Monthly Archives: February 2019

Marx on Free Time

Free time

(Grundrisse, Marx, 1993, p. 634)

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‚Äėin capitalist society, free time is produced for one class by the¬† conversion¬† of the whole¬† lifetime¬† of the masses¬† into¬† labour-time.‚Äô

(Capital Volume 1, Marx, 1990, p. 667)

 

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Reflections on Roland Barthes’ The Photographic Message (1961)

25 January 2014

[Republished from here]

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Why even bother about Barthes?

I saw the book¬†Image Music Text¬†by Barthes lying on a bookshelf at home sandwiched between two novels by Michael Cunningham. I was drawn to its exterior mold. It has a thinness unusual for a book on critical theory with a cover page exhuming the image of Sergei Eisenstein’s¬†Ivan the Terrible. Eisenstein’s image, his films, and others films from Soviet Montage movement flashed back in my mind. I was invaded once again by memories of my early years in cinephilia.

I first approached it that way, through the¬†act of looking, an act of remembering, a visual encounter, which seizes me to approach it almost without hesitation, as if I have encountered it in the past and now an artifact. This act of looking, this seizing moment came first before the¬†act of thinking.¬†This is a fundamental encounter, a productive one that urges me to produce some form of writing: a reflection, a series of notes, an anti-reflection, anything goes really. My desire for¬†encounters,¬†in this case a textual encounter with Roland Barthes’ essay¬†The Photographic Message¬†(1961), stems from Gilles Deleuze’s¬†C for Culture¬†response in¬†L’Abecedaire de Gilles Deleuze¬†(1988-1989)…

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…where he admonishes the idea of¬†culture¬†by moving towards the¬†power of encounters. Encounters more than culture, and, in the words of Deleuze, to be always ‘on the lookout‘ — these were my initial thoughts when I first approached the surface of Barthes’ essay collection.

I wonder why most people look after his works. In many bookshops I visit these days (2010 – present), from¬†Bookay-Ukay¬†at Maginhawa St., UP Diliman to online bookstores like¬†Roel’s Bookshop, Roland Barthes’ presence is overwhelming. His books are almost¬†omnipresent, at least in Manila, sprawling within the local cultural domain. Have his theories amalgamated within the local discourse on arts, culture, or cinema? One could think of a possible marriage – transnational, if I may say – French-Filipino thinking, in search of ways to ‘understand’ the assemblage of life in the Philippines. Barthes’ entry to local bookstores is symptomatic of the bustling presence of European critical theory in the Philippines, amplified entirely by the thriving (anti)intellectual discourse in social media nowadays (though I haven’t seen a Barthes meme frolicking over my Facebook newsfeed for the past few years.¬†This is a good one though). This is why I wanted to read Barthes: out of curiosity. What is it with him that seems to be so elusive, so seductive for a ‘theorist’?

I fairly do not have warm feelings for theory nowadays – film theory, for that matter. Some critics have announced its eminent¬†death. This made me suspicious of its stability as a field. After discovering D.N. Rodowick and Gilles Deleuze last year, I bade goodbye to theory and move towards a more multiple region in critical inquiry: the cusp between cinema and philosophy,¬†cine-philosophy, where one is forced to be¬†nomadic.¬†A nomad, who has no mother or father – an¬†orphan, must learn how to squat, stare, and observe momentarily¬†at¬†books, texts, films, short stories, paintings, alleys, objects, subjects, benches, and/or open fields. A nomadic life is an active movement of one’s body towards the world, an opening, a journey away from the traditions of¬†home¬†life – a journey of becoming. This is opposed to intellectualism, which forces one to sit, think, and contemplate of singular aspects of life typically displayed by the¬†Thinking Man, a figure of contemplation.¬†A nomad walks on the streets. He is out looking for encounters, not with people, but with objects, ideas, and forms. The street – its intersections, cul-de-sacs, and U-turns – is his home and his guide through life.

My engagement with critical theory came from a nomadic walk away from film theory. I was drawn to its uncanny body, its perturbations, and its transformations. This massive field opened itself to me and, in various entry points, I tried to wrestle with it in fragments. What attracts me perhaps is its massive effort to decentralize traditions. A large part of its task is to revolt against traditional thinking: common sense, common beliefs, common life.¬†Critical theory¬†is one of the pervasive mode of thinking in sociology, arts, and the humanities, created by Europeans to rethink their lives – the society and the culture they belong. Critical theory is a mid-20th century amalgamation of Marxism, psychoanalysis, and linguistics. Multitudinous transformations have occurred within and outside its domain symptomatic of its tempestuous relationship with history, and to some point, technology. I won’t be discussing in detail the immanence of Critical theory or its transformations from the beginning. I would instead dwell on a microlevel: an encounter with critical texts, as excruciating as it might be. This¬†is a self-inflicted torture – to confront each polemical text headlong.

Confronting the text headlong may leave some terminologies and concepts unclear. But like I said in a¬†previous post, incomplete or unclear ideas can create new pathways of thinking. Hence, I won’t be troubling myself with terminologies or their definitions because I might encounter them in the future in a different light.

