inferentialkid

10/30 – Everything is Image

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Reading: The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle

Discussed: Allan Stoekl’s Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion, and Postsustainabilty; Cognitive capitalism; The “credit crunch”; Derrida’s Spectres of Marx; Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man; Marx’s “Fragment on Machines“; Kojeve and the “End of History,” James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency; Nietzsche’s “last man“;  Tendency of the rate of profit to fall

TRPF: The progressive tendency of the general rate of profit to fall is, therefore, just an expression peculiar to the capitalist mode of production of the progressive development of the social productivity of labour. This does not mean to say that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But proceeding from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, it is thereby proved logical necessity that in its development the general average rate of surplus-value must express itself in a falling general rate of profit. Since the mass of the employed living labour is continually on the decline as compared to the mass of materialised labour set in motion by it, i.e., to the productively consumed means of production, it follows that the portion of living labour, unpaid and congealed in surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the amount of value represented by the invested total capital. Since the ratio of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must constantly fall. (Marx, Capital, III/13)

The End of History: What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. (Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man)

After the End of History: For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelise in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realised itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth. (Derrida, Spectres of Marx)

After the Orgy: The dirty secret of the American economy in the 1990’s was that is was no longer about anything except the creation of suburban sprawl and the furnishing, accessorizing and the financing of it. It resembled the efficiency of cancer. Nothing else really mattered except building suburban houses, trading away the mortgages, selling the multiple cars needed by the inhabitants, upgrading the roads into commercial strip highways with all the necessary shopping infrastructure, and moving vast supplies of merchandise made in China for next to nothing to fill up those houses. (James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency)

The Return of History: History will not, as some critics of the “end of history” thesis claimed, return  merely as localized struggles and revolts that put the superpowers on the spot. Instead, History now is the fight for that resource that will allow History as we have come to think of it – the flourishing of civilization and the establishment of the definitive dignity of Man – to continue and triumph. No one yet wants to think about how History should continue in the absence of an adequate supply of fossil fuels. it is too horrible to think about. Human die-off is quite natural, but it also constitutes an incontrovertible historical event. With the finitude of cheap energy, alas, the end of history is itself finite. (Stoekl, Bataille’s Peak, xi)

Capitalism is the Ultimate Deterritorializing Machine: “…it seems there is no longer a need for a State, for a distinct juridical and political domination, in order to ensure appropriation, which has become directly economic. The economy constitutes a worldwide axiomatic, a “universal cosmopolitan energy which overflows every restriction and bond,” a mobile and veritable substance “such as the total value of annual production.” Today we can depict an enormous, so-called stateless, monetary mass that circulates through foreign exhange and across borders, eluding control by the States, forming a multinational ecumenical organization, constituting a de facto supranational power untouched by governmental decisions. But whatever dimensions or qualities this may have assumed today, capitalism has from the beginning mobilized a force of deterritorialization infinitely suprassing the deterritorialization proper to the State. (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 453)

Capitalism is Axiomatic: Codes have a momentary self-sufficiency about them, whether they subsist in the form of decorations (bodily tattoos, for example) or in the form of custom and myth, and even though they are prone to transformation into other codes in the immense slippage of history. Axioms, on the other hand, are operational; they do not offer anything for commentary or exegesis, but rather are merely a set of rules to be put into effect. And this is the sense in which capitalism repairs itself and surmounts its contradictions by adding new axioms: you are supposed to believe in a pure market system, that is to say, a rather simple axiomatic positing undisturbed exchanges. But when there is a crisis in free trade or the gold standard, you add the more complex axioms of Keynesianism: those do not modify the axiomatic of capitalism but merely complicate the operations that make it up. There can be no return here to any simple axiomatic or purer form of capitalism; only the addition of ever more rules and qualifications (rules against rules, for example, a dismantling of Keynesianism that has to use the latter’s structures and institutions in order to fulfill itself). (Fredric Jameson on Deleuze and Guattari, “Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze,” A Deleuzian Century 18)

Machinic Assemblage: In the history of philosophy the problem of the machine is generally considered a secondary component of a more general question, that of the techne, the techniques. Here I would like to propose a reversal of the view in which the problem of technique is a part of a much more extensive machine issue. This ‘machine’ is open to the outside and its machinic environment and maintains all kinds of relationships to social components and individual subjectivities. It is hence a matter of expanding the concept of the technological machine into one of the machinic assemblage… (Guattari, “Mega Machine”)

Machinic Enslavement: For example, one is subjected to TV insofar as one uses and consumes it, in the very particular situation of a subject of the statement that more or less mistakes itself for a subject of enunciation (“you, dear television viewers, who make TV what it is…”); the technical machine is the medium between two subjects. But one is enslaved by TV as a human machine insofar as the television viewers are no longer consumers or users, not even subjects who supposedly “make” it, but intrinsic component pieces, “input” and “output,” feedback or recurrences that are no longer connected to the machine in such a way as to produce or use it. In machinic enslavement, there is nothing but transformations and exchanges of information, some of which are mechanical, others human.” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 458)

