Tag Archives: nihilism

WHY I WROTE “THE COMING INSURRECTION” 4/05

6 Apr

“The book you hold in your hands has become the principle piece of evidence in an anti-terrorism case in France directed against nine individuals who were arrested on November 11, 2008, mostly in the village of Tarnac.” So begins the Semiotext(e) edition of my text, originally published as L’insurrection qui vient by Editions La Fabrique, Paris, 2007. Though I was amused by The New York Times’ coverage of the book release party at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square, I was genuinely taken aback by Fox News’ Glenn Beck’s “review” of the book on Wednesday, 1st July 2009.

According to Beck: “As world economies go down the tank and unemployment continues to rise, disenfranchised people are set to explode. The dangerous leftist book that could spark this is ‘The Coming Insurrection.’ This is a call to arms for violent revolution, authored anonymously by a French group called the Invisible Committee who want to bring down capitalism.” Firstly, I would just like to set the record straight: I do not want to bring down capitalism. I would admonish anyone stupid enough to disseminate an actual call to arms for violent revolution. As the writer Stewart Home so aptly put it, “It should go without saying that terrorism is always vanguardist and can never be justified.”

So why did I write the manifesto? If I indeed didn’t believe, and still to this day can’t make myself believe, in a call to arms for violent revolution, what was the point? Well, it’s quite simple. In a word: satire. Just as Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel wasn’t really “a call to arms for violent revolution” – but a work of sardonic humor, that in part exposed a certain 90s “end of history”, false “revolutionary” mindset; “The Coming Insurrection” was never meant to be read as a real call to arms – but was always meant to be read as a work of satire, that was in part written to expose a certain twenty-first century “return to history”, false “revolutionary” mindset.

Recall the memorable basement scene in David Fincher’s movie Fight Club (1999) when the charismatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) talks to a group of especially frustrated young men: “God damn it. [We’re] an entire generation – pumping gas and waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes; working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of History man – with no purpose or place. We have no great war. No great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rockstars – but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Here we are witness to the pure palpability of both the reverberating irony and the weird indignation of the late 90s. Today in the year 2010 we have indeed a “great war” and a “great depression” – yet we are still “very, very pissed off.” Why exactly? What accounts for the rage? And the near unrelenting intensity of the Tyler Durdens of this world? Though I agree with my colleagues that much of the populist fury has to do with the rising jobless rates and growing social inequalities – this analysis is simply not enough to account for today’s emergent nihilism.

Enter The Invisible Committee’s rather predictable diagnosis: “Two centuries of capitalism and market nihilism have brought us to the most extreme alienations – from ourselves, from others, from worlds. The fiction of the individual has decomposed at the same speed that it was becoming real.” The Committee goes on to conclude that the answer is to reinvent the commune: “Form communes. A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality.”

But what if this alienation “from ourselves, from others, from worlds” began far before the emergence of capitalism? Far before even the emergence of modernity? As the armchair anthropologist Christopher Hitchens so lugubriously put it – “Here’s what you have to believe to be a theist: For [atleast] a hundred thousand years humanity is born, perhaps twenty-five percent of it dies in childbirth or very shortly afterward, life-expectancy twenty five [years] for a very long time, infant mortality extraordinary . . . killed by microorganisms we didn’t know existed, by earthquakes that we thought were portents, by storms we didn’t know came from our climate system, . . . for the first 96,000 years of this experience, heaven watches this with folded arms, with indifference, without pity. And then around 4,000 years ago decides, Gee – it’s time to intervene.” If you’re a certain kind of myopic leftist radical, you have to further make yourself believe that the last 200 years of humanity’s existence was the worst of it; so worse is today’s alienation, they claim, that we all have to return to a more authentic, pre-capitalistic communal existence.  Can any thinking person reading this bring himself or herself to believe this?

