Posts Tagged ‘postmodernism’

thesis done!

April 21, 2010

Yes, I finished my thesis! Sorry I only put up one post about it…although in retrospect I do think that post was a fairly good indicator of where I was headed with it.

You can see the finished product here (courtesy of scribd.com).

Please feel free to leave comments and let me know what you think, if you do check it out. Thanks!

Preliminary thoughts toward a thesis (part 1)

November 14, 2009

I’m working toward writing a thesis on the topic of the body as textuality: what is implied in the appeal to textual metaphors of the body and corporeality?

I hope to show that this way of thinking about the body – often alluded to, yet rarely (I think) theorized in depth in much post-structuralist writing – is potentially problematic, for several reasons (it may be significant that the idea of “writing on the body” is far more ubiquitous than attempts to theorize just what it means to say that the body can be (or be thought of as) text, or what this textuality of the body means – other than by pointing at the processes of its signification). It seems obvious that in general, the idea of characterizing the body as text is more or less a statement that the body is culturally constructed – that identity is performatively constituted by the way in which embodied subjects inhabit societal norms – and perhaps following from this view, that we have little or no recourse to any experience of a pre- or extra- discursive body.

Now, my intended argument is beginning to lead into dangerous territory, since I’m not too familiar with much of the literature (Blanchot, Derrida, and others, I think) on this, but it strikes me that in post-structuralist thought in general, writing is associated with absence, and to a certain degree with death (I know there’s a lot of writing on this, but if any readers have any particular suggestions on directions for further research, I would be grateful). Now, whatever particular agenda is at stake in imagining the body as text, or textuality, it seems obvious that simply figuring the body as object, as site of signification, remains problematic (Judith Butler warns of the danger of such a view perpetuating the Cartesian mind / body dualism – see Gender Trouble, 129); yet I would argue that it is precisely such a model that has most coherently emerged from such metaphorical discourse. I could be in danger of oversimplification, but it strikes me that the alleged textuality of the body points in one of two undesirable directions: either the body is objectified – rendered as mute materiality subject to the inscriptions of a power foreign to it – or else the body is figured as somehow inherently itself discursive, in which case by virtue of being primarily signification, the body’s meaning is rendered absent, and the body itself must be, in a sense, sacrificed in order to render such meaning immanent.

Foucault’s formulation of the task of genealogy – “to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body” (“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”) points clearly toward an investigative methodology and may aim for an emancipatory project vis-a-vis the body, but it does not offer a way of understanding the body in its specificity. The metaphor of the body as implicated in a process of textual inscription actually points away from the body toward something else. Butler objects to such an appeal to a body outside of discourse – and claims that contradicts Foucault’s project as formulated elsewhere – but she, too, attempts to understand the body in terms of discursive practices, practices that performatively constitute the subjectivity of bodies.

I intend to explore further Butler’s work – in particular her engagement with psychoanalytic theory and the work of Lacan in Bodies That Matter and elsewhere – in the hopes of understanding better her views of materiality and the body. But it strikes me that she, too, ends up imagining the body as a site of conflict – the power to resist hegemonic social norms lies within the discursive apparatus(es) that serve continually to produce those norms. While her theory, too, offers brilliant insight into the proliferation of societal gender (and other) norms, what, if anything, does it tell us about the body itself? Is there something about the speaking body that is paradoxical, and ultimately, perhaps, irreconcilable by theory?

My initial interest in this topic emerged from a desire to write about Kafka’s story “In the Penal Colony,” and the way writing on the body can function on power over it – that is, comes to shape the reality of the body through being made part of it. In a sense, “In the Penal Colony” enacts the ultimate confrontation between writing and the body. In the story, the writing apparatus necessarily must destroy the body upon which it writes in order to carry out its function – yet when the most outspoken advocate of the machine submits his own body to its operation of writing, not only his body, but the machine, too, is destroyed in a malfunction in which the “exquisite torture” which the commandant had intended turns into outright murder. At the surface level, the text seems to present itself as a condemnation of those processes of inscription that fix the boundaries for normative human behavior and culture; quite literally, any body that transgresses the boundaries (as delineated by the military law of the colony) is marked – to death – with the very sentence of the law it had violated, presumably thus restoring, through a spectacle of violent yet methodical (“exquisite”) force, the inviolability of the law.

