Nick Ruiz, Ph.D - III (2021)Fly Me to the Moon

 

ISSN 1552-5112: Journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
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Where the Crawdads Sing

dir. Olivia Newman (Columbia Pictures et al.:2022)

A difference between civility and non-civility, or its inversion, civilization vs. non-civilization may be at stake in this film. Which will we choose? Which have we chosen?

****


Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction

Ed. by Sunyoung Park and  San Joon Park (Kaya Press:2019)

The Kaya Press has done a great deed in sharing South Korean science fiction writing with a non-native audience. The volume is a generous abstraction of South Korean work, scattered across a dozen or so authors and stories. One gathers a sense of the South Korean imaginary: concerns regarding national sovereignty and the West, the ancient Chinese game of Go, robots, reality, sexuality, competition, authoritarianism, simulacrum - it's all here. All of it, facing a distinctly different cultural horizon, for now.

*****



Consciousness Unbound: Liberating Mind from the Tyranny of Materialism

Ed. by Edward F. Kelly, Paul Marshall (Rowman and Littlefield:2021)

The collection approaches consciousness as a subject, rather than an object: meaning it is almost certainly constituted rather than discovered. Consciousness may be recognized by human beings but not necessarily organized or devised by them. It brings to mind Merleau-Ponty's Phénoménologie de la perception (1945), and like it, is a most valuable contribution to the understanding of what human consciousness may be.

*****

 

Philosophical Posthumanism

by Francesca Ferrando (Bloomsbury:2019)

REVIEW by
Evi Sampanikou and Anna Markopoulou

The title of the book, 'Philosophical Posthumanism', summarizes, but also highlights the central idea of ​​the book, which is also the main position of the author: that philosophical posthumanism is a way of life, a philosophy, as defined by the ancient Greeks as friendship of wisdom, that is an eternal and experiential/experimental search for wisdom. It is this experimental dimension that largely reflects Ferrando's view that philosophical posthumanism is not just a key concept in the contemporary academic debate, but a philosophical movement that constitutes a way of life that forms the core of existence itself.

The central idea of ​​the book is directly related to the way of writing as well as the scientific methodology that Ferrando followed throughout the writing of the work. Indeed, one of the greatest virtues of the book, is its pedagogical dimension: it attempts to establish a widely acceptable terminology of the posthuman, that is also an attempt to set limits and take distances from former interpretations based on the Transhuman as a central point of the posthumanist universe.

From this point of view, the book is based on what Ferrando calls "Navigational Tool: A Glossary of Questions" (pp. 7-17). This, as she states, is "a glossary of the main questions that the book covers in each section" (p. 7). In this sense, the preeminent pedagogical character of the book is highlighted, the content of which is given in the form of questions and answers, based on this "navigational tool". It is precisely this pedagogical character of the book that makes it relevant and at the same time very useful for its readers, because the book is aimed at a wide readership, without academic prerequisites and knowledge. However, the pedagogical nature of the book does not lead to a simplification of meanings, which would work in favor of the popularization of concepts and at the expense of scientific accuracy; this is where its consequent pedagogical value lies. From the outset, Ferrando highlights the dialectical nature of the term ‘posthumanism’, which, as stated in the book's introduction (p. 1), combines onto-epistemological with scientific and bio-technological developments in order to redefine the concept of human.

The aim of the book, on the basis of which its tripartite structure is formed, is clear, since it focuses on three basic questions, which on the one hand define the onto-epistemological framework of philosophical posthumanism and on the other hand highlight the genealogy of the two key concepts, which compose the term ‘post-humanism’, the meaning of ‘Human’ and the meaning of ‘Post’. Thus, the aim of the book is fully in line with its content, since these three questions are the means to point out the similarities and differences between the different terms and schools of thought as well as to identify their genealogies, analogies, and overlaps.

The first of the three main questions summarized in "What is Philosophical Posthumanism?" is, in a first phase, an attempt to delimit ‘posthumanism’ in relation to ‘postmodernism’ as well as, in a second phase, an attempt to differentiate ‘posthumanism’ from ‘Its Others’, in particular ‘transhumanism’ and ‘antihumanism’. Hence, in Part I, (What is Philosophical Posthumanism?, pp. 21-64), Ferrando deals with the meaning of the ‘post’ starting from the multi-debated notion of the ‘postmodern’ and finally bridging the gap, covering the distance ‘From Postmodern to Posthuman’ (pp. 24-27) in a maturely balanced text. From this point of view, we have also highly appreciated the ‘Transhumanism and Techno-Enchantment’ (pp. 35-38) sub-chapter, as well as the ‘Antihumanism and the Ubermensch’ (pp. 45-53) sub-section as those among the most pioneering pages in the book.

