Erasure Poem: Where we think that information produces meaning, the opposite occurs

Isabel Erasure Poem (May)

A while ago I shared an erasure poem with you that I made with a page from a book I thoroughly enjoyed. This poem is not at all a consequence of love, but of utter confusion. I don’t think I ever took longer to read a single page before I was assigned to read this (deceitfully short) essay by Jean Baudrillard for a philosophy of science course. Five pages of puzzling theories about the inflation of information and the (possibly consequential) deflation of meaning, simulacra and simulations, that were frustrating to read and thus very enjoyable to efface with the strokes of a black marker.

The full text of Baudrillard’s “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media” from Simulacra and Simulations can be read here.

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Revolution in the Bed: In Defence of Sleep

Isabel PictureMeet the white-crowned sparrow. Although it might look like any regular North American bird (albeit very cute and fluffy), the zonotrichia leucophrys has a distinguishing factor that sets it apart from our Dutch mus: its ability to stay awake for seven days during its migration. Over the past few years, various American universities and research facilities have been investigating the white-crowned sparrow in order to create some sort of drug that mimics the sparrow’s sleeplessness to be used by the military to maximize soldiers’ performances. When a drug that fends off the body’s need for sleep eventually is realised, it probably won’t be long until it finds its way into society and will be commonly used along with sugary energy drinks or hip pick-me-ups such as coconut water and goji berries to prevent afternoon slumps or even go without any repose at all. What will happen when the 24/7 dream is fulfilled and humans can go without sleep best resembles the nightmarish plot of a post-apocalyptic science fiction film: we’ll end up stuck in an uninterrupted process of work and consumption without any time for rest and individualisation. At least, that is what Jonathan Crary argues in his novel 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Taking the brain facilities of a species of sparrow as a starting point in this sleep-defending novel, Crary ventures to set forth the alarming socioeconomic consequences of the loss of sleep in our late-capitalist society.

For us students, sleep is either seen as an obnoxious impediment and something one can easily go without for at least a few days, or, on the contrary, as a rare luxury for the overly busy perfectionists juggling their studies, multiple afterschool activities, and a busy social life both online and offline. As Crary shows, not only students struggle with getting enough sleep: worldwide, people of all ages are getting less and less sleep on average. The average American adult now gets around 6,5 hours of sleep per night instead of the 8 hours the previous generation was getting. This might seem something that should be celebrated rather than lamented, meaning that we have increasingly more time to invest in work and leisure, but Crary believes it is now more important than ever to get a good night’s rest. Why? Because sleep is the only aspect of human life that the capitalist machine of commercialisation and mechanisation has not yet been able to get its hands on. This may sound far-fetched at first, but when you think about your daily activities Crary might bring to light some ugly truths. As he points out, “[t]here are now very few significant interludes of human existence (with the colossal exception of sleep) that have not been penetrated and taken over by work time, consumption time, or marketing time” (15).

We live in an era where sleep is predominantly seen as an out-dated impediment to maximized productivity and profitability. As it is, sleep is useless and unprofitable and remains the last human aspect yet to be commercialized and cashed in on. Reducing or even fully obliterating the human body’s need for sleep would turn us into full-time consumers contained in a non-stop world of global exchange and continuous functioning. In the resulting 24/7 society, human life would be rid of its rhythmic structures and functioning having lost the distinction between day and night. Little would then set us apart from the insatiable zombies of George A. Romero’s Living Dead films (except, perhaps, their carnivorous tendencies).

There is a reason that sleep deprivation is oftentimes used as a form of torture. Long-term sleep deprivation affects the human immune system and destabilizes vital functions. It slowly shatters an individual, rids humans of their humanity, which makes more than clear the necessity of sleep for daily recuperation of both body and mind. In 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep Crary offers us a form of resistance. Since sleeping is without value to a 24/7 society it can be seen as a form of protest, a form of revolution against our daily cycles of producing, consuming, and discarding. By sleeping we halt our endless wastefulness for a while, stop depleting the planet’s resources, and resist turning into insatiable customers of an always-open market place. Perhaps the white-crowned sparrow’s sleeplessness is not something we should aspire to after all. Perhaps it’s time to start a revolution from our beds.[i]

Isabel

Bibliography:

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late-Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. New York: Verso, 2013. Print.

