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how to deploy an-aesthetic film studies

Talk for the Rendering The Visible “Book Bloc Against Aesthetics” (Georgia State)

Digital aesthetics, particularly those grounded in a theory of medium specificity or on variations of Stanley Cavell’s vague notion of “automatisms” exemplify a deeply atavistic development in contemporary thought. The precarious state of contemporary universities and the even more precarious position of the humanities among the faculties have lead to a conservative theoretical mode that seeks to maintain institutional positions in what appears to be an analysis of art. In film studies, a supposed discipline that, as Dudley Andrew pointed out in the PMLA, has been moving from standalone departments to programs integrated with other departments, institutional players have for the past decade and a half, invoked philosophy and philosophical aesthetics in hopes of re-legitimating themselves and their positions. Their appeals to the most conservative theoretical modes clearly attempts to align film studies with other disciplines thought to be more firmly established. Ironically, aesthetics and philosophy were long ago outstripped by developments within and beyond the field. The exhaustion and political limits of philosophy were elucidated by Jacques Derrida’s oft stated interest in ‘thought” rather than philosophy and the same can be read in Gilles Deleuze’s work, despite his retention of the term. Semiotic approaches to film, Foucault’s famous chapter from The Order Of Things on Las Meninas and the very same apparatus theory cited by those who have taken up Cavell’s “automatisms” move away from art and aesthetics towards a treatment of their objects as social acts. One can say the same for psychoanalytic film theory. Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema” does not once mention art or aesthetics. Such writings were produced during and just after the high point of capitalist expansion, which ended in 1973 (Brenner,) and so could afford to let go of such legitimating references. Claims that the digital offers a fundamentally new aesthetic find themselves outstripped by an earlier text by André Bazin, “The Ontology of The Photographic Image.” Though the dominant tradition misreads this essay as arguing for an indexical notion of photography and film, the word “index” does not appear in it, nor according to Yale’s Ouvire Bazin database does the word appear anywhere in Bazin’s writing. As I have tried to show in my chapter of Andrew and  Herve Joubert-Laurencin’s Opening Bazin. Make no mistake, the leading edges of theory and cultural production still concern themselves with interventions in our life-world, whatever Jacques Rancier may say. Despite the growing interest in genealogies of life and the currency of the term biopolitics, cultural production or “art,” if you insist, as attempted intervention in the lebensraum has yet to be fully thought.  Our consciousness of it’s potential remains where Pier Palo Passolini and The younger Jean-Luc Godard left it, if not behind them since many cover over the cineastes’ efforts with aesthetic analysis of their films. Any movement away from intervention in the lebensraum and towards a restoration of notions of art as a set of works, or toward representation, or aesthetic theory, especially aesthetic theory that posits an autonomy of media or automatisms, or worse that posits a right to beauty, has a regressive character and depoliticizes you in a way that subjects you to deans and today’s real dominant power — namely, capital. In order to show how this is so, as a condensed example I wish to analyze the reception of a series of events digitally disseminated but involving wood, foam, plexiglass, paint and violence: the colorful shields of Book Bloc. I justify the use of this example whose relation to rendering seems more a matter of convenience than anything like essence, because in the larger project of which this forms a part, I argue that the digital aesthetics or an aesthetics of electronic rendering are an effect of a general regressive movement towards aesthetics, philosophy and worst of all “ethics” all of which do nothing but return us to the systems of judgment so hated by Deleuze.

The reception afforded  the  digital images of book bloc by the professionals of theory, art and even activist art provides a paradigm for contemporary aesthetics, revealing their regressive bourgeois character.  As Hegel knew, aesthetics theory has marked the irrelevance of art as an independent sphere since its invention by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. In our times, digital aesthetics function as the latest in a long series of rescue operation for aesthetic theory in general, just as the effort in the first half of the twentieth century by Anglophone film theorists to establish film as an art functioned to fortify an outstripped, fading concept of art.  Paradoxically, contemporary aesthetics attempts to sell us on autonomizing views of    practices that have lost all autonomy. Aesthetics and art refer us to a dead sphere of activity in the name of academic legitimacy at a time when history finds itself infected by life.

In the autumn and winter of 2010 the internet brought us photographs and videos of actions against the privatization of European higher education featuring activists using shields decorated with monochromatic fields baring the titles of well known books. The shields looked like elegant editions and they had a tactical function. They protected the activists from the blows of police batons and allowed them to form phalanxes.

Photographs of book shields started circulating on the web in November of 2010 (Wu Ming Blog.) On November 25, a row of book shields pushed up a street in Rome, protecting the crowd behind them from assaulting police. Titles included The Italian Constitution, Plato’s Rebublic, Q by Luther Blissett, and perhaps most charmingly Don Quixote. As the winter wore on, blocks of books appeared at actions all over Italy and in London on December 9.

In The Huffington Post Sarah Amsler described the London book bloc thus:

By visualizing immaterial value, students restore to the figure of the book a gravitas that years of digitization and commodification have depleted. They do not shield themselves behind knowledge, but hold before them the symbolic promise of all the radical traditions of oppositional knowledge and politics signified through these works. The resulting spectacle of oppression is profound: students communicate symbolically the intellectual and cultural violence of the state’s abdication of education, and the authorities, ridiculously, actually interpellate themselves.

Amsler’s account exemplifies the limited coverage of the book shields, almost all of  which turned attention away from the tactical function of the shields and towards the symbolic functions of the books. Here I do not mean tactical in Michel De Certeau’s expanded and diluted sense, I mean it in the military sense. To situate the books only on the plane of symbolic violence is to ignore the physically violence of the struggle depicted in the images. Surely, Amsler’s points have a certain validity, but a partial one. Something like a tradition of opposition guides the choice of books whose titles the shields bear. On other days titles appeared such as The Coming Insurection (Glen beck;s favorite book,) Das Kapital, and Specters Of Marx. However, dwelling on the virtual aspects of the books articulates the ideology of contemporary liberalism and interpellates the blog reader within it. Perceived by those under the influence of liberalism, the events in London in November and December appear as largely virtual and symbolic, meant to focus media attention in hopes of influencing a parliamentary vote to raise student fees. Liberal ideology makes certain social facts seem natural and obvious. In this case, public opinion as the primary object of struggle, electoral politics and the all encompassing state appear as unquestioned assumptions. Jacques Rancier, the inverted messenger of liberalism would no doubt try to assert that the monochromatic fields function as a variation of the blank page that he claims figures the space of democracy. In short, liberal ideology turns the actions in London into what Guy Debord used to call spectacle in the sense that they disguise living action as a dead commodity.

To some of those who participated, those events appeared otherwise. On December 10th Nina Power’s Facebook status update read “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” Liberal ideology was one of the primary mechanisms keeping certain people from saying “there is a war.” For the liberal, the obviousness of the state, of electoral politics, of public opinion makes it equally obvious that only the virtual, symbolic and aesthetic aspects deserve serious consideration, foreclosing any possibility of acknowledging the war. Commentators interpellated by liberal ideology greet what they see as the aesthetic aspects of the events with a certain unrestrained joy, as if surprised by the creativity of activists.

A historical analysis supports the creativity of the book shields, but in a way that does not divorce their tactical function from their adornment. In 1968 in Paris, the lids of metal trash cans functioned as shields. Images of youths holding the lids while throwing the paving stones that covered the beach before being liberated illustrated the spontaneous creativity of rebellion.

During four decades between that May and the events in London, European urban waste management underwent massive changes. As part of these changes, what the British call the “wheelie bin” was patented 1975 by the German company Schneider (http://www.engsc.ac.uk/downloads/miniproject/ip/PeterLewis-OpenUniversity.pdf) and replaced metal trash cans in cities all over Europe over the following years. Trash bins were completely redesigned to work with semi-automated rubbish collection trucks. Unlike the older round cans, wheelie bins are usually made of rubber or plastic and more importantly, feature lids attached to the bin by hinges.  While the older, metal, trash can lids had an easily graspable handle in the middle of their circular form, the rectangular top of wheelie bins tend only have a sold ridge in the middle, sometimes with handles on the edges. In 1968, rebels found themselves surrounded everyday elements of the urban fabric, trash can lids, that could be instantly used as shields. The rebels of last winter had to make their own and the fact that they did so cannot be separated from the way in which they decorated what they made. More recently, in Cairo, activists appropriated pelxiglass riot shields from the police attacking them.

Digital photography and video immediately disseminated rendered images of the book shields around the globe via the equally digital means of the world wide web, yet even the deep market penetration of these media could not prevent the automated spectacularization of the images by liberal ideology, despite the images of the shields taking baton hits. Such rendered images render the visible as part of the current processes by which liberal ideology neutralizes any potential threat of social antagonism bourn by images and sounds. The current mode of spectacularization takes digital and digitally distributed images and sounds as one of its main materials and renders them, in the sense of giving them up to, privileged interpreters who render them, in the culinary sense of reducing, to ensure that they cannot escape the current diffuse spectacle.

Contemporary rendering, in this special sense, depends conceptually on the disavowed persistence of Lessing in contemporary aesthetic theory. As I have tried to show elsewhere, attempts to once again develop a new theory of media, or automatisms, their dematerialized functional equivalent, lead to a confinement of artistic practice to a historical field determined by the media or automatisms themselves (art history, film theory) stranding us in a symbolic economy or a virtual field and blinding us to the actual functions of cultural practice. David Rodowick’s book on the after life of cinema in the digital age performs exactly that operation whileattempting to defend a particular institutional position (in the case the centrality of Film Studies in contemporary higher education. The metaphysics of such works substitutes a weak or even false materialism for a worthwhile one. Just like older arguments about medium specificity, Rodwick, Cavellians and their ilk treat media or their equivalents as if they were actual and virtual materials that determined an aesthetics. Liberal ideology implies a simple material essentialism when we need a dialectical or historical materialism in order make cultural products appear as parts of larger historical assemblages.

As a result, it becomes difficult to perceive the war as a war. Amsler treats books as the composite actual and virtual material proper to the book shields. According to her analysis, the book shields represent the actual aspect of books (their covers and printed titles) while deploying their symbolic or virtual aspects (the thought or knowledge they contain.) Thus she virtualizes the entire book shield, as if it were all book and no shield. As with all essentialist-materialist analyses, the operation of the product can only be understood as taking place on the same plane on which she has posited the materials as existing. She writes, “Students communicate symbolically the intellectual and cultural violence of the state’s abdication of education.” Perhaps they do, but they do so while walking in a city, holding shields, confronted by police violence. Perhaps they do, but the state’s abdication of education must be understood as part of immiseration’s physical violence. Like any good liberal ideology, Amsler’s analysis cannot consider the possibility that the violence on the streets of London might not merely express “intellectual and cultural violence” and that the engagement sought by the activists might take a form other than “interpellation.” What if the shields function as a tool for occupying space within which to build new social relations? What if the protests did not merely seek to influence public opinion and the parliamentary vote on fees but sought another politics entirely? What if, as one of the major signs promoting the action said, the goal was to “shut down London” and use it for something else? What if the book sheilds were part of a physical struggle to establish a temporary autonomous zone?

