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Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Witness to Love

October 25, 2013

James Spader and Susan Sarandon, White Palace, Universal Pictures, 1990

by Masha Tupitsyn

Seeing love on people’s faces.
When these screen lovers see each other again… When any screen lovers see each other again…
Do we see (have) these kinds of moments of seeing in real life or do they happen only in camera space? In the fiction of movies. Is the face of the lover loving and seeing the lover restricted tomise-en-scène? Is the lover’s face just another visual trope? Two visual tropes = Love. Seeing the seeing. It’s true, love is also a reaction shot. But who is witness to the reaction shot off-screen? And what is our reaction to love off-screen? In real life there is maybe only the diegetic. No one sees what you are living through. Certainly not what it looks like for you to live through it. Certainly no one sees your face looking at another face. This is why we have literature. And pictures. This is the engine of cinema, where the human face is always an action hero. But by the time art is made of it — of love — it is something else entirely. What is it exactly that we need for others to see that they can’t see? Love needs witnesses (Old English witnes, “attestation of fact, event, etc., from personal knowledge”), as that is precisely one of the things that love is: seeing and being seen.
The story is (told to me a couple of years ago by a reliable source) that these two had an intense affair while making White Palace. Susan Sarandon wanted to leave Tim Robbins for James Spader. Of course we never saw any of this.

About the Author:
Masha Tupitsyn is a writer, cultural critic, and multi-media artist. She is the author of Love Dog(Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (ZerO Books, 2011), Beauty Talk & Monsters, a collection of film-based stories (Semiotext(e) Press, 2007), and co-editor of the anthology Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights, 2009). Her fiction and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies Women in Clothes (Penguin, 2014), The Force of What’s Possible (Nightboat Books, 2014), The American Tetralogy (Blackjack Editions, 2013), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology (2012), The Encyclopedia Project Volume 2 (F-K)(2010) and Volume 3 (L-Z) (2014), and Wreckage of Reason: XXperimental Women Writers Writing in the 21st Century (Spuyten Duyvil, 2008), with additional works published by The White Review, The New Inquiry, Fence, Bookforum, The Rumpus, Boing Boing, Indiewire’s Press Play, Animal Shelter, the Shepparton Art Museum, and Ryberg Curated Video.
Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson Eclipse Premiere

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


The Counselor Poster
The first scene shows a biker speeding and we see the road sign Juarez. El Paso is 2 1/2 miles away. None of the reviewers have noticed this resonance, where now thousands of young girls and women's bodies have been found in the surrounding desert. Very young girls come from villages all over Mexico to work in the factories of Juarez and then disappear. Thousands of their unidentified bodies are found decomposed in the desert. It is guessed that many are sold into sex slavery and transported across the border to the US and many are used in Snuff Films while others - well - who knows what terrible lives they lead if alive. All this is conveyed in less than a minute before the scene changes.

But you have to have the political consciousness to know the horror of the dead girls and women of Juarez and their connection to the drug cartel and capitalism, if you are to pick up on the truth of this image of the road sign.

The following scene shows illusion curtains billowing in the breeze as the camera moves to two bodies under the sheets moving slowly against each other, waking up and talking lovingly, intimately to each other. The resonances are multiple. 

Louise Bourgeois - Hamlet and Ophelia

Robert Mapplethorpe


Christo - Wrapped Trees

Rodin The Kiss Wrapped in 1 Mile of Twine by Cornelia Parker

In her review Manohla Dargis of The New York Times remarked on the resonance with Egyptian Mummies
Full circle from JUAREZ to DEATH
We are abruptly brought under the sheets to be right inside with them watching and unnoticed. 
This is Freud's PRIMAL SCENE. 
We watch two people obviously intimate and in love experiencing erotic sex without pornographic details, and filmed without a hint of any cliches. We see the difference between performed sex and sex experienced in the eroticism of love. 

The following scenes have been detailed at wiki and in various reviews, most of which say it is a movie about a drug deal gone bad, highlighting individual performances, and the usual complaint about McCarthy's dialogue which they cannot understand. 

