Arts & DesignEssays

Bigger Canvas, Longer Necks

An artistic intervention enacting a revolutionary desire

From the Public Seminar mission statement: “Confronting fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary.” This includes provocative art. –Jeff

Either we make history or we stupidly stand in front of it like strangers in front of an alien. GRÖSSERE LEINWÄNDE LÄNGERE HÄLSE, BIGGER CANVAS LONGER NECKS, TOILES PLUS GRANDES, COUS PLUS LONGS will take their parts in the estrangement of mankind. But Realism that reverse the conditions, that decomposes and replaces the social automatics by situations, that will not orientate on them, there is the revolutionary desire, that the order of the world should no longer be violence and control. …

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Arts & DesignMulti MediaVideo

A Conversation with Krzysztof Czyzewski

On the evening of April 9th, the Polish theater director, actor, and “practitioner of ideas,” Krzysztof Czyzewski, had a public conversation with Elzbieta Matynia and Jeffrey Goldfarb at the New School for Social Research. Czyzewski discussed his life course from actor in the avant-garde theater Gardzienice to a resident and activist in a remote northeastern corner of Poland, where Poland, Lithuania and Belarus meet, with Russia and Ukraine just down the road. He delves deeply in this “borderland” through living among and working with the people in the city of Sejny and the surrounding area. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Big Data, Little Music

Established musicians are speaking up about the state of the music world, and they are not happy. They report that there’s no money available to make music, and no money to be made from it. Some have blamed fans for killing the business, by insisting on getting music for free. Others decry the fact that now that everyone is making music, there’s an abundance of dreadful stuff around because the technology that’s used to make music sounds so cheap, and because real musicianship and original musical ideas no longer seem to matter. The complaint that the magic of human performance is lost as music is more often programmed than made by people actually playing together, has only picked up steam since it emerged in the 1980s. Readers and viewers have responded to statements such as these in various ways, but the majority seem to dismiss these viewpoints as out of touch with current reality, and say good riddance to the music world of the past. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

The Book of Job as Community Theater

Readings after Superstorm Sandy and other disasters

The only American member of the original General Seminar after which this website is named was the philosopher Horace Kallen. Kallen is mainly remembered now for his theory of “cultural pluralism,” but among scholars of the Book of Job he is known for the quixotic idea that the biblical book was a work of Euripidean emulation. Kallen made a historical case and offered a speculative reconstruction in The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy (1918). The historical claim is far-fetched, but Kallen’s sense that the Book of Job may work as drama is right on the mark. Robert Lowth, the founder of modern literary studies of the Bible, argued that Job’s genre was drama. Archibald MacLeish’s existentialist updating of Job’s story, “J. B.” (1958), confirms it. More recently, Carol Newsom’s brilliant Bakhtinian reading of the Book of Job concludes with an imagined production in which different traditions of theater, elocution and dress uneasily share a stage. …

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Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Rebooting RoboCop

Comparing 2014 with 1987

As someone who grew up with Paul Verhoeven’s original 1987 RoboCop, I can’t help but feel the dystopic and critical social commentary of the movie was lost in its reboot. What was once a critical and distopic film exploring the dangers of unchecked corporate power has become a soft endorsement of corporate warfare. Yet, some elements of the remake do provide useful insights into our changing social politics that are worth considering. The evolution of RoboCop reveals how both capitalism and imperialism have changed and deepened their hold on our cultural imaginary in less than pleasant ways.

There are basically four key sets of players in the original story: Omni Consumer Products or OmniCorp (OCP), the mega corporation which builds RoboCop, runs the Detroit police force and plans to construct a corporate utopia called “Delta City” in the ruins of old Detroit; Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop who becomes RoboCop; the police department run by OCP; and crime boss Clarence Boddicker, who is in cahoots with OCP executive Dick Jones,  The connections among these players were central to the original story. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Film and Myth

Analyzing Gravity and All is Lost with some Captain Phillips

Two films frequently cited together on the best films lists for 2013 were Gravity and All is Lost. As many reviewers noted, the films featured isolated individuals up against the cold, impersonal forces of the universe — the dark void of outer space for Sandra Bullock in Gravity and the dark depths of the Indian Ocean for Robert Redford in All is Lost. Less noted was a crucial difference between the two films: Sandra Bullock survives and Robert Redford dies. Intrinsically connected to these outcomes is another difference: Gravity is the story of a woman; All is Lost is the story of a man. Through examining this difference we can learn how contemporary film achieves its effects through mobilizing unconscious mythic and archetypal images, especially those concerning gender.

In both films the main character is faced with the ultimate existential crisis: imminent death. In both films the characters are resourceful and draw on considerable inner resources in their struggle to survive. In both films the essence of the struggle lies in the characters’ efforts to connect with other human beings. …

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