Thursday, 24 May 2018


Winamop just published another little story of mine called 'Charles.' Part two of a book called Fifteen Characters: Loners and Altruists.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Ahoy Facebook #9

.... continued.

This is a fascinating document for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is filmed in an interesting way. Although it is a huge rock concert, the editing is very interesting and subtle. You can tell that the filmmakers graduated from a Soviet film school. This is statist filmmaking, not made for profit.
Secondly, this concert took place on September 1991, a month after communist hardliners mounted a coup de etat that was quashed by Boris Yeltsin. It took place four months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The audience is largely young and westernised - almost one million people reportedly attended this concert. The communist police officers violently hit out at them with bayonets. Helicopters hover around the audience. We can tangibly see the left-overs of 'totalitarianism' here - the need to control all aspects of human thought and emotion.
This took place in 1991, around the time that Francis Fukuyama asserted that 'the end of history' was upon us. Politics are fascinating because several ideologies which vie to win the battle of ideas and to control the way we live. According to Fukuyama, liberal democracy had won the battle of ideas and history had culminated. We see this in this clip, as western values and globalisation had arrived at Russia. Several rock fans wave USA flags, though interestingly some people wave red flags, though this might be ironic.

I've been procrastinating for the past few hours - and I've been creating memes. Most of these are obscure/niche/esoteric - apart from the first one, which is very universal.

What happened? :)

Instead of writing political rants and philosophical speculations, I thought that I'd get into the habit of posting music every Friday. I've had people tell me that I have great musical taste, but I've also had people tell me that my taste is either pretentious, unlistenable dreck or old man's music (I take the last comment as a compliment, as surely that means that you are wiser than your years). If you are more likely to fall into the first category of people, then you are more likely to be pleased about this.
This piece of music is by Steve Reich, possibly my favourite exponent of 'minimalism.' This is my favourite piece by him - I love the jagged lines and the way in which the counterpoint works (separate musical voices being played at the same time). I also like how the simple lines gradually progress and resolve.

Ahoy Facebook #8

Latest rants/tidbits/etc.


Something about my personal life (I had the obvious realisation over the past year that writing about your private life in public is actually a stupid idea): The internet stopped working in the house where I live and I lost my phone. The results have been great and I have realised my idea/future goal: not to have internet where I live. I still use the internet in the library, so I can still send emails/apply to jobs/use Facebook/dick around/watch You Tube and so forth (which is always jolly good fun).
Results: 1) Increased productivity, 2) I can focus on my reading without getting distracted, 3) I can focus on my writing projects without getting distracted, 4) I can focus on job applications without getting distracted and 5) I can think/brood/what-have-you for extended periods without going on the internet.


In the early twentieth century, being a reformer was the worst possible sin for hardcore/revolutionary leftists. Indeed, hardcore communists/socialists hated the guts of social democrats, even though their intention was to gradually reform capitalism and transition towards pure socialism.
In the late 70s, guys like Tariq Ali wanted to overthrow capitalism completely and 'build socialism' (whatever that means). The social democratic parties had been seen as being too complacent, too subservient to institutions like the IMF, too ad-hoc to capitalism and too negligent of the demands of trade unions.
So it's kind of amusing when people like Tariq Ali now say 'we want a return social democracy.' It's the auto-pilot thing that these people say. It's the new chic radicalism. They still want competition, free trade etc., but they want it to be more regulated and fair. Forty years ago, this kind of thing was anathema to them and the word 'reformist' was pretty much an insult.


1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968, USA)
2. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986, USA)
3. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966, Russia)
4. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956, France)
5. It's a Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946, UK)
6. It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946, USA)
7. Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994, USA)
8. The Second Heimat (Edgar Reitz, 1992, Germany)
9. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1971, Germany)
10. Crimes and Misdemeanours (Woody Allen, 1989, USA)
I did this same list about six years ago, but I have since made some changes. I'm not too sure about the order I chose, but it will have to do. I have since omitted The Producers by Mel Brooks, The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers, The Passion of Joan of Arc by C. T. Dreyer and Taxi Driver by Martin Scorcese. They have been replaced with It's a Matter of Life and Death, It's a Wonderful Life, Crumb and Crimes and Misdemeanours. There's nothing nicer for me than having a novel, film or piece of music that I love with all my heart. : )

Oh dear, this is saddening, albeit inevitable. I haven't heard The Fall very much over the last three years or so, but I loved their music in my late teens/early 20s. They were my favourite band. : ( I'll listen to Hex Enduction Hour now, I think.

I registered a company for £20. It's called Esoteric Printing Press. : )

This is so cool. Michael Heseltine started a 'mobile surgery' when he first became an MP in 1966. He would drive a caravan across his constituency and anyone who had a query/local problem could catch his attention and have a chat. It'd be amazing if I just happened to be walking down my street and saw my local MP driving his 'mobile surgery' around.


1. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner (1929, USA)
2. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866, Russia)
3. Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre (1938, France)
4. Pedro Páramo - Juan Rulfo (1955, Mexico)
5. The Trial - Franz Kafka (1925, Czech Republic)
6. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (1985, USA)
7. A Brief Life - Juan Carlos Onetti (1950, Uruguay)
8. The Obscene Bird of Night - José Donoso (1968, Chile)
9. Light in August - William Faulkner (1932, USA)
10. The Unlimited Dream Company - J. G. Ballard (1979, UK)
I did this list about 7/8 years ago, but I have made some changes. It isn't all that different, mainly because I primarily read non-fiction these days. I couldn't wait for my course in 'Comparative Literature' to end for three years because I was dying to read other things (mainly philosophy, politics and history). I then had the light bulb idea to do a masters degree for two years, which meant that I had to wade through desiccated and jargony texts. I still love novels/literature, though.
This list reveals my preference for continental, Latin American, 20th century, Southern Gothic, existentialist (yeek!), surreal/magic realist and modernist (and 'post-modernist' - yeek!) literature. I love the stories of Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Edgar Allan Poe, but they are not eligible. Cortázar also wrote novels, but I don't like them because I generally can't stand novels about bohemians who drink black coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk shite. I also really like 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster, but that's a collection of novellas.

