Post-Romance CFP

Someone just sent me this. It is utterly remarkable. It ties in with some backburner ideas I have had for a while and have written about on my blog last year! We are going to submit a proposal which we hopefully won’t need to have a paper for until we have both finished PhD-ing. I know I won’t be able to do any work on it before I finish my dissertation.

CFP: A Cinema of Love. A Cinema of Hate. The Post-Romance in Contemporary Film.

Editors: Antje Ascheid (University of Georgia) and Nina Martin (EmoryUniversity)

This anthology seeks to explore the recent emergence of the”post-romance” in international art cinema, which represents issues ofdating, love, sex and romance, along with modern urbanity,”singularization” and isolation in a fundamentally pessimistic or atleast highly skeptical fashion. The concerns of contemporary plays and novels chronicling the collapse of the family, the breakdown of marriages and the atomized loneliness of modern existence (Franzen,Houellebecq, etc.) are matched here with the re-emerging traditions of art cinema in independent film. As early as 1998, LA Times critic Kenneth Turan pointed to a new trend towards immorality and nihilistic darkness in independent cinema, diagnosing in films like Happiness (Solondz, 1998) or Your Friends and Neighbors (La Bute, 1998) an inappropriate “lust for the grim.” Like-minded critics suggested theemergence of a “new cinema of hate.” Since then, there has been amarked increase in this generic development identifiable in art filmsacross an international spectrum. This volume proposes to investigatethe phenomenon of the “post-romance” as a counterpoint to popular romance narratives prominent in heritage cinema and the romantic comedy in a global context.

Possible paper topics could include, but are not limited to, recentfilms by Lars van Trier, Todd Solondz, Catherine Breillat, Olivier Assayas, François Ozon, Neil LaBute, Mike Nichols, Michael Haneke,Oskar Roehler, Andreas Dresen, Roger Avery, Nicole Holofcener, WongKar-Wei, Coline Serreau and many others.

Proposals of 300-500 words should be submitted by May 15, 2006.

Electronic submission should go to:
Antje Ascheid
Assistant Professor of Film Studies
Fine Arts Building
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602

Supernatural: Buffy for Blokes

Just watched Supernatural. Here is the plot summary. I was looking forward to it. Anything that plays AC/DC as the soundtrack to the teaser-advertisement is going to win me for the hour. That is for sure! As well as two good looking guys, the show stars a black 1967 Chevy Impala. The micro-scene where they are cruising through the country-side in their car with the music playing is one of the coolest things I have seen on television for a long time. Sure there are other things that are interesting or even beautiful, but that one scene makes this show cool. At least it does in my book (or blog!). (“Beauty”, perhaps, is satisfied by the intro to the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which captures the sorrowful spactacle of the material loss experienced by the fast-paced female cyborg lead character of the series. Damn, I just watched it like 6 times.) However, this reviewer of Supernatural wasn’t too impressed. I suspect that it will not be the show for everyone. Let’s think about why…

Everyone in the whole world compares it to Buffy, but why focus on the similarities when it are the differences that will attract an audience (from The Age):

Eric Kripke, Supernatural’s 31-year-old writer and creator, has drawn on American B-movie cliches, ghost stories, sci-fi yarns and urban myths for his anxiety-provoking series. But it’s all the more palatable for the peppering of dark, drive-in-movie humour within its scripts. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it crosses genres without a fuss. It can be inexplicably funny one moment, bleak the next. […] There is something very likeable about Supernatural. It’s partly the relationship of the brothers, given credibility with the rivalry and humour by Ackles and Padalecki.

There are a number of moments that have blokey Buffy-esque turns of phrase. By ‘Buffy-esque’ I mean sharing Joss Whedon’s ability to coin pop-culture neologisms. From Supernatural (IMDB and videoclip links via):

Sam Winchester: Dean, what I said about Mom and Dad, I’m sorry.
Dean Winchester: Hey, no chick-flick moments.
Sam Winchester: All right. [pause] Jerk.
Dean Winchester: Bitch.

Dean Winchester: Problem, officers?
Ranger Wilkinson: So… Fake US Marshal. Fake credit cards. You got anything that’s real?
Dean Winchester: My boobs.

