[iDC] Periodizing cinematic production2

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Tue Sep 8 13:50:32 UTC 2009

On 7/09/09 8:45 PM, "Dean, Jodi" <JDEAN at hws.edu> wrote:
> Where was/is the Marxist alternative?

There are a couple of answers to this. One is that we may be looking in the
wrong place. Marx himself does suggest some key ways in - not least the
concept of the general intellect in the Grundrisse, a passage which, as
Virno (or was it Lazzarato?) suggested needs to be rethought by every
generation - in our period that is about once every five years. If, as marx
argues, machines are 'dead labour' ossified and turned to exploitation, it
is time to liberate them. Technology is the form of our ancestors: Autonomy
for the dead. 

Second, pace Jonathan beller's superb analysis, there is reason to argue
that the raster screen has overtaken the cinema projector as the model for
the database economy of the early 21st century. The grid's trajectory begins
in the early 19th century with Fox Talbot's first essays in halftone
printing, is industrialised in rotary gravure, standardised in wire
photography and facsimile by the 1930s, inherited by the Cathode ray tube,
and standardised in raster displays by the 1960s. Now it is integral to the
design of CMOS and CCD chips.

The grid - think the 'modernist grid' of Rosalind Krauss' art history, but
more importantly the grids of map projections, bookkeeping (spreadsheets)
and filing cabinets (databases) and you have in formation the critical tool
for biopolitical management of populations. Add in the standardisation of
unit measures and the abstraction of average values for each square of a
grid and you have the basics of the interchangeability of everything.

The raster screen, which is the default view of cinema (even more so as we
move towards digital cinemas) is the default vision of the world. Are
careful look at the codecs governing its use in transmission (even
transmission from raw data to visual display) ­ keyframes, blocks, groups of
blocks (GOBs), groups of pictures (GOPs) ­ and you have a cultural formation
as closely allied to the informational commodity form and the statistical
management of probability as the gothic cathedral to mediaeval catholicism.

The alternative which is not especially marxist is the road not taken: the
vector screen which Ivan Sutherland used to demo his Sketchpad, the first
visualisation tool, in 1963. Now relegated to radar and oscilloscopes,
vector screens do not have the same arithmetical structure, and potentially
open p a whole other construction of vision. Plasma screens were, until
recently, a similar backwater. No reason vector screens couldn't be
resuscitated. To me they suggest a profound autonomy from the predictive
geometries of contemporary screen, chip and codec design.  Can the structure
"political economy => visual technology" be reversed? Only one way to find

Not wishing to sound techno-determinist, but accepting Jodi's reference to
Schmitt, A) yes, liberalism is antipathetic to democracy but B) because
"sovereign is he who decides on the exception". Do we wait for another
sovereignty, or seize it? Do we accept the sovereign decision that the
banking crisis is 'only' an exception, and that the norm can be restored
painlessly? Do we wait for the revolution before we demand a technology
adequate to our desires? Or do we start building our future now, in the face
of the timeless, futureless rule of the norm?

Prof Sean Cubitt
scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series

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