The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (III)

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (continued from part II)

The realization of the trend-association between The Feminine, The Masculine and The Earth1, from prehistory to (post)modernity, is important in so far as it stands in opposition to synthetic union of the two (male and female) and vice-versa, for no stable and self-improving social ordering (if that is to be the project) can be achieved in the midst of such an eventuality. Thus, a firm understanding of such concepts will allow those who are so inclined to shape the synthesis of these battered, archaic and spectral excogitations.

The Feminine and The Masculine aspects of the manifest image which we have hitherto excavated should not be thought of as mere aesthetic conventions but rather as mutably valid descriptor-encapsulations; that is to say, non-static and continuously snapshoted (and updated) groupings of normative gender behavior. Thomas Haigh’s Masculinity and Machine Man: Gender in the History of Data Processing2 here is useful for the purposes of reifying the validity of our basic conceptual structure. It is a widely held belief that women are rarely to be found within STEM3 work due to the instantiation of exclusionary norms initiated by the western (white) Christian patriarchal monastic system upon which modern universities are based4; whilst there is some truth to this, such a schema can not account in the slightest for gender parceling in science work which has risen up outside of the university system (nor can it account for any other field of work which arose outside of the monastic influence, either past or present). One science field which is not deeply tied to the university system is data processing. In Masculinity and Machine Man, Haigh illustrates the fact that women were present but scarce in STEM computing fields since the inception of the field, citing a 1960 survey conducted by Business Automation which looked at 500 data processing company’s and discovered that out of that number only two companies had female managers and only one company reported a female as a programming supervisor. Slightly under 15% of all programmers in the survey were women. Structural reasons account for the mass of male labor in the field, given that both forerunnering fields to administrative programming – punched card operation and system analysis – were staffed primarily by men; hence, a preexisting gender surplus. Yet, the fact that there are so few women in STEM cannot be adequately explained by only looking to one environmental factor in one particular field at one particular time, especially since women have, in more recent decades, proceeding the 60s, been highly encouraged and incentivized to take up positions in the sciences which were primarily the domain of men. Though the body of research on this issue is vast, much of it ignores potential or realized biological inclinations as a possible reason why, though roughly equally present in high-school science classes, women tend to pursue STEM majors in significantly lower numbers than their male counterparts5. As a general rule, women tend towards people-oriented fields whilst men tend towards mechanically-oriented fields; this is clearly a biological impulse with a number of evolutionary advantages but it is upon the issue of biology that many past and contemporary scholars falter. The aforementioned Mr. Haigh, for instance, only looks to environmental explanations (pay differentials, gender discrimination due to traditionalist attitudes, ego-spatial issues, corporate culture, etc) to account for why so few women in the 60s were to be found in elevated positions within the field of data processing.

For females on the plains of our ancestors, a proclivity towards people-orientation would be required for child-rearing and the mitigation of inter-tribal strife (proto-counseling); for males, a proclivity towards machinic invention would invariably aid the development of hunting, defense, warfare, foraging and domicile construction techniques. Then there is the matter of childbirth; women can get pregnant, men cannot, thus, in so far as a given population has sexual intermingling there will always be coupling and thus pregnancy and thus less women in the workforce, as they will need to take time off to have and care for their nestlings. Before proceeding we must deal with the false binary commonly referred to as “nature vs. nurture” when both attributions are part of a more complex whole; that is, genes express themselves differently in disparate environments6 (hence, race and along great timescales, species), but do not markedly differ along short-timescales. Consider the famous study of mono-zygotic identical twins Harold and Bernard Shapiro, both of whom went on to become the heads of major universities, Princeton for former and McGill for the latter7. Then there is the case of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren; not only did both take up careers in newspapers, both specialized as advice columnists and bore remarkably similar political opinions8. Why these cases are so compelling for the purposes of demonstrating the centrality of the composition of the organism is through the fact that mono-zygotic twins are those who developed out of a single sperm which fertilized a single egg, which means they share the same genetic makeup. We shall not belabor the point; the biological expresses itself in tandem with its environment but the biological is the locus of any and all changes which can conceivably take place, whether it is expressed or not. Those who would contest this conclusion can only do so by spuriously trancendentalizing the mind (or biology generally), by reconceptualizing the human brain and it’s production (thought) as something nebulous which is, at most, only tangential to the organ.

1Here deployed as concept, not “as is.”

2Chapter for ‘Gender Codes,’ ed. Tom Misa, IEEE Press, 2010.

3STEM stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics.

4Some worshipers of the Mother Goddess believe that neolithic societies were completely gender-egalitarian due in part or whole to the nature of their religion. Due this belief; they thus look to such societies as models for the future.

5Catherine Hill, et al.,Why So Few? Women In Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, p. xiv

6For further reading on this subject see, Garland Science, Chapter 8, Control of Gene Expression.

