torsdag 18. april 2019

Moondog is the dog, man

Matthew Mcconaughey as Moondog in Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum, 2019.
Superheroes are born in the USA, because whenever their stories are without heroes anxiety arises. Such worry could come in the form of a horror movie, where only evil exists and no one to tame it. Or it could take the shape of a thriller, where the forces of good has been corrupted. It could even come as  something more experimental, where the belief in goodness has faded, with discomfort remaining as the avant-garde position.

The Beach Bum comes as a surprise then, because it is perhaps the most unashamedly cartoon happiness which Hollywood has ever produced. It has taken director Harmony Korine a series of struggles to reach this harmony, from the “loser-gang freak collective” of Trash Humpers to the youthful lust for chaotic crime in Spring Breakers (the only work of moving images I saw in its release year, 2012).  

Starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, The Beach Bum is a completely fresh form of feelgood film. Moondog is a free-spirit, constantly high, drunk, fornicating, eating, sleeping, completely aimlessly and shamelessly. He carries a typewriter for when inspiration hits, using the ingenious two-finger method to type out his poetry on curiously clean paper, considering his bumming around. There is an element of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and of The Big Lebowsky. But no trips are ever bad, and no encounter is a cause for true worry. And thus, nearly every review will scorn this film, both for the lack of adversity and for letting reckless behavior pass without any moral lesson learned. Critics and average viewers seem to agree – “a pretty stupid movie about a pretty stupid guy doing pretty stupid things”. But there is an actual plot here, a Homeric Odyssey undertaken by our hero. He faces obstacles and helpers, on a path which leads to no maturity or spiritual enlightenment.

Throughout the film Moondog runs with the rich and the poor, sleeping at the pier with hobos, partying at yachts and beautiful mansions. Outlaws abound, and Moondog humors anyone, as long as there is food, drinks, women and weed. He runs in with the law, and offers them to inhale. When this fails, he offers his arrest, if this would bring them joy. “Moondog is from another dimension”. He refers to his condition as a reverse-paranoia, "I’m quite certain that the world is conspiring to make me happy".

As alien as his endless joy in life may seem, he does share features with some fellow beastly astronauts of the earthship: He hangs out and smokes an enormous amount of weed with Snoop Dogg. Then there’s his namesake, Moondog (1932-1999), a composer living on the streets of New York, making the kind of music one would imagine such a life would inspire. Finally, there is the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes. Widely referred to as a cynic, derived from kynikos, which means dog. This was used as a derogatory term, as Diogenes lived with the doglike dignity of a stray. The philosopher would eat, defecate and masturbate in public ("If only it were so easy to soothe hunger by rubbing an empty belly"). Lastly, Moondog finds kin not only among humans with canine traits, but also with human's close relative, bonobo apes. Whereas our other close cousin, chimpanzees greet strangers with fists and sticks, bonobos greet strangers by sticking tongues and genitals in body openings. Moondog is no stranger to such greetings.

Korine has stated that the movie was made as a response to the election of US president Donald Trump. It is perhaps the best response to Trump thus far. With a big crybaby in the White House, there are calls for what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his road trip book America called "the last primitive society" to grow up. But the problem of primitivism lies not in childish play nor in unjust heroes, but in heroics at all. Moondog is the hero that never can be, as he lacks any concern with doing good, but also because so few of us seem to share Moondog's love of life. I once had an argument with a political radical about beach boys. He insisted that the narcissism of semi-undressed body-focused guys bumming around on sand and in water was pitiful. Climate breakdown shows that we need more people willing to waste their lives. Moondog is the hero our children should look up to. Moondog for president.

lørdag 9. februar 2019

Egress, Infinte Regress and Gordian Knot

Brenna Murphy: Lattice~Face Parameter Chant, at Upfor, Portland OR, 2013

She was like, this is amazing, I like this so much!
And he was like, yeah this is amazing! I really, really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then she was like, I like you, so much.
And he was like, I really, really like you so, so much. So, so much.

She was like I've seen so much junk, you wouldn't believe.
And he was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much junk, I believe.
So, she was like, there's always some new art, we always keep going to new shows.

She was all like, art art art, opening show, opening show show show. 
New shows in new galleries until it all starts looking the same. Show show echo.

Then she was all, sometimes I feel like we've been around forever, you know?
And he was just, yeah, totally, sometimes I feel like we've been around forever too, I know.
And she was all, 'cos sometimes I feel like we're walking in circles, you know, 'cos sometimes I just feel like a mouse in a maze.
And he was all like, like how?
And she was like, like a test subject with no way out. Wall wall wall way. Way way blocked.

And he was like, it's clearly signposted, though.
But then she was all, what kind of sign?

And he was like, you know, every room has one of those turquoise signs over the door. 
The ones that go, in all caps: EGRESS. 
They both laugh.

Romanesco broccoli fractal growth pattern
She was like, amaze! I like this so much!
And he was like, yeah, amaze! I really, really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then she was like, I like you, so much.
And he was like, I really, really like you so, so much. So, so much.