We have seeming arrived at an impasse, how can we understand the tactical function of the book shields without reducing them to shields and forgetting their reference to books, and specific books at that? How can we include the image on the shield in the historical assemblage of which they are apart? Here we might appeal to developments in film aesthetics more recent than Rodowick’s The Virtual Life Of Film. Rosalind Galt’s forthcoming Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image articulates a genealogy of certain aesthetically devalued concepts such as “pretty” and “decorative” and profoundly transvalues them. In the course of her work Galt shows that one of the major differences between the decorative and the beautiful or the sublime is that the decorative defeats attempts to develop it into an autonomous sphere or activity or experience. The dependence of the decorative on a support that functions historically and not merely as an essence makes it inconceivable otherwise than as part of an assemblage. In the case of our example, book images decorate the shields. In light of Galt’s work, perhaps one can say so without dismissing the book images. Perhaps the decorative book images function as virtual prompts to new social relations and new modes of life to be actualized in the space cleared and occupied by the tactical use of the shields. In other fields one could perform a similar reading of the “cute” in Sianne Ngia’s Ugly Feelings. Finally, I want to acknowledge another book of theory that refused to treat film as art, Akira Lippit’s Atomic Light (Shadow Optics,) a book so complex that it remains to be read and has mostly been understood in the most reductive terms, for example by Rosalyn Deutsche in her recent Hiroshima After Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War. For me the books crowning achievement is its development of the theme of avisuality not just as a way of thinking about the impossibility of seeing the flash of the atom bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but as a link between seeing and subjectification — a conduit between images and the lebenswelt or the lebens-todvelt. A conduit that opens most  completely at the level of film analysis in Lippit’s readings of certain shots in the “Hoichi The Earless” episode of Kobayashi Masaki’s Kwaidan; and at the level of the books poetics in Lippit’s insistant use of the second person singular. You will find in Atomic Light a way of continuing film theory that shines directly into your life without regressing into aesthetic theory. You will find that all three books make your shields pretty.

My favorit Italian movie since Salo

Andrew, Dudley. The ‘Three Ages’ of Cinema Studies and the Age to Come,” PMLA 115.3 (May 2000): 341.

Amsler, Sarah. Creative Militancy, Militant Creativity and the New British Student Movement.  Huffington Post December 10, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-amsler/creative-militancy-milita_b_794978.html.

Brener, Robert. The Economics Of Global Turbulence. London. Verso. 2006

Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. New York. Viking Press. New York.1971

Deutsche, Rosalyn. Hiroshima After Iraq: 3 Studies in Art and War

Galt, Rosalind. Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image. New York. Columbia University Press. Forthcoming, 2011.

Lippit, Akira. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics). Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press. 2005.

Ngia, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 2007.

Ouvrire Bazin: A Database Of His Articles http://bazin.commons.yale.edu/index.php

Rodowick, D.N. The Virtual Life Of Film. Cambridge University Press. 2007.

http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog/?p=1515.)

Il fiore delle mille e una notte Hypothesis 1

If, unlike the other two films in Pasolini’s trilogy of life, Il fiore delle mille e una notte does not end with a scene in which an artist played by the director completes a work of art, perhaps the film’s complete diffusion of aesthetics in the plane of life motivates this difference. In Il fiore delle mille e una notte the shimmer of material culture creates sexual potentials, which, when actualized, lead Nuredin to the city ruled by his first love.

The shooting style of the film as well as the props, costumes and locations express the material culture of the world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. The shooting style mimics various forms of Islamic art through it’s framings and color palate in a clear example of what Pasolini called the pretextual indirect.  In his essay The Cinema of Poetry” Pasolini shows that the styles of certain films by Godard and Antonioni mix various modes of subjectivity with the highest level of the films narration. In Deserto Rosso (Antonioni, 1964) the camera sees in the same way as Giuliana throughout most of the film, even when the narrative positions certain shots as objective. The character’s eyes seem to determine the look of the film starting at a point before the text begins and they provide a pretext for certain visual effects that critics and other sales people sometimes call “painterly.” The pretextual free indirect functions somewhat differently in Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Visual tropes from the complex set of historical cultures woven into  كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ (Kitāb ‘alf layla wa-layla) or هزار و یک شب (Hezār-o yek šab) and many of it’s later presentations such as those by Burton and Berger, Powel Korda et al.

The folktales in A Thousand and One Nights were collected over a long historical period encompassing a variety of mentalities linked to a closely related but differentiated cluster of material cultures, all determined by variations on feudalism trapped in its moment of primitive accumulation in the Middle East, Asia and the Persian Gulf. As in the other films in the trilogy, Pasolini uses historical visual topes as traces of material cultures invoked in A Thousand And One Nights to open up a set of potential sexualities determined by the life-worlds of non-capitalist and pre-capitalist economies.

The props, costumes and other elements of the mise en scene play an important role in articulating the imagined economic base with the sexualities within the life world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Pasolini’s Marxist attention to modes of production and the economic base can be felt in the film’s use of goods and their circulation as causes of action and as a means of connecting the stories to one another. The film starts with Nuredin purchasing Zummurud as a slave and moves onto its next phase when he sells a tapestry she weaves. Later a demon will find his captive’s lover by asking if anyone recognizes the owner of his shoes. The film connects the story of Aziz and Azizi to the next tale via a scroll Azizi leaves Aziz. While many of these props might be considered works of art, the film prioritizes their economic circulation not so as to make economics dominant, but so as to make it impossible to disassociate sensation and affect from forces of production. An attentive viewer cannot watch these films and dream of aesthetics as an autonomous sphere of human activity; in them aesthetics becomes a thing of the past. Il fiore delle mille e una notte completes the anaesthetic work of the trilogy of life in the context of an imagined economy based on various features of the multiple historical circumstances in-forming it’s source text. Pasolini’s choice of a work marked as lacking a single author and his displacement of Sherazade from her common position as the teller of all the tales to that of a minor character, an extra, in one of the episodes complete the dissolution of art and aesthetics into immanence  of life-forms precisely by making it impossible for the film to end with an artist as figure of authorship in the film’s finale. The conclusion of Pasolini’s work on aesthetics ends the trilogy of life and includes it in a quartet of films opening onto the irremissible.

If Pasolini’s life/death quartet (Il Decameron (1971,) I racconti di Canterbury (1972,) Il fiore delle mille e una notte (1974) Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975)) rewrites aesthetics in the past tense, obviously, the films don’t consign attention to and pleasure in sensation to the dustbin of history. The traces of material culture that refer us to economies which produce sexualities and subjectivities solicit affects that include the quartet’s spectators, but those affects cannot be separated from historical potentials. The post recently brought me a letter from a friend articulating the link between materialized actuality and subjectivity — a letter which, without wanting to, describes the precise process at work in the Quartet:

If the subjective process is something like a new creation in the world, we have an infinity of consequences. In fact, there are no limits. There are potentially—virtually (to speak as Deleuze)—we have virtually an infinity of consequences. But this infinity is not a transcendent one; it’s an immanent infinity. It is the infinity of the body itself in relation to the trace. So we have to understand what is an immanent infinity and not a transcendent infinity.

How can we speak of the affects that traverse the infinity of consequences issuing from the traces of material culture?  A forthcoming book by another friend inadvertently rises to the challenge via a genealogical articulation of “pretty” as a concept. In Pretty: Film And The Decorative Image, Rosalind Galt transvalues the eponymous term so that it’s disparaging sense of  “cunning and art” becomes a virtue, a gesture which completely repositions decoration as decoration within our affective relations to cultural production. Her chapter on Soy Cuba (Kalatosov, 1964) clarifies the role of the film’s prettiness in producing a transnational revolutionary affect that cannot be separated from the historical specificity of Soy Cuba’s production or the culture it was released into. Unlike the quasi- autonomous aesthetic sphere, the pretty cannot be disassociated from gendered bodies and forces of production in the strictest sense. Galt allowed me to understand how forces of production generate affects and material simultaneously.

Galt’s uncompromising philology cites the difficulties encountered by Sianne Ngai in her re-articulation of cuteness as a “minor taste concept” particularly suited “for the analysis of art’s increasingly complex relation to market society in the twentieth century.” Ngai’s “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde” (Critical Inquiry 31 (2005): 811–12.) and Ugly Feelings work through a set of affects that, like “prettiness” cannot be disassociated from the material conditions giving rise to them and which have therefore been devalued in the atavistic aesthetic sphere. Although both authors seem committed to retaining some version of the concepts of “art” and “aesthetics” in relation to contemporary cultural practice, their deeply transvaluative approach harmonizes with Pasolini’s passage beyond them and into the lived. I have found no better term for Il fiore delle mille e una notte ‘s mise-en-scene than “pretty” and no better word for Ninetto Davoli’s performance as Aziz than cute.

Cinema And Urbanism: Rome Open City, Subjectification, Homophobia, The Third Man. raw class notes for 1.10.2011

Rome Open City: an “open” city not to be used as a transfer point for troops or materials, excluded from military operations, not to house a military government (Forgacs, 31;)

an open city whose designation became ironic (Forgacs, 32;)

a city of “occupied allies” (Forgacs, 33;)

a city where Catholic priests and communists conspire against a common enemy;

a city where partisans escape the occupiers on roof tops;

a city where fascists march with difficulty, but partisans suddenly appear (Forgacs, 40;)

a city where women loot bakeries; a city where drug addicts who shelter and betray communists depend on occupiers for cocaine;

a city where little boys sabotage train yards; a city where a pregnant woman gets shot running after her arrested fiancé;

a city where, under the allied occupation, when Rome Open City was made, the economy “collapsed and inflation and the black market were rife” (Forgacs, 28.)

a city of memorials and bitter economic miracles.

We study film and urbanism because, as Guy Debord says “Of all the affairs we participate in, with or without interest, the groping search for a new way of life is the only aspect still impassioning. Aesthetic and other disciplines have proved blatantly inadequate in this regard and merit the greatest detachment.” (Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.) This also explains my attempt to develop an anaesthetic approach to film, which despite the insistence of film theorists in the first half of the 20th century that it is an art.

