Monday, November 28, 2011

Revolution Earth

At long last, at least part of the legendary Revolution Earth appears online: the first four chapters of the eco-thriller coauthored by Alison Ripley Cubitt and me hits an anxiously awaiting world care of Harper Collins' Authonomy site: this is a vote-driven site for new authors (well, we're new to novel writing) so visit and Like us and enjoy some mighty fine environmental action - don't worry, after Chapter 4 the action switches to the Southern hemisphere. Your journey starts here.

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.

Monday, November 14, 2011


(snatched from a talk prepared for the Ubiquitous Computing seminar in Copenhagen)

The subject-object relation is a facet of the population-environment relation fundamental to the political economy of governmentality and the commodity form. Resistance takes many forms. Mystics undertake spiritual disciplines, and many artists undertake a kind of disciplined nostalgia, in search of a pre-subjective, pantheistic experience, innocent of the social and historical division of the human away from the world. Eco-critics look in the opposite direction: not to the past of amorphous unity with the world, but towards a post-objectal subjectivity, a post-objective accommodation with the world. There are already signs of such relations. Neo-liberalism takes as fundamental the ideally-informed consumer. Joseph Stieglitz has demonstrated the impossibility of such a figure. In its place, however, the universal, automated recommendations of information capitalism transfer that ideal of total information from the subject to the environment: the datasphere knows your needs and tastes, and how to satisfy them, far better than you ever will. We are moving away from the Freudian subject as we are from the Foucauldian self. Our land, tools, knowledge and increasingly our bodies are no longer our own, but aspects of the environment we inhabit, the relations with which are managed in a hybrid of governmentality and the commodity form we can call the database economy. We need therefore to consider how we are to manage the task that we still have before us, the incomplete project of becoming human.

The Freeze Frame in Source Code

(excerpted from a talk at St Andrews about David Jones' film Source Code. IMdB notes the cameras used in the film, analog and digital. The passage starts considering the properties of one of those)

The Phantom HD has a specific function in film production: the maximum speed of the Panasonic film camera is 50fps, that of the Phantom 555fps, giving it the capacity to record extremely small timespans, and to give the illusion of extreme slow motion on playback. This is the kind of technique used for filming fireballs of the kind repeatedly shown in Source Code, and almost certainly for the freeze frame that occurs at the climax. It is impossible not to evoke Laura Mulvey's critique of the digital freeze here: ‘film’s original moment of registration can suddenly burst through its narrative time ...The now-ness of story time gives way to the then-ness of the time when the movie was made...’ (Mulvey 2006: 30-31). Though I cannot do justice to her argument here, let's think through the function of the freeze in Source Code. Colter (the protagonist) has finally worked out how to fill his eight minutes: capturing the terrorist, wooing the girl, and creating a community (as much like the sing-song on the bus in Capra's It Happened One Night as it is like Groundhog Day) at peace and enjoying itself. A few minutes later, he will call this 'a perfect day'. The perfect moment – coinciding with the crisis back in the world of his mortal body – is arrested, almost certainly using the extreme speed of exposure of the Phantom. And yet, even at these extreme speeds, the structure of the image is bound to the clock function of the chip. Looking carefully at the language Mulvey uses, we can emphasise something explicit in the digital mode: she speaks of the time when the movie was made. This is not a moment, not a Husserlian Augenblick, instantaneous and whole. It is, most specifically, an image which is non-identical. Quite apart from its delivery as DVD or BluRay digital scan, even in the cinema, this shot is ontologically incomplete, even as it tries to capture the perfect moment perfectly executed. It is exactly time, time which can only exist as change, that is in the processes in which things become other than themselves.