Moon and Rorty 1998

The other night I saw Moon (Duncan Jones) and was thoroughly impressed.  Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is one of the only actors in this movie and he can pull it off unlike Will Smith’s doomed attempt in I am Legend.  Moon was a nice break, a nice return to actual sci-fi.  No big explosions.  The threat in the movie was the environment and yet it was the extraction of resources from said environment that drove the story along.  The beauty of the movie was that it represented a return to a lost genre and it remained relevant enough to us.  The story is that humans have created mining outfits on the moon to extract Helium-3, which is then sent to Earth as an energy supply.  People can relate because after last summer we all appreciate the importance of energy in our lives and we have all at some time experienced a job that was really awful.  Moon is about such a job and how the worker/s deal with it.  The genius, though, is that the story is a parable for labor and its relationship with corporations.

Roger Ebert raises some other interesting (non-political) questions about the film.  While watching the film we are obviously supposed to think of 2001.  I do not, however, think this is mere allusion or homage.  I think the universe of Moon is the same universe of 2001 with the stories exsting along side each other.  I really have no reason to think this as all my proof are satisfied by the allusion theory.  A second viewing is in order for this test.  I suspect, however, that Ebert pays no heed to the labor side of the movie because the movie is pure cynicism.  There is not an advocated politics or solution to the problem.  It would have been easy to make one, even a flippant comment at some moment would satisfy it.  Instead though the movie is purely educational about the lack of trust one can put in corporations, or at least technologically advanced energy ones.  Frankly, I am surprised I cannot find this criticism in the press.  Maybe Rorty is correct, that we have become the cynical society uncaring about political solutions and instead merely fixated on defining the problem.

Such people find pride in American citizenship impossible, and vigorous participation in electoral politics pointless.  They associate American aptriotism with an endorsement of atrocities: the importation of African slaves, the slaughter of Native Americans, the rape of ancient forests, and the Vietnam War….They begin to think of themselves as a saving remnant – as the happy few who have the insight to see through the nationalist rhetoric to the ghastly reality of contemporary America.  But this insight does not move them to formulate a legilative program, to join a political movement, or to share a national hope….In the early decades of this century, when an intellectual stepped back from his or her country’s history and looked at it through skeptical eyes, the chances were that he or she was about to propose a new political initiative. (7-9)

Despite his conservatism I have to hand it to Rorty’s clarity and mastery of language.  His romanticism for the past,however…  This quotation smacks of the old man playing the “Back in My Day” fiddle: change is bad because it is change.  Rorty would probably respond that he identifies the normative basis for this conservation: the dissolution of a national hope.  However, we must keep in mind that losing a national hope is not the same as losing hope.  Cynicism may not directly attach itself to a hope, but it is the other side of the coin.  The basis for such a criticism also contains a sense of utopia for which we should strive.  I have no problem placing my hopes in a dream that crosses national borders.

I also contend that Rorty is looking at an incomplete transcript.  His quotation is part of a larger discussion about Henry Adams and other cynical authors.  Because Adams, and likewise Moon, did not explicitly state a politics does not mean there is not one.  Because the reader/viewer is not explicitly told what the solution is does not mean she is unable to figure one out.  Or unable to incorporate the piece’s criticism into her already formed ideal world.  Arguably, the criticism works best by allowing others to identify a problem they may have never before encountered and alter their already formed ideal solution.  Offering a political solution only increases the opportunities for dismissal of the problem.

Rorty wants to call the cynics naive?  I can return the favor.  Here is Dwight Conquergood:

Oppressed people are doubly displaced and degraded: first, by the political and economic structures of violence and exclusion, then by armchair academics-cum-liberators … [S]laves, serfs, peasants, and untouchables are not fools, although at times they may act the part in the presence of power when it is in their own best interests to do so…. Moreover, resistance is not limited to insurrections and uprisings.  Foot-dragging, pilfering, grumbling, conning, and gossiping about one’s overlords are the strategic infrapolitics of the powerless that prepare for and underpin rebellion when it does break out. (89-90)

The answer will be that Rorty and Conquergood are talking about two different groups of people as they both try and target the same group: the Heidegger reading bohemian.  Despite their conservative agreement, Rorty makes the same error Conquergood describes: having too myopic a view of politics.   Even if Rorty’s world is preferable (I would also prefer a reemergence of grand political battles) I will return to an above observation: there are not criticisms of Moon for being apolitical.  Rorty may lament the loss of a less cynical world, but this is where we are and those harpings will not elevate politics over infrapolitics.

Conquergood, Dwight.  (1992).  Ethnogrophy, rhetoric and performance.  Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78, 80-97.

Rorty, Richard.  (1998).  Achieving our country: Leftist thought in twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP.

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