The Commodity as Spectacle: The fetishism of the commodity — the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things” — attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality. […] Whereas during the primitive stage of capitalist accumulation “political economy considers the proletarian only as a worker,” who only needs to be allotted the indispensable minimum for maintaining his labor power, and never considers him “in his leisure and humanity,” this ruling-class perspective is revised as soon as commodity abundance reaches a level that requires an additional collaboration from him. Once his workday is over, the worker is suddenly redeemed from the total contempt toward him that is so clearly implied by every aspect of the organization and surveillance of production, and finds himself seemingly treated like a grownup, with a great show of politeness, in his new role as a consumer. At this point the humanism of the commodity takes charge of the worker’s “leisure and humanity” simply because political economy now can and must dominate those spheres as political economy. The “perfected denial of man” has thus taken charge of all human existence. (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 36; 43)

Cognitive Capitalism: The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper. Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such. (Marx, “Fragment on Machines”)

The Cinematic Mode of Production: …cinema is…the emerging paradigm for the total reorganization of society and (therefore) of the subject. From a systematic point of view, cinema arises out of a need for the intensification of the extraction of value from human bodies beyond normal physical limits and beyond normal working hours – it is an innovation that will combat the generalized falling rate of profit. […] l What I call “the attention theory of value” finds in the notion of “labor,” elaborated in Marx’s labor theory of value, the prototype of the newest source of value production under capitalism today: value-producing human attention. The cinematic organization of attention yields a situation in which attention, in all forms imaginable and yet to be imagined (from assembly-line work to spectatorship to internet-working and beyond), is that necessary cybernetic relation to the socius – the totality of the social – for the production of value for late capital. At once the means and archetype for the transfer of attentional biopower (its conversion into value and surplus value) to capital, what is meant today by “the image” is a cryptic synonym for these relations of production. The history of cinema, its development from an industrial to an electronic form, is the open book in which may be read the history of the image as the emergent technology of he leveraged interface of biopower and the social mechanism. (13; 4-5)

The Man with a YouTube Movie: Vertov’s brilliant articulation of the relationship between the formation of the image and the formation of what will, despite his best efforts, remain the commodity foretells not the end of prehistory and the historical victory of communism but the emergence of new laws of exchange. The image in circulation will indeed carry the logic of exchange-value, but for capital. (52)

Technologic: The meshing of the microprocesses of the biological organism outlined by Pavlov with the macroprocesses of the socio-industrial organism outlined by Taylor in the cinema of Eisenstein is predicated upon the logic of isolated organs, rationalized functions, repetition, selection, and conditioning. The extension of this logic to the body through the eye shows that a cybernetic integration of social mechanisms is occurring; radically different mechanisms are being shot through with systemic compatability. In computer talk: Industry, the nervous system, and representation are all beginning to speak a compatabile language, a compatible machine  – or systems – language. (137)

The Prison of Attention: Along with life and labor, the very consciousness of our bodies has been and is being expropriated. For this we have become not just spectators, but specters. The only way out, short of a complete expropriation of the expropriators, a radical redistribution of wealth and a complete overhaul of the human network (whatever that would look like), is to drop out completely, that is, for all practical purposes, to cease to exist, to cease to speak, write or be written as the discourse of the spectacle. Otherwise, you (or at least chunks of you) are working for the man. Sorry, Jim, but that’s how it is. (295)

Resistance?: Immortal Technique’s “The Poverty of Philosophy” is another technology for the bundling of attention, but its method of operation, its rational and its rationalizations are markedly different than the internet models. This bundling is not undertaken (exclusively, anyway) to be parsed and resold. It…calls upon the various modes of attending we have developed historically and assembles them to create its aesthetic/intellectual/communitarian experience…and it bundles the attention required both to produce the piece for the artist (the reservoir of past forms and learning, Marxism, decolonization, anti-racist struggle, rap) and for the audience (the collective modes of relating both to the piece and to one another). […] Binary code may transmit the mp3 files that disseminate “The Poverty of Philosophy” and thousands if not millions of similar encodings, but running the program requires wetware and organizes zones that are beyond the reach of the project and projection of capital. Or so we must assume. And, perhaps, is is there in the shadows, that the poverty of philosophy may be seen to express Our new power. This time, here, now, it is capital that will have to catch up or fizzle out. Either way, there will be blood. (311-312)

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  1. America “Does” Our Children: How Television Manipulates the Children of America