The goal is to withstand the thrust of the text, to experience it, to read through it like I would read a novel or a short story, and allow the formation of feelings, affects, sensations, intensities. Emotions, affects, and feelings are usually set aside when reading such texts. I wanted to explore this region in critical inquiry: how does one respond emotionally, along with critical response, to academic texts? How does one deal with a strange jargon? What makes the the text inviting?

Each essay has a way of putting words into sentences. Each has its own system of organizing its ideas, and maybe eliciting some sensations: visual or experiential. Almost each one has its own of putting forward a stance, a world, a new concept. I shall approach each text aesthetically along with a crude critical assessment of some of its ideas. Screw me if you think I misconstrue and/or misjudge some elements and concepts from the text as I am not an expert in this area. The key phrase here is experience through encounter.

The Essay[link]

Roland Barthes’ essay¬†The Photographic Message¬†opens with its object (a press photograph) followed by its guiding structure, an ‘assemblage’ in Barthes’ words. He arranged it in a succession: a point of emission (the one who takes the photo), a channel of transmission (the newspaper), and a point of reception (the readers of the newspaper). This is the first image that one has to confront in the opening part of the essay. Barthes presents a pathway with a room in each stop.

Barthes’ use of language is dry and cold. Semioticians write their theories formally with a sleight of hand. A semiotician’s essay has this certain straightforwardness that makes a College Math book look more interesting. Yet Barthe’s essay is few of the most lucid, most crystal-clear writing I’ve ¬†read in my life. In this crystal-clear text, there is, at times, no room for breathing. As Barthes elucidates the nuance of the photographic message, one feels an utter discomfort. One enters a tortuous structured pathway punctuated by large blocks of ideas to confront. At some point, the semiotic jargon seems too alienating for an everyman. Small parts builds on bigger parts. This is a typical touch of a structuralist text: order and control.

Semiotics runs together with the Structuralist movement. It sees the world as an amalgam of signs. While linguistics studies words, semiotics studies the non-words: images, sounds, three-dimensional objects (do they even study cross-linked artifacts like audiovisual displays?), and how they produce meanings. Semioticians also deal with their objects as if they have inherent structures in them. This is the world that one approaches when reading Barthes’¬†The Photographic Message. A press photograph, his object of analysis, is wedged within this preordained world, examined at its limits.

One can find a press photograph in areas where communities thrive, in societies centered on information. For Barthes, this is the simplest visual object that one can encounter in such societies of control, apart from magazine advertisements, which he scrutinized intently in his essay¬†Rhetoric of the Image.¬†The Photographic Message¬†is the critique of the press photograph.It is interesting to note that Barthes version of the press photograph isn’t only a photograph by itself. It is a photograph with a text like this…

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Barthes proposes this as the basic structure of a press photograph: an image with a text. He says that each element, image and text, must be analyzed individually before analyzing their combined state.

The Photograph, a Paradox

When one looks at the picture above, of men and women all joined together to skate, one observes that the picture is a reduced three-dimensional reality. Barthes says this is mathematical transformation (from 3D to 2D) where the image (the photograph) becomes the¬†analogon¬†of the object. This process of ‘copying’ reality is¬†denotation. He also added that this image is the¬†message without a code¬†primarily because it is a continuous imitation of reality. Aside from imitating reality, it must also be accounted that a photograph is also captured in some specific cultural landscape, a certain time and space, and therefore¬†connoted.

Barthes positioning of the photograph as both a mathematical (or mechanical) and cultural object proves important and influential. There were only few theorist before who were interested in studying photographs. Through this essay, Barthes gives the basic framework on how to deal with photographs. If you are semantics student, this will make you happy.

A¬†connotation procedure¬†refers to the manner a photographer captures a photograph.¬†For Barthes, this is the reason why a photograph has no objectivity. It is not created based on a ‘universal symbolic order’, but rather an object ‘worked on, chosen, composed, constructed, treated with professional aesthetics’. It is therefore a¬†message with a code.¬†Barthes suggest that connotation allows the photograph to be read. It connects the photograph again to the world. There is once again noticeable bipolar relation between¬†connotation-denotation,¬†but their functions are far technical and must not be taken lightly.¬†This conceptual tandem rift throughout the text exploring the nuances of the photograph message.

The presence of both messages, the analogon (message without a code) and the connoted message (message with a code), in one is the photographic paradox. Barthes continues his analysis by specifying the various ways connotation can be performed in a photograph. The reader enters an ossified field as Barthes provides a room for each. He identifies six ways: trick effects (i.e photoshop, faking a photograph), pose (i.e. stereotypical codes, a woman wears a skirt, a man wears pants), objects (i.e. artificial arrangement of objects, a old bookcase may signify an intellectual atmosphere of sorts), photogenia (i.e. embellishment of the photograph through lighting, exposure, and printing), aestheticism (i.e. photograph as a painting, painterly effects of landscapes, photography as art), syntax (i.e. putting two (un)related photographs side-by-side to produce a meaning).

This is perhaps what makes Barthes essay hard to grasp at first, at least for me. Each concept has its room: numbered paragraphs arranged from simplest to the most complex terms. The text forwards likes a process of enumeration, one element after the other, proceeding stately and carefully until reaching an end.

