by Jeff Strabone
One of the duties of the modern nation-state is persuasion. Each state aims to keep its citizens convinced of the legitimacy of its rule. The state may be run chiefly for the enrichment of a few at the cost of the many, but the endurance of the state is widely thought to depend on its ability to sell its rule to the many as a common-sense truism. Or at least that was how it used to work. We may be entering a new era in the evolution of the state, one where the state approaches a state of utter shamelessness.
Antonio Gramsci, in his prison notebooks, called this persuasive activity 'hegemony'. According to Gramsci, hegemony occludes the domination of the state and the classes whose interests it serves. One does not have to be an Italian communist of the 1920s to see the usefulness of Gramsci's groundbreaking insight. Broadly speaking, all political actors pursue their agendas by trying to narrow other people's imaginations in order to make desired outcomes seem common-sensical and undesired outcomes outside the ambit of reasonable thought.
It seems to me that over the past decade, in the United States, the state and a narrow circle of powerful interests—banks, energy companies, and private health insurers in particular—have simply given up trying to persuade the rest of us that their interests were our interests. Could we be moving in the twenty-first century to a state that practices domination without hegemony? Or, to put it in plain English, will the state shamelessly turn itself completely over to serving the interests of a powerful few without bothering to pretend that it's not? And if it does, how should we respond?
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by Stefany Anne Golberg
Wes Anderson is a dandy who would make Oscar Wilde proud. Of all the sizzling epigrams that geysered out of Wilde’s pen, a favorite is, “A really well-made buttonhole is the only link between Art and Nature”. It’s a very dandy thing to say. Dandies like Wilde don't think that nature has any authority over art. They think the opposite. In dandyland, nature and reality imitate art. In other words, when we look at nature we see every nature painting and every National Geographic documentary we've ever seen. There is no “real reality” for humans without the human touch; nature is pretending to be art.
Wes Anderson’s dandy films bend reality over and paint a fuchsia moustache on its bum. They are sculpted and posed. They aren’t necessarily fake, like fantasy fake, but they are full of fakers. In all of them, the main character is a regular person upon appearance, but is basically an amateur and a fraud, playacting at greatness. Rushmore is the story of a teenage boy who masquerades as the king of his boarding school, but, in fact, he is a horrible student. The Life Aquatic is the story of a famous oceanographer, who is more interested in daring feats than science. Royal Tenenbaum, in The Royal Tenenbaums, is a wealthy and excellent lawyer, except that he has been disbarred and is a son-of-a bitch. These films are advertisements for the aestheticized life. Like Wilde, there is no true nature for Wes Anderson. Our authentic state is the one we imagine for ourselves, the trumped-up life we've convinced other people is impressive.
More than any of his previous films, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a really well-made buttonhole. 'I didn't want it so much to be more realistic,' Anderson told the Telegraph, 'I wanted it to be more ours.' Anderson elaborates on Roald Dahl’s book with dandy aplomb. In both tales, we have a family of foxes—Mrs. Fox, little children foxes, and the eponymous Fantastic Mr.—intent on getting their daily bread by stealing it from the valley’s three farmers: Farmer Boggis, Farmer Bunce, and Farmer Bean. An epic battle ensues between animals and farmers, each trying to outsmart the other. Mr. Fox thieves not because it is necessary, but because it’s more fun than foraging in the wild like other animals. “I'm just a wild animal,” Fox says with a sigh. But his regret is not very convincing. This is a fox who sports a double-breasted corduroy suit after all. Getting his food from farmers instead of hunting is the wildness of Mr. Fox. In other words, his “natural” state is to act against nature.
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By Maniza Naqvi
“I’ve lived all my life in my old neighborhood of Lyari. My father was a mason and he died of lung-cancer when I was six years old. I still feel his presence and remember his gestures and his appearance with his beard and a black and white checkered scarf on his head— you know like a Palestinian- scarf on his head.” Akhtar Soomro narrates himself.
And through his photo journalism Akhtar Soomro challenges us to enter on journeys that make us confront the geography and calculus of our own reality and recognize and imagine other stories. Stories of people, who have been systematically humiliated and diminished: people, who have been marginalized; and criminalized by those who have amassed power by grabbing every resource and facility and service in Pakistan. These photographs, as stark evidence, let us enter their world of survival, of how despite it all, people cope, triumph, flourish, create and celebrate, kick and punch back. Occasionally he gives us glimpses into the pathology of those grabbers of power: glimpses of the glint in their eyes, of the cynical grin on their faces and of the instruments and weapons that they wield to maintain their supremacy.
Akhtar Soomro tells us:
“I want to document a world that is in danger of disappearing. I have in the course of my own interest in these communities, photographed people at their festivals and in the streets. I remember the daily ordinariness of the Leva dances at weddings and other festive occasions in our streets. This dance is meant to induce a spiritual trance of joy. And how that is not a common place event any longer but still can be found. I want to show this world to the world and to these people themselves as something of value, of cherishing and for safekeeping.