    When I was a child, television was more than a form of entertainment, it was my entire world. My mother recalls, with some hesitancy, that the reason she had my brother was because of an incident involving the television. It seems that she had to go somewhere one day and in preparation to leave, she turned off Sesame Street. As she tells it, for I was two years old and my memory from those days is a bit limited, I collapsed into a weeping heap over the separation from “my friends,” the characters of Sesame Street. She and my father decided it would be healthier to supply me with a real friend, and they produced my brother, so I would have a real playmate. I am sure that Bryan, my brother, has never heard that story, and I am sure that it would behoove me to neglect to tell it to him, but it is an important one. It marks the beginning of my emotional relationship with the television and frankly all of what Beller calls the cinema.
    In Johnathan Bellar’s book, The Cinematic Mode of Production: attention economy and the society of the spectacle, he relates cinematic production to the manipulation of the proletariat masses through visual manipulation. In his section entitled, Audience of Dogs, the reader is reminded of the experimentation of Pavlov on his dogs. In these experiments, dogs were conditioned to salivate upon the sound of bells. Bellar comments on the work of Eisenstein who draws comparisons between these experiments and those of Taylor and his “directions written to workers.” These directions were intended to affect the audience emotionally, thus using the machine, like Pavlov did with the dogs, to invoke a certain response in the spectator. American children’s television capitalizes on this idea. The very design of television targeted for the very young is created to manipulate the very youngest of audiences and evoke emotional responses in the child spectator. (126-8)
    As a mother of two, I have seen the considerable power and draw of the television. I do recall some of that pull from my time as a child and the countless hours I spent glued to the TV. I see it now with my own children. I recall the earliest months of my son’s life when at two months old I recall seeing his eyes become enthralled with the dancing images of the television screen. The only thing that had held his interest as long has been the eyes and social contact of his father and I. It had seemed that a new surrogate parent that would “love” him and invoke “love” in him much the same way. I am drawn more to this relationship with that of my daughter. Now that I am older (and I hesitate to add – wiser), I can see the effects of this harnessing of the youth of America through the television with more clarity.
    My daughter is in love with a man named Steve. He is a fictitious protagonist from the television show, Blue’s Clues. The Steve character is important because he talks “directly” to my daughter, or at least it seems as though he is. The character speaks to the television screen, making “dialogue” with the spectator. The character often pauses when speaking, giving the child spectator time to respond (in this case my daughter). It appears as though the character is interacting with the child. This tactic, I have found, is employed by all of the most popular television shows targeted to the youngest of audiences: Sesame Street, Super Why, Teletubbies, and Dora the Explorer to name a few. My daughter, like I had over thirty years ago, has developed a relationship with the TV and formed a close family/friend-like bond with a fictitious being. She calls for Steve for comfort, in much the same way that she does for her father, brother and I in times of duress. He has become emotionally linked with her subconscious.
    Beller invokes the unholy names of Bevis and Butt-head to draw a metaphorical comparison of the phenomena of the television / spectator relationship. Admitting the relative “autism” of these characters, Beller uses them to discuss how they are “the perfect incarnations of Godzich’s postmodern predicament, broken-down, sputtering language machines, barely up to speed…the marginalization and decay of language wrought by tele-visual images is absolutely central to the being…of these characters” (153). Beller mentions the plot of the film, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, revolves around the loss and attempt to reclaim their television set. Beller points out the importance of the role of the TV in the lives of the boys early on when in a dream-like sequence; the characters hallucinate about their lives. Both hallucinations involve television as a central image, with a godlike-status to the characters. Part of the appeal of these characters is how they satirically portray the youth of America. To the youth, television is a god. It is the type of god that dominates its subjects wholly and renders them silent and subservient subjects, dazzled by the imagery and having lost the ability to speak and think coherently. Sadly, I see Beavis and Butt-head in the children that I teach. These children worship media, much like Beavis and Butt-head, to the extent that it has become all consuming. They have seemed lost the ability to communicate effectively beyond what they hear on television and in film, and are unable to think creatively on their own, wanting everything to be fed to them – entertain them. Of course, none of this is new. In my generation, we seemed to behave much the same way. The proof lies in the lyrics of Nirvana’s most famous line, “Here we are now, entertain us.”
    This early conditioning of America’s youth has serious and long-lasting effects. Because of this emotional attachment fertilized in the tenderest of minds, the television becomes an emotional comfort-food for the subconscious mind. What else does the typical American do when returning home from a long and taxing day? He plants himself on the couch in front of the television in order to unwind from the daily grind. Television is equated with Mom’s apple pie and is equally as American. Countless American cultural figures have modeled this behavior for us: Walt in Leave It to Beaver, Homer on the Simpsons, Al on Married with Children, and Archie from All in the Family. All of these “typical” American males spend their down time in front of the television after returning home from work. Television acts much in the same way as my daughter’s favorite pacifier for them as it does for me and many others. It sooths, calms, and silences.
    My thoughts bring me to question the course of action we ought to take. Should we consider the longer lasting effects of the television on our children? Should we study the effects in the older generations? If so, what will we find? Through the use of the televised babysitter, has America doomed it’s children to be mindless, drooling masses that blindly follow, lacking the ability to think independently and out-of the box?