Sam Winchester: I swear, man, you’ve gotta update your cassette tape collection.
Dean Winchester: Why?
Sam Winchester: Well, for one, they’re cassette tapes and two… Black Sabbath? Motorhead? Metallica? It’s the greatest hits of mullet rock.
Dean Winchester: House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.
[videoclip, this clip has Metallica playing, but the version on Aussie tv had AC/DC playing “Back in Black”!! WTF!]

“Mullet rock”? “Chick-flick moments”? There is a masculine attunement to the show’s anti-melodramatic (or “anti-chick flick”) tendencies. Here I mean there is an interplay between the everyday relationship of two brothers, which is often mediated by their respective performances of masculinity, and the highly affective horror/fantasy dimension of the show. See my post here and Shaviro’s blog post of melodrama and affect. To repeat what I wrote about why I like NCIS and which is shared (so far) by Supernatural: “the affective dimension played out on a superficial level between the caricatured passionate ‘exteriors’ of the main characters operates in a similar way to affect amplifying machine of melodrama.” I realise now that NCIS is a very masculine show, not only because of the content and so on, but because of the masculine affective attunement between the main characters. In Supernatural it is a post-ironic blokedom. It is similar to why, from the music world, The Darkness and Wolfmother both have relatively recently had a number of hits. I will not be surprised if I hear them on the show’s soundtrack.

The post-ironic blokedom troubles the well worn feminist/grrl power tropes and “functional fantasy figures” of Buffy and extend beyond the affectivities and discursive politics of pop-culture poetics to the very basic structure of the show. Here are some first thoughts on the pilot episode…

The Home vs the ‘Open Road’

It is literally the ‘law of the father’ as the two brothers travel outside middle-America in the souped-up Impala trying to find their dad and battling supernatural nasties along the way. I noticed that the car has slightly different sized back and front mag wheels. Classic street machine style. It is not surprising that the official website is a flash site organised around the space of the car. The two brothers are apparently guided throughout the rest of the series by cryptic clues left behind by their dad as they travel around trying to find him. The state of continual movement is very A-Team like.

In Buffy, especially towards the end of its run in the last couple of series, the Summers family home was used as the base of operations for vampire slayering and general hero work. For example, it was this weapon-grade domesticity that drove the whole ‘Dawn’ phenomenon plot. Supernatural, on the other hand, repeats the unwritten social rule of non-domestic space being where men belong. The climax to this pilot episode has the two brothers forcing a ghost (figured as a sexy wife and loving mother) to return home and face her two children which she had murdered before she had committed suicide. These events were triggered by her husbands adultery. The curse of the ghost is that she can not return to her home. She has cast herself out of her ‘domesticity’ and literally becomes ‘of the street’.

For the first fifth of the episode we see the younger brother, Sam, preparing to step up into the ‘adult world’. By attending an interview for a place at Stanford Law as a grad student he will guarantee his future. He makes it back in time for the interview only to find that his girl friend being murdered the same way his mother did. They were thrust into this supernatural world as their mother and their home literally go up in smoke. Not dissimilar to John Conner from Terminator 2 they are two adult-children who never got to be actual ‘children’ because of a paranoid parent.

Importantly the ‘home’ isn’t just a space of domesticity, but a key site of adulthood. Although Sam is the more ‘adult’ of the two in the sense of being more responsible and so on in micro-social situations, the next step to macro-social adulthood is never taken by Sam. Instead he hits the road with his older brother, Dean. That is the real fantasy here. Buffy was a chick with super strength and super wit. Supernatural has two guys who never have to (or maybe can’t) ‘settle down’. The show saves itself from dwelling in the nihlistic dystopia of Two Lane Blacktop by giving the two lead characters a mission. Passion drives them. Find their ‘father’ and hunt down the thing that destroyed their ‘domesticity’. Postmodern blokes…?

Deus Ex Machina

I went to the Jazz in the Domain last night. It is part of the Sydney Festival. Not a particular fan of jazz, but it was a cool environment to have a few drinks and hang out.

Met some people and one guy was particularly taken by my dissertation topic. He added another negative comment to my master set of negative comments/questions about my research: “Is it in the engineering department or the literature department? [answer] Oh, well now I have lost all respect for you. If you were working on how to make engines faster, then that would be alright…[etc]” Yes, and the world needs more ‘faster’ engines like a hole in the head. (The other two comments/questions include: “How is that going to help anyone?” and “You realise that the only people you are helping is the government crack down on hoons.”)

