The Weblog

Home for the heteronomous

Monday Movies Is Out Of Time

When a character on screen swims under water, do you ever try to hold your breath for the duration? If so, you may intuit without my help that the radical departure of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation The Clock is that in it, one minute=one minute.

This clock has a very different use in The Clock than it did in its original setting.

The Clock is, in fact, a clock. Its minute and hour hands are clips of feature films that feature clocks. Some are famous, some recognizable, others next to anonymous. Some are critical moments — I had the pleasure to be there for 10:04 pm, the exact moment when the Hill Valley Courthouse was famously struck by lightning on November 12, 1955; cheers went up. Others suggest significant moments within a narrative–the changing of an hour, almost always; even a shot that shows one minute changing to another suggests that a transition is happening elsewhere in the world.

In the world of The Clock, this becomes startlingly true and not-true at once. Whatever momentousness the viewer feels is immediately stolen, as the film moves on to another clip. Indeed, some of the most telling clocks are those that are purely there as set dressing — the large, plain institutional clocks in police stations, the decorative tabletop clocks in living rooms. The force that those clocks exert on life is anterior to what we might naively imagine to be cinema’s chief force, narrative.

Cinematic narrative found its language contemporaneously with the great Modern novelists, Woolf, Forster, Joyce, who (along with Bergson) portrayed time as it elapsed within the self. We’ve received this as a revolutionary dawn, but it was also a fairly quick rebellion — time had only become an impersonal and rigid global latticework in the previous generation, when the need to schedule trains led to the imposition of commonly set clocks.

Marclay’s clock atomizes the cinema’s endlessly malleable putty of time. The minutes are revenants, hungry ghosts unglued from their narratives, friendly snakes eating their tails. I can’t separate the brutal reimposition of impersonal time from the sheer fun of seeing grandfather clocks, clock towers, bedside alarm clocks and wristwatches all finally get one looping dance extravaganza, where Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are just two of the innumerable guest stars. The Clock is strangely fun to watch. I’ve done it twice now, last Saturday from 9:40 pm for about an hour, and last year from about 10 to 11 am.

[Update: I removed the embedded trailer for the clock, now at the link. As the youtube page points out, it should technically only be watched at 12:04 pm. I don’t want to mess up your sense of time.]

I’ll keep going back if LACMA keeps showing it. I’ll stop if I learn to time my dreams. What did you spend your time watching?

March 26, 2012 Posted by | boredom, film, innovative technologies that shape our lives, meta, Monday Movies | , , | 7 Comments

Sunday Stories: Gravity’s Rainbow (2)

Back to the detective work. Let’s start with a clue:

“Why is your equation only for angels, Roger? Why can’t we do something, down here? Couldn’t there be an equation for us too, something to help us find a safer place?”

I was thinking about a detective who forgot the solution, that he even forgot to differentiate between clues and non-clues. I believe that may not have been radical enough. Maybe the crime was also part of the pattern of amnesia; not that there was a crime but what the crime was. Maybe this gives a clue: “The young statistician is devoted to number and to method, not table-rapping or wishful thinking. But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something, Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between.”?

Is the crime that there is something to write a story about? Something unpredictable and undefined that gave rise to both the defined and the desire for the predictable? Too many questions. Let us try an example: sex. Continue reading

August 21, 2011 Posted by | meta, Sunday Stories | , | 1 Comment

Friday Afternoon Confessional: Seeking Controversy

I confess that I have been busy these last weeks. I hate being busy. Being busy should be a cardinal sin. In fact, it is the fat ugly power-abusing father of all sins. It is the original sin. As such, it is not my fault but rather a design error showing the lack of intelligence that went into my design. I would happily plead guilty to a jury of my peers (that would be you) and accept any punishment as it would behoove you to bestow upon me.

Whatever.  I’ll get over it.

I so too confess that I originally thought about doing as if I was going to confess something when I actually really was hating something. There is a lot of hate in me. Sometimes the hate takes hold of me and I absolutely want to provoke somebody into giving me cause to let all of my hate out. I am as possessed then. As such, it is not my fault and anyway I rarely (which is to say: never) give in to this urge to provoke as I was raised not to show any feelings at all, or at least to maintain plausible deniability as to having shown them at all. Also, there is not a fight that I would not loose.

But I confess that the internet is something else. Boy, do I come close to letting myself go once in a while. Not only is it awfully easy to seek controversy on the internet but it is also the normal thing to do. Worse still: it is seeking controversy that is the only way to attract any significant level of traffic at all (well, if you allow me an inside joke, that and maps of public transport systems).

I confess to following the DSK story. I confess to having all kinds of opinions about it. As far as I can see none are original. Nevertheless, I’ve thrown around clicks galore. You see: controversy seeks out attention. It also brings to light the most sophisticated of opinions, such as that according to which it is accepted practice in France to have your way with women as long as you are rich and powerful. An opinion which is apparently rather easy to come by with self-proclaimed lovers of la douce France.

Having established and confessed all this, I will proceed to attracting traffic by seeking controversy. [Play this in the background:] I rather like Obama.

There. I feel better now. Ready for my penance. I hope the horn player enjoys a couple of unexpected hits.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, meta | 11 Comments

Blog reading and blog writing

I think I’m officially sick of political commentary. My obsession with political blogs reached a fever pitch during election season, and it continued through the stimulus debate. In retrospect, my panic at any unfavorable poll fluctuations appears pathetic, especially since the outcome of the election was a fait accompli as soon as the economic crisis hit. Yet it was the stimulus bill that was the real tipping point for me. After all the wrangling, etc., the result was what pretty much everyone expected: a bill within the size range Obama had asked for, partially gutted by the necessities of “centrism.”

