Table of contents

The Martian

The present & future of heroism

An astronaut on a mission gets stranded after a completely ludicrous accident meant to scare an audience so badly educated that they do not know what all astronauts would know, & any schoolkid could know before he turns ten. Science stories have a strange notion of poetic rhetoric: Very diligent, disciplined, trained work is premised on a silly lie!

This man proceeds to do everything he can to save his life. He has to overcome his natural disgust before filth in order to fertilize crops; he has to burn a cross to make fire & use fire to make water. Impiety & love of paradox neatly wrapped up in one event. These parts of the story are discreetly inserted, but they scream vulgarity. Perhaps they are serious about what is lost when life is gained in the new cosmic situation.

There is a combination of heroism & lack of heroism in this man. Faced with the certainty of death, he ignores it. But he stands only for his own survival. His daring to keep thinking up problems & solutions keeps him alive. But he has no thoughts concerning who he is or the predicament of man in the universe. For a man in an unique position, all he has to say is, do not give up in times of crisis, just keep solving problems. The radical inability of science to predict the future is simply to be ignored as an impractical consideration.

The one moment where his humanity shows is when he asks his masters on earth whether they have told his crew, who had to leave him behind, that he survived, & is still alive. He does not seem to be thinking about problems & solutions at that moment. He shows a genuine anger at that moment–he is truly indignant. His dignity is tied up with the men–& women, apparently–with whom he dared to go into space. He needs them to know him even if they cannot think of him as a problem admitting of solutions.

It’s worth remembering the names of the vehicles for the mission: Hermes & Ares, the Greek names of the gods of commerce & war respectively. Mars is the Latin equivalent of war. But the truth of the mission is that war is only in service to commerce: The world in which scientific technology develops is a world of peaceful commerce, not war. War or warlike daring is nevertheless required in men–& apparently women–who risk their lives: They obviously find the risk of death preferable to life with family & friends.

But the astronaut’s warlike discipline shows us the stark, inhuman, unlovely life of man fighting scientifically against a world threatening to kill him or at least indifferent to his fate.

Ridley Scott apparently is far more popular when making sci-fi movies. His fans have this movie to thank for his future movies, & scifi fans have his previous movies to thank…


How Bond learned the democratic world order is really shaky
Some notes on retrieving the blindness of heroism

So the problem with the plot of SPECTRE, everyone says, is, the bad guys make no sense. Why is the institutional enemy of the 007 spy program the new surveillance state where everything, every detail of our lives is supposed to be under control? What strange prejudice, that the national security bureaucracies are scary! The answer is so obvious, only a democrat can miss it: All tyrants start out to secure the greatest good, far more patriotic than their critics, only in a paranoid way.

There’s even a cute joke: They’re trying to build a new empire in Rome, in a meeting that parodies Catholic conspiracy stories. You don’t have to be crazy to get it, but you need some sympathy for the devil. Walking into the movies ready to say sarcastic things about the plot may be clever, but no more.

Of course, the evil people do things that evil people do to get what they want: They exploit black Africans & women. This is operatic evil, perhaps–you might hear Pope Francis talking about these things–it may be an overtly democratized version of evil, the part apart from all the sophisticated institutional work that evil needs to do to make things work. But it makes sense as a story about inequality. Someone might embrace all our nightmares about being enslaved & decide to enact them.

The possibility that incompetence & evil might give some people a notion to do evil stuff better is showcased in just about every storied 20th-century tyranny. These new stories are not springing full-grown & armored out of the mind of Zeus like Athene. The assumption there is that people profess morality, but are unwilling to do what it takes to get what they expect from morality, but there are people blind to morality who show you the necessary means. It’s a happy case of thesis, anti-thesis, & synthesis!

If you start to think about the plot of SPECTRE in this way, you can start to see why you cannot have those old-time Bond stories here. Conspiracy is a way of thinking born of treason & suspicion–you do not get to see the big picture, you only get to react to terrible things happening. This you can call the teleology of evil–how evil educates heroes. How else save the world?

