Combining Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Mill, he gives us the best-case scenario:
The second condition of the possibility of victory is that the consciousness of mankind be penetrated by the folly of volition and the misery of all existence; that it have conceived so deep a yearning for the peace and the painlessness of non being, and all the motives hitherto making for volition and existence have been so far seen through in their vanity and nothingness that that yearning after the annihilation of volition and existence attains resistless authority as a practical motive. According to the last chapter, this condition is one whose fulfilment in the hoary age of humanity we may expect with the greatest probability, when the theoretical cognition of the misery of existence is truthfully comprehended, and this cognition gradually more and more overcomes the opposing instinctive emotional judgment, and even becomes a practically efficient feeling, which as a union of present pain memory of former pain, and forefeeling of care and fear becomes a collective feeling in every individual embracing the whole life of the individual and through sympathy the whole world, which at last attains unlimited sway. Doubt as to the general motive power of such an idea at first certainly arising and communicated in more or less abstract form, would not be authorised, for it is the invariably observed course of historically regulative ideas which have arisen in the brain of an individual, that although they can only be communicated in abstract form, they penetrate in course of time into the heart of the masses, and at last arouse their will to a passionateness not seldom bordering on fanaticism. But if ever an idea was born as feeling, it is the pessimistic sympathy with oneself and everything living and the longing after the peace of non existence, and if ever an idea was called to fulfill its historical mission without turbulence and passion silently but steadily and persistently in the interior of the soul, it is this.
From this point of view too the possibility therefore appears anything but remote that the pessimistic consciousness will one day become the dominant motive of voluntary choice.
From Georges Poulet’s Studies in Human Time. Poulet’s analysis tends towards paraphrase, but he digs up amazing quotes.
The soul is afraid…in seeing that each moment snatches from her the enjoyment of her good, and that what is most dear to her glides away at every moment….
It is a horrible thing to feel all one’s possessions flowing away.
Let not anyone tell me that all the feelings which I attribute to men…are not felt as I describe them; for it is only in the occasion itself that it seems as if one has them or not; and not even then does anyone discover that he has them; it is just that one’s actions make us suppose necessarily that one has them.
Woe to the man who, in the first moments of a love affair does not believe that this liaison will be eternal! Woe to him who, in the arms of the mistress he has just won, preserves a deadly prescience, and foresees that he will be able to detach himself from her.
Benjamin Constant, A Mme de Krudner
I have always had such a dread of the present and of the real in my life that I have never represented in art a painful or delightful emotion while I was experiencing it, but have attempted instead to flee to the sky of poetry from that land whose brambles have, at every step, lacerated feet too fragile and perhaps too ready to bleed….
Thus I always carried within me the memory of times that I had not seen, and the discontented experience of old age entered into my child’s mind and filled it with mistrust and a precocious misanthropy.
In the context of an excellent article on Ernesto Grassi and Henry Johnstone (thanks A):
Narrative is the speech of memory. Philosophies are essentially narratives. All great works of philosophy simply tell the reader what is the nature of things. The arguments we ?nd within such works are meaningful within the structure of the narrative they contain. The narration confers meaning. Questions of meaning always precede questions of truth. Philosophical arguments do not stand on their own. They cannot pro?tably be removed from the narrative that informs them and evaluated as though they had independent value and truth.
Philosophies, like all narratives, act against forgetting. To forget is to leave something out, to omit or overlook a feature of a subject matter or of the world. Philosophical speech is memorial speech because it reminds us of what we have already forgotten or nearly forgotten about experience. The speech of philosophical narrative can never become literal-minded because to act against forgetting is to attempt to hold opposites together. The narrative is always based on a metaphor; a metaphor is always a narrative in brief. The narrative is also the means to overcome controversy, because for the self to overcome an inconsistency of its thoughts it must develop not simply a new argument but a new position, a new narrative in which to contain any new argument.