The dialogue functions as the chorus in a Greek play - or Shakespeare -  spoken by individuals in prophetic language  that resonates into the future and the past in precession. This is the essence of non-linearity, non progression, non historical but in going forward and backward, bathing the past and the future in clairvoyant light, we are exposed to Nietzche's The Eternal Return and Zarathustra's terrible recognition of it, the spiraling circularity of time.

The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion. - Walter Benjamin: Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This film was made for the educationally literate adult with a political consciousness to match McCarthy's when it can. Another work of art by McCarthy on the evil of the Western World; the greed and evil of the North American viciousness and the devastation of capitalism lying at the heart of the world and the planet and this film. The doom we all face that is irreversible.

Critique is concerned with the truth content of a work of art, the commentary with its subject matter. The relationship between the two is determined by that basic law of literature according to which the work's truth content is the more relevant the more inconspicuously and intimately it is bound up with its subject matter. Walter Benjamin:Illuminations p.4

The counselor goes to Amsterdam to choose a diamond for an engagement ring for Laura. He does not go to a Tiffany's, with or without her, to buy the ring retail. He goes to Amsterdam, the center of the DeBeers Diamond Cartel, to a connoisseur of fine diamonds where he can peruse numbers of stones unset to make his choice guided by an expert. DeBeers is the monopolistic cartel of all the diamonds in the world, overseeing their mining to their wholesale distribution and marketing. The aura of a fine diamond to be given to a woman carries the "floating sign" of forever love, seduction, wealth, cherishing, the romantic dream DeBeers has engraved on every woman's heart. The DeBeers diamond cartel is  vicious and total, the most successful and entrenched and the oldest. Slaves who labor in the mud, often drowning in it when they slip, subjecting themselves to ruthless enemas at the end of each working day and invasive inspections, provide women with these glorious gems of forever love. The counselor is not even aware of this. He is a criminal lawyer in El Paso who springs on technicalities, the drug cartel clients sent to him for lucrative fees. 

The dirty secret of the drug cartel is that it is an incredible, huge industry for employment. The drivers, the ones who restore the truck containing the cocaine, the ones who clean the blood out of it from the shooting, the businesses that enable it, the bars and night clubs that wash the money, employing millions all over South America to deliver the drugs to the US where the prices are high and the demand is great. The cartel is so entrenched and irreversible that no one wants to imagine what would happen were it to collapse. No, it must continue.

In Philadelphia if you want an excellent criminal lawyer you go to one who works for the Mafia. One who knows the judges, one who takes you before a Mafia judge. All is complicity not justice. 

The Law is in the Order of Production. The Law of the drug cartel is in the Symbolic Order: Vengence. When the complications of the drug deal the counselor is entering into for the first time go sour, his accomplices are murdered, Laura is kidnapped in Juarez. If you know Juarez and its horrors you know what will happen to her to cement the counselor in his place in the hierarchy of the cartel. And we see her dead body dumped into a refuse heap by a machine. He has been warned but Cassandra and Tiresias are never listened to. They are doomed to be ignored, these prophets of the future, to which Cormac McCarthy belongs.

The counselor goes to cultured and aesthetically sophisticated men - a lawyer and a judge? - who live surrounded by exquisite art which never guarantees ethical integrity as we know from the Nazis. They also are complicit professionally with the cartel in Juarez and Texas. They cannot help and he is told by the judge that his choices were made long ago and the present consequences are unfolding according to fate and destiny. 

The bartender who wakes him tells him that without love there is nothing. He enters a protest being filmed of women and men holding posters of lost/dead girls and women, crying and chanting for some kind of  justice for their loved ones. The only justice being served is that of the drug/sex cartel criminals being sprung by expensive criminal lawyers. 

When you die your world no longer exists, he is told. In his room he will be given the CD of Laura's Snuff Film, and his world will no longer exist. 

Cameron Diaz is a marvel in this film. She identifies with her wild/tame pet cheetas, the upper lip of her mouth lifting in silent snarls, cutting her eyes in contempt at others, then saying she will go to Hong Kong. Taking the stolen money from the brutal high tech murder of Westray. Of her plans, "Diamonds, I think. They are small and transportable." We already know she knows much about their value when she has analyzed Laura's ring. And so the drug cartel money recirculates back into the diamond cartel inventory to complete the circle.