I wrote this...


Two films that I would make if 1) I had the money, 2) knew anything about film production and 3) knew the right people.
1) I would make a documentary about chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen. The purpose of this film would be two-fold. Firstly, I would follow Carlsen all the time and I would conduct extensive Herzogian interviews. I would try to be psychologically probing. I would try to figure out how he is capable of storing so much knowledge, how it affects his day-to-day life, how he feels about losing, what he thinks about when he introspects and how his thought processes work. Long and extensive interviews would comprise large sections of the film.
Secondly, I would like to film a lot of his chess matches. Chess has been used as a metaphor in cinema before - i.e. in Bergman's The Seventh Seal - but I would like to see convincing cinematic recreations of chess games. I don't think this has been done before, but I do actually think that chess could be cinematic. It is a mental game in which its participants try to out-fox each other. I think that it could be done effectively and without any music - choose effective close-ups of pivotal moves and revealing close-ups of facial expressions.
2) I would like to adapt Plato's 'Meno.' I would simply use Plato's text as the screenplay. Ancient Greece has not been recreated in cinema as much as Rome, but I do think that it could be dramatised. I would simply choose the most appropriate camera angles to bring Socrates and his acolytes to life. I would also like to recreate the Athenian milieu in an effective way - recreate the architecture, the costumes etc. Although it is a philosophical dialogue, I still think that there is some dramatic tension in this text. They try to define virtue and get nowhere, but I'd love it if cinema could recreate the way in which Socrates coaxes answers out of people.

1) I would be up in the moon all the time, so I wouldn’t be aware of things. My advisors and fellow politicians would be furious with me because I wouldn’t be up do date with vital things.
2) I would speak in an abstruse, impenetrable way that no-one would understand.
3) I wouldn’t be able to engage with normal people/voters.
4) I have high stress levels. The constant scrutiny/media pressure would LITERALLY drive me insane.
5) I have zero common sense. My decision making skills would be extremely poor.
6) My awkward/weird personality/body posture would mean that I would be satirised/ridiculed ALL THE TIME.
7) I am way too individualistic to go into politics. I can’t compromise and I am a terrible team player. Preparing group presentations at university was excruciating for me – I always had to do them on my own. I hate having to prepare ideas with other people – I always prefer formulating ideas + working on them on my own terms.
8) My low emotional intelligence would mean that I would be a terrible diplomat and I would unknowingly hurt other people’s feelings/do faux pas.
9) The tabloids would probably speculate that I am gay because I’m single.
10) I would get bored at local surgeries – having to hear about other people’s problems and having to feign interest.
11) I’m terrible at administrative detail – I get bored having to focus on this kind of thing, so I invariably make errors.
12) If I started giving speech at the house of commons, the other MPs would get impatient because I’d be so long-winded. ‘Get to the point!’ they’d shout.
13) I would be terrible at peddling bullshit/spin. I would die inside + I am far too straight-talking anyway.
There you have it, I’ll never go into politics!

I would like to conduct the following experiment.
I would like to send ten libertarians to Somalia and ten communists to North Korea. Before sending them to their respective trips, I would like them to answer the following question 'In a 1000 words, how do you define communist or libertarian principles and why do you believe in them?'
After a month, I would ask the libertarians the following question: 'Do you still think that you can run a society without a state and without anyone paying any taxes after your experiences in Somalia? Please answer the question in a 1000 words.'
After a month, I would ask the communists 'Do you still think that you can run an efficient economy without any private property and through seizing the means of production? Do you still think that this will never result in totalitarianism, authoritarianism and gulags? Answer this question in a 1000 words.'
I think that nine out of the ten libertarians would say - 'this is actually a very authoritarian, Muslim country that doesn't have anything to do with libertarianism at all. There are no independent-minded individuals and there is no entrepreneurism. These questions are stupid!'
I think that nine out of ten communists would say something obscure and vague like 'This isn't real communism. We live in pre-historic times and we can only reach real communism when capitalism no longer exists. Human nature can be changed when capital is abolished completely.'
I still think that one of those ten libertarians and one of those ten communists would see the error of their ways. They would learn to think in more lateral ways and to stop poisoning their brains with ideological bullshit.

If you thought that bawdy and irreverent songs were only a recent pop phenomenon - well, you can find examples from the medieval era!

It is a truism that knowledge gets more and more specialised. The thing is, though, is that that does not suit me especially well. I don't really like the idea of specialising in a tiny aspect of knowledge when what I would like to do would be to make connections between ideas from several disciplines.
This is really why I would like to have lived in Ancient Greece. Obviously, I would like to have been a privileged member of the aristocracy, not a pleb or a slave. The thing is, though is that thinkers like Plato and Aristotle would write one big broad book about the nature of reality, one big broad book about art, one big broad book about political philosophy, one big broad book about religion, etc.
Knowledge in the medieval ages was also a lot more general. The problem with that, though, is that it would have been tantamount to been a scholar in the Soviet Union. There were strict dictates on what you could and couldn't say. If you didn't lionise God, you would probably be burnt at the stake.
Knowledge in Greece was also more liberal, which could be attributed to its polytheism. With Christian monotheism, if you offend God, you are therefore a heretic. With pagan polytheism, if you offend one God, then it doesn't really matter because there are several gods that you could potentially also offend.
Also, certain attitudes were challenged on occasion. Although slavery was prevalent and women were not citizens, there were stoic and cynic thinkers who challenged such assumptions.
But if I were to write really big broad books on such subjects, I'd probably be dismissed as a quack scholar. Which is a shame.


Worthwhile interview with Mario Vargas Llosa about the virtues of liberalism, though there are bits that I don't like very much. Thatcher might have liberalised the economy, but she destroyed British manufacturing and actively presided over 12% unemployment. One of the good things about liberalism is that it values tolerance, social harmony and peace, but the 1980s were very divided, antagonistic and unequal times and, hence, quite illiberal. The Labour Party in the 1970s wasn't entirely economically 'nationalist' - it was mostly the left-wing that was nationalist - and members of the Labour right were willing to embrace globalisation without subjecting the country to mass unemployment and without wilfully destroying British manufacturing.