The self makes itself by speaking to itself, not in the sense of introspection but in the sense of the art of conversation, which is tied to the original meaning of dialectic. On this view, philosophy is not rhetorical simply in its need to resolve controversy, nor is it rhetorical simply in terms of its starting points for rational demonstration. Philosophy is rhetorical in these senses, but it is further rhetorical in its total expression. Any philosophy commands its truth by the way it speaks. Great philosophies speak in a powerful manner that affects both mind and heart. It is common, in the Dialogues, that, after engaging in the elenchos, Socrates says he is unsure whether a claim that seems to be true really is true. His answer is to offer a “likely story.” All philosophies, on my view, are likely stories, which originate in the philosopher’s own autobiography and are attempts to move from this to the autobiography of humanity, to formulate the narrative of human existence in the world and to speak of things human and divine.
What an awesome disaster of a movie. Panned at Cannes, left for dead by Sony, eventually raking in $300K on an $18 million budget and forcing a promise from Richard Kelly that he will be more commercial in the future, I now say that it’s the major American movie of 2007 that I enjoyed the most, far more than limp critic-fodder There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men. It certainly isn’t a good movie, though there are plenty of good bits in it, but the movie, at least partly unintentionally, has been constructed in such a way as to make such evaluations meaningless. Southland Tales will never be ridiculed and celebrated the way Showgirls or Valley of the Dolls or Manos: The Hands of Fate or Battlefield: Earth are. It doesn’t provide enough reference points. James Wood, in one of his bon mots, said of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, “It invents its own category of badness.” Wood was wrong, for The Unconsoled is just a mediocre symbolist text (see Alasdair Gray’s Lanark for a far more brilliant effort in the same vein). But Southland Tales comes as close to that description as any film in recent memory, and where it is in its own category, there is no comparable “good” to be had next to the bad. Its idiosyncratic overambition lies alongside O Lucky Man! and its acknowledged antecedent, Kiss Me Deadly. I don’t know that it is as seminal as the latter film, which for me is one of the greatest American films of its era, but as with Kiss Me Deadly, it won’t be possible to tell until we are further from the present. It’s that sort of a zeitgeist movie; maybe it’ll look as awful as Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie or Jodorowski’s films, but I hope not. I got a real kick out of it.
Let’s start with the logo.
Does the oddly-colored shape under the title look familiar? I was pleased with myself for recognizing it. It’s a US electoral map from 2004, skewed by congressional district so that each district’s size is proportional to its population, and color coded red-to-blue to represent Republican-to-Democratic dominance. It’s ugly, oversaturated, politically allusive, and obscure all at the same time, and it’s a good synecdoche for the film.
The film fails in making any coherent political statement, because you can’t make any sort of political statement in the midst of such chaos. The plot, such as it is, has to do with The Rock playing an amnesiac actor married to the daughter of the Bush-a-like Republican presidential candidate (this film takes place in 2008; the Democratic ticket is Clinton-Lieberman). His name is Boxer Santaros, but he’ll come to be known as Jericho Cane, the lead character in a screenplay he has written (or has he???) about the apocalypse. Also collaborating on the screenplay is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Krysta Now, a porn star/talk show host who may or may not have Marxist revolutionary tendencies. (It may be possible to figure out the actual affiliations of many of the characters, but, like most of the plot elements, it is largely irrelevant.) What glimpses we have of this screenplay reveals that it is pretty much the sort of screenplay The Rock would have written: a macho action hero killing people, spouting banal dialogue, and chugging Bud Light. Here’s page 1:
