Now live: my interview with Canadian filmmaker J. F. Martel, author of the just-published — and thoroughly wonderful — Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice, which should be of interest to all Teeming Brainers since it comes with glowing blurb recommendations from the likes of Daniel Pinchbeck, Patrick Harpur, Erik Davis, and yours truly.
Here’s a taste of J. F.’s and my conversation:
MATT CARDIN: How would you describe Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice to the uninitiated, to someone who comes to it cold and has no idea what it’s about?
J. F. MARTEL: The book is an attempt to defend art against the onslaught of the cultural industries, which today seek to reduce art to a mindless form of entertainment or, at best, a communication tool. In Reclaiming Art I argue that great works of art constitute an expressive response to the radical mystery of existence. They are therefore inherently strange, troubling, and impossible to reduce to a single meaning or message. Much of contemporary culture is organized in such a way as to push this kind of art to the margins while celebrating works that reaffirm prevailing ideologies. In contrast, real works of art are machines for destroying ideologies, first and foremost the ideologies in which they were created.
MC: What exactly do you mean? How do real works of art serve this subversive function?
JFM: A great art work, be it a movie, a novel, a film, or a dance piece, presents the entire world aesthetically — meaning, as a play of forces that have no inherent moral value. Even the personal convictions of the author, however implicit they may be in the work itself, are given over to the aesthetic. By becoming part of an aesthetic universe, they relinquish the claims to truth that they may hold in the author’s mind in the everyday. This, I think, is how a Christian author like Dostoyevsky can write such agnostic novels, and how an atheistic author like Thomas Ligotti can create fictional worlds imbued with a sense of the sacred, however dark or malignant. Nietzsche said that the world can only be justified aesthetically, that is, beyond the good-and-evil binary trap of ideological thinking. The reason for this is that when we tune in to the aesthetic frequency, we see that the forces that make up the world exceed our “human, all too human” conceptualizations.
FULL INTERVIEW: “Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice“
From an essay published on May 21 at The New Inquiry and bearing the teaser line “Just because we can hear the black helicopters doesn’t mean they don’t exist”:
The modern conspiracy theory is a mythologization of capitalism. That humanity writhes in the grip of a power alien to itself is so palpable that the expression of this reality assumes countless forms in the popular imagination, permeating pop culture, politics, and the persecution anxieties of our booming psychiatric industry. Films like The Adjustment Bureau and television programs like Burn Notice capture the zeitgeist with the laughable simplicity of its most trite tropes, trench coats and all. The novels of Dan Brown append cheap noir to rich cultural pseudo-histories in order to make them more entertaining. The wildly popular television program Ancient Aliens became a cash cow for the History (!) Channel by attributing the greatest historical achievements of scientific discovery and collective activity to little green neo-Calvinist deities from outer space. And never mind the “9/11 Truth Movement” and the shocking contention by some of its leading ideologues that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could organize a poker game, let alone a secret network of underground internment camps in which Art Bell and Alex Jones will soon argue over the top bunk.
In all these expressions, which blur entertainment and information in a manner consistent with the present cultural imaginary, human or extraterrestrial agents are depicted as consciously directing world events behind the backs of those who live them. Though countless colorful theories fall under the umbrella of “New World Order,” and this canon has enjoyed a febrile explosion since the election of the suspiciously other Barack Obama, their basic structure is largely universal. Most importantly, any good conspiracy theory proceeds from empirical premises which are manifestly true. In the vein of Dan Brown, stray facts are woven into vast interconnected webs by tenuous strings of causality and barbaric modus ponens proofs. Historical and social phenomena which are in fact intimately intertwined by the total social relation of capital are instead linked superficially by cheap literary devices.
. . . The irony of the increasing rationalization of society toward some mythic equilibrium is the intensification of paroxysm, of violent crisis, of catastrophe on a heightening scale which it has ensured. The crises inherent in the capitalist cycle now grip the entire planet, leaving destitution in the wake of periodic booms, leaving entire regions to starve, evacuating capital from entire cities and letting them rot while the local ruling class throws up their hands. In the major developed countries, the transition from hulking welfare state apparatuses to militarized police forces maintaining order indicates the increasingly reactionary tendency of states, faced with simply containing the results of a disordered market by brute force, rather than even pretending to curb the causes of destitution and hopelessness among the poor.
When market “experts” discussing the flow of capital sound like meteorologists groping to account for the weather, this is not a coincidence, nor are they’re being disingenuous. Chaos rules the day, though it is backed by the forces of “law and order,” a “hybrid monster” as the bald man remarked, the former referring to legal statutes aimed at responding to crime, and the latter aimed at extra-legal (and often illegal) intervention preventing hypothetical crimes and generally molding the social terrain. The chaos underlying modern life and the scrupulous social order which protects and enforces it appears as a vast global intrigue against those who reproduce it with their daily work. And in a way, it is.