I like my grandparents' generation very much. They fought in a world war and defeated fascism. They secured our freedoms. They built the welfare state, ensuring greater protection for workers. They achieved full employment, the NHS and built thousands of homes for the post-war generation. They also legalised homosexuality, abortion, the pill and abolished capital punishment.
However, I do not like their children, the 'baby boomers.' They threw a petulant tantrum by growing their hair long, smoking pot, dancing in the mud, waving idiotic/illiterate placards and platitudinously speaking about 'revolution.' They disapproved of their elders, even though their statist reforms had created the unprecedented wealth, comfort and security that they grew up in.
Although they spoke about 'revolution,' they actually wanted to be free. Liberty is wonderful, but liberty to what end? Surely, in my view, liberty is a good thing if you use it to achieve something tangible. Writing a symphony, a novel, reading widely, writing a history book, working on a cure to cancer etc. are worthwhile use of your liberty. However, I don't think that leading a decadent lifestyle whereby you get drunk and smoke weed all the time is a worthwhile use of liberty. There is a quote from a Frank Zappa song that seems to encapsulate this for me: 'Free is when you don't have to pay for nothing or do nothing - we want to be free.'
And this generation, despite throwing a tantrum at their elders and despite speaking idly about 'revolution,' turned into yuppies. What is their legacy? They deregulated the financial sector, left behind creaking public services, low wages, voted for Brexit and little to no housing. And a re-emergence of populism.
This is why I can't stand it when baby boomers complain about millennials. They should really take a look in the mirror.

I don't understand people like Lenin and Steve Bannon (who are very similar). If you ostensibly care about the oppressed and the marginalised, why would you seek to destroy a system and make life equally miserable for everyone (including those marginalised people)?
The USSR led to mass economic ruin, poverty and famines. Their rationing prioritised members of the communist party. If you didn't work, you wouldn't receive anything and you would die. They clamped down on all free expression, free press and free thought. The social democratic Mensheviks wanted to help the poor and disenfranchised without doing any of these things.
Bannon and Trump want to impose high tariffs and a trade war. They want to enforce tax cuts on the rich, which would jeopardise the working-class base that have been left behind by globalisation and which Trump ostensibly claims to defend.
The ideals of Kant/the Enlightenment seem perfectly sensible to me: a federation of free states, universal, liberal and republican. This eventually materialised in a country like Switzerland and later the EU, which produced the longest period of peace in European history.
After WWII, European countries also made a concerted effort 1) not to return to the rampant unemployment/poor housing of the 20s/30s, which led to fascism and 2) not to return to war. They addressed this by creating welfare states, making cuts to defence and creating institutions like the UN and the IMF. There was some redistribution of wealth and collaboration between unions, government and business.
The 1990s were a great decade because public discourse was freer, tolerant and more liberal. Third world countries were coming out of poverty. Dictatorships ended in Latin America and Africa and the USSR came to an end. Indeed, I was born in Chile the year that the Pinochet dictatorship ended. There were horrible conflicts/genocides in Kosovo and Rwanda, and there was lot of inequality of outcomes, but on the whole that decade was a lot more optimistic, tolerant and liberal. Growing up in that decade, it was very easy to take all of that for granted.
The 00s were a grim decade, with the neo-cons enforcing their imperialism on everyone. Their world-view became scarily mainstream, as several mainstream parties/publications thought that invading sovereign nation states and exporting/imposing western values to middle eastern countries was a good idea.
The 10s are also a very grim decade. The 'far left' and 'far right' have become illiberal, intolerant and they are attached to something confusing called 'identity politics.' Even moderate left-of-centre figures and liberals have been barred from speaking on campuses because they happened to say something mildly inflammatory. (I find this weird, as I've always found contrarian/controversial speakers exciting.) Also, there's been the rise of divisive figures like Donald Trump and Brexit.
So, basically, the point of this meandering and repetitive post is that I don't understand why we wilfully choose to create illiberal climates. I don't understand people like Lenin and Bannon. They seek to 'crush' the status quo, which ends up making the quality of life worse for the people that they claim to represent.


I write a column on Facebook every Friday. Instead of writing a political rant or some meandering philosophical speculation, I thought that I'd post some music. This is the score for the film Barton Fink, which is quite likely my favourite film by the Coen Brothers. Although I like people like Bernard Hermann a lot, I'm not too keen on film music, but I really like this.

This week I had an interesting and vivid dream. I dreamed that I rushed to the top of a tall building to rescue all of my belongings, because the building was about to be bulldozed. I was running towards my imaginary apartment until I reached the top. I saw the bulldozer which was destroying several buildings surrounding the one that I was in and I was petrified. It moved closer to my building and the wrecking ball broke the glass in front of me and it was carrying Jesse Pinkman, the drug addict/dealer from Breaking Bad. (This is probably because I’ve been binge-watching episodes of Breaking Bad which, along with The Simpsons, is probably the best TV program that I’ve ever seen.) I told him that they shouldn’t bulldoze the buildings yet because I was retrieving all of my belongings from my apartment. Pinkman agreed to tell the bulldozer driver to stop for the time being.
DREAM INTERPRETATION: It’s important to conserve the things you love, not to destroy them. I’m not a conservative politically, but I’m quite conservative by temperament. There’s a quote that I love from the Powell/Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death where the character played by David Niven says: ‘Politics: Labour by experience, conservative by nature.’ Politically, I’d say that I like to reconcile ideals of social justice/fairness with democratic principles, individual liberties and a market economy. Also, all individuals should have equal rights and equal opportunities, but they are otherwise free to choose what to do with their lives. But I also do think that wanting a revolution just to destroy everything is kind of childish and asinine. Also, a cursory glance at history will tell you that most revolutions go tits up.
But I’m quite conservative by temperament. I like to stick to the same routine every day and I hate it when it is disturbed, which is why I don’t like travelling very much. I think that people who dress in ostentatious ways, sport long bushy beards, pierce their faces, use trendy glasses, expose their hairy chests and tattoo their entire bodies look like ridiculous ponces. I’ve never felt the slightest desire to do drugs, which strikes me like a colossal waste of time. I also don’t like girls who dye their hair, wear socks on their heads and tattoo their arms. I hate clubs because the music is loud and obnoxious and people behave like idiots.
Another message that this dream might be communicating to me is that I simply love owning things. Hence, any society that doesn’t grant its citizens some property rights is immoral. I’ve always preferred things to people, even though the artefacts that I love have been created by other humans. Indeed, when I was a small kid I would rather stay indoors and read comics/magazines instead of playing with kids outside. I’ve collected the following artefacts since the age of 4/5 (in chronological order): superhero comics, superhero toys, football balls, football shirts, football magazines, Chilean comics, rock CDs, music magazines, classical/jazz/experimental music CDs, literary novels, DVDs, political magazines, film magazines, classical/jazz records and history/politics/philosophy/art criticism/non-fiction books.