  2. Mike Featherstone notes in City Cultures and Post-Modern Lifestyles that postmodern’s de-monopolozation has “heightened competition between a wide variety of notions of culture and a reduced ability to impose a value-hierarchy” (in Amin 391). I would like to believe this is true; and from some perspectives I suspect it is. But not from a disability perspective. While Featherstone argues postmodernism has put value on what has previously been de-valued (for example he discusses the former value placed on high-culture and the current value placed on notions of culture that have previously been taken for granted), I would argue advanced capitalism has continued to de-value disability. Alan Lipietz, in his essay Post-Fordism and Democracy defines a societal paradigm as that which occurs when a “common principle of social identification seems to prevail” (in Amin 338). Those who promote societal paradigms, Lipietz goes on, are political activists; those who dissect competing paradigms are researchers. It seems obvious, then, that within advanced capitalism, the abled-societal paradigm dominates most aspects of society in that even researchers of competing paradigms, for the most part, focus on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Those that do engage with disabilities focus only on the disabled body rather than any notion of a cognitive disability. Further, Lipietz argues that the mode of regulation is defined as “the set of norms (implicit or explicit) and institutions, which continuously adjust individual anticipations and behaviors to the general logic of the regime of accumulation” (339). While for most abled people both the implicit and the explicit modes of regulation are obvious and clear, for those with cognitive disabilities, they are not. In fact students with pervasive development disorders such as high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome specifically do not grasp hidden curriculums, non-verbal communication, or unwritten/unspoken social norms. While they may be aware of the explicit modes of regulations in the sense that they know they differ from the norm, they are at least aware of it. It is the implicit which poses the greatest difficulty as well as that which little investigation is being done by researchers (in comparison to the amount of rhetoric on other disempowered groups). Jonathan Beller in Cinematic Mode of Production argues that cinema is a site of economic production, that cinema often reflects the “….spaces and sensibilities that fall out of (are absent from) a cinema that is a fully functioning component of the capital economy” (194). My purpose in tying in Beller to Featherstone and Lipietz is two fold: 1) if what Featherstone argues is true that postmodernism gives value to that which has historically been unnoticed, and if cinema follows the postmodernist movement we should be seeing films that portray (dis)ability in a very different light than has been typically produced. Further, we should see portrayals of the ways in which those with cognitive disabilities are valued in our society (and I don’t mean in some kind of poly-anna way); 2) even if Featherstone is right (and we are now awarding value to that which has previously not been valued), the dominant societal paradigm still determines what it is that de-valued which should not be valued and vice versa. Indeed it becomes some sort of appalling charity perspective. If the cinema, as Beller argues, “controls the limits of its own conditions of representation,” (194) where is the cinema portrayal of those who refuse commodification? Beller argues: “Numerous incidents marking the unrepresentability of experience occur in the film via specific instantations of race, gender, and class—all of which to varying degrees are rendered invisible by the screened world and therefore are legible only elliptically, as effects” (194). Further, according to Lipietz, social groups do not engage in struggle without end. The term, Social bloc, Lipietz notes, defines the various dominations, alliances, and concessions amongst the dominant and subordinate social groups. It is this social bloc which become hegemonic when the/a dominate group determines the wants/needs/perspectives of an entire nation (340). The social groups’ struggle begins over differences about equity and reality of distribution within the now hegemonic bloc; this is the struggle Lipietz argues is the struggle without end for various disempowered social groups. In this instance, though, Lipietz notes the radical social movement offers hope for these subordinate social groups and their endless struggle in that, new identities (though here I want to qualify that disability identity is not new but rather emerging more blatantly recently) receive social visibility. Ultimately, though, Beller questions capitalism and cinema in a similar way we inquire about the chicken and egg question; though it is clear both capitalism is imbedded in cinema…or is it that cinema is imbedded in capitalism? According to Beller, “…organized more and more like movie production, capitalist production creates difficulties and contradictions that must be resolved in the space-time of cinematic representation/consciousness. The excess is driven off the screen into the unrepresentable/social unconscious. For the sake of the economies of the gaze, spectacularity , narrative, and profit, cinema represses other forms of interference” (195).

  3. Much like my response from last week, Beller’s text hammered the same point home: We’re money machines, pawns in the game, slaves to the screen, our time is worth more to someone else outside of ourselves, and we are more than happy to give it, unconditionally, with no argument. “The Cinematic Mode of Production lays out the nascent architecture of normalization for this form of primitive accumulation that is even now being legitimated and set in place in the official economic policies of capitalism. Along with life and labor, the very consciousness of our bodies has been and is being expropriated. For this we have become not just spectators, but specters. The only way out, short of a complete expropriation of the expropriators, a radical redistribution of wealth and a complete overhauls of the human network (whatever that would look like), is to drop out completely, that is, for all practical purposes, to cease to exist, to cease to speak, write or be written as the discourse of the spectacle. Otherwise, you (or at least chunks of you) are working for the man. Sorry, Jim, but that’s how it is” (294–295). We’re stuck … the Matrix is real, there is no blue pill, take your ball and go home, end of story.

    I don’t know how it would be possible to leave this text with any other reaction than seeing the world as a dull-gray dystopic nightmare of a vacuum cleaner hell bent on sucking out our souls and implanting us in the giant cash machine of capitalism. With rose-colored gems such as “This leveraged theft of sensual labor is the postmodern version of capital’s dirty secret; the spectator is the Lukacsian subject-object of history” (6), “Elevating” commodity production to the visual realm, cinema extracts human labor and pays in fun (know-how, anesthesia, acquired stupidity, fashionability, enjoy[n]ment)” (13), “Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work” (27), “Primitive accumulation is now about mounting a belligerent campaign against the source of all value—human creativity itself, now located not just in the body of the worker, but in the mind of all: content producers, weak citizens, janitors and professors, natives, overseas contract workers, whores of all stripes—the general intellect. Wage Labor, the exchange of money for subjective power, is not the only mode of exploitation … (294)” and who could forget Sergei Eisenstein’s classic (which I think is mentioned at least a dozen time throughout the text) “In our conception a work of art is first and foremost a tractor ploughing over the audiences’ psyche in a particular class context” (Writings, 62), how can we ever expect to look at life the same way again? I’m afraid to touch my television … I (or at least chunks of me) don’t want to plug back in to the Matrix to feed the machines.

