Archive for January, 2006

The Assassination of Richard Nixon

Saturday, January 21st, 2006

I watched Niels Mueller’s The Assassination of Richard Nixon because of Jodi’s recommendation. She’s right. It’s a great film. It’s set in 1973-74. Sean Penn plays Samuel Bicke, a failed salesman and would-be small businessman who resolves to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House to kill President Nixon (described early in the film as the world’s greatest salesman, because he sold himself to the American people twice, simply by having such a Norman Vincent Peale positive attitude that he believed in himself, believed his own lies). Of course, Sam’s plan fails miserably, as does everything he tries to do throughout the entire movie. It’s excruciating to watch Penn-as-Bicke slip ever more deeply into his own delusions. Except they aren’t delusions, exactly. Sam simply believes in what we are all taught to believe in: decency, honesty, and the American way. He thinks that if he’s only earnest and forthright enough, everything will go his way and he will be a success. This faith leads, of course, to one humiliation after another.

Sam approaches everybody, whether in his personal life or in sales, with a Dale Carnegie upbeat attitude that invariably comes off as totally forced and phony, precisely because he means it sincerely and as a result he isn’t manipulative enough to be good at making it seem convincing. He can’t hold a job, because he’s actually offended at all the demeaning and dishonest things one must do in order to satisfy the tyrannical whims and business plans of one’s bosses: how can people do such things as wear a stupid uniform (as his ex-wife does) for a job as a cocktail waitress? or lie to the customers in order to make a sale? or take abuse from a disgruntled, and probably racist client (as his black friend, played by the great Don Cheadle, does in his auto repair shop)? or shave off his mustache so that he will have the right “look” for the office? He can’t accept everyone else’s common-sense observations that you do these things because you’ve got to make a living.

Similarly, Sam can’t accept that his ex-wife (Naomi Watts) has dumped him, because he believes so strongly in the nuclear-family-with-suburban-home-and-three-kids-and-a-dog myth that he’s unable to conceive that anything could ever possibly go wrong with it. Sam even admires the Black Panthers, because they are standing up for the human decency and respect that everybody ought to have (in one great scene, he visits the local Panther headquarters in order to contribute some money, and urge them to transform themselves into the “Zebras,” so that they could admit to their ranks downtrodden white guys such as himself). In short, Sam believes in the petit-bourgeois values that we Americans all cannot help believing in — and that Nixon himself embodied more than anybody (as my friend Carl Freedman’s forthcoming book on Nixon makes abundantly clear) — except that Sam somehow lacks the hypocrisy that allows the rest of us (from Nixon on down) actually to function in the world despite holding such ideals, and that allows the ideals to function ideologically despite their hollowness and falsity. We all “know” that of course the American vision of equal opportunity doesn’t really mean that the Black Panthers’ protests were entirely justified; only Sam can’t see this. Zizek would say that Sam undermines the ideology that he believes in by overidentifying with it. Sam’s lack of hypocrisy, his true belief, is what makes him clinically crazy and delusional.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon works largely on the basis of Penn’s brilliant performance: it’s rare to see a star so unreservedly taking on a role that is so utterly unredemptive and painfully abject. The script also has the courage and tenacity to pursue its cringe-worthy vision to the bitter end. Several reviews I’ve read have depicted the film as a lesser imitation of Taxi Driver; but such a comparison seems to me to be totally off the mark. Though both films narrate the story of a deranged white guy (whose name starts with “Bick..”) who tries to solve his personal traumas through political assassination, Penn-as-Bicke has none of DeNiro-as-Bickle’s grandiosity or messianic drive or quasi-fascist obsession with purity and moral decay; and Mueller has none of Scorsese’s obsessions about masculinity (or Paul Schraeder’s about sin and redemption). The Assassination of Richard Nixon is political in a way that Taxi Driver is not. And it doesn’t offer its audience a way out from its abject vision; Taxi Driver comes off as downright comforting in comparison.

Simondon on individuation

Monday, January 16th, 2006

I’ve finally read the second half of Gilbert Simondon’s thesis on “individuation”: L’individuation psychique et collective (Psychological and collective individuation) (thanks to Glueboot for procuring me a photocopy of this hard to find, out-of-print text). (I wrote about the previous volume, L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique, here; and Simondon’s other book, on technology, here). (I have just noticed that both “individuation” volumes, together with a previously unpublished section called “Histoire de la Notion d’Individu” — history of the notion of the individual — have just been re-published in a new edition, in France as a single volume, entitled L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information — individuation in the light of the notions of form and information. Unfortunately, there still seems to be no English translation). What follows is more in the order of a bunch of notes, than a coherent presentation, but hopefully it will help me to pull together what I have gotten from this reading.