In June1943, after the allied invasion of Sicily, the Grand Fascist Counsel passed a motion of no confidence and Benito Mussolini was deposed and arrested. The titular head of state, King Victor Emmanuel II continued in his role. Germany, fearing that Italy would dessert the Axis in the face of an Allied invasion that had started in Sicily and was working it’s way north occupied the central and northern parts of the country. In September 1943, after the new Italian state had surrendered to the Allies, German troops liberated Mussolini. Adolf Hitler installed Mussolini as dictator if the new Italian Social Republic (known as the RSI) with Sàlo as it’s capital. After an allied bombing , Rome was declared an open city on August 14 by Victor Emmanuel’s government and then again in the terms of the surrender  and then again  on September 10, by an agreement between the German military command and the allies.   On September 23, 1943, German paratroopers occupied the center of Rome. In the period when Rome was officially an “open city” it was supposedly under the control of the RSI, but in fact under German military rule and was bombed repeated by the allies. For the resistance, the importance of the city’s designation as “open” marked the illegality of the German occupation (Forgacs, 32.) The underground sought to attack German lines of communication, to prevent them from marching with impunity through the city (32-3)

After the “liberation” of Rome,” “U.S. Rear Admiral Emory W. Stone expropriated Cinecittà as a refuge camp and tried to suppress the “so called Italian film industry” on the grounds that it had been “invented by the fascists” (Gallagherr 116.) Under German occupation, Cinecittà has been used to store munitions (Forgacs, 30.) (Note that the name “Cinecittà’ suggests a city of cinema or a city of film production.) circumstances  forced Rossellini and his crew into the streets and a rented 60 by 180 foot basement at 30 via degli Avignonesi used as a studio (136.) The basement was a semi-crypt, reminiscent of the torture chamber in the film. The interiors were shot on sets at night because electricity was more reliable than in the day. When necessary the production stole current from the offices of the US Army newspaper The Stars And Stripes (136.) This basement was just south east of Piazza de Spagna. Outside, the city’s memory of the war intervened in the production. During the shoot of the scene where Pina sees her man taken to prison, chases the truck and gets gunned down, a crowd came to watch the shoot on Via Ramondo Montecuccoli. They reacted to the sight of the German Army, or those playing the German army, by spitting, throwing stones and yelling “go make a movie somewhere else” (115-6) Marina Teresa Gullace, the woman whose death formed the basis for this episode was actually shot outside of the barracks where her fiancé was held prisoner as he leaned out of the window to killer her, but the film moves the murder to the same street as the roundup (Forgacs, 15.) During another shoot in which the Gestapo arrest Don Pietro and Manfredi, the DP, Ubaldo Arata, was shooting from a hidden vantage point in a door way and a trolley conductor stopped his train and attempted to intervene (156.)  At this point the war was still going on in the north of Italy. Rossellini’s goals in making Rome Open City emerged from the circumstances. He wanted to  “break the industrial structures of those years, to be able to conquer the liberty to experiment without conditions … when to kill the industrial structures of cinema you leave the sound stage … and shoot on the street, like someone who lives there, you discover as a result that you possess a style” (Gallagher, 138.)

Rome Open City depicts a geography of resistant Italians and evil Germans. Even the fascists among Rossellini’s Italians seem to act against their wills. “The New Italian cinema would make the Germans scapegoats for everything” (Gallagher, 117.) Rossellini shows the city of occupiers from above and the city of citizens and the resistance, the underground,  from below (Forgacs, 35.) He breaks Rome up into a center and peripheries. In the center we find the Gestapo headquarters along with Don Pietro’s church. In the peripheries, a working class district for Pina and Marcello and, less distant from the center, a bourgeois district for Marina. (35.) (The division of cities into center and periphery will be crucial through out our project this term.) In the period immediately following the Allied capture of Rome from the Nazi’s, Rossellini considered a film in episodes to be the only production possibility because of industrial conditions. (Gallagher, 120.) The episodes he had in mind were confined to specific areas in Rome. Rossellini’s concern for the specificity of each area can be felt in accounts of the first discussions between Rossellini, Sergio Amidei and Alberto Consiglio, the inititial moment of Rome Open City’s development. Rossellini rejected a story (originally for another film) from Amidei about story about a black marketer who lived in the Piazza de Spagna because such a man would not live in that neighborhood. The conversation lead to the idea of a priest sought by the Germans. The Piazza de Spagna, in the northwest corner of the map in Forgac’s monograph, served as the location where the soldiers march at the beginning and Amidi’s in the neighborhood which had been the site of actual communist meetings was used as Manfredi’s (Forgacs, 16.) The producer, Countess Chiara Politi apparently insisted on the combination of the episodes into a more or less continuous narrative (Forgacs, 14.)

Though the occupiers see the city from above, as Tom Conley points out in Cartographic Cinema, they seem to know nothing about the city. When the soldiers ask an old woman where they are, and she tells them it’s the Spanish embassy, near the famous Spanish stairs (71.) The city seen from above functions as a kind of map, and we see the occupiers in scenes with maps. For example, in Bergmann’s office in the Gestapo headquarters, an office with a door that leads to the salon and beyond it to the torture chamber. a map of Rome divided into 14 zones according to the Schröder plan, a map of the region around Rome and a map of the world hang on the wall (Conley, 69-73.)

Views of the city from below show us how it is used. (Here, Forgacs paraphrases Michel Decertau’s “Walking In The City” (From The Practice Of Everyday Life,)(Forgacs, 36.) The same map of the Roman region seen in Bergmann’s office hangs in Francesco’s apartment where Pina and Manfredi talk, but the context changes it. Instead of looking at the map and talking about the plan to end the resistance, Manfredi tells an a love story about Marina while the camera shoots him almost like part of the map and Pina tells him she is pregnant. The characters here seem to become the map rather than using it in a hunt (Conley, 76.)

Forgacs cites Italo Calvion and Marina Corti’s claim that Neo-realist  films about the resistance work with “already shaped” (22) expressions of events rather than directly transcribing real world events. The films, paintings, fictions, sculptures, newspaper reports etc listed by Forgacs can be seen as elements of material culture immanent the filmmakers’ consciousness of events at the time the movies were made. Their mediation takes the formed of a material trace of the memory of what happened in the city of Rome. They were virtual features of the cityscape, as real, if not as actual, as the locations that Forgacs cites as a “documentary” feature (22.) Perhaps the many maps in the mise-en-scene of Rome Open City point to this.

Forgacs calls Rossellini’s Rome a simulacrum (35.) The simulacrum works by expressing various zones, divided into into views from above and below as well as into center and periphery. Each division produces a different affect and supporting a specific mode of consciousness, as Debord suggests in his “Introduction.” Formally, the film associates views from below with characters from the periphery and views from above with characters from the center — Gestapo headquarters is in the center and in a sense all occupiers come from there in the film. The Germans started the occupation of Rome in fall of 1943 by landing paratroops in the middle of the city. Yet, the film combines the terms in every possible ways. Don Pietro’s church is in the center and he uses the city to work with the underground, seeing it from below. The articulation of center and periphery with views from above and below in various ways becomes a formal machine for producing character subjectivity — a combinatorial scheme for subjectification.

At the center, one form of power, the Gestapo, embodied by Bergmann, polices maps (Forgacs, 36.) They have divided the city into 14 zones within which they hunt down resistors. “Every Day I take a long walk around the streets of Rome without leaving my office,” says the Nazi.

In the decentralized space of the peripheries, seen from below, the power of resistance uses the city to hide from Nazi surveillance and fights the occupiers (Forgacs, 38.)  In our last session, someone noted the intensive, hidden spaces of the Rome in this film. The underground burrows —improvises furtive movements. “Public transportation was reduced to a trickle and the use of bicycles was first restricted to daylight hours and then banned altogether” ((Forgacs, 40.) Even the ambulances carry German soldiers instead of medics (Conley, 72.)  Very few who saw the city from below could afford cars and the Nazi’s restricted driving. Here we see the other face of the utilitarian concern with traffic flows Debord criticizes in his “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.”

The zigzagging horizontal movements below map a social geography: Manfredi’s moves away from his Piazza di Spagna to working class Rione Presrino near the city’s edge where Francesco lives (note the urban organization in which the center is rich but the periphery poor, so characteristic of European cities;) the vertical networks allow secret activity in Franceso’s building; the attack on the convoy bearing the prisoners happens the new E42 suburbs southwest of the city; Marina betrays Manfredi in her  apartment in the bourgeois Parioli just northwest of the city center. (Forgacs, 41-2.) These movements shape give the film’s narrative the form of an anatomy: a catalogue of knowledge that can take the an episodic that errs through a variety of spaces inhabited and used by various social types favored by Federico Fellini throughout his career. (Remember, Fellini contributed to Rome Open City’s screenplay.)

The staircases with apartments off of it in the 7 story tenement built around a courtyard where Pina lives in Via Montecuccoli typifies the then new peripheral working class Italian neighborhods. As I mentioned last time, the tenement in M (Lang, 1931) shares certain features with this one. We will see more of the Italian version in the Pasolini Films, where they play a string role as they spring up pushing Rome’s periphery further and further out.

The zones simulated by Rome Open City depict the very opposite of those imagine by Chtcheglov in his “Formulary for a New Urbanism” and add to  Rome’s tragedy. After the war the Roman’s got the marshal plan and a city of memorials (as Forgac points out.) Instead of the potential to create their own spaces where “roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac” (Chtcheglov,http://library.nothingness.org/articles/all/en/display/1,) Romans accepted economic miracles (a name as ironic and boring as the names of streets and business listed in the formulary) and the necropoleis of mourning and heritage.

Perhaps we can understand Forgac’s “simulacrum” as meaning a map of subjectification; perhaps Rossellini invents a cinematic cartography that shows not just events and their mediation but also how Romans became themselves in a given historical period. What happens if we understand Rome Open City as an attemptted psychogeography, defined as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography?) Perhaps the selection of districts can be understood as similar to the cut up procedure used in the Situationist International’s psychogeographic maps; perhaps the lines of flight and escape followed by the characters in the films can be seen as related to, but not identical with derives. To speak like Debord’s “Exercise In Psychogeography” (http://library.nothingness.org/articles/4/en/display/327,) we might say that at this stage in his career, “Rossellini is brutally psychogeographical in cinema.” The zones he marks in Italian cities have nothing to do with the famously overwhelming beauty others see in them. Nothing to do with descriptions like the following from André Bazin’s essay on Neoralism:

The Italian city, ancient or modern, is prodigiously photogenic. From antiquity, Italian city planning has remained theatrical and decorative. City life is a spectacle, a comedia del arte that the Italians stage for their won pleasure. And even in the poorest quarter of the town the coral like grouping of the houses, thanks to the terraces and balconies offer outstanding possibilities for spectacle. The courtyard is an Elizabethan set in which the show is seen from below, the spectators in the gallery being actors in the comedy. A poetic documentary was shown at Venice consisting only of shots of courtyards. What more can you say when the theatrical facades of the palazzi combine their operatic effects the stage-like architecture with the stage like architecture of the houses of the poor? Add to this the sunshine and the absence of clouds (chief enemy of shooting exteriors) and you have explained why the urban exteriors of Italian films are superior to all others (Bazin, 28-9)

By contrast Rossellini’s Rome looks like concentration camp from our contemporary perspective. The film’s opening pan looks left (west) from Viale Trinità over the Tiber River, The last looks right from the opposite side of the river and shows the boys going home with St Peters Basilica and other famous buildings behind them (Forgacs, 35.) For Gallagher, the last shot implies the coming of spring and the end of the war. As I argued last time, form our twenty first century vantage point the last pan can be understood as showing us that cities have become death camps, areas that subject life to complete control. When seen as the boarders or enclosure of the Rome Open City’s map or simulacrum of Rome, the first and last pan support my understanding. When seen as a progress between two views, it might support Gallagher’s.

