[iDC] Periodizing cinematic production2

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Tue Sep 8 15:04:48 UTC 2009

Jodi Dean writes:

It's as if current thought is stuck in the binary already diagnosed by  
Schmitt: liberalism replaces politics with ethics and economics.

Yes, agreed, for the sake of this discussion. That is why Nicholas  
Kristoff's recent article on Global Women in the New York Times, to  
take just one example, reinscribes the ethical imperative of the  
ecnomics of white-mans burden and conscripts NYT's readers to save the  
women of the world from their law firm, advertising, and ok,  
programming and professing desks. Very close to what Spivak described  
in the British in India context as white men saving brown women from  
brown men, but here of course, white women, and "all Americans" can  
share in the indignation. Point is, that without a radical political- 
economic analysis, gendered violence can not be fully understood.  
There's much more to say on that, that should include the work of  
Marxists-Feminists like Maria Mies but I'l leave it to the side, for  

As for Free Software, I am aware that there is much for me to learn on  
this topic and about this movement, and that your comments here, Jodi,  
are only the tip of a very large iceberg. At first glance, however, it  
is hard to see how even infinite access to programs written for  
computers, is going to overcome the separation/atomization/racism/ 
nationalism/fascism/capitalism that sustains inequality -- because the  
programming runs deep. Unless, perhaps, the call for Free Software  
actually means Free Commodities. I think that part of the point of the  
discussion that Brian raised in an effort to periodize the commodity  
form is not simply to recognize that computers and software are the  
latest form that the commodity takes and that prior forms were  
characterized by a different set of functions, but rather that the  
commodity has all along been software -- an instrument of social  
programming with economic, informational, visual and affective  
components that simultaneously found a mesh with existing social  
machinery while driving innovation and enabling new practices. What's  
at stake then, would be in Ranciere's terms for the aesthetic, the  
"distribution of the sensible." It may seem obvious to say things this  
way, but to change the world we need new forms of sensibility. It is  
at this level where a truly liberatory programming makes something  
like intuitive sense to me. But this would involve recognize that not  
only is a browser software, but so too is music, DNA and a ham  
sandwich. Machines for the organization of the perceptible world.

Restructuring affect, creating community, generating movement by  
reprogramming at every level...; Hm, the role of the revolutionary  
meets that of the artist meets that of the hacker. Perhaps this is  
where the paradigm of cinema gives way to the paradigm of software  
(keeping in mind of course that without the intensive development of  
the sensorium by industrial capital and the challenges posed to it,  
the ground would not have been laid for modern computing.). However,  
the recognition that the world is composed of ambient programs, that  
require remediation in and by a struggle for both social justice and  
self-realization, is not that far from Vertov's intuition that the  
commodity itself had become an image organizing the visible world and  
that role of film was a struggle over the form of this organization.

Maybe we could say with only a slight trace of irony that the Matrix  
is in fact today's Man with a Movie Camera and recognize that there is  
within the film a small (if fatal) programming error -- the hero is  
not Neo, the One, but some as yet nameless entity that is the many,  
the multitude. And yet the struggle to instantiate this narrative  
element that used to occupy the identifiable place as leader of the  
revolution against the expropriation of the commons is still one of  
the real problems of our times. Isn't that the only point of our  
upcoming conference worth taking seriously, to sift through the  
findings to see if we can hit upon the platform(s) that will allow  
maximum freedom for the maximum number? My concern here is that the  
diversity of aspirations on a planetary scale far exceed the  
instruments of perception of a conference of this kind. The situation  
demands that we navigate carefully between knowing and openess, that  
we recognize that programming means listening and learning as well as  
speaking and writing. However, lest it seem that I have here fallen  
back into ethics and liberalism, let me insist that the products we  
make set out to do damage to the hegemonic powers of actually existing  
racial formations, gender, nation and property, among other  
reifications, -- for (to indulge in my own moment of strategic  
essentialism) these are to be recognized as among the programs of the  

Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Sep 7, 2009, at 3:45 PM, Dean, Jodi wrote:

> Jonathan Beller writes:
> We would not want to miss out here in the fact that such crises are  
> also opportunities. The current instability of the capitalist system  
> has been manifest, but where was/is the Marxist alternative?  
> Personally I was deeply disappointed in my own/our degree of  
> preparedness during the financial bailout. For a moment capitalism  
> was threatening to off itself, to crumble under the weight of its  
> own contradictions, contradictions that no amount of imaginary  
> inflation could any longer sustain. And yet our imaginations have  
> been so throughly colonized that the best the collectivity could  
> come up with was to mortgage our own future in order to preserve the  
> fundamental hierarchies amenable to bankers, hierarchies that  
> sustain themselves through the ruthless exploitation of this, "our,"  
> planet.
> This real failure on the part of the people, the masses, the  
> multitudes, this world-historical failure, is a question not only  
> for economists, but for cultural theorists, social justice  
> activists, and all of us who would have the audacity to speculate  
> against capitalist speculators. I know from my own experience that  
> film studies people think that these kinds of cinematic questions  
> are way beyond the purview of the field.
> Where was/is the Marxist alternative? Perhaps one way to think about  
> this problem is to think about the ways that critical theorists have  
> participated in the attack on the state and on collective solutions/ 
> enterprises that enables neoliberalism. It seems to me that the  
> supposition that individuals working alone can somehow network with  
> one another and immanently produce a solution is pat of the problem.  
> That is, the elision between Free Software and politics is the same  
> as the elision between capitalism and democracy, an elision that  
> brushes over antagonism (inequality/class struggle/exploitation).  
> Analogous to this is the move to ethics, a move that similarly  
> displaces attention to politics. It's as if current thought is stuck  
> in the binary already diagnosed by Schmitt: liberalism replaces  
> politics with ethics and economics.
> Jodi
> Jodi Dean

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