L’individuation psychique et collective continues the discussion of “individuation” that Simondon began in the previous volume. Here, the emphasis is on human society (where the previous volume dealt more with crystals and colonial organisms like coral). Simondon discusses how the multiple sensations received by our sense organs are turned into unified perceptions (he thus gives a developmental account of the Kantian synthesis of perception); how psychological individuation is an affective process before it is a cognitive one; and how social individuation (the production of social groups larger than the single biological person) takes place.

What is individuation? Simondon’s most basic argument is that the “individual” is never given in advance; it must be produced, it must coagulate, or come into being, in the course of an ongoing process. This means, first, that there is no “preformation”; the DNA in a just-fertilized egg cell, for instance, does not already determine the nature of the individual who will be produced in the course of nine months of gestation and years of growth after birth. DNA is not just a code, it is also a set of potentials, which can unfold in various directions, and which do not attain form except in the actual process of unfolding. Everything always starts in the “preindividual” realm. The preindividual is not a state in which identity is lacking — not an undifferentiated chaos — but rather a condition that is “more than a unity and more than an identity”: a state of radical potentiality, of excess or “supersaturation,” rather than one of negativity. Simondon rejects fixed entities as much as any dialectician; but he offers an account of process that is radically different from the Hegelian or “dialectical” account.

In the second place, this means that an individual is never final; there are always untapped potentials, additional possibilites for metamorphosis, further individuations. “The living organism conserves within itself a permanent activity of individuation” (16). Even at the end of the maturing process, the individual is not a complete and closed entity. A reservoir of untapped potential, of metastable, preindividual being, still remains. Further individuation can happen to any individual, but it can also happen transindividually, on the level of a group. Simondon uses this to talk about a wide range of social formations: in any society, there are additional individuations, and hence additional (incomplete) individuals, that are “collectives,” composed of more than one person or entity. This refers less to society as a whole, in the sense that classic sociologists like Durkheim and classic anthropologists like Levi-Strauss talk of society/societies, than it does to smaller groups that exist within societies, and that define their own identity both internally (in terms of what members of the group share) and externally (in terms of how they relate to the Outside of other members of society and other social groups). Simondon discusses this in terms of politics and religion/spirituality. This whole line of thought is interesting for several reasons: for one, Simondon suggests that a social group (whether a political party, or a religious cult, or the group of, say, fans of Star Trek or readers of romance novels) is in its own right just as much (and as little) an “individual” as is a single (biologically delimited) person. This is a very radical suggestion, if we really follow through on its implications. Another reason this is significant is that, as Fredric Jameson points out in his recent book on science fiction, there are astonishingly few thinkers who have ever even endeavored to theorize the nature of social groups larger than a single person or household/family, but smaller than an entire nation or society or social class (Jameson lists Charles Fourier, and the Sartre of Critique of Dialectical Reason as the only thinkers he knows of who have actually done so; Simondon makes a third in this select company).

The mechanism driving the process of individuation is what Simondon calls transduction. He defines this as “a physical, biological, mental, or social operation by means of which an activity propagates itself from one location to another (de proche en proche) within a given domain, basing this propagation on a structuring (structuration) of the domain operating from one place to another (de place en place): each region of the constituted structure serves the following region as a principle and model, as a beginning (amorce) of its constitution, so that a modification extends itself progressively at the same time as this structuring operation” (24-25). The growth of a crystal is the simplest example of the process of transduction, but Simondon develops the concept much further. Ultimately, transduction is any transfer of information through a material medium. It applies to processes of differentiation and crystallization of all sorts, from the growth of an embryo, to the learning of a concept, to the spread of what today are called “memes” through a society.