[i] Thanks to Niels van Doorn and Abe Geil and their interesting course Media, Time, and Space for inspiration!

A Smokey Haze: A Review of Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

In 1970, Doc Sportello, a private investigator with a soft spot for pot smoking, receives a visit from his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth. As it turns out she wants him to help her out with a plot to kidnap her current boyfriend, real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann, which Wolfmann’s wife and her boyfriend have set up. If that does not sound already confusing enough, Doc suddenly finds himself haunted by a multitude of characters asking him for help with their problems, which somehow all turn out to be connected to the Wolfmann case. Doc starts investigating hazy leads and paranoid assumptions, or so the storyline of Inherent Vice, one of Thomas Pynchon’s more accessible novels, goes. Pynchon’s is not one of the easiest authors to read and is known for his bewildering and cutting-edge novels of extremely high density (his colossal Gravity’s Rainbow is oftentimes mentioned in the same breath as perplexing doorstoppers such as Ulysses and Infinite Jest). Making a film out of one of his novels has thus unsurprisingly not been a quest any director has dared embark upon. That is until Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) started writing the script for Inherent Vice in 2010.

With Inherent Vice, Anderson craftily distilled a two-and-a-half-hour drug-induced odyssey through realms as varying as neo-Nazi hideouts, massage parlours, hippie-invested mansions, drug-swindling ships, police stations, shady nightclubs, and FBI buildings, from the virtually indigestible maze of Pynchon’s novel. The film stages a perfect rendition of the borderland between the sixties and seventies, thereby commenting on the paranoid grasp that was seizing the bygone sixties after shocking events such as the Manson family murders.

All of the film’s characters seem perpetually baffled by the goings-on, and many a viewer might feel the same way too. Whereas the film is already notorious for the many walkouts during its screenings and its unsuccessful run in American film theatres, sitting through the film is worth it just for its subtle (but sometimes bordering on slapstick) humour. Although some of the scenes do indeed drag on for a little bit too long and some of the characters (particularly the character of Reese Witherspoon) fall short because a lot of the original plot has been cut, the acting of Josh Brolin (Bigfoot Bjornsen) and especially that of Joaquin Phoenix (Doc Sportello) definitely make up for these shortcomings. Providing us with spot-on bewilderment and alternately sneering and loving remarks, they make for an unlikely as well as hilarious crime-solving duo.

While the film is not as perfectly steady in its cinematography as Anderson’s previous film The Master (2012), Inherent Vice sets forth a humoristic brilliance that is perfectly acted out throughout its digressive plot. For those who are still afraid of this trippy tale that is thickly veiled in an opaque haze of smoke, lighting up a joint, as Josh Brolin suggested during the film’s publicity tour, might help you open up to the druggy frenzy of this film.

 

Watch the trailer here.

Inherent Vice

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Joanna Newson, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and others

Duration: 146 minutes

Playing at: Pathé City, Pathé Tuschinski, Filmhallen, Cinecenter, Kriteron, The Movies

 

Isabel

Books between the bicycles – Special bookstores of Amsterdam

HHSbooksInspired by Tessel’s article on Ghent’s best bookstores, I planned on writing a similar guide on Berlin’s most scrumptious book deli’s after a recent weekend trip to the German capital. Turns out all the bookstores I wanted to visit were located exactly on the other side of Berlin than the neighbourhood I was staying in and all-encompassing explorations of the city were out of the question because of the immensely cold December weather (not simply sweater weather, but thermal underwear and three layers of socks weather). I actually came across two quite nice bookstores by chance (Hundt Hammer Stein on the Alte Schönhauser Strasse 23-24, which houses an extensive section of English books and offers free tangerines to its customers in a bowl at the door, and Ebert und Weber on Falkensteinstrasse 44, which sells very pretty German language books by lesser-known publishers, a small selection of English books, and lovely notebooks, tote bags and postcards), but didn’t think these two would yield enough material to supply an entire article. I thus decided to write a slightly less exotic piece about the book emporiums of our own bicycle-infested city and hereby hopefully acquaint you bunch of bibliophiles with new book-filled places to roam and empty your wallets at in Amsterdam.

