Archive for the ‘Jean Luc Godard’ Category

Camp and Metropolis in European CInema 1945-1965 Rendering the Visible II

Extemporize: Words of those cited in the paper often start to appear a few sentences before citation.
I need to acknowledge the work of 2 women not cited in what follows for reasons of time: the end of the paper would not have been possible without Tracy Thompson’s urbanist studies of the Atlanta metropolitan area; Maya Andrea Gonzalez’s engagement with materialist feminism is the reason Leopoldina Fortunati’s and Federici’s work is on the lips of so many revolutionary Marxists at the moment and though this paper doesn’t yet engage them directly Gonzalez’s own contriubtions are invaluable; though she is cited, I want to acknowledge that the rational kernel form which this project spun can be comes from Noa Steimatzky whose projects imply all of what I attempt to elaborate in what follows, from the revisions of Giorgio Agamben’s figuration on.

In the larger project, as time-images loose their salience, the figure of the camp empirically mutates into Cinema Hostis at a moment determined by a change in the base from which a new image erupts.

Suppressed @ conference: The series of films considered below plays a key role in my lager project about the periodization of cinema, the stakes of which are minor and specific to an academic field that is fortunately being defunded into a return to its former status as an inter-disciplinary praxis, but the theoretical frame might be a bit controversial. I argue that although his Cinema books don’t make it explicit, Gilles Deleuze derives his two image types, the time-image and the movement-image, on the basis of the relationship between labor and capital, perceived from the proletariat’s point of view at the times when each emerged. Cinema Hostis, the third image type, subordinates both movement and time to images of pure enmity in which each is the enemy of each and the camera is the enemy of all. The three images irrupt dialectically from the economic base rather than being born one from the other, a process masked by Deleuze’s genetic account, which nonetheless describes their empirical continuity. This paper concerns the figure of the concentration camp in the era of the time-image. Under that regime, the camps appeared as a contingent form that the cinema of concrete durations merely rendered perceptible and, eventually, utterable. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the subsumption of every sphere of human activity by circuits of capitalist valorization re-determined the camp, which, in a new form, became the essence of Cinema Hostis. Unlike over-determination, re-determination effects an empirical mutation expressing a dialectical sublation in and of its object, ridding transforming and unifying all of its previous determinations. In what follows, one should keep in mind that biopolitics names only techniques for managing social reproduction and does not imply the production of surplus value by “biopower.”My claims are derived from and consistent with the labor theory of value.