Psychogeography seems full of political potentials, but of course, it can easily go awry. Any psychogeographic approach to Rome Open City must take into account The films homophobia. Perhaps in a city, sexualities, the hatred of sexualities, and the feeling that sexualities need to controlled take an especially urgent form — a form produced by the chronotopes (space /time) of  (imagined) cities.  As Forgacs points out, the anatomy of social types, what he calls “the “opposition of social worlds” (47,) and political identities in the film creates an opposition of sexual identities. The film values that opposition in terms of good and bad in as simplified a way as it does the opposition between liberation seeking Italians and vicious totalitarian Germans.

The heterosexual pregnant and martyred Pina figures the good feminine and the drug addicted, treasonous lesbian Marina the bad feminine. While we could take many approaches to thinking out the film’s homophobia, in the context of urbanism we might start by looking at the way the film’s presentation of homophobia works with its simulation of Rome. Rome Open City associates Marina’s bad lesbianism, and Bergmann’s more vaguely suggested male gayness (Forgacs, 48)  with the city seen from above. While Marina, as an Italian sees the city from below, her lover pulls her up. German Ingrid, provides her with the cocaine that gets her high and she temporarily raises Marina’s class status. Rome Open City consistently associates homosexuality with a decadent bourgeoisie and Nazi power. As Forgacs points out, the film associates some locations with corruption, decadence and “feminine weakness” (49.) Her tirade explaining that she takes lovers in exchange for material comfort exemplifies the “blind fury so many unprivileged people are ready to defend their mediocre advantages” that Debord points out (“Introduction To a Critique of Urban Geography.”) Amusingly enough, the idea of happiness Debord attributes to such people also involves coke, though in the form of  the US’s favorite beverage. While there are many factors (the patriarchal character of the Italian resistance movement, catholic ideology, etc.) contributing to the movie’s homophobia, perhaps one way to imagine another urban politics of sexuality might be to imagine poor gay people in working class neighborhoods. Perhaps some of the political work of the films and poems by Pierre Palo Pasolini we will engage with soon consistz in precisely that simple shift along a map of Rome. Perhaps we might wonder how tonight’s film, The Third Man (Reed, 1949,) figures relationship between Holly Martins and Harry Lime — a relationship that Ray White points out can easily be, and has been, understood as a love affair between the two men (White, 19.) Unlike Rome Open City, The Third Man famously presents a city and a world without a moral center and never subjects the friendship in question to a system of judgment. Though of course the film does encourage its viewers to feel attraction and repulsion for Lime and Martins.

In addition to zones occupied by the allies, The Third Man maps and perhaps simulates Vienna with close ups of faces, rendering a fatigued cartography of a city hollowed out by World War 2 (White, 43.) Like Rossellini’s Rome, Reed’s Vienna also divides vertically and horizontally and correlates the difference to forms of power. When Lime tells Martins about his crimes, they are at the top of the great wheels arc. Welle’s famous speech refers to the “dots” in the ruins bellow. At the end Harry flees and dies below the city in the sewers through which he seeks a line of flight. Unlike Rome Open City’s division of views from above and from below, The Third Man divides the horizontal from the vertical via intensive movements, like the vibrations of the zither that the films opening titles appear over, ech shift in level bring about a variation in intensity.

 

Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? V 2. Hugh Gray, Trans. Berkeley. University of California Press. 1967.

Conley, Tom. Cartographic Cinema. Minneapolis. 2007. University Of Minnesota Press.

Chtcheglov, Ivan. “Formulary for a New Urbanism” http://library.nothingness.org/articles/all/all/dosearch/index.php3

Debord, Guy. “Introduction to A critique of Urban Geography.” http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/2

— “Exercise in Psychogeography” http://library.nothingness.org/articles/4/en/display/327

Forgacs, David. Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta. London BFI. 2000

Gallagherr, Tag. The Adventures Of Roberto Rossellini. New York. Da Capo Press. 1998

White, Ray. The Third Man. London. BFI. 2003.


 

draft introduction to a journal issue on “life”

Introduction to The Meaning of “Life”

Louis-Georges Schwartz

I: The Ghosts of “Life’s ” Present Meaning

If the recent turn towards the  meaning of “life” in the humanities were analyzed, perhaps we would find a threat of death motivating it. The current period in the history of the humanities might be defined as starting with the mid nineties “end of theory” and coming to fruition with the current death threats against university humanities departments[1]. While we should not be surprised to find in this period when “zombie capitalism” (Haraman) caused necrosis in the university intensified theoretical attempts to elaborate a concept of “life” as something that includes survival but reaches far beyond it to the creation of new values, the contemporary inquiry into the meaning of “life” has its’ own, longer, periodicity.

In the mid 1960s, near the peak of capitalist expansion, publications by Michel Foucault and Georges Canguilhem on “life” brought the modern inquiry into word, concept and value into focus. In 1965’s“Le concept de la vie” (published in the revised edition of La Connaissance de la vie(1952)) Canguilhem gives an account of the concept from Aristotle’s time to the discovery of DNA, and in 1966’s Les Mots et les chose Foucault argues that the concept of life as such originates along with two other “quasi-transcendentals” at the end of the classical age in the eighteenth century (127-8[2]). Foucault shows that “life” detaches itself from the “living being” in a conceptual break which makes possible the shift from natural history to biology. The difference between “life” and the “living being” produces new values as well as changes in the use of words and concepts. Foucault narrates a shift from the “living being” based on the paradigm offered plants to “life” understood according to the paradigm of the animal and invokes the Marquis de Sade to contend that after this transition “life can no longer be separated from murder, nature can no longer be good, or desires from anti-nature” (277-8.)

Canguillem argues that the discovery of the double helix and the emergence of molecular biology redefine “life” as information and that contemporaneous accounts of mutation as the failure in the transmission of genetic information suggest that life should produce a new concept of life as that which “by error produces a living thing capable of error.” That formulation revises the value conventionally attributed to error as well, rendering the value of life highly problematic. Both writers took a genealogical approach to the question of “life.” They each track usages of the term historically, denaturalizing it and opening it to contestation.

The examples of Foucault and Canguilhem show that the genealogical approach does not determine a stable semantic reference across all usages of a term, it rather exposes the lines of historical force that alter a word, concept and value over time[3]. Writing “meaning,” rather than “meaning” indicates the differential shifts disclosed by genealogies. Canguilhem’s and Foucault’s genealogies both transvalue[4] “life” by historicizing its pervious semantics and opening space for the word to be used in the creation of a new concept and value.

Over the course of Foucault’s career, his interest in “life” led to the development of the concepts of biopower and biopolitics. Foucault came to believe that modern states regulated the lives of subjects instead of governing through the power to kill. Foucault’s later work names the relations between “life” and state power: “biopower.” He articulated these ideas in lecture courses in the mid 1970s and they first appeared in print in 1976’s Histoire de la sexualité.  Foucault characterized biopower as the way states exercise power over “man in so far as he is a living being.” Starting at the end of the 18th century (Foucault 2003, 240), for example, the government attempts to control disease and birthrates. According to Foucault, states exercise biopower over populations rather than individuals and use statistical methods of calculation to do so. These shifts allow Foucault to conclude that genocide rather than execution is the “dream of modern societies” because “power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race and the larger scale phenomena of population” (Foucault, 1978, 137.)  The development of Foucault’s thought about “life” involves a shift in his genealogical approach, which had focused on the term and passed to the consequences of its becoming a key concept in governance as well as science.

In 1996, the publication of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda intensified and proliferated research on the meaning of “life.” Agamben traces the concept of life from classical Greece to the present day in the form of a division between bios, quality bearing life capable of citizenship, and zoê, bare life reduced to it’s biological aspect or it’s survival. Agamben calls the conceptual operation separating the two “the ban” or “abandonment” and argues that it founds sovereignty. He tracks the modulations of that division through history. In the second section of Homo Sacer, Agamben introduces Hannah Arendt’s writings on totalitarianism, emphasizing her use of the term “life” and articulating it with Foucault’s project. By attending to “life” as word, concept and value in Arendt’s writing, Agamben advances a genealogic project, showing that her work contributes to the development of the term in 1951, a decade and a half before the publication of Les Mots et les chose. He shows that in the twentieth century, in both totalitarian societies and mass consumer societies, paradigmatic governance shifts from the regulation of bios to reducing the lives of governed populations to zoê .

In an essay entitled “Pure Immanence” published the same year as Homo Sacer, Agamben explicitly calls for a genealogy of “life” across a variety of fields. The essay focuses on the final works published by Foucault and Gilles Deleuze during their life times, both of which take up the problem of “life.”  Agamben points out that “life” has been a key term in the work of a variety of continental twentieth century philosophers. He organizes their work into a chart tracing the differences and intersection of a transcendental though and an immanent though on the subject. According to Agamben, the genealogy of the term life will allow philosophy to come to take up its main task, the production of a new concept of life as beatitude:  a concept of life that does not differentiate between “organic life and animal life, or even between biological life and contemplative life and between bare life and the life of the mind” (239.)

Along the transcendental line of Agamben’s chart we find Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida; on the immanent Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Foucault; Heidegger sits in the middle amidst intersecting lines that connect the transcendental to the immanent. The chart provides productive suggestions for further genealogical work. One can imagine reading the philosophers that appear on it with special attention to “life” and closely related terms. Rereading Derrida, for example, reveals that “life” has been an important term in his writing since very early in his career. Derrida began attending to the deconstruction of the philosopheme life/death[5] from his first published writings. The continuity of his attention to that problematic can be felt in his later development of “hauntology” and the theme of the ghost[6]. The recently published seminar entitled The Beast and The Sovereign confirms the centrality of “life” to Derida’s project. The seminar explicitly takes up the theme of “life” and works, in part, as a jealous critique of Homo Sacre, as the near correspondence between Agamben’s subtitle “Sovereign Power and Bare Life.” and Derrida’s title suggests.

Agamben’s work comes from Italian thought that includes the work of autonomists combining Michel Foucault’s concepts  of biopolitics and biopower somewhat uncomfortably with a certain Marxism. The autonomists consider the life of the multitude as a force of production and attempt to organize a politics around a struggle for control over that life.

In Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt invoke biopower as a key concept in their study of what makes revolution possible in the contemporary world. They define biopower as the “form of power that regulates social life from its interior by “investing life through and through” in order to “administer it” (23-5.) Negri and Hardt see biopower as the form of power in what Foucault called societies of control in which “social command” “becomes ever more immanent to the social field” (23) and they connect such societies to Marx’s phase of economic development when the real subsumption of labor under capital occurs (25.)  The rise of “immaterial labor” and the massive economic importance of communication technologies and all things somatic transform biopower into a force of production in the Marxist sense. The authors place biopower within a genealogy that includes Marx, Deleuze and Guattari as well as various Italian Autonomists in an attempt to turn the concept taken from Foucault into a viable site for militancy. These conditions lead to the outstripping of Marx’s general intellect embodied in machines by mass intellectuality supported by the body of the multitude. They conclude that the seizure of biopower constitutes the only effective form of militancy in today’s world, a seizure that takes the form of replacing empire’s domination of “mass intellectuality and affective networks” (413) with a loving self regulation of these same factors. Such autonomous regulation of the multitude’s life can be understood as an affirmative biopolitcs as opposed to the critical endeavor of describing empire’s domination of life.

In Grammatica della moltitudine: Per una analisi delle forme di vita contemporanee (2001) Paul Virno interprets Foucault’s formulation of biopolitics as a term “applied to changes that took place in the concept of “population” between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century” (81.) Virno sets biopolitics in an original genealogical context by deriving it from the concept of “labor power” (81,) which he says is “discussed everywhere in the social sciences and that Marx defines as “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality of the human being” (Capital V I quoted, in Virno, 81.)  According to Virno, only the current Post-Fordist era fully realizes labor power by exploiting the mental as well as physical capacity of the multitude. A pure potential, labor power has no existence independent its substratum, the body of the worker. Virno argues that it takes the form of pure and simple bios, and for him “bio-politics” can only be used to name a situation in which politics issues from the commerce in human potential — from traffic  in labor power.

Despite the genealogical efforts of Virno, Negri and Hadrt, the attempt to cast biopower as a means of production and affirmative biopolitics as a privileged form of counter-power, the articulation between these concepts and Marxism remains uncomfortable, especially in light of the recent resurgence of dialectical and historical materialism in the political economics of David Harvey, Luc Blotanski and Naomi Kline[7] — a resurgence fueled by the very same economic crisis killing universities and unconsciously motivating contemporary interest in the meaning of life . The discomfort arises partly from the fact that, as Negri and Hardt acknowledge, Foucault originally posited biopolitics as an alternative to Marxist analysis. For example, while Marxists treat the real subsumption of labor under capital dialectically, Foucault treats biopolitics as a matter of “plurality and multiplicity”[8] (Negri and Hardt, 25.) Read in light of the new political economists, the regulation of the multitude’s life simply cannot produce value as such and Foucault’s attempt to fold the superstructural into the base remains illegitimate, as does that of the neo-Foucaultians.  For the Autonomists “life” can become the site of revolutionary struggle precisely because they posit it as a means of production; but for Marxists, it cannot be a means of production since it does not produce surplus. The Autonomists cannot show how communication or sociality itself directly creates surplus value simply because it does not do so. Thus biopower cannot initiate a new phase of semiotic or communicative capitalism[9]. In Marx’s own writings, capital determines life as particular “life forms,” and life “itself” cannot be construed as a productive force: thus struggle must focus on the actual forces that mutilate the lives of proletarians. The failure of the Autonomists to convince Marxists that biopower becomes a productive force in our time might be understood in part as a limit of the genealogical method in so far as it can track the meaning of cultural values, but not economic value since, under capitalism, the concept of economic value does not change.  Yet patient genealogical work on Marx’s use of the term remains to be done and constitutes one of the most important future responses to Agamben’s call for a genealogy.

Whether directly or by implication, the Autonomists refer both affirmative and critical biopolics to Agamben’ distinction between bios and zoê. To the extent that their deployment of the distinction replicates a certain phobia about or distaste for zoê, their work encounters a recent feminist call for revision as well as Marxists critique. In 2006, Rosi Briadotti published Transpositions, a book that takes Agamben to task for having inherited an implicitly masculine fascination with finitude from his teacher Martin Heidegger, and for assimilating “zoê to non-life in the sense of a failure of humanness” (39.) Rather than following Agamben in figuring zoê as the unattainable limit of otherness (she compares Agamben’s account of zoê to Jacques Lacan’s work on the pre-discursive, Julia Kristeva’s chora and Luce Irigaray’s maternal feminine all of which install mortality as the “trans-historical horizon of life” (39)  and function to support a melancholic theoretical affect), she proposes a thought of zoê supported by the theory of virtuality and capacity that Deleuze and Guattari derive from their readings of Baruch Spinoza[10].  Such a revision might be seen as an intensification of themes already present in Agamben’s work, and their extension into his theorization of “life” could be said to valorize the generative capacity of zoê, blocking it’s implicit association with a monstrous figuration of the feminine by associating it with the generative and gestational potential supported by a female substratum.

Paul Rabinow  has taken up a theoretical lineage running from Foucault through Deleuze that analyzes human finitude as itself unlimited and uses it to analyze scientific “practices of life” emerging around genetic technologies. Rabinow’s project investigate both the development of biological machinery and the ways in which genetic research might produce a new “episteme” changing modern forms of rationality as well as social and ethical practices (182). He contends that work on the human genome profoundly re-maps all prior distinctions between the artificial and the natural, a claim with profound implications, particularly for contemporary understanding of race and medical treatment.

Thus, in the 21st century, research into the meaning of “life” has flowed along three main streams: directly genealogical work tracking usages of “life” and related terms in order to transvalue them; work on biopolitics, taking a critical form that points to the regulation of life by power and an affirmative form that affirms the ability of the multitude to regulate it’s own life; and research into growth of biological technologies and commodities.

II: The Ghost of “Life’s” Past Meaning

My own research into moving images and written accounts of them, loosely known as “film theory,” provides a fecund genealogical field for investigating the meaning of life. The term has often, in a variety of ways, been used to name that which the cinema records, captures or produces. In other cases, such as the wring of Guy Debord, the cinema functions as a paradigm for social death[11]. Somewhat surprisingly, the literature of film theory even contains something very close to Agamben’s call for a genealogy of “life,” to be found in Seigfried Kracauer’s Theory Of Film.

Published in 1960, Krackauer’s expression of interest in the history of “life” came six years before the publication of the works by Georges Canguilhem and Michelle Foucault I cited previously.  Kracauer wrote theory of film surrounded by the ghosts of WWII and during a period of urban life in the US characterized by the increasing reification of everyday life and it’s exploitation as a source of corporate profits. Against such a lethal background, Kracauer’s book mourns the suburbanization of street life, the intolerable trauma of World War 2 and the triumph of industrial quantification of experience invoking the cinema as an anodyne.

“Life” appears throughout the book in analyses of cinematic form and of the movies’ privileged subjects. Kracauer uses the term to refer to cinema’s almost paradoxical capacity to capture a form of pure potential which cannot be seen in and of itself.  The word even appears in a note Kraucuer wrote as a boy and cited in his preface to Theory of Film. Kracauer writes that he started his first “literary project” after seeing his first film, which included images of a puddle reflecting the facades of houses and the sky. The young critic entitled his project Film as The Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life. The word “life” appears embedded in a cliché phrase, which has come to refer to a major area of research in the humanities and social science, yet the idiom cannot hide it’s specific valance. The paradigmatic image of the reflecting surface of a puddle rippled by the wind blows the word “life” towards the notion of quality, towards the marvelous, inflating its semantics to include more than mere daily biological survival.

Kracauer takes up the word, concept and value “life” explicitly near the middle of the book,[12] as if it were one of Proust’s characters, appearing fleetingly as one word among others at the beginning and then taking on central importance. In the section entitled “Gratifications” (166), on what the audience gets out of cinema, Kracauer names “life” as the main desideratum of filmgoers. In this section, “life” functions as an evolving value to be transvalued through historicization as well as a term in Kracauer’s argument.

Works that transvalue “life” typically use the term within arguments and mention the term in genealogical procedures. The more daring transvaluative texts, such as Kracuaer’s, exploit the fragility of the distinction between use and mention in order to sensitize readers to their previous transvaluations of the term through a kind of deferred action; later, explicitly genealogical mentions in a text ask the reader to revise their understanding of previous uses. (In this sense, Agamben’s understanding of Foucault’s genealogical work allows him to complement the latter’s work on biopolitics with Arendt’s use of “life” by attuning him to the term). In Theory Of Film, Kracauer’s sustained investigation of the term in the middle of the book sends the reader back over all the previous uses, causing the word to emerge all the more forcefully from the phrase “everyday life” in the preface and suggesting that the history of the study of “everyday life” would provide rich material for the genealogy of “life.” The deferred action between genealogical mentions and constative uses exemplifies meaning in so far as the differences between the uses and the mentions produce an opening instead of a semantic field — an opening within which the word can shift yet again, the concept can enlarge or contract, and a new value can be created. Thus, the differentials between using and mentioning a term can be understood as the enactment of genealogy or transvaluation as such.

In the ‘Gratifications” section, Kracauer points out that the concept of “life as a powerful entity” has a “relatively recent origin,” (169.) He writes that  “it would be tempting to try to follow the evolution of” the concept “life” “from the time of the Romantics via Nietzsche and Bergson up to our days,” (169) but such a project lies outside of the prevue of Theory Of Film. The beginning of the period Kracauer delimits and the claim that “life as a powerful entity” originates with the romantics correspond to Foucault’s claim that before the 18th century life did not exist.

Kracaur’s temptation and his treatment of “life” must be understood within a genealogy of “life” including the work of later authors and as transvaluative in itself. Kracauer’s unwritten history would historicize the term between the 18th and 20th centuries and the very suggestion of such a project begins the denaturalization of the value “life,” especially because it posits a recent origin for “life as a powerful entity.” The power of that “life” comes precisely from its ability to function as both a particular value and a source of values. Showing that “life” has not always existed also shows that other values can stand in its place and that the term itself can refer to a changing set of values.

Kracauer ‘s language in this sentence registers the always double character a value becoming transvalued. He writes of the “evolution” of the concept as if “life” were itself alive and subject to biological differentiation over generations: as if to mark doubleness of “life” as constative use and genealogical mention in Theory Of Film; as if to emphasize “life’s” status as a value and that which makes values possible. Though Kracauer does not make the argument explicit, the subsection on “the concept of life” as such (169) casts life as potential, releasing the transvaluative force of moviegoers’ desire. The moviegoer seeks “the opportunity of drama rather than the drama itself” (171). These passages read as if the predictability of everyday life in mass society has stripped the spectator of any ability to imagine the future.

Kracauer grounds his argument that “life” provides the main gratification of cinema on the claims of various sociologists who show that filmgoers cite “life” as the reason they go to the movies. After a brief introduction justifying his interest in the gratifications of cinema during the age of television, Kracauer begins a subsection entitled “The Hunger for Life” with a consideration of “The Substitute for Dreams,” a 1921 article by Hugo von Hofmannsthal concerning urban proletarian moviegoers. In Kracuaer’s account, Hofmannsthal argues that such audiences go to “silent” films to escape from the “kind of life” (167) forced upon them by society and its language. Although one might take the absence of speech in the films of the late 1910s and early 1920s as detriment to the illusion of life,  those audiences experienced language as an instrument of society’s control over them which led them  “further away from what there senses” told them was “life itself” (167). Freed from the language of the newspaper and the party meeting, cinema offered them “the fuller life which society denies them” (167). “Fuller life” not in the sense of greater fulfillment of economic need, but “life in it’s inexhaustibility” (168). The transvaluative force of Kracauer’s consideration of life as one of cinema’s gratifications lies in his consistent use of the term to mean something other than either survival or access to certain goods. In Theory of Film, Kracauer presents filmgoers’ desire for life as a desire for the possibility of an existence beyond the merely biological and material. “Life” indicates that which makes values as such possible, a potential capable of sustaining desire.

Hofmannsthal’s article suggests that modern life rendered the proletariat unable to dream and that they escape from what they feel into the cinema. Kracauer focuses on Hofmannsthal’s descriptions of the ways that industrial urban life leads the masses away from “life itself.” This usage of “life itself” refers not to biological existence, but to a field of rich and non-alienated existence and shifts the value referred to by the term from the exclusively biological to the self-regulating experiential plane filled with qualities and the promise of autonomy. Furthermore, Kracauer understands the “life” that the moviegoers desire as both a specific entity that industrial society deprives them of and as that which makes values as such possible. His argument draws attention to the possibility that the “life” moviegoers desire functions as the “underlying substratum” of “normative incentives” (169). According to Kracauer, industrial society replaces the qualities of lived experience with quantities, depriving subjects of any basis for extra-economic valuation. Kracauer’s work on that survey reveals that the desire for that substratum effects a nostalgic critique of what “modern mass society” makes of lived experience by positing the perceived source of value as a value in and of itself. In other words, Kracauer discovers that the desire of the movie audiences in the surveys is transvaluative in itself. Instead of referring to that which moviegoers want to survive under any circumstances, “life” here refers to the capacity to create.

In order to show that the desire for creative life is not limited to proletarian audiences, Kracauer relies on responses to a survey included in a 1940 dissertation by Wolfgang Wilhelm to argue that “life” was the primary desideratum for “film addicts” (169) in general. The survey of twenty students and teachers as well as 23 people from various occupations and ages (168) shows that they all go to the movies to redress a lack of “life.” The isolation of individuals in modern life leads to a sense of alienation from “life” shared by all social classes. Kracauer’s interpretation of this survey uses “life” as the treatment for the “alienation” and “loneliness” suffered by all those who feel “the urge to frequent the movie houses” (169.) Although “life” becomes the potential to create non-material values in Kracauer’s writing, it also sustains the drive to attend the cinema which sustains the cinema economically.

“Life” refers not only to satisfactory relations with other members of society, but also with the world itself. A member of society needs to be in touch “with the breathing world about him, that stream of things and events which, were it flowing through him, would render his existence more exciting and significant” (169.)  When Kracauer enlarges the semantics of “life” to include the relationship between the individual and the world, his language retains a reference to biological bodies, making the transvaluative character of his project evident. Kracauer characterizes the world as “breathing” like a biologically living being, and he calls things and events a “stream” that could be “flowing through” individuals like their blood.

Even if read as metaphorical, Kracauer’s use of a biological vocabulary to describe moviegoers works to conflate the terms of biological survival with “life in its fullness” (169.)  Kracauer writes as if it were possible to imagine a world where biological survival produces a full existence capable of sustaining values and qualities, leaving no rhetorical space for what Agamben names “bare” life or mere biological or nutritive survival. His vocabulary and argument imply that industrial society places an economic value on survival in so far as it depends on the continued existence of workers and consumers in order to function. “Life” as valued by industrial society does not exist for itself, it only exists for the interest of those who profit from that society. The cinema supplements this with the illusion of a life that exists for itself. Such life must function as a value and that which makes values in general possible — it can only be a life judged and valued by and as itself. Kracauer’s use of the same terms to refer to both meanings of life in the same argument where he distinguishes between the two meanings works to denaturalize the ordinary semantics of the term and attempts to change it, transvaluing life. The surveys and the sociological analyses of “life” as the main gratification offered by the cinema serves as a fragment of a “history” or genealogy of the term focusing on its use in a particular cultural practice during a specific historical period. Kracauer discovers that the filmgoers’ usages of the term differ from a more conventional usage and roughly corresponds to the literary philosophical usage whose history he says he is tempted to write.

“Life” appears in this section of Theory Of Film as the main satisfaction or pleasure offered at movie theaters, but in the course of explaining and generalizing the satisfaction offered by the cinema, Kracauer posits a lack in all of society. The lack of life creates the need met by cinema and the basis for a critique of industrial mass society as a whole. Clearly, Kracauer does not mean that society lacks biological survival. The lack of life refers not only to isolation from human relationships, but to “satisfactory human relationships.”  Social relationships as such do not meet the criteria for Kracauer’s use of the term life. Those relationships must be able to be valued, they must be such that they can sustain the quality of satisfaction. He sees the satisfaction of the cinema as satisfaction in general, but in the form of life or an “illusion of life” (169).

Melancholy and loss saturate Theory Of Film. The prose and arguments portray a traumatized world marked by loss and this limits Kracauer’s analysis of life as cinematic gratification. He allows moviegoers life and the illusion of life and implicitly criticizes the confinement of life to the cinema, but a writer who could still hope for revolution and profound social change might explicitly point out that by providing an illusion of life, films make deadening industrial survival more tolerable and thus dampen the impulse to change the world. Such change seems more or less impossible to the author of Theory Of Film. Movies can only allow us to look at intolerable events and phenomena whose intensity would blind us and make us turn away in the world outside the cinema. Kracauer likens films that allow us to look at that which we otherwise could not bear to the shield of Perseus which allows him to look at the medusas reflection and decapitate her, but he points out that Athena recovers the monster’s head and uses it for her own purposes. In the end he limits Perseus’s achievement, and that of filmmakers, to the ability to make looking at the monster of history possible. Kracauer must be content with a redemption of physical reality confined to making that reality visible (305).

III The Ghosts of “Life’s” Meaning Yet to Come

The articles in this issue all seek a passage beyond merely making visible the usages of life and biopolitical modes of power that they describe. Each piece attempts to open onto a future less subject to the brutalities of domination’s current modes through a reconfiguration of life, not through an economy of representation, but through action in the world or withdrawal from it. Exemplary in it’s commitments, David Oscar Harvey’s[13] brilliantly militant essay on unprotected gay male anal sex understands the political saturation of even the most intimate aspects of the life of individuals and the socious as biopolitical. He focuses on the abandonment of homosexual males during the AIDS epidemic — a shift that installed heteronormative practices in gay communities and punished “dangerous” practices in the name of protecting and maximizing heterosexual life. Harvey works with the notion of biopolitics elaborated by Foucault in The History Of Sexuality, emphasizing its necropolitical aspect by reminding readers of Foucault’s argument that despite the passage from the exercise of power by ending life to government through the regulation of life, the state still deploys the power of death over populations perceived as threatening the health of others. Harvey points out that gay, HIV positive men constitute the paradigmatic case of a population subject to the power of death in biopolitical regimes.  The situation led to the brutal and unrelfexive transvaluation of gay male sexuality and refigured anal sex between men as a “giving birth to death.”  In the course of his analysis, Harvey shows how the effects of transvaluation can have negative effects on the lives of those who hold the values under revision. Specifically, the transvaluation at work here reduces the life of gay males to zoê and seeks to exclude it through a ban operating in the name of preserving dominant power’s bios. In this context gay male barebacking becomes a mode of queer (dis)identification with the potential to initiate radical auto-valorization and contestation of power’s regulation of gay life via a transvaluation of gay life by gay men themselves radically contesting the biopoltics of the state.

In her essay on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001,) Maja Manojlovic describes the experience of driving out of the movie theater’s garage after a screening of the film and relates it to what she calls the film’s “digital aesthetics.” According to Manojlovic a digital aesthetics pervades contemporary culture and opens our waking lives to what Deleuze calls a “plane of immanence,” similar to the field we move through in our dreams. She relies on Manuel Castells’ notion of a “space of flows” in an elaboration of the destabilization of time effected by vision in today’s world, analyzing the phenomenon in terms of Henri Lefebvre’s “differential spaces.” Manojlovic’s original use of autobiography allows her essay to follow the continuity between the disorientation experienced while watching Waking Life and within the subjectifications that in-form our consciousness while navigating contemporary cities. Her critical technique recalls that of the poet HD as exemplified in writings anthologized in Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema And Modernism (Donald et al., 2001.) She develops a new mode of cartography in which the critical essay becomes a map that articulates both visual and social spaces on the plane of “a life.” Her usage of “life” implies a powerful and necessary revision of the concept of “aesthetics,” which under the influence of her writing’s delirium allows us to comprehend the totality of experience regardless of whether a particular moment involves that which we still refer to as “art.[14]

Barbara Kennedy’s article on Memoirs of a Geisha develops the work she began in her book Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation (2003.) Here, she focuses on how “life assemblages of enunciation” and machinic connections might be explained in terms of the process of film. Her project should not be confused with an investigation into cinematic spectatorship. It demands to be understood as an analysis of the pleasure we take in the movement of life guided by the cinema. Kennedy illuminates discussions of “life” by insisting on its corporeal substratum, introducing concepts such as viscerality, proprioceptivity and synaesthesia to current film studies’ considerations of the immersive body. Kennedy forcefully argues figures of embodiment drawn from such concepts continue Deleuze and Guattari’s  schizoanalytic work with special attention to “life flows,” a notion Kennedy relates to Deleuze’s essay “Immanence: A Life.[15]” Kennedy’s essay makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of “Immanence: A Life,” an articles that in many ways remains unread. By using “life flows” to underline Deleuze’s concern with “a-subjective consciousness” Kennedy allows her reader an insight into Agamben’s stress on “desubjectification” in his consideration of “Immanence: A Life.” Working a highly elaborated notion of “choreography” Kennedy writes about a performance sequence in Memoirs of a Geisha in such a way as to assemble its movements with those of extra-cinematic lived experience. Like Manojlovic, Kennedy establishes cinema on the same plane as other experiences. For her, the immanence of choreographed cinematic synestheisa and corporeal life results in biograms, or the bringing together of all the senses in quasi-corporeal movements. Kennedy’s concept of the biogram offers limitless potentials to schizoanalysis by offering it a new mode of virtuality absolutely correlated with the lived. Not only does the biogram explain the lived character of cinematic affects, it also offers valuable material for future genealogists seeking to elaborate the folding of “life” into virtuality.

