Saturday, August 22, 2009

Zizek on Israel: A Lesson in Idiotic Pop Psychology

I love when Zizek talks about Kieslowski. However, I'm not so impressed with his new comments about the situation in Israel (okay, I'm repulsed). Shahar Ozeri, over at Perverse Egalitarianism, says of Zizek's newest comment on the situation: "Bluntly, it’s a a pathetic projection and at best idiotic pop psychology." Ozeri is right--unfortunately Zizek has succumbed to the trendy strategy of "Nazifying" Israel. Come on, give us something new, Zizek.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tarantino's Way vs the Jewish Way

I haven't yet seen Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, so I'm not going to say much about it. But Liel Leibovitz, in a piece in Tablet Magazine, calls the movie (and its maker) a failure. Leibovitz suggests that Tarantino's comment in the production notes--“I like that it’s the power of the cinema that fights the Nazis. But not just as a metaphor, as a literal reality.”--is indicative of this overall failure.

In contrast to Tarantino's failure of both "morality" and "imagination," Leibovitz predictably points to films like Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, Marcel Ophüls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, and Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows. Of these films he writes:

"It’s no coincidence that all three of those filmmakers are Jewish. Theirs is the Jewish way. Rather than burn film, they develop it into art. They are talmudic, offering endless interpretations to the fundamental question of our species, the question of our seemingly endless capacity for evil. Tarantino, however, is not interested in such trifles. He doesn’t see cinema as a way to look at reality, but—ever the child abandoned in front of the television set, ever the video-store geek—as an alternative to reality, a magical and Manichean world where we needn’t worry about the complexities of morality, where violence solves everything, and where the Third Reich is always just a film reel and a lit match away from cartoonish defeat."

I like the idea that Lanzmann, Ophuls, and Melville's approaches are talmudic, but I'm not convinced that it's Tarantino's tendency to create alternative realities that make his approach anti-thetical to the Jewish or so-called talmudic one. Isn't it possible that the staging of such an over-the-top alternative reality might actually force us to "worry about the complexities of morality"? Again, I haven't seen the film so I won't say much more. I'm just not convinced that there isn't something useful about what Tarantino is doing. And, is there no way, as Leibovitz suggests, to see Tarantino's film as art? I don't know. We'll see.

I'm not going to compare Tarantino to Polish film-maker Krzysztof Kieslowski, but this discussion makes me think of the latter's A Short Film About Killing, which contains the longest murder scene in cinematic history. But Kieslowski is famous for grappling with moral and ethical quandries, and so his inclusion of this scene seems to ask the question: As members of a so-called civilized society, how much can we bear to see, and for how much of our own past and present transgressions can we bear to take responsibility? It will be interesting to see if this kind of thinking makes its way into Inglourious Basterds.

PS I'm so annoyed by Tarantino's insistance on mis-spelling words in his title.

UPDATE: Charlie Bertsch has written an extensive piece on Basterds over at Jewcy--it's worth reading. After seeing the film, I can say that, moral scrutiny aside, it is certainly not a film about the Holocaust, though I'm not sure I really expected it to be. In many ways, it's another film about film, epitomized in the final scene of the movie, where everything is set ablaze in the cinema.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where My Feet Will Not Walk

I'm back to Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault after a not-so-brief hiatus of reading other things, including Jabes, which I think I will be consistently reading for the rest of my life: Torah and Jabes--I wonder if that's all I need. Perhaps it will have to be enough--along with my solitude, that is. Anyway, Michaels writes:

"A nation is a sense of space you will never walk with your own feet yet know in your legs as belonging to you."

This is not, of course
, the way we typically conceive of nations. In this era--and perhaps as far back as we can go--one's nation is precisely the place where he or she walks with his or her own feet. Where we can and cannot tread defines the place we call our nation. Borders and boundaries keep us in and others out.

here in this passage the nation is something altogether different. It's very nature suggests its resistance to being tread upon. The implication is that once you walk on it, it is no longer yours. The nation is characterized by longing and anticipation rather than firsthand knowledge. We hope for something because it is not yet ours. And yet it is ours because we feel it in our legs, even though our feet cannot find the evidence of its existence. It is another of life's great paradoxes. I want only the paradoxes, if truth be told. I want the burden of responsibility that comes with such paradoxes.

The nation is
symbolic and evocative of yearning and aspiration as opposed to the banality of experience that characterizes our life in the space upon which our feet walk. And I can't help but think--there are places my feet do not walk, but which I know in my legs and up through my heart to be mine. And who are you to tell me that I do not belong? I am looking for a good fight.

is Jabes, for good measure (from The Little Book of Unsuspected Subversion): "For place, all you will have had is the hope of a mild place beyond the sands: a mirage of repose."