And yet, as with nearly all Kafka’s writing, one can go far deeper. More to follow…

on the indeterminacy of identity and perpetual violence (a mini-review of The Sky Crawlers)

July 31, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched a fantastic film, the latest (if I am not mistaken) from famed anime director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). Here are just a few reflections on the film… and a strong recommendation to watch it, because it’s fantastic! [THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. I HAVE REVEALED VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLOT, AND MADE EVERY ATTEMPT TO BE VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS, SO FEEL FREE TO READ ON EVEN IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME.]

The premise: perpetual war. Protracted regional conflict is fought by corporate proxies who solely employ children to carry out deadly aerial combat. It becomes clear later on that these children are not typical mercenaries, in that they essentially have no choice but to fight. It’s never clear what the motivating factors behind the war actually are for the parties in conflict (in a way it’s not clear who those parties are – the regional powers at war are scarcely identified, the corporations are obscured by their distance and lack of personal involvement in the conflict, and the children fighting are – well, children, with no discernable ideological stance toward the political situation), but the societal effects are clear: the war is essentially the never-ending subject of media attention, and the squadrons of pilots are like so many sports teams, with adoring fans spread out throughout the countries they ostensibly represent in the “theater” of war.

So why was this film so good? Well firstly, like Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawler felt like a depiction of real space. Much of the time I felt like I was looking at real scenery, real locations – and having been made 12 years after Ghost in the Shell, the realistic quality of the art, while rendered in a somewhat stylized way, is extremely impressive. The art is incredible. Apparently Oshii believes strongly in going “on location” when he produces anime films (for Ghost in the Shell his crew scouted locations in Hong Kong), and in my view this admittedly somewhat unusual approach pays off. The setting of the film has a certain resonance; it’s fictional, but it’s a compelling fiction, one that invites you in, that feels weighty. The animation sequences are compelling, and whereas some reviews I’ve seen of it critiqued the film for being overly slow and at its most engaging during the aerial combat sequences (which admittedly are very well done), my assessment is quite the opposite. The entire pacing of the film is very well thought-out. It’s not an action film, and isn’t driven by combat scenes or technology-based sequences (these do play a part, although the technology in question here is primarily anachronistic-looking twin-engine aircraft). I would say, however, that it is a plot-driven film, and the story is really The Sky Crawlers’ greatest strength.

However, I was deeply impressed by the animation and sound design (and the sound design is extremely high-caliber, with absolutely incredible music), which are both very well integrated into the unfolding of an unusually complex and somewhat ambiguous storyline. This is a movie that after watching (assuming you like it), you will have to see again. It’s a complete story, but doesn’t render a feeling of “closure” at the end. I think there’s a sense of resolution fundamentally lacking throughout, despite the movie being exceptionally well crafted. I don’t think this is a drawback – in fact for me, it was part of what made the movie interesting – but I’m guessing it could be the reason some anime fans were put off by the film. Like Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers constructs a narrative through simple enough premises and developments, but there is feeling of openendedness throughout, leading to a sense of not knowing. As the viewer, I don’t understand the characters, I don’t understand who they are, I don’t understand their motivations – but not in the sense of being confused about what’s happening in the progression of the story, which in a sense is very straightforward. It’s more that ambiguity is sort of an integral part of the story, which ultimately starts to feel like a slightly subversive attempt to incite viewers to question their own social realities and the nature of identity.

And ultimately – perhaps what I found most striking about the film – as hidden, enigmatic aspects of the story are revealed, the stability of who the characters seem to be is undermined, and we are forced to rethink our entire relationship with the film’s premises, the characters and their experiences (and perhaps too with ourselves). And best of all (in my opinion), there is really no easy way to do this. The film invites us to imagine the world the characters inhabit, without really giving us any shortcuts for doing so, but at the same time reminds us that we too live in a world where war is fought not only for profit but for spectacle, where nationalism is dangerously close to rooting for the team you like and where all of us, in some sense, fight manufactured wars interminably without ever really thinking that there is any alternative whatsoever (and – Oshii seems to want to ask us – is there?).

what I’ve been reading lately.

July 28, 2009

OK, in lieu of actually reading (it’s hard if not impossible to chat with two people, listen to Bassdrive and read philosophical essays about Agamben’s theory of the homo sacer all at the same time), I decided to write about what I’ve been reading lately. On the positive side, this might help me actually keep track of it all. It’s hard for me to just read one thing at a time, and it can get hard to keep track of what books I am in the middle of.

When the last school semester ended, I decided I would be proactive and buy / borrow from the library lots of books to read over the summer. Especially since I am gearing up to write my BA thesis this coming year, I really want to read stuff and get some ideas flowing. The only bad thing about that is that nearly everything I read seems to tie in, in one way or another…

So in the last week of school or so I bought Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, thinking it would make for fun summer reading. Whoops. Kind of ambitious. I read like 20 or 30 pages, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pynchon. I read The Crying of Lot 49 – twice – and loved it. Only thing is, Gravity’s Rainbow is like five times its length. It hasn’t moved from its spot on my shelf in probably two months or more.

Then, I actually read a few books in their entirety. Hell yes! Somehow or another, I managed to read, more or less concurrently, a book called Levinas: An Introduction by Colin Davis (a book that is – yes, you guessed it – about Levinas; and yes, right again! – its presentation is of an introductory nature), and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. The latter I actually read for fun, not out of any academic interest particularly (it’s true), yet after about halfway through I started realizing that it connects to my topic of interest for my thesis – quite explicitly, actually. Butler actually mentions the specific Kafka story I hope to address in my thesis – “In the Penal Colony” and suggests that it “provides an interesting analogy for the contemporary field of power and masculinist power in particular” (157n). Also interestingly, she drew heavily on Foucault’s work, particularly History of Sexuality, v. 1 (unsurprisingly), which I have read, and Discipline and Punish, which I have not. So I decided to pick that one up.

That’s where my streak of completing books wore down a bit. I got through about a hundred pages of Discipline and Punish – and it’s quite good, not particularly tough reading – but then I got sidetracked, or restless, or something. I recently bought a few more books though. Since going on hiatus from Discipline and Punish, I’ve started reading a few more things. The first is short, and fun, if not exactly light reading, and bears quite directly on my thesis (which is starting to feel more like a black hole – not that I’m feeling anxious about it, but it would be fun also to read some stuff that is totally unrelated, rather than everything leading back to it, like a burrow, or as D & G would say – a rhizome…): Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward A Minor Literature. I’d never read D & G before, and I have to say I like them. They are weird, but engaging.

I’m definitely going to have to give this one a second read. I know I’m missing a lot, but these guys are more approachable than I thought, plus they are fun (you get the sense they were having a good time writing), and radical in the true sense of the word. They take lots of shots at psychoanalysis (and evidently pretty much any major thinker / theory that places strong emphasis on the signifier can equally be a target for D & G) – apparently in Anti-Oedipus they refer to Freud as a “masked Al Capone”. (OK, fair enough – I actually think when you smoke a certain number of cigars, maybe like 3,000 or something, you just become a gangster automatically.)

In this book they claim that to read Kafka in terms of allegory or metaphor is “stupidity.” They also go after people who try to portray Kafka as melancholic or alienated. For them, Kafka is above all ecstatic, imbuing a language within which he was essentially (as a Czech Jew) an outsider, with vibrancy. It’s not about meaning or symbolism but intensity. They like to use terms like “lines of escape,” “deterritorialization,” “Oedipalization,” “unformed material,” “machinic assemblage…” You get the picture, I guess. One of these days I will step up and read Capitalism and Schizophrenia (although I’ll probably start with the User’s Guide). Anyway, this book is short (if a bit challenging) and is really helping me to imagine different ways of approaching Kafka (and hopefully, too, my project as a whole).

