Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local Gov’t Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Futurism
Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

06.23 From heatwaves to hurricanes, floods to famine: seven climate change hotspots

06.23 Latest diesel car models remain highly polluting, tests show

06.23 Norway issues $1bn threat to Brazil over rising Amazon destruction [Good!]

06.22 Al Gore: battle against climate change is like fight against slavery [videos]

06.22 Top global banks still lend billions to extract fossil fuels [who holds the debt when the music stops?]

06.22 Australian health groups urge coal phase-out and strong emissions reduction

06.22 Tories aim to block full EU ban on bee-harming pesticides [what could go wrong...]

06.22 Route to recovery: how people overcome an opioid addiction

06.21 U.S. Coastal Cities Will Flood More Often and More Severely, Study Warns

06.21 London mayor issues emergency air quality alert amid heatwave

06.21 Exxon, BP and Shell back carbon tax proposal to curb emissions

06.21 Climate goals: inside California's effort to overhaul its ambitious emissions plan

06.20 We Can’t Fight Climate Change if We Keep Lying to Ourselves

06.20 A third of the world now faces deadly heatwaves as result of climate change

News Media Matters

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

06.24 Medicaid cuts in the Senate healthcare bill are going to hit some states hard – here's who will feel it

06.24 Elizabeth Warren Says Key Thing to Know About Trumpcare Bill: 'This Is Blood Money' [video]

06.24 How the Senate's Health-Care Bill Would Cause Financial Ruin for People With Preexisting Conditions

06.24 Watch Elizabeth Warren nail exactly what Planned Parenthood does — and why we need it

06.24 Late-night hosts blast Trumpcare: 'Needless suffering for low and middle-income people'

06.23 THE INTELLECTUAL UNDERPINNING OF A “MEAN” REPUBLICAN PARTY

06.23 Single-Payer Healthcare for California Is, In Fact, Very Doable

06.23 Why The Koch Brothers Have So Much Influence On Trump: It Starts With Pence

06.23 Thomas Frank on the Demise of the Democratic Party [15:52 video; excellent, make full screen]

06.23 Exxon, Stephen Hawking, greens, and Reagan’s advisors agree on a carbon tax

06.23 Obama attacks Republican health bill as 'massive transfer of wealth' to the rich

06.22 Industry Was Doubly Generous With These 13 GOP Senators Now Drafting Trumpcare

06.22 3 mn will own 70% of US Wealth generated by 320 mn by 2021

06.22 Is American Childhood Creating an Authoritarian Society?

06.22 Leftwing Democrats say Jon Ossoff loss shows 'massive failure' of party's elites

Justice Matters

06.23 This North Carolina Law Is Straight Out of “The Handmaid’s Tale” [legal immorality...]

06.23 The Supreme Court Defends the Integrity of U.S. Citizenship

High Crimes?

06.23 'I buried my smallest child under a bush': starvation and sorrow in South Sudan

Economics, Crony Capitalism

06.23 Exclusive: Fake online stores reveal gamblers' shadow banking system

06.22 Top global banks still lend billions to extract fossil fuels [who holds the debt when the music stops?]

06.21 Gaius Publius: Finding the Greater Fool — The Elite Logic Behind “Going Over the Climate Cliff”

06.19 European commission to crack down on offshore tax avoidance [Trump is likely to further facilitate tax avoidance]

International & Futurism

06.24 Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution, official says [“Stupid is as stupid does.” – Forrest Gump]

06.24 In a world ruled by rumour, it is vital that scientists speak with humility and clarity

06.24 Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists — Here’s Why [our pro-gun culture spillith over]

06.23 Iran nuclear chief warns US over support for Saudi Arabia

06.23 Rival groups vie for supremacy as fight against Isis reaches tipping point

06.23 Farms hit by labour shortage as migrant workers shun 'racist' UK

06.22 Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine

06.22 All Signs from Trump Point to a Coming Conflict with Iran [war doesn't "fix" anything; it can only make more war]

06.22 You Do Not Think Alone [be selective of what and who influences your "hive mind"]

06.21 Trump's silence after the London mosque attack speaks volumes

06.21 Drive to get children back to school failing worldwide

06.20 Power Causes Brain Damage [The powerful could mentally put their OCD-for-power aside to have empathy (again?) if they tried]

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  Astra Taylor's 'Examined Life'
Newspaper logo

FILM REVIEW:

Astra Taylor's 'Examined Life'

Talking, walking, and thinking at the same time. Is it possible?

by Chris Knipp
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
The eight philosophers featured in this documentary get back to basics. All of them are talking in one way or another about how to live.
"Examined Life" introduces what may be a lovely, if frustrating, new sub-genre: the philosophical chat documentary. The title's an obvious allusion to Socrates' famous statement: The unexamined life is not worth living. He didn't say whether the examined life was worth living or not. But let's see... The film's eight philosophers are peripatetic, though Taylor doesn't claim this alludes to Aristotle, who, they say, walked around while lecturing. Which reminds me of how the philosopher of running, Dr. George Sheehan, liked to quote someone, Thoreau I think, as saying, "Trust no thought arrived at sitting down." If that's true, maybe we'll have to distrust two of the speakers, because one is in a car and another is rowing a boat on a lake.