The Counselor is a film that is the world. As Paul Virilio says at the end of his Speed and Politics, "The world is run by thugs." 

The governments of the world are complicit with the cartels of the world and McCarthy has in yet another work of art shown us another facet of this and its consequences. All his work is of the same theme. It is irreversible and totalizing. 

And the rot of it all is greed - CAPITALISM. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

REVIEW:Don Jon:Reading Through Baudrillard - Welcome to the Desert of the Real

And Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Neo had this book in his desk drawer in THE MATRIX
Don Jon is a movie on how we get to THE MATRIX.
It takes awhile but you have fun doing it.
Dirty Sexy Dancing.

Scarlett is hot, hot hot and she won't put out. At least not until she gets what she wants first.
Into her interfaced fantasy.

Happy Ending Romantic Fantasy
Dirty Sexy Laptop
JGL has been sensitizing himself to feel erotic looking at porno. He is becoming Pavlov's dog, salivating to the bell, - whoops, the nekkid bod and ass of the porno queen of the moment. He jerks off thus reinforcing himself for his gaze on the porno queen - or princess. His sexual responses are conditioned to the Barbie porn videos, not a real life Barbie. Just a simulacrum in Simulated Reality, and he goddamn well prefers her or her Barbie sisters. And his responses are now Hullian prepotent responses. 
Joseph Wolpe, M.D. Father of Behavior Therapy.
See any theory can be used against you.
Mark Tansey - Still Life 
Aside here: Mark Tansey is giving us the GREAT 21st century Foucauldian CUT in art history
Still Life is a painting of this movie without a happy ending.
Fuck real life. Gimme the simulacrum willya.
The Wondrous Julianne Moore
Enter Julianne Moore, a REAL woman. Who wants real?
Who wants intimacy?
Gimme that porn star willya.
No victim's body,no criminal, no crime scene,no capture,no punishment
The Perfect Crime
What Baudrillard is saying here is that our reality is stolen from us in homeopathic doses. That way we will not notice it so infinitesimal will those doses be. And we will never know when the boundary blurs, when we lose reality, when we are in Simulated Reality, and when we can't get back. As Jon learns when he can no longer close his eyes, masturbate to his own fantasies, make them up. His imagination has been stolen from him. His ability to contemplate has been stolen from him (Walter Benjamin folks.) His mind has been stolen from him. His life has been stolen from him. And he doesn't even know it.
The Perfect Crime
Jean Baudrillard, the Bear and the Screen
This embracing of Simulated Reality is our greatest danger according to Baudrillard. When Simulated Reality is total then we will be in Virtual Reality. Think Hunger Games here: The Districts are Reality, The capitol Panem is Simulated Reality, The Games are Virtual Reality. So who the hell wants reality. Gale didn't. Katniss does but then she really had her fill, an excess, didn't she. 

We are all interfaced with the media of our culture. How we fall in love, the courtship, the rituals, the wedding, they marriage, the children, the dog, the house, the mortgage, and so it goes as Vonnegut would say. We are no more free than our pet dogs. We have been conditioned to want what they want us to want. And conditioned to get it the way they want us to get it. How we fuck has been conditioned recently by porn. So we now fuck like porn stars. (Did I do OK honey? Did you get off? Performance anxiety eh.)  So we do. We obey them. To do this we Inscribe our bodies (Nietzsche's Inscription of the Body) to fit the template of normality, we think the way we have been taught to think, we do not even have the words to free ourselves from this. Sex is empowered to do this to us. We got rid of repression -  we thought so anyway -  but what is this? And we are embracing it as fast as we can learn how. 

Who will intercede? Who will give us the intervention we need? Who will be our Julianne Moore? And our prepotent responses will undergo spontaneous recovery in the future. Pavlov again, the great one.

