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harjant gill roots of love
Still from the film Roots of Love by Harjant Gill (2011)

This article follows the previous one about the hijab as a complex cultural wearable object. This time, a similar complexity is examined in another wearable object: the turban, wore by men in Sikhism. Similarly than for the hijab, this piece of garment establishes a clear separation of genders within the religious community, but even more importantly, it allows its members to “be counted” within a society that counts members of other communities (Sikhs represent 60% of the Punjab population, and only 2% of the population in India). In order to explore this complexity materialized into a long piece of fabric folded numerous times around one’s head, we should look at Harjant Gill‘s short film Roots of Love (2011).

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Paris is Burning - funambulist

The 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston shows an important aspect of African-American and Latino gay and transgender life in New York in the 1980s: the balls. Organized in Harlem, these balls consist in competitions to judge which body can perform in the “realest” manner, something for which it is not recognized by society. For example, a ball jury would determine which one of the two dark and gay bodies can perform the best as rich heterosexual white body. Similarly, transgenders are judged on their ability to perform as “real” — term used by the jury itself — women.

Fashion is an important component of balls. Some contestants create their own clothes, others struggle to gather enough money to purchase remarkable clothing in relation to the category for which they compete. In this matter, a brief inventory of these categories says much about the variety of the social labels performed: “pretty girl,” “high fashion winter sportswear,” “luscious body,” “schoolboy schoolgirl,” “town and country,” “businessman of the 80’s,” “high fashion Parisian,” “butch queen,” “military,” “high fashion eveningwear…” The balls also invented a new dance at the crossroad of homage and parody of fashion magazines like Vogue: they called it “voguing.” This dance consists in the fast succession of poses systematically adopted by models when being photographed for fashion magazines.

In a quote I used in a past article, Judith Butler describes gender as an act, a repeated performance accomplished in the public realm as a recognizable semiotics:

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tumblr_m8z74h2UNC1r0bqfto1_500still from Black Venus by Abdellatif Kechiche (2010)

Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), often known by her colonial nickname, the “Hottentot Venus,” is the tragic figure of the colonized body par excellence. During her short existence, and even after, her body has been the fetish of sadism — one can think of Sade’s Justine — in its spectacular, racist and colonialist aspects. The film Black Venus (2010) by Tunisian French director Abdellatif Kechiche is particularly helpful to explore the tragic chronology of Baartman’s life (after 1810), and I therefore recommend its viewing.

Until 1810, Baartman was a slave in an Afrikaner farm in South Africa. She is then brought to London where she becomes the object of a freak show for the particularity of her body’s morphology. Her hips and buttocks are indeed hypertrophied and her genitals bulging. Kechiche’s film dramatizes the spectacularity of her presentation to the (paying) spectators: she is displayed like a wild and dangerous animal that each is invited to touch as a challenge to his/her fear. She is then moved in Paris where she becomes the subject of scientific paintings insisting on her body’s morphology presented as one of the remain of prehistoric human bodies. Her genitalia being a particular object of attention for scientists, she is repeatedly offered money to display it to an academic audience. She is finally subjected to prostitution in private parties at first, then in a brothel and dies of an unknown disease (perhaps small pox or syphilis) in 1815. The tragic story that objectifies her body is however not over as it is dissected and placed into formalin by a French anatomist and zoologist that uses his research to attempt to demonstrate in front of the French National Academy of Medicine (see the still of Kechiche’s film above) a racist theory of evolution for which black bodies are considered as pre-humans. The mold created on her corpse will be exhibited by the prestigious Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974, and it is only in 2002 that the demands from the Khoïkhoï (racistly called “Hottentot” by the Afrikaners), supported by the post-Apartheid South African government, will be met by the French government in order to send back Baartman’s remains to be buried on her native land.

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Inonsensu 09 (Locus Solus District)

The forty-sixth Funambulist Paper, written by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, closes this series of nine texts that invoke the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon (three of which were written by guest writers). Entitled “Ghost in the Shell- Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence,” the following text proposes a reading of two films, Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 Inosensu (Ghost in the Shell 2) and Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Inception, through an anthropomorphized-but-never-humanized approach to machinic consciousness in the first case, and a machinic approach to human consciousness in the second one. Nandita therefore illustrates the blurriness of the limits that are usually set in between these two entities, when in fact neither the human nor the machine can be seen as essences. She goes as far as connecting the concepts mètis (which means crafty manipulation) and métissage (which describes the craft of intermingling and/or fabricating) to talk about the mode of existence of the technical object in relation to the mode of existence of the human being. The mètic, morever, is also the resident alien in ancient Greece, a similar situation for the technical object per Simondon which it convenes us to understand in order to construct new relational modes with/in it.

