Thursday, April 13, 2006

Images are Slick; Resistance, maybe not.

“Overall, I reject the idea that images are somehow not real, so that “the image of revolution” is not real, or has nothing to do with actual revolution. Images are as real as anything else, they are a big part of what we live today as the social, so of course images of revolution are as important as anything else. The fascist leaders are killed in the film before Parliament is blown up; but it is necessary (for the narrative and for the revolution being narrated) for Parliament to be blown up as well. Symbolic power, and the symbolism of monuments, imposing buildings, etc., is an incredibly important componet of how power works. We shouldn’t make oppositions between “merely” symbolic power and “real” power.” – Steve Shaviro, The Pinocchio Theory, April 9, 2006

“What is the relation between the work of art and communication? None whatsoever. The work of art has nothing to do with communication. The work of art strictly does not contain the least bit of information. To the contrary, there is a fundamental affinity between the work of art and the act of resistance. There, yes. It has something to do with information and communication as acts of resistance. What is this mysterious relation between a work of art and an act of resistance when men who resist have neither the time nor sometimes the necessary culture to have the least relation to art?” – Gilles Deleuze, Having an Idea in Cinema (On the Cinema of Straub-Huillet), translated by Eleanor Kaufman.

Today, I am going to type in a bunch of comments into this awkward little square that is my computer, and not take too much time to worry about the coherence or the quality of my writing. I am planning to be away from computers over the next few days, and I am afraid that if I don't begin to get out some ideas I've had recently, I may let them pass, even though I think they're very important. Maybe it is not letting them pass that I am worried about, but letting them submerge - they are volatile and jagged - I guess that I don't want them sitting in my gut for much longer.

I object very strongly to the absence of an ethical dimension in the remarks I've been reading recently from commentators who focus on what I guess they think is a separate realm of thinking - the realm of the aesthetic. I don't think that the unethical is very pretty or appealing or that it feels good, or that the aesthetic can be enjoyed, at least in contemplation, if it is divorced from its perspective with the ethical.

Because I admire and am loyal to Gilles Deleuze (although this loyalty includes being critical of his work, I'm not to that point yet), I cannot bear that his ethical thought, which I consider rigorous, be severed away from the rest of what he wrote so that he appears to be neutral on the most important political matters of our time, something I am sure would have horrified him and against which he would have fought - fought in opposition.

As a matter of fact, Gilles Deleuze theorized revolution, and his theory of revolution has a great deal to do with his extensive theory of sense and sensation and art. It has nothing to do , however, with aestheticized revolution, or with a notion that we engage in revolution when we become theater critics and commentators. He wrote extensively about cinema, and he took the cinema as real; but there is no confusion that I've ever come across to indicate that he thought that the reality depicted in cinema is reality- that cinema is giving us the real.

Something might be real - an image might be real - I don't want to question that. It might be real as " anything else," as Shaviro says in the comment above. Being real doesn't make something be ethical, however. It sure as hell doesn't make it revolutionary. Some real image could be stultifying, stupifying, and reaction inducing. Any analysis or interpretation of theater would need to go a whole lot further than pointing to the reality of an image in order to determine what the image was doing or whether it was as "important for revolution" as anything else.

If someone doesn't go any further in analysis than pointing to the reality of something, their hold on the idea of revolution is gone. (I note that Shaviro, at least in his blog, does not have a critical stance firm enough to challenge authorizations or authority.... after all, even the most abusive authorizations and authorities are "real." He can't show when an authorization or an authority, which these days might very well act upon society through pretty and slick images, by manufacturing consent, by working the unconscious, is unethical.)

I not only make oppositions, Shaviro. I man the barricades for them. Try to tell me in person what I shouldn't be doing.

Images are real; symbolic power is a very important component of how power works in society. Power in our society works unethically. Symbols are real, but symbolic gratification is not real. Symbolic gratification defers and diffuses and interiorizes the vital forces of revolution. It makes these forces work against themselves - it makes them take themselves apart. We can and must understand how symbolic power works, but we can't start thinking that the gratifications we receive from symbols have power. Symbols are acting on us.... when do we again begin to act on them? I haven't seen that kind of action in cinema in a long, long time. I haven't seen a sign of cinema resistance in a long, long time.


Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

There's a great deal going on here, and I can't respond adequately to all of it.

I like the point that pointing out the reality (the power) of images doesn't, by itself, tell us whether the images are ethical -- whether they contribute to or detract from the enhancement of human capabilities.

Oppression is real, and so is the desire for one's own oppression.

Those of us working out of the liberal middle-class reformist/conformist attitude (such as myself) are discomfited by revolutionaries. This is one of the reasons why Zizek is necessary -- he's our bad conscience.

Refracted through this attitude, revolutionaries such as Deleuze and Foucault, or for that matter Adorno and Marcuse, are aestheticized. They become dandys. It's a disgrace.

For liberal reformists/conformists, the question has been "how could a sane, reasonable, educated, and compassionate person be a revolutionary?" This question has been the Cold War hang-over that won't go away.

Is there a way to see our way clear to saying, "how could a sane, reasonable, educated, and compassionate person not be a revolutionary?"

We won't understand what the dialectical-messianic materialists (Benjamin, Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer) or the historical-libidinal materialists (Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Negri) have to teach us until we can ask that question.

I'm learning how to ask that question.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Oppression is a blockage in actualization.

The virtual is explored in thought and expressed as virtuality in the work of culture.

But the virtual can be expressed as virtuality (for example, in art) at the same time as the blockage prevents actualization.

The degradation of art is advertising. The degradation of science is technocracy. In both cases, human powers are turned against themselves.

Desire becomes lack.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Thanks for responding. There is a lot going on here, and I need to do a lot more to make it clear what I want to do. This peculiar aesthetic-ethic divide, if it can be shown to exist, would go a long way towards showing how one comes to desire one's own repression.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

By "this peculiar aesthetic-ethic divide," do you mean the divide between aesthetics and ethics?

2:58 PM  

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