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Monday, April 23, 2012

Roadside Attractions: MARGIN CALL : Seeing It Through Post Modern Thought




A perfect movie although not why you might think.

For an excellent review from the NY Times: Go here.

The financial crash of 2008, predicted by DeLillo in Cosmopolis and by Rand in Atlas Shrugged, albeit both clairvoyants saw it differently.

Derivatives: Just in case you don't really know what they are:

Take your mortgage with all its pages and shred it into almost microscopic bits, so teeny-tiny, itty-bitty that you can hardly even see these pieces. OK so far? Then take each of these pieces of dust and put each one in a separate invisible box. You will need hundreds of millions of boxes. Do the same for another mortgage, and another, and another........in fact to millions of mortgages until you fill each invisible box with millions of infintesimal pieces of specks. Of course the computer does all this on its hard drive, but just so concrete thinkers like me can visualize it in imagination like topological math of imaginary space.

Each imaginary box is one derivative, holding millions of pieces  representing one mortgage for each piece. See how representation breaks down in POMO thinking. Now these boxes are bundled and sold as securities, much like real mortgages used to be bundled and sold to spread the risk. Then if one mortgage went into default it didn't matter too very much because it was only one in a bundle. Now the bundles of derivatives have such a tiny particle of almost nothing that it couldn't drag the price of the bundle down if it wanted to. Voila! Foolproof! Now to get them insured by the highest triple A rating so they could also be sold to pension funds, as there are zillions of pension funds circulating all over the world!

This is simulated reality. There is no product. There is no reference point -house, building, paper mortage for that house or building, no bundle of papers, just nada. Just "floating signs" of investment paper, that investment bankers, investors, pension funds are buying, completely worthless except since people are buying them in droves and paying billions, how can they be worthless?

So now we get to Baudrillard's work on consumption, the commodity, Marx, labor, and sign. Consumption is no longer consumption of real objects, but consumption  of signs, "floating signs" which these bundles of derivatives were as are other commodities. (Vija Kinski: your condo is worth the number you paid for it.)Do you buy the Tommy Hilfiger shirt because it's a wonderful shirt, or are you buying it because the design screams Tommy Hilfiger? Do you buy the bundle of derivatives because the broker sells you on them, or because the broker is working at the prestigious Goldman-Sachs Corp? Do you buy them because it has that triple A rating? A sure bet. A safe bet. No risk security. Seems even better that a govt bond which is backed by the full faith of the US govt. My grandfather was a bond trader who had clients that went down on the Titanic and this is the kind of safe, safe thing they bought to give them a safe safe income, protect their wealth, and keep them in the style they were accustomed to living.

Back to MARGIN CALL at last.

The super smart research guy is let go. He is not adding to the bottom line. Gone. But he has been working on this as he knows it's all hot air so he's watching it carefully and expects the meltdown. So did I as a matter of fact, and only because I had had Alan Greenspan as a teacher and when he went in to the Feds I knew he had become an anti-Randian hero. Then when he became chairman I knew for sure, and knew for sure what to do altho I then was not in much of a position to do anything about it but try to remortgage my house and run with the cash. Alas it was zoned agricultural and I couldn't. But I do know that many knew this and did it. Did they do anything wrong? They did nothing illegal altho their intention was immoral:- ? -  to default on purpose? Isn't this the kind of blackmail Trump has used so successfully?
Rand, Greenspan, Friedman?

So when the hotshot math guy Peter looks at the flash drive handed to him as his mentor leaves, he sees what he was meant to see, that the house of cards is going to fall. And he is the only one who knows but he is not in a position to do anything so he must tell his superior, Kevin Spacey, an inspired leader of a brokerage group, a man of integrity and brilliance. Spacey is excellent at this kind of role. The rest of the cast Bettany, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, etc are all wonderful.

So now that they are the first to know, what to do?

Spacey: Don't even think about what you are thinking to do? You can't sell something you know is worthless.

But they have always been worthless! But the veil of "truth", "reality" will be rent on the morrow or the day after when the whole financial industry knows they are worthless. They always did but pretended they weren't, then forgot that they were pretending.

Which brings us to that wonderful tale Baudrillard/Zizek tell: Two painters are enticed to enter a competition as to which one can paint the most "true" Trompe d'Oil. One painter composes grapes so real that birds come down to eat them. Wonderbar! The other invites the judges to his studio. There is a curtain on the wall. The judges tell him to pull the curtain aside. But it is the curtain that is the Trompe d'Oeil,  so he wins. One could fool birds, but the other could fool judges.

Look at these bundles of derivatives the same way. Baudrillard looks at all conspicuous consumption the same. Rand would have agreed. She did not live among luxury tho she could well afford it. DeLillo says this also in Cosmopolis with Eric Packer who lives even more extravagantly than Gail Wynand. His penthouse bedroom swivels, Gail's was only all glass, it didn't go round like a marry-go-round, did not circulate globally like the sun. Things that go around and around are "floating signs" in Cosmopolis as the dialectic of opposites and linear time is over, and things just circulate now, even sex.