The definition of ‘Philosophical Posthumanism’ as a philosophy of mediation (p. 22) seemed particularly interesting and original. Here, in our view, the dialectical character of the concept of ‘Philosophical Posthumanism’ emerges once again, since it goes beyond ontological dualisms, but also hierarchical legacies. In this light, the definition of ‘Philosophical Posthumanism’ as a philosophy of mediation highlights on the one hand a different conception of the ‘self’, as ‘plural and relational’, but also, on the other hand a critical revision of the human that is necessary to the development of a posthumanist agenda (p. 23). Also, the approach of "Philosophical Posthumanism" as a philosophy of mediation, fully justifies and legitimizes the three axes around which the core of the concept is intertwined and which is, at a first epistemological-ethical level, "Post-humanism", at a second genealogical-historical level, "Post-anthropocentrism" and, finally, at a third ontological level, "Post-dualism" (p. 54).

More specifically, the first axis, which is, at a first epistemological-ethical level, ‘Post-humanism’, in the light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, highlights that the human is not recognized as one but as many, that is, human(s) - thus undermining the humanist tradition based on a generalized and universalized approach to the human (p. 54). Of particular interest at this point was the fact that ‘Philosophical Posthumanism’ is not approached as a single and homogeneous movement, but as a pluralistic approach developed by related currents (p. 55). In this context, a feminist approach defined as ‘New Materialism’ emerges in particular, which is involved in an advanced research on matter, through the direct investigation of scientific fields, such as theoretical physics, quantum physics and cosmology.

The second axis, which is, at a second genealogical-historical level, ‘Post-anthropocentrism’, in the light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, seeks "to decentralize the human in relation to the nonhuman" (p. 54). Finally, the third axis, which is, on a third ontological level, ‘Post-dualism’, in the light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, highlights the ‘close notion of the self’ on which dualism was based and employed as a rigid way to define identity, actualized in symbolic dichotomies, such as “us” / “them,” “friend” / “foe,” “civilized” / “barbarian” and so on (p. 54). Also, in the light of this ‘philosophy of mediation’, Ferrando highlights the importance of ‘Post-dualism’, as a "necessary step in the final deconstruction of the human" (p. 60). More specifically, it highlights the genealogical sources of ‘Post-dualism’, which it traces and locates in "ancient Asian traditions, such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Advaita Vedanta" (p. 60).

Part Two (Of Which “Human” is the Posthuman a “Post”? – pp. 65-99) discussing the notions of the human in a Posthumanist context and environment, is a highly innovative approach to the development of Humanism as rather a precursor than as a real ‘Other’ to Posthumanism.  From this point of view, Ferrando wonders if ‘Posthumanism’ and ‘non-dualism’ should be assimilated and concludes that these cannot be seen as synonyms. In this light, Ferrando clearly highlights the epistemological boundaries of the term 'Posthumanism', recognizing that this term is aware of the fact that such dualistic presumptions cannot be easily dismissed; the impact of the historical redundancy on reductionist and dualistic approaches in human thoughts and actions are still pervasive (p. 61).

A clearer understanding of this impact raises the second of three key questions, formulated as follows: "Of Which" Human "Is the Posthuman a" Post"?". Ferrando answers this question in detail, with an in-depth analysis of the term itself, in its three main components: "post", "- ((hyphen)), and “human”. In the light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, Ferrando highlights the importance of hyphen, insofar as this is the term of mediation and communicates the fact that there is another term, or other terms, which shall be acknowledged, and so it situates the ‘post’ within a multiplicity of possibilities (p. 66). In this context, the multiple grammatical use of hyphen emphasizes a relationality which is specific to the posthuman approach. More specifically, however, the hyphen can manifest through its presence as well as through its absence, since sometimes it disappears. This game of the presence-absence of the hyphen highlights its dialectical function, since it “makes of it a suitable mark for the post-dualistic approach of the posthuman; the hyphen does not have to be one or the other: it can be both or neither ” (p. 66). In this light, this very dialectical function of the hyphen highlights, in turn, the importance of the term ‘mediation’, since it emerges, not only as the necessary epistemological background, but also as the necessary methodological tool for the composition of Philosophical Posthumanism.

Then, and always in light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, Ferrando proceeds to a critical analysis of the third constituent of the posthuman, which is the human and emphasizes the fact that “more than a noun, the human should be expressed as a verb: to humanize ” (p. 68). In this sense, Ferrando approaches the term "human", not as a static and crystallized concept, but as a dynamic, malleable and ever-changing concept. It is this approach that highlights the term of human, not in the light of a time that was immobilized and crystallized in a ‘moment’, but of an ever-changing ‘duration’. In the perspective of this ‘duration’, the human is constantly reconstructed and emerges as the necessary epistemological background to form, in a later chapter of the book, the "Epiphany of Becoming Human" (pp. 85-88). In this context, Ferrando, by presenting the human as a verb, humanizing, aims “to emphasize its performative dynamics and its potentials, which may spark different outcomes” (p.85), one of which is what she will refer to as the epiphany of becoming human.