Camp and Metropolis in European Cinema 1945-1965
Roma, città aperta (Rossellini, 1945), Umberto D (De Sica, 1952), Accattone (Pasolini, 1961), and Alphaville (Godard, 1965), cardinal films in a larger cycle, depict a process by which later 20th century European proletarianization drove the “the radical transformation of politics into the realm of bare life” that is, into a concentration camp (Agamben 1995, 71.) Made between1945 and 1965, those films portray the cities they are set in as camps, revealing the structuration of life under capitalism by the contradictions of social reproduction: a sphere that has been colonized by a universal market that regulates us, turn us into kapos or abandon us. The films seem to elaborate the central observation of the third section of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer, avant la lettre. Moreover, the films demystify Agamben’s conception of the camps as “biopolitical paradigm of the modern” insofar as they narrate the economic, determinations of contingent politics and the structuratation of “personal” lives in crisis. They depict their metropolises as camps only in so far as they are spaces of intolerable social reproduction intensified by changes in labor’s relation to capital or bouts of primitive accumulation. Camps figure as crystallizations of the totality of capitalist social relations, not, pace Agamben, as paradigms. In other words camps do not function as productive positivities, or models with the capacity to replicate themselves and generate power effects. They express the essence of asocial relations determined by a specific economic system at an ongoing moment in its development. Capitalism entails a contradiction between the transformation of people into things and things into people, a definitional contradiction that determines all of its social relations. Workers must use their wage to reproduce their lives each day and to regenerate the class, but bosses extract the power of their living labor in excess of what the wage pays for. At a certain threshold of intensification, that vampirism drains the lives of capital’s subjects to the point of absolute vital immiseration and completes the systemic transformation of the social into the asocial. The former capitalist semi-periphery crossed that threshold in 1945 with the core following in 1973. Since then the rest of the world has as also become asocial. This is the true meaning of globalization. Uneven development implies that the camp form was imposed on much the global South directly after a period of colonial primitive accumulation. Cinema exposes what Agamben and others call “biopolitics” as the style management of reproduction at a given moment of the moving contradiction.
The massive and uneven destruction of capital in World War II led to primitive accumulation in the semi-periphery, moments of restructuring when the bourgeoisie takes what it needs for capitalism to function by force — for example, the enclosure of commons lands between 1760 and 1820 studied extensively by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class and the concurrent enclosure of women within the nuclear family allowing capital to seize their reproductive labor without a wage, a phenomenon studied by Silvia Federici in Caliban And The Witch. After the war, the modernization of Italian agriculture drove peasants from the South into vast, ghettoized labor pools in the borgate, or peripheral slums of northern cities and proletarianization spewed out immigrants who became Australians or, like Antonio Berrutti, minor characters in the Paris of film such as Breathless (Godard, 1960.) Modernizing agriculture meant that fewer laborers were required to produce the same amount of produce and livestock. The resulting migration to industrial areas transformed Italian peasantry into a proletariat with the massive unemployed layers necessary for capital to keep the price of labor down and to provide a standing reserve of labor power against fluctuations in the process of valorization. Between 1945 and 1960, more than a third of the Italian population moved from one district to another. (Dowson 1973). For proletarians, The only thing worse than being exploited by capital is being forced to exist outside of surplus value extraction but within capitalism. Primitive accumulation and proleatarianization subtend the capture by capital’s circuits of housework, which is mostly performed outside the space of formal market exchanges (Caffentzis 2013, 253.) The contradiction between capital’s need for a standing reserve of possible laborers and it’s demand that everyone work to survive figures out capital’s structural ban: a proletariat abandoned by capital to reproduce itself without access to the means to do so.
Capital forces the proletariat to work and be available for work by depriving labor of the means of sustenance so that the problem of continuing “the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals men or gods)” (Agamben 1998, 1) becomes too intense for members of the class to swerve together into forms of life. Under capitalism, the proletariat reproduces itself as bare life and that is what camps crystalize about capitalism as Michael Denning shows in an essay entitled “Wageless Life.” The metropolises in the films appear as camps because they contain bare life embodied in surplus populations and unwaged domestic workers and in the unwaged portion of labor power reflected in the life of the worker — the economic lack that women’s work compensates for.
Before the modernization of Southern European agriculture began driving primitive accumulation, proletarianization, and the abandonment of life, the national film studio founded under Benito Mussolini, Cinecittà, had been turned into a refuge camp. When the US warehoused refuges in the studio that the Neorealists could have been using, the filmmakers were pushed into the streets. There, Rossellini and the others filmed bare life on locations around the metropolis, as if to prove that one could leave Cinecittà but not the camp. The camp functioned as an anonymized space of pure, minimal reproduction of its population in an isolated “placeless place, set apart from the life outside” (Steimatsky 2009, 24.) Beyond its gates, the contradictions of social reproduction were of another intensity, not a different order. Those conditions generalized the sense of placeless urban space in neorealism. The films moved further and further from Rome’s touristic locations in the1940s and early 1950s, until after the movement had ended, as John David Rhodes has shown, Pier Palo Pasolini abandoned well known Roman places and stable spatial construction almost entirely for the degraded any-space-whatevers of shanty towns and CASA tenements in the borgate. The neorealists “newfound interest in the chronicling of the everyday” (Steimatsky 2009, 25) was an attempt to present the contradictions of social reproduction by following the themes of “housing, sustenance, …the circumstances of children” (Steimatsky 2009, 25-6) and the position of women within and between various markets. As Noa Steimatsky points out, the neorealist images of camps were necessarily out of focus, muted flickers on the walls of metropolises. The surface of the films had “to smooth out the tensions of the moment, to establish a restorative narrative of affinities among classes and ideologies and across the ruined landscape: a redemptive vision exportable beyond Italy via the international dissemination of Neorealism” (Steimatsky 2009, 28.), Steimatsky demonstrates that the turn to the abandoned life on the streets meant a turn away form the refuges in the studio. Roma, città aperta, Ladri di biciclette (De Sica, 1948), Germania anno zero (Rossellini, 1948) Miracolo a Milano (De Sica, 1951) and Umberto D reveal the figures of Camps in Rome, Milan, and Berlin while encrypting the particular reality of the camp in Cinecittà.
Agamben defines “bare life” according to the legal status of living beings abandoned by law and sovereignty, cut off from citizenship and political processes. Once Mussolini formed the Republica Social Italiana, Rome became the declared capital of the Fascist Republic and of Pietro Balglio’s government at the same time. The German Army held practical sovereignty over the Metropolis. Agamben’s idealist juridico-poltical analysis of bare life describes the legal condition of all Italians between 1943 and 1946; a condition encrypted in Homo Sacer. Agamben figures bare life according to the indiscernibility of Italian sovereignty and the opaque impossibility of citizenship until declaration of the Italian republic.
The phrase “open city” was used in the Italian surrender to Germany signed at Frascati in September of 1943 to designate the status of Rome, which was to remain under the control of an Italian General with the Germans occupying only their own embassy, radio station and telephone exchange. By the end of the month, the German Army had fully occupied the metropolis. Subjected Romans lived under tightly controlled and limited conditions.
At the end of the war, the colonizing US army hosted a population reduced to the bare minimums required for its reproduction on sound stages while Rossellini, De Sica and the others recorded reproduction in the streets as if capturing the shadow of the refuges they could not film – a shadow pointing to the Camp encrypted in every post war capitalist city.
Roma citta aperta depicts the Roman Metropolis as a Camp: an area populated with denizens rather than citizens, abandoned by the law to existence in a separated space where in all aspects of life are regulated by immediate violence. At the end of Roma citta aperta, the boys who witnessed the priest’s execution parade away in pairs from the torture pitch, St Peter’s Basilica visible in the background, a parody of a column of soldiers advancing. Critics conventionally call the ending hopeful, as if the sight of youth and touristic Rome signaled the coming of peace, however, the last shot functions as ambiguously as the invocation of spring at the end of Paisà (Rossellini, 1946) which comes too late for peace to mean anything. The camera following the boys’ advance extends structuration of the camp out from Fortte Bravetta where the priest has been killed, so that even the Vatican is included. The camera constitutes Rome as a placeless place and emphasizes its separation from any outside with a final movement from right to left that matches the movement with which the camera follows occupying German troops in the film’s first shot. The 360 pan composed of the film’s opening and closing shots seal off Roma, city apart, as if it were a circle of hell.
From it’s first scene, Roma città aperta’s conjugation of women with markets plays a decisive roll in the structuration of Rossellini’s metropolis. Women embody the central role in capitalist social reproduction, connecting it generational and quotidian aspects. As Fortunati has shown, under capitalism, the role of unwaged women in the valorization of male labor is analogous to that of the living labor necessary to valorize constant capital. An indirect exchange mediated by the male laborers takes place between capital and women, who work either as house-workers or as prostitutes. (Fortunati 1995, 33). Capitalism naturalizes women’s work in reproducing male labor power and in order to valorize the male worker, and must posit women and their reproductive labor as without value in order to extract surplus value from the male.
Roma, città apert begins with a direct action by young girls and women: a bread riot consisting of many little girls and some women. A later episode in the film contrasts this female action with a paramilitary attack on a train yard by little boys. The boys assault the supply lines of an occupying armies, whereas the young girls’ bread riot attacks the existence of markets. Women cannot hold the money Capital pays mediating male workers for their housework since, from the point of view of capital, the laborer’s wage is equivalent to the cost of his reproduction. Women can and must use that money to provide the family, and so, for women markets are sites of contradiction and targets for political action. Part of women’s domestic labor is shopping for food. Characteristically, the women are both means of reproduction and compelled to commodities necessary to reproduction. The laxity with which the two police officers in the scene respond to the riot suggests the camps’ suspension of conventional morals: the prohibition against stealing has fallen away in the face of scarcity.
The contrast between opening episode of the bread riot and the later attack on the munitions train establishes a gender division between young girls who attack spontaneously in order to reproduce themselves and their families, and boys who plan their attack and execute it as part of the effort to liberate the city. The male struggle is clearly political. The struggle of the young girls appears either pre-political or, reading the film against Rosellini, a critique of the usual construal of politics.
The sequence initiates a line of female bare-life in the series of films over the course of which women are differentiated according to the degrre to which they are commodified. Roma Città aperta contrasts Pina, about be married and become a source of reproductive labor for her fiancé, with Marina who works as a cabaret dancer and exchanges herself for goods. The film portrays Pina and Marina as mother and whore, espressing capital’s misogyny while at the same time rendering the two positions capital offers women in reproductive work, paid prostitution or unpaid housework. Understanding the figure of the camp as a crystallization of the contradictions of reproduction allows us to see the structure at work under the surface of Rossellini’s misogyny and homophobia in the same way that Laura Mulvey and others read Freud as both an elaboration of patriarchy and a critique thereof.
In Umberto D, hoses lead the camera to abandoned life in both the pound and in the kitchen. In the kitchen, Maria, the maid, uses the hose from the spigot to drown some ants on the wall in a close up. She looks down at her wet apron and sees her pregnant belly, asking Umberto whether sees a bump. In the pound a worker hoses down incinerators used to dispose of stray dogs, the rubber pipe connecting the shot’s foreground and background. Capital excludes from it’s limited protections both the stray dogs condemned to death, and Maria, soon to be unemployable and destitute because she is pregnant and unsure who the father is. Maria and the dogs are both still alive but abandoned by capital and, hence, both subject, respectively, to active and passive liquidation. Maria finds herself excluded from paid social reproduction at the very moment when she finds herself reproducing labor. The stray dogs interfere with the efficient reproduction of the city. In Umberto D, the kitchen figures a moment of contradiction within capitalist social reproduction and the pound figures a death camp. Umberto’s journey between the apartment and the pound connects and equivocates between the two spaces so that one can see that the same system of social relations hold sway in the kitchen and the camp.
Umberto D figures the camp directly in it’s mise-en-scene with the shot of the incinerators and a decade later Accattone mentions a camp explicitly in it’s dialogue. In an attempt to stop pimping inspired by his love for Stella, exhausted Accattone gets a job through his brother, collecting scrap metal. Like Stella’s work cleaning glass bottles for reuse, Acattone’s labor produces a minimum of surplus value and is also empty in the sense that it does not produce much, if any, use value. The low yield of use value for prisoners characterizes labor in historical camps — not only are prisoners deprived of the means of full reproduction, they are made to labor on projects from which they so alienated that they cannot see their work as useful for anyone. In the the scrapyard, Accattone asks “Where are we? Buchenwald?”
