Monday 8 March 2010

As an opening gambit, to admit that 'it is a complex situation' is better than any pronouncement that would suggest otherwise; however, if this is all one can say then it is the worst of all first lines.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Ken Meets Chuck

Ken W.:
Realist theory predicts that balances disrupted will one day be restored. A limitation of the theory, a limitation common to social science theories, is that it cannot say when.
Chuck P.:
On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
On a long enough time line, any prediction can come true. / On a long enough time line the notion of prediction becomes ridiculous.

Reply to Bill re: Hurt Locker

I have not seen The Hurt Locker so my comments are more in reaction to others. My main question is in what way does a filmmaker have a responsibilty to do anything other than make a piece of art and tell a story the way that they want to? If you are arguing that because the filmmaker didn't do certain things with the story you did not find the film enjoyable, fine. But if not, I fail to see where such a responsibility eminates from.
The question of creative responsibility is a fair one. I would agree with you insofar as I think it wrong to apply individual 'blame' on two counts:

First, it overemphasises the importance of 'authorship.' While the director is clearly a key component in the production of a work such as this she is but one of an extremely large number of individuals who bring such a project to fruition. Not only must funding be won, producers hired and actors allowed creative control over their own characters, the ideas that are produced through such a creative process are heavily dependent upon existing ideational structures, be they cinematic conventions, racial stereotypes or, indeed, language itself. Even 'auteur-ship' is, then, not 'author-ship' because one can never take total creative control over one's own culturally constructed dispositions. Thus, critique is (or should be) nothing specifically personal - it is a political and a social act.

Second, as I mentioned below, the remarkable thing, for me at least, about this film is not so much the film itself but its (relatively un-)critical reception. To speak of the film in this context highlights its embeddedness in wider narratives than the film's own. It is precisely thinking about the film in this way that highlights its intrinisic political content because, whatever else happens, films will always be cultural spaces for the portrayal and construction of ideas about life and, in this case, war and racism. What, after all, is more remarkable: a film being made that operationalises questionable racial stereotypes or such a film being made and its being talked of as perhaps the finest made in an entire year? To validate this film is to validate what it can be seen to endorse, however implicitly. This is the crucial point.

Therefore, I don't think anyone here is accusing the filmmaker of 'racism' as such. What we are engaging in here (on a very small scale) is cultural criticism: the critical assessment of a prominent aspect of our cultural lives and its political connotations. I think this is extremely important but it is certainly not about placing 'blame' on any one individual. That said, the director does bear a significant degree of responsibility for what she has played such a large part in making. She is, then, responsible for her own role in her own life, just as well all are. She is no more exempt from politics for being an 'artist' than I am for being a librarian. Of course, she most likely has a different interpretation of her film; one that would not make her responsible for any kind of negativity - such is life. She is entitled to her opinion but it being her opinion doesn't make her exempt from responsibility for her creative actions.

Musings on race in Hurt Locker

Reply to:
When I heard that the "Hurt Locker," a drama set in the midst of the Iraq War, was nominated for several Oscars, I was intrigued. Americans have not shown much interest as a people in either of the current official wars and even less interest in documentaries about and dramas set in these conflicts. My initial hunch was that this film, was selected to balance out "Avatar", the narrative of which clearly questions militarism and imperialism (while also reveling in astounding levels of mindless violence). So I assumed that "The Hurt Locker" would make a conservative counter-argument which justified the necessity of this war of choice. After finally seeing it, I was stunned that this film was nominated for any awards.
'Hurt Locker' seems to me to be an attempt to make an 'apolitical' war film. So, I partially agree with those disagreeing with the review - the film doesn't engage with issues of race, etc. because it's not interested in them, not so much because of any political programme. It is true that this film could have been set in any war (any war with unexploded munitions, at least). The plot concerns the main character(s), not the overall context and this point is made fairly explicitly.

Having said that though, I also partially agree with the reviewer because this film shows just how impossible it is to make an apolitical war film. War contains far too much politics for it to remain excluded by ignorance. It creeps back in through the spaces in the narrative that are neglected, glossed over or otherwise over-simplified - i.e. every moment there is a faceless, non-descript Iraqi simply taking up space, or an Iraqi acting in a hysterical or otherwise stereotypical manner; so, that is often. (Surely the 'professor' is the most stereotypical character in the film - even more so than his wife. He is the 'good, Western-ish Arab', the exception that proves the rule. He could've been plucked straight out of a cut scene in 24.)

You can't make an apolitical war film. It's like trying to make an asexual porno.

If you ignore the politics then THAT is your politics and, frankly, it is one of the worst sorts.

Making the mise en scène a blank canvas for your protagonist (whether he is a 'hero' or an 'anti-hero', it makes no difference) you cannot avoid endorsing and participating in the narratives that portray the Arab 'other' as an equally blank tabula rasa ready for imperial imprinting.

It is an interesting film with a unique atmosphere and I can see why it was nominated on that basis but its weaknesses far outweigh its strengths. It was apparently made on the basis that ignoring certain issues makes them go away. Now, it is not necessary for every war film to be a pro- or anti-war polemic but to work through a relatively subtle, character based plot in circumstances such as this requires substantially more subtle filmmaking than was on show here.

I too am surprised at the critical acclaim this film has received. I don't suppose the filmmakers ever dreamed that the film would be as successful as it has been and in this sense I think that the fact this film has been so well received is more important than the specific construction of the narrative itself. Clearly there is a strong appetite for films that give the appearance of gritty realism (to what extent these appearances are valid is an open question). To me this film suggests that many people want to get a 'soldier's eye view' on the war without being subjected to difficult questions about their own complicity in the acts they see occur. This desire is passed off as 'mature' filmmaking, surely a distant cousin of academic 'objectivity'.

These wars are now so deeply engrained in popular consciousness and popular culture that they are developing their own narrative conventions and it could be that this sort of withdrawn, 'matter of fact' aesthetic will become more popular and achieve a place alongside the masturbatory, gun-toting action movies and bleeding-heart-liberal platitude-reels. We will see. What is certain though: a minute spent watching the Oscars is a minute wasted!
Being against foundationalism does not necessarily make one an ‘anti-foundationalist’ – to self-identify with such a moniker effectively reduces the identity of one’s work to that project – the iconoclastic critical-theoretical destruction of foundationalism. While my work does share this aim I fear being reduced to it – anti-foundationalism will not get very far until it broadens out its scope and has the confidence to assert its own assumptions without making the justification of those core assumptions the central point of the argument. In other words, anti-foundationalism will only succeed by administering its own dissolution – it will fail by having this dissolution thrust upon it by foundationalists.
Il n'ya pas de hors-textilité.
Monism does not preclude radical difference – things can, to all intents and purposes, as radically different in a monistic as a dualistic ontology; however, in monism the possibility remains open that it might be otherwise.

A quick, exciting thought

Not only is history necessary for the understanding of the international but, if we recognise the importance of Hegel in the intellectual life of the contemporary euro-west, the international may well be necessary for the understanding of history. Because, as Agamben puts it quoting Hegel:
‘Great men’ are merely instrumental in the forward march of the universal Spirit. Like individuals, ‘they do not know what is commonly held as happiness’. ‘Once they have reached their goal, they sag like empty sacks.’ The real subject of history is the State.