 

The Funambulist Papers 45 /// Ghost in the Shell-Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence

by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

 

I begin, then, properly, in and with the proper voice (that of Pierre Ménard).[1] To begin, then, anew: The purpose of this study is to create an awareness of the significance of technical objects. Culture has become a system of defense against technics; now, this defense appears as a defense of man based on the assumption that technical objects contain no human reality. We should like to show that culture fails to take into account that there is a human reality in technical reality and that, if it is to fully play its role, culture must come to incorporate technical entities into its body of knowledge and its sense of values. Recognition of the modes of existence of technical objects should be the result of philosophical thought, which in this respect has to achieve what is analogous to the role it played in the abolition of slavery and in the affirmation of the value of the human person. The opposition established between culture and technology, between man and machine, is false and is not well-founded; what underlies it is mere ignorance or resentment. Behind the mask of a facile humanism it hides a reality that is rich in human efforts and natural forces, a reality that constitutes the world of technical objects, mediators between nature and man.[2]

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# CINEMA /// An Ode to GravityDecember 3, 2013

Cinema / Philosophy - By: Léopold Lambert

gravity

DISCLAIMER: Before you read any further, please know that if you have not watch Alfonso Cuarón‘s new film, Gravity, and that you intend to watch it, you probably should not read any further. Despite the illustrative quality to my point that some images were providing, I also preferred not to include an evocative one here, so not to spoil the effects that this film will trigger in you. I will assume that whoever read what follows is either someone who already saw the film or someone who do not mind to read an interpretation of this film before actually watching it.

The question of weight and gravity in films has been an interest to me for quite a while, and this following text will take its part in the sequel of five articles written in the past:
The Weight of the Body Falling (sept 2011)
Spinozist Collision (sept 2011)
Gravity Dances (dec 2011)
The Weight of the Body Dancing by Pina Bausch as filmed by Wim Wenders (jan 2012)
Applied Spinozism: The Body in Kurosawa’s Cinema (mar 2013)
In these articles, I was insisting on the importance given to material encounters in films and photographs revealing the true weight of things, and thus the weight of the material assemblages that bodies (living and non-living) constitute. I was often making this reading through Spinoza’s philosophy that insists on the relation that these encounters compose.

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The Funambulist Papers Volume 1 - Leopold Lambert

Funambulism, Utopias, Backyards, Open Stacks, Architectures of In/security, Sonic Landscapes, Apian Semantics, Meta-Virtual Solipsism, Transcendent Delusions, Fibrous Assemblages, Circuses, Old Media, Pet Architecture, Persian Folds, DIY Biopolitics, and MORE (Eileen Joy describing The Funambulist Papers)

The Funambulist Papers Volume 1 that gathers thirty four essays of the first series of guest writer essays (plus an essay by Bryan Finoki) is now published, like for the Funambulist Pamphlets, by Punctum Books in association with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School for Design. I would like to insist on the variety of approaches and background of these authors whether we speak about their disciplines (architecture, law, cinema theory, art, history etc.) or their origins (23 nationalities) in order for this series to bring a fresh discourse in the middle of my articles that can be sometimes (often ?!) redundant. As for the Pamphlets, Punctum Books and I are keen to think of our work as part of an open access strategy and the book can be therefore downloaded for free as pdf. It is also available in its printed version on Punctum Book’s website for $15 (€13.00/£11.00). The book is also part of the “perks” of the crowdfunding campaign for Archipelago!

Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Peter Hudson, Petal Samuel, Liduam Pong, Mina Rafiee, and to Seher Shah for accepting that I use her painting “City Unknown” for the cover. Thank you very much to all the contributors as well for accepting to write pieces specifically for The Funambulist. This series will continue in the future and there should be a second volume at some point.

The book is organized in two parts, “The Power of the Line,” and “Architectural Narratives” as follows:

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Alexandrowicz Ra'anan - The Law in these Parts03Still from The Law in these Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (2012)

I recently watched Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts (merci Philippe) that unfolds the legal mechanisms of the occupation of the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since their take over by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967. Alexandrowicz alternates archival footage and interviews with six members of the Israeli military legal corps who had a significant action on the legal colonial framework. I have written a lot about how architecture was used as a colonial weapon in the Palestinian territories; it is important to observe also how this architecture is the embodiment of a series of legal strategies that were implemented in order to organize Palestinian daily life according to military occupation logic, to allow the civilian colonization of these territories, as well as to registers each actions in regard to the international legislation to determine a position that never reaches a ‘breaking point.’

This colonial law is a well-thought strategy, not a set of quickly decided tactics. In this regard, the first thing that the film tells us, is that the brochures informing the Palestinians that they were now under the Israeli military legislation — a necessary measure in the international law — were designed and printed by dozens of thousands long before 1967 and the actual occupation of the Palestinian territories by the I.D.F.. The content of this colonial legislation was then regularly updated as issues were raised, involving groups of military law-makers to continue constructing the legal means by which the Palestinian population’s life would be organized by the Israeli army. Alexandrowicz asks the question about whether it would have not been more simple to enforce the Israeli legislation on the Palestinians. He is answered that such logic had to be avoided absolutely as it would have been considering the occupied population as citizens of Israel de facto. The films also points out the ambiguous legal obligation on the Israeli civil population — there are currently 500,000 Israeli civil settlers in the West Bank — who live in the occupied territories. Unsurprisingly this population’s criminal activity is not judged by military courts as for the occupied population, but rather by the civil Israeli courts that has been consistently lenient with their action.