For the last twenty years especially, but really since at least the invention of cybernetics in the 1940s, we have been plagued by the idea of the alleged immateriality of information, its supposed independence from any particular material base. (See Katherine Hayles for a history of th ideology of immaterial information) This is, of course, the assumption behind current computing technologies: the way that all sorts of data, no matter how qualitatively distinct, can be coded in terms of digital bits. There is no doubt that such digital coding works; but we have been too dazzled by the magic of our new technologies to ask hard questions about the presuppositions that underlie them. Thus we get such dubious ideas, maintained with a fervor that borders on the religious, as the one that some day we will be able to “download” our minds into computers (Ray Kurzweil), or more generally, the idea that the “same” patterns can be found in all sorts of complex systems, no matter what the material substrate, so that the fluctuations of the stock market or the patterns of housing segregation are made to seem as “natural” and unchangeable as the balance between predators and prey in an ecosystem, or the vagaries of weather and climate (despite all we know about how human interventions are changing the latter). The idea of transduction works, I think, as a materialist explanation of what lies behind such fantasies. Information often seems independent of materiality, because it operates precisely by transduction: it is the continual transfer of patterns both within a given medium, and from one medium to another. But transduction is never independent of its material medium in the way that we sometimes imagine “information” to be. The medium has a great degree of influence on what patterns are possible and how they can be propagated. Just as Simondon shows the process of individuation to take place in between “form” and “matter” — rather than being the sheer imposition of an already-existing form upon a previously shapeless matter — so “information” cannot just be abstractly opposed to the medium in which it is instantiated, or across which it is transmitted. Medium and message intersect. The shape of the information transmitted within a medium, or between media, is in important ways a function of the qualities and potentialities of the medium or media in question. (Besides giving a better account of information than the mainstream cybernetics tradition has done, Simondon also suggests — from the opposite view point — a way of taking information into account that is missing altogether from Deleuze, who follows Simondon in many other respects — see the discussion by Mark Hansen).

Individuation, for Simondon, is always a process of the in-between. It undoes dualities (form and content, message and medium), without entirely abolishing them. Philosophically, this includes the Kantian duality between the contents of perception out there, given to us in passive sensibility, and the forms we impose a priori upon those contents. This means that Simondon radically revises and renews Kant, without altogether abandoning him. In terms of the psychology of perception, Simondon makes an argument that cuts across the opposition between associationism or behaviorism on the one hand, and Gestalt or phenomenological theories of perception on the other — in almost exactly the same way that Kant’s argument cuts across the empiricism vs. rationalism opposition of his own way. Simondon, like Kant, offers a theory of the synthesis of perception. Only where Kant still adheres to a kind of form/content duality in presenting his synthesis, Simondon moves more decisively to an idea of synthesis as a process. “The conditions of possibility of knowledge are in fact the causes of existence of the individuated being” (127). Simondon traces two stages of individuation, the first one producing the individuated subject (which is equivalent to Kant’s a priori transcendental subject), and the second giving rise to the individualized subject (which is equivalent to Kant’s a posteriori empirical subject. This can also be stated in more or less cybernetic terms, as follows: Individuation is a continuous process. Each time an organism resolves a problem in its milieu, it transforms signals into signification (or mere information into meaning), which also means that it reaches past its prior limits and continues to individuate itself at those limits. What exist as fixed structures in Kant thus become continuing processes of becoming in Simondon — but Kant’s fundamental insistence on limits is retained.

(Note: I need to explore this more, but it seems to me that there are important parallels here between Simondon and Whitehead, whose theory of prehension can similarly be read — as I have tried to do in an as yet unpublished paper — as a radical revision of Kant in the direction of emphasizing becoming and process).

The individual, as (continually) produced in a process of individuation, is never an isolated Self. It is always coupled or coordinated with a milieu; the individual can only be understood together with its milieu, and cannot subsist as a unity without it. The contact between individual and milieu (the membrane between them, though Simondon doesn’t emphasize this aspect of the matter) is mediated by affect. Affectivity comes in between inside and outside, just as it comes in between sensation and action. Just as sensation gets oriented along a series of gradients in order to become perception, so (unconscious or preconscious) affect gets oriented along a series of processes of becoming in order to become (conscious) emotion. (The contrast between unconscious, presubjective affect and conscious, subjective emotion is something that both Deleuze and Brian Massumi take ultimately from Simondon).

(Note: This also means that individuation is quite similar to autopoieisis, as expounded by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, and as lucidly explicated most recently by Ira Livingston. Both autopoiesis and individuation understand sameness through difference — rather than the reverse — by coupling the living individual with its milieu, and understanding what is unique and enclosed about the individual precisely in terms of its relation to the milieu which it is not, but which it requires contact with and nourishment from. Autopoiesis has become quite popular in recent years, and is a major reference point for (among other things) biological theories that contest the atomism of neo-Darwinist orthodoxy. But I think that Simondon’s theory is in fact superior to Maturana’s and Varela’s, precisely because, while the latter privileges the organism’s basic drive for auto-regulation or self-preservation — or Spinozian conatus — Simondon’s theory instead emphasizes continual change or becoming, not its constancy but its continuing ability to grow by altering itself).