Bond gradually becomes a world-saver, without much wisdom. Greatness was thrust upon a man whose body & mind cannot bear it. He needs M, the government he serves, to show him the crisis in which he has to orient himself. Only that way does he work as a protector. The eye & the hand are separated, & we see things from the perspective of the hand.

This last Daniel Craig Bond is nowhere near as fun & thoughtful as Casino Royale & Skyfall, but if you like Bond, you could get to thinking…

Days of being wild 2

A note on love & homelessness

A Fei is a playboy. He is raised by a whore, so it makes sense. But she is not his mother, so he rejects her & wants to abandon her. He wants to find his true mother–who abandoned him, which, again, makes sense. He loves two women, one who finds her dignity & abandons him, the other a whore who clings to him. All these things fit in impossible ways. They tend to make life into a story about how things fit together. Life would then make sense.

A fei’s experience of love concentrates on the power of love to cancel time. His measuring out of a minute on a clock to a girl who is away from her family, working a boring job alone may seem cruel, but he is serious about being mortal: Time should means something more serious than boredom. Their being together is a puzzle. Her solution is marriage; he does not have solutions. He has felt the boredom she feels with an intensity she cannot imagine. He wants love to give meaning to life–to offer something unforgettable, unloseable.

The story he tells about a bird who is always flying brings out what was concealed in the measurement of time: We are not in control of our lives. The things that allow us to become aware of who we are block us from doing what we should do. To look around is to see everything one has lost. One cannot retrieve one’s origins & therefore one is fated to misunderstand what one is able to do. The accidental character of love in this case rehearses endlessly that original abandonment. It is always too late to make sense of things.

There is another man with mother trouble–a caring policeman moderated by his difficulties. He looks like the opposite man: Born to poverty, not aristocracy, he upholds the law rather than flaunts it, & counsels moderation rather than the self-forgetful excess of love. In fact, it’s not clear that there is any pleasure in his life except smoking. Even his dream of sailing, which suggests, he is not tied up to his city is deferred in deference to his mother. Another juxtaposition–she may be his anchor.

He has this much in common with A Fei: He falls in love with the decent girl. But he tries to protect & to console her. She does not seem to think him lovable. This seems of a piece with his lack of money to buy uniforms. His care & his tenderness are simply invisible to people ruled in some way by fantasies.

Perhaps they all think beauty leads or points the way to freedom from care. This longing makes them all harsh.

Chungking Express 4

The injustice attending on love as a therapy
Some notes on the possibility that love unsatisfied is who we are

The easy-going banality of the story–the poet’s attempt to show us lives we would not bother to notice & which the press or television indeed do not notice–prepares us for the kind of shock we have learned to look for in the papers or any other gossip: A policeman falls in love with a rather accomplished, seemingly coldblooded criminal.

It is a matter of dispute whether order or love caused in him innocence, but it is rather obvious, innocence is the ground in which grows the flower of his guilt. This shows up in his racing: He is chasing criminals–you may enjoy the joke about the criminal being faceless, but not blind!–& he also runs to run away from love or the crying which announces love. The revelation of crying is that something has been lost. The mood he is fighting to avoid could teach him that human beings need to care for human beings.

A man running around in circles is a pretty cruel joke. What you see in seeing that you cannot see love is that you cannot attain it. Love is the unpredictable. You can only catch love in a sense similar to catching a cold. The cruelty is a necessary education for men: Vulnerability is not learned by teaching people lessons–it is learned by experience. The accidental event–rain–discloses a mood: Poetry requires accidents to make up perfection.

Properly understood, the joke about the policeman chasing after a criminal for love rather than law enforcement is damned philosophic. The question is who moves whom? What causes us to become aware of our problematic humanity? What’s there to be had other than lawful execution of punishment against those whose desires lead them on recklessly?

The movement away from chasing criminals is elaborate: The setting is a bar, not a locale of admirable mores, man is motionless & sitting, which moderates his impressive handsomeness, he drinks, which moderates his excessive confidence or anger, & he tries to speak the languages of neighboring countries, which suggests a degree of homelessness previously concealed. This is an alternative to the athletic scene where manliness performs or is on display.

