The Eternal Sunshine of the Capitalist Mind

This song has been in my head all day. I finally decided to find it online. Here it is:

It’s called ‘Солнечный круг’ (Solar Cycle). It’s better known to many as ‘Пусть всегда будет солнце!’ (May There Always Be Sunshine). It’s an anti-war song. If you grew up in Eastern Europe (or at least around Eastern European emigrants) you most likely have this song seared into your head. I posted the lyrics in English below the fold.

It’s probably been over 20 years since I heard this song… well, outside of my head that is… Hearing it again is like being hit with a ton of nostalgic bricks. But what really struck me were the visuals of the videos. The second one especially has all the hallmarks of Socialist Realism. And, yet… they are so… well… American. Besides some minor differences in clothing, and the like, the whole thing wouldn’t have been out of place in the US… at least in that timeless-Norman-Rockwell-eternally-50’s-LIFE-Magazine-innocent-Leave-It-To-Beaver U S of A that still grips the popular (and political) imagination.

I’m often struck by an uncanny sense of déjà vu whenever I watch American politics unfold on TV. The discourse is carefully circumscribed by what can or cannot be said in public about the economy, socialism, Islam, Israel, etc. The 2008 campaign was only the most recent example of that. As much as I like and support Obama, I’m still bothered by the slick visuals his campaign saturated the airwaves with. For all the soaring rhetoric (and yes rhetoric matters) and ‘straight talk’, everything is still directed at saving Capitalism (with a hefty dose of socialism if need be… but shhhh). Socialist Realism is the term used for art which furthered the goals of socialism and communism. Until the Soviet collapse, it was the officially approved style of art for decades. How long does Capitalist Realism have?
Obama Logo

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Looking Backwards 2008: Blogs

The Blog is an immature medium. The Blog is a collaborative medium by the virtue of existing on the internet. It’s hard to imagine a Blog that is hermetically self-sufficient. Its nature is to be linked-to or to link-elsewhere. In fact the Blog is a reminder that writing, in general, is a collaborative act. It’s something we forget all too often‚Ķ probably as a side effect of the dominance of books. Books are physical objects; self-contained, solid and finite. They tend to make us possessive of characters, concepts, and ideas. Blogs are diffuse, porous, entangled‚Ķ The Blog auteur (if such a creature exists) is like the film auteur. S/he needs to be able to incorporate other influences (actors, assistant directors, producers, etc. or other posts, comments, articles in the case of Blogs) and still get his/her vision across. But it’s no longer a vision that exists in the vacuum sealed world of our heads. Blogging is essentially sharing. This is by necessity a truncated list. There are millions of Blogs out there and there are many great ones that are not on this list. Here’s my list of the best Blogs of 2008.
momus-avatar.pngClick Opera by Momus. Momus is Perhaps the closet thing to a Blog auteur out there. At least in my humble opinion. The Blog is full of an impressive range of topics. Unusual magazines. Paranoid architecture. Ancestral time-travel. Digital potlatch. I also really like Momus’ non-prioprietary sharing of his creative process. Readings from unfinished books, recording diaries & demos serve as direct portals into the mind of the artist.
BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh. This is an architecture Blog that dispenses with starchitects and prominent buildings (though there is some of that as well) and instead focuses on the overlooked: stabilized ruins, cloud projections, fortifications tourism, liberation hydrology, underwater archaeology…
Beyond the Beyond by Bruce Sterling. This Blog is probably the closest to a link aggregator on the list. Most of the posts point to places and events reported on elsewhere. That doesn’t mean that Bruce Sterling doesn’t pepper his posts with insightful commentary. He does. But that’s not necessarily the point. He reminds me of Cayce Pollard (from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition). Cayce is a trend hunter. She is able to zero-in on apparently insignificant events and recognizes them as signs of larger trends. Beyond the Beyond reveals a similar ability in it’s author. Bits of information plucked from chaotic sea of random information are exposed as instances of the future already existing in our time.
No Fear of the Future by Chris Nakashima-Brown and others. No Fear of the Future is a group science-fiction (a nexus of speculative word & thought) Blog. While all the writers are interesting as well, Chris has been mining an especially interesting vein of ideas on utopia and the apocalypse. When you add posts on Ballardian economic indicators, weaponized Segways and deconstructed (post-structural?) Gaza among many others, you’ve got the makings of a compulsive reading experience.
lebbeus woods scab
SCAB Construction by Lebbeus Woods
Lebbeus Woods. The visionary ‘paper architect’ made a very successful transition into digital aether. His Blog is teeming with ideas, architectural fiction, impressive guests, and above all, drawings. Will a re(de)constructed Gaza look something like architectural SCAB above?