Last Days

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, a fictionalized account of the last days of Kurt Cobain, is a gorgeous downer of a movie. The whole film, — like its protagonist Blake (Michael Pitt), the Cobain analogue: beuatiful, androgynous, and at once impassive and vulnerable, hardened and fragile, just like Kurt himself seemed to be, and like Nirvana’s music actually was, in its expression — has a blankness that haunts you afterwards. The film is composed almost entirely of long shots; the camera stays at a distance as Blake shuffles through the woods, mumbling to himself; or carefully pours himself a bowl of cereal in the kitchen (and then puts the cereal box, instead of the milk, into the refrigerator); or nods out in his enormous living room while the TV plays a Boyz II Men video; or ducks out the back door of his mansion as somebody he doesn’t want to see comes in the front; or (the one time he shows any energy) plays his guitar. There’s one scene where the camera views him from outside, through the windows of the mansion, as he plays first one guitar, then another, then drums… and even though he continually drops one instrument for another, the dropped instruments continue to play on the soundtrack, until we hear the sound of an entire band. There are all sorts of odd sounds on the soundtrack: not just non-diegetic music (religious music, mostly) but also seemingly ambient, diegetic sounds — like loud nature sounds (a stream, the wind, etc) — that don’t rightly correspond to the scene we are watching. Time becomes flexible, as well: there are repetitions, jumps in continuity, returns to scenes that had passed earlier, even an entire sequence that happens a second time, with the camera located elsewhere than it was the first… We don’t see Blake shoot up, and we don’t see him die; everything is suspended, before and after, the center (the events themselves) missing. It’s easy to say that the cinematography is in this way providing a mimesis of Blake’s largely absent mental state; but that is an oversimplification, because we are also getting other people’s POVs: a bunch of people who are somehow staying in Blake’s house, although they don’t seem to know him very well; a private investigator who has been hired to find him (but doesn’t); even the gardener who discovers his corpse, and sees his soul ascending to heaven. So in this way the film isn’t psychological (or mimetic of a single consciousness) at all, though it is affective, and powerfully so: we get, not the central character’s absence of affect or negative affect, but precisely the (strong) affectivity of that absence, that blankness. Which means, of course, impersonal affect, affect that isn’t the property of a self at all, that’s floating and impalpable and acausal (is that the right word? I mean that can’t be tied down in terms of psychological cause and effect: it operates on a level that is apart from things like motives and consequences. This is how (and why) Last Days doesn’t explain anything, and how it is thereby absolutely unjudgmental about Blake’s (or for that matter Kurt’s) drug use, detachment from others, and suicide. We are in a place, or at a level, where “responsibility” (or its opposite) simply isn’t a relevant category any longer. Which means that Last Days is entirely aesthetic in attitude, rather than ethical. And I see this aestheticism as subversive: in our “late capitalist” world where absolutely everything is aestheticized, where aestheticization and commodification are always the same thing, where even the production of basic necessities is part of the “culture industry,” — something gets shaken up, a hole or a rupture appears, when aestheticism is pushed to an impossible extreme, when it reaches this absurd, impersonal, purely affective point. It’s a tear in the fabric of our consumerist reality; a tear that is immediately repaired, or covered over, but that nonetheless suggests, for a moment, a different “distribution of the sensible” (Ranciere) and especially of the general and the particular, the universal and the singular. (In the preceding sentence, I wrote “tear” in the sense of ripping; but it strikes me now that “tear” in the sense of weeping would be equally appropriate). Of course, Last Days is still a commodity (even as Nirvana was and is, on a much higher level of commercial success); but its blankness, its hyperbolic affect, its refusal of presence still haunts and lingers.

The Antinomy of Consumer Choice

Friday, January 6th, 2006

[Another excerpt from The Age of Aesthetics].

Horkheimer and Adorno, writing at the time of Fordist mass production, scorn the very notion of consumer choice: “That the difference between the models of Chrysler and General Motors is fundamentally illusory is known by every child, who is fascinated by that very difference.” Variations, in the form of distinctive individual traits, are “serially produced like the Yale locks which differ by fractions of a millimeter.” Such trivial differences “serve only to perpetuate the appearance of competition and choice”; beneath them, we find an “insatiable uniformity,” a “unified standard of value” for an entirely managed and rationalized culture.

