[iDC] iDC Digest, Vol 57, Issue 1

Keith Sanborn mrzero at panix.com
Wed Sep 2 16:37:18 UTC 2009

It would be more interesting if the discussion took into account  
Cinema History pre-1905, let alone, pre-1925. The "cinematic mode of  
production" can be said to meaningfully exist (as part of the  
Institutional to use Noel Burch's term) in relationship to what comes  
before it (the "primitive mode") and what comes after (I believe  
current forms of cinema underwent a profound mutation sometime in the  
1960s or so).


On Sep 2, 2009, at 8:00 AM, idc-request at mailman.thing.net wrote:

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> Today's Topics:
>    1. Periodizing cinematic production (Brian Holmes)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Tue, 01 Sep 2009 19:12:13 -0500
> From: Brian Holmes <brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr>
> Subject: [iDC] Periodizing cinematic production
> To: idc <idc at mailman.thing.net>, Jonathan Beller <jbeller at pratt.edu>
> Message-ID: <4A9DB85D.9020308 at aliceadsl.fr>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8; format=flowed
> [In my previous post, in reply to Arnim Medosch, I developed some
> ideas about the historical interpretation of media forms,
> particularly in their aspect as commodities. Here I am hoping to
> launch a new discussion along somewhat similar lines, beginning
> this time from the aspect of production in the industrial
> economies. Hope there is some interest! - BH]
> "How do you get capitalism into the psyche, and how do you get
> the psyche into capital?" asks the philosopher Jean-Joseph Goux.
> Drawing on key insights from Gramsci, Simmel and Benjamin -- and
> radicalizing the work of film critic Christian Metz in the
> process -- Jonathan Beller gives this quite astonishing reply:
> "Materially speaking, industrialization enters the visual as
> follows: Early cinematic montage extended the logic of the
> assembly line (the sequencing of discreet, programmatic
> machine-orchestrated human operations) to the sensorium and
> brought the industrial revolution to the eye.... It is only by
> tracing the trajectory of the capitalized image and the
> introjection of its logic into the sensorium that we may observe
> the full consequences of the dominant mode of production
> (assembly-line capitalism) becoming 'the dominant mode of
> representation' (cinema). Cinema implies the tendency toward the
> automation of the subject by the laws of exchange.... Understood
> as a precursor to television, computing, email, and the World
> Wide Web, cinema can be seen as part of an emerging cybernetic
> complex, which, from the standpoint of an emergent global labor
> force, functions as a technology for the capture and redirection
> of global labor's revolutionary social agency and potentiality."
> Beller's book, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention
> Economy and the Society of the Spectacle, develops the thesis
> that filmic montage was instrumental in reshaping the
> "psycho-social nexus" of entire populations, in order to meet the
> needs of Fordist manufacturing in the early twentieth century.
> This thesis is principally developed in a chapter on, of all
> things, Eisenstein's film The Strike, which he sees less as an
> exploration of workers' autonomy than as an exercise in "the
> organization of the masses through organized material" and "the
> development of the eye as a pathway for the regulation of the
> body." To convince the reader of cinema's disciplinary function
> -- crucial to economic development in the industrially backward 
> Soviet Union of the mid-1920s -- he quotes Eisenstein's brutally
> explicit declaration: "Reforging someone else's psyche is no less
> difficult and considerable a task than forging iron." It is in
> this instrumental and frankly manipulative sense that cinema is
> "a technology of affect." Thus it is Eisenstein himself who can
> restate Beller's thesis with the utmost precision:
> "An attraction is in our understanding any demonstrable fact (an
> action, an object, a phenomenon, a conscious combination and so
> on) that is known and proven to exercise a definite effect on the
> attention and emotions of the audience and that combined with
> others possesses the characteristics of concentrating the
> audience's emotions in any direction dictated by the production's
> purpose.... The method of agitation through spectacle consists in
> the creation of a new chain of conditioned reflexes by
> associating selected phenomena with the unconditioned reflexes
> they produce."