She was like, I've seen so much junk, you wouldn't believe.
And he was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much junk, I believe.
So, she was like, I never close browser tabs, I always keep adding tabs.

She was all like, tap tap link tap tap, opening tab, opening tab tab tab. 
New tabs in rows in lines online until the browser crashes. Tap tap tap aw snap. Tab tab crash.

Then she was like, sometimes I feel like the tabs can run forever you know?
And she was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like a web inside a web.
And he was all like, like how?
And she was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like searches turning into searches, you know, 'cos sometimes it feels just like a search folding into a search.
And he was all, like how?
And she was like, like a search that provides no results. Searching for searching for searching. Searching for no result.

And he was like, everything's clearly find-able, though. But then she was all, what kind of finding?

And he was all, you know, every search is done by algorithms, so when you know how they operate you can find anything.
You just have to go: INFINITE REGRESS. 
They both laugh.

Martin Kohout: Moonwalk, 2008


The maze was like, I really really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then the maze was like, I like the maze, so much. So, so much, and so on.

The maze was like, I've seen so much impossible junk, you wouldn't believe.
And the maze was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much impossible junk, I believe.
And the maze was all, I've seen so many points turn into lines turn into curves, you wouldn't believe.

And the maze was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so many points turn into lines turn into curves, I believe. 
Point point point curve. Point point wall.

Then the maze was like, these knots tied up so tightly, wrapped up and entangled so profoundly that it is impossible to see how they were fastened.
The maze was all, these pathways are as much beings as they are paths between beings.
And the maze was like, this all feels like some maze I've been trying to figure out for centuries.
And the maze was all like, like how? So the maze was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like we're folding mazes into mazes.

And the maze was like, I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, 
that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, 
that I want to: GORDIAN KNOT. 
The walls laugh. 

Single-celled amoeba swarming together and finding the shortest way through a maze.

mandag 14. januar 2019

Drum & Donald

Donald Duck is one of my favorite figures: His grandiose misfortune is equaled only by his uncompromising arrogant self-confidence. When faced with some form of hardship, Donald resolutely responds with unrelenting fury. That way, any minor obstacle quickly spirals into a major catastrophe. Donald's reality is of profound and tragic humor, ruled by extreme violence. His body, however, can handle anything, it is infinitely flexible. Donald stretches and squashes and swooshes and splashes and spins and slams and shakes and smacks and smashes. And we laugh until we cry.

Certain strands of drum & bass echoes this excessive cartooney character. Over a bed of ambiguous ambient atmosphere an assault of shape-shifting rhythmic slapstick zips and zooms and zigzags. The soundtrack to this video was itself produced in a frenzy, as part of an entire album of drum & bass made during a month of complete internet free in 2018. 

Listen to the rest of the album here.

fredag 4. januar 2019

Modes of thought: spiralling and bouncing

What shape does your thought process have? I propose there to be at least two diverging modes:

The bouncer is quick, as a ball it springs outward and when hitting something else it bounces back. Its preferred movement is variation. The bouncer loathes going deeper.  The bouncer disrespects boundaries, both disciplinary and between different beings, asking others what they know – even if that other is so radically different to answer in ways beyond words, such as a playing dog or a flowering plant. If it does not get feedback it quickly empties itself out. The easiest way to calm the process of a bouncer is to offer them nothing in return.

The spiraller is slow, an inward withdrawal which feeds upon itself. Its preferred movement is deepening. The spiraller loathes variation. The spiraller seeks to understand and stay within its own limits, exploring what it knows, what it can know, and indeed what could possibly be known, even when such insight may slow the thought process down to make any movement impossible. If it does not get feedback it can keep spiralling. The easiest way to calm a spiraller is to offer them something in return.

For spirallers the bouncer can seem superficial, too quick to incorporate responses and move on. For bouncers the spiraller can seem too slow and hostile against incorporating empirical material. The spiraller seems like a bore, while the bouncer seems sloppy.

This distinction can be fruitful for understanding one of the major divides in contemporary philosophy, that of object-orientation versus new materialism. Both fields regularly claim philosophical commitment to reality, to inquiry into non-anthropocentric reality. The major divide between these philosophical trajectories can be summarized as the question of whether reality is fundamentally interconnected matter (new materialism) or discrete objects (object-oriented). Object-orientation holds reality to be made up of essences which always escape us. New materialism, on the other hand, renders reality as constantly changing and evolving. While this is an ontological question, it might not be as fundamental as either of these schools hold them to be, as the withdrawn and evolving nature of reality does not necessarily oppose each other. The division can perhaps be approached as techniques for aligning reality with modes of thought : the object-oriented can insist on their spiral feeling of reality withdrawing, while new materialists can keep their bouncy feeling of reality as variation.

torsdag 18. oktober 2018

Sponsored by Red Bull*

"Oh my god. One is thirsty in the desert, and what to drink but Coke?" asks Slavoj in this advertisement for Coca-Cola. Although I do not subscribe to Žižek's line of Communism, I must admit that I like the soft drink almost as much as he does. I consume it rarely. Drinking cola is a disappointment. The initial sip reveals its disgusting hyper-sweetness (which somewhat paradoxically lingers on no matter how much sugar is removed from any soft-drink). Disliking wastefulness, having purchased and opened a bottle I will feel obliged to finish the whole unit. As a Lacanian, Žižek would undoubtedly argue that precisely disappointment and obligation is what makes me Enjoy Coca-Cola. I disagree, but the explanation will have to wait, first a short word from our sponsor:

(Sponsored content)

Have you tried Red Bull's simply COLA? Slightly less sweet than disgustingly so, it offers an enticing novel adjustment to the formula, adding galangal to the recipe. The can is also pleasingly small. A couple of gulps and the experience is over.