Olivia Banner’s essay “The Post Racial Imagination: Gattacas Imperfect World” assess the rhetoric of genetics in a world of biological commodities as figured in the film Gattaca and relates them to the confluence of race and biology in our time. Attending to accounts of ideologies and practices of researchers who work on the human genome and pharmacology, she brings out the field of contradictions that forms contemporary accounts of race. In her article the film becomes a means of breaking apart the human genome project’s account of the human commonality as a quasi-universal form of race based medical treatment. Banner chooses Gattaca as the central text of her study precisely because of its combination of a biological model of race and a “liberal multiculturalist typecasting.”  She argues that the tension in the film reflects the problematic of race in contemporary culture. Her article deepens and complicates the problematic set forth by Rabinow’s work in different terms.  Her detailed, brilliant reading of the film does the genealogical work of presenting race as an institution of difference while stressing the ways in which it’s fictional science breaks apart the illusory unity of the body, allowing the temporality of race to emerge and releasing biotechnology’s potential transformation of our understanding of race.

John Dittrich’s essay also provides a genealogy of non-organic life in the work of Wilhelm Worringer, Deleuze and Guattarri, showing that the contradictions in Worringer’s 19th century though limit the possible elaborations in the conceptualization of “life.[16]” Dittrich’s article also makes a major contribution to the articulation of the meaning of “life” with Marxism through careful consideration of Georg Lukács’ critique of Worringer’s work on expressionism. Lukács argues that, arising after the proletariat revealed itself as the true subject of history, expressionism functioned as a bourgeois apology for capitalism. Under Lukács’ reading, non-organic life appears as subjectivist flight from the realities of economics and produces a false synthesis of subject and object. In art history this leads to a false dialectic that reduces objectively recognizable style to the expression of subjectivity and produces false concepts of “experience” and “life.” According to Dittrich, Deleuze and Guattarri’s readings of Worringer in Capitalism and Schizophrenia lead them to account for power as an oscillation between two poles with one of the poles becoming valorized, as for example in the polarity between war machine and the state. Though Deleuze and Guattarri use “the non-organic life of things” to explain both the polarities and the valorization of one of the poles, the also point to the limited and contradictory status of this concept of life, yet, for Dittrich, they fail to provide an alternate conception, relying on the notion of a “line of flight” to escape from every contradiction. Dittrich’s reading of Lukács and his deployment of it on Deleuze and Guattari’s terrain comes at the discomfort between Marxists and theorists of the biopolitical from a different angle than my articulation of it above; instead of treating the debate in terms of what counts as a productive force, he points to the differences between the metaphysics of each camp. For Dittrich, the concept of “life” tends to fail as an expression of the social conflict’s driving history because it finds itself invoked in non-dialectical theories.

Nathan Gorelick’s contribution “Life in Excess ––– Insurrection and Expenditure in Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty” reads Artaud’s work as an uncanny corpse or shell of a life, that tends to fall part under criticism which he valorizes in terms of Aurtaud’s descriptions of “life” as a form of excess. Gorelick’s presentation of Artaud carries a strange echo of Canguilhem’s definition of life as that which through error brings forth beings capable of error in so far as both oppose “life” to a deadening rationality and refuse to subject life to management. Gorelick brings out the political potential in Artuad’s thought of “life” without instrumentalizing it, which would vitiate it’s political potential by subjecting “life” to the very same rationality it opposes. Gorelick stunningly develops Artaud’s notion of life as a shocking force which “forces us to live” — a form of hunger irreducible to what Artuad calls digestive concerns. Articulating Artaud’s tetxts with Derrida’s Writing And Difference as well as Deleuze and Guattarri’s A Thousand Plateaus, Gorelick allows the impower of Aurtaud’s expression of life to transvalue traditional concepts of work, art and belief.

These writers have all attempted to clear the ground for new, critical thoughts of life not in order to differ a change in the world, as part of the activity of creating new modes of life. The thoughts expressed in their articles do not differ to a future thought of life but immediately mutate the reader’s habits of though, spawning creative valorizations and giving each of us the opportunity to participate in the ongoing transvaluations of “life” and enabling the resistant potential within each of our bodies — bodies that we must willingly expose to the dangers inherent in any actual opposition to power if we are to stop describing the world and change it.

List Of Works Cited:

Agamben, Georgio. Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda. Einaudi . Torino. 1995

—— Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Daniel Heller-Roazen Trans. Stanford University Press. Palo Alto. 1998.

Potentialities :Collected Essays In Philosophy. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Trans. Standford University Press. Palo Alto. 2000.

Andrew, Dudley. “Introduction.” In André Bazin: What Is Cinema? Volume I. University of California Press. Berkeley. 2005.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins Of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. New York. 1973.

Berardi, Franco. Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation. Minor Compositions. 2009.

Boltanski, Luc and  Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit Of Capitalism. Gregory Elliott, Trans. Verso. London. 2007.

Bordwell, David and Noël Carol. Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. University of Wisconsin. Madison. 1996.

Briadotti, Rosi. Transpositions. Polity Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Canguilhem, Georges. La connaissance de la vie. Vrin, Paris, 1965.

–– A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings from Georges Canguilhem. Arthur Goldhammer. Zone Books. Cambridge MA. 2000.

Haraman, Chris. Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx. Bookmarks. London. 2010.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast And The Sovereign Volume I. Geoffrey Bennington. University Of Chicago Press. Chicago. 2010.

–– The Politics Of Friendship. George Collins, Trans. Verso. London. 2006.

–– Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International. Peggy Kamuf, Trans. Routledge. New York. 1994.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité tome 1 : La Volonté de savoir. Gallimard. Paris. 1976.

–– Les Mots et les chose.Gallimard. Paris 1966.

–– The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will To Knowledge. Robert Hurley, Trans. Random House. New York. 1978.

–– The Order Of Things. Pantheon. 1970.

–– “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collége de France, 1975-1976. David Macy, Trans. Picador. 2003.

Hansen, Miriam Bratu. “Introduction” in Siegfried Kracauer: Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1997.

Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. Oxford University Press. New York. 2010.

Inside Higher Ed. “Disappearing Languages at Albany.” http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/10/04/albany. Accessed  January 3, 2011.

“Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education convened in Bologna on the 19th of June 1999.” http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/educ/bologna/bologna.pdf. Accessed January 3, 2011.

Kaufman, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton University Press. Princeton.1975.

Kiderra, Inga “Innovative Class Examines State Budget Crisis in Public Education.” This Week @ UCSD. March 3, 2010. http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/thisweek/2010/03/22_statebudget.asp. Accessed January 3 2011.

Kline, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books. New York. 2007.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press.  Princeton.1997.

Marazzi, Christian. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Gregory Conti, Trans. Semiotext(e). New York. 2008.

Negri, Antonio and Michael Hardt. Empire. Harvard University Press. Cambridge MA. 2001.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On The Genealogy of Morality” And Other Writings Revised Student Edition. Carol Diethe Trans. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Rabinow, Paul. “Artificiality and Enlightenment: From sociobiology to Biosociality.” In Anthropologies Of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality and Life Poltics.

Richardson, Hanna. “Humanities to Lose English Universities Teaching Grant” BBC. October 26, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11627843. Accessed January 3, 2011.


[1] Giorgio Agamben published Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda in 1995, the book that gave impetus to current research on “life.” 1996 saw the publication of  David Bordwell and Noel Carroll’s The End Of Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, a book that declared the era of theory over. By 1999 the process of privatizing education that had started in many countries in the early 1990s had become an official policy goal of the European Union, expressed in the “Bologna Declaration.” By 2010, educational reform had lead to the destruction of language department in US universities (Inside Higher Ed, 2010;) Privatization had become accelerated and threatened the humanities at the University of California that in addition to student protests and occupations, humanities and social science faculty at UCSD taught a class on the problem (Kiderra.) In the UK, privatization also lead to massive student unrest and the drastic reduction to funding in the humanities (Richardson.)

[2] While publication dates for texts in languages other than English in my text refer to the original language versions, the page references refer to the standard translations.

[3] In On The Genealogy Of Morality, Nietzsche mocks English psychologists who attempted a history of morals because they assumed a trans-historical continuity of meaning in words for “good.” They argue that “unegoistic acts were praised and called good by their recipients, in other words by the people to whom they were useful; later everyone forgot the origin of the praise and because such acts had been habitually praised as good, people also began to experience them as good — as if they were good as such” (11.) Nietzsche contradicts them by positing that concept of goodness originated with those who did the deeds rather than those the deeds were preformed upon and that “good” originally referred neither to selflessness or usefulness, but to a social differentiation between the common and the superior. His genealogy then follows the series of historical ruptures that convert “good” as superiority into good as selflessness and compassion. For Nietzsche and all proper genealogists in his wake what counts are the differences between usages, or what I have attempted to write as “meaning.”

[4] I take “Transvaluation” as a translation of Nietzsche’s word “Umwertung” from Walter Kaufman (Kaufman.)

[5] Agamben’s chart and his call for a genealogy of life have clearly influenced readings of Jacques Derrida. Research on Derrida’s work published early in 21st century largely ignored the theme deconstruction of life/death, despite Derrida’s emphasis on the term from very early in his career (see for example the analysis of Husserl’s “living present” in Derrida’s 1962 introduction to The Origin Of Geometry.) Though the term life sometimes appears in their analyses, it is not developed as a theme and does not appear in the indexes of Later Derrida (Herman Rapaport, 2003) The Philosophy Of Derrida (Mark Dooley and Liam Kavanagh, 2007) The Politics Of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy. (Martin McQuillan Ed, 2007,) Derrida and Feminism: Recasting the Question of Woman (Ellen K. Feder, Mary C. Rawlinson and Emily Zakin, 1997,)  Jacques Derrida And The Humanities: A Critical Reader (Tom Cohen, 2002) A Derrida Dictionary (Niall Lucy, 2004) and Derrida Dictionary (Simon Wortham, 2010) do thematize life, though the two dictionaries don’t have indexes and only Derrida and Feminism contains an entry containing a closely related entry “living feminine.” The paucity of index entries for “life” indicates that the deconstruction of life/death did not seem like an important aspect of Derrida’s work to his Anglophone readers until recently. In sharp contrast, the description of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008) ends with the sentence “ However, Derrida cannot subscribe to a simplistic version of animal rights that fails to follow through, in all its implications, the questions and definitions of “life” to which he returned in much of his later work.”