So the simulacra of derivative bundles, copies of copies having no original, are "floating signs" (floating signifiers without a signified) are signs that are unmasked revealing nothing, emptiness. Death in other words.

Now how brilliant is that! Is this capitalism? Is it the capitalism Rand talks about? Is it what even Marx talks about? The commodity now has no more labor value; no more use value. In fact it isn't even a commodity, but just a "sign". It is nothing.

So the film destroys Marx and speculative capital, two bogeymen with the same flyswatter to quote and refer to  Nietzsche's joke. The referent of language is language.

Well maybe here we go.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kairos: The Decisive Moment for Katniss


Kairos - Volunteering: the Moment of Choice for Katniss


One must take into account the particular circumstances, and also what the Greeks called the kairos, or "the critical moment." The concept of the kairos  - the decisive or crucial moment or opportunity - has always had a significant role in Greek thought for epistemological, moral, and technical reasons. What is of interest here is that since Philodemus is now associating parrhesia with piloting and medicine, it is also being regarded as a technique which deals with individual cases, specific situations, and the choice of the kairos or decisive moment.
(Fearless Speech - Michel Foucault p. 111)

Kenzaburo Oe: Every time you stand at a crossroads of life and death, you have two universes in front of you...(A Personal Matter)

At all events, this duality governs us. Each individual life unfolds on two levels, in two dimensions - history and destiny - which coincide only exceptionally. Each life has its history, the history of its successive events, its twists and turns - but elsewhere, in another dimension, there is only one form, that of the absolute becoming of the same situation, which occurs for everyone in the form of the Eternal Return. The form of destiny, which Nietzsche also calls 'character', to distinguish it from any psychology of the ego and its successive changes. (p.79 Impossible Exchange - Baudrillard)

Here's Rand from Fountainhead: 

....Howard, when you look back, does it seem to you as if all your days had rolled forward evenly, like a sort of typing exercise, all alike? Or were their stops - points reached - and then the typing rolled on again?

"There were stops." 

"Did you know them at the time - did you know that that's what they were?" 

"Yes." 

"I didn't. I knew afterward....."(F 25th ed p. 542-3)
This is the first conversation between Howard and Gail. In Foucault's language a stop can be seen as a CUT, although he saves the term for a more elaborate genealogy rather than a personal instance in a life. IMO it is the micro, so I will use it.

The typing rolling on is linear time. The cut or stop is the Event, when time stops, a discontinuous "cut". This is the position of post modernism. Time is no longer linear, progressive, historical. Time is discontinuous, filled with Events that come from elsewhere (seen again in the Cortland dynamiting), unpredictable, without causes, and having consequences spiraling out into the world that astonish.

Why I keep asserting that Rand is the fictional herald of post modern philosophy. Or the canary in the coalmine depending on your preference.

What if this CUT or Event can be considered as the exceptional coinciding of the individual's historical life and Destiny, as kairos?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen - Foucault: Fearless Speech and Parrhesia


Katniss Shooting

This is not a review review.


In a pre-introduction before the games, just as an American Idol selection or other somesuch reality show, Katniss is to show her stuff to the audience who isn't paying attention - she has been advised to get their attention -  as she sinks arrows into flat human body targets. So she aims at them, or rather the apple in the pig's mouth at the banquet table, aces it just whizzing by the head of the Master of Ceremonies of The Games. I can't find this image of Katniss in her sexy black leathers and marvelous hair arrangement with a bow and arrow, but you get the idea. The above image is in the beginning of the movie, when she is aiming at a deer.
The Evil One is on the Far Right
There is silence as her arrow goes to the heart of the apple. Astonishment. Shock. And then she bows  forward, making an age old gesture with her arms stretched out to her sides. She might be holding a ball gown in her fingers, making obeisance to a king. This is her gesture of utter contempt, as she inclines her head and says, "Thank you for your consideration," contemptuously utteredjust before she turns and leaves the stage/platform.

She wows them and when they vote she gets an almost perfect score.

What has she done? She has performed an act of parrhesia. And her insolent words complete her performance of parrhesia. She has "spoken truth to power," which must, by definition, include risk. It is a Greek term, and it often involved death for the speaker. 

Foucault discusses this in his book Fearless Speech as he does a genealogy of parrhesia.  Ayn Rand in her defense of William Hickman said, "He was condemned to death, not for what he did, but for what he said." (Journal of Ayn Rand;Letters of Ayn Rand)

Katniss is condemned to death for her audacity and her courage, giving too much hope to those watching screens, from the fringes of this world.

My intention was not to deal with the problem of truth, but with the problem of the truth-teller, or of truth-telling as an activity....  who is able to tell the truth, about what, with what consequences, and with what relations to power.... With the intention  of the importance of telling the truth, knowing who is able to tell the truth, and knowing why we should tell the truth, we have the roots of what we could call the "critical"tradition of the West. - Michel Foucault