A Manifesto for Artistic Pessimism

By Julian Langer


Romanian nihilist and pessimist philosopher Emil Cioran once wrote “only optimists commit suicide, optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists” and that “it is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late”.


In these short collection of words, this tragic thinker – who wrote books such as On The Heights of Despair and A Short History of Decay – speaks to something at the very core of life, especially within this culture – the need for sincere, honest and authentic pessimism. He wrote that “Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, chaos is being yourself” and, following from this, it is your-self I wish to appeal to in the words I present here.


“One must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star” Nietzsche


The fact that the vast majority of films present a near totalising fatalistic optimism is abundantly obvious. Most films end with the desired conclusion to the narrative: with the hero surviving by the skin of their teeth; or the two beautiful people find love in a beautifully romantic setting; or the rebels narrowly avoiding Darth Vader’s clutches and obtaining the Death Star plans, whatever other example you care for.


And of course they do! Happy endings sell. When it is all said and done, people want things to “go right” and for things to fit within the desires of this cultures ideological narratives.


Situationist philosopher Guy Debord asked about film:

Do we simply watch the images rolling past, become happy or sad at the whim of the filmmakers, only to return to our regular lives without any effect on how we view the world and how we could possibly change it?”

In this question Debord raises the issue of the film watcher being a passive observer, absorbing the narratives of filmmakers, in such a way that it maintains everyday normality.


Through the medium of film, in most cases, the viewer passively consumes the notion that things do not need to change, because things will work out happily in the end. Batman, Frodo Baggins or Neo will come and defeat the Big-Bad, or the T-Rex and Raptors will kill the Indominus Rex.


Two questions come to mind though.


First, are things inevitably going to turn out for the best, or is that just an idea that enables individuals to participate in this culture without any thoughts regarding consequences?


Second, what is the purpose of art/film and are they supposed to affect the viewer in any particular way?


Starting with the second question, Oscar Wilde, in response to moral critics of his age, promoted “art for arts sake” and criticised the “monstrous worship of facts” within art movements. Perhaps Wilde is right and that art need not serve any moral purpose and should be done for its own sake.


This doesn’t mean art cannot hold egoistic instrumental value. In the philosophy of art, aesthetic cognitivists argue that art, particularly painful art, is valuable as a means of empowering individuals.


Perhaps, amorally, mediums such as film can serve as an instrumental means of empowering individuals around painful matters, like the idea that things will not turn out for the best: pessimism.


Antonin Artaud developed an approach to theatre called theatre of cruelty, through which theatre “wakes us up. Nerves and heart,” and through which we experience, “immediate violent action,” that “inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten”. Perhaps film can serve as an immediate violent action which inspires a fiery magnetism, effecting the viewer spiritually and therapeutically.


Regarding the question of whether or not things are inevitably going to turn out for the best – whether optimism holds true – we should consider this in multiple senses. Existentialist, nihilist and absurdist philosophers, like Nietzsche or Camus, argue that ultimately everything ends in death and that all action is ultimately futile: a pessimist’s conclusion, though they all generally argue that there is personal/subjective/egoistic value in actions and the pursuit of meaning.


We could also look at the question from a non-philosophical gaze, looking at the environmental and socio-political situation where all paths seemingly lead to ruin: when the sixth mass extinction event and climate chaos pose significant existential threats to humanity and this culture, as well as the biosphere; where nuclear war and World War 3 become ever more possible situations. All of which paints a particularly bleak future, whether you value this culture or the biosphere.


I don’t know about you reading this, but pessimism feels like the more honest, sincere and authentic outlook.


Perhaps, in an egoistic aesthetic cognitivist sense, a pessimist cinema of cruelty would be valuable, as a means of empowering individuals to respond to, what postmodernist philosopher Baudrillard called the desert of the real – a real that is becoming increasingly bleak with every passing day.


Disaster and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic films (such as The Matrix, Book of Eli, Elysium, 2012, Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men, War of the Worlds, I Am Legend, Armageddon, the Terminator series and other similar popular titles) all end on a hopeful optimistic note, where ruin is averted.


Films like V for Vendetta and the Hunger Games series, which take a generally leftist-revolutionary narrative, generally conclude with mass people’s movements being able to overpower the Big-Bad and winning out – perpetuating the idea that hopeful optimistic endings are really viable at this point in time.