The Text

Barthes continues on. He focuses on the presence of the text, the caption, in a press photograph. Barthes says there are three functions of a text in a press photograph. One function of the text is to become a parasitic message to the photograph. The text quickens the connotation. This is, for Barthes, a historical reversal: ‘the image no longer illustrates words, the words becomes a parasite to the image.’ Text burdens the image with ‘culture, moral, and imagination’, Barthes continues. Second function would be duplication/non-duplication of the image. ‘The closer the text to the image, the lesser its connotation’. And lastly, the text also amplifies (pro or anti-image) the connotations of the photograph.

One may find these procedural elucidation of the three functions difficult to understand, but Barthes sees to it that each of these categories returns back to reality by providing examples. In this way, the text has never left us. Examples jut out from various portions of the text surging towards us, connecting us to its difficult jargon. What is blocking us, of course, appreciating the text fully is the lack of connections with subject of semiotics and structuralism itself. As an outside of the field, I struggled through the essay for about a week and half, trying to somehow deal with it.

Is a Photograph of Pure Denotation possible?

Nevertheless, Barthes posed an intriguing question in the end, a staggering rift in the text: “Is…pure denotation…impossible?” He said that a photograph, through connotations, is always historical and cultural, ¬†never natural nor artificial. ¬†These historical and cultural connotations give the photograph a¬†meaning.¬†It allows us to¬†read¬†the photograph. The challenge is to find a way by which this¬†meaning is blocked. In a way, Barthes is posing a question of limits by reaching a certain boundary:¬†Is pure connotation possible? Is pure denotation possible?¬†These inquiries lead us to think of an Outside, a certain Other apart the text.

To answer the question, Barthes says that¬†pure denotation¬†exist in absolutely traumatic images…

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Traumatic Photographs (Top to Bottom): Victims of Napalm bomb during the Vietnam War, Mass grave in Poland during the Holocaust, and the Mendiola Massacre 1987

“The trauma is a suspension of language, a blocking of meaning,” he said. He added: “[…] the traumatic photograph is the photograph about which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant: no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold on the process instituting the signification.”

A limit has been reached, and perhaps this is what I’ve always been looking for in critical texts. A desire exists in the limits, a desire that seizes one to think. And by virtue of encounters, a certain limit must always be reached: an ending that never ends, a beginning that seizes to begin.

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Continuities of Darkness in Cinema

Reposted from old blog

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Continuities of darkness in cinema: (Top to Bottom) White Epilepsy (2012),
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2009),
Kinatay (2009), Los (2001), and On the Job (2013)
What is darkness?
An absence of light, a depth of a shadow. In cinema, darkness accentuates light from a movie projector. When light pierces through its continuous body, we see light’s imminent trace, a emerging source of hope. We see light only in darkness. The stars wouldn’t be stars without the wide emptiness of space. It remains, however, a mystery why objects in the dark are indistinguishable. When shrouded by darkness, objects become formless, nonexistent (or absent), and immutable; they lose their solidity. (Yet the human eye trains the body to adapt to this continuous, immeasurable blanket. A body must grasp objects, move in space, or find one’s path, hence, the eye must adapt.)
In the city of desolation, darkness creeps evenly in structured spaces. It hides, reaches, and envelops movement permeating in every unguarded corner. Yet it remains shallow, often having a measurable depth, engulfing only small spaces, but light is its enemy. City lights purges this dissenting atmosphere darkness invades. Streetlights, exploding textual displays on bars and restaurants, colorful disco lights emanating from party places, and lights from high-rise buildings all punctuate the darkness. In the city at night, one can strongly feel the solidity of objects: the buildings, the avenues, the crevices… Darkness seems to function economically entombing aberrant human activities and crimes within its basking blackness. It becomes a distinguishable space.

In shadows of building, within dark rooms, in empty spaces at night, crime thrives like an underground vegetation, restricted in small spaces, unexposed, hidden, and destructive creeping sporadically at various entrances and exits of city life. Darkness has a thriving economy of consumption: one man stabbed to death on the dark aisle of the underpass, forgotten; the act of killing: quick and methodical; killer’s emotional response: empty, mundane, ‘this too shall pass’; killer’s motive: money (poverty at its root), a procedural job, a disaffected life.

Travelling for almost two to three times a year from Manila to my province Sorsogon, I wonder if there is a difference between the the darkness I feel in the city and the darkness I feel in the provinces. In twelve-hour bus trips at night, one can experience the vast difference of these two worlds. Leaving the city at eight in the evening, a bus travels south of Manila along the boulevards of the city. EDSA remains alive at night. People walk along the sidewalks at their usual pace, only quicker as they would walk in daylight. As the bus enters the South Luzon Expressway, light from the streets began to dim slowly. Darkness creeps within the halls of the moving bus. Within three hours, as the bus reach the outskirts of Batangas province, darkness becomes unbearably deep, deeper than the darkness I feel in the city. Three hours more, deep within the Quezon province, darkness asphyxiates any man awake. There is no escape. The light that one can only see comes from the bus headlights. Witnessing this descent in almost every province-bound bus travel I had in my life makes me wonder further how deep this provincial darkness can be.
Darkness in the provinces is phenomenally expansive and deep. Unlike in the city invaded by light, night in the provinces engulfs light. Even the brightest lighting equipment cannot measure its depth. Provincial darkness stretches out in open fields, in jungles, in neighboring houses keeping almost everyone inside their houses. Even¬†crime¬†finds its place to hide. Night in the province starts as early as six in the evening. Jeepneys seize their operations at seven-thirty, but tricycles never sleep. They brave the twelve-hour darkness in service to wandering ghouls and lost travelers. At night in the province, the streets are almost empty, deserted. Night feels like an act of waiting, time’s long passage.
Night and its arching darkness seems to puncture the hearts of men and women in the provinces. Its passage in time lengthens their patience as each awaits for sunrise. It deepens their scars, their delusions, their doubts.

