“Humility is truth.”
Saint Theresa of Avila
Over at the very interesting and worthy blog, BLDGBLOG, we have this recent posting…
(and photos courtesy of Venue …where their piece originally appeared….http://v-e-n-u-e.com/In-the-Box-A-Tour-Through-the-Simulated-Battlefields-of-the-U-S-Army
I lived for a year or so up in Yucca Valley, next to Joshua Tree and several miles down wind from the 29 Palms Military Base and test range. They had several model cities there, at one time, and many locals had secured employment playing “Muslims” in simulated combat. The irony, if that’s what it is, is that the architecture of these model cities resembles rather closely the neo-dingbat cartoon “Arabia” of Indio and the old Riverside County Date Festival fairgrounds some twenty miles away.
In a sense, the reductive cartoon ‘Muslim world’ created at Ft. Irwin, reflects the reductive cartoon world view of the Pentagon altogether. Here is another shot.. (pics courtesy of BLDGBLOG)…
That one becomes inured to the constant assault of hyper-branding, to the endless noise and image of daily life in urban centers, also means it can be difficult to engage with image or narrative in any kind of substantive way.
I wrote last posting about the liberal cinema of adjustment (Redford et al). It was, in one way, a throw back to ideas of moral instruction in art. The left has always suffered this delusion, that art must be somehow a lesson. As if artworks were like children’s books. The Bernstein Bears visit Abu Ghraib. What lurked beneath this sort of filmmaking (if we restrict this discussion to film for a moment) was an idea of society, of a people, that could be spoken of as one.
“Instantaneousness is replacing actuality. In ancient societies, there were two kinds of history: general history – the grand narrative – and the history of events which changed the world. Today, we are living in a period of accidental history, of instantaneousness, and, therefore, of emotion. Opinion no longer exists in real time; there is only emotion. The TV images of the collapse of the Twin Towers and of the tsunami invoke emotion, not opinion. Our lives are conditioned by the shock produced by speed. We are confronted by the dictatorship of emotion, of the synchronisation of affects at the global level.”
Now, Virno drew upon Spinoza for this idea of ‘the multitude’ — which was juxtaposed to society. A multitude is the coming together without a unifying identity. One can argue this definition, and I probably do, but the germane point for right now is that in the post modern or post-Fordist society the worker is being appropriated more completely than if one uses just labor power ( the ability to produce) — it is his (per Marx) general intellect, his entire being, even his attention. It is a twenty four hour a day process, the colonizing of dreams and ambition and emotions and in a sense, our personal history. This is the service economy, the attention economy, the performative labor economy — however it is dissected, the thrust of the critique is meant to drive home the truth of the fascist goal of an appropriation of all human time and human activity.
Julian Reid, in an excellent article titled “A People of Seers”; (from a very good collection of essays Deleuze and Fascism, edited by Reid and Brad Evans), following Deleuze, divides cinema (broadly) as classical and modern. Roughly speaking, the modern begins after WW2. The classical cinema might correspond to a cinema which posits the people, not the multitude, and an organic narrative that is oriented to the people as an actual reality.
“As he argues, the crisis in cinema precipitated a shift from ‘true’ to
‘false narration,’reﬂecting a more fundamental collapse in faith in the powers
of typiﬁcation on which the ideal of the nation-state, especially, had historically
drawn and which came to grief, quite literally and on a massive scale, in the killing
factories of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The Holocaust exposed the violence which a typiﬁed people, mystiﬁed to the point of assurance in its own coherence, could do to whoever does not meet the criteria of its essential type. It was as if amid the destructions of the war, and following the acute exposure of the necessary links between the myth of das Volk and the exterminatory violence of the Holocaust, cinema could no longer believe in the myth of a true narration through which the temporality of a people or its individual characters could be synchronized. Thus a new form of ‘false’rather than ‘true’ narration became more inﬂuential and a properly ‘modern cinema’ emerged. In place of chronological time cinema became characterized by a ‘chronic non-chronological time’(Deleuze 1989)”
This is an interesting perspective, even if I’m not quite buying it (a quick look at the films of Dreyer for example, might contradict this somewhat). What did happen, however, to be sure, was that a number of seminal German Jewish directors fled Germany to the United States, and found work in Hollywood. What they brought with them was a deep distrust of authority, of the state, and an internalization of Freudian psychoanlytic paranoia. The enemy was within, but it was within because of what was with-out.
“For the promise of modern cinema is that it enables us to confront
the world as it really is rather than seeing it as we might want it to be. Doing
so requires that it shifts our attention from the problem of how to act to the
problem of how to see. Modern cinema is fundamentally ‘a cinema of the seer
and no longer the agent’ (ibid.: 126). It is concerned with characters who in
losing the power of action have gained a more worldly power of (in)sight.
Characters for whom the disciplinary organization of the senses necessary for
eﬀective action has not simply broken down but has been displaced by an
intense power to see the hitherto unseen. Modern cinema shows us seers and
in doing so, Deleuze argues, underlines the political potential entailed in our
own ‘becoming visionary or seer’”.
There is a slight problem here, though. This is a Bergsonian reading of vision. And I’m not sure this isn’t becoming a somewhat un-dialectical critique. For one thing, it is also a failure to listen. And this leads directly to a conflating of form and content. Reid goes on to discuss Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but without examining what the camera ‘sees’. Sticking with film, here, the narrative is presented via the vision of the director who is pointing the camera, staging the movement of actors, and editing the action. The poetics of film reside in how and what we ‘see’, not what the character’s see.
“The power that Badiou identiﬁes with theater is superﬁcially similar to that
which Deleuze accords to cinema: the power to make seen the otherwise unseen.
Theater, when it functions well, deploys the power of seeing in its identiﬁcation of those invisible parts of a people that a given regime of power would rather went unseen, but the process by which it makes seen the unseen is that
of‘typiﬁcation.’Typiﬁcation proceeds by eliminating doubt as to the vagueness
of the subjective categories that compose a hitherto invisible people in production of some kind of ‘essential type’.”
This is not just wrong of Badiou, but wrong in a very reactionary way. It is suggestive of the need for one dimensional character, and worse, for a fidelity to a fixed idea of the real.
And Reid understands this…
“There are severe problems with Badiou’s account of the politics of aesthetics which would have to be
addressed for us to think so. In essence Badiou’s argument rests upon a highly
elitist understanding of the relation between the arts, its subject matter, and
the audience or public”.
Art does not foment revolution. It is not moral instruction, it is not political instruction. And Badiou here is simply a cruder version of what the terminally reactionary Zizek does with cinema, as well. Narrative awakens us to the unseen, as well as to the material conditions that are working constantly to blind and deafen the populace to the forces that manufacture deceit. Corporate kitsch, the culture industry, is there to put people to sleep (Horkheimer). Text — language — speaks itself (Benjamin), and mediates the tyranny of the subjective. If we discuss this in the context of Deleuzian models, there is still the demand that one not reductively build a one dimensional description of narrative and of image — for in both theatre and film, the emancipatory work is that which disunifies, not unifies. There is something totalitarian in Badiou’s entire premise. Art is not limited, again, to providing a narrow political insight. Essays do that. What Shakespeare and Beckett and Bernhard all share (and a dozen others) is an ability to make of daily experience something allegorical. And it does this through an almost alchemical fusion of image, text, sound, time and space. Here it becomes important to raise the subject of “space” in theatre (and by extension, in a different register, in film) in which that Dionysian negation of rationality liberates the viewer from the mediation of domination, of state oppression, and of othe individual’s own psychic self delusion. One cannot escape the very extreme questions of an ontological and spiritual nature in art. The space opened up on stage is both physical and allegorical — for it provides, at its best, a memory of that which we have forgotten, something of a guide through the logic of domination, our own Oedipul narrative, and through the forces of commodity fetishizing, and the relentless hammering away of a simplified revisionist history, of both society and of ourselves (so a Niall Ferguson is mirrored by over prescribing Ritalin and Zoloft). For at its heart, artworks demand we confront the idea of our own identity. And having to confront the question of identity, means confronting our own mortality. Deleuze’s notion of this shift in post war film has value, but it is only a partial description of cultural colonizing by a system of authoritarian domination. Art is always anarchic in this sense.
The classic film noirs made by those emigre directors remain acutely unsettling, and not because of what the protagonist says but because of what the camera says.
Paraphrasing Burroughs, ‘nothing is true’. That is what is true, nothing. But that IS a truth. There is a logic of paternal authority at work in Badiou, the priest class he posits as owners and arbiters of the true knowledge. It doesn’t even rise to the level of cheap totalitarian PR. Those invisible subjects are visible in ways other than appearing as characters mouthing platitudes of equality. The photo above here of Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, with the Diaghilev Ballet Russe, circa 1911, is one of those images that conjurs up (for me anyway) something so otherworldly, so incapable of lucid commentary, that I want to believe it can serve as a reminder of how many ways the unseen is made corporeal. I recently had a cynical leftist describe Ozu as a petit bourgeois something — I forget — and I felt mostly just a sort of sadness. For it is a culture of reflex nastiness, of defensiveness. And what is lost is what Deleuze describes here, writing of Ozu…
“…the absence of plot; the action-image disappears in favor of the purely visual image of what a character is, and the sound image of what he says, completely banal nature and conversation constituting the essentials of the script (this is why the only things that count are the choice of actors according to their physical and moral appearance, and the establishment of any dialogue whatever, apparently without a precise subject-matter).”