    Of course, much like the genius of the Matrix, the biggest travesty is that we have fallen prey to the Stockholm Syndrome on a global scale … our captive attentions have begun to sympathize with our capitalist captors. We want our cinema and our television and our Internet. We want to be good little producers, and try to take our ability to produce away from us. From the most erudite “art house” film snob to a Budweiser swilling yokel watching NASCAR (possibly the most giant commercial of all), we not only want, we have been convinced that we need cinema—just try to take away Billy Bob’s NASCAR, I dare you. Unlike the exploited workforce of 19th-century industrialization, who had to toil for long hours in detestable working conditions with no regulations for little pay (read Hard Times or The Jungle), our exploitative labor at the hands of our capitalist masters IS fun. Sure there are hazards to the trade like obesity and other health issues caused by a sedentary lifestyle, but I don’t think there are many deaths by the screen because of starvation, freezing to death, black lung, or massive systemic infections because you’re standing in a sea of pig blood … Isn’t the whole “exploitative” nature of cinema a bit overblown? Yes, we are undoubtedly contributing to the capitalist machine my spending out valuable attention on the production of cinematic capital, but if enjoyment, or escape, or relaxation, or information, or for whatever reason you become a member of the spectacle society, isn’t that a fair wage? Anyway, I guess we need to accept it regardless of whether it is or not … the only other option is to get chunks of us to cease to exist … right Jim?

  4. In “Production: The Spectatorship of the Proletariat,” Beller argues that Eisenstein’s cinema—in particular his interest in montage—invites comparisons with the work of Pavlov and Taylor. All three, Beller demonstrates, share an interest in using scientific processes for the goal of social control. Pavlov promises “complete success” in his project of mapping and manipulating the brain, what Beller claims amounts to “total control” over the psyche (123). Taylor works toward “scientific management . . . to wrest control of the shop floor from labor” (122), analyzing, disciplining, and managing even the smallest movements of his workers. Eisenstein’s work assumes that “human function can be controlled by rationally designed machines” (125). In each case, Beller underscores how the work in question is predicated upon a machinic understanding of human character: rational, predictable, manageable.
    Although he doesn’t use the term, we might say (drawing on Foucault’s “disciplinary society” and Deleuze’s “control society”) that Beller’s analysis of Pavlov, Taylor, and Eisenstein points to something somewhat other: a management society. What might be the outline of the management society? From Beller’s work, some possible precepts:
    1. “The audience is already built into the system, part of the raw material on which the social machine may work” (125). Under the regime of management (rather than of control or discipline), subjects are figured as cogs in the social machine, whether that machine works toward the goal of Communist revolution (as in Eisenstein) or the expansion of capital (as in Taylor). The important distinction in the management society, perhaps, is that (unlike in the work of Foucault or Deleuze) the social order is seen as productive of some end; that is, the social order is a purposive one.
    2. “Eisenstein, Pavlov, and Taylor create machines that produced subjective effects, as they met objective necessities. These effects were necessary to their machines’ functions” (126). Management is efficient. It does not traffic in the bodily excesses of control or the panoptical surveillance of discipline. Rather, management uses the social machine to create those effects (subjective and physical) it needs to achieve its goals. Here, Taylor is the paradigmatic figure: bodily operations are not controlled for the sake of producing the “ideal” subject, but to make the subject efficient, productive. The effects of the social machine produce the subject with as little waste as possible.
    3. “Object (the nervous system) and media (science) . . . each have a rationalized manufacturing essence, a like organization. This like organization, however violently imposed, creates the effect of a harmonious relation between observer and observed” (128). Management is rational and analogic. The individual is understood as microcosm of the systemic: purposive and goal-oriented. The subject fits the social machine because the two function in the same ways. The task of managerial power, then, is to align the subject’s goals with those of the social machine. This, in turn, however, points to the structure of managerial power. Neither as dispersed as discipline, nor as intensely individualized as control, management is very plainly power organized from the top down. However, it works not through oppression or force (at least, not openly) but through the analogic order of its power; it is legitimated by the assumption of a goal shared by the subject and the social machine.
    4. “Rather than conduct research in a set of controlled experiments to discover the workings of the outer world, the point becomes to conduct research on the workings of the outer world in order to discover a set of controls” (135). Management believes the subject can be made the object of scientific knowledge. As noted already, the managed subject is defined by its predictability. Management works specifically because people can be predicted to react in given ways in response to particular stimuli. Not only is Pavlov’s influence evident here, but we might (since this is a rhetoric course after all) look to the way Aristotle describes the work of various rhetorical moves in his Rhetorica. When you know how people will react to a stimulus, you can condition their behavior, shape it, manage it.

    These precepts are just a very basic start to thinking about the management society. But, as Beller notes, they are a potent mix; “this combination,” he suggests, “is the condition of possibility for democracy under capitalism—people are perfectly free to move in the ways that they are programmed to move” (132).

  5. Going Spectral/Gone Spectral

    Following on my response last week – specifically, the interest I expressed in Roland Barthes’ work on photographic stills, as well as Derrida’s formulation that, “the future belongs to ghosts”– it seems appropriate to begin by discussing the presence of similar thematic concerns in Beller’s work. With regard for The Cinematic Mode of Production, this theme appears late in the first section of the text.

    Following an extended discussion of Dziga Vertov and The Man with the Movie Camera, Beller begins to appropriate Marx’s theories concerning the exchange of commodities for his discussion of cinematic capital. At this junction, Beller provides a brief summation of Marx’s work regarding the transaction of money. As Beller quotes, “The commodity is exchanged for money; money is exchanged for the commodity, and this is repeated ad infinitum.” As Marx continues, it becomes clear that by removing the intermediary (money) one reveals that commodities are, in essence, being exchanged for other commodities. It is at the interstice between Marx’s theories concerning the exchange of commodities and Beller’s discussion of cinema as, “the highest stage of twentieth-century capitalism” that this discourse becomes most relevant to last week’s discussion of Spectographies.