(If you don’t find that funny, this movie might be extremely painful for you.) Anyway, through a combination of subversive revolutionary action, plain accident, and assorted other Philip K. Dick-ian causes, the screenplay is being acted out in reality by people who don’t even know of it, as well as observed by all the other characters and by the actors themselves. Since the script is about the apocalypse, things get very strange in a hurry. Some neo-Marxists attempt to fake a shooting to turn the population of California against the government’s draconian anti-terror laws, instituted after two nuclear bombs exploded in Texas. Justin Timberlake plays a mutilated Iraq veteran who spends his days spying on (and occasionally killing) people from offshore through a giant rifle sight. He and several other characters have had megadoses of the mysterious Fluid Karma, a substance that causes telepathy, shared dreams, the mixture of fantasy and reality, and so on and so forth, like Chew-Z in Dick’s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It’s also a clean fuel that will save the world, according to a bunch of German scientists led by Wallace Shawn. And at ground zero of this mess are a bunch of morons getting sucked into their own screenplay in the middle of Los Angeles, already shot, with the exception of one critical scene, to be apocalyptically unreal. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
As these stars act out their wretched screenplay, it’s obvious that at least some of the badness of the acting, dialogue, and plot is intentional. But Kelly makes it impossible to separate the intentional from the unintentional, because the crap script mixes with “reality” to the point that they are inseparable, and none of the “real” characters are any smarter than their in-script standins. This is obvious early on, from the moment Krysta Now says “Apparently, the future is much more futuristic then scientists thought,” but also evident from the sheer lack of any empathetic characters. And I haven’t even mentioned the Justin Timberlake video embedded in the movie, done up as a tribute to The Big Lebowski. The movie is impressive in its self-referential textuality, as bad actors play bad actors writing bad screenplays with bad characters that they then become the bad stars of. (The Rock does a magnificent job of acting like he has no idea what’s going on.) Most of the cast are famous for anything but dramatic acting and can only be recognized as themselves, not as characters within a movie. This movie oozes Verfremdungseffekt.
If nothing else, these factors ensure Southland Tales a place in post-structuralist theory for years to come, a bitterly appropriate result. Still, that’s not to deny the disorienting effect the movie has in providing no reference point whatsoever to what would be called “real life.” It’s spectacle all the way down. But what spectacle! Kelly has given himself over to the pop culture overload and distilled it more densely, and authentically, than anyone since John Oswald. (The opening pastiche of news channel graphics, logos, and crawls is dead-on, the best anyone has done since Chris Morris’s Brass Eye.) And to Kelly’s credit, he never loses his grip, never sacrifices the miasma to anything that could dare be called “art,” which is why Cannes hated him and loved Tarantino. Even if Kelly was trying to elevate (quite literally, at points) his material, he never does.
So let’s go back to Kiss Me Deadly, which appears twice in the film and is clearly a major influence on Kelly. Aldrich’s film is a joke at everyone’s expense, a contemptuous reading of a Mike Hammer novel portraying Hammer as a dull-witted thug incapable of understanding the true stakes of what’s around him. Even the entire genre of detective novels is held up for ridicule when the McGuffin at the center of the story turns out to be anything but irrelevant. The acting ranges from lumpen to histrionic and never matches the unstable material. But unlike Southland Tales, it comes together to damn every bit of its source material and America with it. In Southland Tales, things are inverted: the fools understand and we do not, because the fools are generating their own story, and we–and I include director Kelly in that–are getting caught in it.
What he writes makes him grimace: his creations miscarry. Toward autumn he is taken ill. He is amazed at the gentleness which now comes over him. His sister travels to Thun to bring him home. There are deep furrows in his cheeks. His face has the expression and coloring of a man whose soul has been eaten away. His eyes are more lifeless than the eyebrows over them. His hair hangs clotted in thick pointed hanks over his temples, which are contorted by all the thoughts which he imagines have dragged him into filthy pits and into hells. The verses that resound in his brain seem to him like the croakings of ravens; he would like to eradicate his memory. He would like to shed his life; but first he wants to shatter the shells of life. His fury rages at the pitch of his agony, his scorn at the pitch of his misery. My dear, what is the matter, his sister embraces him. Nothing, nothing. That was the ultimate wrong, that he should have to say what was wrong with him.