 

Fenix Books

Fenix Books is probably my very favourite bookstore in this city. Located in the De Pijp-neighbourhood on Frans Halsstraat 88, this shop sells a large selection of second-hand treasures at a reasonable price. Not only do they stock many Dutch classics, poetry, and contemporary novels, they also sell a huge amount of English-language books in a non-discriminatory way: dusty classics and obscure novels by perhaps your new favourite author are crammed between copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and Eat, Pray, Love. If you’re a James Joyce fanatic you’re in luck: Fenix Books has three bookcases devoted to Irish literature and at least two shelves are filled with books by or about the bespectacled novelist.

 

Sterre der zee

Sterre der zee on Hasebroekstraat 43 is a bookstore in Oud-West that specializes in reasonably-priced second-hand books on spirituality and English literature (and has a very funky website that goes perfectly with that description). As is the case with many other seemingly tiny bookstores, the store is a lot larger on the inside and the shelves run along every available cranny and at times almost seem to defy gravity.

 

Sterre der zee

Although it’s located on a busy thoroughfare, one can spend hours rummaging the cozy shelves of Het Martyrium in Oud-Zuid without noticing the blaring engines speeding through the Van Baerlestraat. Although the store is mostly known for its range of Dutch poetry and literature, a large collection of cookbooks, books on photography and fashion, newspapers and quality films and TV series is sold here as well. A probably even more interesting fact for our readers is that the store sells one of Amsterdam’s biggest selections of English literature. Despite the fact that Het Martyrium only sells new books, bargain hunters can enjoy themselves at the store’s ‘ramsj’ section, where books are sold for a fraction of their original prices.

Unlike the aforementioned Berlin bookstores, these three shops are only a ten-minute bike ride away from each other. Anyone in the mood to spend some quality time in a few good bookstores in Amsterdam, is sure to have their paper appetite satisfied. If you’re left peckish by your bookshop explorations though, be sure to visit the Simon Meijssen bakery on the next corner from Het Martyrium – they sell the very best chocolate chip cookies in town.

 

ISABEL

Philosophical Reveries and Tantalizing Guitars: A Review of 20,000 Days on Earth (Forsyth and Pollard, 2014)

20000days

While 20,000 Days on Earth starts off like any regular music documentary, the film, which gives us a peek into the daily life of Australian multi-talent Nick Cave, soon starts to blur the line between fiction and reality. In directors Forsyth and Pollard’s first feature-length film, Cave, who is mostly known as a musician but who also is a literary talent and occasional actor, is tracked on his (fictitious) 20.000th day on this planet. Grown out of what was first solely meant to be promotional footage for Cave’s latest record Push the Sky Away (2013), 20,000 Days on Earth promises to convey, in the words of Cave himself, a day that is “both more real and less real, more true and less true, more interesting and less interesting than my actual day, depending on how you look at it”.