In this sense, Ferrando considers that "the recognition of alterity is necessary to the manifestation of the self which brings along ethical responsibilities and deontic significations" (p. 85).  At this point Ferrando refers to the French philosopher Emmamuel Levinas, who, in his work "Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority", "elaborated on the human to human encounter as a face-to-face epiphany" (p. 85) through the meaning of the term “absolute Other” and the consequent meaning of “Responsibility for the Other”. Here, in our view, is particularly interesting and original Ferrando's assertion that, according to Levinas, ‘this’ Other "is an ‘absolute Other’ to which  ‘I’ can be unilaterally open" (p. 85). In this sense, Ferrando differs from Levinas' approach in that she approaches the ‘Other’, not as an ‘absolute Other’, but in the context of a philosophy of mediation, which would look, in a dialectical way, at a pluralistic monistic deconstruction, according to which the Other(s) maintain their specific alterity, as well as their shared relationality to the Self (p. 86). She also points out that "according to Levinas, the face of the Other is strictly human, while from a posthumanist approach, this humanist assumption can only be challenged" (p. 86).

Part Three (Have Humans Always Been Posthuman? – pp. 103-182) attributes a new gaze to the condition of being a Posthumanist human, including the notion of accepting and understanding Life and Intelligence in all its natural and artificial forms and in all perspectives. In this context, Ferrando traces the genealogy of the term ‘human’ in the Western tradition and the consequent deconstruction of this concept through the etymological origin of the term. In this context, the third of the three key questions summarized in "Have Humans Always Been Posthuman?" is an attempt to deconstruct the anthropocentric approach of the ‘human’. Here, in our view, the deconstruction, from a posthumanist perspective and in light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, of the clear division between life and death, which, more than strict categories, are seen as intra-acting processes, leads to the question and the consequent treatment of the notion of life.

Also particularly interesting and original is, in our view, the deconstruction of another dualism between ‘zoe’ and ‘bios’, in the light of a ‘critical posthumanism’ according to which ‘zoe’ is the inhuman and, consequently, the poor half of an unequal couple that foregrounds 'bios’ as the intelligent half; in this sense, ‘bios’ is by definition superior to ‘zoe’, since it is purely human, that is 'political’ and ‘discursive’ (p. 110). As Ferrando characteristically states: "The anthropocentric choice of privileging “bios" is related to hierarchical assumptions which are deconstructed within the comprehensive approach of Philosophical Posthumanism" (p. 110).

In the context of the radical deconstruction of anthropocentrism and the consequent dualism, and always in light of the ‘philosophy of mediation’, Ferrando constructs, in a third level of reflection, the term ‘postuman multiverse’. The term ‘posthuman multiverse’, according to Ferrando, “is based on the deconstruction of the Self / Others paradigm. It entails that matter, while constituting this universe, would be actualizing an infinite number of other universes, in a process of both relationality and autonomy. What I am suggesting is that if we radically reconstruct the separation of the Self and Others, we can think of the multiverse as happening right now, here, through our own bodies, through the same matter which is composing this universe” (p. 177).

The Concluding Celebration (pages 183-190) comes thus as a general conclusion to the book, summing up Ferrando’s theoretical approach to Posthumanism, which presupposes the deconstruction of Self / Other dualism and, thus, highlights a posthuman ontology as a monistic pluralism and a pluralistic monism. From this point of view, Philosophical Posthumanism emerges as a preeminent ‘philosophy of mediation’, since, as Ferrando characteristically states: "We have thus accessed the final boundary, the one between the Self and the Others, taking the posthumanist post-dualistic approach to the domain of ontological existentialism” (p. 183).

The book has been to us an amazingly clarifying academic research project and at the same time an extraordinary philosophical reading. It is a clarifying research project because it limits down confusions and puts in order theoretical and methodological issues concerning crucial aspects of Posthumanism and Transhumanism, giving compact and advanced definitions to the notions of Posthumanism and forms of the ‘Other’. And it is also a breathtaking reading, as it is leading the reader from the roots of Posthuman thought to the comprehension of today’s ‘ontological multiverse’. We would say that Ferrando's book is an original work and a reference work in the field of Posthumanism, while at the same time it is a useful guide for all those who are interested in the problematics of philosophical posthumanism. We also underline that this precious work has also been done with such vast references and notes in the book that could easily have provided a second volume to this work. In fact, Ferrando, a leading scholar in the field of Posthumanism, delivers a book that is still authentic, innovating and pioneering, being now the fruit of her mature works and visions. A must have for anyone interested in Posthumanism.



The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes and Life's Unending Algorithm

by Caleb Scharf (Riverhead/Penguin:2021)

Scharf's descent into anthropic reality is a declension, rather than an ascent to the real, for the text seeks to identify with the Code, rather than transcend it. A befitting seaway to an old ocean, and reminiscent of the response of Number Two in The Prisoner (1967):

"Prisoner: Where am I? No.2: In the Village. Prisoner: What do you want? No.2: Information. Prisoner: Whose side are you on? No.2: That would be telling. We want information. Information. Information. Prisoner: You won't get it! No.2: By hook or by crook... we will. Prisoner: Who are you? No.2: The new Number Two. Prisoner: Who is Number One? No.2: You Are Number 6. Prisoner: I am not a number, I am a free man! No.2: [Evil Laugh]"

If it is naive in its confrontation with conceptual heaps of the Code's detritus, a valley of redemption may still exist given its self-conscious acknowledgment that the real has nothing to do with humanity in itself.


