Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

5 Dec 2008

Anyone at all familiar with Žižek’s work would be able to see through Adam Kirsch’s hit piece in the New Republic, which basically seeks to argue that Žižek is a totalitarian anti-Semite who uses jokes as a cloak to mask his hateful agenda. Kirsch employs the usual hit-piece tactics, selectively quoting and failing to fill in the necessary context in order to interpret what is quoted, remaining willfully tone-deaf to irony (and claiming that one must do so to understand the “real” message of the work), and using tautological ad hominem attacks to bolster the argumentative claims when necessary. In all likelihood, Žižek would probably welcome this kind of attack, as it tends to reinforce his claims about leftism and liberalism while raising his profile even further. His intent is to make readers uncomfortable; Kirsch’s piece makes it clear that he has somehow managed to get under Marty Peretz’s skin.

Josh Strawn posts a useful correction to the piece here, (via Larval Subjects) though his eagerness to gesture toward Lacanian exceptionalism is troubling.

When I picked up ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ so many years ago, I gave up on reading it because I was quite certain that anyone that wanted to understand what Žižek was talking about probably needed to understand something about Lacan. What I subsequently discovered was that one does not cursorily educate oneself on Lacan, nor is it possible to do so (even after six years of immersion, it’s quite hard to feel like you ‘get’ Lacan). This is by Lacan’s design. He famously said that the way in should be difficult. It is willful obfuscation, not plain-spokenness in the vein of Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language.’ Then again, Lacan wasn’t teaching politics. He was the most bizarre pedagogue. One learned from him not by way of traditional study, but through experiencing him. The teacher was not to be the disseminator of knowledge so much as the figure who provoked the unquenchable desire for knowledge.

This attitude—performative discourse as opposed to expository discourse—is something that lay readers invariably doubt, if not resent—that social theorists like Lacan must use a method that justifies opacity, inscrutability, and poor expression to convey otherwise inexpressible truths. It requires a leap of faith to immerse yourself in this tortuous material in order to derive the insights, but by the time you start to understand you’ve committed so much effort and time to understanding that you’re biased toward believing. You can no longer evaluate the insights objectively. (But then the possibility of an objective perspective on such insights is often what is being called into question by the theories.) Often the end result is the true believers become a cult that’s more comfortable with dismissing those who fail to climb the mountain and make the total commitment than with spreading the important ideas the cult leader is supposed to have discovered in a persuasive way. The jargon becomes insular and convoluted; the stakes in discussing the theory begin to revolve around which disciple has the true gospel rather than whatever the substance of the gospel was originally. Nothing in the “real world” is affected, because no one in a position to effect change has any idea what the cultists are talking about.

It seems to me that by telling jokes and referencing popular culture and fashioning himself as a theoretical rock star, Žižek is trying to bring Lacanian ideas to a broader audience outside the cult and restore their relevance. His books are nonetheless difficult to understand, but they try to bait lay readers into making the effort with accessible examples and comedic hyperbole. Strawn’s point, that Žižek “can’t shut it off”—can’t stop theorizing and derailing himself and interrupting interlocutors—makes it seem as though he should have a blog, where a heterogeneous, inconsistent approach to events as they unfold are generally tolerated and excusable.

by Mehan Jayasuriya

5 Dec 2008

I’ve heard it said that this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New York felt like an indie rock summer camp. After attending M For Montréal, I now know what that means. Over the course of the three-day festival, the international delegates (that is to say, the group of about 30 festival buyers, agents and journalists who had traveled from abroad to attend) were carefully shepherded from activity to activity by the festival staff. In addition to the showcases there were dinners, happy hours and networking events, all of which were carefully planned and orchestrated by the aforementioned handlers. To their credit, however, the festival never felt like a contrived daycare for music industry insiders. Friendships came easily over the course of three days and even those activities that sounded like tourist clichés on paper turned out to be more than worthwhile. The key was not taking oneself too seriously—something that both the organizers and the attendees seemed to understand instinctively.