    For his part, Beller appropriates this model in order to discuss the ways in which cinema functions to capture the commodity. In his terms, it is really the capacity for cinema to capture so much of the (im) material world that determines its power as an instrument of capitalism. Following on his discussion of the processes of commodification that occur with regard for everyday objects becoming cinematic images, Beller argues that the filmic frame or screen actually acts as the intermediary between commodities or commodity-images. In his interpretation, the frame and screen operate as a stand-in for money in the cinematic stage of capitalism. It is actually the act of appropriation or, at least Beller’s description of this act that becomes most relevant to a continued discussion of Spectographies.

    It is at this very important junction that Beller suggests money and the frame both compose images of objects, “the money-image of their exchange-value:

    Price, then, appears as a proto-image—the abstracted silhouette of a commodity. In this way, both the film frame and money capture a ghost of the object—abstract, ethereal, and metaphysical, certainly, but nonetheless real for all that. Indeed, one could say that the specter of the object that results from traditional capital circulation—decrees that the object is already becoming an image, and that cinema is immanent in the flow of objects existing in the field of exchange (Beller 58)

    Here, with consideration for several of the issues that Beller is addressing, one can read that he is proposing something a little different than what we encountered last week. Though the text gives no indication that he is responding to Derrida and Stiegler, the difference between their understandings should not go unremarked.

    A crucial difference between Derrida’s (perhaps even Barthes’) conception of the specter and that of Beller’s relates to the issue of capital. Though I am not particularly set on a reading of Derrida that denies the economic, as this move would ultimately ignore Derrida’s work with regard for Marx, it is evident that Beller is more intent on bringing the economic to bear on this particular issue. In fact, it is really only by means of approaching Marx that Beller is able to get to the specter. Not to be overly redundant, but Beller argues with regard for the object becoming the image-commodity that, “the specter of the object that results from traditional capital circulation…is already becoming an image.” Here, Beller is attempting to suggest, in very Marxist fashion, that there are already ghosts before the image; that the price of certain objects actually serves as an initial mediating force…what he refers to as the “proto-image.” Price is the abstracted flow that we interpret before the object even becomes an image.

    Returning to the brief query I made last week as to whether death is a natural prerequisite to the spectral, and my hypothesis that it was and is not, it seems that Beller’s provocative reading of Marx finds that everything has a price, and thus, already, an emanation. With capitalism, in a very strange way, everything has already gone spectral. Thus, returning again to Derrida’s by now infamous statement, we can read that a dramatic divergence is occurring between the two texts. This divergence, of course, relates to the issue of time. If Derrida’s vision of a wholly mediated environment resides somewhere in the future, Beller is already concerned with a mediated present. And, it is this difference in their very Marxist extrapolations that encourages me to return to yet another question I raised last week. Specifically, I am alluding to my interest as to whether or not a technology determines one’s relation to time…as in whether or not a technology determines one’s immortality. Quite simply, my interest in the idea of an image creating a ghost encouraged me to question whether a person that will never come into contact with the technology of the camera would actually be able to achieve the type of immortal presence that Derrida describes.

    Whereas there is room for reading that this might be the case with Derrida’s theories, especially his emphasis on the photographic still as being a requisite to the spectral emanation, Beller’s work is suggestive of something entirely different. With Beller I feel like we are finally getting to substantiation, theoretically, of power manifesting through inclusion as opposed to a more traditional concept of power manifesting through exclusion. There is a certain appeal in the model that Beller seems to be getting a hold of in this text, especially as it seems he is grabbing on to certain post-structuralism concepts (namely the forces of deterritorialization and reterritorialization). In direct contrast to Derrida, Beller is constructing a model of capitalism that envisions capitalist forces as operating to include as many objects of value or, even, labor as possible. Of course, here, one would really have to ask if anything is impossible.

    For evidence, one need look no further than his move to co-opt Marx’s theorem that capitalism is the figurative gear system that coordinates the various temporalities of different social enclaves (53). Though Beller’s move will be to affirm that, “film at the level of form, is the most articulate iteration of the basic relations of nonsynchronicity and fragmentation,” thus affirming that film is the highest echelon of capitalistic forces or systems, one can see that Beller is working, ultimately, towards an understanding of capitalism as force operating to include; to include people and temporalities. Though the cinema works to construct an image of everything, and objects become images, one must remember that the spectral is already there. There is always already a price for that which capital seeks to acquire.