Crimes in the provinces are, to me, committed with so much intensity and force, surfacing from very deep scars, very deep guilt. These crimes are not governed by some economic of consumption as they would play in the city. They surge within this pantheon of provincial darkness, seeping most of their power from this incomprehensible, limitless, and devouring negative space. For a crime, no matter how simple, committed within the premises of this provincial darkness involves so much passion, so much complexity, a crime beyond what one can commit in a city.

Fabian’s bloodshed in¬†Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan¬†(Norte, End of History, Lav Diaz, 2013), Hamin’s cry of desolation in¬†Death in the Land of Encantos(2007), Florentina’s cry for help in¬†Florentina Hubaldo, CTE¬†(2012), and Heremias’ descent into darkness in¬†Heremias Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess(2006), all these acts and gestures perpetuate the emanating darkness from the provinces, a darkness that engulfs light, pierces the heart, and transforms them into phantoms of the night: lost, indistinguishable, and immutable. In this darkness, their limiting figures arise: shaped by light but continuously dissolved by shadows. Each of them are entrenched within this void, society’s ultimate space of nothingness — the Black hole. Maybe this is why Lav Diaz gravitates towards the outskirts of provinces. He wanted to reach this Black hole history, politics, and natural space created. Darkness has always been a socio-political condition, aside from being a spatial experience. Each dark space emanates from both the restrictions of control societies and soul’s tempestuous agony. It appears now that in places where progress lags, where progress creep slowly, darkness expands intensely it penetrates even the most strong-willed, the most brave, the meekest one. No one is spared; everyone is engulfed. No light, not even the strongest light, can gauge its depth. Only cinema can capture its depth.
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The Foolish Bird (2017)

January 29, 2019
[Review]

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Set against the backdrop of contemporary China’s technocratic and dissimulated culture industry, Ji Huang and Ryuji Otsuka’s contemplatively paced film The Foolish Bird (2017) articulates a moral gaze towards China’s disgruntled and alienated youth, a sector fully consolidated into China’s technocratic system. It argues on the surface that the problems of youth sector is symptomatic of a bigger societal problem: the displacement of the family structure in China’s aggressive development as an imperialist state. As a whole, the film particularly sketches a cautionary rationalization of the youth’s alienated condition.

In the film, Lynn is the ‚Äėfoolish bird‚Äô, a sixteen year old high-school, who, like many Chinese children and adolescents of contemporary China, is left behind in the custody of her grandparents while her parents work in urban centres far away from home. Without any traditional family structure regulating her activities, Lynn is free to roam the streets at night, to join overnight parties, and also to engage in illegal activities such as smuggling and reselling of confiscated cellular phones in her school.

However, The Foolish Bird’s style may not be entirely moralizing. Its stylistics says otherwise. Instead of using the suture effect of popular cinema, it places a camera from a distance, as if witnessing, while also maintaining a meticulously observant image of subjects in the execution of its shallow shots. In general, its cinematographic effect attempts a kind of fragile realism keenly self-aware of its function of distancing in the film. Ji Huang and Ryuji Otsuka is careful not to disturb the rhythmic passage of time and distort the spatial design of the film that fully grounds it to the Chinese social sphere.

The film‚Äôs aporia is its insistence of a place ‚Äď Lynn‚Äôs place, a mobile place, a woman‚Äôs place, impermanent yet vacuous, a place which is always already under erasure. Lynn is a mobile bird looking for a home, looking for love, and yet, she ended up in the wrong side of law, in the wrong side of social order, wrong company of people, which gradually accumulated into a host of other problems. The film narrative is an accumulation of Lynn‚Äôs mistakes, seemingly putting her into blame ‚Äď ‚Äėhere is Lynn and she made mistakes because of her foolishness‚Äô – a bird whose adolescent awkwardness lacks the social imagination of a mature adult persona. Shall we blame her for her mistakes? Maybe, but the film argues otherwise.

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As the film waltz into the realm of the sexual ‚Äď Lynn, who insisted that she was raped, tries to recover a first experience, maybe perhaps to justify her pregnancy, to erase her pregnancy due to rape, she invites her lover for sexual tryst which ended up badly. She was humiliated after her lover discovered that she is not a virgin. She cried, yet while her lover disowns her over her non-virginity, we do not see the lover. Her lover is off-camera; her face filling-up the dimensions of screen. What we are witnessing is a complex image of a young woman in the face of patriarchal forces at work: her immediate patriarchal family unit, who never really cared for her; the law and its punitive institutions; the male ego and its privileging of the virginal woman; the Chinese state and its total neglect of the plight of its women.

