in the erotic fetish object of the shoe. Which is one of the most beautiful and disturbing depictions of the erotics and semiotics of consumerism that I have ever seen: you know your response is corrupt, abject, dangerous, and you know that resistance or defiance is hypocrisy and resentment. The consumer object (the consumer's desire) is not vacuous and not reductive but full of subterranean, unconscious significance (signification), and perfectly captures the distant, erotic passion of capitalist desire (which, as Lyotard points out, resides in all of us, even and especially in Marx).
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Tuesday, June 10, 2003
In recent years, relations between the extreme, neo-Nazi right in Europe and Islamist and Arab terrorist groups which existed for a long time have become more intensive, especially in the field of business transactions. These shadowy deals, which on occasion also involved the Mafia, have seldom been reported in the media.
Which is a louder echo of the bizarre nexus of political radicalism, nationalism and crime that sees FARC cutting deals with international drug cartels while simultaneously drafting in IRA men to give their guerilla kids advanced terror training. Journalists should be following this more closely, tracing the outlines, unravelling the connections, although I guess who the hell is going to? Bizarre underground connections based on convenient transactions of wealth and expertise that otherwise defy all ideological logic (wait, is there such a thing?) seem to be on the increase: the world of terrorism is tied ever closer by a basic Opposition to State Power and hegemony that becomes ever more diffuse, vague, and dilated so that far left groups admit (even boast) common cause with extreme Islamist organisations (which really infuriates Chris Hitchens) who also, at some moments, link up with the Far Right (which has historical precedent in the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to offer active support to Axis forces in World War 2). This, meanwhile, is further compromised by the need to fund all activities which leads political groups into crime syndicates and by escalations of violence resulting from State counterinsurgency which leads to the inevitable brutalisation of these movements over time, the seemingly unavoidable infiltration of drug thugs and psychopaths attracted to terror shorn of ideology, which has happened to everyone from Shining Path to the Irish Paras to Algerian Islamists.
Rhizomatic roots spread far and wide...bind paradox on one flat plane, spiral off into black holes.
Sunday, June 08, 2003
No End to War
The facade of Civilisation cultivating itself through War, charade of morality in the name of material interest, abstract conquest (security, energy and monetary wealth rather than territory and institutions, as such), Christian piety congealing in the stale air of unprecedented power, in enormous white buildings, and lacquered wood and leather offices with views across continents: this is
a parade of promises disrupted by lies so blatant and obvious and insulting that you wish they hadn’t even bothered, and you have more respect for the worst Pentagon strategists (Rumsfeld, Wolfowtiz, the military chiefs) than the best Whitehouse diplomats and appeasers (Powell, Rice) because you can trust these blunt, dead-eyed bastards more than the oily politico sharks whose concern it is to disguise and obscure the naked and distinct workings of power for the further advantage of this very power (and its tentacles, reaching into the everyday, the psychological, the fiscal, the cultural…all forms of capital, all types of investment, financial and libidinal…). You get me: if Iraq had been all about oil (which it wasn’t; this was just a nice chaser) then that would have had a certain Imperial rationality: nowhere on earth actually needs oil more than America and Europe, naked material ambition is not without precedent, obviously they could fight for that advantage, and – historically – what potential Empire wouldn’t? (And America is getting less and less afraid of that word.) It’s the lies, the weak excuses, the fuzzy logic, the shameless attempt to exploit fear and racial division (which is exactly what is being exploited even as lip-service is paid to the “friendly Muslims in our midst” and all that crap: this is racism on a molar scale, identity politics with all subtlety blown out/up on a global geo-political stage) that really shows a lack of respect for the world, the enemy, and – fatally – the people this War Against Terror is fought for (i.e. us). This is
a lie as well: The War Against Terror isn’t fought for people, but for large aggregates of power, financial blocs, market dynamics, technological innovation, psychological conquest, the ideological crusade (Christian Democracy as Global System of Accumulation and Exploitation, the Cloak of Liberty, a fog of freedom…it’s not fascism, and I’d choose it over an Islamic State any day, and I’m guessing you would too, but don’t be fooled by the words of Democracy, its silver tongue, the techniques and the tricks are all the same, power uses the same stock strategies of control and domination whatever form it takes – the one fatal characteristic of any State, its secret desire, its fundamental concern, is the determination to maintain itself, to hoard power, to keep it indefinitely).