Even films like Avatar and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, which take somewhat of an anti-humanist, anti-civ, radical-environmentalist narrative, end with things “working out”.


Perhaps radical film projects should draw from films like Apocalypto, The Road, Escape From L.A., 12 Monkeys, Knowing, The Time Machine, Survivalist, Into The Forest and TV series like Black Mirror, and adopt a pessimist cinema of cruelty approach. Maybe this can serve as a means of empowerment through discomfort, as the desert of the real becomes bleaker and bleaker.


I missed the opportunity to see the latest edition to the new Planet of the Apes saga, but look forward to being able to watch it on DVD or stream it online, as it is an interesting series. I am also personally looking forward to seeing the new Bladerunner film (and hoping it isn’t going to be another nostalgia porn let down). Both of these films hold the potential to be honest reflections of this culture and our current situation.


We’ll wait and see.


Images courtesy of: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/09/v-vendetta-graphic-novel-best.html and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15819.Guy_Debord and http://www.learnliberty.org/blog/was-nietzsche-libertarian/ and http://planetoftheapes.wikia.com/wiki/Planet_of_the_Apes_Wiki


The Dystopian Utopia: Star Trek Discovery Previewed


By Hayden Cooper

Star Trek for many is the quintessential Science Fiction. It invented (or popularised) many of the things that now are staples of the genre; teleporters, shielding, warp speed, laser based weapons.
It is also the quintessential utopia: a world without pursuit of capital, with racial harmony, that can defeat any evil.
Utopianism fills a funny place within Science Fiction. Traditionally it has been argued that Science Fiction is merely a subset of utopianism. The goliaths of Sci-Fi theory have been extremely hostile to dystopian works being included, most notably 1984 and Brave New World.

Frederick Jameson

Jameson (Archaeologies of the Future proving a seminal text in the field) describes trends towards utopianism as running parallel to dialogues about politics. Jameson sees Sci Fi as a political movement in and of itself, built upon the desire to create a better world by drawing parallels with our own (and embellishing them).
However he sees it as a failed movement, much as how he saw communism. It should be noted he is specifically referring to the academic concept of “communism” that was popular in discourse during the early years of the soviet union, rather than communism as a political philosophy as we understand it today.
Anti-communism, much like anti-utopianism is worse than the movements they critique. He argues that we should aim for anti-anti-utopianism and anti-anti-communism. In practical terms, we should use our arguments with liberals to forge our own ideology.
Star Trek is inherently liberal. Fans of the show, myself included, preach of its radicality; but this simply isn’t the case. The show talks about a world without money, with racial harmony. Behind the scenes it had the first ever interacial kiss on screen; it had nonbinary characters; diversity was always the aim.
These radical aims are what made the show famous. Spock was placed in the show as a commentary on racial acceptance: he became so popular some cite the character as the reason for the renewal of the second season.
But Star Trek was never radical; merely it posed itself as radical.


New Designs for the Klingons have already left fans questioning the show’s direction

Behind the scenes PoC actors were forced out of projects (such as voicing their characters on the animated show). On screen most captains are white, militarist, men. Queer storylines are almost non existent, and those that exist are either executed poorly or done in sweeps week for ratings.
It is this liberalism that made the show possible in the world of capitalist television. Producers could exploit radicality for its marketability, whilst still keeping it safe.
Bringing this back to Jameson, Star Trek was highly dialectical due to how the show was run. It was based upon the works of Roddenbury (utopian/communist); shaped by executives (anti-utopian/communist); and often featured radical show writers arguing against the system that created the show (anti-anti-utopian/communist).
A great example of this is several episodes of Deep Space Nine where Sisko writes the story of DSP in the 1950s. As a black Sci Fi author he is denied credit, and he is told to rewrite his story to exclude a black main character. It is clearly a jibe at the television industry.

So what about where Star Trek didn’t fit this narrative? Plot lines seen on Deep Space Nine and later seasons of Enterprise were as close to radical as the show ever got. Harsh critiques of the Federations inherent militarism were shown with internal nationalist uprisings in the form of the Marquis; repeated war crimes were committed by the Federation (including genocide) and an unofficial secret police was revealed in the form of Section 31.
This is internal conflict in its highest form. Yet Spock and Picard proved more marketable. They appeal to liberals by preaching nonviolence; they appeal to leftists by espousing socialist rhetoric; but most of all they appeal to marketing teams for having a wide base of support. Sisko is an angry war criminal, and not least of all played by a black man. By whitewashing Star Trek as a show without conflict, the new showrunners have romanticised their potential for radicality whilst also accepting the (forced) liberal reputation and appeal of the show.

