Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Rage to Order

from a chapter on the derivation of laser and fibre-optics from the principles of cinema projection, a first version of which was given as a presentation at the Screen conference in 2011. It argues that light has been increasingly organised in the interests of commodification and biopolitical management

Late in his life, affected by the cases of shell-shock he had witnessed after the first World War and perhaps even more so by the rise of Nazism, Freud proposed the idea of the death instinct. From 1920 to 1930, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to Civilisation and its Discontents (Freud 1961a, 1961b), he developed a dense theorisation of a drive towards entropy informing both personal and social structures. The child's fascination with the flaring match, which Lyotard sees as the epitome of cinema, illustrates that this drive, like every other, easily oscillates between positive and negative poles: between the drive to destruction and the drive towards order. If at one extreme, this leads to the repetition compulsion and to a collapse into the inorganic, at the other it leads to the kind of pathological command over physical reality which, paradoxically, no longer frees us from the contingency of the laws of physics but enslaves us to their organisation in global technical systems, themselves expressions as well as formative vehicles of an increasingly global order. The historical realisation of Kantian freedom from the laws of nature as foundation of the 'cosmopolitan intent' has in actuality come about not through international law, as he imagined (Kant 1983), but through the kind of normative technical structures underpinning the pursuit of coherent light. This pursuit was undoubtedly experienced in the beginning as an autonomous movement of the nascent techno-science of the late 19th century, but has become rigorously integrated into the hardwiring of contemporary global infrastructures. It will be one of the key challenges of the 21st century to develop both radical ways of working within this already ossified system, and to invent new modes of working with light that involve not simply freeing it, as an entropic gesture, but finding new ways to create in partnership with light, rather than through its enslavement.

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