As a character study, The Foolish Bird is inclined to deconstruct the idea of the heroine, by deploying a realism the shatters any form of mysticism of Lynn’s character. She is not an avenging angel, but she knows the idea of justice, the idea of oppression. We see her act according to her means, her own resources in pursuing a kind of social investigation into the toxic masculinity that runs in her neighbourhood. She is fragile yet persisting; she is determined to cast a stone on her oppressors. She works alone, but she is not anti-social; she cares for her friend May, who, like her, was also raped in the same party that she attended, and, as a result, led to her friend’s suicide. She also care for her lover. Yet she is, most of the time, a figure of independence.

Lynn is not the foolish bird at all that the film insists. She is the face of China’s disenfranchised youth sector, a sector bullied by its own patriarchal structure. Like the disenfranchised youth of Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still (2018), the film constructs the youth as an expression of critique of China’s contemporary social conditions. Lynn’s conflicts has also revealed the extent of debt economy in her local. Chinese government’s conservative control of its technocratic enterprise has led Lynn to consider smuggling phones. Indeed, it shows that the means of subsistence of Lynn’s immediate family is not enough to allow her to afford luxuries. She earns extra cash from re-selling confiscated phones, while in the process accumulating debt. In the end, when she was caught, her grandfather has to pay 4,000 yuans to her classmates, who were the rightful owners of the confiscated phones, just to appease their parents. This amount have proven to be difficult to accumulated given their desolate economic status.

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Ji Huang and Ryuji Otsuka’s The Foolish Bird is more than an expression of foolishness of Chinese youth. It is an expression of anger. With its slow pacing, the figure of anger builds up, slowly constructing a singular image of the disenfranchised women of China, effaced, silenced, and under erasure by the patriarchy that discombobulate her. What could be her future? At the end of the film, Lynn, overwhelmed by her fate, threw her phone on the river. As Lynn bikes away from the audience, she is still a bird but definitely not a foolish one anymore. The film’s ending seems to suggest a radical opening, a defiance, but a defiance of what? The technocratic state and its patriarchal conduits? The film does not resolve this fact. Instead, it unfolds in the open.

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Reading // Cinema

Reposted from old blog

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Habit of reading in cinema: (Top to Bottom) Charulata (1964),

La Collectionneuse (1967) and Arising from the Surface (1980)

 

Reading a book: happiness…going down an endless flight of stairs with no sense of hurry, finding a place to sit, lying down on the grass, resting your gaze on the sky, seeing the clouds move, closing your eyes, losing it, recovering, finally losing it.

–¬†Richard¬†Bolisay[link]

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January 2019: Round-Up

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My favorite scene in Godard’s Tout va Bien (1972)

In January 2019, the struggle continues. I don’t think there has ever been a peaceful month in this regime since it started. To fight the repressive apparatus, we must continue to renew our commitment for the struggle for a genuine national democracy by constituting a bigger collective and a broader, wider alliance with dissenting voices.

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Peasants are killed; activists are attacked, harassed, ridiculed, incarcerated and demonized by the state apparatus and threatened online by less discerning people. The black propaganda of the government is in full swing but we must persist and continue to fight for a just and lasting peace. We cannot give up. The month may be over; but the struggle continues on.

WE HAVE A STRUGGLE TO WIN!

Contractualization is still a problem. In the government sector where I work, all contractual workers still face the possibility of losing their jobs within or after the six month contract. For example, in the recent transition of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), around 6,000 government employees, most of which are contractuals, have lost their jobs. The sad truth is that no matter how important your function is, your contract does not assure you a job all year round. You are still dispensable.

It is therefore imperative for contractual government workers to unite and fight for their right to tenureship and just treatment from the government. Around 700,000 contractual employees of the Philippine government must unite in ensuring a just and rightful treatment of government workers. The fight of contractual government workers is also the fight of countless of contractual workers in the private sector. Some companies still practice labor-only contracting like Nutriasia, Jollibee Food Corporations, SUMIFRU, Dole Philippines, PLDT, Philsaga Mining Corporation, among others. This has to stop. Contractualization is a symptom of the worsening divide between the working class and the ruling class in the Philippines. Why do we still continue to allow it?

Manila Bay Rehabilitation for the Ruling Class. In the latter part of the month, there has been a large scale inter-agency effort to clean-up Manila Bay. Although there has been countless of staging of a Manila Bay clean-up in the past, especially when the Writ of Continuing Mandamus issued by the Supreme Court was enforced, this event has been highly disseminated in various media outlets to make it appear as if something has changed and that this event is a milestone.

In fact, it is a band-aid solution. Law enforcement officers are on the move, apprehending establishments along Roxas Boulevard that violates environmental laws. There was too much attention on the greater Metro Manila area in general. I was actually expecting that this rehabilitation will also involved the full extent of Manila Bay which involves provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Cavite.

Aside from the myopic geographical area of such a rehabilitation, there was no acknowledgement of the impact of past and future reclamation projects in Manila Bay. The City of Manila as well as other local government units (LGUs) that sit along the coastlines of Manila bay has already approved several reclamation projects. The Palace said they are beneficial to the economy and the people, but it appears that it only serves a few – the ruling class.

The issue is outstandingly contradictory. Here we have a Philippine government concerned with the environment, who is so quick to judge that the urban poor residing beside Manila Bay as the prime suspect of the decay of the bay. Yet, they allow reclamation projects that will destroy fish habitats and potential mangrove areas  that can protect Manila Bay settlers from potentially hazardous storm surges during supertyphoons.

