Monday, May 27, 2013

Slavoj Žižek -- The Event: Politics, Art, Ontology (2013) - 7/8

Review of The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
Dir: Sophie Fiennes
May 5 at the DOXA Film Festival

Sophie Fiennes’ new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, follows Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek on a Virgilian tour through the labyrinths of popular culture. As in many of his seventy or so books, Žižek deploys the ideas of Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, and Walter Benjamin to shed light on the intricate operations of ideology in cinema, TV ad campaigns, and popular music. Here, the emphasis on pop culture serves a two-fold purpose: it exposes the extent to which we denizens of a supposedly “post-ideological society” are entangled in the cobwebs of ideology, and it makes abstruse psychoanalytic and philosophical optics thoroughly palatable to large audiences (a tactic that in large part accounts for Žižek’s veritable intellectual guru status both inside and outside of academia).

For Žižek, following French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (whose revival in academic circles Žižek has played no small part in instigating), ideology is not merely a false screen that obstructs our perception of the way things really are. Reality, for Lacan, necessarily “takes on the structure of a fiction.” We understand the world around us and our roles within it primarily through fragmentary narratives that permeate the cultural sphere. As such, television, film, advertising, and the social networking sites to which so many of us are addicted teach us not just what to desire, but how to desire in an increasingly virtual world.

As in Fiennes’ last Žižek documentary, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the primary focus is on movies that are near and dear to Žižek’s heart, all of which will be familiar to his readers. And once again, a great deal hinges on the easily-overlooked role of “perversion,” an operative concept that radiates through the array of movies he scrutinizes. Above and beyond the colloquial sexual sense of the term, “perversion” has a distinctly Marxist resonance in Lacanian circles. This brand of “fetishistic disavowal” designates the pervasive attitude of “I know very well, but still…” without which the smooth-functioning of everyday life would be almost impossible. In order to “fetishistically” enjoy the spoils of “the Developed World,” we turn a blind eye to the unthinkable conditions in the sweatshops, slaughterhouses, and garbage dumps that make “civilized” life possible. This is an issue familiar to viewers of Astra Taylor’s less probing philosophical documentary, Examined Life.

By the same token, as Žižek repeatedly reminds his readers, in order to properly enjoy the sensuous fruits of virtual modernity, we have to disavow the fact that we are all decaying, defecating animals whose days on this earth are numbered. As undergirdings of the cultural unconscious, these are facts that we all know at some level. But to avoid encountering this traumatic shrapnel of the Real, we occlude our gruesome predicament from plain-view and behave as though it can be ignored out of existence. From a Lacanian standpoint, this particular brand of magical thinking is the sanitized stuff of everyday ideology that we all participate in. There’s no pretense here of being able to escape the snares of ideology, only a heightened awareness of the extent to which “false consciousness” frames our shared reality. The best one can hope for, according to these Lacanian optics, is to make ideology’s operations less opaque so as to have a chance at expropriating the narrative textures that shape all of our beliefs and practices.

The film opens with one of Žižek’s favorite “forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left,” John Carpenter’s They Live, starring former professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as George Nada. Piper’s Nada is a destitute construction worker who finds a box full of sunglasses that, when donned, magically reveal the surfeit of subliminal messages with which a sinister alien race is bombarding humanity at all times. Billboards, magazines, dollars bills, and the like are covertly inundating naive American citizens with injunctions to “consume,” “obey,” “marry,” and “reproduce” in order to keep them dull and docile.

Žižek dwells on one scene in particular: when Nada insists that his buddy Frank (Keith David) try on the glasses to see what lurks behind the veil of civilization, his pal resists tooth-and-nail, and an over-the-top 6-minute brawl ensues between them. Above and beyond showcasing Piper’s pro-wrestling chops, for Žižek this ridiculous scene exemplifies the lengths we are willing to go to in order to avoid confronting and dismantling the fantasy structures that confer the world with a sense of intelligibility and our lives with a patina of purpose. It is, Žižek contends, far easier to relinquish control of our lives than to expose ourselves to the disorienting effects of unmooring our relationship to the dominant ideology.

Other ideological “masterpieces” that Žižek points to are much subtler, precisely because they occupy more prominent positions in the western cultural imaginary. He reads Jaws as a condensation of all the “foreign invaders” that privileged societies like upper-middle-class America worry will disrupt their peaceful communities. Part of what makes Fiennes’ film such a great showcase for Žižek’s approach to cultural studies is the persuasive effect of supplementing his explications with film clips. After listening to Žižek’s account of the ideological coordinates of the film, it’s difficult not to notice that all of the beach-goers scrambling to make it to the shore in one piece are affluent white Americans.