Images from: http://redshirtsalwaysdie.com/2017/05/05/why-is-cbs-hiding-star-trek-discovery-information/ and http://www.holbergprisen.no/en/fredric-r-jameson.html and http://www.startrek.com/database_article/star-trek-deep-space-nine-synopsis

The ‘Deceased of Living’: Zombies in Utopia

By Matthew Higgins

The utopian fantasy of today’s people in the West, is to live in a zombie apocalypse like those from the golden age of Hollywood remakes.

Here, they can riteously battle the undead with acquired arms and looted ammo, drive quad bikes through abandoned showrooms and squat atop famous monuments.

They can drain countless car batteries, gorge on left over snacks and ride the amusement parks without having to wait in line.

Everything is in a state of transience, a warm shower can be enjoyed without the cost of environmental concern, and the primal needs for exercise and hunting things violently are nicely intwined with the intellectual wants for civility and order – by hijacking large armoured vehicles and spraying double fisted uzi rounds into hordes of the undead.

Duty has become a fact of life freed from existential turmoil, and no one is for want of anything, not even walker’s crisps.

Sadly, these soft-headed delusions of zombie apocalypse reflect a grim contrast to the society which stands in place of them…

Following the months of the first zombie outbreak, the sensationalism in the media seemed hard to justify, given the lack of casualities involved, and the swift efficiency by which the military-industrial complex came to dispatch the threat within a matter of hours.

The same level of ineffective disorder might have transpired had a pride of giraffes escaped from a wildlife enclosure during rush hour.

But below the surface of crowds, could be sensed a lurking frustration;

A sinister disenchantment masquerading under the phony sentimental relief, for those who had kept relatively safe during the ‘disaster’

“Thank goodness so few people got hurt.”

“It’s a good job they weren’t fast running one’s like the one’s you see in them films.”

These were the sorts of things one might typically overhear whilst sweeping cigarette butts off club balconies under the nautical twilight of ongoing civilised despair…
Shaun of The Dead Simon Pegg store

‘Zommunism’ became a homely internet punching bag, for keyboard commentators to pour their derision and self-doubt into, to distinguish themselves from older generations who foolishly abided the false promise of Zombie utopia on their flat screen dopamine devices.

Others claimed the suspicion of a false flag.

The wahhabis had since weaponised zombies as recyclable fodder for their suicide bombing campaigns; launching a novel pretext upon which the Eurasian heartland could be raped of natural resources and plagued by civilian deaths.

There were comments about those who had been supplying the zombies, and accusations about who the true zombies were, to bully those who could not identify such obvious facts as –

“Nowhere in the Qu’aran does it provide any instructions on how to raise members of the unliving…”

And as conflicts reigned absurd across hotspots of geostrategic interest on the world map, things began to grow increasingly strange at home.

There was no denying that zombies were great for the economy, manipulated to perform tasks that were unlikely to meet the standards of the native unemployed.

But protests aiming to thwart the spread of the undead had been rejected by the courts, who insisted that ‘subhuman legislation’ should primarily protect the sovereign rights of private ownership.

The doctrinal thesis of the mainstream media held that, without zombified labour, the economy would simply tank. There would be too much competition from other industrialised nations harnessing the effects of a zombified workforce to maximise their GZP (gross zombie produce).

You can imagine the disappointment of this ‘strong and stable’ apocalypse.

The threat of pandemic loomed not from the savagery of overnight carnage, quietly longed for in the dreams of ordinary citizens; but due instead, to the bumbling inertia of beauracratic injustice.

What had happened to good ol’ fashioned ‘shooting zombies’ in the face and gorging on snickers in the hands of these lawyers and politicians?

Where was the comaradery to ease all this suffering and pain?

But there was none.

No one with an ounce of civilised belonging in their hearts would ever personally identify with these perverse suicidal longings, of tearing the economy to shreds and violently purging the undead with valiant sex appeal; not unless they were joking among friends, ironically – if insincerely – to flatter such inconceivable thoughts.

