Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jonathan Beller ...

... has to be one of the most exciting film theorists working in American academia. (I say 'exciting' only if you're interested personally or professionally in film theory. His prose is often dense and dry, though never obscurantist: he's always aiming for clarity, he's just often trying to describe very abstract or multidimensional concepts.) Over the last several months I've been picking through any of his articles that I can find, slowly, and as a result I have read the majority of the early published versions of the pieces that constitute his new book, The Cinematic Mode of Production, which I suppose is finally available. I've mentioned Beller here a few times in the past, and have linked to some of his work before.

"The Spectatorship of the Proletariat," which I have not quite finished yet, is a thick, leisurely paced essay on the creation (and presupposition) of cinematic spectatorship as a form of labor. Let me explain this one roughly, possibly brutally, just to give you a sense. One of the general arguments is that Sergei Eisenstein conceptualized the audience of his films much like machines or animals. Taylor thought of maximizing efficiency of workers in the (macro) factory, and Pavlov thought of understanding machinic impulses in the overriding (micro) mind. (Cinema is the factory or the mind!) In these cases there is a hierarchy constructed by which one class, the filmmaker or scientist, presupposes a certain environment in which they can "manipulate," and perhaps "better," their apparently less well-developed cogs in each system. (I would stress that any initial criticisms of this model should be addressed to my characterization, not Beller's, not until you've read his work.) Beller situates Vertov in opposition to Eisenstein here, a pretty traditional "rivalry" in itself, and I think he's more sympathetic to Vertov because Vertov respects the autonomy of the viewers to use cinema to figure out relations between objects, commodity, labor, value, etc., whereas Eisenstein tries/tried to "play" the audience. But I can't yet be 100% certain that this is accurately Beller's assertion. The piece needs closer analysis than I'm really able to give it at the moment.

I hope more will follow here on EL. Some other things he's written:

"Cinema, Capital of the Twentieth Century."
"Numismatics of the Sensual, Calculus of the Image: The Pyrotechnics of Control."
Review of Diverse Practices: A Critical Reader on British Video Art.
Review of Fight Club.

There are more essays which are not readily available online (or off) outside of a library or education institution with access to certain databases (Project Muse, Ingenta), but a Google search will reveal these and if you can get yourself to a place with a subscription to these services, there will be perhaps 4-5 more articles available.

7 comments:

Matthew said...

I've had 'Cinema, Capital of the Twentieth Century' printed off and ready to go for a couple of weeks now; I just haven't had the time to read it yet!

girish said...

Beller sounds fascinating, Zach. I hadn't heard of him before your mentions.

Let me put in a special request for future EL 'pedagogical' posts such as this one. I find them especially valuable...!

Zach Campbell said...

The book The Cinematic Mode of Production is out & about in stores! I saw it and picked up my copy today. It's expensive for paperback ($35), and the binding glue seems to be mediocre, but basically it's worth it. A quote from the introduction, which plainly lays out this project that has consumed Beller for more than a decade:

"One principle aim of my theory of cinema is to provide a theoretical and historical account. To repeat, looking has long been posited as labor by capital: In the present moment, it is being presupposed as such. That a critical theory of the mode of exploitation should lag behind the practice of exploitation is no longer tenable, if it ever was. Overcoming this epistemic lag-time is another aim here, one bound up in the revolutionary potential contained in understanding how the world goes on as it does, and in whose interests."

Andy Rector said...

Zach, are you aware of this Beller piece?:

http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/boundary/v026/26.3beller.html

"Dziga Vertov and the Film of Money"

(Long live his lengthy chapter headings!)

Thanks for introducing Beller's project and posting these links...due to your frequent quoting of him I was going to email you asking precisely for these...

Winstrol said...

Yes, everybody who wants to become a professional in cinema industry must read his works.

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