His reading of Titanic cuts right against the grain of its popular cachet. Far from seeing the film as an inspiring love story about a woman (Rose, played by Kate Winslet) who laudably transgresses upper-class mores to get together with her pre-ordained but underprivileged soul-mate (Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio), Žižek characterizes the romance as an example of the fantasy structures that undergird both the culture of “slumming” (and, by extension, we might add, gentrification) and the ubiquitous myth of the perfect soul-mate. The real tragedy of the film, says Žižek, is that, if they had gotten together, after a few weeks of seemingly illicit sex the fireworks would have subsided and Rose, the interloping patrician, would have sucked up enough of poor Jack’s zesty cultural difference to return to upper-crusty culture with renewed zeal. The life boat scene in which she says she’ll never let her dead love go is so telling for Žižek because, in the very same breath as she utters these touching words of endearment, she seems to shove him off into the frozen Atlantic Ocean. The disaster and Jack’s death are necessary obstacles to preserve the normative Hollywood fantasy of the perfect couple.

Žižek’s interpretations of The Sound of Music, Taxi Driver, The Dark Knight, and Coca Cola’s “Coke Is It” campaign all hit the mark and make ample use of the cinematic platform to buttress his claims. Others, like his polemical take on The Last Temptation of Christ as a vehicle for radical atheism, resonate more tenuously and require the kind of attention he gives them in books like The Sublime Object of Ideology.

The film’s biggest weakness, however, pertains to its own ideological coordinates. As a rule, Žižek tends to waffle expediently on a number of controversial issues (like, for instance, the sustainability of capitalism), depending on the perceived disposition of the audience he’s addressing at the time. So, while Fiennes and Žižek devote a great deal of time exposing the contours of the ideology of European anti-Semitism, no attention is devoted to the ideological screens that render US-Israeli foreign policy acceptable to the Western general public. Of course, Žižek is keenly aware of Palestinian and Middle Eastern Muslims’ pervasive status as sharks in supposedly otherwise tranquil Israeli waters. But the film seems to concede to the unviability of broaching this issue to mainstream Western audiences.

Those interested in the sharpest versions of his arguments should check out books like First as Tragedy, which are decisively more antagonistic to Anglo-American sacred cows than this film or his embarrassingly mealy-mouthed interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Whether this colours him as an adroit pedagogical salesman or a craven hypocrite is probably going to be a function of your own ideological disposition. Without skipping a beat, Žižek would likely reply that the very illusion of being able to evade hypocrisy in the socio-symbolic order is the Right-wing fantasy screen par excellence.

Another seeming blind spot, though this one isn’t nearly so blameworthy, is the glaring absence of references to Internet culture. If, as Lacan claims, the unconscious is structured like a language, in the digital 21st-century, much of it is constituted by algorithmic bits and bytes in the fiber-optic datastream. Though speaking to this issue has never been Žižek’s forte (and, given his immense cognitive talents and encyclopedic knowledge of theory, literature, film, and opera, it would be obtuse to begrudge him for not spending enough time online), this state of affairs calls for a third film about the perverse aspects of Facebook, Google, Mac, and other mediatic platforms whose “user-friendly” interfaces lure individuals into cycles of addictive “surfing” while inundating us with increasingly subtle and seductive advertising campaigns. As media critics like Bernard Stiegler point out, this is a porous and immersive relationship with our gadgets that renders our daily activities increasingly susceptible to corporate and governmental surveillance, not to mention previously unthought of varieties of identity theft. None of this paranoia-inducing terrain would be beyond the pale for Žižek, given his elaborate theoretical articulation of the virtual “Big Other,” an imagined and internalized superegoic agency before whom we are made to believe we need to regiment our behaviour and desires. And it would likely be edifying and entertaining to hear Žižek’s anecdotal-philosophical take on our relation to the Big Other in the age of Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds.

Go see The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology when it comes out. The film strikes a rare balance between progressive cultural analysis, entertainment, and philosophical education. So much so that when the credits roll you’ll find yourself wondering, eerily, whether you’re applauding Žižek and Fiennes’ tour de force or merely for the benefit of the Big Other.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Spectrality of Ayn Rand


For Zizek there is an ideological procedure in Rand’s work that is far more radical than she herself would have admitted. Rand, he argues, belongs to a line of authors who are “overconformist” and who, by nature of their very excessive identification with the ruling ideology (welfare capitalism), achieve a successful subversion of that ideology. How does this work? Zizek argues that Rand’s “over-orthodoxy was directed at capitalism itself”. Rand gives us capitalism in its pure, unmediated, basic form. According to her, “the truly heretical thing today is to embrace the basic premise of capitalism without its communitarian, collectivist, welfare, etc. sugar-coating”. In other words, Rand read contemporary capitalism as “decaffeinated”, not capitalist enough, as is illustrated by the title of one of her books, Capitalism: the unknown ideal.