It's good if you can lure the public to watch a documentary film that provides a taste of what philosophical thinking is like. Unfortunately, the talkers—Cornel West, Avita Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, and Savoj Zizek—aren't really making philosophy as they go along, the way Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore did, as did their followers, A.J. Ayer and Gilbert Ryle. Instead, they're just summarizing some of their main ideas or repeating riffs they've done before or answering questions from Taylor—all the while as they're being filmed walking, rowing, riding, or, in the case Zizek, fidgeting around in front of some piles of rubbish at a London dump. (Taylor previously made a film about the showy, provocative Slovenian.)

While anyone asks about the meaning of life at some point or another, it's not a sure thing that philosophy is of any use, even to itself. Wittgenstein famously said that, of what matters most to us, we can say nothing. After a pungent name-dropping riff by West sitting in the back of Taylor's car, Ronell, a "deconstructionist," begins her sequence, pacing a Central Park sidewalk, with a strong dose of skepticism, not to say metaphysical and moral angst. "If you have a good conscience, then you're worthless," she opines. Disdainfully asserting that though ten minutes to speak may be fine for the others, it's ridiculous for herself, she haughtily makes a point of distinguishing between philosophy and thinking. So there's some question whether anything said by these eight people is of any use, or whether presenting them sequentially (with Cornell West injected at three points as a motif) makes any logical sense. But it does, because philosophers do get back to basics, and all of them are talking in one way or another about how to live.

In his Village Voice review of "Examined Life," J. Hoberman falls into the inevitable trap of rating the speakers one by one. He finds Singer smug and obvious and says his "neo-Kantian platitude" about "commitment to the common good" "stops the conversation" and illustrates that distinction between philosophy and thinking. Actually, Singer's stroll down Fifth Avenue while advocating vegetarianism and suggesting it's better to donate a thousand dollars to charity than to spend it on an elegant suit seemed effective and thought-provoking to me; and Singer had the best command of everyday, unshowy language.

Singer's position coheres with those of Nussbaum and Butler, both of whom speak of the need to act democratically. The image of a Bushian un-compassionate conservatism hovers behind their assertion of our collective obligation to provide for and protect those who are different, or poor, or handicapped. Nussbaum points out that everyone is "handicapped" in infancy and old age, so the need for help is universal. Butler explores a San Francisco second-hand clothing store with a wheelchair-bound friend, Sunaura Taylor, discussing the need for accessibility and fairness in facing gender issues. All of this adds up to the need for a more liberal and humane society. Appiah adds another consideration: culture. As he walks through the international wing of a airport, en route to somewhere, he talks about growing up in a shack and having a Ghanan mother and English father and describes cosmopolitanism—and distinguishes it from cultural relativity. It's important to realize that people can live well (be good), he says, while following different values.

There is the danger in this medium of peppy visuals and extended sound bites that these important thinkers and writers may wind up over-simplifying or parodying themselves.

One may be a cosmopolite like Appiah, but it may be better to stay at home. So you might conclude from the word of Michael Hardt, co-author of the book Empire. In his youth he and others went to Latin America to engage in revolution, but they were advised to go back and make their revolution here. As he rows around the lake and runs aground looking at big turtles, he may seem ineffectual. There is the danger in this medium of peppy visuals and extended sound bites that these important thinkers and writers may wind up over-simplifying or parodying themselves.

Zizek, like Jean Baudrillard, makes puzzling and provocative pronouncements that seem to defy common sense. It may simply be that while he can devastate you in the sound bites, with a kind of hit-and-run effect, he can't ever be properly understood in such small chunks. His primary point this time is that "shit" doesn't go away as we imagine, when we flush. We need to, as it were, "embrace" our mountains of waste, forget about living in nature, and accept being more artificial. But since he acknowledges that global warming is a real problem, why does he insist that "ecology" is the comforting new orthodoxy, like "religion" to Marx? What are we to do with this information, if it be true?

And it's hard to see what to do with West's dazzling high culture jive talk about history, jazz, blues, slavery, courage, and much else, which is peppered with quotations, slogans, and an array of names that would send any freshman rushing to the library, or at least to Google or Wikipedia.

Maybe Hoberman is right in calling this filmmaker "a purveyor of intellectual vaudeville." But what choice does she have? Otherwise, how can 85 minutes of professional philosophers talking get even the tiny distribution this film is up for? The thing about Cornell West is that, like Zizek, you may come away only with questions, but you may also, especially if you're young, come away thinking you want to be able to talk like that and think like that, and have all that stuff in your head. Somewhere out of this you may get the urge to think or act in new ways. Or read a book. Even Eric Schmidt, the Chairman and CEO of Google, thinks doing that is still the best way to learn about something.


©Chris Knipp 2008. Chris Knipp writes from San Francisco.



Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.

This story was published on March 17, 2009.
 

Public Service Ads: