Shame and the God that Watches


Starting off with a nod back to SCA-Ji philosophy, the dialogue on art in Sakura no Uta makes a reference to a God that remains in a pristine transcendental realm of Beauty & a human god born from human flaws that, despite being small, seeks to carry the equally small candle of human life in a cradle. Ultimately, Sakura no Uta seems to rest on a view of life in favour of the latter. Daily life is upheld over Beauty. What SCA-Ji failed to mention openly – but what still exists, regardless of whether he intended to carry it through or not – is the third God that flickers through the seams.

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Bite Sized: Bigelow, Point Break and Verticality

The ongoing wisdom of the current generation is vertical as opposed to horizontal, in that worth, or value, in life, is solely dictated by the crests. That’s why you have the whole idea of bucket lists, and telling you to do things like jumping out of airplanes and experiencing overstimulated highs on various other such life-things, and every other moment is time that you slough through in order to reach such highs.

You can say that most Army marketing works on the same principle. But the strangest thing to me has always been the assertion that such experiences last ‘a lifetime’. That’s always the saying, that “the pain is temporary while the experience lasts a lifetime”.

Yet at every moment we only really have around maybe 4 slots in our working memory, and long term memory works through correlation chains that pieces together various bits of disparate parts into fully integrated concepts. If you really want an experience that lasts a lifetime, then you have to find a way to attach that ‘thrown a grenade’ concept to the correlation chains or patterns of whatever the heck you’re doing at any moment in time. Otherwise, I don’t think that any experience or supposed ‘high’ I’ve had in the Army so far really extends to ‘a lifetime’. In fact maybe the experience of pain correlates better, because everybody has a certain upper limit for pain that is constant throughout their lives as long as no interference is experienced, and, like Orwell states:

“There is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs–and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

And that is what the Army teaches you, your threshold and tolerance for dealing with suffering and boredom. The experience is temporary, while the pain lasts a lifetime.

But then again it isn’t necessarily good to tout this, like Army marketing does again, as a good thing. There’s the possibility that knowledge of this correlates with conscientiousness, that is, the standard idea that suffering begets tolerance which begets diligence. Still, this goes by a case-by-case basis. Wittgenstein probably became a better philosopher from the Army, but I don’t think Kant would have worked out his Critique if he had to burn time in the barracks. Conscientiousness is a tool, but Judgment is essential to its direction, and rarely does regimentation breed good Judgment.

But anyway I’ve strayed too far from the main point, which is vertical living. Kierkegaard is quite a ridiculous writer, but I have to thank him for his ideas on ‘crop-rotation’ and the Aesthetic lifestyle. Kierkegaard’s main idea is that an aesthete’s time is severely broken into parts, and he swings from moment to moment in idle appreciation. Spirituality or morality brings a continuous base that unites the whole of life into a life worth living, because such lifestyles are bought through a continuous ‘leap of faith’ at every moment. You don’t say “I want to be a Christian for days 1,3, and 5 of the week, and a Buddhist for 2 and 4” (even though some people probably live like that unknowingly). Likewise you don’t call yourself an egalitarian on public holidays and a conservative on working hours.

Split away from Kierkegaard’s philoso-speak, the easy way to describe the idea is that if you cannot find a foundational concept, project, vision, or worldview to correlate every moment of your life together, then it matters not how high your crests are because the experience of it wafts away as easily as it came. But Kierkegaard’s message was directed at even those supposed high-men of the humanities and the arts, in that poetry and music too is just a series of floating tasteful symbols and moods.

And even worse is this, that when you place your bets so tightly on these crests, you are, in the full Swedenborgian or Nietzschean conception of the word, building up your own Hell. This is the Hell where every choice you make, built towards those moments of slight sensory caress, vanishes away in a stream of banality and dust, and usually at the detriment of everyone around as well. Now even charity is made up like a crest of experience, and people think that one trip to the slums or some African village is enough to teach the whole world of constant wearing away that goes on in these places. Well, to all those guys, I say you should save your money. If you want to know gradual decay and suffering in its full splendour, just watch the whole cinematic output of Bela Tarr or Tsai Ming Liang.

Point Break is a movie about stimuli riding, and the best thing about it is that, like Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine, it is both amoral and subjectivized. The whole film works like a stimuli trip. It is both the drug and the medicine. It shows you the downwards spiral, and worst of all, it reflects the society back to itself when, like Spring Breakers, the box-office flows came rolling in solely due to the sensibility people had upon walking in. Point Break was one of Bigelow’s highest hits in cash terms, before the Hurt Locker won its Oscar. Its even parodied in Hot Fuzz, which is the film that tears apart every action movie genre trope, which probably indicates its worth as an action film.

The film is about an FBI agent, played by the stoner-speaking Keanu Reeves, going undercover as a surfer in order to find out the identity of a bunch of bank robbers called the Ex-Presidents (because they love to rob banks while wearing masks of Ex-Presidents on their head). Due to the frequency and location of the robberies, the robbers are linked to the beaches as surfers robbing banks to fund their surf trips.

Movie critic Steven Shaviro has written about the films of Bigelow here:

His main comment is that Bigelow’s aesthetics “might have something to do with a kind of sensory immersion. This is aesthetics, both in the narrower sense of vicarious ravishment by works of art, and in the larger sense of “aesthetics” as a sensibility, a play of the senses, a kind of heightened reception”. She makes worlds and sensory assemblages and places you in these large scale stimulations. In Point Break you have the absolute tremor and beauty of the waves, and the visceral in-your-face action set-pieces. The robberies are all shot as cut-cut-cut-cut to one violence after another. Her style is quite mad in that way.

Point Break is what you call a smart exploitation film.

On the other hand Strange Days, usually considered Bigelow’s best in terms of her sheer vision, aptitude, and cinematography, is primarily about refuting the vertical lifestyle, despite itself also functioning as a straightforward action sci-fi noir.

The film centers on Lenny, a dealer of ‘memories’ in a cyberpunk society where experiences can now be recorded sense-for-sense into mini diskettes and played back directly into the cerebral cortex. Of course the result is that you have a whole underground full of ‘experience junkies’ and you have people purposely breaking-and-entering or committing crimes and then selling the bootlegged highs on diskette. Of course other than that there’s also a huge conspiracy involving police brutality and the record agency. Strange Days bounces a lot of these ideas around but its the memory-buying that I want to focus on.

Memory moments are shot in first-person, in a highly voyeuristic aesthetic. Lenny, the dealer, is stuck with replaying loops of sensations with his old girlfriend. These memories are played with high sensual closeness and nostalgia. Yet its this stuff that’s killing all these experience junkies.

That’s my whole view towards verticality, and, in extension, nostalgia (Sarah Horrocks critiques nostalgia here You never forward-build to ideas, progress, ambitions, but you regress just buying hazy ‘good memories’. When your experiences are correlated to one another, you don’t have to rely on their merest sensations to span throughout the whole of life. And yet these correlations are built through sweat and constant re-evaluation, not on the experiences themselves.

Harder conceptions, rather than dreamier highs.