This is my 'to-read pile.' I will get around to reading all of these eventually, but it will take some time. I always try to to read my - largely arbitrary - reading lists in order, but I sometimes can't help but dive into something else. This might seem like it's ostentatious in the extreme, but then I always enjoy looking at other people's books, so you might enjoy this, too. I just plan on reading two or three Shakespeare plays, not the complete works.

When you eagerly go on You Tube to search for videos of Robert Carr (British Conservative politician from the 50s-70s), you get no results and you are bitterly disappointed, then this might be a sign that your life is rather sad. : )
This is a fascinating document for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is filmed in an interesting way. Although it is a huge rock concert, the editing is very interesting and subtle. You can tell that the filmmakers graduated from a Soviet film school. This is statist filmmaking, not made for profit.
Secondly, this concert took place on September 1991, a month after communist hardliners mounted a coup de etat that was quashed by Boris Yeltsin. It took place four months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The audience is largely young and westernised - almost one million people reportedly attended this concert. The communist police officers violently hit out at them with bayonets. Helicopters hover around the audience. We can tangibly see the left-overs of 'totalitarianism' here - the need to control all aspects of human thought and emotion.
This took place in 1991, around the time that Francis Fukuyama asserted that 'the end of history' was upon us. Politics are fascinating because several ideologies which vie to win the battle of ideas and to control the way we live. According to Fukuyama, liberal democracy had won the battle of ideas and history had culminated. We see this in this clip, as western values and globalisation had arrived at Russia. Several rock fans wave USA flags, though interestingly some people wave red flags, though this might be ironic.

I've been procrastinating for the past few hours - and I've been creating memes. Most of these are obscure/niche/esoteric - apart from the first one, which is very universal.

What happened? :)

Instead of writing political rants and philosophical speculations, I thought that I'd get into the habit of posting music every Friday. I've had people tell me that I have great musical taste, but I've also had people tell me that my taste is either pretentious, unlistenable dreck or old man's music (I take the last comment as a compliment, as surely that means that you are wiser than your years). If you are more likely to fall into the first category of people, then you are more likely to be pleased about this.
This piece of music is by Steve Reich, possibly my favourite exponent of 'minimalism.' This is my favourite piece by him - I love the jagged lines and the way in which the counterpoint works (separate musical voices being played at the same time). I also like how the simple lines gradually progress and resolve.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Short digestible videos #2

Rights and Duties

Leonardo Henrichsen and Stafford Cripps

Subjectivity in Art

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Literary Creativity in Cinema

Part four of a forthcoming book called 'Collected Essays.'

Naked Lunch (1991) and Barton Fink (1991) were both released in the same year. They are similar films, as they both deal with writers. More specifically, they cinematically recreate the literary process. This might seem difficult to dramatise, as by definition writing is a mental exercise. Filmmakers David Cronenberg and the Coen Brothers use the typewriter as a motif to dramatise this process. In Cronenberg’s film, typewriters transmute into insects and strange creatures. The Coen Brothers’ often focus on the typewriter via close-ups. In both cases, the actual process reflects themes that the writers cover. Naked Lunch is very loosely based on the novel by William Burroughs. However, it is first and foremost a biopic and, more accurately, a film that recreates how Burroughs wrote the book. Whilst he writes it, the typewriters transform into strange creatures that mirror several of this literary themes. Cronenberg stated the following in an interview:
The reason why I have gone back to Burroughs directly, a man whose writing has been such an influence on me, was really to examine the process of human creativity – why you create worlds, structures and imagery. Why do you do that? What is the impulse? Where does it come from? How does it work? Does it do what you want it to do? (Beker 1992).
Several of Burroughs’ literary themes surface in the film. These include drug use, libertarianism, cosmopolitanism and paranoia. This essay will examine how the film recreates these themes. Meanwhile, Barton Fink is only obliquely based on Clifford Odets. Similarly, there is another character called W. P. Mayhew who is obliquely based on William Faulkner. Really, the Coens’ create a self-contained world that is not historically accurate. Tellingly, Barton Fink is a pretentious and pompous character who is often mocked by the Coens. Indeed, they called Odets ‘naive’ (p. 173, Cement and Niogret 2006). Cronenberg admired Burroughs greatly, and the film does indeed pay tribute to him, but Odets’ pretensions are lampooned by Coens. The film was written when the Coens were experiencing writer’s block whilst writing Millers’ Crossing (1990) and it actively explores the writing process. Fink struggles to write and many scenes in the film depict him immersed in the writing process. Like Naked Lunch, the typewriter is a crucial aspect in Fink’s literary process. Odets was active in left-wing politics and, like Odets, wants to create plays that lionise ‘the common man.’ In the film, he can only create when he is alone and he is highly misanthropic. Like Naked Lunch, the main theme of his writing surfaces whilst he is involved in the literary process – the common man. This essay will analyse how these two films recreate literary creativity and the literary process.

