Sunday, February 11, 2007

One Kind of Circulation ...

Bio-Power/Image

"A warning from Marx regarding the cinema: "Though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labor it is really its consequence, just as the gods in the beginning are not the cause but the effect of man's intellectual confusion" (Marx/Engels 1978: 79). This self-same relation is paramount in the formation and power of images. Though today it may appear that images are the cause of "man's intellectual confusion," the alienation of our senses; they are really its consequence. Such is the reason, for example, that Americans do not know or did not see or did not feel the deaths of all those Iraqis, do not dwell on the poverty and prostitution of Asia, do not rise up to help ameliorate the disease and famine imposed upon Africa, do not reckon the consequences of their intervention in Latin America. Images are the alienated, objectified sensuality of humanity becoming conscious for itself through the organization of consciousness and sense. They are an intensification of separation, capital's consciousness, that is, human consciousness (accumulated subjective practices) that now belongs to capital. Because our senses don't belong to us, images are not conscious for us. Or rather, they are conscious "for us" in another sense, that is, they are conscious in place of us. As the prosthetic consciousness of the world system, these new sites of sensuous production serve someone or something else. Entering through the eyes, these images envelop their hosts, positing worlds, bodily configurations and aspirations, utilizing the bio-power of concrete individuals to confer upon their propositions the aspect of reality. In realizing the image, spectators create the world.


"In my discussion above of the continuity between objects and images in capitalist circulation it was implied that exchange-value is the spectre in manufactured objects; their abstract equivalence in money as price is a proto-image. When a quantity of money is given for an object, the object is in effect photo-graphed, its impression is taken in the abstract medium of money. What is received in return for money is not, at the moment of exchange, the object itself but the commodity with its fetish-character, its affective, qualitative image component that corresponds to that quantity known as price. We have money given for affect, affect for money.

"This system functions by virtue of the conversion of labor time to exchange value (by capital), and the corresponding conversion of money into productive power (by the consumer). Exchange-value is sensuous labor, subjectivity, shunted into an alien(ating) system. When humans' production is alienated production, that is, when their product is produced for exchange and taken away from them at a socially leveraged discount, work becomes not a satisfaction of workers' needs but a means to their satisfaction. Marx told us that labor's "alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague" (Marx/Engels 1978: 74). To properly understand visual culture the "other compulsions" not specified by Marx must necessarily be part of our investigations. Why do we want to watch TV or be on the computer? In what sense are these compulsory? If the image is a development in the relations of production, a new site of dyssemetrical exchange between "labor" and "capital" and therefore a machine for the production of value itself, how do we explain the hold, that is the entrenchment, of the image? Put another way, how is the desire for television a development in expression of the desire for money? The desire of money?"

-- Jonathan Beller, excerpted from here (reprinted also in The Cinematic Mode of Production).

16 comments:

PWC said...

How can one say "As Marx told us"? The man is no God, the text no scripture (I hope) and has been proven quite wrong in the last century-and-a-half. (As J.S. Mill told us, as Heidegger told us, as Augustine told us, or the late sin of the academy, as Foucault told us...etc. etc. etc.)

W.H. Auden, in 1938, a pivotal year in the shift in his politics:

"The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of oursevles adn the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient. I hope not.

"I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to decive, which is why, perhaps, all totalitarian theories of the State, from Plato's downwards, have deeply mistrusted the arts. They notice and say too much, and the neighbors start talking."

Zach Campbell said...

Yes... "as Auden told us," eh, Patrick?

Who said Marx was god or scripture? Your rhetoretical sleight of hand is to suggest that Beller is slavishly kowtowing to Marx. But he doesn't say, in this passage, "As Marx told us..." but more simply, "Marx told us..." It's clear from actually reading Beller's work that what follows is not a blind kneeling to (the) Authority: it's a forthright presentation of his conceptual framework, points of reference, the expression of a certain conception & evaluation of global capitalism--a stance that is indeed vile (on the level of infantophagy it seems) to acceptant bystanders & apologists for the system. But god? Scripture? No--Patrick, quite simply, I think you are jumping the gun, you're projecting, you are letting yourself be blinded by whatever that four-letter M-word represents to you ... instead of rationally looking at Beller's work here. (I can only assume you haven't read his book or his essays, which hardly glorify, for instance, the Soviet cinema and society of the 1920s.)