Accattone’s question forces a slight revision of Angelo Restivo’s reading of Accattone’s impediment filled metropolitan space as a jail in The Cinema of Economic Miracles — Restivo is correct, but post-war prisons are variations on the camp form. Accattone’s question names Rome as a camp at the moment when he attempts to stop mediating between capital and Stella’s wrok as a prostitute. To do so, he leaves the sphere of social reproduction for that of service and circulation, only to find his position in as a camp inmate brutally clarified. In camps, men are kapos to women, and when men attempt to change that relation, their own bare life intolerably confronts them.
Alphaville combines language and cineplastics in its most explicit sign that its metropolis is a camp: the numerical tattoos on the affectless seductresses who have been really and fully subsumed by the state capitalism. The film suggests that the tattoos are a mark of the doubly bare status of women’s lives under capitalist reproduction, of the double encampment of women within capital and within a family or a brothel.
α 60, the computer that runs the city, orders the word “love” eliminated from the dictionary in order to to control the citizens of the Metropolis by ellinating any referecnes to irrational forces. Alphaville’s plastics reframe 1965 Paris so that it appears as the future, seeking not only to describe the structure of it’s present but to be effective within it. Lemmy caution restores the word “love” to Natasha’s vocabulary in order to liberate her from Alphaville, a liberation conditioned by her passivity and lemmies structural position as a kapo. Although the narrative effects of α 60’s censorship is to regulate the dinizens by renering them vacous and predicable, banning the word allows the film to opperate the unnarrated world of it’s moment and ours by suppressing the ideological language that normally disguises the position of women as structural sex-workers.
The sensuous identity of camp and metropolis in these films could only emerge as an image of the contradictions of social reproduction after World War by figuring three factors:
1) The intensification of carceral practices during the war.
2) The particularities of the spaces within which reserve labor pools collected as a result of primitive accumulation after the war when fascist countries had to be converted to fully privatized capitalism.
3) The acceleration the real subsumption of labor after the war that intensified the exploitation in and around the capitalist core and drove the deskilling and decomposition of the working class while increasing the extent to which its reproduction depends on a universal market
Since its first projections, Cinema’s specificity has been a praxis aimed at making social reproduction perceivable. Where do the workers go when they leave the frame in La sortie des usines Lumiere à Lyon and all of its remakes? One hopes they leave the factory, to attend to social reproduction and not to loabor at another site of production. Cinema’s compulsively restaged primal scene brings an aesthetic promise of happiness, or at least respite, in the same frame that inaugurates the powers that will undermine that promise in favor of action. The 1895 film introduces cinema’s specific capacity to think reproduction, the capacity of its chronotopes to refer percepts to ideologically obscured social forces: the forces involved in conversation, in parenting, in the division of domestic labor, in sex, in sex in being separated by markets and together on the streets. Over the course of its history, cinema’s ethnographic power empties out La sortie’s promise of happiness and leads audiences to ask what we must do in order to be able to imagine that the workers aren’t headed to a camp. Wherever we are, we imagine today’s proletariat living somewhere other than a camp only with great difficulty and our tasks are immense. Here in Atlanta our tasks are immense because of the refusal to consolidate unevenly distributed services in the 68 municipalities and its deleterious effects on transportation during the recent snows, effects bourn disproportionately by the black proletariat; because of the region’s preference for largely upper middle class white suburban sprawl over the development of light rail, because of ever widening wage inequality distributed along racial lines, and here as everywhere, because of capitalism.

Works Cited
Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer; Sovereign Power and Bare Life . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Caffentzis, George. In Letters Of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism. Oakland : PM Press, 2013.
Dowson, Ernest. “The Italian Background.” Radical America 7, no. 2 (March-April 1973): 7-17.
Forgacs, David. Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta). London: British Film Institute , 2000.
Fortunati, Leopoldina. The Arcana of Reprodution: Housework, Protitution Labor and Capital. Brooklyn: Autonomedia , 1995.
Ricciardi, Allisia. “Immanent Miracles: From De Sica to Hardt and Negri.” Modern Language Notes 122, no. 5 (December 2007): 1138-1165 .
Steimatsky, Noa. “The Cinecittà Refugee Camp (1944–1950).” October 128 (Spring 2009): 23-50.


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 ( 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.

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

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