Sunday, June 24, 2007

Violence ...

"For the colonized, this violence represents the absolute praxis. The militant therefore is one who works. The questions which the organization asks the militant bear the mark of this vision of things: "Where have you worked? With whom? What have you accomplished?" The group requires each individual to have performed an irreversible act. In Algeria, for example, where almost all the men who called on the people to join the national struggle were sentenced to death or wanted by the French police, trust was proportinal to the desperate nature of each case. A new militant could be trusted only when he could no longer return to the colonial system. Such a mechanism apparently existed in Kenya with the Mau-Mau, who required every member of the group to strike the victim. Everyone was therefore personally responsible for the death of the victim. To work means to work towards the death of the colonist. Claiming responsibility for the violence also allows those members of the group who have strayed or have been outlawed to come back, to retake their place and be reintegrated. Violence can thus be understood to be the perfect mediation. The colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end."

--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth p. 44 (trans. Richard Philcox)


"Why make images? Why not be satisfied with embracing reality? Experimental films have often formulated and more often answered this fundamental question in art. Cinema is not necessarily an echo chamber (Jean-Luc Godard's "damsel of recording"). It can be an act; it can become a weapon; it can even get lost in combat. Consider René Vautier's sublime works: designed like missiles to destroy the enemy (capitalist exploitation, to be brief, especially in its colonial forms), they burst into flames, they get blown to bits in mid-air (shots from Vautier's films constantly reappear throughout militant cinema); or else, having accomplished their mission and self-destructed, the work merges into its own concrete historical effects. It would be useful to study the history of forms that brought about militant practices in cinema, whether they came from direct intervention (René Vautier, Chris Marker, the constellation of collectives that blossomed at the end of the '60s, Bruno Muel, Dominique Dubosc...) or from a more classic activity such as pamphlet writing, a struggle against a state of affairs, beliefs or even the image itself (certain cool-headed films superimpose these three targets, including masterpieces by Maurice Lemaître, Marcel Hanoun, the Dziga Vertov group, Djouhra Abouda and Alain Bonnamy, Dominique Avron and Jean-Bernard Brunet). Making images nobody wants to see, offering images for things that don't have any, going even farther than transgression or subversion, experimental cinema confronts the unacceptable, be it political, existential, ideological or sexual. Even these purely nominal distinctions would be obliterated, first by underground cinema, for one (Etienne O'Leary, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, Philipe Bordier, Pierre Clémenti...), and later by individual personalities like Lionel Soukaz."

--Nicole Brenez, "Jeune, dure et pure!"

I'm going back to work on a paper I drafted months ago about "aggressive" form and figural violence in cinema. It requires an understanding of cinema as action and not simply as reflection, representation, or expression. One of the hardest parts is how to clearly and adequately convey the importance of historical context in any of this, i.e., there is no free-and-easy theory here to just lay across the use of 'violent cinema,' if there's a theory at all its that time & place render such a thing incredibly malleable. Hence, the Noël Burch paragraph I love so much that indicates that avant-garde flicker films in the 1960s (which are some kinds of films a lot of non-cinephiles and non-film scholars tend to simply overlook, to their loss, when discussing this medium & modernism) were a deliberate aesthetic reclamation of certain unsavory motion picture side effects from 50+ years before, and the movement from a working class tolerance of headache-inducing flickers into a middle-class embrace of the same effects put to an intentional, artistic purpose. (I absolutely love these flicker films--Arnulf Rainer, The Flicker, Paul Sharits--though one can also only take so much...) In effect the violence becomes nullified even as the technique is amped up, though not because the technique is amplified, but because of who is producing and consuming the work, and why they are doing so--what context they're doing it in. A consideration of environment is necessary, because while headaches (and possibly epileptic seizures) may result from intense flicker, the flicker films may not actually be very "violent" at all, when it comes down to it. Reading some of Sharits own writing on his work and his opinions on film pedagogy, violence doesn't seem to come into it; the challenge of his work is not so much about attaining mastery through trial as it is finding an almost buddhist sense of acceptance. So evaluating, praising, criticizing (say) a flicker film involves us being diligent about the actual circumstances of the form; we can't really say it subverts our sense of vision or the cinematic experience when small and educated audiences were voluntarily seeing these films that consciously utilized a more-or-less outdated (and previously unintentional) "technique" of the cinema. This is not to say, however, that cinema cannot be actually violent, cannot play a role that is disruptive or genuinely aggressive; again, it comes down to the circumstances of production and use. The Vautier missile ...

And so on. More on cinema & violence in the future.

8 comments:

Alex said...