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A Glimpse Into The Work of Pina Bausch
By Randolyn Zinn
Beatrice Libonati, Meryl Tankard in Walzer Photo by Gert Weigelt
On June 30, 2009, dance devotees from around the world mourned the untimely death of choreographer Pina Bausch. At 69 years of age and just four days after a diagnosis of cancer, she left behind a son, an acclaimed dance company, devoted fans, and a trove of masterpieces that changed the course of dance and theater history. Her work always left us wanting more. We were sure she had a century inside her.
Pina Bausch in rehearsal. Photo by Gert Weigelt
In Paris, whenever tickets went on sale for her company Tanztheater Wuppertal, a long line of Pina fans would snake out from the box office into the street. Television crews scrambled to put together elaborate promos, giving them pride of place on the evening news. Imagine if American news shows featured dance and theater segments alongside sports and weather. Take a look at one of these promos and be amazed not only by the snippets of the work, but by the cultural divide.
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Imran Mir. Karachi 2009. From the series 11th Paper.
More on this dear friend and highly accomplished artist's latest exhibition here and here.
Imran's Sri Lanka premier opened at the Gallery Cafe in Colombo today, Jan 24th, 2010. The paintings fit beautifully in this fabulous Geoffrey Bawa space (used to be Bawa's office and workspace).
J. Gabriel Boylan in The Nation:
Unlike the introduction of the compact disc, which was developed by major labels and music retailers, as well as Phillips and Sony, the current tumult was unplanned and unforeseen. Digital technology has put far more power in the hands of ordinary consumers to wrest music from its gatekeepers. But crashing the gates has caused the music economy to dip down between cheap and free; people are storing more music on their hard drives than they're likely to listen to in the next decade, yet major labels, music retailers and even jukebox manufacturers are spiraling toward obsolescence. Offbeat and invaluable aspects of the mass music experience are slipping away as well, from the cranky exclusivity of the niche record shop to the tastemaking role of college radio to the music press itself.
The conventional, romantic view of the history of popular music is one of pure eras and movements reaching a creative peak before being co-opted, oversold or otherwise spoiled by runaway commercialism. Ragtime enthusiasts, rockabilly fans and punk proselytizers all claim that the early days of their favorite pet sounds were the best, most revolutionary and purest. The only truly lucky genres are those nobody ever liked–at least they were able to fade away honorably. The history of the popular music industry is often told in the same way, from its quirky, tentative beginnings through its benign, if greedy, golden age, when big labels could be handmaiden to terrific music reaching the masses. The cause of the industry's demise, the story goes, was avarice: the labels prized dastardly strategies for persuading music fans to part with as much cash as possible. The result, then, is the current mess. The potential chaos of a future where music is unprotected and unsellable (that is, an unviable profit center for labels or artists) might be worrying, but it's a prospect the industry created. Kot, a music critic at the Chicago Tribune, is excited about the new ways that bands are selling their music and trying honorably not to fade away. He is pleased that digital technology allows music to live and breathe beyond the grip of the record industry, which he thinks doesn't deserve any sympathy, since its response to the digital revolution has been not bold ideas about marketing or distribution but lots of lawsuits.
Over at Notre Dame Philosophical Review, Colin McGinn on Richard Raatzsch's The Apologetics of Evil: The Case of Iago:
Perhaps Iago is the only person not puzzled by Iago, and there are signs in the play that he isn't entirely clear about Iago either. We know his actions perfectly well, and he works as a dramatic figure, but we don't understand why he does what he does — we don't grasp his motivation. We observe his plot to destroy Othello by instilling jealousy (and incidentally Cassio and Desdemona) but we don't discover what motivates him to undertake such a plot — with its evil, its risk, and its extremity. Worse, we seem to apprehend that he has no motivation; he is a motivational blank tablet, ontologically not merely epistemologically. In The Apologetics of Evil Richard Raatzsch edges probingly around this void, trying his best to make sense of it: his book is astute, determined, sensitive — but not an unmitigated success. The puzzle of Iago persists.
Raatzsch is on the right track when he notes the phonetic affinity of “Iago” and “ego”: Iago is certainly egotistical, egoistic, and egocentric. He recognizes no standard beyond himself; indeed, he hardly seems to grasp the reality of other people at all, save as tools, marks and dupes — always means, never ends. Raatzsch sees the character Iago as an incarnation of what he calls the “the concept of Iago”, the idea he embodies: he is best understood as a paradigm or exemplar. But it is still unclear what concept he embodies. He seems like a pathological version of something, but of what exactly? Iago is memorable and exciting, and universally hated by audiences of Othello; we have strong feelings about him. He also seems locked in a kind of dark conceptual symbiosis with Othello — as if he is the other half of a hybrid organism. Othello is warm, ingenuous, honorable, trusting, yet fatally credulous and weak; Iago is none of those things, but cold, deceptive, manipulative, and impervious to anything but his own perverse will. We feel we understand Othello — only too well, in fact — while Iago challenges our normal ways of explaining human action. It all seems so gratuitous.