This issue only shows that Manila Bay will not be cleaner any time sooner. While the economy grows via the expansion of capitalist interest over its vicinity, the Bay continues to deteriorate and sooner succumb to its own death.

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justice for randy

Photos from @BAYANnational

Push for a Genuine, Pro-People Rehabilitation of Manila Bay!
Stop All Reclamation Activities in Manila Bay!
Resist Crackdown on Activists!
Hands off Venezuela!
Uphold Press Freedom!
Kontraktwal Gawing Regular!

 

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Thesis Proposal Writing Update
Theoretical Framework in Progress

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This month was a critical period for my thesis. I have been reading some of the core references for my theoretical framework namely the following:

  • Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1
  • Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
  • Hegel’s Encyclopaedia Logic (Shorter Logic)
  • Hegel’s Science of Logic (Greater Logic)
  • Derrida’s Of Grammatology

Marx-Hegel-Derrida – my thesis will run across this theoretical matrix to constitute a dialectical materialist framework to understand and demystify long duration presupposed metaphysics. As with Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1, I have already read up to Chapter 22 of the book, and will almost finish it this month.

I tried to read the three books of Hegel section by section, chapter by chapter, side-by-side, but its seems harder and confusing to synthesize ideas in-between readings. I managed to finish the Preface and Introduction of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia Logic¬†(Shorter Logic)¬†which gave me an overview of Hegel’s project in general. I will upload my notes on them later this month. As with Hegel’s book Science of Logic, otherwise known as the Greater Logic, I only managed to finish the two prefaces of Hegel. Both of which gives general introduction of his project, his objectives, his ‘enemies’ (Kant and other German Idealists), his method. Considering the complexities of each book, I found it practical and logical to read Phenomenology of Spirit first because it gives a brief introduction to Hegel’s approach on what scientific cognition is.

After watching the video (see above), I figure that Hegel’s method in Phenomenology of Spirit will greatly help me in also coming up with my own method of studying the phenomena of long cinematic duration in the most scientific way. The stage-by-stage approach of Hegel, from the most basic (sense-certainty) to the most complex (ethical order/the absolute), can greatly help me in fleshing out the structure of long duration from the most basic (the shot, perhaps?) to its teleological existence in Philippine cinema and world cinema in general.

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Indeed, reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit¬†(I’m now in its first chapter on Sense-Certainty)¬†has offered a lot of theoretical resources to me. Capital Volume 1‘s structure has now become clearer. The shadow of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit hovers above Marx’s stage-wise approach to unraveling Capital’s gigantic appearance. From the most basic (commodities in Chapter 1 of Volume 1) to the most complex (the system of capitalism in Volume 3), Marx dialectically engage the idea of capital in a stage-wise approach, synthesizing from the most basic to the most complex. His systematic approach is a scientific one while also maintaining a revolutionary core – the subjectivity of workers subjected to varying degrees of exploitation.

Similarly, Derrida’s idea of trace is quite similar to Derrida’s idea of dialectic, which erases finality as it undoes the metaphysics of presence.

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January 2019 | Favorite Films of the Month

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Cinema and the Materialist Dialectic

 

Cinema is an phenomenon of contradictions. The dialectical nature of cinema lies in its essence, its objectivity which effaces the Truth by its own temporality at work. It is a medium of signification ‘sous rature’ or under erasure, that is, at once there but always already erased. Only the memory of the image survives, inscribed in the sensory machine of the viewer. Hence, Derrida once said that it is an artform of phantoms, entities that actually caught up in the mystical time of cinema that neither past-present nor future-present. Cinema is in the order of the untimely, yet we cannot discount that its phenomenological untimeliness only arises from its objectivity.

The task of a scientific inquiry on cinema must aim to bridge the object and the subject, the reality and the mind. To make such a scientific inquiry a revolutionary one, we have to place the generic subject in the realm of the proletarian revolution. Hence, the dialectical materialist approach to a study of cinema must, first of all, study cinema in a scientific way, as applied by both Hegel and Marx in their respective texts (Phenomenology of Spirit, Science of Logic; Capital), in order to account for the Wholeness of the cinematic phenomenon. And second, it must aspire for a revolutionary call-to-arms to change the world by sustaining the proletariat as the subject of cinema. The dialectics of theory and practice must aim for the return of the Cinematic Absolute to its material and social base.

An Account of Images in (Non)Transgression

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Meta-Hegemoniya, Meta-Industriya (Ronaldo Vivo, Jr. / Philippines / 2018)

For cinema to be transformative, it must contain images of transgression, images that dialectically engage with the world. Only a dialectically conscious cinema returns to reality for the sole purpose of changing it, by constituting new relations, new modes of thinking, new Negatives, new ways of seeing the world. Ultimately, a dialetically conscious and revolutionary cinema must abolish cinema-in-itself and begins anew.

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Images of Jean-Luc Godard’s Tout va Bien (France / 1972) reflect a dialetically conscious cinema for its disquieting realism and self-consciousness that we rarely see in political films today. A piercing self-awareness is mutually divisive for also being a polemical piece on the contradictions of French society during post-1968 era.