Er, the Fanon quote is complete bollocks. Without a universal standard of justice, the anti-colonialist has literally no place to stand : the colonists are inherently better at violence - they've actually conquered, right? Thus, if violence is the end, the best regime is that of the colonists, not the comparatively feeble anticolonialists. If violence were the end, precisely the most colonial and violent of regimes would be the best one to have. I.E. we should support the best users of violence, which is Empire, not a rabble of disorganized militants who can't level a city block, where Empire could level an entire nation without effort.

Therefore, anticolonialism can only exist if there's a universal sense of justice that the colonists have violated. Anticolonialists must apply that same justice within their organizations and activities to have a claim that their future proposed regime will be more just than a current colonial regime.

Zach Campbell said...

Alex, Fanon is referring to violence as the means and the end of the figure of 'the militant,' the rebel, not all people who are colonized at all times (even post-colonization). This is a matter of the resistance arm to which would in a larger sense be motivated by a universal standard, or something like it.

Are you opposed to anti-colonial violence in general or just Fanon's conception of it? Have you read The Wretched of the Earth, where Fanon also talks of networks of food & supplies--nourishment and goods--too?

Alex said...

"This is a matter of the resistance arm to which would in a larger sense be motivated by a universal standard, or something like it."

Seems to me that a distinction between the militant and, say, the statesman (the leader or advisor of the anticolonialists), is not a substantive one. The primary claim that the anticolonialists have is a claim of universal justice that binds all peoples. (Fanon probably rejects this conception, but that's why he's wrong).

I don't see it being useful for the anticolonialist organization to operate without justice, which is explicitly what Fanon is arguing here. The organization must show in it's operation that it is already more just than the colonialist state. The organization can't simultaneously condemn the injustice of the colonialists and yet engage in massively unjust acts itself.

"Are you opposed to anti-colonial violence in general or just Fanon's conception of it?"

Fanon's conception is really just another version of Sorel, so yes, I suppose I reject that.

Zach Campbell said...

Fanon is about praxis, no?

I don't know much about Sorel and Fanon being basically the same; Sorel was antimaterialist and voluntarist who hated the parliamentary approach; the whole point of The Wretched of the Earth is that the colonizers do violence to (among other things) the very psyche of the colonized (not the proletariat of a nation), for whom 'parliament' is not much of an option and for whom the legal system has proven largely useless--Fanon's trying to figure out how to get the colonized from one mindset into the pathway to independence/socialism/etc. Some of what that entails is not what he's advocating in the long term (e.g., also nationalism). Universalism pro or con didn't seem to be a concern to me when I read the book.

Is it not "useful" for the anticolonialist to disregard justice? Well, I wouldn't make that judgment call. But Fanon certainly had some empirical backup for his convictions as to what was "useful" ... more than you or I, certainly.

Alex said...

Parliament and legal systems don't necessarily have much to do with justice except within a just state. In an unjust state, these things will be equally unjust as the rest of the regime.

The colonized become free through the practice of freedom, through the performance of just acts to repair the unjust acts of the state. Certainly, the anticolonialists don't have as much space or freedom to act as does the colonial state, but they do have considerable space - after all, for Fanon they're committing large amounts of violence, which implies a level of agency and freedom.

Actually, we do know better than Fanon. We can see what the result of his advice to the Algerians was: a completely unjust and failed regime, civil war and the deaths of 200,000 people or more - a regime which totters in between military dictatorship and religious fundamentalist rule. Meanwhile, much of Eastern Europe, under colonization by the USSR (a colonization which Fanon supported), was freed by just statesmen and measured political reason.

Zach Campbell said...

What specifically are you referring to by justice and just actions, here, Alex? Are there any violent actions in a colonial context which you would sanction as just?

The existential 'freedom' to do violence does not imply some panoply of viable, effective alternatives.

Alex said...

Well, justice is of course THE difficult topic. My own personal conception would be along the lines of Plato's Laws.

"Are there any violent actions in a colonial context which you would sanction as just?"

Certainly, but violence is a very secondary question, the primary question being justice. I.E., our primary effort should be to understand justice, manipulate statesmen to a proper understanding of justice (at a level which they can understand) and guide practical action towards justice. Violence may be a potential means, but is only one of numerous means.

"The existential 'freedom' to do violence does not imply some panoply of viable, effective alternatives."

Fanon certainly indicates that he is indeed speaking of real-life unjust acts (he uses real-life, already existing examples). The evidence indicates that anticolonial statesmen have been successful in many cases using a wide array of strategies, so there's not actually much substantive evidence to claim that, on the whole, that unjust violence is/was the sole course of action.

Zach Campbell said...

Alex, you will have to give me some more time, then--I have not finished Plato ...