Further proof that Rand in fact undermined contemporary capitalism in the name of a fundamental, pure capitalism, is, according to Zizek, to be located in her opposition between the “prime movers” and the “second handers” in her work. The prime mover is independent and autonomous, he makes no sacrifices and his satisfaction does not depend on the well-being of others. The prime mover rejects the Hegelian construction of personhood coming into itself only externally, through the recognition of others. Because the prime mover is not “contaminated” by others and otherness, he is presented in Rand as innocent and without hatred or fear. Roark does not hate Toohey, he simply does not think or care about him. Second handers are followers – they rely on others, are properly dependent for their happiness on others. The second handers are the contaminators, diluting and dirtying the pure ideal.

But Zizek turns the atheistic, selfish ethic of the prime mover, as advocated in Rand’s work, on its head, arguing that the prime mover is capable of love for others, that it is in fact the love for others that is properly Randian (or shall we say Roarkian?) in that it is the highest form of selfishness – turning the other into my love object through whom I satisfy my innermost drives. In Atlas Shrugged, the withdrawal of the prime movers from “bureaucratised public life” has disastrous consequences, resulting in global disintegration. The society of mass men beg the prime movers to return, which they do, but on their own terms. Zizek reads the ideological procedure here as being located in a simple answer to the “eternal question”: What moves the world? Rand’s answer is: the prime movers, of course.

Zizek shows how Rand reverses our everyday evaluation of the strike as an activity of the workers. In Atlas Shrugged, it is the capitalists who go on strike and the society disintegrates. It is only their selfish love for others that saves it. The secret retreat where the capitalists go operates as close as possible to the capitalist ideal – everything occurs strictly in accordance with the law of the market – even the word ‘help’ is prohibited.

Zizek makes a helpful distinction between desire and drive that can help us to better understand why the prime mover’s love for others is simply self-love. Here he examines the relationship between Roark and Dominique, arguing that Roark is the one who is a “being of pure drive” whereas Dominique is ruled by “desire”. Thus, Roark needs the Other (Dominique) simply as the (temporary) source of the satisfaction of drive. He is in fact totally indifferent to her subjectivity – “[a]t the level of drive, [...] one can dispose of the Other. Dominique, on the other hand is the one who is consumed by her desire, which, in Zizek’s appropriation of Lacan, is always desire of the Other. Whereas Roark is indifferent, Dominique is affected. And the only way for her to be free from this desire is to sacrifice/destroy everything she cares for. Hence Dominique’s attempts to ruin Roark – the true object of her desire. And Roark knows this very well, that is why he resists her advances – Dominique must achieve the shift from desire to drive if she wants to have him.

Dominique, on the other hand, wants to destroy Roark’s position of pure drive. The result is a self-destructive dialectic, played out at its most intense when Dominique furiously whips Roark in what Zizek describes as an act of self-despair on her part, “an awareness of his hold over her, of her inability to resist him”. This is paid for by the first sex scene between them as a brutal rape. Dominique’s tragic predicament lies in the fact that she knows that the only way for her and Roark to be “an ordinary couple” is for him to become worthless, in other words, to destroy the very thing that causes her to desire him – his excessive autonomous creativity.

There is no way out of this deadlock, beautifully expressed in Dominique’s words: “I want to be owned, not by a lover, but by an adversary who will destroy my victory over him.” Rand illustrates a fundamental conflict between the prime movers themselves; and the figure who causes this conflict is Dominique, the hysterical prime mover. The only resolution to the destructive dialectics between Roark and Dominique is for her to accept indifference – she must give up the very core of what makes life worth living for her, she must “accept the end of the world”.

What makes Zizek’s reading of Rand truly extraordinary is his claim that Roark and Dominique are in fact a lesbian couple. How is this claim possible? Recall that Dominique is portrayed as a feminine hysterical subject obsessed by her desire for the Other. The only way in which she can “have” the Other is for her to pass through the fantasmatic ordeal of an acceptance of indifference – the being that emerges is a “perfected” prime mover and this being is psychically feminine – Roark is a woman. As Zizek puts it: “What Rand was not aware of was that the upright, uncompromising masculine figures with a will of steel with whom she was so fascinated, are effectively figures of the feminine subject liberated from the deadlocks of hysteria.”


The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

“According to our rational view, ideology is something that we see as interrupting our clear view.  We see it as something imposed from outside.  We see it as a pair of glasses that we are forced to wear, that when we remove we see things clearly.  This is inaccurate.  Ideology is our spontaneous relationship to our social world and the way that we perceive meaning.  We, in a way, enjoy our ideology.  To leave your ideological impulses is painful.  It hurts us.  Spontaneously we live in a lie.  The truth can be very painful.  You must be forced to be free.”

YOLO, Fritz Lang, 1937

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dude, wait. What? Unions in the USA?

for a laugh, see: 

The Koch brothers have set their sights on destroying what remains of the free press. They are considering buying one of the biggest media groups in America – the Tribune papers, which comprise eight major publications, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

also see:
“Who Can Stop the Koch Brothers From Buying the Tribune Papers? Unions Can, and Should”


Unfortunately, this is more Rolling Stone “pipe dreams” (pseudo-leftist bong dreams).
Unions in the USA versus big money? Sorry, but it’s a no-brainer:  kochsuckers win.
Will Unions really take root in America?
Not unless the poor see themselves as an exploited proletariat (instead of seeing themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”).


