Viewing posts tagged historical materialism

Random Thing #3


And one more.  Please bear in mind, this is a fragment.


Marx saw creativity as essential to human nature.  He famously once said that “Milton produced Paradise Lost in the way that a silkworm produces silk, as the expression of his own nature”.  The difference is that Marx saw such creativity as a potential in all people, and believed that class society stunted such potentials in the majority by forcing them to do work that was alien to their natures. 

Yet there is some truth to the idea of progress in the history of class society.  Marx is quite comfortable – sometimes a little too comfortable – with the idea that the accumulation of capital can also be the accumulation of progress, that even the imperialistic development of class society can push people ‘forwards’.  It’s just that he also sees horror in the process, eventually calling the ‘progress’ that British imperialism and capitalism brought to India as resembling a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.”  This is far from an unproblematic way of putting it, but the point stands. 

It is a point ...

1

What can I do but cheat?

Three moments, not in chronological order.


1

Barbara Wright is in a junkyard.  She walks into a Police Box.  She's in a large, brightly lit control room.

This can happen on screen because of the cut.  The material conditions of TV production, manifested as a splicing together of two recorded moments into the appearance of one fluid event, makes this possible.  We have "discovered television".  We can put huge buildings inside small boxes.  We can put Narnia inside the wardrobe; Wonderland inside the rabbit hole.  The quintessential trait of British fantastic literature for kids - the eccentric relationship of impossible spaces - can be made visual.

Doctor Who's very nature as storytelling is utterly bound up with the limits of the material conditions of television production.  So much so that living on that limit became its raison d'etre.  Its development has always been inextricably connected with what can materially be done, and how it is done.  And what it has done has always developed what it wants to be able to do next.  As I've said elsewhere, 'The Space Museum' pushes ...

12

There's so much I love about 'Planet of the Ood'.  Picking a moment will be hard.

I love some of the things other people hate.

Unlike Lawrence Miles, I love that Donna ticks the Doctor off for his "Who do you think made your clothes?" crack.  Why the hell should Donna put up with smuggery like that from a guy wearing Converse trainers?  Who makes your clothes, Doctor?  (Apart from anything else, one answer is probably 'women'.)  Okay, he apologises for making her feel uncomfortable, which is problematic... but it isn't as if the episode lets the matter rest there.

Unlike many people, I love that the Ood thank DoctorDonna for, essentially, doing nothing.  I love that they free themselves without any help from the Doctor.  I like him better as an ally than as a messiah.  The Ood don't suffer the fate of the N'avi: they don't get Whitey leading them to freedom.  The DoctorDonna doesn't interfere.  DoctorDonna renounces any claim they might think they have to judge the oppressed, to moralise when the oppressed free themselves by any means necessary.

I love ...

30

"My goodness..." says the Doctor as yet more fine fare is brought to the Tharils already-laden table, "You live like kings."

"We are kings," says Biroc impassively.  He merely states it as a fact.  He is both part of this feast and an observer of it.  He was at it, and now he returns later in his personal timeline.  He can travel along his own trajectory.  He sits at a table he once sat at long ago, in the same seat.  He acknowledges this past life and does not disown it, yet he does not embrace it either.  His tone is neutral.  Truthful.


Meanwhile, at the same table many years later, after history has revolved, men - who make their living capturing, chaining and shipping creatures like Biroc for sale and industrial use - are sitting down for their lunch break.  They pass round sandwiches, pickles, thermos flasks.

Their boss, Rorvik, regards them with the wary contempt that only a truly stupid person can feel for those slightly more stupid than he is.  He has so little success trying to make them listen to his inanities that he has to wave his ...

That Isn't Right

It occurs to me that this post (in which I had a go at 'The Reign of Terror' for giving us a thoroughly reactionary and misleading picture of the French Revolution) should've been called 'That Isn't Right'. So I've given that title to this post instead, which is also about all manner of wrongness in the representation of history.

I wasn't going out on much a limb dissing 'The Reign of Terror' (the acronym of which is TROT, amusingly enough); nobody is terribly attached to it.  'The Aztecs', by contrast, is one of those stories that fan opinion tends to think of as irreducibly Good.  It isn't that everybody likes it, but anyone trying to say that it's Bad definitely has the burden of proof upon them.

I'm not actually going to say that it's bad, as such.  On the whole, it's very well made.  But....


Black and White and Red All Over

"Tell me, Aged Servant of Yetaxa...
do you approve of interracial marriage?"
Firstly, the Aztecs are played by white people.  It's not easy to tell for sure, but it looks like at ...

Gonzo Marx

Ruminations on alienation, commodity fetishism, myth, etc.  Don't mind me.


Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Human beings have always made stuff.  Broadly, that's what humans are: the apes that make stuff.  Even before Darwin, Benjamin Franklin called man "the tool-making animal", a description apparently vindicated by our discoveries about early humanity, which seem to show the rise of the 'big brain' driven by the needs of the hand.

The flint tools and decorative beads of the hunter-gatherers.  The pyramids and ziggurats of the great slave empires.  The water wheels and ploughs of medieval Europe.

But the rise of capitalism brought the factory system.  The division of labour.  Specialisation without expertise.  Organisation of time.  The creation of new kinds of cities that worked as battery farms for thousands of corralled workers.  Mass production.  Heavy industry.  Conveyor belts.  Fordism.  Mechanisation.  Computer-run facilities. 

The ape that makes things started to make things faster than ever before, in greater numbers than ever before. And the things started to confront the thingmaker as alien, autonomous, controlling, dominating.  When you have to watch a clock ...

Give Us This Day

One of the first materialisations of the commodity was prayer.

Monasteries were the producers and vendors.  The monks were poor and humble, hence godly, hence their prayers were valuable, hence they became rich... and yet the prayers retained their exchange value after being emptied of their supposed theological use value, which was composed in the specious poverty of their producers.

The commodity has always been a fetish, its exchange value always immaterial, its use value always dependent partly on our subjectivities.  The idea of damnation made prayer a commodity, just as the reality of cold made wood a commodity.

And the putative virtue of the monastery foreshadows the self-asserted ethics of the corporation.

This is not idealism.  This is real materialism.


Just saying.

Binro Was Right

This is a rejigged new version of something originally posted at the old site.  I've snipped a few irrelevancies and amplified some conclusions.  Oh, and it's dedicated to Iain Cuthbertson and Timothy Bateson, both of whom died last year.



'The Ribos Operation' seems, at first glance, to present the cosmic conflict between Good and Evil, spiralling downwards from a meeting with a quasi-God in a surreal conceptual landscape, downwards into a story about the vast conquest plans of an interplanetary warlord, further downwards into a heist caper about two semi-comic con-men, and then further downwards into a short meeting between and old man and a young man in a little flea-ridden hovel... yet it's in the hovel that we find the real message of the story.  But is Binro right?

Well, he's right about the stars being suns circled by inhabited worlds (just like his somewhat-more mystical and flamboyant progenitor Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake by the Church for, effectively, founding science-fiction... fair enough, some would say). But, in the wider sense, isn't the story's most moving and thematically vital scene compromised by what goes on around it ...

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