(/Sponsored content)

Always Coca-Cola or simply cola? This is not just as a question of taste preferences or brand loyalty, but can be used as a distinction for different schools of materialist philosophy: Žižek's Marxist, dialectical materialism versus what Alexander Galloway identifies as Swerver materialism. Galloway sets up a useful diagram for identifying Swervers:

  • Swerver Aesthetics means gaps, patchiness, messiness, slippages;
  • Swerver Ethics means doing, action, production, creativity, experimentation, pragmatism;
  • Swerver Ontology means becoming, process, deterritorialization;
  • Swerver Relationality means assemblage, multiplicity, difference;
  • Swerver Causality means chance, accident, chaos.

The use of words like the assemblage, becoming and deterritorialization betrays the Swervers as Deleuzian prodigies. In addition to the taste for messy multiplicity, Galloway identifies another part of the Deleuzian heritage as a drive to affirmation & expansion. Reality is not simply immanent vitality and chaotic flux, you have to invest into it. The maximizing drive of Swervers can therefore be thought of as a Red Bull Sublime: I accept slippages, and embrace action; lol random! I would like a Cola with my order!

What is the problem with buying Red Bull? For Galloway, the Deleuzian maximialism comes in the way of theorizing the pressing issues of today, such as "how to think blackness as structural nihilism; how to conceive of an insufficient personhood rather than an engorged one; or how to diminish human planetary impact rather than expand it". Instead of embrace, our current "dark times" require "insufficiency, finitude, diminishment, nihilism, negativity, de-growth, generic personhood". Galloway therefore takes up Eve Tuck's suggestion of breaking up with Deleuze. This could be a good idea, but what if it only offers diminishing returns? It might simply revert back from one brand of materialism to the other: Deleuze's Red Bull Cola seems like a way out ennui, but Žižek's Coke is still the Real Thing.

It is easy to agree that the problem's we face today have less to do with Deleuze and more with our 'dark times'. Without implying any reduction of the importance of sociopolitical issues, I want to argue that for theoretical reflection the notion of 'dark times' is a problem whether you prefer Red Bull or Coca-Cola. There is a certain attraction to gloominess and bleakness present in much critical thought. Galloway advocates a possible resuscitation of Deleuze by way of Andrew Culp's Dark Deleuze, who presents a rehabilitation of negativity as a "hatred for this world". If I were to dream about Red Bull's sublime COLA, and in this dream I feel its dark ooze flowing from capitalist machines to inject and infect human machinery, would this turn you on? While Galloway claims to "love joy and affirmation as much as the next person", one could argue that critical theorists cannot actually be trusted when speaking of enjoyment apart from obligatory disappointment. Why this insistence upon rejection? Negation, hatred and darkness - I would prefer not to.

Sean Raspet: Enantiomerically‡ opposite formulation of Coca-Cola™ soft drink.
[carbonated water (achiral), (-)-sucrose [hydrolyzed 50:50 (-)-glucose and (+)-fructose mixture], (-)-caramel color, E338 phosphoric acid (achiral), (-)-(natural and artificial flavors), caffeine (achiral)]

Materialism, either Red Bull Swerving or Coca-Cola Capitalist Critique, should perhaps be more interested in actual objects than positionings of affirmation or negation: How are colas produced, marketed and distributed, and what are the possibilities for other forms of production, marketing and distribution? Such exploration could take cues from a handful of the artists who have worked with Colas: Cildo Meireles in the 1970s, Sean Raspet and myself in the 2010s. Meireles adorned bottles of Coca-Cola with politically radical messages, including instructions for making Molotov cocktails, before returning them to stores for circulation. Raspet reverse-engineered and mirrored Coca-Cola as a chemical poem in one work, while another another involved applying for a patent for the molecular difference between Pepsi's and Coca-Cola's formula. My own artistic practice includes workshops where people learn to brew Coca Cola Living, a soda made with spontaneous fermentation using bacteria and yeast captured from the air and bodies.

Hijacked distribution, chemical synthesis and spontaneous fermentation - is it possible to imagine theorizing using such methods? Perhaps this could induce a healthy intolerance to some of the favorite generalities of theory, eliciting engagement instead with specific individuals and populations of ecologies, commodities and communities. This might not be a way of diminishing human planetary impact, but then again, do we actually know how we should do this?

Andreas Ervik: Coca Cola Living.

*The writer is in no sense affiliated with or sponsored by Red Bull GMBH or any of its subsidiaries companies.