Take, for example, the city tour, which took place inside of a yellow school bus on a Saturday morning. Instead of being led by a dry, professional tour guide, the journey was narrated by the festival’s booking and promotion guy, Mikey Bernard. Looking like a Cobra Snake-approved L.A. hipster with his ostensibly ironic moustache and fedora, Mikey was the perfect tour guide, injecting each comment with a bit of sardonic wit. He also knew Montréal’s indie rock landmarks like the back of his hand: the street where American Apparel founder Dov Charney once lived, the apartment where the idea for Vice Magazine was hatched, the restaurant where Leonard Cohen likes to have his breakfast.

Of course, no trip to Montréal would be complete without a visit to Schwartz’s famous Jewish delicatessen, a mainstay of Montréal cuisine for 80 years.

The specialty here is the smoked beef brisket, which is piled high on a two comparatively puny slices of white bread. The meat is rich, hearty and flavorful and almost seems to melt in your mouth—just the thing for a cold Montréal afternoon.

by Bill Gibron

4 Dec 2008

By now, the comic book movie is really nothing new. We’ve already gone through the various phases of adoration - from sycophantic worship to contemplative critical scrutiny. There’s no middle ground anymore. Either your latest funny book hero has to resemble a certain Dark Knight (or at the very least, an Iron Man) or you’re crapping on the artform. Even amiable efforts by The Incredible Hulk and anything X-Men are now considered second tier. So where does The Punisher fit into this fly by night, strike while the iron’s hot dynamic. Is the antihero vigilante a viable 2008 commodity, or was Dolph Lundgren the last word when the character went straight to video back in 1989. After witnessing the waste that is Punisher: War Zone, the answer seems like a solid “yes”.

When his family accidentally witnesses a mob hit, Frank Castle loses everything - wife, children, and marbles. Becoming The Punisher, he works closely with the NYPD to root out the bad guys and deliver a little judge, jury, and executioner justice. During a raid on the headquarters of mob hitman Billy Russoti, Castle accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent. This gets the bureau and its point man Agent Paul Budiansky angry, puts the dead man’s family in danger, and gets The Punisher to question his current career path. In the meantime, he messes up Russoti’s face, and after some botched plastic surgery, the mobster becomes a crazed monster named Jigsaw. After getting his nutso brother out of the insane asylum, the freakshow fiend decides to do away with the wife and child of the G-man, and kill The Punisher once and for all.

Punisher: War Zone is 100 minutes of people getting shot in the face - bad Italian stereotypes, non-existent narrative, and people getting shot in the face. There are so many goombahs in this film that the Super Mario Brothers need to be nervous. Members of certain anti-defamation leagues should be up in arms over the meatballs and manicotti way the mobsters are portrayed. If Sicilians got angry over how they were depicted in The Godfather, this latest Punisher should give them ‘agida’ in the ‘dingamagoo’. And forget that so-called “torture porn”. When the title hero opens fire, no one is left standing, blood spraying like spackle from an untrained plasterer’s pallet knife. And don’t look for anything referenced in the previous flimsy films. This is a reboot, meant to bypass events previous and go right up your unsuspecting ass.

German born Lexi Alexander was rumored to have left this project after completion due to what Lionsgate called “creative differences”. The ‘Net is rife with speculation, but when viewed in 35mm, it’s hard to see where the complaints were. If the studio wanted more violence, then what was Alexander thinking ratcheting down the mayhem? And if they wanted less, then didn’t they see a script filled with firefight after firefight and a main character whose face is literally scraped apart by broken glass? Maybe they all realized how mediocre the movie actually is. Nothing separates the know-it-all rats from a sinking cinematic ship quicker than a literal lack of motion picture quality. 

But Alexander needs to be complimented for staying so closely to the overall ‘80s feel of the film. This Punisher plays like a Charles Band byproduct, make-up effects resembling rejects from Dead Heat and the Savage Steve Holland portfolio. It’s all so cartoonish, uncomplicated, and manufactured to mean nothing beyond its basic shoot ‘em up strategies. Such a result creates a critical dilemma, however. A certain level of love/hate delineation is evident here. If you want plot, characterization, and narrative complexity, go down to your local B&M and buy a copy of Crank, or better yet, anything by Asian auteur John Woo. But if the discharge of gunpowder followed by the random opening of fleshy wounds is all you really care about, then settle in for some serene face-shredding delights.