This essay will look at how Cronenberg recreates Burroughs’ themes. It will start by looking at how Burroughs’ became interested in such themes. Drugs were one of the most central themes in Burroughs’ fiction. Most of the characters in his novels seek it because they are libertarian-minded, want to break the law and seek hallucinogenic experiences. Burroughs began experimenting with drugs in 1944, which is highly unusual as drug use had been disrupted by the Second World War (Birmingham 2009). However, its regulation was laxer during this period and Burroughs took advantage of this. Interest in heroin was largely nostalgic, as it evoked memories of the 19th century Romantic/Decadent era, namely poems like Kubla Khan. For Burroughs, it was specifically an attempt to shed his aristocratic upper-class upbringing. He eventually moved to Mexico so that he could avoid American drug laws. He eventually moved to Tangiers in Morocco, which enabled him to live under laxer drug laws, meet other bohemians and escape America’s stuffy, moralist and puritanical attitude. Although Burroughs came from an aristocratic background, and because of his knowledge of medicine, he was able to access hard drugs. He relied on his class, education and race to circumvent doctors and the law. Additionally, drug use for Burroughs was an attempts at miscegenation. It involved racial mixing and tainted blood lines. At one point, Burroughs curiously believed that he had transformed into a black woman after consuming heroin. Finally, drug use for Burroughs was also sexual and it was strongly associated with homosexual sex (Birmingham).
In keeping with Burroughs’ writing, most of the scenes in Naked Lunch are drug-induced. However, when Burroughs drifts into his bizarre hallucinations, several of Burroughs’ themes surface. Pivotally, Burroughs hallucinates whenever he is writing on his typewriter, which highlights how central drugs are to his literary process. In the film, Burroughs’ typewriter often transforms into creatures that mirror aspects of Burroughs’ writing. Burroughs made much of the fact that he once worked as an exterminator and insects often permeate his writing. The typewriter transforms into a cockroach and it speaks through an anus attached at its back, which references the ‘Talking Asshole’ sketch in Burroughs’ novel. The insect-cum-typewriter often talks about ‘government secrets’ and ‘agents,’ which references themes about paranoia. Hence, the typewriter physically embodies all of these themes. The typewriter is essentially an externalisation of the literary process and it has been induced through drug use. Later in the novel, Burroughs has surreal sex which is arrived at via typing into a typewriter and drug use. However, it is heterosexual, largely because Cronenberg, as an heterosexual man, felt more comfortable doing this.
As this essay has already indicated, Burroughs’ interest in drugs was a by-product of his libertarian politics. Burroughs hated government interference and he loved guns, but he was not politically active. When politics intervened in his private life, he would simply move away to places like Tangiers, Mexico or France (Wills 2016). His novels often feature authoritarian figures – doctors, lawyers and shifty bureaucrats – who often stifle the freedom of individuals. Indeed, Burroughs envisaged systems of control and his novels often feature oppressive bureaucracies. He thought that artists, not politicians, are the agents of change. Hence, his novels often feature characters who rebel against these oppressive systems and who often try to change the order of things (Wills).
We see several authoritarian figures in Cronenberg’s film, many of whom are the product of Burroughs’ drug-induced fantasies. However, early on in the film Burroughs encounters some police officers who believe that Burroughs is once more taking drugs. We see a mid-shot of the officers confronting Burroughs. The colour is slightly saturated, there is light on half of Burroughs’ face whereas the rest of the frame, which the drug enforcement officers occupy, is obscured. The effect of this is that it makes the figures of authority seem morally dubious, as they enforce amoral and arbitrary laws.. There is a lot of depth of field in this mid-shot. The two authoritarian figures are obsucred whereas Burroughs is brought to prominence, which establishes a hero vs. villain and authority vs. liberty binary. The film seems to side with Burroughs’ libertarian and anarchist interests, even though it would be just as easy to side with law and order. Here – as in Burroughs’ writing – it is seen as an arbitrary law which is not determined by real moral values. Also, the government is actively interfering into his private life and there is whole bureaucracy that catalogues his life and habits: ‘You have quite a record, Bill.’ Interestingly, the sound of typewriters permeate this scene, although they are ostensibly used for administrative purposes. It still reifies the literary themes that permeate the film.
This is one of the few scenes set in something remotely resembling the ‘real world.’ However, libertarian themes often permeate Burroughs’ drug-induced fantasies. One would suspect that one of the main reasons why Burroughs takes drugs is to escape from reality. However, even in his parallel realities he is often hounded by imaginary governments and bureaucracies. Hence, his hallucinations are still highly paranoid and still feature these aspects. His typewriter-cum-insect speaks about him being an ‘agent.’ The typewriter tells him that he is an undercover agent who has been telepathically convinced to murder his wife. Although he uses the typewriter, his fiction and his drugs to escape from society and authoritarian persecution, his paranoid fantasies cannot escape from bureaucracy, authoritarianism and state interference. The insect/typewriter mentions: ‘We found in our files that she was the prime candidate for marriage,’ which suggests that this drug-induced libertarian fantasy also harbours its own mass bureaucracy. The insect/typewriter informs him that he is an undercover agent that has been telepathically convinced to do this, saying that this ‘does create ethical paradoxes.’ This would suggest that Burroughs is not in control of his own volition. Indeed, drug use does suggest a loss of control. If Burroughs has no control over his own behaviour, and is instead acting at the behest of drugs, is he really a libertarian? Libertarianism suggests human agency and choice. During this interaction, the insect/typewriter is portrayed via a 75 degree mid shot that dollies into a 75 degree close shot of its ‘talking asshole.’ The use of the camera angle, which focuses on the ‘talking asshole,’ emphasises how this entire scene is part of Burroughs’ own literary process.