This policeman had thought heartbreak a joke. What a caricature our democratic love of celebrity can make of people! He had believed he was beloved. Witness his collapse: He calls every woman he ever knew–none really love–or even know–or really remember him. He is an unfelt absence in their lives. His pride was predicated on memories of things that never happened. This recalls his love depending on his similarity to some celebrity. He learns to recall his mother, her experience & advice. He might remember who he is.

Cunhgking Express 3

How heroic our lives really are
Some notes on the self-concealment of lovers

One of the policemen has his heart broken by a flighty young woman who seems to enjoy his sense of humor or playfulness, but prefers a different kind of play. One sees her attached, not too firmly, to a biker. That & the police uniform tell a tale: Is manliness inherently attractive to her because it shows as confidence, self-containment? Does she want to imitate it or does she think it resembles her? Does she want to conquer a man?

Confidence shows itself in deciding for oneself–a choice of foods, therefore, in introducing variety undermines manliness far more than might seem reasonable. Manliness conceals suffering. Our policeman conceals his suffering in a manly way in public–changing merely his beat, to avoid painful memories; in private, however, he takes to talking to his apartment, as though it was animated. That also is a show of manliness.

The woman who sold him food seems to have identified the charm, but it took some of his manliness to get across to her–to cut through the noise & music. Quietly, the poet points out in what way men are deaf to music. The plot is the punishment of that deafness. Once aware of the charm, she is acutely aware of the concealment of suffering–that teaches her how he loves & that he cannot love her. She does not think to change things; only to care for him.

Is this self-forgetfulness what the other woman lacked?–Perhaps the erotic games of the policemen suggest the problem self-possession poses for love… The policeman was struggling to learn about the relation between love & home, but love is invisible: In putting his faith in love he loses his home. If that is a blessing in disguise, what in the world can he trust?

Love changes his life so much because he does not understand he is in love. He is blind to the dangers, though not the suffering. How can lovers not know themselves? The sneaking up that love does suggests the policeman is playing hero not in chasing criminals–he does not–but in putting on the uniform & attempting to persuade people life is pretty much predictable.
This becomes obvious only when he refuses to change his appearance.

The policeman learns he now has a secret–there is something within him which cannot be let out–he is the opposite of the success people suspect or hope or fear in seeing him. He is now playing a role. What kind of life he can live having failed the laws or been failed by them is unclear. He is learning gradually who he is by learning he is a lover: He is learning he is a failure.

Chungking Express 2

Love as endangerment
Some notes on the troubles that attend our banal lives

A world where you give a woman a choice of foods–there’s multiculturalism in its basic, vulgar form–is a world where she will want a choice of men. Love is not trustworthy because as democrats we’re all so erotic: We move from desire to desire. We’re unserious. Policemen are supposed to be serious. That is why love sneaks up on them & how it changes their lives.

Love is taking vengeance on our success–there is a presumption in living the lives that we live in our cities–this presumption we may call order or the civil peace. Love brings war then & it is especially obvious when it attacks the officers of the law. This may show up the laws, inasmuch as they do not grant immunity to the chaos of love, which is a rather different kind of danger.

Let us then see how love sneaks up on people. Two policemen are the protagonists of this story, as unexampled as you like. They both at some point give massages to women’s feet–women they learn to love. Something as banal as walking on two feet turns out to bring together pain & pleasure, the weariness of our lives & the emerging forgetfulness that attends on love.

Gradually, we see a twofold character to this exploding eroticism which threatens to encompass life itself without our knowing it. A woman takes over a man’s house & cares for him in a ghostly fashion, gradually entering into his soul. The powers of care to foster love are more of a shock to her than to him–she acts as though compelled & makes for herself a home where she can feel loved, playful, though not in control.

Then there is another thing–ordering food turns into flirting, helping out with chores as much as mocks marriage, & keeping & betraying keepsakes & secrets effects the coming together of souls longing for something the civil peace cannot offer nor replace. Our indifference to love is hard to pierce, given the powers of the order in which we live, but it is also revealed as a kind of innocence. The incessant, humorous music about dreaming, now sentimental & now rather strikingly immoral, gets in the way of saying anything that might be said–anything practical. It harasses people with the dream of a world where love is easy & life is without toil: California.

But we have already seen, toil is incredibly tender & loving. Admittedly, it also forces lovers into neglecting their duties. Love is living in a dream already–the homelessness of living on airplanes, as though free from any city of men, means forgetting to pay the bills…

Fallen angels 4

Are we doing unusual people an injustice?
Some notes on the blight of anonymity

The two men whose stories are put together for us want to change their lives into normal lives. They have no doubt about what normal life is like–they both have images of work & family. They would like to join the city, it would seem. They are strangers & it is therefore strange to see this. The only part that makes sense is failure. Their failure to join the city is tied up with the fact that they are failures: They have already failed to join the city.

The origins of these men in failure are only disclosed in their new failure. This is tied up somehow with two women, both of whom hate unfaithful men. Lawlessness they do not seem to mind–there is something worse than that, because life is prior to law in some way. It is not clear how: It is life by night, where there is no distance & no future.

It gradually emerges that the life of crime is a halfway house between what people think life in the city is & the loneliness of these two men. The thing that should scare you is that all these men do is do for people what people dream. One is about anger, the other love. One enacts vengeance for people who cannot abandon the desire for punishment, which is tied up with justice but not the order that prevails in the city. The other enacts the desires people do not fully scrutinize in their chasing after happiness.

It first seems one is tied to the past–criminal gangs & the loyalties of the pre-modern world–whereas the other one is tied to the future–the world of commerce where individualism is a continuous self-discovery. Love is what they have in common, but one is a beloved while the other is a lover.

It were impermissible to defend a criminal–his statement, that he does what he is told with no care for himself, no question whether it is fitting for a human being to act on such dark designs can only serve as a warning: There are images that steal the mind–there is a romance about the fearlessness of those who, because they walk enshrouded in murder, seem to embody fate & more than human.

But the neediness of the other criminal is surely not without a strong claim on our understanding of freedom & equality. So far from not harming, he is trying to help people & to recover his own sense of dignity. Lest we jeopardize our own dignity, we have to learn why he cannot have any community with us, who lives on beauty.

Fallen angels 3

An unflattering view of the poet
Some notes on the confusion of images & things

To move from his relation to his unwilling clients to his unwitting beloved: He is figuring out that people have to come alive to desire before you can satisfy their desires. People learn by their desire for you that you are human–or their desires lead them somewhere else, never minding you. As lovers in public shamelessly ignore the city… When it looks like an entire city pays you no mind, it can make you wonder who, if anyone you really are.

He is not aware of the particular character of desire–how it is tied up with chance & how it afears us of our future. He thinks love might transfer to him, as if desire seeks its object & is not otherwise capable of satisfaction. He wants the woman to learn to take love seriously & therefore to abandon her first would-be beloved for another, one more willing & therefore better suited for love.

He must think commerce makes love more reasonable. Here lies a secret. This man seems to have stumbled upon it this way: If one is nobody, then one may not be anybody in particular. To some extent, he simply knows that we are guided by what we think we love to change into something worth the attention of our would-be beloved. But he is in danger of taking that so far as to completely lose himself. As it turns out, there is a story of how he came to this incredibly precarious situation, aside from how we might feel that he tells us something about our world, so full of precarious identities.

So much for his doing or his powers. His being is somewhat different–it is tied up with his family & movies. He wants to remember the natural goodness of the shared meals. He is shameless about his father. This possessive disposition cannot by itself tell us whether he wants to understand & secure what he thinks is good or whether he wants memories, because they’re beautiful. This banal story turns out to be the unvarnished truth about the coming into being of the poet himself. It’s not clear how to put together his mockery of commerce with his unbeautified love of his father.

He does not want to be alone & uprooted. The movies immortalize his father, his loving care, & the goodness of life. This is another kind of dream. Our need to be protected & loved is more obviously on display here than with any capitalist offers, but we again sell ourselves on a dream–which is American for buying into a dream–some beautiful image serves to get us going to get better than we have or to protect good things we might lose.