From a performance standpoint, the new cast is just as capable as the old, with one odd exception. Mock his love of Scientology, but John Travolta was a much more effective villain in the original Punisher than Dominic West’s Don of Douchebags, Billy Russoti, aka Jigsaw. Any character that maintains a sense of narcissism even after a massive Jack Nicholson circa The Joker makeover is not evil - he’s friggin’ nuts. Odder still, he passes off most of the dirty work to his bugnuts brother Looney Bin Jim. As played by the Green Mile‘s pansied Percy Wetmore, Doug Hutchinson, we get the standard insane cackle followed by lots of stunt double fight moves. And as for the main man himself, Ray Stevenson’s Punisher is like an insurance salesman settling unpaid policy scores. He doesn’t look the part of a pissed off vigilante. He’s more like a guy dressed in black paramilitary gear looking for a three martini business meeting.

Far from a complete disaster, Punisher: War Zone does offer up lots of that already mentioned face shooting fun. But on the other hand, when all you have is shrapnel to the visage, there’s not a lot of leeway in the consideration. In a year which saw the sensational Wanted along with a bevy of better action films, this is hapless Hitman hokum at best. In the pantheon of Marvel/DC possibilities, some characters need to be left to the pages of a pen and ink fantasy. They just can’t make a successful leap to legitimate big screen substance. The Punisher is clearly a last tier talent. No matter how many bullets he lets loose in someone’s mug, he just can’t elevate his status above subpar.

by Jason Gross

4 Dec 2008

With news that the news biz is laying off more and more people, I can’t work up enthusiasm for the Grammy nominations right now, even if Lil Wayne bagged a bunch of them (which had to happen anyway since he’s got the best-selling album of the year).  A bunch of friends I know already lost their jobs at Viacom and many others are wondering if they’ll still have their jobs in 2009.

That’s why I’m encouraged by the bits of synergy that I’m starting to see happen more and more.  It’s hard to gauge how far these things can be taken but they might show some promise about the way to go in the Web world.

- Facebook Connect seems like an interesting idea, letting you hook up your Facebook items to your own site.  Publications could do the same, harnessing the power of this popular social networking service onto their site.

- Carnegie Hall is auditioning musicians by YouTube submissions.  This might sound like a gimmick but renowned conductor Michael Tilson Thomas is involved and like the Facebook idea, it also involves harnessing a popular web service for this event.  It’s already done it’s job as it’s gotten the interest of several publications who are covering the event.

- NY Post is posting Wall Street Journal material.  Makes sense since Rupert Murdoch owns both now and why not share resources, especially if there’s less staff to cover everything at each publication?

- Pitchfork and Fader are joining forces in an ad partnership, which will include “print, online, festivals, events and unique content exchanges.”  Not exactly like the NYP/WSJ combo but it’s the same kind of idea of pooling resources.

by Sarah Zupko

4 Dec 2008

Just more proof that the vinyl renaissance is in full swing, the majors are active again in the vinyl arena. Capitol/EMI is on a campaign to re-issue some of the most popular releases from their vast catalogue in 180-gram audiophile quality with the original LP artwork and packaging in limited edition form. These albums are gorgeous and remind those of us who grew up in the pre-MP3 age of the vital role the physicality and artistic presentation of a new record played in learning to love the music itself. Recent releases in this series include such can’t miss titles as John Lennon’s Imagine, Radiohead’s The Bends/OK Computer/Kid A, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Band’s Music from the Big Pink/The Band, Jimi Hendrix’s Hendrix, and many more.


//Mixed media

'Hopscotch' is Anchored in Walter Matthau's Playful, Irascible Personality

// Short Ends and Leader

"With his novel, Hopscotch, Brian Garfield challenged himself to write a suspenseful spy tale in which nobody gets killed.

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