Questions on Capital/Cinema
Posted by Jonathan Beller
Marina Grzinic , philosopher, artist and theoretician working in Ljubljana and Vienna, and Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Institute of Fine Arts, Post Conceptual Art Practices, has posed several questions to me about my book The Cinematic Mode of Production. The questions and answers will be published in the Slovenian Journal Rearticulacija. I am going to post my answer to the first question and may post others subsequently.
MG: 1. In your writing in order to develop another way of understanding cinema,
you coined the “cinematic mode of production,” in what does it consist?
What is its connection with the capitalist mode of production?
In which way do these two modes work hand in hand with each other? On what
points do they differ?
JB: The formulation “the cinematic mode of production” is meant to indicate the positing of the visual and sensual realms as production sites for capital. In saying that “cinema brings the industrial revolution to the eye,” I meant that with the origin of cinema, assembly-line strategies for the production of commodities were directed at the eye for the production of images. The chain d’ montage becomes montage. Very quickly of course, as with Taylorism, the cinema becomes a tool for reorganizing prior production practices – Taylor filmed multiple workers doing the same job at different times and in different locations, broke the job down into component parts and edited their movements together to assemble from all the variations “the one best way” to do a job. That “one best way” was then imposed upon workers by a managerial class that seized control of the shop floor. However the organization of labor by cinematic processes goes much deeper than simply affecting what we do at what used to be called work, indeed, it transforms perceptual experiences and processes into work. As I say in the CMP, in contemporary capitalism we must constantly retool ourselves, at the same time as we valorize (in the economic sense) media pathways. This retooling first posits and then presupposes a transformation in the form of value whilst simultaneously laying the groundwork for what the Italians call “real subsumption,” the capture by capitalist production of formerly semi-autonomous process that previously were formally outside of capitalist production. This capture extends beyond the work place into psycho-social life to the point where we confront the expropriation of what Paolo Virno calls the cognitive-linguistic capacities of humankind. In an Orwellian turn that I tried to articulate in my own work and continue to find persuasive, current thinking has it that our very utterances are merely the subroutines of capital scored by the general intellect that is at once the means and the material of our subjectification.
This colonization of the visual (and now the sensual) by capital, also to be thought in terms of the rise of visuality, is in my view one of the paradigmatic achievements of the long 20th century. Just as commodities transform our sensual experience (Marx says in the 1844 manuscripts that the forming of the five senses is a labor of the history of the world down to the present, and also that industry is the open book of human psychology), so too with images. Simmel showed how the organization of the modern metropolis affected consciousness as well as how mass produced objects changed the character of one’s perception and sensibilities. Bazin, wrote that “production by automatic means has radically affected our psychology… (13),” and noted that for the surrealists, “every image is to be seen as an object and every object as an image.(15-16)” So we have a convergence of object-function and image-function already implicit in commodity production, but it is the cinema, as precisely a culmination of the development of industrial technologies, that explicitly utilizes the visual pathway to re-organize sensory input for both state and market purposes. In the nominally anti-capitalist Soviet Union, Vertov spoke of “the communist decoding of the visible world” and “the organization of the visible world,” while Eisenstein told us that a film was “a tractor plowing over the audience’s psyche,” and that the director’s job was “the organization of the audience with organized materials.” Stalin famously remarked that the filmmaker was an engineer of the soul. The interplay between images and objects, the role of both the built environment and visual technologies on the organization of the sensorium was explicitly recognized and deployed as a medium for the transformation of the state. The medium of this medium, as it were, was cinema. The story of Hollywood moguls, the studio system, the rise of advertising in the West, and the tremendous role of visual culture in the development of current market forces is a better known (if not well understood) story in the Euro-American (and now global) context.
One of the main purposes of the idea of the cinematic mode of production is to recognize this seizure of the visual by industrial, economic and political concerns, and to recognize that in the seizure of the visual, capital posits the visual (and now presupposes it) as a site for the production of value, and necessarily then, as a site of struggle. Revolutionary filmmakers went to the visual not because they were filmmakers, but because they were revolutionaries. It was in the visual that new battles were being fought. The choice of the visual was not simply because cinema was an ideologically influential medium, but rather, like the factory itself, the cinema was and remains a means of production.
So to sum up, the continuinty of the CMP with the capitalist mode of production is to be grasped in the fact that the visual and visual technologies have become means for capitalist value production and the expropriation of labor. While there are various modes of capture and streams of value transfer (that go from the act of watching TV, to advertising, to the legitimation of war), it is easy to see that the world that we live in today could not exist in its present form even for one day without the ubiquitous presence of the screen. All social activity is either directly organized by screens or indirectly impacted by it, from the clothes we wear to what we know how to say to what we put into our bodies. In other words, the horrors of capitalist society that include mass immiseration as the other side of massive capital accumulation, colonialist and imperialist war, violent racialization, patriarchal domination, the organization of gulags and camps as the other side of liberal democracy, are still with us, but the means of production have shifted with growing problems of organization and management. Again to use Orwell’s formulation, we have had to develop the capacities of doublethink, required as we are in daily life both to know and not to know, to hold two contradictory ideas in our heads simultaneously while believing them both to be true. Visual culture, with its quickness and ability to short-circuit language-function and with it the figuration of contradiction as such by logic, has realized a fundamental requirement for totalitarian society expressed by Orwell when he writes: “stupidity was as necessary as intelligence and as difficult to attain.” Meanwhile along with the liquidation of logic and the marginalization of linguistic traction on the movement of the real, the society of control has developed the capacity to regulate everything from thought to DNA down to the atomic and even the quantum levels of matter. Thus the cinematic mode of production is to be understood as an intensification of the bourgeois form of the capitalist mode of production, a corkscrewing inwards and an extension outwards of the viral logic of the commodity form — that is, of dissymmetrical exchange to the point where it is necessary to speak not just of post-humanism, but of the post-human. That of course would entail thinking in a more detailed way about cinema and its intersection with other vectors including cybernetics, psychoanalysis, racism and imperialism, which makes it another conversation.
The interview is done for Reartikulacija (artistic-political-theoretical-discursive platform), project no. 7, 2009, Ljubljana, Slovenia (forthcoming December 2009).
The interview will be published bilingual, Slovenian and English.
Reartikulacija no.7 – The Law of Capital: Histories of Oppression (I.) is a project edited and conceived by Marina Grzinic and Sebastjan Leban.
Marina Grzinic is Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Institute of Fine Arts, Post Conceptual Art Practices. She is researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the ZRC SAZU (Scientific and Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art) in Ljubljana. She also works as freelance media theorist, art critic and curator. Marina Grzinic last book is Re-Politicizing art, Theory, Representation and New Media Technology, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna and Schlebrügge.Editor, Vienna 2008. Marina Grzinic has been involved with video art since 1982. In collaboration with Aina Smid, Marina Grzinic realized more than 40 video art projects.