Although, he did bring up something interesting, plus he did apologise for acting like a dickhead. (His defence was that he likes to attack people when he comes across something interesting to see if they share the passion or if it is some superficial engagement. I had a hard time explaining to him that what I am chiefly interested in is the ‘passion’ or ‘enthusiasm‘ itself, how it circulates within cultural economies, how it is socially reproduced, what is the relation to ‘dominant’ non-enthusiast cultural formations, etc.) The interesting thing he raised was the example of the Sydney motorbike company Deus Ex Machina. There is much to say about this. From the ‘About’ section of their website:

Deus is a completely different kind of motorcycle company. While focussing on the supply of classic motorcycles, parts and accessories, Deus will promote and celebrate a custom motorcycle culture that first appeared in Europe and America in the 1940s and which has recently been revived by groups of young enthusiasts in countries such as Japan.
Deus is the brainchild of a group of passionate and dedicated Australian motorcycle enthusiasts. They are united in their belief that motorcycling has been hijacked by corporate marketing forces and their desire to introduce a new generation of rider to that same pure enthusiasm that kick-started their own love of motorcycling.
After watching the 70’s bike classic, “On Any Sunday” (again) we decided that the spirit of our company would reflect the spirit of the movie. That is, no “bad boy” posturing and mindless clichés, just pure passion welded to the joyous act of participation. In short, a place where personal passion would be tangible and the ethos of “corporate-design-by-committee” and “we-have-no-idea-so-let’s-do-market-research”, are missing.

The name Deus Ex Machina is Latin for “God is in the machine”. It is the perfect name for a project such as ours. It encapsulates the admiration that we have for the applied marriage of industrial and motorcycle design.

Welcome to Deus.

Talk of ‘pure enthusiasm’ sends a shivver up my spine. Not in a bad way, but in a way that I think must have developed from some kind of flight or fight response. My body goes on hyper ‘red alert’ and I suck in every detail about what is going on around me.

Is it surprising that this company emerges at roughly the same time as the film The World’s Fastest Indian (some more ramblings here)? The same enthusiasm discussed above is evident in the film. The World’s Fastest Indian really does attempt to capture and represent this enthusiasm, unlike, for example, recent The Dukes of Hazzard movie which attempts to capture and exploit a similar enthusiasm.

Anyway, I am really interested by Dues. Not least because of the wierd trans-national flows of subcultural practices from the US, Europe and Australia, to Japan and back again. These constant (re)iterations of different cultures organised around various enthusiasms is the subject of my dissertation chapter on ‘The Rise of the Imports’. Yet here is clearly an example of a double iteration and where what is reproduced is not so much the ‘material’ conditions of the culture, but the enthusiasm around which the culture organises.

Is Dues making art? It is an interesting question. There is certainly a question of aesthetics at play here. However, it is telling that the company is based in the inner-west of Sydney and not the outer-west ‘ring suburbs’. Plus it is very interesting to consider the entrepreneurial pedigree behind the project (from):

Dare Jenning was the founder of MAMBO, the surf and streetwear label that has taken the world by storm since its launch in Australia, in 1984. Nigel Begg has spent the past 20 years building & racing both bicycles and vintage motorcycles. He bleeds oil. Carby Tuckwell is a graphic artist, creative director and partner in one of Australia’s leading design companies, Moon Design and a self-professed motorcycle modification addict. Together, their pure passion for classic motorcycles led them to create Deus.

It is an enthusiasm-based industry created almost entirely by these fellows. Is it the entrepreneurial commodification of the immaterial or social labour that reproduces the enthusiasm?

Second Degree Burns

I’m melting. Oh, I’m melting…

I gave myself second degree sun burns from my trip to Summernats. My face is currently shedding its skin. It was quite painful a few days ago, with all the weepiness and skin that looked like I had been in water for too long. Now it doesn’t hurt so much and I have stopped taking panadol.

The only real problem is I need to be on the look out for big flakes of dry skin falling off my face just as go to take a swig of coffee. I drink a lot of coffee, you see, and I am getting annoyed with having to fish out bits of my face. Makes me think of my 101 yo nan as she has weird growths, albeit multicoloured ones, and I bet she has skin falling off everywhere.