In short, somebody would have to be bat shit crazy not to develop a conspiracy theory about the centralized interconnectivity of these conditions.
More: “I Want to Believe“
Original “All-Seeing Eye” image by de:Benutzer:Verwüstung [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A new short documentary from the CBC titled The Monarchs of Money explains in hair-raising and gut-punching detail how “The world’s central banks have printed unimaginable amounts of money in recent years. Neil Macdonald explores what this means for the global economy and for your financial well-being.”
There’s also an accompanying written report, billed as the first in a series of articles to be collectively titled Power Shift, “on the rise of the central bankers and the global imposition of cheap credit”:
Quietly, without much public fuss or discussion, a new ruling class has risen in the richer nations. These men and women are unelected and tend to shun the publicity hogged by the politicians with whom they co-exist.
They are the world’s central bankers. Every six weeks or so, they gather in Basel, Switzerland, for secret discussions and, to an extent at least, they act in concert. The decisions that emerge from those meetings affect the entire world. And yet the broad public has a dim understanding, if any, of the job they do. In fact, these individuals now wield at least as much influence over the lives of ordinary citizens as prime ministers and presidents.
The tool they have used to change the world so profoundly is one they alone possess: creating money out of thin air. There is an economic term for this: quantitative easing. More colloquially, it’s called printing money. Since the great economic meltdown in 2008, these central bankers have probably saved the world’s economy from collapse, and dragged it into the unknown at the same time. The amounts they have created are so vast as to be almost incomprehensible — trillions of dollars in pounds and euros, among other currencies.
. . . [T]here are two big concerns with what this new central banker elite has done. One is that no one really understands the consequences of pumping such vast amounts of money into the world economy. It’s already distorted the prices of certain assets, and some fear hyperinflation or market crashes are inevitable (the subject of tomorrow’s column). The other is that it’s caused a massive shift in wealth, from savers to borrowers, and is taking money out of the pockets of almost everyone approaching or at retirement age.
. . . Most of that generation grew up believing that if you save and exercise prudence that you will earn at least a modest return on your hard-earned money to keep you comfortable in your old age, perhaps along with a pension. But the money-printing orgy of the last five years looks to have shot that notion to smithereens. Very deliberately, the central bankers have punished savers, pushing interest rates so low that any truly safe investment — and older people are always advised to play it safe — yields a negative return when inflation is factored in.
. . . The plain fact. . . is that central bank- and government-imposed solutions to disasters caused by irresponsible, greedy, foolish behaviour are almost always carried out on the backs of the virtuous.
— Neil Macdonald, “The ‘monarchs of money’ and the war on savers,” CBC News, April 29, 2013
This is brilliant dot-connecting, big-picture journalism of the most valuable sort. Thank you Daniel Gill for the tip!
During the present lead-up to the release of the widely anticipated World War Z movie in June 2013, and amidst the ongoing waves of political and socioeconomic unrest convulsing the real world, there’s much to think about, meditate on, and be thoroughly shaken by in this blog post from anthropologist Gastón Gordillo of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver:
The genre of a zombie pandemic is quite distinct within the larger genre of end-of-the-world scenarios that currently fascinates popular culture. This is the only apocalypse created not by natural cataclysms but, rather, by human bodies that stop obeying the state. In being guided by one unrelenting desire, zombies are human bodies that have been freed from hierarchies, conventions, consumerism, and indoctrination by the media; and this un-coding creates a collective, leaderless, and expansive occupation of space that makes the state crumble. Zombies have this unique power to destroy the state, primarily, because they are free from fear. [World War Z author Max] Brooks was asked why he thinks we are witnessing a growing fascination with zombies, and he candidly replied that they represent anxieties about a world in turmoil and about “chaos in the streets.” And this takes us back to the power of fearless multitudes. The phrase “we are no longer afraid” was one of the most recurring sentiments uttered during the 2011 insurrections of North Africa and the Middle East. Those were, indeed, multitudes that could no longer be “shocked and awed.” That is the affect that terrifies Brooks and that made him fantasize about a global campaign of indiscriminate state violence against rebellious hordes.
But the fear of the coming zombie insurrection may also be a tangential, not-fully-articulated recognition of the zombie-like conditions that capitalism has long cultivated at a planetary scale. After all, the global grinding machine depends on turning billions of people into passive, depoliticized bodies guided (like ticks and zombies) by just a few rudimentary affects: working, consuming, and obeying. Maybe what makes World War Z truly terrifying is the hidden recognition that the insurgent multitudes presented as lifeless hordes have woken up from their zombie nightmare to become unbearably human.
— Gastón Gordillo, “World Revolution Z,” Space and Politics, December 5, 2012
Regardless of your political leanings, watching the (extremely effective) trailer with Dr. Gordillo’s insights in mind makes for an exceptionally bracing philosophical experience full of endless epicycles of connotation and fiction-meets-real-world symbolism. See especially the iconic pyramid of zombie bodies scaling a wall near the trailer’s end.