No end to war: Civilisation cultivates War:
And the American way, always, of Regime Change (through direct intervention or clandestine support for the counterrevolutionary opposition) – the most secretive and scrappy path to World Domination in history – and this almost somnolent, stupid obsession with one regime at a time that’s a bit like a calm psychopathology that finally, inevitably, leads into barbaric violence (particularly true of Vietnam).
Technology cultivates War: the American Military-Industrial Complex promotes war, the Idea and the Means (and the delivery, the nature, the tactical concepts, and, later on, street tech-ware) and a technological sublime that had to perfect itself once the Manhattan Project proved a step too far – can’t go forwards, bigger, more destructive, so go sideways, smaller, smarter, more deadly. Less destructive, more lethal…wars of (war is) technosupremacy, the ultimate fetishist object of otherwise abstract power.
Ideology cultivates War…not just religion, but other ideals, i.e. order. Wasn’t Rumsfeld sizing up and preparing for this the moment he re-entered the Pentagon and stood up to all the military chiefs? The vicious, grey-faced, blunt-edged civil servant organising death and destruction in terms of statistics, logistics and tactics – for whom this pure form of war is a step on each time, another move and then a new game, a continual process of organisation until everything is finally organised out of EXISTENCE
No end to war, or…
Friday, June 06, 2003
More Bad News
I'm afraid so.
The US has (quietly) decided to withdraw its troops from the North/South Korean border (the 38th Parallel, where they have been stationed since the Korean War) leaving the way open for a pre-emptive or counter strike against North Korea. Wolfowitz (or Nutty Wal as I call him, in a futile attempt to feel better about things, like my own little counter strike at the mounting madness) was out in Seoul this week saying that the removal of his troops would rule in the possibility of an immediate strike at Pyongyang in the event of outbreaking hostilities. One of those subtle tactical manoeuvres that goes virtually unremarked, but the implications ricochet forward into our future, a strategic action that mutates into a psychological step towards the Idea of War, that moment you realise (early or too late; usually both for me) that shit, they are actually going to do this (you thought that even they wouldn't be so stupid as to attack this crumbling, desperate nuclear-armed communist state, or that they would even bother transplanting their Iraq rhetoric onto Iran within a matter of two months...but then that would be to underestimate the strange dynamic that pulses between the White House and the Pentagon right now, the mysterious schisms and alliances and almost occult ferment of ideals and agendas at the heart of the administration, like an allegiance of evangelism and freemasonry, as well as to ignore the pressures of Money married to Technology married to Power that drive the US military-industrial complex and push war on every time so that war will never end, US war is permanent until dominance is dust and all power expires, ...).
My esteemed foreign correspondent Gavin Watkins - currently doing time out in a small Chinese town called Liuhe, jamming his brain full of JG Ballard and Mao, hitting the hard liqueur and the locals in the city bars whenever he can get into town (but it's hard with SARS raging), leaving a trail of broken bones and hearts beneath blurred sunsets, whose whole trip out there seems to be morphing into some kind of Burroughs-in-Tangier misadventure under the ever-watchful eye of the communist state - has come through to inform me that Kim Jong-Il's current film favourite is Friday the 13th.
Best thing about North Korea is that it's the only state in the world ruled by a dead man (eternal leader, Kim il-sung, died 1994).
Thursday, June 05, 2003
This bird has teeth.
quand les poules auront des dents
French scientists have managed to reawaken a gene that has remained dormant in birds since the last of the descendants of the Archaeopteryx died out 70 million years ago: they have grown chickens with teeth. Dr Josaine Fontaine-Perus and Prof. Paul Sharpe discovered the DNA that can trigger tooth and hair follicle growth, and they hope to apply similar techniques to humans, for example, by developing drugs that can reverse balding.
Or: they could grow lots of birds with teeth, like ravens, puffins, or larks (could a lark with teeth form phonemes? Would a puffin be goofy, a raven even more sinister and symbolic?). If herring gulls had teeth it would all be over: cities would be picked clean, our bones left to bake in the sun, empty buildings converted into nesting colonies in sprawling, terrifying herring gull city states (herring gull holocaust). (I like to keep these things in perspective.)
I am the Desmond Morris of Doom.
In the thick, humid, impenetrable Sumatran rainforest of Indonesia poor old Yeti has finally been tracked down. He hasn't actually been captured, or even caught on camera, but the Extreme Expeditions crew - who specialise in trying to ascertain the likely existence of local monster legends around the world - reckon they have enough evidence to support their claim that Yeti is, in fact, a new species and a key to the door of human evolution (like: how did we learn to walk...).
