Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Afterlife of Cinema

The "Death of Cinema" (DoC)is a theme addressed by several prominent film aestheticians (Rodowick, Mulvey, Balides and in a rather different tenor Doane among them). It's fundamental premise is that analog cinematography had a privileged relation ('indexicality') to the real which is no longer true of digital media

In a paper at the White Rose seminar hosted by York University, I argued a) the technical detail of the argument is deeply flawed b) there is no unified fied of practice, no essence, to "the" digital. The second half of the paper, which I didn't have time to deliver, starts off like this. I hope to write up the full argument: any comments very welcome

DoC is a humanism. Enshrining what analog cinema captures as 'reality', it sacralises the reality constructed in cinema as 'real' reality. So what is the real, really? To the extent that it can be captured in the relation of indexicality, it is a gesture on the part of symbolic activity – linguistic, mathematical or imagistic – to single out what is excluded from the symbolic domain. It is in this case what symbolization produces as its other. Just as the subject is "an effect of language" (and other symbol systems), so reality is an effect of alienation, that produces the object of the subject-object relation. It is a flaw in the flow of images and numbers. We might ask, for example, which contains more reality: a photographic landscape or a map? We set all sorts of nets and traps: reality is what evades them, the impossible object of our desire for knowledge, possession and the order of knowledge and command.

. . . . The 'reality' of cinematic depictions is not merely an illusion (the reality effect), not just the guarantor of the subject as subject to and of Reality as a given (and so of the ideological apparatus of cinema) but what proves to the imaginary collective subject of Humanity that it is not the author of the reality which depiction creates for it. In this process, however, there is a displacement: authority cannot reside in Humanity, because subjectivity is posed as an effect of Reality (and so not, for example, as effect of language or political economy). Authorship, and with it authority, must therefore be displaced: onto a relation between nature and the technologies that mediate it. This denial of human authorship actively excludes the human, as subject or as polity, society or culture. Thus the construct Reality can finally function as the object to which, individual or collective, the subject is subject. For Negri, in this displacement is revealed the fundamentally human quality of the world (Art and Multitude 36), because this interaction of nature and technology is the human itself. It is this illusion that the DoC thesis exists to defend and, if possible, restore to its throne.

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