Welcome to the Desert of the Real! - Morpheus quotes Zizek

Here's what Joseph Gordon Levitt said about his movie Don Jon:

I wanted to talk about how the media influences people's expectations, Gordon Levitt says. Pornography is a huge, huge part of our media culture. The message Don Jon is trying to bring to light - and make fun of - is reducing people, especially women, to nothing but sex objects. It happens in music videos, TV shows, movies, and magazines, and so many commercials. Whether it's rated X or approved by the FCC to sell Doritos, the message is the same.
Entertainment October 4, 2013 #1279

Let me tell you it is so much more than what he thinks it is. It is a fictionalized account of Jean Baudrillard's The Perfect Crime
The title is taken from a short story by 
Jorge Luis Borges.
wiki on Borges

It was almost all map for Jon.
I am going right over to hitRECord.org to tell him so.

Monday, September 9, 2013

REVIEW: Blackfish

Tilikum In His Bath Tub-Jacuzzi Size for Him?
For a conventional informative review click on this LINK.

nice review http://journalstar.com/entertainment/movies/review-blackfish-is-compelling-documentary-about-killer-whales-in-captivity/article_b508e0f4-f113-5a68-a0fa-7fe4955ba5bf.html

Now that the literal is out of the way what else is going on?

The movie is shocking. It does not resort to violence porn as it so easily could have done. Tilikum kills a number of people, his trainers, especially Dawn who is the most expert and aware, the trainer who trains the trainers. And we watch him do it.
He pulls her down by the foot, then she swims up, gasps for breath, is pulled down again, comes up again, and each time she is getting weaker and more desperate. He has grabbed her foot at the side when she wasn't looking. This is not part of the act. This was an impulsive movement on Tilikum's part. 
And we watch as we watch a kitten playing with its first mouse, or grasshopper, etc. At what point does play turn into kill. Does the object of play become prey? 
Dawn has been the one to train Tilikum, teach him tricks, reward him with fish and petting, establishing what she thinks is an attachment bond with him.
Is this the way Tilikum perceives her?

There is complicity between the master/slave, between the captive/hostage and Baudrillard has written extensively on this. What is the complicity here?

The afternoon this happens the show was a disaster. None of them did the tricks they were supposed to do. So Dawn tries to save the performance with ever reliable and big star Tilikum who always turns in a good performance. 

After it is over when Dawn is not aware, Tilikum grabs her foot as she walks by and Tilikum's game begins.

Now we are going to play a game MY way!

Each pod in the wild has a separate language. I guess we could think of the pod as a tribe?
They are captured and taken from it, put in with others from different pods/tribes and they have no common language anymore.

But what if the orcas are evolving linguistically while in captivity?
What if they are secretly, subversively ruining their performances. Killing a trainer who is the closest they can get to a human to do it.

We know there are killer elephants. Rogue elephants they are called. Thomas Edison even designed an electric chair with outrageous electric current to perform a death sentence on an elephant in his chair which he wanted to popularize. It took even more current than anticipated to kill that elephant who had probably been tortured beyond its endurance. I remind you of the recent book and movie Water For Elephants.

We also watch Tilikum playing HIS game with a male trainer who remains cool even under his potential death sentence while an audience, probably thrilled, is watching.

It reminds me of the time I saw Ringling Bros and watched Wallenda ride a bike across the rope each time going across and adding another member of the troupe - his family - until they are balancing on his shoulders, just piled on and there is some slack in the rope in the middle and the bike begins to stall.

He backpedals, goes forward, backs up again, all the time to keep moving and the entire audience in Philadelphia in 1949 is hushed into silence. It is awful.

The clowns come out for distraction but I cannot take my eyes off the rope. And I see how mesmerizing it is to watch what may be a terrible death. There is no net. And even with one the bodies would crush each other.

It is this fascination which makes one slow at a road wreck, to see dead bodies, mutilated bodies. Horror as obscenity.

And SeaWorld knows this well.

The male trainer cools it and pulls it off making for the barrier as fast as he can swim with Tilikum right after him. They give him oxygen. He is bloody.He smiles and laughs for the camera.

But we have watched and seen how close, how very very close it was for him. We are not fooled the way the audience is fooled. The way the media has tried to fool us once again. The newspapers. The TV. We have seen and we are not tourists at SeaWorld enjoying ourselves and willing to go into denial to continue having a great time.