**

Cosmology and Biology in Ancient Philosophy: From Thales to Avicenna

Ed. by Ricardo Salles (Cambridge:2021)

The Ancients knew something more and less about the totality of the real than we do, but often by a different name or explanation. What has changed is that while the Ancients knew they were reaching, today's presumption is that our metaphysical discoveries are somehow, more profound than that of antiquity. They aren't. In fact, they're all the less elegant for their arrogant impudence.

*****



From Darwin to Derrida: Selfish Genes, Social Selves and the Meanings of Life

by David Haig (MIT Press:2020)

A recombinative tour of secondary school biological science, ensconced within equally tourist reflections upon the city of philosophy.

*


Cy-Borges: Memories of the Posthuman in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges

Edited by Stefan Herbrechter and Ivan Callus (Bucknell UP:2009)

An innovative set of essays that explores Borges' work in the context of posthumanism, yielding some experimental and uneven results. At worst misapplications of somewhat related ideas in space and time, but not substance, and at best some fresh ways of looking at Borges' work.

***



Funny, How Secrets Travel

by Nick Ruiz, Ph.D (Intertheory:2020)

A curiously musical sophmore effort that further develops along the art rock lines of his debut Aural, or New Smyrna Beach (2017). Again, the genre is somewhere between artists like PJ Harvey, Mark Lanegan, David Bowie and Nick Cave. For certain, it's not like anything you've heard lately - in a good way.

***


What is Philosophy For?

by Mary Midgley (Bloomsbury:2018)

Philosophy is for thinking, but you'll have to decide what thinking is for yourself. Here are a few hints: philosophy is not for machine or science worship. And it's not for coercion, oppression or deception, of oneself or others. And not only will you have to think for yourself, but you'll have to decide what your particular 'self' is. Your thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears, and moods, and so on; all of the things that have an effect on that self and comprise that self, including cultural, environmental and biological factors. Midgley's text will help you think about how to do that, and discover philosophy along the way.

***

Marquis de Sade and Continental Philosophy

by Lode Lauwaert (Edinburgh UP:2019)

A nice review of selective French philosophical engagement with Marquis de Sade, who was a point of fascination for many theorists in the 20th century. Lauwaert's unique contribution presents how differently Sade was received by certain theorists (e.g. Lacan, Barthes, etc.). More interesting still, would be another volume to consider additional theorists who are missing from the analysis (e.g. Derrida, Baudrillard, etc.). Perhaps that will be the subject of a second volume to come?

***

Ad Astra (To the stars)

dir. James Gray (Regency et al.:2019)

The speculative nature of the physical universe is only surpassed by the even more speculative nature of the human being. Or as Don Henley may put it: "The more we know, the less we understand." Ad Astra explores this ontological gap in human existence.

***

                                     

The Book of Legendary Lands

by Umberto Eco (Rizzoli:2013)

Eco's textual journey is a great starting point for further exploration of an enormous number of geocultural myths. While no tale is developed or discussed at any great length, the spartan treatment is assuaged by the number of lands surveyed. Eco offers a unique ancillary addition to mythological studies in general.

***


Thinking with Deleuze

by Ronald Bogue (Edinburgh UP:2019)

A thoroughly excellent companion for those embarking upon the philosophical adventure of Gilles Deleuze (and Felix Guattari). Whether you side with those that claim Deleuze (and Guattari's) world has already expired, or others who claim that world has yet to come  -  the critical creativity laid bare by such work is well-characterized for all in Bogue's text.

****




Mother!

dir. Darren Aronofsky (Protozoa/Paramount:2017)

The film probably represents the most money ever spent (i.e. $30 million) to negatively criticize the trappings of celebrity, fame, worship and fandom, albeit within a hyperreal narrative. It does not represent a story, so much as an event that dispels the myth of stardom.

***

Album: Unpublished Correspondence and Texts

by Roland Barthes (Columbia UP:2018)

What a lovely reminder of why Barthes is so therapeutic for the strabismus endured by many philosophers that attempt to discern the quantum relation between postmodern thought and the ancient world. Style, presence, personality, all of the things philosophy today embarrassingly obscures (i.e. texts), in favor of truth games and objective simulacra. It's personal for Barthes, as Album shows, but so it is for all of Homo sapiens, notwithstanding all who misunderstand philosophy as a mechanistic Object to be tinkered and toyed with, rather than an oceanic Subject to be written and ridden.