> Following Eisenstein, Beller relates the techniques of early
> cinematic montage to the behavioral psychology of Pavlov, with
> his theory of conditioned reflexes, and also to the management
> science of Taylor, who analyzed actual labor practices in view of
> isolating the most efficient gestures and then imposing them on
> workers both by disciplinary training and by the very
> configuration and cadences of the machines which they were
> henceforth to serve. Filmic editing was the representational and
> affective analogue of this Pavlovian and Taylorist reconditioning
> of human labor: and even more, it was the essential aesthetic
> mediator of the physiological learning process whereby, as
> Gramsci wrote, "the memory of the trade, reduced to simple
> gestures repeated at an intense rhythm, 'nestles' in the muscular
> and nervous centers." By carefully weaving this web of
> connections between Pavlovian psychology, Taylorist management
> science and filmic aesthetics, Beller comes closer than anyone
> else I have ever read to justifying Benjamin's insight into the
> historical role of cinema in the early twentieth century, stated
> in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":
> "Film serves to train human beings in the practice of those
> apperceptions and reactions required by the frequentation of an
> apparatus whose role in their daily life ever inceases. To make
> this whole enormous technological apparatus of our time into the
> object of human interiorization and appropriation [Innervation]
> -- that is the historic task in whose service film has its true 
> meaning."
> It is, however, precisely at the point where Jonathan has
> succeded in fully developing Benjamin's brilliant insight that I
> feel the need for a number of historical remarks, touching on the
> issues of periodization, crisis and societal change. The problem
> as I see it is not a nit-picking academic one, adding footnotes
> and detail to a basic concept that remains unaltered; nor even
> less is it a matter of debunking an otherwise excellent argument
> by pointing out occasional anachronisms in the use of words like
> "cybernetics." What's at stake is the reconstruction of an
> unfinished dialectical history of the development of
> communicational commodities in their relation to the
> transformations of both productive machinery and management
> science - shifts occasioned, each time, by major crises of
> capitalism, involving social conflicts in which workers' autonomy
> cannot simply be discounted. The passage around which it seems
> like we could have a real dialogue comes around the first third
> of the chapter on Eisenstein and production. It reads like this:
> "In cinema lies a key to the structure and relations, the physics
> and the metaphysics, the subjectivity and objectivity, in short
> the underlying logic of post-industrial society. The organization
> of consciousness is coextensive with the organization of
> postindustrial society, and the media are the belts that forge
> these underlying connections. Cinema inaugurates a shift in the
> economics of social production, and if it can be shown that such
> a shift achieves critical mass in cinema and in its legacies of
> television, computer, internet, then it can be argued that cinema
> is not merely a specific phenomenon in which the sensorium
> becomes subject (subjugated) to a code existing beyond itself and
> indeed beyond 'natural language,' but the general case -- the
> culmination and the paradigm of a historical epoch that
> supersedes the bourgeois mode of production by introjecting
> capitalized industrial process directly into the mindscape."
> (Beller, p. 106)
> Yes and no! While I deeply appreciate the relations you draw
> between filmic montage and assembly-line manufacturing, my big
> question is: How do we jump so fast to post-industrial society?
> I'd agree with you, Jon, that the early development of cinema
> fits perfectly into the transition from nineteenth-century
> liberal capitalism, with its multiplicity of freely competing
> bourgeois capitals, to the incipient monopoly capitalism of the
> century's end, marked in the US by vertically integrated
> corporations like Standard Oil or Carneige Steel (or by
> "concerns" like Krupp in Germany). I'd date the crisis of liberal
> capitalism from the Long Depression of 1873-79, and I'd
> understand the consolidation of the leading nation-states around
> that time (US civil war, German and Italian unification, Meiji
> restoration) as a prerequisite for industrial expansion and the
> emergence of assembly-line production. The kind of industrial
> regimentation that Gramsci talks about in Americanism and
> Fordism, and that is such a central concern for you, is uniquely
> characteristic of this era; and you're definitely right to
> associate it with Taylor's scientific management and the
> reflex-arc psychology of Pavlov, Watson and Skinner. From this
> perspective cinema appears as a stimulant to production, a
> psychic shock unleashing biological energy.