Beller's sympathies are very clear, as are his aims. The intention of his project is to examine capitalism, profit accumulation, the circulation of value, the processes of abstraction in a global economic system. This is why Beller quotes not only Marxist writings but explicitly corporate & capitalist ones too (like Seth Goldstein, whom he calls brilliant, or Google execs). He's a genuine anti-capitalist to be sure, in a way that very few in academia actually are, I think. But his scholarship is not mindless reliance on an authority, it is a patient and dense work of analysis & demystification, intended for the benefit or comprehension of the less powerful majority of the world.

And as for the Auden quote--why do thinkers & writers throughout history (alleged totalitarian monsters or otherwise) continue to believe in a single "primary function" of art anyway? Is it not obvious that art has no primary function, but instead has many possible functions, which change and reorganize as the contexts from which they spring differ? Anyway, am I to understand that I too--deluded, deeply ineffectual altermondialist that I am--hate and mistrust art, as well? Because Auden said so? (Another question: do Marxist artists loathe themselves or just their own work? Or just their friends' work?) My eyes glaze over. But really, the Auden quote is irrelevant to the Beller quote at hand. As is quite clear, Beller is abstaining from the prescription of any function or utility or value in art itself (in fact it is Auden who comes closer to playing the authoritarian in this impromptu pairing). Beller is instead describing elements of material reality (not poetics, nor even an ethics of art) of which the harnessing & channeling of cinema, by certain material forces (corporations, individuals [owners & consumers/viewers both], theorists--yes, he examines Theory itself as an object, too!), is his subject.

PWC said...

I went off mainly because in an article that was submitted too my journal was the sentence "As Foucault rightly warns..."--such an authority is not according but a handful of familiar lefties of the past 150 years and no one else.

I can't say I can make heads of tails of the argument in the Beller piece at all. To excerpt another part:

On mere inanimate matter is encrypted all the subjective pyrotechnics and visceral intensities "belonging" to humanity. Beyond the image --that capitalized imaginary -- there is little left but the husk, the impoverished object. The correlative conversion of people into instruments (means) of exchange meant first that they became (for the symbolic of capital) pure corporeality (existentialism/statistics), and then, pure sign-image (objectification/hyper-reality). From the perspective of capital, people were first deprived of subjectivity, and later, as in the case of the diasporas of third world prostitutes and domestic workers, of body as well. When subjective affects and embodiment become the exclusive domain of image-culture, then and only then do humans fully become the vehicles of images, their substrate.

I think this is meaningless, as far as I can tell. But I'm not addressing your argument, though in fact my point was simpler: why Marx, why so convenient to cite from among other 19th century philosphies? I'm all for looking at the arts through the lens of a framework that may or may not correct (there's a genius book by James Elkins on alchemy and painting--of course alchemy doesn't in fact) but why Marx and Engels, as if they had a better grasp on truth than Herbert Spencer or any other figure of the 19th century.

I meant to quote Auden as a refutation of dogma--one could certainly find many Auden quotes as refutation of his own quote. Beller is not dogmatic, at least in his article, but I think this kind of (postmodernist?) academic syncretism of not dissimilar authors forms its own kind of dogma. Dogma of the convenient bibliography/footnote.

This probably doesn't answer your questions, but I really don't get Beller's argument in the first place--and why these sort of academic articles on "capitalism" only extend back to Marx's time in the first place as the defintion of capitalism in certains modes of industry--why don't they ever talk about Spanish treasure fleets, the Silk Road caravans, Roman trade deficits, etc?

This all sounds glib, but I really think this Beller guy is an emperor with no clothes (cf. Bordwell's Zizek piece on his site for an appropriate smackdown. I just don't see what I can learn about the world or cinema from him, and without that, as a closed system of thought, it lacks any beauty.

Alex said...

"Beyond the image --that capitalized imaginary -- there is little left but the husk, the impoverished object."

It's a fairly simple sentence: the object disappears as layers of images and interpretations are piled on top of it. Ever seen those car ads that don't even show the car, but attractive women or tigers or landscapes?

"The correlative conversion of people into instruments (means) of exchange meant first that they became (for the symbolic of capital) pure corporeality (existentialism/statistics), and then, pure sign-image (objectification/hyper-reality)."

Also fairly simple: "Man" becomes "human resources". First, you need reliable, infinitely reproducible "human resources" (throw any worker into any position reliably) to man the factory line in your Manchester textile factory in 1867. By 2007, you're talking jargon about your firm's "globalized human resources network" (which is yet another idea or image piled upon a basic idea or image).

"From the perspective of capital, people were first deprived of subjectivity, and later, as in the case of the diasporas of third world prostitutes and domestic workers, of body as well."