Doodle Dump 006

Doodle Dump™ returns after a brief hiatus. This time all drawings come from a sketchbook which had been on display at the Minnesota Museum of American Art (which has been hit hard by the economic downturn) during the Hot Ink show. Some sketches from this book appeared in MOME 10 alongside my interview. I was excited to get this sketchbook back. It was at the museum for four months! It was one of my favorite sketchbooks and it still has a bunch of un-inked pages. Click on the images to enlarge them.
chin eyes

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Looking Backwards 2008: Books

Most of these books haven’t actually been published in 2008. But, I read them in 2008 so they’re here.
Islands in the Net, Weapon Shops of Isher, The Crack in Space
The Red Atlantis by J. Hoberman. It’s been less than 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it’s cultural output already resembles impenetrable artifacts from an ancient lost civilization. This book is a great archaeology of Soviet culture in general (and Soviet cinema in particular) refracted through the prism of an American film critic.
Schulz & Peanuts by David Michaelis. A towering figure like Charles Schulz will have his life written (and re-written) several times over and I look forward to future efforts. This one was very readable if somewhat controversial. It was especially interesting to get a glimpse of Schulz’s Minneapolis and St. Paul‚Ķ even if it meant weeping over so many great things the Twin Cities lost to time and the automobile.
The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt. A sci-fi novel by the author the the amazing Slan that takes the right to bear arms to an insane extreme. A kind of libertarian dream/nightmare where individuals are protected by magical all-powerful weapons (which can be used in defense only) against the entire might of an interplanetary empire.
The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick. This was the secret history of the US 2008 election written by a precog in 1966. An African-American runs for the presidency of the United States and promises to solve the world’s problems by opening up a space-time rift. Sound like Obama?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This Road is hard to write about. I think I agree with Steven Shaviro that it “actively repels commentary.” Still, it lingers in my head so it makes the list.
Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling. This one was a genuine surprise to me. I was aware of Bruce Sterling more as futurist and commentator but I’d never read his science-fiction before. Now I plan to read more. Data havens, ubiquitous networking, single cell protein cheaply mass produced in “vats swarming with bacteria” (aka. scop), nuclear terrorism, mysterious insurgency manuals, etc. The novel felt really relevant to the current world wide situation despite having been published in 1988.
Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia by John Gray. This is an extremely anti-utopian book. John Gray lays out the case that much of the evil done in the the world is done in the name of the greatest good. The “utopian” projects of the 20th century turned into minor apocalypses in the hands of Hitler, Stalin, Neocons, etc. It’s hard to disagree with him… for the most part. While reading this book one gets the idea that John Gray takes all the utopian sounding rhetoric (for example of Neocons’ project of global capitalist gunboat democracy) at face value, as genuinely utopian, instead of a cynical ideological ploy to mask imperialist projects. In the book he calls for more dystopias (1984 etc.) because utopias have gotten us so consistently in trouble. I would say that it’s precisely utopias that are missing today. We have no problem with imagining apocalyptic futures, but we have lost the ability to imagine positive alternatives to the dystopia of now.
Which is why I enjoyed In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Zizek so much. He takes the exact opposite position to John Gray and argues for the triumphant return of the universal. Actually, I shouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy Black Mass, I did. But it was a very antagonistic enjoyment.
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Looking Backwards 2008: Comics