On the role of the European Left

traversing the fantasy

“On Art Workers’ Labor Conditions” (Moscow)

Below is an excerpt from Evgenia Abramova’s research project “On Art Workers’ Labor Conditions” (Moscow) originally published in Russian on (September 2012)

1. The structure of the project
1.1. Purpose and Objectives

The main purpose of this project is to investigate the working conditions of art workers in Moscow. In Russia, this aspect of contemporary art has largely been ignored, as debates in the field usually focused on either aesthetic considerations or market analysis. This began to change only in 2009-2010, thanks to the efforts of several groups (the so-called “Voronezh group” – Maria Chehonadskih, Arseny Zhilyaev, Elizabeta Bobryashova, Mikhail Lylov, the platform Chto Delat?/ What is to be done?, the “Forward” Socialist Movement and others). These groups were among the first who began to seriously discuss problems related to artistic labor. They organized the First and Second May Congress for Art Workers together with other activist and artistic groups in Moscow between 2010 and 2012. During these public events, participants argued at length about problems related to precarious employment in the art world. In line with these initiatives, the project “On Art Workers’ Labor Conditions,” implemented with the support of the website Polit.Ru, was launched in 2009.

The objectives of this project were to collect, publish and analyze evidence related to the working conditions of art workers in contemporary art. Such information has rarely been publicized in the media and was never consolidated in a single resource. (1) At the same time, art workers’ problems and urgencies are still intensely discussed in private. The first systematic attempt to bring these voices together was initiated by the May Congress in 2010 in Moscow (in the section “Personal testimonies of art workers”).

The theoretical framework of this project was informed by recent studies and debates on the economic, social and political changes during late capitalism, as influenced by globalization and new information and communication technologies. Under these conditions, labor became understood as “immaterial,” “affective,” “creative,” and most importantly “unstable.” The concept of the “precarity” emerged, together with attempts to describe and explain how the stable conditions of employment of the Fordist era changed towards low paid work and unstable employment in the post-Fordist period. “Precarity” marked the emergence of a new labor model based on the exploitation of intellectual, communicative and affective abilities of workers.

At the same time, “precarity” as a concept marked the emergence of a new political subject, “the precariat,” which incorporated various social groups united by “precarious conditions” but these communities also had the potentiality to constitute a new political force (or class) and to generate events that would transform the existing economic and social relations, as well as change the prevailing mode of production.

1.2 Methodology

The methodology of the project was based on qualitative sociological research, namely gathering “oral histories.” This strategy had the advantage of selecting case studies instead of using a general model; illustrating labor conditions with biographical details; and varying the questions instead of just repeating those included in a rigid questionnaire. Furthermore, the gathered testimonies could be published. (2)

The criteria for selecting the interviewees were the following:

the place of residence at the time of the interview was Moscow (the urban space, which those living and working in the city had in common)

interviewees were under 35 years old (the standard age-limit denoting a “young art worker” – in this project, the age limit was not intended to define the “view and lifestyle of a generation”)

having a professional interest in contemporary art (as stated by the interviewees themselves or those who classify their artistic activities within the framework of contemporary art) (3)

participation in the programs of various institutions related to contemporary art

Additionally, the interviewees’ places of employment had to be different (one interviewee per institution), in order to gather as much information as possible from diverse institutions. This condition was broken only twice: the artist Rostan Tavasiev and the director Ilya Volf, who both collaborated/worked with/in “Aidan Gallery.”

Interviewees were selected through personal contacts and the Internet. During the period between May 2010 and May 2011, 15 interviews were conducted, each lasting from 2.5 hours to 4 hours (with breaks). (4) The interviews took place in Moscow in coffee shops or at the interviewees’ place of employment, and posed questions about living and working in Moscow, level of education, social benefits, participation in collectives and academic/professional organizations, as well as the role of traditional and new media in artistic practice.


Nick Devereaux, Inpainting, 29 May - 30 June, Venice


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Village full movie

Philosophy is Not Dying


I know some scientists, like Stephen Hawking, are trying to generate this impression that philosophy is dying.  They even use a very interesting term, experimental metaphysics.  They claim that today with the latest thing that quantum physics can do, we can put to an empirical test questions which were once properly philosophical questions, like "Does the world have an end?" and so on and so on.  

I am an ultra-optimist for philosophy.  No, it’s not dying.  I claim that what is happening, for example, in quantum physics, in the last 100 of years, things which are so daring, incredible, that we cannot include into our conscious view of reality - Hegel’s philosophy, with all it’s dialectical paradoxes, can be of some help here.  I claim that reading quantum physics through Hegel and vice versa is very productive.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Oliver Stone gets award at Croatian film festival

(AFP) – 22 hours ago  
ZAGREB — US three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has received a lifetime achievement award at a film festival in Croatia that hosts debate on social issues.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Enough is enough!