There is this snarky new left which simply approaches culture in very cleanly demarcated categories — driven mostly by a nostalgia they deny exists, and which is, by virtue of this, the more laden with deep resentment and anger. It is the post modern expulsion committee. Expelling a new member of their clique and thereby cutting membership in half.
Reid touches on Mishima later, and Schrader’s strange bio pic of the Japanese novelist and playwright. Again, though, it is somehow a confusion to speak of Mishima’s characters as if they were somehow separate from Mishima. What ‘they’ saw, or didn’t, was what Mishima saw, and didn’t. And few better examples exist of a writer who contradicted in his form the overtly fascist message of his professed beliefs. For Mishima’s sensibility, which is expressed through his work, is certainly more radical then his damaged personal vision of himself. His physical frailty, fought against in some werid incantatory Samaurai masochism, his sexual guilt, his distorted drive to annihilation. This is the first of many large holes in the Badiou model of the arts. I think it is important, though, to understand that film and theatre can embody the political, sometimes quite directly, but even then, it is only through the radical form of the narrative that a negation of the status quo takes place, and thus that these expressions possess any resonance. Jean Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Army of Shadows (1969) is on the face of it, an anti-fascist film. Melville intended it as such. Yet the film’s genius is in the exquisite capturing of the ineffable state of suffering endured under state oppression.
Reid adds :
“In any case it is questionable whether the comparative framework that
Deleuze brings to bear on post-war cinema is sustainable. The distinctions he
draws between European, American and non-Western genres of cinema are
exercises in the creation of a series of what he himself called ‘badly analysed
composites’ (Deleuze 1991), failing as they do to apprehend the rhizomatic development of post-war cinema, especially its motifs of the intolerable and its character of the seer. There is an only insuﬃcient attempt in Deleuze’s analysis to think about the ways in which concepts such as the intolerable were developed across the boundaries of national cinemas, between Western and non-Western worlds, and between cinema and other aesthetic regimes, such as literature, for example. The postwar production of this new typology of a people to come distinguished by its power to see the intolerable was itself a much more complex aﬀair than Deleuze allows for, born out of a series of cross-fertilizations from Western to non-Western worlds and vice versa.”
The imprint of the colonial master on the storytelling of former colonial subjects is topic worth further discussion. There is only recently a technological boundary crossed that allows a lessening of the economic hegemony of cinematic creation; and Beller has touched on some of the new movements in the Philippines where video/film makers are carving out a non-White Eurocentric filmic narrative. Ones that frame their cultural validity outside the Enlightenment values of bourgeois identity and notions of social progress. What does “political” mean when a work is funded by Time Warner, for example, regardless of the *content*?
An ideological reading of the hyper branded cultural product one is inundated with today, is important in the sense that provides at least a part of the pre-conditions for being able to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ the work of art. Understanding form means having the capacity to read a Speilberg as, essentially, fascist. The institutional imprimatur of network and studio financing, and granted further legitimacy by an almost endless season of awards shows, and festivals, leaves its greasy toxic fingerprints on everything produced from within that system. This was perhaps much less so forty years ago, sixty years ago, but as media consolidation intensified, so have the style codes of corporate (and Pentagon approved) product further tightened. Network TV, even the prestige product so embraced by the haute bourgeoisie of the media empire and its consumerist prodigy (examples such as Breaking Bad, or the Aaron Sorkin Democratic love fests of white male pride are useful topics for deconstruction) exist as paeans to white privilege, and capitalist virtue.
If Reid sites, rightly I think, the significance of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, it is important to examine the trajectory Scorsese followed in the thirty years since. Hardly the oeuvre of a radical voice. Interestingly, the script by Paul Schrader, was cribbed liberally from the diaries of Arthur Bremer (now rather hard to find). Those diaries make fascinating reading today, coupled to the knowledge one has gleaned of CIA and FBI activities vis a vis the Kennedy assasinations, MLK, as well as COINTELPRO.
One can be as guilty as Badiou in the opposite direction, to mystify the engagement with art as requiring simply an education in aesthetics. The constant circulation of branded image, of kitsch narrative, contributes to an endless shifting of perspectives, which art must counter with a re-creation of the vectors that direct a way out of the ever shrinking enclosure of state controlled image and message. Form provides a focus on the shifiting, a map to the slight of hand that is corporate cultural manipulation. That roadmap to the psychic ‘outside’, as it were, remains illegible but its probably one that we need to keep reading anyway.
The grotesque cartoon-like training at Fort Irwin, with their Muslim city in the Mojave Desert, is suggestive of the coarse and sort of boorish personality of post modern fascism. Speilberg’s embrace of a rationalized totalitarian state (in Minority Report, most clearly) is the fantasy of an elite manufacturer of propaganda. The truth of this rising fascism, on a daily basis, is closer to the infantalized male comic book of Muslim Town, out near Barstow.