Friday, March 02, 2007

Quote of the Day

From Le Colonel Chabert, in the comments,

Imagine a marxist historian approaching starbucks, would the first thing to be go to the shop and taste the coffee? Would the whole story be about how the coffee tastes? Of course, the experience of being in the shop and drinking the coffee is not irrelevant. But there is just a sort of solipsism that is over time encouraged by this kind of practise. It's not that the critic is wrong about how the coffee tastes or how one feels on line and ordering the mocacchino half caf whatever. It is a question of what's important. We know that the people most negatively impacted by starbucks don't patronise the shops and this is something anyone setting out to think and write about starbucks will not even have to argue for the importance of. Yet there is a whole industry of production of auxilliary product to moviues and tv that concerns itself only with the moral and aesthetic experience of consumers of each product. I personally love coffee; is this a reason to ignore what starbucks is besides the source of coffee for coffeelovers? "Starbucks, yeah yeah, its horrible, what a hell in central america, but this cup of coffee was delicious and helped me wake up!"

So this is what I like about [Jonathan] beller. Because yes the coffee is delicious. And interesting. and my reaction to it and experience of it is fascinating and can be endlessly described and analysed. But there is more here than how I feel about the coffee, and how i feel buying and drinking it. And that more, that is excluded by film theory and by a lot of culture criticism, is the most important stuff.


Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about doing a small presentation of Beller's CMofP; I hope it won't be too vexing.

Matthew said...

The only thing I disagree with is the very last part of the very last sentence; it's important stuff, yes, but not the most important stuff, just as the aesthetic elements aren't. There's no most; there shouldn't be a most. Analyses of the aesthetic are as important as analyses of the cultural are as important as analyses of the economic are as important as analyses of the aesthetic. Though I certainly see the point being made about certain analyses getting overlooked.

Zach Campbell said...

Anonymous--good luck!

Matt, I think Chabert's point is not necessarily a matter of what's more important specific to art discussion (e.g., 'all discussion of cinema shalt foreground the economic or face wrath') as much as what's important on a global human scale. That is, if we purport to be Marxists or progressives, can we afford to foreground individual readings of cinema (particularly meaning the cinema on a mass scale, commercial/industrial cinema) without paying attention that commerce or industry that feeds it all?

(Oh, I can't believe Manchester United just scored that goal ...)

Theo said...

My problem with this is that it tells you more about the critic than the work - namely, that he/she is principled enough to look beyond the product (coffee) to its context and genesis. That only goes so far, though. Imagine two different people: one boycotts Starbucks because of their policies, the other refuses to eat foie gras because it's cruelty to animals. Both are equally principled stands, but it would obv. be absurd to equate Starbucks and foie gras in terms of gastronomy.

My point is, focusing on the wider real-life context behind a work of Art asks questions of the viewer/consumer, not the work. If I drink the coffee without demur and you drink it while loudly complaining about Starbucks, that's supposed to make you a more responsible person (if you refuse to drink it on principle, that makes you even more responsible), but the taste of the coffee stays the same. There's a self-righteousness there which bugs me, esp. if we're talking film rather than food - because making films is so much harder (both creatively and just physically) than writing about them.

Zach Campbell said...

Theo, my friend, I think you're quite missing the point!

Asking those "wider real-life" questions does mean a critique of consumers/viewers, as well as producers, and (if we're nice Marxists or semi-Marxists) also the pockets of ownership and the means of production. Yes. But you're saying this like you're pointing out something that isn't already blindingly obvious.

If you're going to be a Marxist or some kind of a progressive who pays attention to capitalism (and not simply right-wing politicians), you have to keep in mind, even if it's not you're main focus, the fact of cinema as a system, an economic institution, as production & profit-making that has huge material consequences between humans--not just as a big neutral thing that might produce certain hegemonic units ("texts"), that is, it just happens to make films with textual ideological functions, which is how a lot of progressives view it, and which is Chabert's object of critique. To put it differently, I think Chabert is going after those who, in the name of progressivism, would say we need the cinema to produce things like "more positive images/messages" and/or "higher quality" cinema in order to be contented. And maybe it's true, maybe we do want those things, or should (I'm all for advances in baseline aesthetic standards) ... but it's not the critique of a system, it's the engagement with the system as non-system, i.e., on its own (capital-owned) terms.

None of this would be appropriate for a film reviewer to use as a thesis for every mainstream film she wrote up. ("Borat is a product and helps capitalism," "Fahrenheit 9/11 is a product and helps capitalism," etc.) It'd be true, of course, and politically I don't think it'd be bad of a bit more of this thinking were injected into the discourse, just because most reviewers don't pay a whit of attention to anything actual. But I think you're acting as though Chabert (and I) are endorsing some kind of monstrous puritanical film reviewing as "the answer." This is not the case. It's simply a matter of understanding that a progressive critique of an institution has to ask questions about the components of that institution's social relations.

Zach Campbell said...

Theo, I don't know if you've checked out already (so soon?), but another, more concise way of putting it might be this--the point is not at all one-upmanship (i.e., self-righteous film reviewers attacking films without paying attention to the films themselves), but simply the acknowledgment among those with an ostensibly common goal (the critique of a system, like cinema, in the global, capitalist world) to not base their analyses upon single individuals' (consumers') responses, but upon the whole network of social relations and material goods that exists objectively. It's not the total replacement of personal and/or text-based criticism with the oh-so-dreaded PC, it's the rational movement against using criticism itself as the replacement for political and social analysis.