The film builds on the contradictions of labor and capital, while double-playing as both a romantic and political film, consciously situating the privatization of gender roles in the milieu of post-1968 France. The romantic couple Рthe Man and Woman Рencounters a striking group of workers in a meat processing company. The workers held a strike against the management of the company for unfair labor practices. They represent the contradiction, the Negative, which dispels the fetishistic mysticism of the romantic couple; while the couple represents the bourgeois French intelligentsia. Godard shows the non-commensurable relation between cinema as a bourgeois pastime and the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. Tout va Bien does not end with a resolution but a krisis. It heightens the non-commensurability of such a relation maintaining that reality will always be dialetical and incommensurate.

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Happy End (2016)

This month, I was able to watch some very good films. One is the latest Michael Haneke – Happy End (2016), a no-gimmick-film, which is one way of saying endings are “best served cold”. In Happy End, Haneke argues that European society’s elephant in the room – the migration problem – cannot be resolved by mere hospitality; and that the contradictions of such a big problem are already festering in European society long ago. The problem of migrant Jews, for example, during the World War II (WWII) gave rise to fascism that exterminated more than ten million people. While there is an illusion that fascism was already symbolically defeated after WWII, Hanake is clearly showing that it has not left the European subjectivity. Fascism is here and always embedded in each individuality, each bourgeois household and self-deprecating character. Hanake’s characters are testament to Europe’s internalized fascism and xenophobia.

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Sinofuturism (1839 ‚Äď 2046 AD) (2017)

The two experimental films I have watched this month, Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism (1839 ‚Äď 2046 AD) (2017) and Scott Barley’s Closer (2016), are both admirable for their sharpness and polemical intent. Closer is more challenging to read because it is sensorial. But it teaches us a thing or two about the homology of looking, of perceiving things, especially the world itself, which is always already a conglomerate. It justifies the Hegelian notion of being, that being is impossible to isolate in-itself and therefore it must be viewed as a whole. Lek’s Sinofuturism is divisive polemic on the Chinese question. It tries to imagine China not from its national identity but from a China of the future. Using various method of imaging, Sinofuturism uses the essay style to distill the complexity of China’s society, notably without the question of the border.

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An Elephant Sitting Still (2018)

Hu Bo’s four-hour film, An Elephant Sitting Still (2018), is his first and last film and also, arguably, offers one of the sharpest critiques on the contemporary Chinese imperialist project. Alongside Wang Bing and Jia Zhangke’s films that continue to unravel layers of contradictions in the post-1989 China, Hu Bo’s film offers an approximation of the degree of alienation in contemporary China. Obsolescence, mundanity, obscurity threaten the lives of four dispassionate spirits Yu Cheng (Yu Zhang), Wei Bu (Yuchang Peng), Huang Ling (Uvin Wang) and Wang Jin (Congxi Li) as they all try to converge on meeting point – the elephant sitting still in Manzhouli, China – which the film refused to show. The absence of the Elephant in the ending opens the film to a hopeful end – a radical hope.

The film arguably is not existential, nor nihilist; but teleological. It advocates for a certain achievement of a purpose. Although life in China is hopeless to some, Hu Bo argues that there is still hope if there will be break from the old ideas via the dialectical engagement with the impossible – the Elephant sitting still in Manzhouli. The film argues for a way out. Yet, the road towards such hope, as shown in the film, is not easy. One has to work out one’s life to get there, resolving conflicts, redeeming one’s sense of purpose. Hu bo is hopeful of China’s future. It is sad that he has to go.

Oda sa Wala (2018) & Meta-Hegemoniya, Meta-Industriya (2018)

 

Ronaldo Vivo, Jr.’s Meta-Hegemoniya, Meta-Industriya (2018) confronts several demons, but it particularly gives shape to the type of violence Philippine society is experiencing today – a violence that is bodily penetrative, contradictory and self-cancelling.¬†Dwein Baltazar’s Oda sa Wala (2018) strength can be drawn from its good compositional style and a crucial attention to the shot’s durational length to elicit a blend of the uncanny, the ironic and the comedic. While timing is its greatest strength as film, it lacks a wider moral compass that would have brought the narrative towards a greater abstraction and purpose.

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Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) is a highly entertaining film about deviancy because it tries to articulate the contradictions of the economy of appearances that runs within elite circles.

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I have also rewatched Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Jungle Love (2012) after almost 7 years of my first watch during its premiere only to find it okay rather than how I saw it before. Other than this, it still sustains its offbeat vibe that doubles as a comedic flare.

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Perci Intalan’s Born Beautiful (2019) is also entertaining but to some extent, has a barreled down comedic tone that lacks timing and originality. Viewers can expect a different lighter take from its source material Die Beautiful (2017).

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Ralitza Petrova’s Godless (2016) has a promise amidst its impenetrable vagueness. It seems that I need to rewatch it. But on its surface, there is no decipherable conflict that propels the story into a larger than life drama. Instead, what we can listen to and intuit are monotonous sounds of daily lives of geriatrics in Bulgaria. It is about human nature, the aging body, but I cannot distinguish its purpose as whole: to whom and from whom?