I also recently bought Language, Counter-Memory, Practice by Foucault, a collection of ten essays (also has an interview with Deleuze and a conversation with Foucault and some Maoist militants). It’s got an essay about Bataille and the idea of transgression more generally, the essay “What is An Author?” (which I’d started reading before, but never finished), and basically compiles some of Foucault’s writings on language, literature, etc. Looks pretty good.

I also started reading The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry. I’ve only read the introduction so far and actually it is very interesting, extremely engaging, and as far as I can tell so far, extremely well-written. This also corresponds pretty well with the general topic of my thesis. (In a future post I’ll be a bit more revealing about what exactly that is.) This book looks great though. It’s original (check), interdisciplinary (check), corresponds with lots of my interests (check), is politically extremely relevant and is very well-written. It always makes me feel good when I read a book by someone who is a professor of English and actually writes really well! It’s like – hey, your liberal arts education paid off!

So that more or less sums it up for now. I also put down The Kite Runner like three months ago after reading about six or seven chapters of it. It’s solid, and maybe I should pick it up again sometime soon. After all, it’s already so hard to keep track of the three different books I’m in the middle of reading. It might not be so bad to interject a really good novel at reasonable intervals.

Anyway…to you, the reader – I hope this blog wasn’t terribly boring. I think it may have been somewhat helpful or at least entertaining for me, but I’m less convinced that it will be engaging to anyone else to any degree whatsoever.

At best, if you made it all the way through, you might be interested in what the hell it is, exactly, that I am planning on researching and writing about for my BA thesis. If this is so, I’m delighted – and know that you are not alone, for I too am interested in this question. I will certainly post soon with at least some of the preliminary details of what I’m thinking about.

Until then, I’ll still be pondering machinic assemblages and the immanence of desire…

yes, anime.

June 17, 2009
Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

OK, here we go. A list (I’m going to try to be comprehensive here) of all the anime I have seen, am currently somewhere in the process of viewing, or wish to see in the future (that last one will probably be the trickiest). If you like anime but aren’t sure where to go, maybe you’ll find something listed here that sounds interesting.

Oh, and if you don’t like anime…well, all I can say is that you don’t know what you’re missing. You probably think what you’re missing is something it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. Hmm…that’s for another time.

And on a related note, if you don’t recognize the above image, well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t watching the right television shows.

ANIME I’VE SEEN AND RECOMMEND (sort of roughly ranked in the order of how much I liked them)

series

  • Serial Experiments Lain – couldn’t not put this first on the list. 13 episodes in all. You should watch this.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – two seasons. You might have thought the movie was great and that the series wouldn’t be. You were wrong. (Besides, don’t you want to know where that logo comes from?)
  • Cowboy Bebop – all my favorite bounty hunters in a single series…how is that even possible? This show promises nothing but pure enjoyment. Recommended for the anime non-viewer.
  • Noir – funny, come to think of it probably my all-time favorite assassin is a character on this show. She practically defines the word stealth. One great thing about Chloe is her wardrobe lets you know how badass she is. Not to give too much away, but in any case, you know she’s not playing because of the way she dresses. Here’s what she likes to wear:

Chloe character sketch from NOIR

Like, every day. She never doesn’t wear this outfit. In fact, her closet is filled with this. She’s a great character. By the way, lots of people seem not to know about this show. Check it out…not necessarily what you might expect. The opening episode is killer…it pulls you right into the storyline. Props to my friends Ryan and Starr for turning me on to this.