Cosmopolitanism is another theme that permeates Burroughs’ writing, namely because his novels are often set in Arabic countries and feature characters from different parts of the world. Many of his settings are not even set in a concrete place – such as ‘Interzone’ - and instead seem to be places that are hallucinogenic composites of different topographies. Interzone was inspired by Tangiers, as in the late 1950s it was a cosmopolitan place which bohemians and beatniks frequented. Bohemians liked Tangiers because it was cosmopolitan, it was ‘free’ and it also harboured spies, criminals, businessmen and adventurers (Culture Trip 2016). It was tolerant place, where marijuana was grown locally and it had a tolerant police force. Indeed, more than two-hundred people arrived each month and they sought to escape high taxes and socially prohibitive taboos (Braeustrup 1964). Michael K. Walonen identifies Tangiers as a ‘place’; that is, it is conceptual. It is not a social place – it is not a market economy or a specific given culture. Rather, people who lived there chose to define it (p. 3, Walonen 2016). This is very pertinent, as Tangiers for Burroughs morphed into Interzone, a subjective fantasy. Interzone was Burroughs’ own subjective interpretation of Tangiers. Indeed, many artists went to Tangiers to experience something unusual or different (p. 9 Suver 2017). This is very much in line with ‘Orientalist’ attitudes, as Burroughs initially was scornful of the Moroccans. However, eventually the political situation changed Burroughs’ mind. He actively enjoyed seeing revolutionary riots in Tangiers (p. 9 ,Suver), which aligned with his own anti-authoritarian tendencies.
Cosmopolitan themes are recreated in a striking scene in a bar in Tangiers, where Burroughs writes. To begin with, the music in itself is very cosmopolitan. It unites Arabic wind instruments with music by free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Jazz is a quintessentially American form of music. It started in the USA in the 1920s and it has always been associated with literary bohemia. Indeed, Ornette Coleman released his most influential album – The Shape of Jazz to Come – the year that Naked Lunch was published. This fusion, hence, also encapsulates the ethos of Interzone. Interestingly, these two forms of music are not initially synchronised and they do indeed eventually synchronise. Burroughs initially found Oriental culture foreign and threatening, but he later embraced. Similarly, these distinct forms of music are initially dissonant, but they soon start to harmonise with one another. The timbre of Coleman’s saxophone is quite similar to the those of the Arabic instruments, which might be another way of represent the convergence of Oriental and American cultures in this scene. Interzone is a merger of several cultures, specifically Arabic and American cultures. In this scene, Burroughs is in a bar writing alongside several Arabic and American characters. The colour in the scene is murky and it is reminiscent of a 1950s saloon. The suits are also reminiscent of this type of attire – the suits and the glasses are reminiscent of 1950s chic – whereas the Arabic characters wear Moroccan hats/attire. The clacking typewriters once more continue the literary themes that permeate the previous scenes.
This particular scene starts with a high-angle mid-shot of Burroughs typing on his typewriter. The camera soon tilts forward to reveal a mid-shot solely comprised of Burroughs. The lighting once more brings him to the foreground which, for the time being, makes him look like an a singular individual who is immersed in an individual enterprise. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arabs who are typing are more darkly lit. The camera work soon edits to the rest of the Arabs, who are all typing on their typewriters and the close-up shot pans across them, levitating up and down. Later there is a mid-shot of two Arabs in the centre and two Caucasians, who are all typing. There is a sense in this scene that this is a synergetic fusion of literary creativity and Oriental and occidental cultures. There is a sense that literature is being used to converge these two distinct cultures. Writing is usually solitary and private, but in this particular case it is used to merge two distinct cultures. Writing is mental – or ‘metaphysical’ - but in this particular scene, mental activity seems to be synergetic and cosmopolitan.
As this essay has already identified, Burroughs often interacts with his own typewriter and they voice his own literary preoccupations. Another literary theme that is voiced by his insect-cum-typewriter is paranoia, which are of course triggered by his drug use. His libertarian politics are also highly paranoid, as he is constantly running away from government ‘agents’ and Burroughs himself often harboured strange conspiracy theories, such as belief in UFOs. Of course, this paranoia often permeates the writing of other post-war writers such as Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, who were reflecting anxieties about nuclear war and intrusive and covert institutions like the CIA. In Cronenberg’s film, the typewriters speak about ‘agents,’ hidden networks and nebulous individuals who control outcomes. Burroughs writes ‘reports’ about Interzone, as if he were an undercover agent. The typewriter-insect mentions that that ‘there have been changes at the top,’ which suggest that there is a hidden hierarchy which controls outcomes. The typewriter mentions: ‘Homosexuality is the best all-round-cover an agent ever had,’ which suggests that Burroughs is a spy who is sent to Interzone and write reports. Also, homosexuality at the time was illegal and considered depraved which, like the cosmopolitanism of Tangiers, suggests ‘otherness’ and the unknown. Burroughs using homosexuality to guise the fact that he is an undercover agent is drug-induced paranoia, as in reality he was obviously a bohemian who frequented Morocco and chased young boys for fun. Another major aspect about paranoia is fear of persecution. In one notable scene, Burroughs brings in another insect-shaped typewriter into his house and his own ‘Clarknova’ attacks it, kills it and eats it up. This typewriter shrieks and rattles its legs. His own typewriter says: ‘You should have known better than bringing an enemy agent into your own home. You were giving her access to your innermost vulnerabilities.’ There is constant fear of persecution. In this particular instance, the typewriter-insect that is persecuting him belongs to Joan who, according to his own paranoid delusions, he shot as an undercover agent to gain access to Interzone. So, in this particular case, this typewriter embodies his paranoia. It embodies Burroughs’ own hatred of women – at one particular point, the typewriter says ‘women aren’t human’ - as well as institutions that spy and persecute. There is a lot of emphasis on special effects and make up in this scene. The female typewriter is torn asunder and bloodied. The camera angles are zoomed in to extreme close-ups, which reveal the gruesome detail. This scene is darkly lit, which makes this scene all the more macabre. Paranoia permeates the writing of Burroughs’ and Cronenberg’s film. Cronenberg recreates this particular theme in this scene by recreating the typewriters and depicting a lot of gruesome detail, which is also in line with Burroughs’ own acerbic writing.