> What's missing from all this is a treatment of cinema consumption
> and its role in the broader expansion of mass-consumer markets in
> the years from its invention until the 1930s -- and yet the whole
> originality of your book is to insist, against the grain, on the
> links between cinema and productive discipline, so that the
> absence of any real treatment of consumption here could be taken
> as the polemical thrust of your work. What I think is crucial,
> however, is that capitalism changed definitively in the wake of
> the crisis of '29 and the Great Depression, and the functions of
> the mass media changed along with it. The state ceased to be
> merely a kind of ad-hoc executive committee of the bourgeoisie in
> its struggle to exploit the working class, as Marx had conceived
> it (and as far too many Marxists still conceive it). Instead, the
> crisis tendencies of capitalist and inter-imperialist competition
> forced the complete integration of capital and the state in the
> centralized industrial planning of WWII; and at the same time, in
> response to the political threat represented by the Soviet
> revolution and the proletarian movements that sprung up in its
> wake throughout the West, the new Keynesian conception of the
> workers as the source of effective demand brought them entirely
> within the state capitalist construction. With the Keynesian
> logic and the emergence of the welfare state against a backdrop
> of economic crisis, a fundamental political conflict changed the
> course of both economic and media history. When theorists say
> there is no longer any "outside"  to capitalism, they are really
> referring to this integrative phase that runs, in the US, from
> Roosevelt's New Deal to Johnson's Great Society. And this
> integrative era, marking the pinnacle of the industrial
> economies, is the age of cybernetics: the closed-loop, total
> planning system. It is at this point, I think, that you can
> really speak of the "automation of the subject by the laws of
> exchange."
> The disciplines of psychology and management science changed
> entirely during the war. Cyberneticists explicitly saw the
> behaviorists as their enemies and soon made them obsolete.
> Instead of reducing men and women to mechanisms functioning on
> cause-effect principles, they wanted to compose larger,
> self-equilibrating systems out of human beings and machines,
> where the crucial input was not energy (that was now easily
> available) but instead, information serving to correct any
> imbalance in the productive process. Constructing a system that
> would correct itself in response to the right information, and
> only the right information, was now the task of both industrial
> and social design. The management of labor within the plant now
> consisted in making the wage the only relevant information for
> the worker: conflicts over wages were legitimate, because they
> could always lead to the extraction of higher productivity, and
> never to workers' autonomy or self-management, much less free
> time away from the machines. Yet the other crucial variable of
> capitalist development remained consumer demand, which had failed
> so dangerously in the 1930s; and here, the crucial media
> invention was television, which emerged on the broad consumer
> market in the 1950s.
> The key thing is to see that television was managed
> cybernetically: the Neilsen rating system, first applied to radio
> from 1942 onward, was immediately extended to television in order
> to close the informational loop between the production and
> consumption of mass-consumption goods. Now the industrialists
> could be sure what people were watching, and how their desires
> were being shaped by entertainment and advertising. Rather than
> flooding the market anarchically and instinctively, without any
> certainty of finding a buyer, they could scientifically manage
> consumer desire, even while the state was managing the
> availability of disposable income for consumption. That's a
> fundamental change, and it's really striking how little attention
> is paid to the feedback loops of television in the American-style
> development of the planned economy. We should speak of
> "Neilsenism" for this epoch, the way Gramsci spoke of Fordism in
> the earlier period. And, I think, we should clearly distinguish
> between the social function of television in the postwar period,
> and cinema in the previous one.
> Similar remarks can be made about the advent of micromedia (tape
> and video recorders, hand-held video cameras) and then
> interactive networks, in the course of the thirty-year period
> following the crisis of 1967-73. Of course this is the major
> discussion in my own work, in texts like The Flexible
> Personality, Future Map or Guattari's Schizoanalytic
> Cartographies, so I won't go into too much detail. What's
> important to stress, though, is that just as three-cornered wage
> bargaining between labor, capital and the state tends to
> disappear in this period, so do the closed-loop planning
> processes of cybernetics. What emerges instead is the notion of
> the innnovative individual, whose freely evolving behavior should
> be mapped out and predicted by data-gathering and channeled by
> urban and architectural design. Cybernetics is replaced by chaos
> and complexity theories and management becomes a subtle exercise
> in governmentality and "incentivization."
