After the Orgy

Contemporary philosophers discuss the world in various urban locations in a documentary by Astra Taylor called Examined Life. In the film Cornel WestPeter Singer, Michael HardtJudith Butler, Avital RonellKwame Anthony Appiah,  Martha NussbaumSlavoj Zizek, and Sunaura Taylor give their philosophical opinions on contemporary life. Walking through Central Park Ronell flips the script and asks the director, Taylor, what exactly the project is, to which she responds by saying she’s trying to answer the challenges expressing philosophy in the medium of film as opposed to book. The challenge is that in 10 minutes it becomes extremely difficult to portray the views of each individual when commonly philosophers’ messages are recorded in several hundred-page books.

What follows are specific moments from each narrative and I will conclude with a general observation on there director’s curation of speakers as well as the tactics pertaining to the film-making and cinematography as a whole.

  • Ronell says that she’s weary of calling philosophy a search for meaning because it often has non-progressive results when applied by large scale forces such as governments or medias. She complains that we’ve entered a world of junk food and junk thought (for more on this see Rem Koolhaus’ essay Junkspace). Ronell complains that in our world people have lost touch with ethic and someone like President Bush has lost touch with the orders for murder that he gives.  She says the responsible being is the one who believes they’ve never been responsible enough to others.
  • Peter Singer’s sermon brings up the ethics implicit with consumer economies in places like New York’s Time Square. He claims that for the price of a pair of shoes a donation to UNICEF could save several children, but we never encounter this idea when buying something. Conversely if presented with the chance to save a drowning child at the cost of ruining the clothes one is wearing by wading into a shallow murky pond the reaction to reach out and save them is instantaneous.  Singer poses that ethics is not only the choices one makes but also the choices one doesn’t make, the opportunity cost of ever action to use an economics term.
  • Appiah claims that simply because we will see more people in a minute than our remote ancestors would have in their lifetimes this means we are connected and responsible for the general population in the same way we are responsible for our family members.  The cosmopolitan or citizen of the world is one who can believe in two belief systems without putting a value judgement on either so long as they are achieving their ethical aims.
  • Nussbuam discusses some historic looks at philosophy like the social contract and says that in a contemporary world this contract expands past its original inclusion and extends to all of us especially those less physically and mentally capable.
  • West’s commentary talks about having the courage to search for truth, and the raw funky, stanky, stuff of life that surrounds you when you exit the womb. He says pleasure has a place in the world, it is not to be reviled it is to be embraced.
  • Hardt says were stuck in two ways with thinking about revolution. On the one hand revolution involves over throwing one elite with another. The second is revolution (yet to be instituted) is the removal of all the state power, the destruction of societal constructs.  He claims that when we say a better world is possible we don’t just mean for these less fortunate, but for those with means as well.
  • Zizek poses that in a world where we visibly flush away garbage, ecology is the new opium of the masses and discusses the difficulty of becoming ecologically responsible for our output as humans.
  • Butler and Sunaura Taylor discuss differently abled capacity and how physical access relates to social access in San Francisco.
  • West ends by saying that you never reach the top of meaning and that life is the process or the journey of truing to obtain the romantic discourse.

Read my response to Examined Life.

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About mhgoblue

Architecture Undergrad University of Michigan

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