Fallen angels 2

A joke about the god of love
Some notes on the difference between desire in the specific sense & desire itself by itself

Fallen angels seems to be about how some people do not make it to success in this modern world described by individualism & hustle. Hong Kong has taken on commerce & individualism from Britain. Who knows their place? Who is secure? The fallen angels are not lawful, but lawless–they live by night, not day, in secret, not public. They’re low in the social hierarchy, peripheral rather than central. Who even stops to look at them or are they even visible?

To look only at the character played by Takeshi Kaneshiro–one of the policemen in Chungking Express–he wants people to love him or like him or have some human relationship with him. He is like us, but he is a stranger. He thinks that we love what is good for us, that we want things we think good, & would reward whoever gives us good things. So he tries to make himself useful–but he has to force himself to be useful, because his understanding of commerce gets everything wrong. He does not see how it might be tied up with freedom.

Now, if you happen to like obscurities: This silent man is trying to learn how to be a capitalist. He wants to engage in commerce. He wants to sell people goods & services. He does not realize they have to agree to the bargain. The good has to be seen to be good, or else there is trouble.

This man practices capitalism by night, against his unwitting clients’ natural instincts & wariness. Night is the realm of dream. The suggestion suggests itself: Capitalism is living in a dream–the dream of fulfilling our desires. This is an entrance into the problematic & shameful or shameless character of our eroticism. He embodies or personifies in caricature capitalist eroticism: He is always out to sell, astounded but undeterred by mankind’s unwillingness to buy. He thinks himself a superfluity of goods. Wanting to be loved may be playing a god…

He does not believe desire precedes acquisition in people–he thinks he can make them desire things simply because they are there–a childish, but not entirely unwise opinion. He thinks he is their desire, the desiring soul that animates capitalism. The dream turns to nightmare because it affects people in too private a way. Pleasure can force itself on us in unpleasant ways!

His silence is capitalism without the seduction–the brands, the advertising, the marketing–the wooing of the consumers into consumption. Maybe we think there is such a man & things really work this way. Most of the comedy here is imitation–a clueless strangers trying to be who we are so that we can be with him. Perhaps he learned silence.

She’s funny that way 4

An indiscretion
Some notes on how we could begin to learn who we are

If you know the story, you have to raise all sorts of questions about the weird choices the characters make. We learn the director has seduced & saved quite a number of women, the wife & family none the wiser. Why should we see this one in particular? Because this one is about poetry. What’s pointed out here is the old-fashioned habit of aristocrats to pay for poetry. Even without an aristocracy, it takes aristocratic gestures to make for good poetry–& that is deeply immoral.

How come democrats are unable to make up the difference by their numbers? Why did the golden age have stars we do not have? Why did the aristocratic age build glories we recognize but cannot create? For one, we are far less arrogant, not to say cruel. Who am I to say something that will be a possession for all times? Who is this director to go around producing happiness where once was only neediness?

Think of the wife–for all her artistic pretense, which is a mockery of aristocracy, which was a mockery of divinity, she cannot conceive how her husband could chase after women & she is outraged at his generosity! But she would know first hand! It is our individuality which makes us think we are unique that blinds us to our world & prevents us from being unique or at least seeing what really is outstanding.

The poet quietly shows this by showing how difficult the characters find it to communicate or be peaceful: Everyone is out for himself because they’re all scared they’re not important enough or treated quite as they deserve. There is only one good joke in the movie. The wife, arrested, tells the cops carrying her: Put me down! The cop says: Ok, You’re an idiot! This is the most vulgar explanation of political philosophy you’re likely to find at the movies. It is our permanent fear, too.

Isabella learns to love the movies & naturally is attracted to those who love the movies. There is a sharing there that does not depend on fear or anger. This is the standard by which she judges things, it would seem: This is why she does not worry so much about lost lovers. The joke is, you need movies to teach you not to fall for phantom lovers…

The plot is moved by this director who ended up believing his stories & started delivering happy ends to people who hardly hoped in them. It is almost a piety to be sinful in his way: Running away from the good things he did kept him safe from the problem of rule. Liberalism allows for a kind of generosity that conceals itself from democratic politics.