Ludwig Museum, Budapest, Hungary
MAY 12, 2013

More than 30 artists occupied the Ludwig Museum on Thursday, May 9th 2013, to demand complete transparency in the selection process for a new director and the institution’s autonomy from right-wing ruling party Fidesz. The Ludwig’s current director, Barnabás Bencsik, endorsed by the Ludwig Foundation for his outstanding work, is competing against Fidesz-backed Júlia Fabényi for the position. Read more here.

Enough is enough!
Ludwig Museum Budapest, 10 May 2013, 1 pm

From this day on, United for Contemporary Art keeps the building of the Ludwig Museum open 24 hours a day. We are present, and we will work here, hold forums here, and sleep here, until our demands have been granted.

We have come to this decision as the State Secretariat for Culture of the Ministry of Human Resources has ceased to operate as a competent maintainer and resource manager. For months, it has not been capable of appointing a professionally competent and responsible new leadership to the museum. To this day, it has not made available the withheld part of the bursary granted to independent performing art groups in 2012, despite repeated promises.
The examples of the Ludwig and the independents are symptomatic of the system’s malfunctioning. The functioning of Hungarian public administration lacks transparency and, for this reason, does not serve the needs of its citizens.


Enough is enough!

Events leading to today’s press conference:
We awaited Mr Zoltán Balog, Minister of Human Resources, until 11 am on 10 May 2013, to negotiate our professional demands and to call for transparency in cultural decisions. Minister Balog did not attend the forum, nor did he react to our invitation in any way.

We consider the practice of cultural decision-makers overriding the professional scene and refusing dialogue to be unacceptable.
United for Contemporary Art continues to await the Minister’s appearance at the Ludwig Museum, and for his worthy reaction to our demands!

What do we demand?
- Transparency in cultural governance!
- Institutional and professional autonomy!
- Cessation of resource withdrawal, compensation for abstract resources, and consideration for public interest and public benefit with respect to the distribution of support!
- Undertaking responsibility, and consideration for professionality in cultural decisions!
- Dialogue between Hungarian culture and the decision-makers of cultural policy!
- The dissolution of concealment with respect to the tender for director of the Ludwig Museum, and a new, transparent tender, facilitating social and professional control, dialogue, and debate!

Whom do we await?
All those, who are unsatisfied with processes that are not transparent on the cultural scene, and who take a stand behind cultural autonomy with their presence, and all those, who, as citizens, are unsatisfied with state autocracy, and demand an open relationship based on dialogue with the current leaders of the state!

Those who have already joined and continue their work here during the coming days:
- This afternoon Humán Platform will hold their current plenary assembly
- Saturday morning, the Association of the Independent Performing Arts (FESZ) will hold its regular general assembly before the Ludwig
- Monday morning: Art and Activism seminar
- Tuesday morning: tranzit. hu working discussion
- Wednesday: Fotokontakt – Photography and Activism workshop

Further programmes are currently under planning stages.

When and where?
At the Ludwig Museum, from today, 24 hours a day, until our demands have been granted.
Let’s be present together!
Enough is enough!
United for Contemporary Art (FB)

Lost in Translation, MMOMA


Collateral Event of the 55th International Art Exhibition — la Biennale di Venezia
Curated by Antonio Geusa

Opening: May 29 at 5 p. m.
Press-preview: May 29 at 11 a. m.
Opening hours: daily, except Tuesdays, 10 a. m. to 6 p.m.

In Russia a poet is more than a poet
Yevgeny Yevtushenko

As part of the Collateral Events of the 55th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia — Moscow Museum of Modern Art presents «Lost in Translation», a large-scale exhibition of contemporary Russian art exploring the inherent untranslatability of culture-and context-dependent works in times of globalization. The exhibition brings together over one hundred works made in the past forty years from the collection of MMOMA and other public and private collections.

Since its formulation about half a century ago, the concept of global village has evolved from theoretical potentiality into practical reality. Technological development has made international communication simpler and faster. The wide web the world has become today has strongly curtailed the power of geographic, political, and economic borders to isolate. Although the village is global, it is clearly not homogeneous. Communicating has become easier, but its effectiveness is still dependent upon clear understanding between communicators. To achieve clarity, the main factor is the accuracy of translation from one language into another. Art is not immune to the need of being translated. A process of transfer is in act each time a work of art is exhibited to the audience which is not familiar with the context it comes from. Historical and political differences, cultural diversities, the language barrier, or even dissimilar approaches in theoretical analysis are some of the causes that can induce lack of intelligibility and the need of further explanation.