More complicated. We're looking "from the perspective of capital", so everything within capital is described as another form of capital: friendship and love become "social capital", education and wisdom become "educational capital", knowledge become "intellectual capital" and human beings become "human capital".

And bodies become also a form of capital, in the cases of prostitutes or domestic labor. Or, in earlier stages of capitalism, slavery.

"When subjective affects and embodiment become the exclusive domain of image-culture, then and only then do humans fully become the vehicles of images, their substrate."

Makes perfect sense after the previous sentences, though I'm not sure what Beller means by substrate.

Alex said...

"why don't they ever talk about Spanish treasure fleets, the Silk Road caravans, Roman trade deficits, etc?"

Because those were not under a system of capitalism. Capitalism has not always existed - trade and property always have, but capitalism is quite new.

Capitalism is an ideology and a practice, and previous eras explicitly rejected both capitalism's ideology (see Xenophon's Oeconomicus, Aristotle or the "just price" theorists of the Middle Ages) AND capitalism's practice (see the commercial codes enacted by the commercial medieval city-states).

Anyways, Marxist (or Marx-influenced) theorists talk about previous history all the time. See Perry Anderson's Lineages of the Absolutist State or Karl Polanyi. Or Engels' The German Peasant War. Or Rodney Hilton. whole scads of others.

PWC said...

So what the defintion of capitalism you're working with here?

Here's the OED of capital:

3. A capital stock or fund. a. Commerce. The stock of a company, corporation, or individual with which they enter into business and on which profits or dividends are calculated; in a joint-stock company, it consists of the total sum of the contributions of the shareholders. Also, the general body of capitalists or employers of labour, esp. with regard to its political interests and claims (cf. LABOUR n. 2b). b. Pol. Econ. The accumulated wealth of an individual, company, or community, used as a fund for carrying on fresh production; wealth in any form used to help in producing more wealth.
[1611 COTGR., Capital, wealth, worth; a stocke, a man's principall, or chiefe, substance.] 1630-9 WOTTON Lett. & Treat. 459 (K.O.) 1647 CLARENDON Hist. Reb. VII. (1847) 441/1 Such anticipations upon all kinds of receipts for monies borrowed and already spent, that they had no capital for future security. 1727-51 CHAMBERS Cycl. s.v., Power given by Parliament to the South-Sea Company to increase their capital. 1790 BURKE Fr. Rev. 51 You began ill..You set up your trade without a capital. 1793 BENTHAM Emancip. Col. Wks. 1843 IV. 411 In proportion to the quantity of capital a country has at its disposal, will..be the quantity of its trade. 1796 MORSE Amer. Geog. I. 442 The gentlemen of fortune turn their capitals into this channel. 1825 MCCULLOCH Pol. Econ. II. ii. 73 The accumulation..of the produce of previous labour, or, as it is more commonly termed, of capital or stock. Ibid. 114 Credit..enables those who have capitals..to lend them to those who are desirous to obtain them. 1863 FENN Eng. & For. Funds 26 Bank Stock..is the capital of the Corporation of the Bank of England. 1869 Eng. Mechanic 4 June 237/3 We might feel inclined to despair over the chances of Giant Capital and Dwarf Labour ever working harmoniously. 1874 HELPS Soc. Press. iii. 54 The immense difficulty that it is for any human being without capital to ensure himself a living. 1929 D. H. LAWRENCE in Star Rev. Nov. 626 The Soviet hates the real physical body far more deeply even than it hates Capital. 1940 W. TEMPLE Thoughts in War-time iv. 26 When we reach the stage of justice in the relations between capital and labour.

PWC said...

Alex, I think your reading of the passage is correct, but I just don't see the profundity of Beller's point when explicated as such--and that runs across the whole article. I don't think returning to the original argument that it's enriched at all once you know the logic--sort of a reverse type of ambiguity. And, while, I admire some of the authors he cites, I don't how one can weave them together in the way he does to form a coherent arugment, even though they're a homogenous group.

I think only could buy into Beller's formulation if I believed collectivized will/conscious/etc. and not the individual. I take issue with this notion's of inanimate objects/capitalism/ideology/government directly controlling us "capital's consciousness"

I think capitalism has an ideology if it's Milton Friedman, but as a global economic system, I don't think so.

Alex said...

"So what the defintion of capitalism you're working with here?"

You can't have short definitions of philosophies or ideologies. Of course, Marx uses all of his works to define capitalism.