To be continued… here: https://radicalartreview.com/2017/07/06/cyst-and-disease-zommunism-part-2/

Photos by http://patjacksonpodium.blogspot.co.uk/2013_08_01_archive.html and http://pinstake.com/shaun-of-the-dead/http:%7C%7Cwww%5Etasteofcinema%5Ecom%7Cwp-content%7Cuploads%7C2013%7C08%7Cshaun-of-the-dea%5Ejpg<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-141″

My Beautiful Launderette and White Resistance to Globalisation

Stephen Frears’ 1985 movie My Beautiful Launderette is a wonderful piece of political cinema. The narrative centres on Omar, a young Pakistani living in South London, who runs a launderette with his secret lover, Johnny, a white fascist played by a young Daniel Day-Lewis.

The launderette is presented to the viewer as a microcosm of Thatcherism, with more nuance the further you look. Ambitious Omar begins the film on the dole, but, when placed in charge of a family business, achieves success through hard work and aspiration. This success, however, is also achieved through several questionable acts he commits with Day-Lewis’ character: selling drugs, robbing houses and manipulating family members. And then there’s the question of race. Omar’s English minority status tunes nicely with the neoliberal ideal expressed by his uncle, Nasser: that there’s ‘no such thing as race in the new enterprise society’. The beating which Johnny, Omar and his Uncle Salim face at the hands of white nationalists suggests otherwise. The racial power structure of England, though diminishing in a post-Imperial context, which remains a powerful reality for those defined outside white national boundaries. Thatcher’s British Nationality Act enshrined these boundaries, and the Falklands War symbolised to those within them that she would defend them by any means possible.

How things change.

Donald Trump has effectively mobilised this sentiment to steer himself in to the Oval Office, while on this side of the pond, Nigel Farage promises to lead a 100 000 strong march in defence of a populism of a distinctly insular identity. Amid the apocalyptic prophecies and general malaise, it can be easy to avoid macro-analysis of how a previously disenfranchised constituent of predominantly white old men came to hold such sway. But data on income growth across the global economy has foreshadowed recent events. It shows that for the bottom 10% of global earners, little has improved since the late 80s (it should be taken in to account that this data only reaches 2008: the proceeding years since the financial collapse have greatly increased these discrepancies). For those between 10% and 75%, growth in that time has been solid; yet above 75% there is a huge drop which doesn’t increase until around percentile 90, before extending near-vertically when reaching 99.

That range – between 75 and 90% – holds within it the vast majority living in first world Western countries. While their incomes have been stagnating and in decline, they are seeing those with greater wealth surge, while traditional industrial and manufacturing jobs are swallowed by the developing world. Moreover, to the white working- and lower-middle classes in Europe and North America, that moneyed elite is becoming increasingly heterogeneous, be it along lines of gender, race or sexuality. These changes pose a threat to a nationalism still influenced by Imperialist and conservative-Christian formulations of normative identity. This is the group mobilised not just by Brexit and Trump, but throughout former colonial powers in the west, from Denmark to Hungary. It is a group which feels both material alienation and loss of identity, and as Johnny is warned by his fascist friend, ‘everyone has to belong’.

At the climax of Frears’ film, one of the fascists takes a metal bin to Omar’s launderette window and hurls it in. They had previously found employment there, yet they felt no connection to their work environment – and were actively repulsed by working for a Pakistani who, as one of them articulates, ‘came over here to work for us’. Could there be a greater symbol than this of recent political events? In the voting booth, many on both sides of the Atlantic have chosen to pick up their own metaphorical missiles and throw it in the direction of an economic system which has failed them, and a liberal identification of power which no longer looks like them.

Throughout the film, the fascists are positioned on the liminal cusp of the action by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, particularly in the foreboding scene before their attack, where they stand, armed and waiting, around the launderette. This is liberalism’s hubris: to have assumed that xenophobic nationalism would forever remain on the fringe. That it has remained – indeed increased – in conditions of economic stagnation, is neither surprising nor particularly new. The answer is not to renounce democracy and populism as some are suggesting. Nor is it to pander to articulations of xenophobia in attempts to reconnect. Those losing out in the global rat race must share the prosperity of their society. If they aren’t, the next reaction may be more shattering still.

First published on http://novaramedia.com/2016/12/21/globalisation-and-whitelash-examining-my-beautiful-laundrette/in Dec 2016