****



Personal Shopper

dir. Olivier Assayas (CG Cinema et al.:2016)

A protagonist (portrayed by actress Kristen Stewart), wanders through her working life, illness and ontological confusion (in part, due to her paranormal gift). The film works as an exploration of personal divinity, couched in the language of postmodern ennui.

***


Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm

by Giorgio Agamben (Stanford UP:2015)

A curious voyage through a pre-theory of civil war, which takes Agamben thorugh the fronstipiece for Hobbes' book Leviathan, ancient Greek notions of human organization and strife, and eschatology. Like Dante prefigured before him, Agamben more specifically suggests that the Western human sociopolitical sphere is organized upon a messianic JudeoChristian eschatology, and as such, impending apocalyptic catastrophe is one of that sphere's central paradigms.

*****



The Visigoths: From the Migration Period to the Seventh Century (An Ethnographic Perspective)

Ed. by Peter Heather (Boydell:1999)

A systematically eclectic volume that gathers contributions from researchers interested in digging deeper into the identity of the Visigoths. Bountiful scholarship, and required reading for anyone who may be interested in understanding a group of people who were likely one of the major contributing factors to the demise of the Roman Empire.

*****



Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto

by Bryan W. Van Norden (Columbia UP:2017)

Van Norden's book works as a comparative pedagogical and political reflection upon the academic status of Chinese philosophy, vis-à-vis Western philosophy. However, a 'multicultural' manifesto it is not. News to none, the entire concept of higher education, of which the discipline of philosophy is but a part, is under siege, in the U.S.and abroad. That is, if one defines higher education as something more than an instrumental technocommodity of late capitalism, which many professors probably do, and presumably Van Norden as well.

Van Norden's suggested inclusion of Chinese thought within Western philosophy curricula, however timely, well-meaning and valuable, simply will not suffice to fix the cultural, sociological and organizational abnormalities (e.g. administrative and technocratic bloat, sociopathic self-entitlement, the full-time and part-time continental divide, sociopolitical apathy, etc.) that have led to the seemingly unrelated exclusion of alternative thought in the discipline of philosophy and the university at large. These persistent features (which also plague other disciplines and industries) prefigure the injustices that pervade philosophy and higher education, the labor market in general, as well as Van Norden's primary concern which is the paucity of alternative (i.e. Chinese and other non-Western motifs) examples of human critical thought within the discipline of philosophy.

For it is the aforementioned, and largely ignored, cultural sociopathies and the contextual environments where they are found, that purvey and cultivate the sort of myopic reification that leads to the intellectual poverty Van Norden seeks to remedy. Unfortunately, Van Norden's characterization of 'the problem' misses the true scope and nature of the embedded cognitive practices that create such ideological problems that philosophy and higher education face today.

**


theMystery.doc (a novel)

by Matthew McIntosh (Grove Atlantic:2017)

A piss pot pile of undigested bolus. Or, narrative vomit.

*

The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity and the Birth of the Human Sciences

by Jason A. Josephson-Storm (University of Chicago Press:2017)

Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Apparently, the adage applies to magic and modernity as well. Josephson-Storm's foray is much like the Latourian 'we've never been modern' saga, but focused more specifically upon the status of myth-making as it pertains to faith, spiritual practices and the philosophy of religion over the last century or so.

***


Songs of Experience

by U2 (Interscope:2017)

U2 haven't always been jingle writers; recall, once they wrote music. Nevertheless, musicians should always remember one thing: first, music must always be about music, because if it's about something else, then guess what? It's not music. 'Music' about something else (e.g. Brexit, the Pope, etc.), reflects a 'music' which aspires to be something else. Jingles, sermons, prayer, political messaging - who knows?  Yes, music is tautological, and that is part of its seduction and beauty. Music is a world in itself, in need of no other, without lack, and in no need of a logical reference point or purpose. David Bowie: " Here, there's no music here; just streams of sound."

*

Aural, or New Smyrna Beach

by Nick Ruiz, Ph.D (Intertheory:2017)

An interesting debut. Somewhere between PJ Harvey, Mark Lanegan, David Bowie and Nick Cave. Maybe even Leonard Cohen. If that's your thing - this is your record.

***                     


Napoleon on War

by Bruno Colson (Oxford:2017)

Napoleon, like Jean Baudrillard, knew that we all at best, have one great idea that is the guiding principle of our lives. Colson here examines Napoleon's one great idea, alongside Carl von Clausewitz. An illuminating study of comparison and contrast.

***

Is This the Life We Really Want?

by Roger Waters (Columbia:2017)

If Nietzsche made a record this year, in 2017, this is what it would sound like. For Pink Floyd fans, all that's really missing here, is David Gilmour's strat and co-vocal input - and that's quite a vacancy to fill.

***

Add Violence

by Nine Inch Nails (The Null Corporation:2017)

A bit more abstract (save for track one) than more well known NIN work, and while familiar in tonality and sonic color, I sense a conscious effort at exploration and a pushing at the boundary of the NIN paradigm.