This essay will now turn to analyses of Barton Fink. Once more it will look at how film recreates the literary process and it will emphasise on how the typewriter is crucial in this process. The eponymous character, Barton Fink, is loosely based on the 1930s playwright Clifford Odets. Odets shares several similarities with the Coen Brothers’ character. He was part of ‘group theatre’ and success with left-wing social realist plays, dreaming of radical social change. Like Fink, he later moved to Hollywood in the 1930s to write screenplays. Odets lived alone and wrote plays in an apartment so small that he had to rest his typewriter on his lap, which is also similar to Fink’s misanthropic and solitary habits. Odets wrote screenplays for Hollywood that he called ‘fudge’ and ‘candy pie.’ He really felt that he was achieving social change with his plays, but felt that he was wasting his time writing light-hearted Hollywood movies. This once more resembles Fink, who seems to be quite contemptuous of Hollywood fare. Odets wanted to return to New York and write plays, which is once more similar to Fink, who feels imprisoned in Hollywood at the end of the film. Like Fink, he was also very self-regarding and portentous. He raised his fist on his death bed and shouted: ‘Clifford Odets, you have so much to do!’ Unlike Burroughs, Odets grew up in poverty, which informed his socialist politics. Odets also spoke loftily about the ‘common man,’ aiming to adopt their colloquialisms and writing about their experiences. He aimed to write about homelessness, poverty and exploitation. Despite this background, he did end up mingling with the glitterati. Despite being something of a socialite, he needed calm and isolation to write, which once more resembles Barton Fink. In the beginning of Barton Fink, we see Fink’s play receive rapturous applause. Similarly, Odet’s play Waiting for Lefty received a wild reception two minutes after it started (New York Times 2006).
Odet’s own plays addressed his own politics. Thematically, he is in some respects the complete opposite of Burroughs, as Burroughs’ writing was solipsistic and surreal. Odets also wrote in colloquial language whereas Burroughs wrote in a deliberately abstruse, garbled, formless and incoherent style. Burroughs was an elitist and wrote for hip ‘underground’ audiences whereas Odets’ writing was supposed to be universal and for ‘the masses.’ His plays received federal funding from Roosevelt’s government, which wanted to make the public aware about inequality and poverty. Although Odets was a member of the American communist party, he did not write as a communist sympathiser. Rather, he wanted to reveal the humanity in people who had been left behind. Odets wrote plays in which the actors interacted with the audience. His play Waiting for Lefty created a connection between the audience and the actors. Indeed, Odets called this communion ‘the very large flower of a social contract.’ The play invites the audience to participate in the play; it specifically invites them to shout ‘strike’ and take the side of the workers. Of course, in the 1930s capitalism was questioned, as there was mass unemployment, poor housing and economic stagnation. Despite this, the USA did not have a robust ‘left’ and the communist party was not large in the country, which means that the play’s success is somewhat surprising. Waiting for Lefty was an attempt at ‘community theatre,’ as it involved the audience in radical politics and actively tried to radicalise them. Inevitably, anti-communist organisations tried to clamp down on it (Voelker 2010).
Whenever we see the Barton Fink typing in the film, he usually works and thrives in isolation. However much he prattles on about the ‘common man,’ he thrives in solitude. He is constantly interrupted whilst he writes, however the main interruption is his neighbour, who is ostensibly a ‘common man.’ There is a contradiction here, as Fink clearly cannot stand this individual, does not listen to him speak and relentlessly pontificates as to how the goal of literature is to depict the plight of the common man, whose dreams are ‘as noble as those of any king.’ Fink struggles to write as soon as he moves into his new room. This scene is very sparse, but we continuously notice objects that distract him. Clearly, the Underwood Typewriter is the object that should occupy his attention, as the Coen Brothers depict it via a close-up. However, his attention is constantly diverted by other objects, such as papers, a painting of a woman sunbathing in the beach and a Gideon bible, which are all depicted via a mid-shot. A spacious mid-shot reveals the entire room, revealing mise-en-scene which is comprised of 1940s décor that is sooty and fusty. This makes the surroundings appear decadent, which is perhaps indicative of what Fink’s/Odet’s career will soon become. It is a very silent environment; the only sounds we hear includes the creaking chair, footsteps, Fink’s occasional sighs and the faint sound of traffic outside. Fink soon diverts his attention to the painting, which is an object that continuously diverts his attention. The camera dollies into a close-up of the painting. This is accompanied by grand orchestral music in a major key. The editing alternates between the angle that dollies into the painting and a close-up shot of Fink’s face. Swooshing sounds of waves also accompany these shots, which emphasises Fink’s immersion into the painting and his detachment from the literary process.