I have also seen a handful of short films: a short film that comes as a joke [Bambi Meets Godzilla (Marv Newland / US / 1969)]; a short film on irrational affect of¬† split screens [Theory of Relativity(Catherine Grant / UK / 3m30s / 2015)]; a short film that applies a cinematographic experiment that works alongside Michael Snow’s claustrophobic Wavelength (1967) [Downside Up (Tony Hill / UK / 17 mins / 1984)]; a short film about the oppositional relationship of celluloid filmmaking and digital filmmaking in the Philippines [33 mm Man (Rox Lee / Philippines / 20 m 31 s / 2008)].

I have also seen some bad films: Nasaan ka man (Cholo Laurel / Philippines / 2005), Bird Box (Susanne Brier / USA / 2018), Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber / US / 2018), and¬†Fantastica (Barry Gonzales / Philippines / 2018). Two films are made by Filipino filmmakers. Nasaan ka Man, a Star Cinema-produced thriller film about a fucked-up incestuous family drama set in Baguio and, of course, the much abhorred Vice Ganda film of MMFF 2018, Fantastica, whose only merit is that it is a better film than Gandarrapido (2017). Bird Box is obviously the downer because I had high hopes at first being hyped up as a film with similarities to A Quiet Place. It had an interesting source material (I heard it is based on a book), but it fails to bring us closer to its world. It is an apocalypse horrendously executed that it looked like as if everyone was just playing dead in the presence of a ridiculous ‘phantom-like’ that-which-cannot-be-seen entity. Same goes with Skyscraper, which felt like a typical product of a cottage industry of Hollywood: basic plot, bombastic actions scenes, a conflict that requires extrahuman strength. Nothing is more deceiving than another white man’s trash.

Anime

I promised to watch more anime this year. I’m still new to the field but I’m interested. The only anime I have only truly loved was Neon Genesis Evangelion. It reminds me of a fragment of my affective memory from childhood being so engrossed and confused by the idea of mecha. I was nine years old when I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion from our local channel. Promised Neverland is a start. I hope it gets me somewhere.

The January 2019 Film List

Transformative and Transgressive (5/5)

Tout va Bien(Jean Luc Godard / France / 1972)

Best of the Best (4.5/5)

An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo / China / 2018)

Very Good (4/5)

Happy End (Michael Haneke / Germany-France / 2016)
Closer (Scott Barley / UK / 2016)

Sinofuturism (1839 ‚Äď 2046 AD) (Lawrence Lek / UK / 2017)

Good (3.5/5)

Meta-Hegemoniya, Meta-Industriya (Ronaldo Vivo, Jr. / Philippines / 2018)
Oda sa Wala (Dwein Baltazar / Philippines / 2018)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller / US / 2018)

Fair (2.5 – 3.0/5)

Jungle Love (Sherad Sanchez / Philippines / 2012) – rewatch
Bambi Meets Godzilla (Marv Newland / US / 1969)
Theory of Relativity (Catherine Grant / UK / 3m30s / 2015)
Downside Up (Tony Hill / UK / 17 mins / 1984)
33 mm Man (Rox Lee / Philippines / 20 m 31 s / 2008)
Born Beautiful (Perci Intalan / Philippines / 2019)
Godless (Ralitza Petrova / Belgium / 2016)

Unbearable (1-2/5)

Nasaan ka man (Cholo Laurel / Philippines / 2005)
Bird Box (Susanne Brier / USA / 2018)
Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber / US / 2018)
Fantastica (Barry Gonzales / Philippines / 2018)

ANIME

The Promised Neverland E01 (Mamoru Kanbe / CloverWorks / 2019)

Neverland

 

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JANUARY 2019 | Anomalous Materials

Anomalous Materials: digital encounters in the web, evental sites of ruptures, exclusionary digipoiesis. Some anomalous materials for this month:

  • Complete the System of German Idealism by Alison Bailey [link]
  • +18 Gore of Ultraman [link]
  • ‘Ang Himig Natin’ on Chapman Stick by Abby Clutario – A Tribute to Pepe Smith [link]
  • Taking Names by Ruby Ibarra feat. Bambu and Nump [link]
  • ‘Socialism or Barbarism?’: 100 Years After – Rosa Luxemburg by Redfish [link]
  • Remembering Liebknecht and Luxemburg by teleSUR English [link]
  • Gynompedie Budots [link]
  • Cat on the Back Ridding a Motorcyle by P’Billy Salika [link]
  • Airport security workers on strike in Frankfurt – Bella Ciao by Mark Bergfeld [link]
  • Yellow Vest Protest Jan 5 by teleSUR English [link]
  • Act 9, 12 January 2019 in Toulouse by NFCA Media [link]
  • Gilet Jaunes Flash Ball Collapse by Europe Says OXI [link]
  • Roller Kingdom by Papi Meme [link]

Blog Updates

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new header image. from Lav Diaz’s Ang Araw Bago ang Wakas (2016)

This month, I promise to do an upkeep of the blog. New pages, new posts.

  • World Poll Submissions.¬†There is a page compiling all my Senses of Cinema World Poll Submissions from 2012 to present here.
  • Film Log 2019. I now re-instated my daily log sheet for the films I’ve watched this year here.
  • Spectres of Marx Blog Series: I figure that I’ll just make my interpretation of Derrida’s¬†Spectres of Marx as a serial piece. [here]
  • Mixtapes. I will start a regular mixtape. Series of shorts films you can watch online. [here]

That’d be all for now!

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