7Twin Studies: What Can They Tell Us About Nature & Nurture. p. 1

8Ibid., p. 1


Spoiler warning.

[Editor’s note: This article was previously published to my personal blog, thus if you have already read it there and recall it’s contents you might wish to skip it. Thank you for reading.]

If formalism was gold Jean-Pierre Melville might have just been the richest filmmaker to ever live and none of his works more aptly demonstrates this than the cold, calculated crime classic Le Samourai. Though the film is now hailed as a masterpiece (so much so that it has been adopted into the Criterion Collection – which you should check out) this wasn’t always so; indeed when the film was first released there was a great divide between critics, one praising, the other side decrying. It is easy to see why; minimalist to the extreme, there isn’t any dialogue until about ten minutes into the film.

The plot is generic and straightforward, Jef Costello (portrayed with immaculate, eerie reserve by a young Alain Delon), a mysterious hit-man, is contracted to kill the owner of a popular, ritzy Parisian nightclub. He does so but is caught in the act by the establishment’s pianist, she says nothing when questioned but the police aren’t convinced. His alibi is air-tight, too air-tight. When the criminal organization whom contracted him realizes that he might be ousted they turn against him; putting out a hit on the hit-man. The rest of the film is a cat and mouse game between the police, the crime syndicate and Jef.

This sounds rather uninspired and somewhat bland but when you see the film you will realize it isn’t so much the plot itself as it’s execution, that really stands out. Details are the overlords of this film, from Jef’s seeming pathological perfectionism (ever straightening the brim of his hat just so and always ritualistically putting on white gloves before a kill) to the tight, glacially paced camera work and immaculate and strangely barren landscapes. The fact that I was never once confused within the film, even when near fifteen minutes go by without a single piece of dialogue, is a testament to the director’s mastery of the medium. We have it easy these days, what with Michael Caine ever popping up and banging on and on about the plot, page after page of heavy handed exposition (I swear Caine is in everything these days and always as nothing more than a exposition vessel). It is as if Hollywood believes that their public is so stupid that they can’t go ten minutes without the writer holding their hand through the events there unfolding.

More than being a mere highly stylized aesthetic exercise or ruminations on crime character study (both of which it certainly is) the film posits a view of life from the point of view of a dreamscape that is, in my opinion, exceedingly admirable. Here I’m talking about Jef the not quite human, the dream’s fell harvester. He has no fear of death, indeed he seems as inexplicably drawn to it as to the pianist who spared him. In one scene a man sticks a gun in the samurai’s face and Jef not only doesn’t flinch but then promptly bitch slaps his foe to the ground (with such banal ease that it always makes me chuckle). He also is emotionally aloof; in one of the character’s early establishing shots he is driving down a abandoned street (it seems all the streets of Le Samourai are ever abandoned which adds a unearthly, surreal vibe as if to say “This isn’t real, would you want it to be?”) and stops at a sign. A beautiful woman pulls up beside him and smiles flirtatiously, he looks at her as if she were just another signpost along the way and then icily returns to his work. Another scene has him caressed by a woman who is so madly in love with him that she’s willing to take the fall for complicity in his crimes if it came to that; he merely looks away, disinterested in her romantic overtures. He also kills without compunction – His first assassination scene has always been one of the comic highlights of the film to me:

Club Owner: Who are you?

Jef: Doesn’t matter.

Club Owner: What do you want?

Jef: To kill you.

Delon says this last line with such drab flatness that the subsequent gunshots which blast the club owner into oblivion are both jarringly horrifying and completely hilarious. But that could just be me. Either way the scene is indicative of Jef’s amorality – but is he a sociopath? My answer is no – he kills because he is paid (he says as much himself) and, more simply, because he’s good at it. He’s almost elemental in that regard (much like his arch-nemesis, the enigmatic art collector-gangster, Oliver Rey {played by Jean-Pierre Posier}). He’s not so much evil as he is beyond humanity, similar to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (without all the effusiveness). He also isn’t without principals – indeed there seems to be nothing more important to him than his principals (which he describes as his “habits”). This shows that so dedicated is he to these principals that they have become second nature, instinctive but not dogmatic. He also isn’t without compassion, for though it would have been easy for him to let his accomplice take the fall he sacrifices himself instead (though this is also likely due in part to his seeming obsession with the nature of death and a understanding of it’s inevitability). This non-moralizing, distanced self overcoming is, when taken in gestalt, a cohesive philosophy and one which holds, for me at least, as much amusement as wisdom.

Jef, fatalistically fearless in the face of a confederate assassin.

The film doesn’t preach, it doesn’t paint it’s characters as good or bad, the characters do that. It doesn’t posit fate or tell you that everything is going to be fine or that everything is terrible and that it always will be. It is as pragmatic and logical as it’s protagonist’s tactics and, to me, immensely inspiring.

A final word of parting: I highly recommend the Criterion Collection version of this film, expensive as it is – well worth the money for the pristine restoration.