The introduction to the book can be found here.
Robert Fogel makes the case that we’re underestimating China’s rise, in Foreign Policy:
In 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000. China’s per capita income will hit $85,000, more than double the forecast for the European Union, and also much higher than that of India and Japan. In other words, the average Chinese megacity dweller will be living twice as well as the average Frenchman when China goes from a poor country in 2000 to a superrich country in 2040. Although it will not have overtaken the United States in per capita wealth, according to my forecasts, China’s share of global GDP — 40 percent — will dwarf that of the United States (14 percent) and the European Union (5 percent) 30 years from now. This is what economic hegemony will look like.
Most accounts of China’s economic ascent offer little but vague or threatening generalities, and they usually grossly underestimate the extent of the rise — and how fast it’s coming. (For instance, a recent study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace predicts that by 2050, China’s economy will be just 20 percent larger than that of the United States.) Such accounts fail to fully credit the forces at work behind China’s recent success or understand how those trends will shape the future. Even China’s own economic data in some ways actually underestimate economic outputs.
It’s the same story with the relative decline of a Europe plagued by falling fertility as its era of global economic clout finally ends. Here, too, the trajectory will be more sudden and stark than most reporting suggests. Europe’s low birthrate and its muted consumerism mean its contribution to global GDP will tumble to a quarter of its current share within 30 years. At that point, the economy of the 15 earliest EU countries combined will be an eighth the size of China’s.
This is what the future will look like in a generation. It’s coming sooner than we think.
What, precisely, does China have going so right for it?
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt around my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my housedhold?
by William Carlos Williams, 1917
Michael Shermer in Scientific American:
Imagine a time in your life when you felt out of control—anything from getting lost to losing a job. Now look at the top illustration on this page. What do you see? Such a scenario was presented to subjects in a 2008 experiment by Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas at Austin and her colleague Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University. Their study, entitled “Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception,” was published in Science.
Defining “illusory pattern perception” (what I call “patternicity”) as “the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli … (such as the tendency to perceive false correlations, see imaginary figures, form superstitious rituals, and embrace conspiracy beliefs, among others),” the researchers’ thesis was that “when individuals are unable to gain a sense of control objectively, they will try to gain it perceptually.” As Whitson explained the psychology to me, “Feelings of control are essential for our well-being—we think clearer and make better decisions when we feel we are in control. Lacking control is highly aversive, so we instinctively seek out patterns to regain control—even if those patterns are illusory.”
Sidney Mintz in the Boston Review:
Every medium of communication in the world is now overrun with pronouncements about Haiti. Many have been ill-informed, and a few maliciously intemperate. The extreme comments have the effect of making those that are mildly reasonable in tone seem more reliable; some, more so than they deserve. The New York Times, for instance, editorializes about Haiti’s “generations of misrule, poverty and political strife,” as if those nouns were enough to explain the history of Haiti.
Nations have beginnings, and then national histories, and the history of each is unique. I know how obvious that is. But the penchant among journalists and political scientists for creating phony categories such as “kleptocracies,” “developing nations,” and “failed states,” and then using these categories to obstruct serious talk, in this case about Haiti, immobilizes us and conceals the need to uncover the weight of local and particular history.
The New World’s second republic has indeed known political strife, bad leadership, and poverty. But to judge Haiti fairly, it is essential to remember that the country won its independence under the worst imaginable circumstances. The Haitians declared their freedom in 1804, when the New World was mostly made up of European colonies (and the United States) all busily extracting wealth from the labor of millions of slaves. This included Haiti’s neighbors, the island colonies of France, Great Britain, Denmark, and The Netherlands, among others. From the United States to Brazil, the reality of Haitian liberation shook the empire of the whip to the core. Needless to say, no liberal-minded aristocrats or other Europeans joined the rebel side in the Haitian Revolution, as some had in the American Revolution.
The inescapable truth is that “the world” never forgave Haiti for its revolution, because the slaves freed themselves.
From the BBC:
When men spend the night with a bed mate their sleep is disturbed, whether they make love or not, and this impairs their mental ability the next day.
The lack of sleep also increases a man's stress hormone levels.
According to the New Scientist study, women who share a bed fare better because they sleep more deeply.
Professor Gerhard Kloesch and colleagues at the University of Vienna studied eight unmarried, childless couples in their 20s.
Each couple was asked to spend 10 nights sleeping together and 10 apart while the scientists assessed their rest patterns with questionnaires and wrist activity monitors.
The next day the couples were asked to perform simple cognitive tests and had their stress hormone levels checked.
More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]