It was only a month ago that I saw both tea party groups and self-described anarchists join hand in hand and flood the San Francisco streets and schools proclaiming their solidarity to the coming insurrection. It was precisely these pitiful, disenfranchised solipsists whom I wanted to mock with the manifesto; I sincerely apologize to all who misread my work of satire. But most of all I want to apologize to Glenn Beck and Fox News for the misunderstanding. Next time I will genuinely attempt to be less opaque, and more deliberate in my mordant efforts. -Maxi Kim

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Beaubourg 268: Understanding Contemporary East Asian Nihilism

17 Jan

beaubourg 268

Understanding Contemporary East Asian Nihilism
MW 1:10-2:30
Maxi Kim
Office Hours: Wed 3-4
 San Francisco
Email: maximuskim@hotmail.com

“When Bertolt Brecht saw a Japanese mask of an evil demon,
he wrote how its swollen veins and hideous grimaces ‘all betake /
what an exhausting effort it takes / To be evil.’ The same holds
for violence which has any effect on the system.”
-Slavoj Zizek

Course Summary

This course is designed to explore a certain nihilistic dimension in contemporary East Asia – the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan, the pitilessness in New Korean Cinema, the increasing influence of guangchang giant malls in China, etc, etc – through its art, texts, and films. We will begin by discussing issues of violence, utopia, and “evil” as they relate to the disavowed ghosts that haunt East Asia: North Korean totalitarianism, the psychic deadlocks discernible in otaku culture, the specter of the revolutionary Chinese future from the first sentence of The Communist Manifesto. In Jonathan Romney’s May 2006 Artforum article on the South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, Romney makes a series of observations about Park’s oeuvre. His stories evoke “absurdity, futility, inevitability: Park’s characters are, as it were, always destined to shoot themselves in the head, and although it will always be the right head-the one that hurts-it will also be the wrong one, for all action in Park’s universe is doomed to catastrophe.” It is precisely against this background that this course will pay particular attention to the nihilistic moments when the Absolute appears in all its “absurdity, futility, inevitability:” from Park’s last man who discovers that familial piety is an illusion, to Kim Jong-il’s obscene familial investment in the figure of the Leader; from the extremely fragile cognitive mapping cultivated by Takashi Murakami’s Tokyo Girls, to the subversion of the cyborg-comic mode of existence guaranteed by Giant Robot; in all of these examples, we will hopefully see how the implicit reference to some traumatic kernel keeps the dream of a utopian universe alive.

Suggested Texts
Michael Zielenziger, Shutting out the sun: how Japan created its own lost generation
Kim Jong Il, On the Art of the Cinema
Dai Jinhua, Cinema and Desire: Feminist Marxism and Cultural Politics in the Work of Dai Jinhua
Ryu Murakami, Piercing
Banana Yoshimoto, NP
Chun Sue, Beijing Doll
Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Hyok Kang, This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood

Course Requirements
– Faithful attendance / meetings and office hours negotiable
– Regular weekly readings
– Take-home Midterm Creative Project / Essay
– Take-home Final Creative Project / Essay

General Policies
1. Attendance: Absences may be offset with meetings and office hours
2. Deadlines: Creative assignments are due at the beginning of workshops. Constructive criticisms only; the group will not tolerate personal attacks. Workshops will not accept any papers more than one week late.
3. Format: All essays must be typed, double-spaced with one-inch margins, paginated and stapled (please do not use folders or report covers). Feel free to use MLA format as outlined in MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (fifth edition).
4. Office hours: All students are greatly encouraged to visit me during my office hour throughout the quarter. If you are unable to visit me at this time, please feel free to contact me so we may arrange an alternate time to meet.

Schedule
2/22 Shutting out the Sun; after class optional screening of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future (2003)
2/24 Shutting out the Sun; after class optional screening of Tekkonkinkreet (2007)
3/1 Workshop
3/3 Workshop
3/8 On the Art of the Cinema; after class optional screening of Paprika (2007)
3/10 On the Art of the Cinema; after class optional screening of The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)
3/15 On the Art of the Cinema; Workshop
3/17 Workshop
3/22 Cinema and Desire
3/24 Cinema and Desire
3/29 Piercing
3/31 Piercing
4/5 Piercing & NP; Midterm due
4/7 NP
4/12 NP & optional workshop
4/14 Beijing Doll & optional workshop
4/19 Beijing Doll
4/21 Pyongyang & This is Paradise!
4/26 Pyongyang & This is Paradise!
4/28 Workshop
5/3 Final paper