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# CINEMA /// Coriolanus and the State of ExceptionSeptember 1, 2013

Cinema / History / Literature - By: Léopold Lambert

Coriolanus01Still from the film Coriolanus by Ralph Fiennes (2011)

Before being a historical figure, Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a legendary one. He, as an actual person was a Roman general who lived in the fifth century before Christ. What belongs to history and what belongs to the myth about him remains unclear today. The following text will therefore address his (hi)story without the doubts and precautions that a historian would need to systematically indicate when addressing this same story.

Coriolanus’s story is brought to us by the 1608 play written by William Shakespeare. General Caius Marcius earn his name of Coriolanus by his glorious victory against the Volscian city of Corioli. Strengthen by this success, he is encouraged to run for Consul of Rome. Despite an apparent support from both the Senate and the Plebe, he has to face riots from the latter. He finally publicly expresses his despise of democratic processes and exiled himself when he is condemned as a traitor. Later, he joins his former Volscian enemies and marches towards Rome. He remains insensitive to every request of his formers friends (including his own wife), but finally accepts a peace treatise after being won over by his manipulative mother. Peace is signed between the Romans and the Volscians but Coriolanus is assassinated by the latter for his treason.

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ActofKilling-oppenheimer

It took me about a month to digest watching Joshua Oppenheimer‘s documentary The Act of Killing that was recently released in the United States and that constitutes as much a film about Indonesian history as a historical film about Indonesia as I will illustrate in this article. It took me all that time to write about it and I still feel a pain in my stomach as I am writing, because this film explores the dark depth of humanity and of a human system in ways that have been rarely examined.

The film is a 2-hour long editing from more than a thousand of hours of footage that Oppenheimer filmed for the last nine years in Indonesia. What the film shows is the testimony of several Indonesian “gangsters,” re-enacting dramatically the mass killings that they have been perpetuating in 1965 during the dictatorship-backed purge of several hundreds of thousands of people that were accurately or not suspected to be communists. Along the film, the re-enactment goes from a ‘simple’ reconstitution of the killings on the site where they were committed, to the greatly dramatic reconstitution in various forms of  Hollywood and local cinema orchestrated directly by the perpetrators themselves (Oppenheimer let them free to choose the form they wanted). The surreal result of such scenes oscillates between the surrealism of Bunuel, the aesthetics of Thomas De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts (1827) and the insupportable procedural precision of the Marquis de Sade.

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World-War-ZPromotional image for the film World War Z (2013)

Here are two disclaimers before starting this article about the figure of the zombie, particularly in the recent film World War Z by Marc Forster (2013). The first one is that the text that follows — as well as the very will to go see World War Z in a theater — is strongly inspired by the excellent article “World Revolution Z” (December 5th 2005) by Gastón Gordillo on Space and Politics. The second disclaimer is that, although there won’t be any major spoiler in this text — watching the trailer is a spoiler itself — I will need to refer the end of the film at some point, and despite its expected nature, people who are wanting to see this film without having heard too much about it should probably stop their reading here.

Movies that dramatize an pandemic of zombies are well-known for involving a high level of symbolical elements as the fictional figure of the zombie refers to a human body reduced to its animal (cannibalistic) function. It is understood that if we want to see these narratives for the way they influence our imaginary, we have to consider that the figure of the zombie exists only through the subjectivity of a non-zombie human, and that these hordes of bodies, which are something that this non-zombie is not, chasing him or her are the reflection of a strong paranoia towards a specific group of people. In the text mentioned above, Gastón Gordillo emits the legitimate hypothesis that in the case of World War Z, the zombies represent the insurrectional proletariat engaged in a worldwide revolution. Such an interpretation becomes extremely tangible when we see the strongest image of the film: a mass of bodies climbing on each other to get over a tall concrete wall in Jerusalem. The team crew was careful to explicitly describe that the wall had been built specifically against the zombie attack — in other words, this is not the separation barrier built in the West Bank by the Israeli — and to include a scene in which Arabs and Jewish seem to be in communion to face the universal danger upon them — in other words, these zombies are not the Palestinians who are trying to liberate themselves from this wall that separate them from their family, their fields, their roots. I will not mention the sum of details that do bring us back to a pro-zionist perspective — the very fact that the whole city of Jerusalem is said to be in Israel is the most obvious one — in order to focus on the fact that the symbolic of this image cannot liberate itself from the way we see it, with our experience and cultural references: this wall is the separation barrier and these bodies are the Palestinians fighting against their restriction of movement.

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