This is when Fink is interrupted by Charlie Meadows, who embodies the ‘common man.’ He clearly distresses Fink. Although his writing is centred on social realism and radical politics, Fink is clearly distressed and uninterested when he has to listen to Charlie speak. He would rather be left alone to introspect, rather than mingle with the ‘common man’ whom he writes about. In this particular case, Fink, like Burroughs in Cronenberg’s film, is confronted with one of the themes that he writes about. However, in Cronenberg’s film, the themes are surreal and hallucinatory whereas here it is a real person. Fink sermons Charlie about the ethos of his writing, but he does not listen to Charlie when he speaks. Although he writes working class people and their experiences, he is not interested about Charlie’s experiences. ‘Stories? I can tell you stories!’ Charlie shouts. Fink retorts: ‘And that is the point!’ Fink also assumes that Charlie is intellectually inferior due to his class origins: ‘I don’t assume that this makes much sense to you.’ Fink has stereotyped this individual as part of a class, when in fact he is a complex individual. Although Fink tries to pigeon-hole him as a member of a class, he does not in fact turn out to be at all ‘common.’ Eventually, Meadows turns out to be a serial killer who is psychologically tormented. Fink’s class politics are revealed to be too reductionist and simplistic. The Coen Brothers depict this via 90 degree mid-shots of Barton Fink and 75 degree mid-shots of Charlie Meadows. The editing is very classical and alternates between the characters when each of them speaks. Hence, the editing and the camera work is quite similar to the wrestling films that Meadows claims to like, however the themes are much darker and subversive.
Finally, this essay will analyse a scene where Fink writes his screenplay in one night. Throughout the entire film, Fink struggles to write anything. He eventually writes his screenplay in a flurry of inspiration. This essay will analyse this scene and will try to gauge how the film recreates the literary process The camera angles focus on the typewriter throughout via close-ups and dollie-ins, which emphasise how central the typewriter is to the literary process. For instance, we never see him taking notes and he solely writes on the typewriter. We hear grand orchestral music in a major key, accompanied by a grand mid-shot with a lot of depth of field. The camera is placed behind Barton, who is typing. This makes the process appear grand and dramatic, otherwise the situation might appear quite mundane, as it is merely depicting a man typing in a room. However, the music and the panoramic mid-shot capture the mental exhilaration that Fink is experiencing. He has experienced writer’s block for months and he had a deadline due to the following day. In a bout of inspiration, he writes the entire screenplay in a night. He eventually describes this screenplay as the apotheosis of his literary endeavours: ‘I think that this is really big.’ He is usually very negative and self-deprecating about this writing, so this scene captures his excitement. It eventually transpires that no-one likes the screenplay and it is eventually rejected, as it does not conform to the wrestling film formula. However, the scene captures the subjective excitement that Fink experiences whilst writing the script.
During this scene, the panoramic mid-shot tilts upwards, which reveals Fink whilst he writes. We hear the sounds of the clacking typewriter. There is a mid-shot of the desk, which is strewn with objects that distract Fink. There is a box that contains the severed head of Fink’s lover, crumpled papers and a telephone. However, the typewriter finally gains prominence and it becomes the object that he devotes all of his energies to. As such, most of the camera angles focus on the typewriter. There are extreme close-ups of the levers being pressed against the pages and close-ups of Fink hitting the keys with his fingers. There are also close-ups of Fink himself, who utters lines from the script, which emphasises how immersed he is. The editing alternates between shots of Fink and him typing on his typewriter. There is a mid-shot that pans across the entire room and Fink typing. Half of the shots in this scene are comprised either of the typewriter or of Fink, which once more highlights how important the typewriter is. The orchestral music builds up – to begin with it is quite restrained as Fink starts to write, but it eventually builds up as he is completely immersed in the process. It is in an andante tempo – that is, moderately slow – but as it builds up, the strings and horns reach higher registers, which adds dramatic tension to the scene. The typewriter continues to clack in the sound design, which continues to highlight the centrality of Fink’s literary process. This is Fink’s moment of self-realisation and it happens with a typewriter. It is not pre-meditated, as he does not plan the script over any length of time nor has he taken notes. Fink channels all of his energies onto the typewriter. Coincidentally, Odets also wrote his plays very quickly – for instance Waiting for Lefty was written over three days (New Yorker).
Both films recreate the literary process and use the typewriter as a central motif. In Naked Lunch, Cronenberg uses make-up and special effects that transform the typewriters into insects. These insects mirror several of Cronenberg’s themes: drug use, libertarianism, cosmopolitanism and paranoia. The use of drugs activate all of these hallucinations and it is clear that Burroughs takes drugs whilst he writes. Indeed, Burroughs later claimed that he did not remember writing Naked Lunch due to his use of heroin. Drug taking in Burroughs’ work had sexual connotations, but they were mainly homosexual. In Cronenberg’s film, they are heterosexual. Burroughs was a libertarian who frequently escaped government. In a scene, he is shown persecuted by the police due to his use of drugs. He even cannot escape authority figures in his hallucinatory fantasies, as they harbour imaginary bureaucracies and shadowy authority figures like ‘Benway.’ Indeed, his libertarian politics are an outgrowth of his paranoia, which was in keeping with the post-war spirit of the time. His insect-cum-typewriter often voices paranoid themes, as it speaks about ‘government agents’ and about Burroughs being a CIA agent. Essentially, Burroughs wants to be as free and reckless as possible, but this excessive openness means that he is highly paranoid. The insect-cum-typewriter attacks another such typewriter because it claims that it is a spy, which Cronenberg symbolically recreates. Cosmopolitanism is a theme that recurs in Burroughs’ writing, as he went to Tangiers to escape persecution. Tangiers was a very cosmopolitan place that welcomed bohemians and ‘beatniks’ who resembled Burroughs and who often escaped high taxes and persecution from drugs and homosexuality. In a very symbolic scene, Cronenberg recreates a scene where several Moroccans and Americans write at the same time. Once more, he uses the typewriter to recreate this process. Burroughs was initially sceptical about oriental cultures, but he later embraced it. As such, this scene recreates a mental synergy between opposing occidental and oriental cultures. They do this by writing literary fiction, which is usually a very private enterprise. Barton Fink thrives on isolation to write. Despite this, he is constantly distracted by objects surrounding him, which the Coen Brothers recreate. It is clear that the typewriter is crucial in his literary process and the Coen Brothers frequently recreate it via close-ups. Also, he works directly on the typewriter and never takes notes. Like Burroughs in Naked Lunch, Fink is confronted with the themes that he writes about. In this case, he is visited by someone who is ostensibly a ‘common man.’ However, Fink clearly does not enjoy his company, as he wants to be left alone to write and he is highly disparaging about him. Also, he is not interested in what he is like as an individual and reduces him as being a stereotypical member of a class. He later turns out to be a complex individual who is a serial killer. When the film finally depicts writing – as opposed to dealing with writer’s block – he writes the screenplay in a single night. The film depicts this as a flurry of creative inspiration, but it depicts Fink’s subjective excitement. This is very appropriate, as Hollywood rejects the script and no-one likes it. The Coen Brothers recreate this excitement through panoramic mid-shots, close-ups of the typewriter, close-ups of an excited Fink and exalted orchestral music. These are the ways in which Naked Lunch and Barton Fink recreate the literary process in a cinematic way.

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