***


The Last Resistance

by Jacqueline Rose (Verso:2013)

A literary refraction of 'Jewishness', broadly construed and interpreted by Rose vis-à-vis a handful of notable figures within the landscape of mostly 20th century modernity. A discerningly inclusive curation with regard to the breadth of the subject matter.

***


Life, Emergent: The Social in the Afterlives of Violence

by Yasmeen Arif (Quadrant-UMN Press:2016)

Almost religious, in its misrepresentational scope of biopolitics, Arif's foray purports to endear readers to a political philosophy of shared victimhood in search of 'immunization' from violence. On the contrary, politics (including biopolitics), by definition, is an essential form of 'forceful carrying out' (i.e. violence) specific to human communities, or 'cities.' In other words, given humanity, or more specifically, Homo sapiens - there will be blood.  In that sense, perhaps Arif's thesis may be truly empowering, though only in an exclusively religious sense, which is to say, any social post-life 'binding' that may await Arif and her followers, appears routinely at the end of a human life, in the 'after-life' of which she writes. The catch is that any such afterlife is necessarily metaphysical.

*


Picaresque Fiction Today: The Trickster in Contemporary Anglophone and Italian Literature

by Luigi Gussago (Brill Rodopi:2016)

An engaging tour of the human soul and its folly, as rendered by authors dabbling in the precarious reversibility of human circumstance and the idea that hope is most often found in whatever seems most likely to float.

***


The Passing of Postmodernism: A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary

by Josh Thoth (SUNY Press:2010)

One evening, a man and a woman walked by one another on a trail in the woods. The man stopped and turned around, calling out to her: "Excuse me, Miss! But what time is it?" The woman easily and happily replied, just above normal speaking volume as they were already some distance apart, "Why, it's postmodernity, of course!" The man, apparently befuddled by such an enigmatic response, and noticing no watch, cell phone or other time-keeping device to be seen on her person, retorted, somewhat frustrated, "Well, how do you know!?" To which she serenely replied, "Well, obviously, because you've asked me. Besides, what other time could it be?" Epilogue: Thoth's book is a bit like the story.

**

 

American Pastoral

dir. Ewan McGregor (Lakeshore/Lionsgate:2016)

Two alternative hypotheses: 1. Ewan and Jennifer do Lifetime. 2. A bad film on a worse book.
Either way, one star.

*

 

Sea Fog (Haemoo)

dir. Sung Bo Shim (Next Entertainment:2014)

An impossible dream: love, freedom and free enterprise - there will be one, but only one, and never all three.

***

 

Aloft

dir. Claudia Llosa (Sony:2014)

A spartan meditation upon the epistemological unaswerability of the human condition. The film's pleasure principle, is that somehow, there is peace within that impossibility.

***

 

Rainer Brambach: Collected Poems

Trns. by Esther Kinskey (Seagull:2014)

Brambach's poems read like a cool glass of water - essentially satisfying, without requiring too much thought or digestion. They should be taken just like that, for that very reason.

****

 

Pilate and Jesus

By Giorgio Agamben (Stanford UP:2015)

Agamben's theoretical and hermeneutic swan dive into the mire of the Gospels, theological commentary, dogma and philosophical polemics regarding the trial of Jesus of Nazareth does not disappoint in its brevity. Though it ends in familiar aporetic suspense of final Christological judgment, reminiscent of monophysite/miaphysite vs. dyophysite controversy, etc., it is time well spent considering one of the greatest Western ontological trials in recorded history.

*****

The Hope Six Demolition Project

By PJ Harvey (Island/Vagrant:2016)

It's difficult to make political music that's artistically interesting. Perhaps too much effort goes into pondering the political import or message, at the expense of making interesting sonic art, which is what music is truly about - how art sounds. Harvey's effort on this record seems preoccupied with the message, rather than the overall sonic experience, which she paid far more attention to in previous records; notably, the recent recordings preceding Let England Shake (2011), Harvey's first tack toward this new political heading. Pink Floyd's The Final Cut (1983) suffered similar creative headwinds. Even with Flood on board as co-producer, The Hope Six Demolition Project lies aurally still, and feels burdened by the weight of its intellectual content. Nonetheless, the album is worth a listen, and occupies a space perhaps analogous to historic political pamphlets and 20th century anti-fascist art, the content and public appearance of which are often compelling.

***


Post Pop Depression

By Iggy Pop (Rekords Rekords/Loma Vista/Caroline International:2016)

A straight-forward, sonically and intellectually-engaging rock album. Like the kind people used to make, when culture, philosophy, art and music were still vital, explorable and possible - and somewhat less accountable to commerce and administration.

*****


Blues Funereal

By Mark Lanegan (4AD Records:2012)

One of the most interesting alternative records made in 2012, and since 2012. Probably, one of the best records you've never heard.

*****


Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns and the Unity of a Life

By Marya Schechtman (Oxford UP:2014)

A deep analytic philosophical encounter with the evolving notion of human identity. Pedantic, but in a healthy way.