The most concise definition is that capitalism is a inherent part of the Enlightenment state (i.e., the social contract state as described by John Locke, Rousseau, etc.) The Enlightenment state dissuades most of it's citizens from participating in politics by involving them in commerce endlessly. Unlike previous commerce, which was thought to have a natural upper limit (i.e., there is only so much acquisition one should do and no more than that). The Enlightenment state designs an institutional "space" that allows commerce - now transformed into capitalism - to endless acquisition (which means institutions created by the Enlightenment state such as the stock/bond exchange, the modern research university, global trade, removal of local trade regulations and so on.)

Further, the Enlightenment state also discourages potentially competing forms (or interpretations) of commerce.

Alex said...

"I take issue with this notion's of inanimate objects/capitalism/ideology/government directly controlling us "capital's consciousness" "

Since I don't have Beller's book, I don't know his interpretation but what you're saying is simply indefensible. Ideologies are not controlling humans perse like an alien mind-control ray. Rather, humans try to have coherent sets of beliefs about various important things. Otherwise, we would be unable to unorganize ourselves into human societies of any kind.

However, most people are unable to create new philosophies on their own, so they must adopt the common views of others in their respective societies. Then, based upon those common views, people design their lives and institutions. Since institutions get built around beliefs or ideologies (whether churches or guilds or governments or states or social clubs or stock exchanges), even those who disagree with the ideology are often forced to live within the institutions' strictures.

PWC said...

I didn't mean "like an alien mind-control ray" but I don't think that's too far of. Your point about ideology is obvious, but I don't think it's Beller point nor the point of the people he cites (it's self-evident enough that you don't need a bunch of academic theory)--moreover, I think to buy into the people in his footnotes (Althusser, Foucault, etc.--) you do have to believe in ideology and power as a minor form of mind control, at least metaphorically. I know that is a glib reading, but I don't think it's inaccurate. I think that's one reason Marx on down are so popular in lefty academe, because they offer a tent in which to situate the world, one constructed from the top down that claims to be built from the bottom up.

That sounds like an OK defintion of capitalism, though perhaps too wide. Don't post-Enlightenment states, at least democratic ones, encourage citizen involvement? But that wouldn't comprise merrcantile capitalism which stretches centuries before the Enlightenment. I don't know enough about economics or economics in history to say more.

If Beller's language were as good as yours, I wouldn't have any objection here in the first place, though I might have an ideological one. But it is the form (that screeching prose) that grated me first, coupled with the same (tired to me) sets of references to explain the world. Is the world more interesting and complicated than yet another interpretation of the following can offer (and I like many of the authors, especially Debord and Benjamin):

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation." in Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

Benjamin Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." in Illuminations. ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

Beller, Jonathan. "Dziga Vertov & The Film of Money." boundary 2 vol. 26, no. 3 (Fall 1999); 151-199 [http://128.220.50.88/journals/boundary/v026/26.3beller.html].

----. "The Spectatorship of the Proletariat." boundary 2 Vol. 22, No. 3 (Fall 1995):171-228.

----. "The Unconscious of the Unconscious". Unpublished manuscript. Sine anno.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1983.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1989.

Foucault. Michel, "The Eye of Power: A conversation with Jean-Pierre Barou and Michelle Perrot." in Power/Knowledge, New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Collected Works, vol. 28. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971.

----. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed., Robert C. Tucker, New York: Norton, 1978.

Simmel, Georg. The Philosophy of Money. 2nd edition, ed. David Frisby. trans. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby. New York and London: Routledge, 1990.

Alex said...

"Don't post-Enlightenment states, at least democratic ones, encourage citizen involvement? "

The only post-Enlightenment states have been Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and certain periods of Marxist-Leninist China and USSR. Every other state right now is an Enlightenment state.

"you do have to believe in ideology and power as a minor form of mind control, at least metaphorically."

True, but ideology does operate that way in reality. It's not that you can't change your ideology if you analyze it closely and know alternatives, but that people do this only rarely. Herbert Simon won a Nobel for this with his minimax concept. And it's very difficult to get a large group of people to change ideologies (when ideologies are in flux, that's called a "civil war" or "revolution").

"I think that's one reason Marx on down are so popular in lefty academe, because they offer a tent in which to situate the world, one constructed from the top down that claims to be built from the bottom up."

There are basically two thinkers one can use to critically understand modernity: Marx and Nietzsche (and, of course, plenty of people combine the two). For myself, you can also use the ancient Greek philosophers - but very few travel down that path because the ancient Greeks mandate extremely radical change (perhaps more so than Marxism does).

And Marx - more appropriately, Marx and his many followers - produced the only coherent large-scale critical understanding and analysis of capitalism. Nietzsche (or his greatest follower, Heidegger) attacks capitalism, but not in a coherent or analytical way.