  6. The Cinematic Mode of Production gives an account of the role of aesthetic culture within the capitalist system. According to Beller, everything, even the image and the gaze, has become a form of capitalism coupled with culture, a cultural capitalism. Beller gives an account of how everything within our lives, our social, political, psychic, or essentially, our cultural lives has become increasingly dominated by mediascapes (film, television, video, ipods, videogames and so on). And, even with the astonishing fast development of new technologies, Beller’s theory can expand to incorporate multi-modal and global technology’s far reaching domination.
    Beller’s main premise is that cinema is not simply aesthetic but has become the mode of production within our post-industrial capitalist society. Capitalist economic production, the creation and circulation of commodities, our fetishisms (specifically of images and actors and the desiring of “goods”) now come, according to Beller, from and within the cinema. Thus, we have passed from an industrial to a cinematic mode of production. To bring currency to this theory, Beller examines Vertov’s film as an example “of the transformation of production by cinema by showing that the space, time, and movement of industrial production are all impacted in the image, that is, the industrial production circulates through the image, and becomes a machine [of] production” (75). Beller also draws upon theorists such as Jameson, Horkheimer, Adorno, and specifically (who cannot miss this reference when viewing the cover of the book) Baudrillard and his theory of society living, experiencing, and producing a world of hyperreal simulations.
    Of particular interest for me is Beller’s account of commodification that takes place in the everyday experiences, within one’s “leisure time.” Similar to Dienst, Beller places production, labor, and consumption into the realm of private and intimate (if often simulated) encounters; or in other words, commodification of the image creates the realm of the spectacle: “The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life” (259, as quoted by Guy Debord). As referenced previously, Beller argues that cinematic images are not just representations of capital, but that they actually are capital. Specifically, Beller unpacks his theory through Marx’s theory of circulation. Marx defines capitalism as commodity that is in constant circulation. Without this circulation, profit and production would cease to operate. A side note here, often, in times of depression, the circulation process of capitalism ceases to function in a healthy way. And indeed, lately it seems that we are in a time of depression in which production and consumption has come to a halt. Interestingly enough, recently, there seems to be an increase in consumption though. How, through the drop in oil prices! By some miracle, gas has gone from over four dollars a gallon to a mere 2.19 a gallon. Pardon the pun, but the capitalist engine has found a way to restart the machine. What a wonderful example of Marx’s theory of use-value and exchange-value. Use value operates as a commodity that is purchased because of its use to us (gas). Yet we pay for that commodity through our own work, producing more and more exchange-value rather than use value. And to extend this process even further, this use-value, which is really exchange-value, functions within our everyday lives, specifically our leisure time.
    The move from higher to lower gas prices fosters confidence within the capitalist system, encourages consumers to not only buy more gas, but to use that gas for leisure purposes as well as the confidence to consume within other areas of the market. Yet, the price and/or image of gas can be pushed even further. All commodities are objects of desire, or fetishes, because of the “value” that seems magically stored in them, rather than how we might actually make use of them. The exchange-value of the commodity of gas comes from its symbol of US power, prestige; an easily conventionally read sign of the economic system itself. Thus, Beller’s theory seems to hold even when applied to images outside of the cinema; there is an increasing trend of commodity to be attached to the power/function of the image.
    Thus, the move towards an image driven or simulated driven capitalist system of commodity exchange develops out of the increasing supremacy of the image (the image of the commodity). As seen through the oil example, consuming commodities come not only from their use-value, but from the image the commodity houses. Consuming has become the consumption of images—in the example of oil, the image of the oil price itself is enough to encourage consumption, but not only of oil, but of commodities in general. Bringing the discussion back to Beller, cinema, television, video, etc. produces this new mode of exchange-value and consumption. Beller describes cinema as a machine which circulates images, exchanges one image or affect for another, and produces the desire of consumption. Therefore, cinema is both a machine of circulation and production. And this is the crux of Beller’s theory. Production now resides within the circulation of the image, which means that labor is performed through viewing. Or, in other words, the viewer consumes and labors simultaneously. There is a commodification of leisure time.
    The exchange-value which has seeped into one’s leisure time once again produces more value (through use and viewing) than the original product, so that surplus value can be obtained. Surplus value within the image network comes from the circulation of the image. Labor comes from out attention to the image and the incorporation of the image into our “free time,” into every arena of our lives. And this brings us back once again to the oil metaphor. With the ever decreasing oil prices, more and more individuals are racing to the gas station to “fill up.” And while filling up, each individual is placing more and more “attention” onto the image/symbolism of oil, but additionally, while “filling” our car, we are subjected to additional images—the televisual component now coupled with the labor of gassing up. We are now engaged in a doubling process of labor as we view the television screen located above the gas dispenser. Our attention/labor becomes increasingly taxed (a pun again) within the commodity machine of the image. No wonder I am so tired lately!

  7. “With all the images of daily life in motion, the cinematic mode of production orchestrates the mise-en-scene for the production of consciousness and the consciousness of production. We cut, edit, produce, and direct; we watch, we process, we wait. You think all those movements, all that time, is your own consciousness, even though what plays on the screen in your theater comes somehow from beyond you” (80). This active making and re-making of consciousness that Beller describes in The Cinematic Mode of Production alludes to the performativity of “the image” and our false sense of freedom that accompanies “the stirrings caused by partial phenomena, a momentary perception or a half-conceived idea, that drive the imagination: narratives, desires, attractions” (73). Rather, for Beller, consciousness as “cut-up” and “montage” lulls our access to agency and renders us as laborers to the image. The production of reality via images (image-consciousness) de-privileges language as the dominant discourse, thereby alienating expression, interpretation, and understanding of the world: “The overall effect of an increasing quantity of images is the radical alienation of consciousness, its isolation and separation, its inability to convincingly ‘language’ reality and thus its reduction to something on the order of a free-floating hallucination, cut away as it is from all ground” (15). Our inability to ‘language reality’ at the expense of our pleasure-derived ‘labor’ is problematic, as Beller suggests, because our “bodies become deprived of the power of speech.” While the ‘virtual-real’ feels good and feeds the attention economy of capital, this sacrifice of speech for sensory satisfaction radically alters our “language function and subject formation in the emerging media environment” (15). Thus, if we are alienated from the conscious agency to construct our own realities, then this image-consciousness or unconsciousness limits and constrains our abilities to resist capitalism’s corrupt articulations.