[6] On “hauntology” and ghosts, see Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International and The Politics Of Friendship.

[7] See Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, (Blotanski, 1999;) The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (Harvey, 2010) and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Kline, 2009.)

[8] I extend thanks to poets and scholars Christopher Nealon, Joshua Clover, and Jasper Bernes for a correspondence on a social networking site in which they pointed out the explicitly counter Marxist character of Foucault’s original project.

[9] On “communicative” or “semiotic” capitalism, see Christian Marazzi’s Capital and Language, a book that despite having sever flaws from the point of view of traditional Marxists, contains a very useful analysis of the conversion of savings into equity in financialization.

[10] It seems necessary to articulate Briadotti’s thought with Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s recent essays on “joyous pessimism” which seem to argue that a fear of depressive affects lies at the core of masculine subjectivity; See, for example Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation.

[11] See, for example, the commentary referring to “petrification” diverting an advertisement for super 8 cameras reprinted in Internationale situationnist 2 on page 57.

[12] Kracauer’s Anglophone exegetes have almost entirely ignored this section of Theory Of Film. Gertrud Koch does not mention it in Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction although it contains a sustained reading of Theory Of Film , nor does Miriam Bratu Hansen refer to it in her introduction to the current edition of the book, although she does take up some of Kracauer’s other uses of the term. This omission in the “secondary” literature doubtless came about because, as Dudley Andrew points out in his introduction to André Bazin’s What is Cinema, starting in the mid 1960s, the emergence of semiotic and Marxist approaches to film required the suppression of realist film theory and produced a dominant interpretation of such work as naïve ideological illusion as opposed to the new, supposedly scientific, methodologies. Although Bazin remained in circulation thanks to the efforts of his translator Hugh Gray and Andrew himself, serious readings of Kracauer’s book have only just begun.

[13] This issue of Discourse owes Harvey a huge debt for editorial work early in it’s long path to publication. Without his work on it while he was a research assistant at the University of Iowa’s department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, the issue would not exist.

[14] Manojlovic’s invocation of “aesthetics” in the noun phrase “digital aesthetics” harmonizes with, but cannot be reduced to the word’s resonance in the contemporary anthropological notion of “social aesthetics;” see for example David MacDougall’s The Corporeal Image (2006)

[15] Agamben’s “Pure Immanence,” referred to earlier in my introduction refers to “Immanence: A Life.” Although Deleuze does not write “life flows” in his article, Kennedy successfully shows how such language might an appropriate description of the transcendental field and particularly to the “pure stream of a-subjective consciousness.” “Life flows” might thus be seen as illuminating  Agamben’s interest in “desubjectification.”

[16] In many ways, Dittrich’s article can be read as the inverted compliment to Nathan Brown’s “The Inorganic Open: Nanotechnology and Physical Being.” (Radical Philosophy 144.) Brown uses nanotechnology to elaborate the difficulty of articulating Agamben’s understanding of zoê and Heidegger’s da-sein with conceptualizations of the object. In the course of his argument brown demonstrates the inability of any concept of life to “specify the site at which power’s ‘supreme ambition’ operates in the case of nano-technology,” as well as the lack of any form of agreement over the definition of the term life. Among other virtues, the genealogical aspect of brown’s piece brings out the Heideggerian heritage in Agamben’s attempt to think life, a crucial contribution given the latter’s intellectual formation. Although Brown holds out the hope of finding a new approach to the inorganic open extrapolated from an aporia in neo-heidegarian thought, much of the essay implies that failure to account for certain features of nanotechnology points to the ideological functions of the vagueness inscribed in the thought of life.

anaesthetic film studies

Film 571: Film  & Urbanism [call # 03623]

Assistant Professor Louis-Georges Schwartz

School Of Film, Ohio University

Winter Quarter, 2011

Monday 6:10 PM- 10 PM

Office: 381 Lindley Hall

Office Hours: 8 AM to 12:00 PM Tuesday & Thursdays, Friday by appointment.

Email: schwartl@ohio.edu

A city where we would want to live … a city filled with a world’s worth of misery … a city that turns it’s inhabitants into revolutionaries … a radiant, sleepless city … a communized city that develops according the desires of all of who live there … a cinematic city.

What makes a city what it becomes? How does a city turn people into who they become?

Try to imagine a history of cinema that does not include cities. One has difficulty thinking of the development of projectors, processing labs and cameras completely outside the cities of the industrial age. Without urban audiences, would cinema have been able to maintain it’s economic base? Some have claimed that cinema has fundamental capacities for sociological analysis and anthropological observation — capacities that have often been used to think about urban space and to understand the ways that cities engender certain forms of consciousness. Throughout much of the twentieth century, films were a privileged medium for the articulation of subjectivity within specific “chronotopes” or space-times.

In this class we will examine ways that cinema has been used to investigate cities. To this end we will see 11 films in which urban areas play a prominent role and read a range of texts some treating addressing the films directly, some about the cities featured in the films and some on general theories of urbanism. Our basic methodology will be to correlate economic conditions to changes in urban space and the production of subjectivity in cities. For our purposes, the differences between documentary and fiction will not take on great importance; we will treat fictions as the expression of socio-economic factors.

We will begin with two films on about European cities in the wake of World War 2 Roma, città aperta, and The Third Man. These films will be accompanied by readings on the Situationist theory of unitary urbanism, monographs on the films, and a general introduction to cities as mise-en-scene. After Martin Luther King day we will see two films set in Rome by Pierre Paulo Pasolini accompanied by John David Rhode’s book about the director’s relationship to that city. I have designed this first group of texts to orient us to both the ways in which film has been used to analyze urban spaces and establish a Marxist approach to urban studies. From there we will watch Cleo From 5 to 7 in class, watch Alphaville on our own time and read essays addressing the physical layout of Paris and its specific modes of subjectification as well as a monograph on the Varda film. We will go onto link Escape From New York to the city’s financial crisis in the mid 1970s and the rise of neo-liberalism. Then we will consider Blade Runner in terms of the economics of Los Angeles and the emergence of a slightly different future in contemporary cities. The class will end with two films about contemporary cities, Jia Zhang-Ke’s 24 City and Thom Anderson’s Get Out Of The Car. The screening of Out Of The Car will take place on the Monday of exam week.

Research Project: A detailed outline of a paper on 3 or more films set in Rome will be due March 18th via email.  The paper must include research on the economics and urban development of Rome from sources not assigned for our class sessions and the films shown in class cannot be used in the paper. Students must meet with me during office hours the week of February 14th to discuss plans for the research project.

Books:

(Available through amazon.com)

Drake, Chris. Alphaville. University of Illinois. 2005.

Forgacs, David. Rome Open City. BFI. 2008.

Rhodes, John David. Stupendous, Miserable City : Pasolini’s Rome University Of Minnesota Press. 2007. (or http://site.ebrary.com.proxy.library.ohiou.edu/lib/ohio/docDetail.action?docID=10215802)

Ungar, Steven. Cleo From 5 To 7. BFI. 2008.

Van Toorn, Roemer et al. High-Rise & Common Ground . Valiz. 2008.

White, Rob. The Third Man. BFI. 2008.

Articles available via links or pdfs as indicated.

Monday January 3

Screening: Roma, città aperta (Rome Open City,) (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)

Monday January 10

Screening: The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

Readings

“The City In Film” Michael Webb

http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.ohiou.edu/stable/4091166?seq=6&Search=yes&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch%3Facc%3Don%26Query%3D%2522the%2Bthird%2Bman%2522%2Bvienna%26gw%3Djtx%26acc%3Don%26prq%3D%2522the%2Bthird%2Bman%2522%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don%26acc%3Don&prevSearch=&resultsServiceName=null

“Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” Guy Debord http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/2

“Exercise in Psychogeography” Guy Debord

http://library.nothingness.org/articles/4/en/display/327

“Situationist Theses on Traffic” Guy Debord http://library.nothingness.org/articles/all/en/display/316

“Formulary for a New Urbanism” Ivan Chtcheglov

http//library.nothingness.org/articles/all/en/display/1

“Theory of the Dérive” Guy Debord http://library.nothingness.org/articles/all/en/display/314

Rome Open City David Forgacs

The Third Man Rob White

January 18

Martin Luther King Day No Class

January 24

Screening: Accatone (Pasolini, 1961)

Reading:

Stupendous, Miserable City : Pasolini’s Rome by John David Rhodes (first half)

January 31:

Screening: Mamma Roma (Pasolini, 1962)

Reading:

Stupendous, Miserable City : Pasolini’s Rome by John David Rhodes (second half)

February 7

Screening:

Cleo From 5 to 7 (Varda, 1962)

Alphaville (Godard, 1965)

Readings:

Cleo From 5 to 7 Steve Ungar

Alphaville by Chris Drake

“Circles, Straight Lines, and Godard” by Ryder Hector Currie

http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.ohiou.edu/stable/3831033?&Search=yes&searchText=alphaville&searchText=circle&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch%3Facc%3Don%26Query%3Dalphaville%2Bcircle%26gw%3Djtx%26acc%3Don%26prq%3Dalphaville%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don%26acc%3Don&prevSearch=&item=2&ttl=36&returnArticleService=showFullText

“Analysis Of A City Map” by Siegfried Kracauer (PDF)

February 14

Screening: Escape from New York (Carpenter, 1981)

Reading:

“Liberating The City: Between New York And New Orleans” by Jamie Peck

http://www.naomiklein.org/files/resources/pdfs/liberating-city.pdf

February 21

Screening: Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)

Readings:

“Beyond Blade Runner : Urban control and the ecology of fear” by Mike Davis (PDF)

The New Spirit of Capitalism Part I Section 2 “The Formation of the Projective City” Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (PDF)

February 28:

Screening: Amsterdam Global Village (van der Keuken, 1996)

Reading:

High-Rise & Common Ground by Roemer Van Toorn, Jeroen Boomgaard, and Barbara Visser

March 7

Screening: 24 city (Er shi si cheng ji, )

Reading:

Dudley Andrew Interview With Jia Zhang-Ke (PDF)

March 14

Screening: Get Out Of The Car ( Anderson, 2010)

Instructors may also report cases of academic dishonesty to the Director

of University Judiciaries for further action; however, by so doing, an

instructor does not in any way relinquish the right to assign a grade in

a course.  The student my appeal the grade through the

appeal-of-grade procedure of Section IV.C.3.  Any student

accused of academic dishonesty by University Judiciaries is entitled to

notice of charges being made against him or her and to a full

hearing.  If suspension or dismissal is recommended, the student is

further entitled to appeals procedures and will not be suspended or

dismissed from the University while appeals are in process.