Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lagging the Popgeist: Paranoia (2013)

Post-crash cinema includes a few notable efforts to get to the root of the latest crisis of capitalism by exploring its human dimensions. Given its status as an abstract logic, ontological principle, or centerless system, global capitalism’s fundamental unrepresentability requires a framework that can provide some measure of proportion. Perhaps the most familiar method of introducing this necessary scale is to focus on characters caught up in the machinations of profit and exchange. Unfortunately, such a tactic usually results in a narrative which reiterates the thesis that our problems stem not from structure but from individual malfeasance– thus granting capital a false alibi. The gambit of post-crash films is to explore that which is inhuman by attending to the human and in doing so to effectively cede the possibility of showing capital in its totality.

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Practical Fetishism (HUM415)

By way of analogy, an illustration of practical fetishism:

Possibly you know someone who is a touch neurotic. Let’s say that person is germophobic. Rather than grasp a door handle with his naked hand he uses his sleeve. If someone coughs on the bus he immediately takes an Airborne tablet. That sort of thing. Quite possibly this person knows full well that there is no real danger to his health. True, we sometimes get sick but it’s not as if the world is a miasma of circulating germs waiting to enter our bodies. In other words, the germophobe understands that his germophobia is illegitimate, an overreaction. Yet he continues to consume whole bottles of hand sanitizer and to take extraordinary precautions against infection. In this sense the germophobe knows he’ll be fine but he does not believe it. He may say in a self-deprecating way, “It’s ridiculous, this obsession of mine with germs.” Yet he acts as if his obsession were true.

In the same way we all know that money is an empty representation, an illusion without substance. But our behavior indicates that we don’t really believe it.

Grade Fetishism (HUM415)

What is a grade? Like money, a grade is a representation. What does it represent? Just as money is the common denominator indispensable to the means of exchange, grades are an objectification of human activity. A ‘B’ in an organic chemistry class has the same weight in terms of GPA as a ‘B’ in HUM415. The skills and effort required to earn those grades may be quite different. Certainly the demands of the two classes aren’t the same. Yet in assigning a letter to a student’s work– in quantifying that which is fundamentally qualitative– an equivalence is established. To treat a grade (a representation) as the truth of the human activities of studying and thinking is thus a mistake.

Of course most students want a good grade. Yet some (many? most?) of them are grade fetishists– more interested in the grade as a representation than in the content of their own activity. Their relationship to their work is distorted by the sign of the grade, which is held to possess greater value than the process of forming knowledge. This attachment to the grade– to a mere representation invested with properties it does not possess– is a form of false consciousness.

Thought and Image Midterm (HUM425)

For your midterm you should bring a test book, two writing implements, V for Vendetta, and The City and the City. You may also bring ONE page of HANDWRITTEN notes. Be advised, however, that a response to any of the prompts that includes passages taken verbatim from our readings will receive zero points. For further information on the midterm consult the tab titled Midterm above.

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