***


The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians

By Peter Heather (Oxford UP:2006)

A sweeping account of the Roman demise, that figures in the Roman cost of underestimating the Goths. Required reading for anyone who would like a more nuanced understanding of the Roman empire's collapse.

****


Blackstar

By David Bowie (ISO Records/Columbia Records:2016)

This record is probably going to be the best alternative album of the year for 2016, even though we're expecting new material from PJ Harvey, Peter Gabriel and Nine Inch Nails. Could very well be a banner year for alternative music.

*****


The Counselor

dir. Ridley Scott (Scott Free et al.:2013)

An average piece of existentialist film-making, brought to you in part by the writing of Cormac McCarthy. Strictly Orientalist, as broadly-construed - in its treatment of the macro and micro-cultures that constitute its narrative. However, the work may be appreciated in that it marks an attempt at something more literary or philosophical in kind, than is generally produced in big budget films.

***

 


Exodus: Gods and Kings

dir. Ridley Scott (Chernin, Scott Free, et al.:2014)

One part metaphysical drama to four parts Tinseltown formularies does not a hot film make. Its been said that the people get the politicians they deserve. Can the same be said of films?

*

 

Blue Ruin

dir. Jeremy Saulnier (The Lab of Madness:2014)

A slow-moving indie film excursion into underdeveloped ideas, characters and goals related to crime and retribution. In the end, I'm left with the impression that something of gravity has happened for someone related to the film; just not for the audience. Since it's a film, something then, has gone terribly wrong for its producers.

*

 

Sue (Or in a Season of a Crime)/'Tis a Pity She was a Whore (B-side) single

By David Bowie (Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings:2014)

Enabling a new vocabulary for music in an era that has painted itself into a corner - these two new offerings, which are paired with another retrospective Bowie compilation, are like sonic metaphysical beacons of light. Though his recent The Next Day came out only in 2013, sounds like there is plenty more in the queue.

*****

 

BIOS: Biopolitics and Philosophy

By Robert Esposito (UMN Press:2008)

One part historical and one part theoretical, Esposito offers 'immunization' as a conceptual tool for further developing Foucault's biopolitics. It comes across in a familiar and mechanical sense; working much like the dialectically thetic, antithetic and then synthetic applications we've seen produced in a variety of ways in the modern/postmodern period. That being said, I'm not sure there is much here that is truly new to think about.

**

 

Religion, Politics and Polarization: How Religiopolitical Conflict is Changing Congress and American Democracy

By William V. D'Antonio, Steven A. Tuch and Josiah R. Baker (Rowman and Littlefield:2014)

A cogent analysis of religious denomination and Congressional voting behavior. It's quite interesting to see how the roll call votes of Congress members often reflect religious views, which continue to evolve over time in the United States. Faith and policymaking, and their relationship with partisanship, are inextricable from a proper understanding of much Congressional activity. This text shows exactly how so.

***

 

The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great

By Harvey J. Kaye (Simon and Schuster:2014)

A cursory review of FDR's legacy in the American national context. Too many books do this better, to suggest this text offers any reason for pursuing it over others. It's certainly a suggestive offering, in the sense that it implores one to take a New Deal position in today's politics. I already agree that's the case, but doubt Kaye's particular siren call, however well-meaning, will inspire others to action.

**


Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

By David Nirenberg (Norton:2013)

This truly is a remarkable critical review of a great store within the humanities, rendered with the express purpose of revealing a deeply rooted, historic and mutlicultural antipathy toward Judaism. If the scope of its somber thesis runs intellectually tangential to equally sobering works in the study of antisemitism, that is as it should be, given its exhilaratingly panoramic view of quite diverse cultural histories.

*****

 

Twixt

Written and dir. by Francis Ford Coppola (American Zoetrope:2011)

There's a sense of wonder, curiosity and spirit of exploration in Twixt that's hard to resist. In a sense, it glows with that spark that is missing from so much art today. It's a campy piece of postmodern American Gothic work, but in a suprisingly sophisticated and intellectual way, reminiscent of Tim Burton's work. I enjoyed it.

****

 

Zbigniew Herbert: The Collected Poems 1956 - 1998

Trns. by Alissa Valles et al., Ed. by Alissa Valles (Ecco:2007)

At times heady, other times visceral, and elsewhere abstract; and sometimes sentimental or hopeful - at any rate, Herbert's work is philosophically museful and artistically rejuvenal. It's hard to imagine anyone could walk away from this poetry unmoved.

*****

 

Against the Day

By Thomas Pynchon (Viking:2006)

An ad denseum, ad nauseum literary abstraction may or may not make for good theory-fiction...this does not.

*

 

Push the Sky Away

By Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Bad Seed Ltd.:2013)

This is the album, that David Lynch was really trying to make.

****

 

Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia

By Siddharth Kara (Columbia UP:2012)

Think you understand the interlocking parts of the global economy, and your participation in it? Dig a little deeper. From whole villages of adults and children enslaved as carpet weavers in Northern India, to child labor shrimp farming in Bangladesh - globalization and its demands currently proceed under the darkest of skies. Kara takes you there.