Contemporary history proves that, despite the fall of the Iron Curtain in December 1991 and the consequent end of the isolation and immediate entrance of Russia into the global village, translation is still a fundamental element to trigger proper understanding of individual artworks and the layers of meaning they carry. In many cases, this is a complex procedure requiring, besides the plain translation of the verbal meaning of a message, the addition of an explanatory account shedding light upon the given historical, cultural, political, social, and economical environment the work is motivated by and refers to. Artist Oleg Kulik gained worldwide popularity after doing a series of his «man-dog» performance in the 1990s. It would be easier to grasp his outrageous artistic disguise should one interpret it in the context of the radical economic reforms launched by Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin; the reforms described as «shock therapy,» which was aimed at converting the whole country from socialism to capitalism. Likewise, the context would make it easier to understand why the popular Soviet TV series The Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973) was a source of inspiration for several Russian modern artists while meaning virtually nothing to the Western viewer.

Lost in Translation draws together works executed in various media — paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, videos, installations, performances — by established Russian artists with international acclaim as well as emerging young artists. Carefully selected by the curator on the basis of their resistance to translatability, these artworks are particularly difficult to decipher without the basic knowledge of the «Russian context» they were born in. They will be displayed together with their «expanded translation» — a concise verbal account with essential references, a thesaurus article of sorts, which facilitates readability and help the viewers grasp the meaning of the work and relate it to international contemporary art discourse. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with entries on each exhibit, and is complemented with film screenings, talks, performances, and a multidisciplinary conference.

The exhibition is held at Ca’ Foscari University, an established center for Slavic Studies in Italy, and the home of the CSAR Centre for Studies on the Arts of Russia aimed at researching the historical and cultural heritage of Russia and promoting exchanges with major Russian cultural institutions.

Yuri Albert | Nikita Alekseev | Sergey Anufriev | Bluesoup |Sergey Bratkov | Alexander Brodsky | Erik Bulatov | Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov | Elena Elagina | Semen Faybisovich | Andrey Filippov | Rimma and Valery Gerlovin | Lyudmila Gorlova | Iced Architects | Dmitry Gutov | Anna Jermolaewa | Alisa Joffe | Ilya Kabakov | Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid | Irina Korina | Valery Koshlyakov | Alexander Kosolapov | Oleg Kulik | Sergey Leontiev | Anton Litvin | Vladimir Logutov | Igor Makarevich | Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe | Andrei Monastyrsky | Semen Motolyanets | Vladimir Nemukhin | Timur Novikov | Boris Orlov | Peppers | Pavel Peppershtein | Viktor Pivovarov | Alexander Ponomarev | Gia Rigvava | Mikhail Roginsky | Yuri Shabelnikov | Sergey Shutov | Leonid Sokov | Alena Tereshko | Avdey Ter-Oganyan | Vadim Zakharov | Konstantin Zvezdochetov | and others

Dr. Antonio Geusa is an independent curator, art critic, and lecturer; he is an expert in new media art and a key researcher of Russian video art. He holds an MA in philology (University of Bari, Italy), and a PhD in media arts (London University, U. K.). Dr. Geusa is the author of numerous publications, including «The History of Russian Video Art. Volumes 3-2-1» published on the occasion of a three-part exhibition under the same name organized by MMOMA in 2007-2010. He lives and works in Moscow, Russia.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Franz Fanon, violence as liberation

Žižek – “The Event: Politics, Art, Ontology”

Event Date: 9 May 2013
Room B34
Birkbeck Main Building
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HX
Professor  Slavoj Žižek – “The Event: Politics, Art, Ontology”

‘The Debris Field’ by Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Chris McCabe

Reviewed by David Clarke

The Atlantic liner Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 people, has achieved a remarkable status in western culture. It has become a persistent moral metaphor, serving to illustrate everything from the hubris of humanity (as in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Convergence of the Twain’), to the failings of the class system (as in Roy Baker’s still harrowing 1958 film A Night to Remember) and the dangers of a misplaced confidence in progress (as in Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s poem sequence The Sinking of the Titanic of 1978). In the Second World War, the story even served Joseph Goebbels as a symbol of the evils of British capitalism, the theme of a 1943 film drama he commissioned on the disaster (see The Titanic in Myth and Memory: Representations in Visual and Literary Culture for more on this). Slavoj Žižek has aptly described the Titanic as a symptom of modern culture in the psychoanalytic sense, a ‘knot of meanings’ occupying a space in our collective imagination that somehow pre-existed the actual disaster itself: as Žižek points out, one popular novel from 1898 had already described the sinking of a ship called Titan in uncannily similar circumstances.

It is this ‘knot of meanings’ that The Debris Field sets out to explore. Here the Titanic is described as a ‘double ship’, ghosted by its own myth. The pamphlet results from a multimedia project to mark the centenary of the Titanic that poets Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Chris McCabe developed in collaboration with filmmaker Jack Wake-Walker and composer Oli Barrett. The complete film is scheduled for release on DVD, but the publication of the pamphlet stakes a claim for the words to have an independent existence beyond the original project.