Has any of this changed in the post-Fordist economy of flexible accumulation and niche marketing? Naomi Klein thinks not. Though transnational corporations today often give lip service to the ideals of multiplicity and variety, and especially ethnic diversity (as in the “united colors of Benetton” advertising campaigns), in reality “market-driven globalization doesn’t want diversity. . . Its enemies are national habits, local brands, and distinctive regional tastes.” We face “the strange combination of a sea of product coupled with losses in real choice.” Things are even more homogenized in the age of Starbucks and McDonald’s than they were in the age of Chrysler and General Motors. Multinational corporations that “promised a new age of freedom and diversity” in fact deliver endlessly repeated stereotypes. Each particular retail brand (like Starbucks, Ikea, or the Gap) has its own “distinctive quality,” as a point of identification for the consumer. But these one-dimensional distinctions in fact only serve the consolidation of corporate brand images, and the replacement of local, independent retail establishments by standardized multinational chains.

The problem with this line of argument is that it fails to address the question of why corporations should need to dissimulate in the first place. Why do they seek to maintain “the appearance of competition and choice,” even as they monopolize production and distribution, and abolish choice? Why do they pay lip service to “freedom and diversity,” if their actual goal is to suppress them? Why does Benetton advertise multiculturalism? Why does Apple stand for “think[ing] different,” and Starbucks for a warm, inclusive cosmopolitanism? It doesn’t seem adequate to say that these stances are nothing but lies and propaganda, designed to appease popular discontent, and to cover up what Horkheimer and Adorno call “the withering of imagination and spontaneity in the consumer of culture today.”

Slavoj Zizek, with his usual penchant for provocative inversions, argues that corporations really do promote diversity and choice – and that this is precisely the problem with them. For Zizek, “today’s capitalism already overcame the logic of totalizing normality and adopted the logic of the erratic excess.” For “the impersonal circulation of affects bypassing persons,” celebrated by such thinkers as Deleuze, is “the very logic of publicity, of video clips, and so forth in which what matters is not the message about the product but the intensity of the transmitted affects and perceptions.” Any appeal to diversity and multiplicity therefore ends up replicating the logic of Capital. Zĭzek even has the malice to suggest that Deleuze is the ultimate “ideologist of late capitalism,” and that Klein’s polemic against homogeneity would in fact “be applauded by contemporary capitalist modernizers. . . Is not the latest trend in corporate management itself ‘diversify, devolve power, try to mobilize local creativity and self-organization’ ? Is not anticentralization the topic of the ‘new’ digitalized capitalism?”

There is a genuine Kantian Antinomy at work here. We are faced with two incompatible propositions regarding the nature of Capital. “Each of them not only is in itself without contradiction, but even encounters conditions of its necessity in the nature of reason – except that, unfortunately, the counterproposition has on its side equally valid and necessary bases for its assertion” (Kant 1996, 454). Both propositions are simultaneously valid, and we can only shuttle back and forth between them, continually shifting perspective. The Kantian “solution” to such an Antinomy consists in grasping the way that both sides of the argument are equally right, and equally wrong – but each in a more limited way than might originally seem to be the case. We cannot move forward, and establish a dialectical synthesis between the two propositions (such would be the Hegelian move that Kant anticipates, and rejects in advance). Rather, we need to step back, and reflexively examine the presuppositions of the conflicting arguments.

The Antinomy of consumer choice is this. On the one hand, postmodern capitalism limits, and even abolishes, choice, in the interest of monopolistic accumulation. On the other hand, postmodern capitalism increases and proliferates choice, in order to saturate the market, and thereby both expand it and capture more of it. The “solution” to the Antinomy can therefore be stated as follows. Postmodern capitalism does indeed expand the range of choices we can make; but it does this by channeling choice exclusively, and restrictively, into the realm of commodity consumption. Zizek is right to argue that capitalism today is all about diversity and choice, and that the multiculturalist celebration of difference fits perfectly into its agenda. But he is wrong to condemn Deleuze as an “ideologist” of this process. In fact, Deleuze and Guattari offer a powerful critical analysis of late capitalism’s flows and “axiomatics” – something that Zĭzek himself conspicuously fails ever to do. For her part, Klein is right to insist that, in the regime of transnational corporations, with their ubiquitous logos and brand names, “options for unbranded alternatives, for open debate, criticism, and uncensored art – for real choice – are facing new and ominous restrictions” (131). But she is wrong to seize upon “real choice” as the alternative to capitalist domination; for “choice” itself is a term that only makes sense in the context of shopping, of individuals “limiting [their] expressions of freedom to acts of consumption.”