    While I’m interested in Beller’s belief that the concept of voice is decisive in altering and re-mediating life, I wish he would have spent more time in the book focusing on the pragmatics and potential complications of his assumed and hope-derived faith in the ‘differance’ factor of “non-capitalist speculation.” Again, I gladly want to believe in the power of the imagination and moments of creation where there “always exists a possibility to smash the code” (308). However, Beller’s example at the end of the book merely cites his vision of what this re-mediation would look/sound like through spoken-word/hip-hop artist Immortal Technique in relation to poverty and class-consciousness. Beller claims that Immortal Technique’s performance offers a “reclamation of the voice” and through their “cognitive-linguistic, musical, affective” recordings the audience is able to re-shape our thoughts about capitalism and all other systems of domination. But this praise of Immortal Technique seems to be based on the very features that Beller repetitively demonstrated throughout his entire book — that capital itself is disguising and performing as “narratives, desires, attractions.” If anything, I feel as though Beller’s assumption about the power of voice to “smash the code” echoes Aristotle’s statement regarding music: “There seems to be in us a sort of affinity to musical modes and rhythms, which makes some philosophers say that the soul is a tuning, others, that it possesses tuning.” Either way, I’m left laboring to a.) internalize and re-mediate life or b.) soak in the image-saturated seduction and suffocation of my soul.

  8. Whereas Still Life and Ethnographies from two weeks ago argued against wasting the time of viewers, cinema needs to provide enjoyment—expand upon a storyline that will move an audience. Christian Metz states that cinema is devised of three machines: the cinema industry, spectators’ psychology and the cinematic writer. All three machines work to provide filmic pleasure (11). I chose to look through these lenses to analyze All the President’s Men, the 1976 classic movie in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portray Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, in their newsgathering techniques in the 1973 resignation of President Nixon.

    First looking through the lens of the cinematic writer, one would need to know the movie’s two-hour plot. William Goldman received an Academy Award for his screenplay which was based on a book by Woodward. The movie starts in June 1972 when Woodward stumbles upon a story about the Watergate hotel break-in (Democratic National Headquarters). The movie then follows Woodward and Bernstein through seven months of interviews and published stories which eventually lead to the indictment of several top Nixon aides in addition to Nixon’s own resignation. Jason Robards, who played the role of Washington Post Editor Ben Bradley, received an Oscar for his performance, and one reason could be dialogue such as the movie’s concluding speech:
    You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.
    The movie then cuts to President Nixon being sworn in with his hand on the bible agreeing to uphold the constitution—an irony since it was made public just several months later how many laws he broke in violation of that same constitution.

    The producer employed limited photography devices that were available to the cinema industry at the time: there were no montages, very few zooms and/or fades, and no split screens. However, there were many moments throughout the film inwhich the filmmakers used clever imagery. The opening scene of begins with a close up of a typewriter individually typing the letters J-U-N-E 1-7,- 1-9-7-2, the viewer also hears the individual key strokes for each of these letters. The typewriter becomes a metaphor for the downfall of a president—Nixon resigned due to the published rhetoric of Woodward and Bernstein. The two have various scenes in the newsroom with the typewriters both in the newsroom and their homes, and the story also ends with the reporters at their respective desks, typing apparently facing each other while a variety of leads are seen and heard shooting across the teletype: from the inauguration of January 1973 Swearing in of Nixon, to the indictments of several Nixon aides, to Nixon’s August 1974. It’s interesting at the concluding scene as well is one of the few zooms that was implemented. The scene is set up as a long shot of the newsroom with a television at the bottom corner of the screen where the real President Nixon is seen on this TV in this fictitious newsroom. The audience hears Nixon agreeing to “protect the constitution of the United States” while Woodward and Bernstein are producing their copy that eventually brings him down. The parking lot is another location that is used throughout the movie. The movie begins with a lone security officer walking across a darkened parking lot. He arrives at a door, and the camera zooms in on the officer opening the door. We are then invited into the scene of the actual Watergate break-in. Parking lots are also used when Woodward meets his source, named Deep Throat, throughout. Deep Throat (played by Hal Holbrook) remains in the shadows –always at the edges–with a narrow strip of light across his eyes, Woodward is always under a spotlight. This shows the covertness of the interview—Deep Throat remained a secret known only to Woodward for approximately 30 years. Parking lots are also used throughout the movie as a method of moving the plot from one point to another, and Woodward arrives at the Post one morning to an empty parking lot during the day. The empty lot shows the city is against them—no one is with them.

    Finally the spectators’ psychology is brought into the movie throughout, by wondering how two reporters who’s credibility was repeatedly question for lack of named sources in their reports—were able to uncover crimes committed by a U.S. President. We watched this bumbling reporter not fully understand what he stumbled on, demand that Deep Throat tell him more, wanting anyone to go on the record to confirm what they have. The movie is also made realistic with the real clips of Nixon and several of his aides featured in clips played on the newsroom televisions. Looking back on this movie, I as the spectator, sympathized with the reporters looking through stacks of phonebooks to find their source—long before Google was invented.

    My notes throughout mention lack of filmatic devices—long shot/no zoom, single camera, no fades, watching Woodward dial the phone and we don’t see or hear who’s on the other end. However, I maintain when the story line is written superbly enough, the devices detract from the message.

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