> Of course, the new stress on the (pseudo-)autonomy of the
> individual by motivated by the falling rate of profit in the
> 1970s, due in part to the emergence of new production centers
> (Germany, Japan, then the Asian Tigers and China) and the
> consequent saturation of consumer markets; so the innovative and
> autonomous individual is, from the capitalist viewpoint, just a
> necessary corollary to the new idea of small-batch, customized
> goods and the inflation of purely semiotic products and
> lifestyles which can almost immediately go obsolete, clearing the
> way for further production and sales. Only a networked media
> system could at once contribute to the hyper-individualization of
> the consumer, and his or her continuous access to the market. But
> I also think that the conflicts of late 60s and early 70s were
> real, and that many features of the new production, consumption
> and media system respond directly to the demands for autonomy
> that were expressed at that time. The problem is the way those
> demands were twisted into the new appetitive and predatory
> behaviors of today's social game.
> What emerges in the so-called "risk society" of neoliberalism is
> really a meta-reflexive situation where everyone who is still
> included in the system is highly aware of the arbitrary nature of
> each new rule-set, and avidly looking to exploit all the changing
> rules to their personal advantage; while at the same time, the
> crisis-ridden system continually throws more people outside, it
> excludes them. In this way, the outside of capitalism both
> beckons and terrifies in the present period. The forms of the
> networked technologies, their highly individualized functions,
> their particular fetishistic attractiveness and the kinds of
> productive stimulation they offer are all shaped by the very
> unique characteristic of the current phase of our
> political-economy. We are now all supposed to produce our own
> little films, with the speculative hope that there may be a pot
> of gold at the end of our personal, pixellated rainbows. Which is
> a far different situation, I think, from that of a worker in a
> Ford plant or a Soviet factory...
> ***
> Well, this is a terribly long post and still a very sketchy one,
> to the point where it probably appears somewhat delirious! The
> reason why is that I am at once tremendously excited by the
> breakthroughs of The Cinematic Mode of Production, and at the
> same time, inspired and daunted by the challenges of using those
> breakthroughs to construct a new kind of media theory, one that
> responds to the dialectical transformations of our societies.
> While writing this post today I have looked more than once at the
> tableau of three major periods of capitalist development and
> their corresponding crises, assembled by Alex Foti and published
> here: www.leftcurve.org/LC31WebPages/Grid&ForkTable.pdf. I have
> also thought a good deal about French regulation-school theory,
> which Alex draws upon heavily and which tries to establish a
> correlation between a regime of capitalist accumulation and a
> mode of social regulation (or governance). Though they are not
> much discussed by the theorists of the economy, cinema,
> television and the networked communications devices all have a
> role to play in both the regime of accumulation and the mode of
> regulation. The difficulty for the cultural critic is how to
> describe those different roles, as well as the overlaps,
> prefigurations and continuities between them.
> Probably I give the impression that I see each new form of
> media-regulation superceding and replacing the others, but in
> reality I think they layer onto each other, just as the most
> archaic religions and rigid forms of authority continue to exist
> in our time. While concentrating on the early twentieth century,
> The Cinematic Mode of Production is full of insights into what I
> might think of as the televisual and networked eras, precisely
> because it very often deals with all three periods at once, using
> the mobilizing paradigm of cinema to understand the additional
> forms of complexity, integration, contradiction and
> psychopathology that are continually piled up along with the
> other ruins of the capitalist disaster. In particular, the
> developments of this decade have made it clear that contemporary
> control is in no way limited to the vagaries of
> "governmentality." By dealing simultaneously with what I often
> describe as three distinct periods, the book does a lot to show
> how capitalism got into the psyche, and how the psyche got into
> capitalism... What I'm curious about, Jon, is whether you would
> see any value in the sequence of dialectical breaks that I use to
> understand the evolution of both media and the political-economic
> orders into which they are inserted; or whether you would insist
> on the paradigmatic nature of cinematic montage, even for
> postindustrial society.
> Whatever the answer, the book's a great read!
> best, Brian
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> End of iDC Digest, Vol 57, Issue 1
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