Similarly with the bailout plan — Obama had said all along that nationalization was off the table, and Geithner came up with the best plan he could without coming to Congress for more authority. So the result is no surprise. All the tea-leaf reading about how maybe Obama is leaving the door open to receivership was basically fantasy. That’s the great benefit of Obama: he’s totally predictable. He generally is going to give it the old college try on what he’s said he’s going to do, and as long as the Republican abuse of the fillibuster empowers the “nihilist centrism” caucus in the Senate, any “progressive” priority is unlikely to pass in a satisfying form.

Even if my analysis here is wrong on some points, the question still remains: exactly what am I learning by following the “inside baseball” nonsense? Okay, I’m learning about the latest Republican smear and why it’s false — but I already know Republican smears are going to be false. I’m learning about how the latest “nihilist centrist” is actually going to bat for corporate interests rather than following any kind of principles — but again, that’s how they’re always going to act.

My blogging center of gravity is shifting decisively toward econ and finance type of stuff. It’s not simply that those topics are where the action is currently — it’s that the best blogs in the category very often have in-depth posts about things that I don’t already know about. This is especially true of The Baseline Scenario, with its in-depth intro-level posts, but also of Naked Capitalism and The Big Picture.

Somehow the emerging mainstream of finance bloggers has managed to slow down the pace for commentary on something where it’s very easy to get sucked into the minute-by-minute drama of market movements, while the mainstream of political blogs has chosen a hysterical pace. If we think of the contrast between a movie scene portraying the drama of the trading room floor and a given hour of C-SPAN, this difference becomes almost shocking.

Political bloggers could be doing so much more — giving historical context, for example — but the most successful among them are tied to the cable-driven “news cycle.” (Ironically, perhaps the most minutae-driven political blogger, Josh Marshall, has a PhD in history!) A broader perspective would be a genuine value-add of blogging over against the day-to-day reporting of news — as opposed to, say, the endless hammering away at the mainstream media’s tendency to normalize Republican abuse of the fillibuster, a tendency that is, once again, completely predictable given their knee-jerk desire to be fair to both “sides” and therefore extremely unlikely to go away.

Do we really need a medium that even further slices and dices news cycles? Maybe there need to be easy talking points — left-leaning innoculations against certain tendencies in mainstream discourse, etc. — but do I personally need to be keeping up with them on a daily basis? Do any of us? Can’t we just leave the earnest among us to their Kos diaries and move on?

April 2, 2009 Posted by | economics, media, meta, politics | Comments Off on Blog reading and blog writing

What I did today

I woke up around 9:30. Last night I was up late and was in any case exhausted. It was the first day of the History of Christian Thought class that I am “co-teaching” with Ted Jennings. Class got out at 9:30, and Ted and I split a pitcher at Jimmy’s afterward. I had good CTA karma for my impractically long commute up until the single-track construction zone on the Brown Line, which left us sitting still for quite a while. I had to give up on my designated CTA reading, Doug Henwood’s After the New Economy, due to fatigue, but I didn’t want to fall asleep during the indefinite wait because I was technically only one stop away from home. I seriously considered getting a cab for the four block walk home from the train station, but none were nearby.

I realized this morning that I would need to go grocery shopping right away. I could get by without cereal, having bread with peanut butter — a breakfast staple of my dad when I was growing up, but a fallback for me — instead, but I needed to get coffee. I ate breakfast, showered, did my Supermemory exercises, read my feeds, checked my bank and credit card balances, and then went to the store. I forgot a coupon for a cheap brand of coffee, and so bought an expensive one. I also got pasta and sauce (2 each), cereal, bananas, chips, and a loaf of bread. When I got back, I unpacked the groceries and unloaded the dishwasher. I then talked to Brad on IM for a while, wrote a blog post, and caught up on the feeds that had come up while I was at the store.

For lunch I decided to get bahn mi, and while I was at the Vietnamese bakery, I got enough sandwiches for several days. On my return, I boiled some frozen green beans to accompany my bahn mi, put the bahn mi on a plate with some chips, and watched the Prison Break season premier. It was entertaining enough and seemed to promise a better season than last, once I got past the resurrection of Sarah Tancredi.

I spent much of the afternoon going through my notes over Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and my underlinings in Schmitt’s Roman Catholicism and Political Form and Laclau’s On Populist Reason for a paper for a panel on Laclau. During that process, I also paced about the apartment trying to think of how to structure my argument and fit it within the constraints of a conference paper and at some point paused to write the previous post on this blog, about Sarah Palin. Conversations with Brad and The Girl occurred intermintantly throughout this period, and I also read and commented upon this post, which tagged me with Infinite Thought’s Dogmeme.

Then a friend called who was concerned that I seemed very angry, based on my blog postings — we had previously discussed my self-reported moodiness and depression. We also talked about the possibility (or necessity) of moving abroad, specifically to Latin America, after finishing our PhDs. After we hung up, I began preparing some pasta for dinner. Right now I am letting my pasta cool. My plans for the rest of the day are to watch an episode of The Sopranos over dinner, then get at least a start on the Laclau paper.

September 3, 2008 Posted by | meta | 10 Comments