Chris Hedges interviews Julian Assange


Britain has rejected an Ecuadorean request that Assange be granted safe passage to an airport. He is in limbo. It is, he said, like living in a “space station.”

“The status quo, for them, is a loss,” Assange said of the U.S.-led campaign against him as we sat in his small workroom, cluttered with cables and computer equipment. He had a full head of gray hair and gray stubble on his face and was wearing a traditional white embroidered Ecuadorean shirt. “The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from U.S. government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.”

“But they have failed,” he went on. “They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on Sept. 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself and the organization more generally.”

Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks, by making public in 2010 half a million internal documents from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, effectively exposed the empire’s hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence and its use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation. WikiLeaks shone a spotlight into the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this it has become empire’s prey. Those around the globe with the computer skills to search out the secrets of empire are now those whom empire fears most. If we lose this battle, if these rebels are defeated, it means the dark night of corporate totalitarianism. If we win, if the corporate state is unmasked, it can be destroyed. 

U.S. government officials quoted in Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Saturday Age described the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” The scope of the operation has also been gleaned from statements made during Manning’s pretrial hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice will apparently pay the contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Va., more than $2 million this year alone for a computer system that, from the tender, appears designed to handle the prosecution documents. The government line item refers only to “WikiLeaks Software and Hardware Maintenance.”

The lead government prosecutor in the Manning case, Maj. Ashden Fein, has told the court that the FBI file that deals with the leak of government documents through WikiLeaks has “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents.” This does not include a huge volume of material accumulated by a grand jury investigation. Manning, Fein has said, represents only 8,741 pages or 636 different documents in that classified FBI file.

There are no divisions among government departments or the two major political parties over what should be Assange’s fate. “I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost. And I think that needs to be clear,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking for the Obama administration, said during a 2010 press briefing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and then-Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, said in a joint letter to the U.S. attorney general calling for Assange’s prosecution: “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned. …”

Republican Candice S. Miller, a U.S. representative from Michigan, said in the House: “It is time that the Obama administration treats WikiLeaks for what it is—a terrorist organization, whose continued operation threatens our security. Shut it down. Shut it down. It is time to shut down this terrorist, this terrorist Web site, WikiLeaks. Shut it down, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.”

At least a dozen American governmental agencies, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service, are assigned to the WikiLeaks case, while the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are assigned to track down WikiLeaks’ supposed breaches of security. The global assault—which saw Australia threaten to revoke Assange’s passport—is part of the terrifying metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government?

A former FBI counterterrorism agent claims on CNN that this is the case
Glenn Greenwald,
4 May, 2013

The real capabilities and behavior of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counterterrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgment of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.

Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way.

On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."

"All of that stuff" - meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant - "is being captured as we speak".

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that "all digital communications in the past" are recorded and stored:

Let's repeat that last part: "no digital communication is secure", by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications - meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like - are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.

There have been some previous indications that this is true. Former AT&T engineer Mark Klein revealed that AT&T and other telecoms had built a special network that allowed the National Security Agency full and unfettered access to data about the telephone calls and the content of email communications for all of their customers. Specifically, Klein explained "that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T" and that "contrary to the government's depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists . . . much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic." But his amazing revelations were mostly ignored and, when Congress retroactively immunized the nation's telecom giants for their participation in the illegal Bush spying programs, Klein's claims (by design) were prevented from being adjudicated in court.

That every single telephone call is recorded and stored would also explain this extraordinary revelation by the Washington Post in 2010:

Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

It would also help explain the revelations of former NSA official William Binney, who resigned from the agency in protest over its systemic spying on the domestic communications of US citizens, that the US government has "assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens" (which counts only communications transactions and not financial and other transactions), and that "the data that's being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want."

Despite the extreme secrecy behind which these surveillance programs operate, there have been periodic reports of serious abuse. Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have been warning for years that Americans would be "stunned" to learn what the US government is doing in terms of secret surveillance.

Strangely, back in 2002 - when hysteria over the 9/11 attacks (and thus acquiescence to government power) was at its peak - the Pentagon's attempt to implement what it called the "Total Information Awareness" program (TIA) sparked so much public controversy that it had to be official scrapped. But it has been incrementally re-instituted - without the creepy (though honest) name and all-seeing-eye logo - with little controversy or even notice.

Back in 2010, worldwide controversy erupted when the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banned the use of Blackberries because some communications were inaccessible to government intelligence agencies, and that could not be tolerated. The Obama administration condemned this move on the ground that it threatened core freedoms, only to turn around six weeks later and demand that all forms of digital communications allow the US government backdoor access to intercept them. Put another way, the US government embraced exactly the same rationale invoked by the UAE and Saudi agencies: that no communications can be off limits. Indeed, the UAE, when responding to condemnations from the Obama administration, noted that it was simply doing exactly that which the US government does:

"'In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance - and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight - that Blackberry grants the US and other governments and nothing more,' [UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al] Otaiba said. 'Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the US for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement.'"