As a person who is riveted by the hauntingly charismatic persona of Cave, I was looking forward to watching this film very much and I must say I was not disappointed at all. Although I sort of hoped the film would consist of shots of Cave having eggs for breakfast, brushing his teeth and doing other regular human-being things, 20,000 Days on Earth actually digs much deeper. The film, paradoxically, not only brought me closer to the personality behind the legend that is Nick Cave, but also succeeded in leaving me more in awe of him than ever before. As the film shows, Cave indeed is someone who writes, eats, and watches TV just like us and is not constantly as dark and destructive as his live performances make him seem to be. Through cleverly edited scenes of Cave’s meetings with a psychologist and his conversations with close friends such as actor Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue, and musicians Warren Ellis and Blixa Bargeld, directors Forsyth and Pollard manage to slightly crumble the carefully structured barricade that is Cave’s stage persona. When Cave, however, starts to philosophize about the transformative nature of performing and the art of creating, it becomes quite obvious we are dealing with someone who is artistically very gifted and this is where Cave’s more enigmatic side emerges again. In his contemplations, Cave stresses how important memory is to him, not only in his creative processes, but also in his daily life as he sees it, not merely as a collection of recollections, but a personality-shaping factor. To him, life is about recreating that one perfect childhood memory and being the curator of one’s own museum of reminisces. The film’s title highlights this idea: one’s life is not merely the sum of a few years, but a total of significant days.

Nick Cave’s 20.000th day on earth isn’t just like any other day. It’s a day filled with philosophical reveries and tantalizing guitar chords that is filmed in a very aesthetically-pleasing way. With 20,000 Days on Earth, Forsyth and Pollard created a ‘docufictional’ must-see for all fans of Nick Cave and those interested in the process of creating and (song)writing. It’s a haunting film with a fantastically ominous soundtrack that both honours Cave’s imposing oeuvre and philosophizes about “the simmering space where dream and reality intersect”.

Currently playing at Melkweg Cinema, De Filmhallen, EYE. Watch the trailer here.

 

ISABEL

Header picture courtesy of the www.intothegreatwideopen.nl

LAB111 & De Filmhallen

filmhallen

Great news for cinephiles: a couple of weeks ago, film theatres De Filmhallen and LAB111 opened their doors! Writer’s Block editor Isabel visited the cinemas and reported on the airy former tram storage and the eerie former pathological institute now both turned into a film fanatic’s paradise.

Located in a former tram storage in the Oud-West neighbourhood of Amsterdam, De Filmhallen’s high ceilings and large seats bring about a different feel than most other cinemas in town do. It is located in a space that has a very modern and metropolitan atmosphere and reminds one of bustling places such as Borough Market in London. This probably has to do with the fact that besides De Filmhallen, the area also houses a branch of the public library, several art galleries, and will soon contain restaurants and a food court as well. You do not have to be afraid of crowds though. De Filmhallen provides a peaceful escape from the busy Kinkerstraat around the corner with its lofty bar and the cinematic getaways it offers. Its assortment of films consists of quality Hollywood movies, Europe’s finest films, and the best of contemporary world cinema. What’s more, the theatre has the comfiest seats my buttocks have ever encountered and because of the smaller size of the viewing halls, one gets a perfect view of the screen. Although De Filmhallen does not have the dusty cinematic vibe of its sister company The Movies yet, I strongly believe this cinema is prone to become one of Amsterdam’s finest, once it has been worn-in by the many visitors it deserves to receive.

LAB111, a hidden gem in the Helmersbuurt (the beautiful neighbourhood near the Vondelpark), has a completely different vibe. The recently reopened film theatre is located in a building that used to be a medical anatomy lab, which gives the place’s roomy corridors quite a spooky ambiance. The building’s decoration, however, is very sleek and modern and the convivial chatter coming from LAB111’s restaurant soon dispels the spookiness. Next to doubling as an art gallery and restaurant (with a very promising and not that expensive menu that I sadly have not had the chance to test yet), the film theatre hosts an Italian Film Club showing recent Italian releases and houses several film-related companies. LAB111’s diverse programming centres on the latest children’s films, surprising new releases, and old classics. It’s now playing A Film About Coffee (2014), of which the title alone is simply irresistible, and Studio Ghibli’s latest film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).

 

ISABEL

 

De Filmhallen
Hannie Dankbaarpassage 12
1053RT Amsterdam
T 020 – 8208122
http://www.filmhallen.nl

LAB111
Arie Biemondstraat 111
1053PD Amsterdam
T 020 – 6169994
http://www.lab111.nl