[This needs to be followed by an explanation of how “choice” really means “shopping,” as it comes down to selecting options from a “menu”, as the “rational choice” and “free market” ideologues like to call it; so that “choice” is not an adequate synonym for concrete freedom. Tim from The Wrong Side of Capitalism is right on point here, with his absolutely brilliant discussion of Girls Aloud vs. Sex in the City.]

[And, getting back to the Antinomy of Consumer Choice, the limitation that the arguments on both sides share is that they are all alike grounded in “cultural Marxism,” meaning that they are all more concerned with the logic of subjectivity than with the (more orthodoxly Marxist) logic of capital accumulation. I want to argue that this is an error, or a wrong turning. Horkheimer and Adorno focus on the administered society, on standardization and control — though they would probably acknowledge that this is ultimately a consequence of the drive for the accumulation of capital, this drive itself does not really attract their attention. On the other side, Zizek’s explanations of politics always focus upon “surplus enjoyment” rather than upon “surplus value”; though he concedes (in The Sublime Object of Ideology) that Lacan in fact derived the former concept from Marx’s formulation of the latter, he nonetheless ultimately privileges surplus enjoyment, the obscene superego supplement, etc. There’s a symmetry between Horkheimer/Adorno and Zizek, in that both focus on the psychoanalytic/psychosocial dimension — even if the former express it in terms of standardization, repression, and instrumental reason, while the latter expresses it in the form of excess, jouissance, and fantasy. Part of my overall argument in The Age of Aesthetics is that even, or especially, the “cultural turn” of today’s “late” (postmodern) capitalism needs to be understood in terms of capital logic, rather than through such psychosocial categories. This is not a foundationalist, or base/superstructure argument, but one closer both to Karatani’s understanding of Capital as a Kantian transcendental category for the social world today, and to Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence on the primacy (and the positivity) of social flows and investments.]

Kim Ki-Duk

Friday, January 6th, 2006

I’ve now seen two of Kim Ki-Duk‘s films — 3-Iron and The Isle — and they are both so astonishing that I want to see everything he’s made. Kim’s films are not like those of any other Korean director I’ve encountered. They are visually beautiful: quite static, with a precision of framing and crispness of editing that prevents them from being merely picturesque or postcard-pretty. They are very slow-moving and contemplative, but they also feel compressed and concise: a paradox I can’t explain except to say that, while little overtly happens, and more action is inferred than actually shown, there is no sense of lingering, and Kim eschews that sort of extended temporality that we get in the works of directors as diverse as Ozu, Tarkovsky, and Antonioni (with all of whom Kim might otherwise be compared in terms of composition and pace). Kim’s films do have their moments of violence, when everything comes to a head in a single movement; this would seem to contradict, but actually makes a powerful synthesis with, their stillness. (Nothing too explicit in 3-Iron, although it has its troubling violent moments; but The Isle contains, among other things, two extremely visceral scenes of self-mutilation, which, while not quite as explicitly presented as the violent scenes in, say, Tarantino or Miike, are far more disturbing, because of their emotional intensity, and because we can’t dismiss them as being over-the-top to the point of absurdity). In both films, there is very little dialogue; and in both, the main character does not speak at all. Both films are tales of extreme sexual passion, indeed of passion pushed to a point of transcendent craziness; yet at the same time this passion does not take the (by now all too familiar) form of amour fou, but instead seems reined in by an odd kind of restraint (fairly gentle in 3-Iron, and all the more extreme for being so unexpressive in The Isle). This passion is both otherworldly, and yet too carnal to be called “spiritual” (at least in whatever Western terms I am able to understand). And the passion occurs between two protagonists, moves from one of them to the other, in a way that cannot be reduced either to one-sided erotic obsession (like Vertigo) on the one hand, or folie à deux on the other. Both films are organized around the encounter of a heterosexual couple, in which one of the partners transforms (it would be too crude to say “liberates”) the other: in 3-Iron it is the man who inspires and changes the woman, while in The Isle it is the woman who moves and changes the man. I can’t say much more without going into plot detail about the two films, and obviously I need to see more of Kim’s films before I generalize further as to what he is about. But 3-Iron and The Isle are beautiful in their intensity, and both of them convey something I have never encountered before in film (and only rarely in writing): what I can only call (for want of any better phrase to describe it) trans-subjective affect in motion, on a level that can only be shown, not explicitly said or conventionally expressed.