After all, it is a great job, and he doesn't want to lose it, does he. 

The sickening part is that the trainers who care the most for the orcas and Tilikum are the most complicit and the most vulnerable. The ones who care the most are the ones at risk. 

But the ones who care the most, who obtain the most incredible performances from Tilikum, are the ones responsible for keeping the exploitation ongoing. A circle eating its own tail. The Eternal Return of Nietzsche.

In the movie ex trainers are interviewed and discuss how they lied for the camera and the audience, how they denied, how they rationalized until they couldn't anymore. They have come clean for us.

We see the court case against SeaWorld and the attractive blond lawyer for SeaWorld who is appealing the court's demand for barriers and no in the water participation with the orcas. (Never hurts to have a sexy lawyer does it?)

We need a new definition of love.

Here's Badiou:

At the heart of love à la française lies the idea of 

freedom. To love truly is to want the other free, and this 

includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about 

possession or property. Love is no prison where two 

people are each other’s slaves. Love is not a commodity, 

either. Love is not capitalist, it is revolutionary. If 

anything, true love shows you the way to selflessness.

Here's Masha Tupitsyn quoting Toni Morrison in her book  Love Dog:

In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes (and I have quoted this many times), “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love.”

Here's Judith Butler:

“Love is not a state, a feeling, a disposition, but an exchange, uneven, fraught with history, with ghosts, with longings that are more or less legible to those who try to see one another with their own faulty vision.” - Judith Butler

These trainers who loved Tilikum loved stupidly. All they did was make billions for SeaWorld. They were captives and exploited as much as Tilikum. Which is why it took them so long to wake up. 

SeaWorld is now breeding their own orcas. To watch Tilikum being pumped of semen to artificially impregnate females is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. 

I could feel no sympathy for the humans Tilikum killed. He is a David against Goliath.

John Lilly
Lilly was a researcher who worked with dolphins. Dissecting their brains as a neuro-physiologist he came to see the horror of his work even when he began to study their behavior while alive and let them all go. He advocated this from then on. They should not be in captivity.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Reading Fill the Void Through Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth

Filling the Void - Fill the Void
A sublime movie. A moment in time with Hasidic Orthodox Jews in Israel as a young girl is urged to marry her recently widowed brother-in-law. Her personal conflict in doing so is detailed. The religious group is living in frozen time, where ancient rituals are observed, and the modern world does not enter their lives where their emotional and intellectual center is, although they use cell phones.

It is a breathtakingly beautiful movie. Haunting. Moving. a true work of art and an aesthetic of  life. Devoid of shocking images and faux drama it proceeds slowly, unraveling the feelings and possible future to be realized.

At the end I am bathed in a radiance of contemplation and love
as I watch the credits roll.
And then I see listed in the financial support

Israel Film Board

I stiffen, my after glow broken.
I have long noted France and Canada supporting films financially so why was this so disturbing to me?

I had all but finished Sweet Tooth when I saw Fill the Void. It's 1970's setting and theme concerns two people caught in the machinations of MI5 and its secret plan to fund artists and writers who do not espouse a dystopian view of the world and instead one of hope. 


Of course hands will be off as to influencing or controlling the output, but the selections have been made stacking the deck towards that hoped for result. And McEwan takes us to the American version of huge outlays of grant money into a similar project, a rundown of how it managed this kind of propaganda during the cold war - The Soviets doing it superlatively also -  and McCarthy period, and in this novel we are seeing it applied to counteract the terrible fear of terrorism and its intended apocalyptic future for Western Civilization.

It does not take a big jump to observe the intention of Israel to fund a film that is so religious, so beautiful, so everything that one will leave the theater with a radiant feeling of certain lives in Israel that have nothing to do with the atrocities that Israel is inflicting on Palestinians. All anger will be submerged and forgotten and when it resurfaces it will merge with this beautiful film to be somewhat neutralized. And more will come to continue this. 

And interior security and control funnels this money through layers of non-profits and their umbrellas until it reaches the unsuspecting artist who has no idea of the cynical and vicious intent of the State. To launder their violence.