Yeti, known to affectionate locals as 'orang pendek', is a five-foot orang utan-like primate who can - according to eye-witness reports - stand upright on his hind legs and walk '"like a human". Adam Davis and his 'extreme explorers' (who, I reckon, I hope, all have names like 'maverick' and 'ice man') pursued orang pendek in a hot chase through the jungle, but eventually had to settle with a child-sized footprint and a clump of the elusive creature's hair for their efforts (however, this hair sample has yet to match the hair type of any known species, including the orang utan, despite its similar colouring).
Of course this could totally destroy one of the world's few remaining monster legends (after Adam & Co trashed Nessie), while promising a potential bonanza for evolutionary research. But it's hard not to be ambivalent about trapping the imagination, folklore and local legend with high-tech equipment and gung ho expeditions. Our unexplored rainforests, lakes, mountains, caves and deep ocean ridges and caverns are the last dwindling pockets of the unknown that we have. You can't map our precious, uncharted Dark Regions without tracing, exposing and unravelling the unconscious in a way that slowly starves us of dreams, fears, and desire. (Killed by cartography, catalogues and archives.)
Next stop: the Gobi Desert, in search of Allghoi Khorkoi AKA the Mongolian Death Worm - a 7ft long serpent that can spit nerve gas strong enough to kill a camel. I don't know, it's a great job, though, isn't it?
Run, monsters, run!
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Several scientists believe that the Roman upper classes, who drank water from lead pipes and used lead-based mugs, vessels and beauty creams, suffered from permanent lead poisoning. This would have led to birth defects and widespread physical impairment that may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Some sort of lesson in that, right?
Monday, June 02, 2003
Alain Bombard...produced two glass tanks, one filled with polluted water - of the sort one might draw from the port of Marseille - containing a healthy, thriving, almost dancing octopus. The other tank contained pure, unpolluted seawater. Bombard caught the octopus and immersed it in the 'normal' water; after a few seconds the animal curled up, sank to the bottom and died...Now more than ever nature cannot be seperated from culture...
Many synthetics are now pervasive in trace quantities and many have half-lives that are measured in hundreds of years, so for centuries to come, living things themselves will be a resevoir of contamination.
'State of the World 2003'
Forget post-human bodies, this is not theory: our bodies are post-organic, have been for decades, centuries, a couple of millenia. Now that every aspect of our environment, at every level, strata, and sphere is polluted, or adjusted, our bodies crossed, recrossed, invaded (willfully, or secretly), our air a constant flux of gases, toxic imbalance and renewed purity, new waves (electricity, radiation) tapped and exploited and pumped through our bodies - because of all this there will never be a clear, preindustrial, pretechnological, pre-GM idealised state that we can return to, cleansing our bodies of all toxins and traces of artificial contamination, no ecological utopia (dreaded biosphere!) in which we could survive for very long at all. Imagine us in the Jurassic era, we'd probably shrivel up like Bombard's octopus (even if we weren't eaten or sucked into a tar pit or flattened by a volcanic eruption (note: uncover prehistoric pollutants)).
In terms of nonorganic (and organic) pollutants, applications and all that, it's all relevant, the molecular and molar, make-up and fossil fuel emmisions. With all our little contaminations, cures and extensions, the ones we choose, the ones we can do nothing about, the ones we never learn about, our bodies and minds have been totally reconfigured: silicon implants, suntans and fake tans, jewelry, hair extensions, vitamin complexes, fitness routines, dietry regimes, genetic modification, biotech crops, carbon emissions, petrochemicals, heavy metals, fertilizer nitrates, aquiler pollution, plastics, pesticides, lubricants, solvents, food colouring, preservatives, reprocessed meat, flouride, vaccinations, microwaves, electrical signals, radio waves, laser beams, carcinogens, aerosols, shampoo, gels, prosphetic limbs, metal plates, tattoos, narcotics, smoke and soot particles, radon gas...
The post-organic body is strong, and we survive for longer because of it, we evolve along with and into our environment, and it takes a disaster like asbestos or Chenobyl to really disrupt our biological coping mechanisms. Our continents are awash with post-organic bodies, and generation gaps, all learning to exist somewhere between surfeit and survival.
The post-organic archetype/exemplar: Don Simpson. A carnival of narcotic and stimulant abuse, and a cosmetic surgery doll, nipped and tucked and rattling with pills.