There's simply no place else to go but Marx if you want to examine capitalism in a critical way. (And, yes, films are produced within capitalism). You either need to use the critical tools developed by Marxism or you need to invent your own - which task is way beyond Beller's profession as a media scholar.

PWC said...

Oops--I meant Enlightenment, not post-Enlightment. Every other state? Zimbabwe? Saudi Arabia?

I don't understand how Marx and Nietzsche can be elevated exclusively here--why them? Isn't the problem of a relatively generic noun ("capitalism" or "modernity") used as a substitute for the whole world. In that case, I wouldn't want to exclude from my perception others, and moreover, I wouldn't want to think that anyone had even begun to understand the whole thing--especially if offered in prose as awful as Beller's. (Sorry to harp on that, but I think the language is a cloak there.) There's a reason we're carrying out this discussion in the language we are, rather than that jargon.

PWC said...

> There's simply no place else to go but Marx if you want to examine capitalism in a critical way. (And, yes, films are produced within capitalism). You either need to use the critical tools developed by Marxism or you need to invent your own -

I don't see how this is anything but a dogmatic statement, rather than a scientific one or even a philosophical one. Why is this true? I think the argument is circular, since one has to believe in the rightness of Marx in the first place to advocate him being the tool to understand everything.

Are there any non-Marxists who think that only through Marx can one understand modernity/capitalism? (Not rhetorical questrion)

Zach Campbell said...

There's a lot here and I won't be able to get to a lot of it at this time. But Patrick, I find it curious how you're shifting the basis of your problem with Beller. First, he's relying on authority and could very well be part of a totalitarianism that mistrusts the arts; then, you say OK he's not dogmatic per se but he's incomprehensible; then Alex parses the meaningless paragraph you cite indicating that perhaps it isn't so meaningless* and then you decide that he's just a horrible writer using jargon.

(* By the way, taken out of context, a great deal of writing might appear incomprehensible. Shall I pull out a quote from Kant? Or, for me, even basic quantum physics looks incomprehensible. The only way to really tell is to do the patient work of figuring things out, understanding concepts & vocabulary. Beller's writing is dense but I don't think it's incomprehensible. If anything, he stresses many of the same points over and over in order to hammer them home for clarity.)

As for Beller being an emperor with no clothes--I would like to strongly assert that Beller is actually not indicative of academic and/or po-mo radical chic. (For one thing, if he were, his book would probably be about the subversive potential of pop cultural texts--"so, like, watch Dawson's Creek ironically and V for Vendetta and be ... a revolutionary!") As far as I am aware, Beller lacks a prestigious tenure position, he's not getting cited and name-dropped regularly though he's been at his project for over a decade. And he's not like Zizek, either, who is worth deflating--a cultural celebrity and "public intellectual" who has more insidious functions (consume consume consume!) than Beller. If you go over to Le Colonel Chabert and several linked blogs (e.g. Cultural Parody Center) and search for "zizek" you can find a long history of excellent posts (much better than I could do) attacking Zizek, from a Marxist perspective, for being a charlatan and so on.

A couple more things before I have to get going--

I don't think Beller is talking about "capital" or "capitalist society" in flighty terms of psyche or agency--when he writes "capital's consciousness" in the numismatics essay, for example, he immediately after makes clear what he's talking about, what he really refers to (which is not that this thing Capital has a life history, desires, consciousness and unconsciousness). But--part of Beller's point, or rather one of his major objects of analysis, is that capitalism brings with it an increasing level of abstraction in material life, which is why culture and "the cinematic mode of production" are being discussed. He's talking about ways that elite corporations extract profit from attention and viewing ("sensual") labor, as well as the ways they justify all of these profit-making activities--through "images" (rather than actual things) that are given or sold to the populace ...

And as for this comment of yours:

"I think that's one reason Marx on down are so popular in lefty academe, because they offer a tent in which to situate the world, one constructed from the top down that claims to be built from the bottom up."

I would not dispute that this is true for many so-called leftists. But the difficult thing for some many of us enlightened post-marxist bourgeois is to realize that Marxism is not just the tool of poseur eggheads and personality cult leaders. Some people really use it, and sometimes it's a threat to a capitalist or other exploitative system because it can be actually effective at diagnosing a situation (and mobilizing people) ...

(And BTW, non-Marxists who believe that Marx was basically right, on some counts anyway, sometimes use the phrase "Marxian.")

Andrew said...

Hi Zach.. an mpeg would be greatly appreciated. You can find my email address here. Many thanks in advance!

Clenbuterol said...

Yes, it is a big problem of Americans