So you'll know this kind of thing has a long history. IRD have worked with us and MI6 for years, cultivating writers, newspapers, publishers. George Orwell on his deathbed gave IRD a list of thirty-eight communist fellow travelers. And IRD helped Animal Farm into eighteen languages and did a lot of good work for Nineteen Eighty-four. And some marvelous publishing ventures over the years. ( ST p. 86)

Woe to the nation whose literature is disturbed by the intervention of power. - Solzhenitsyn 1970 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

This is a repetition of Hitler and Goebbels support of the all knowing Leni Riefenstahl and her marvelous films Triumph of the Will and Olympiad. Pure beauty and art and the ultimate in propaganda.

The West is learning from Hitler and Stalin in great doses lately. 

Once you learn to see, you can't unsee.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

MISSION BLACKLIST: The Will To Truth:Eric Maddox - Interrogator - Capturing Saddam

The pleasure that comes of exercising a power
 that questions, 
searches out, 
 brings to light;
and on the other hand, 
the pleasure that kindles at having to evade this power, 
flee from it, 
fool it, 
or travesty it.
The power that lets itself be invaded by the pleasure it is pursuing;
and opposite it,
power asserting itself in the pleasure of showing off, 
scandalizing, or resisting. 
Capture and seduction,
confrontation and mutual reinforcement:
parents and children,
adults and adolescents,
educators and students,
doctors and patients,
the psychiatrist with his hysteric and his perverts,
all have played this game continually 
since the nineteenth century.
These attractions, 
these evasions,
these circular incitements 
have traced around bodies and sexes,
not boundaries not to be crossed,
perpetual spirals of power and pleasure. 
The Foucault Reader:Paul Rabinow, editor
The Repressive Hypothesis - The Incitement To Discourse; The Perverse Implantation (p. 324)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

REVIEW: THE EAST Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij - at the MOXIE, Springfield,MO

Batmanglij and Marling have written, directed, produced The East 
They have kept to the same theme of Alterity from 
Another Earth HERE
Sound of My Voice HERE

The Players
Director:Zal Batmanglij
Writers:Brit Marling
Zal Batmanglij
Actors:Alexander Skarsgård
Ellen Page
Brit Marling
Toby Kebbell
Shiloh Fernandez
Patricia Clarkson
Producers:Brit Marling
Ridley Scott
Shiloh Fernandez was the one who almost had Edward Cullen in his grasp but flunked his audition with Kristen Stewart. In The East he is wonderful as is everyone in this film. Marling and Batmanglij continue to explore identity boundaries and alterity, in The East with Eco Terrorists.

May I suggest reading BIFO on Singularities before judging the relevance of this film before reading most of the reviews. These two filmmakers should be on any serious movie goer's priority list. It is always exciting to be in the know in the beginning of extraordinary. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

FRANCES HA Review for Moxie Theater in Springfield MO -

Greta Gerwig the New Feminist

Greta Gerwig has just stolen the crown off Woody Allen's head and gone dancing down the street.

Woody Allen is running after her brandishing an ornate stick of some kind. He is screaming, 

Wait! Wait! You forgot your scepter!

The new feminist philosophers have written about the new woman and here she is. This film written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, with Gerwig as its star is sensational. OMG to not be about The Production of the Couple in any of its variations.

Sontag, Malabou, Butler, Rubenstein, and all the rest of you that we love, she is Greta Gerwig!

She is graceful, she is clumsy, she is so cool, she is so uncool, she is not svelte, she is ugly, she is beautiful. She is unlabelable!

A scene where she is teaching ballet to young girls. And all I can think of is Yvonne Rainer saying about ballet, "Look at me how beautiful I am!"

She choreographs a dance and it is Pina Bausch, Kai Takei's Moving Earth, Yvonne Rainer, and too many to mention here. 