One of the best scenes from a horror movie is in Braindead when the lead character’s mum becomes zombified and one of her ears falls into the soup she is eating. She then proceeds to eat her ear. That is not as cool as my face falling off, because I didn’t realise it was happening until I retched up something leathery from the back of my throat after a mouthful of coffee.

Plus I haven’t gone outside for a while, not even to the gym. I don’t want people thinking they are living near Freddy Krueger. Except to buy cereal for eating and milk for my coffee.

Four Points on Postgraduate Labour

Someone sent me an email regarding the paper I have simmering on the backburner regarding postgraduate labour. Here are four points. There are other points regarding the nature of postgrad labour (ie waged vs other forms) that are not covered here.

  1. Career as project: Career is now something that has to be planned and projected rather than something that you end up with at the end of it. ‘Career’ in this context means an academic career or gainful employment derived from academic pursuits. This has ramifications for those who are trying to do critically engaged work as the future may be ‘colonised’ by the current situation. The best example of this so far has been the suggestion voiced at the Pre-Fix event that Cultural Studies postgraduates cultivate an ‘affable persona’ when mixing with senior academics.
  2. Anxiety: There is a life affecting anxiety produced in the current situation and this was mentioned by almost every person that I have discussed this issue with either online or in person. Here I am including worries about job security and the feeling that one’s life is on hold during the period immediately after completing a PhD or other postgraduate work. Other people who have looked at casual employment also discuss issues of job security.
  3. Not valued: Many casual workers felt under-valued or not valued at all. The particular example I am thinking of is a young man who lectured at TAFE for 3 years on consecutive 6 months contracts and then just decided he had had enough. There is a loss here for the _institution_ of 3 years of high-level teaching experience. There was a meaningless ritualised dimension to the process, inclduing submitting a CV, references, doing an interview, giving a demonstration lecture, etc., which he had to go through to re-apply for the same job 6 times. There is a massive waste of time being expended during this process.
  4. Alternates to Noblesse Oblige?: Many postgraduates and ECRs have to rely on the goodwill of senior academics, hence point 2 above. Here what is at stake is access to the means of security, that is, institutional affliation and support mediated by one’s supervisors or senior academic friends. Is it possible to imagine something else other than these micro-groupings?

EDIT: Michelle Wauchope sent me this link. It is to a University of Queensland document on sessional staff. Go to page 9. There is a list of suggestions based on the premise that “employees feel more motivated and satisfied when they feel included, when their efforts are recognized and when they reach their work-related objectives.” Uhuh… I feel more satisified when I can pay my fucking rent, when I can afford to eat nice food that isn’t starch-based, when my car is not in a continual state of disrepair so I can actually get to work, when I don’t have to worry about which bills I will put off this month, when the horizon of my future isn’t an endless desert of possibility and so on.

Turn back to page two. The number one reason why sessional teachers are employed is because of “continued uncertainty as to the level of funding to institutions.” What? Who is saying that universities will not be funded? Oh, no, it is an ‘uncertainty’ about the ‘level of funding.’ That means that the level of funding as it stands is not in question, but in terms of the future it is less clear what level the funding will be at. I thought institutions such as universities did not just have an administrative function to distribute knowledge where capital demands it, but also to act as something of a low-level insurance buffer to those very whims of capital.

I can see there is one certainty out of all of this. That is, in about 5-10 years time when the previous generation of academics and scholars start to retire or get pinched by overseas universities, who is there going to be left with the institutional experience to fill the gaps?

The second reason is in two parts. Firstly, to alter course offerings to cater to student demand. I am not sure about you, but I demanded nothing when I was a student. Second part is to alter research in response to the priorities of research funding bodies. So if the students don’t know better about what they should be learning from experts, then the experts in a given field are going to be told by funding bodies whether or not the field is a priority for research. So the expertise shifts to students and funding bodies away from the experts. By ‘expert’ I mean someone with a PhD.

This is nonsense.

Who comes up with these ideas?

One problem I see with this is that they are talking about demands and flows of funding, but what they forget is that the knowledge produced or exchanged is actually embodied in the researcher or expert. Separating the flows of knowledge from the flows of bodies in and out of institutions can only end in catastrophe. Universities do not employ ‘standing reserves’ of knowledge, they employ people!

EDIT: For Nate. Here is a link to a good article by Marc Bousquet on academic/graduate labour in North America (via Mel).