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion – anything I should add? Oh yeah, I guess I’ll just mention that this show was voted the best TV show…ever. Weird – I thought it was The Wire, or maybe Twin Peaks (Definitely one of those two).
  • Gunslinger Girl – an Italian government agency adopts abandoned or seriously ill young girls from hospitals under the guise of a beneficent charity, then brainwashes them, pairs them with handlers and trains them to be assassins! Sounds a bit preposterous but this show’s worth checking out…it’s a strong production with really high-quality drawings and animation. I’ve only seen the first season. The second is being produced by a different studio, and I’m not sure it’s even gotten a U.S. release yet (frankly it doesn’t look as good as the first season).
  • I can’t leave out BLAME! This mini-anime is freaking weird. I love the art, though. Thank you Ryan for sending this to me in the mail. I should try to find the manga…

I’m sure I’m leaving something out here, but since I can’t think what it is at the moment I’ll move on to…

films

  • Ghost in the Shell – not much I can say here. All I can say is I will never not want to watch this movie again. Sheer brilliance.
  • Akira – everytime I see this film I am struck by the level of detail and thinking that went into its production. It proves conclusively that anime has unique potential as an art form (can you imagine Akira as live-action production?), a fact that few seem to understand to the degree that Otomo has. Must see.
  • I recently watched Memories – a film divided into three parts, each by a different director, but overseen as an entire project by Otomo. This is worth checking out. Unconventional, and brilliant.
  • Spirited Away – this is actually the only Miyazaki film I’ve seen. I need to check out some of the others…
  • how could I have forgotten Appleseed? This film is awesome! Don’t sleep.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – some people bad-mouth this movie. It’s pretty different from the first film, both stylistically and in terms of narrative. I would consider Innocence to be the most abstract production in the Ghost in the Shell “canon,” as it were. I have to see it again to form my opinion more completely. If you have seen the original but not this, give it a shot. If you haven’t seen the original you know what to do…
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Movie – When I first watched this I hadn’t seen the series all the way through. I need to see this one again.
  • Paprika – Mixed feelings about this one. Stylistically and artistically, it was excellent, yet I felt it was over-the-top to a degree that took away from character development and other aspects, resulting in a less-than-completely enjoyable experience. Yet the execution of some artistic elements was so impressive that I would most likely recommend it anyway. I like the dream machine.
  • The Evangelion movies…not even sure what to say about them, other than, if you’ve seen the show, watch them. Come on, don’t you want to know what happens to SEELE?

Again, can’t think what I’m leaving out, though I’m surely leaving out something. I’ll tell you

WHAT I’VE BEEN WATCHING LATELY:

  • mainly, a series called Last Exile. I really like this one. It’s pretty unique, lacking a lot of the familiar anime tropes any critical anime viewer might be on the lookout for. The setting seems to be an anachronistic, somewhat dystopian future that seems reminiscent of medieval Europe, perhaps post-apocalyptic. The plot focuses on two young pilots of a vehicle known as a vanship. You should check it out…
  • And also, from the same studio (GONZO) I’m planning to watch the rest of Blue Submarine No. 6. A story with four half-hour episodes, it was also released as a film. I’ve seen only the first episode and don’t feel qualified to comment, other than to say that the art is awesome.

And what does the future hold?

ANIME I’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE:

films

  • I’ve actually never watched Vampire Hunter D all the way through. Someday soon…
  • Pretty much everything by Miyazaki, but I’m told Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is really great.
  • I’d also like to see Perfect Blue…never heard of it until recently, but sounds like a classic.

series

As I was writing, I started watching the preview on Netflix for a series called Paranoia Agent. From the director of Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon) and the character designer of Spirited Away, this series about a bat-wielding killer on rollerblades looks pretty great.

  • Madlax…from the director of NOIR, looks like this might be worth checking out…
  • I want to check out Ergo Proxy. Don’t really know what it’s about but I’ve heard good things about it.

Not sure what else for the moment, but I’m getting tired. Did I leave out something crucial? Or was my assessment of some anime classic completely misguided and wrong? If you have responses, questions or criticism, you know what to do.

Oh and by the way, this blog entry might give you the impression that I am a huge anime nerd. In fact, I didn’t really start watching it much until the last couple of years. Props go out to Cary for this. Anyway, notwithstanding the fact that I lifted my alias <megatech> from a certain anime cult classic, I’m not actually really too much in the know about this. So feel free to leave suggestions below. Peace..