Go see it and die. If you don't I will kill you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

CLOUD ATLAS: A Reading Through Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, By Friedlander and Fenves

Sonmi - 451 Genomed Clone

Domestic: $27,108,272   20.8%
Foreign: $103,374,596   79.2%
 The foreign market is more intelligent and discerning I think
There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. - WALTER BENJAMIN - THE ARCADES PROJECT

Walter Benjamin -  Ayala Tal
In a coda, The Messianic Reduction fast-forwards to the 1940 essay, “On the Concept of History,” finding the non-linear “shape of time” writ larger here in the late philosophy of history: now the messianic is the making-congruent of the local shape of time and the larger shape of history, and the messiah is a name for the force that accomplishes this temporal structuring. Peter Fenves’s The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time

“Walter Benjamin” in this second study should not be considered a person, but, first, as a prodigious structure of capacities, capable of gathering thought into form, creating written images which address, absorb and ultimately reshape historical time, and, second, as the corpus of significant texts made in the crucible of this knowledge. All that matters is what has been read and what comes to be written. There is no need, in this analysis, for Berlin or Port Bou, Dora or Asja, the angry father or the neglected son. FENVES

The messianic, for Benjamin, was nothing so simple as a redeemer arriving to call time and distribute justice at the end of days. Rather, it referred to something like a structure of temporal experience, but an “experience” that goes beyond the individual and even the social. To use the Benjaminian terminology that Fenves brings into sharp relief, it is the immanent tension that is the fact and the force of divinity in the world, permanently present, endlessly mutable

For Benjamin, the “reduction” mediated a sphere of experience beyond the conditioned framings of conscious thought. But, as Fenves reads him, Benjamin granted this subjectless experience of pure receptivity a near-mystical valence. The “reduction” was an opening onto a kind of paradise; the stubborn “natural attitude” was both analog and agent of the fallen, guilty state of mankind. This also underlay Benjamin’s disagreement on questions of method. Unlike Husserl’s willed “bracketing” of philosophical assumptions — a carefully prescribed method for dismantling the self-evident — for Benjamin, getting beyond the “natural attitude” was not a matter of decision, for the philosopher or anyone else. Not that the impossibility of a chosen path implies the non-existence of the divine, or even, strictly speaking, its inaccessibility: the divine is something that can be thought and experienced, but always as the irruption or appearance of an outside, never commanded forth by a direct action of human will. The “reduction” was done to the philosopher, not by him. ( Can we think of this moment as a moment of salvation?)

Reflecting on his method, Friedlander alludes to Benjamin’s notion of “origin,” developed in The Origin of the German Tragedy: not the start of a linear development, but an intense vortex of transformation, in which elements of the past undergo a complex process of rearrangement and recognition, disappearance and endurance. Via restructuring, the dialectical image — Benjamin’s work — appears as a higher form of origin, a node of immanent intensity in which the potentiality of created nature is made manifest, and truth and life are concentrated and brought forth anew. 

It is the forceful insistence of these metaphysical claims that, more than anything else, distinguishes Friedlander’s book from other recent unpackings of Benjamin’s philosophical baggage, as his intervention commits itself to an extraordinary degree, venturing far beyond the safe ground of academic analysis. In this reading, Benjamin’s amalgam of temporalities fabricates a framework for the manifestation of “divine force,” the display of “divine power.” The divine here, as with the “messianic reduction,” is not a transcendent or static godly presence; it inheres in the weave of earthly existence, immanent and intensive. Crucially, however, Friedlander’s reparative vitalism is also a work of memory. The creation of the dialectical image bids farewell to the past in order that life — bare life, creaturely life, inorganic life, historical life — can go on. To put it in terms worn down from overuse — and at the risk of banalizing a book that is, whatever else, hardly banal — the force within Benjamin’s work enables a coming to terms with the past. While never made entirely explicit, it is not hard to read Friedlander’s book, above all his concluding chapter, as a response to the concrete atrocities and losses of twentieth-century history, with theories of trauma and memory wrought into a philosophy of history in which Benjamin’s work serves as the central mediating device.

Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait - Friedlander

Neither the reasons for Benjamin’s choice of material, nor the political stakes of his work, then or now, ever becomes clear. Granted, it posits a construction of truth in one sense — located in the dialectics of recognition that passes between past and present — but historically specific regimes of truth are neither a fact nor a problem. The power that invests knowledge here is of a spiritual and divine order, emphatically not a social or socio-epistemological one. And as truth is re-enthroned, problems of textuality evaporate.