****

 

Europe Before Rome

By T. Douglas Price (Oxford UP:2013)

A wonderfully illustrated, site by site account of Prehistoric Europe. From a 30,000 year old, fired mammoth figurine in the Czech Republic to a 5,000 year old Dutch grave of a mother and child, both covered in powdered red ochre, the newborn boy buried with a flint knife and placed on a swan feather - the book is nothing short of essential for anyone with a significant curiosity of the prehistoric. A real nice find.

*****

 

Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

By Joshua Foa Dienstag (Princeton UP:2006)

Given Western culture's ancient, medieval, modern and postmodern fascination with apocalypse and eschatological redemption, an exploration of the breadth and depth of the pessimistic spirit is perhaps more well placed than you might think, to explain just how we arrived here. Or as Dienstag intimates, eating from the tree of knowledge is not a one time affair. Have another taste, won't you?

****

 

On China

By Henry Kissinger (Pengiun Press:2011)

A concise historical rumination that attempts to consolidate Chinese political history and American foreign policy into a theoretical impression of a fairly realist bent. Coming from an author that has long been source, reference and interpretation for much of the understanding shared in it, nothing unexpected lies herein. However, it is a worthwhile snapshot of China and the U.S. - in terms of the short time necessary to engage this extraordinarily readable text.

****

 

King Animal

By Soundgarden (Seven Four Entertainment:2012)

This is the kind of record that would have rendered more art, under the stewardship of the appropriate producer and engineer. There are alot of good ideas going on here, but it was cut and burned in too straightforward a way to make it great. Under the guidance of, say Flood, or Brian Eno, this record could really have sung. Alas, in its current incarnation - it's decent, even good at times, but not great.

***

 

Where are we now?

By David Bowie (ISO Records:2013), single

Exceptional music for unexceptional times.

*****

 

Savages

dir. Oliver Stone (Universal Studios:2012)

An orgiastic exercise in the banality of filming forms of greed, violence and uninterrupted narcissism for its own sake, while eschewing content. Savagely so.

*

 

Is This Desire?

by PJ Harvey (Island Records:1998)

One of the most passionate and literary art rock recordings ever made. There are books that must be read, art that must be seen, and music that must be heard in order to enable, even a base understanding of the human condition. This is one of those few records.

*****

 

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

by Steve Coll (Penguin Press:2012)

Coll comprehensively renders the cultural and political landscape of one of Big Oil's major players. Fascinating, alarming and well worth the time.

*****

 

Failure

edited by Lisa Le Feuvre (MIT Press:2010)

A collection of artistic and philosophical communicata rendering a critique of the concept of failure, broadly construed. Ambitious and creative, artists and writers come together to produce an intriguingly aphoristic journey into society's failures..

*****

 

The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism

edited by Vincent B. Leitch et al. (Norton:2010)

The best comprehensive review of literary and social critical theory on the market. While not all things to all people, it is certainly something useful to everyone.

*****

 

Theories of International Politics and Zombies

by Daniel W. Drezner (Princeton UP:2011)

Apart from providing a cursory pop culture experimentation with already hackneyed derivations of political science postures, this little text is like wading through Zizek's refuse. This style rarely works for Zizek, let alone Drezner. Try again; this time, with feeling.

*

 

Carnival and Cannibal

by Jean Baudrillard (Seagull:2010)

Where has the Other gone? Disappeared, yet in plain view? In this short book of two essays, we find a man reflecting upon where, hegemonic perspectives might say, all the 'good times' of certain identities have gone. A serious consideration, if playful at once, of what may happen when the Good succeeds - but in the wrong way.

*****

 

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future

by Robert B. Reich (Knopf:2010)

As wealth and political power become increasingly concentrated, more and more U.S. citizens find it difficult to maintain a well-rounded and reasonable standard of living relative to recent historical standards in the United States. It's a long-standing rational argument that has long had the ear of the progressive Left: political, economic and corporate mismanagement artificially creates and maintains the scarcity of jobs, capital, wealth, credit, political power and opportunity thus enabling citizen abuse of poorer citizens by wealthier citizens. Reich's book offers a critique of this political and economic process, and he even contributes some reasonable policies that could ameliorate the problems of disparity. The question is: who will implement such policies?

*****

 

The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations That Created Modern Capital Markets

edited by William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (Oxford:2005)

A veritable landscape of all the concept of capital has been, and with a bit more egalitarian imagination and vision, may yet become. From exploitative usury and 'payday' style, short term loans in ancient Iraq; to King Leopold II's bond financing scheme for his colonial invasion of the Congo for its natural resources (e.g. rubber); to Benjamin Franklin's innovative transatlantic paper and currency styling - so much rides upon what we expect capital can and should do. The book, printed on heavy photo-style paper with many color images of ancient and modern financial instruments, is a treasure.

*****