I’ve never done a ‘Best of‚Ķ’ list on this blog, so I decided to do one. I’m not going to limit myself to comics (though this post is about comics) and I’m not necessarily going to limit myself to stuff that came out in 2008. This list will be a little more personal and will include older items that I became aware of in 2008 as well. Hopefully this will create some interesting resonances and juxtapositions.
bodyworld_panel.jpgDash Shaw. He was one of the big stories of the year with the expansive and amazing Bottomless Belly Button book. For me, much more revelatory were the short stories that ran in Mome and Bodyworld the web comic. They were bursting with experiment, invention and idiosyncratic-and-brilliant use of color. The amount of great work that Dash was able to produce last year was breathtaking. It’s really fun seeing an an artist in the moment and 2008 was definitely his moment. I fully expected to read an interview with Dash where he explains his creative process thus: “I sit in my studio. My head is on fire with ideas. I explosively materialize amazing comics ex-nihilio directly with the power of my mind.”
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware. I’ve definitely started taking Chris Ware for granted over the last few volumes of Acme Novelty Library. They were all of such high quality and consistency that sometimes it was hard to get excited about the next Acme installment (oh what charmed lives we lead!). “What? Another great comic by Chris Ware? Sure, whatever.” Acme 19 wasn’t really that different, but the fact that the first half was a visceral science-fiction horror story makes you kind of stand up and take notice.
Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes. It’s hard for me to be objective about Dan Clowes comics so I won’t even try. His serial in the New York Times was brilliant from the start. Nail-biting cliff-hanger every week! In what was essentially a romance comic!
Powr Mastrs Vol. 2 by C.F. I could say a lot of similar things about C.F. that I said above about Dash Shaw. But to me his work doesn’t have the same kind of frantic energy that Dash’s does. In fact his comics seem to have a kind of languid pace, as if C.F. has a different, slower conception of time‚Ķ at least for me.
omac_1_cover.jpgDC Kirby Reprints. Fourth World. Omac. The Demon. I’m a huge Jack Kirby fan and DC has finally done something right with these reprints. I recommend these mostly on the strength of the packaging. Gone is the super glossy paper & inattentive re-coloring of the DC Archives brand of volumes. The pleasingly uncoated paper makes these books feel like a bunch of original comics were bound between a hard cover. Remove the dust jackets for maximum effect. If you’re a Kirby fan these are great books.
Thorgal by Rosinski & Van Hamme. I’m really happy that Cinebook is putting out these comics in English. I think these are some of the best Erich Von Daniken influenced “Ancient Gods from Space” sci-fi comics out there. Polish-born Rosinski is one of my favorite comics euro-realists and he will be the focus of one of my Comics in Poland posts in the future. This material is mostly older (70’s & 80’s) but is still crackles with that Heavy-Metal-like energy.
Travel & The Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama. Yokoyama’s work was a revelation in 2007. It’s no different this year. I will have more to say about his books in an upcoming post.
american-flagg-1-cover.jpgAmerican Flagg! By Howard Chaykin. I wasn’t as happy with the production of this collection. Though from what I understand Howard’s originals from that time period are very difficult to to work with in the digital age. Still it made me appreciate American Flagg! again! This was inventive sci-fi from the Soviet era and one of the first comics to get me to read something other than Marvel or DC. Chaykin’s art is at it’s peak. This book prompted me to dig into the piles of comics I still have lying around my parent’s basement to see what other Chaykin stuff I still have. I read his mid-80’s re-vamp of The Shadow which was ok, but it reminded me of the follow-up Shadow series created by Andrew Helfer, Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker. It was a great black comedy series with exceptional art. Bill Sienkiewicz was at or close to his peak and I think this may have been the series that introduced Kyle Baker to the world. One of the very best comics series of 1986-87. The last issue has a heartbreakingly amazing never-fulfilled cliff-hanger. I hope the never published subsequent issues exist somewhere in the legendary comics library in Hicksville. It’s worth seeking out ’cause it’ll probably never get reprinted.
Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Impeccably produced by Adrian Tomine this is the third volume of short Tatsumi short stories. I think it’s the best volume so far. This is really revelatory work. Tatsumi really shows off the possibilities of the comics short story. It really makes me excited to see the next volume to come out this year.
Next: Books

Lazy New Year

The first post of the year is always difficult to write. The winter holidays induce a pleasant haze of idleness. Returning to daily work or regular blogging seems somehow absurd. I already miss the late breakfasts, lazy lounging and the somnolent pleasures of heady reading during winter afternoons… on the verge of falling into a brief nap… the book heavy in your hands…