That no human communications can be allowed to take place without the scrutinizing eye of the US government is indeed the animating principle of the US Surveillance State. Still, this revelation, made in passing on CNN, that every single telephone call made by and among Americans is recorded and stored is something which most people undoubtedly do not know, even if the small group of people who focus on surveillance issues believed it to be true (clearly, both Burnett and Costello were shocked to hear this).

Some new polling suggests that Americans, even after the Boston attack, are growing increasingly concerned about erosions of civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. Even those people who claim it does not matter instinctively understand the value of personal privacy: they put locks on their bedroom doors and vigilantly safeguard their email passwords. That's why the US government so desperately maintains a wall of secrecy around their surveillance capabilities: because they fear that people will find their behavior unacceptably intrusive and threatening, as they did even back in 2002 when John Poindexter's TIA was unveiled.

Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture. But whatever one's views on that, the more that is known about what the US government and its surveillance agencies are doing, the better. This admission by this former FBI agent on CNN gives a very good sense for just how limitless these activities are.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

We don't really want what we think we desire

Slavoj Žižek And Capitalism’s Ideology


When you walk into multi-national coffee chains you notice the popularity of ‘fair-trade’ labels and concern for the environment. No longer are you simply buying a cup of coffee, you are buying an ethical experience.

Žižek states “cultural capitalism at its purest – in the very consumerist act you buy redemption from being a consumerist”. At first we believe in good causes, equality and environment, then are sold the idea that through a consumerist purchase factoring in the ‘cost’ of the poverty and ecology we can find absolution. An ideology that encourages more spending, giving further profit to the very companies responsible for the inequality and environmental damage.


U.S. gives big, secret push to Internet surveillance

Around the time that CISPA was originally introduced in late 2011, NSA, DOD, and DHS officials were actively meeting with the aides on the House Intelligence committee who drafted the legislation, the internal documents show. The purpose of the meeting, one e-mail shows, was to brief committee aides on "cyber defense efforts." In addition, Ryan Gillis, a director in DHS's Office of Legislative Affairs, sent an e-mail to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, discussing the pilot program around the same time.

AT&T and CenturyLink are currently the only two providers that have been publicly announced as participating in the program. Other companies have signed a memorandum of agreement with DHS to join, and are currently in the process of obtaining security certification, said a government official, who declined to name those companies or be identified by name.
Approval of the 2511 letters came after concerns from within the Justice Department and from industry. An internal e-mail thread among senior Defense Department, Homeland Security, and Justice Department officials in 2011, including associate deputy attorney general James Baker, outlines some of the obstacles:

 [The program] has two key barriers to a start. First, the ISPs will likely request 2511 letters, so DoJ's provision of 3 2511 letters (and the review of DIB company banners as part of that) is one time requirement. DoJ will provide a timeline for that. Second, all participating DIB companies would be required to change their banners to reference government monitoring. All have expressed serious reservations with doing so, including the three CEOs [the deputy secretary of defense] discussed this with. The companies have informally told us that changing the banners in this manner could take months.

Another e-mail message from a Justice Department attorney wondered: "Will the program cover all parts of the company network -- including say day care centers (as mentioned as a question in a [deputies committee meeting]) and what are the policy implications of this?" The deputies committee includes the deputy secretary of defense, the deputy director of national intelligence, the deputy attorney general, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"These agencies are clearly seeking authority to receive a large amount of information, including personal information, from private Internet networks," says EPIC staff attorney Amie Stepanovich, who filed a lawsuit against Homeland Security in March 2012 seeking documents relating to the program under the Freedom of Information Act. "If this program was broadly deployed, it would raise serious questions about government cybersecurity practices."

In January, the Department of Homeland Security's privacy office published a privacy analysis (PDF) of the program saying that users of the networks of companies participating in the program will see "an electronic login banner [saying] information and data on the network may be monitored or disclosed to third parties, and/or that the network users' communications on the network are not private."

An internal Defense Department presentation cites as possible legal authority a classified presidential directive called NSPD 54 that President Bush signed in January 2008. Obama's own executive order, signed in February 2013, says Homeland Security must establish procedures to expand the data-sharing program "to all critical infrastructure sectors" by mid-June. Those are defined as any companies providing services that, if disrupted, would harm national economic security or "national public health or safety."

Those could be very broad categories, says Rosenzweig, author of a new book called "Cyber War," which discusses the legality of more widespread monitoring of Internet communications.

"I think there's a great deal of discretion," Rosenzweig says. "I could make a case for the criticality of several meat packing plants in Kansas. The disruption of the meat rendering facilities in Kansas would be very disruptive to the meat-eating habits of Americans."