nothing derivative

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Logan fished the phone from his pocket and flicked on the screen. He unlocked it with a swipe of his index finger, leaving a smear of salt and oil.

He opened his inbox and narrowed his eyes, judiciously, at the top unread message, sent at 10:02 from Grand Gala Casinos and Gaming Ltd.

 

They had, they thought, very little time.

They scurried ahead. Three men donning stained unicolor tee-shirts, raw denim, and worn-in rigger boots. Their hair slipshod, either crewcut or curtained. They strode apace, possessed of some rhythm guilty men keep.

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Long take: Nolan/Zimmer’s Dunkirk, consummate suspense flawed by red herrings

Hans Zimmer’s ominous Shepard tones come fully packaged with an hour’s worth of 70mm film stock and era-authentic props in Nolan’s long-awaited epic Dunkirk. Ticking in synchrony with the viewers’ pulse, Zimmer imposes quick and resonant orchestration that reverberates through the action in the cockpit and on the beachhead. Hitchcock would be proud.

The opening scene is set by overlaid typescript. They are stranded, and hoping for deliverance, reads the text. They are looking for a miracle, looking for home. “Home”. Like that, we have a central motif—but is Home really what we’re waiting for? Swap out a consonant and you’ve got an answer: hope is the most elusive, and desired, element involved. Hope and hopelessness weigh on the minds of each character in spades, while they’re connection to home seems distant, unassuming, or trivial.

That the lack of exposition gave us protagonists-as-blank-slates was fine. Major historical events shouldn’t squander valuable $400/minute film stock just to do us the favour of explaining Harry Styles’ backstory or bother bringing us up to speed on the development of the European theatre. The only point worth making is made effortlessly: invasion is imminent.

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Long take: Nolan/Zimmer’s Dunkirk, consummate suspense flawed by red herrings

Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’, a failure of biblical proportions

Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature, mother!, stays true to its vision as a retelling of the stories of the Bible, although not with half the intelligibility of his previous effort, Noah (14). Despite compelling performances from Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris, mother! suffers from a sloppily executed and overly ambitious narrative that treats its audience to an obscure reading of Sunday School curricula. It’s not that the film is held back by its aspirations, but rather that it struggles to depict a clear-headed and lucid progression of those Biblical events that needlessly occupy its subtext.

After its screening on Monday morning at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 48 year old filmmaker took to the stage to fumble out a justification for the film’s grandiose and sometimes incoherent direction. On first viewing, it appears more as a generic commentary on pregnancy, ostensibly as a metaphor for the impunity with which we treat our mother(!) Earth. Aronofsky’s explanation affirmed this suspicion, but managed to render the entire film yet even more inarticulate by revealing his directorial intentions: to depict the fall of man and the advent of Jesus Christ. In retrospect, this revelation adds nothing to the movie’s impact except further convince the viewer of its banality. What results is a punishing rehash of a universally familiar story made superficial.

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Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’, a failure of biblical proportions

Exploring the agent/process problem in international negotiation

How do power asymmetries and domestic influences effect the course and outcome of international bargaining? The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) most recent round of multilateral negotiations have suggested an answer to this question in its struggle to continue the economic liberalization process. Known as the Doha Development Round (“Doha Round”), substantive talks began in November 2001 and reached a stalemate in 2008, in which rising powers and developed countries failed to settle an agreement on the scope, modalities, and aims of the negotiations on agriculture[1].

The following analysis seeks to expose the theoretical basis of the Doha Round and its failures by examining the events primarily through the lens of William Zartman’s model of process and implementation. For the purposes of this study, I will specifically examine the bargaining relationship between the developed and developing country coalitions on the issue of agriculture liberalization. Where process analysis fails to account for the intricacies and dynamics of state actors, I will insert W. M. Habeeb’s theory on issue-specific bargaining power as well as Robert Putnam’s model of two-level games. Using the Doha Round as a case study, I will contend that general theories of process as espoused by Zartman fail to capture the complexities and difficulties of multilateral negotiation in an intergovernmental context. In order to fully realize this, factors at both the structural and domestic levels must be considered.

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Exploring the agent/process problem in international negotiation

Abridged: toward a modular framework for integrative research in IR theory

 

International relations (IR) theory as a discipline of study has both suffered from and found communicative grounding in a series of well-connected “Great Debates” between generations of conflicting theoretical schools. Presently, the crux of the fourth Debate can be summed as such: positivism versus interpretivism (sometimes conflated with “post-positivism”). In recent years, there have been a number of calls to reverse the so-called “balkanization” of the field (Colgan, 2016: 7), mostly advocating for a degree of cross-theoretical dialogue, and a pragmatic admission that both schools offer mutually enriching tools for problem solving (Price & Reut-Smit, 1996; Kowert & Shannon, 2002; Fearon & Wendt, 2002; Katzenstein, Keohane, & Krasner, 1998). At the same time, there have been counter-argumentative efforts that reify the divisions between the two predominant philosophies, pointing to certain fundamental rifts in methodology that demand consideration (Moravcsik, 1999; Mearsheimer, 1994). At the forefront of the epistemic divide are a growing school of scholars who are crafting an obscure, though earnest, conciliatory framework for bridging the rival paradigms. Borrowing from recent developments in the philosophy of social science, “critical realists” (or critical naturalists) have provided a possible catch-all epistemology that accommodates for the ontological claims from both sides of the field (Jackson, 2010; Bhaskar, Esbjorn-Hargens, Hartwig, & Hedlund, 2016). I intend to situate this emerging interface within the established canon of IR theory in such a way that it provides space for a possible détente between opposing theoretical factions. To this end, I will illustrate my solution using the concept of modular design.

In plain terms, positivism is a collection of multiple epistemological approaches that share the foundational assumptions in the efficacy of (i) data derived from empirical evidence, and (ii) its interpretation through reason and logic, as the only source of true positive knowledge (Larrain, 1979); albeit, this statement has no intention of ever “being proved” as a truth claim itself (p. 197). And here lies the crux of the debate: positivism, on the whole, relies on a Humean account of causality and a foundational claim of scientific laws as being those extracted from the empirical unification of events. These assumptive premises have been questioned as to whether they are consistent with some general “goal of understanding” (Smith, 2006: 192). Smith (2006) goes on to point out that the antithetical method employed by the interpretivist of rejecting natural or social causality contradicts their inclusion of this world in their research should it maintain any pretenses to science or ‘inquiry’ (p. 192). We can now infer that the ontological status of causality, and thus what can be known about the world in general, presents a rift between the two parties that fundamental obstructs their ability to meaningfully communicate with each other—or, in more temporal terms, there is no mid-level theory on which these epistemologies can interact.

In advancing further with respect to the positivist’s dilemma, it would be a disservice to the debate to not continue expounding its foundational difficulties. At its core, the positivist advances a causal mechanistic framework that rests upon grossly unempirical assumptions regarding “timeless necessary connections” between causal events (that is, the inextricable quality linking ∆X with ∆Y); however, to accept this as true would be to accept that nothing, in empirically verifiable terms, binds X and Y together, and the fact that “all past [X] has been [X and Y together, and the fact that “all past [Xs] have been [Ys] is a matter of cosmic coincidence” (Hildebrand, 2016: 4). This is a cogent description of David Hume’s critique of inductive reasoning which, in broad terms, posits that inductive arguments are concerned with inferential justifications from the premises; however, inductive premises are justified themselves by subjective experiences which themselves have no immediate bearing “on how the inference from that premise to the conclusion is justified” (BonJour, 2010: 53).

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Abridged: toward a modular framework for integrative research in IR theory