June 19, 2018
from Agnes Varda’s Visages Villages (2017)
For the past few weeks, I have been engaged in the following activities:
It has been a year ever since I collected ebooks in my Mendeley software. It’s my e-library. For the past few weeks, my goal was to run through everything I collected for the purpose of sorting out literature in their respective fields and disciplines. In total, I have 127 books to sort in my computer related to m thesis, not to mention the external books and printed reading from course works.
Critical Literature Review
Aside from sorting activities, I also did a critical review of some of the related literature to my thesis. So far, I have read the following essays and introductory chapters of the books
- Gerstner, D. A. (2003). The Practices of Authorship. In D. A. Gerstner & J. Staiger (Eds.), Authorship and Film(pp. 3–25). New York and London: Routledge.
- Koepnick, L. (2017). The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
- Henderson, B. (1980). The Long Take (1971). In A Critique of Film Theory(pp. 48–61). New York: E.P. Dutton.
- Derrida, J. (1994). Dedication and Exordium. In P. Kamuf (Trans.), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International(pp. xv–xvi). New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.
All of which can be found here in my blog.
Aside from reading, I also developed a mind-map for my thesis to help me assess the potential pathways of going through its framework. But there must be a caveat in doing this. It must not pre-empt or close the maps from creating other new pathways, but rather work out the contradictions that also confront the work. The mind map provides a way to write the thesis in an orderly manner, constructing a schema of arguments that serve as guides to different operations, concepts and methods to go through.
Detour 1: “….aporetic limit…”
One of the key concepts in my thesis design is the search for aporetic limits. This is something I coined in my concept paper I showed to my adviser. After reading the opening parts of Derrida’s Specters of Marx, I felt a sudden apprehension of not actually being able to get something related to my thesis. I wanted to read something related to aporetic limit. Google algorithm led me to the book ‘Derrida and the Political’ by Richard Beardsworth, who used the exact term ‘aporetic limit’. Beardsworth (1996) wrote:
‘Rather than dwelling with the aporia of need, Marx effaces the aporia by positing the remainder of the difference between particularity and universality as the universal class of the proletariat. Marx therefore develops the aporetic ‘limit’ as a sublatable opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The gesture is Hegelian, even if Marx simultaneously simplifies Hegel’s idea of an absolute state by ‘positing’ the social universality of one class. Marx’s reduction of the aporia of need prolongs and simplifies Hegel by making unrecognized violence into an ontological principle of class struggle. The modern period of revolutionary politics which justifies political violence in the name of a social subject ensues.’ (p. 95)
Let us first discuss the meaning of aporia in relation to how Beardsworth reads Derrida. Aporia is an uncontrollable position that manifest at the time of decision, action, writing, expression, and deployment. In his reading of Derrida, for Beardsworth, aporia emerges from the displacement of transcendental discourses like philosophy with empirical discourses like human sciences (anthropology, social science, etc.). An aporia is ‘neither is philosophy or outside it, one from which the future of thinking and practice is thought’ (p.5).
An aporia is what negotiates and re-inscribes, for Beardsworth, the metaphysical notion of transcendental and the empirical. It is where Derrida locates the ‘necessity of judgement and the promise of the future’ (p. 5) Beardsworth further elaborates two qualifications of an aporia: (1) it necessitates one to make a decision and judgement, (2) it necessitates one to make a decision not in the present but in the face of contingency. An aporia therefore ‘inaugurates a philosophy of judgement and a thinking of justice in relation to time.’ (p. 5)
One can see Beardsworth ambivalent position with Marx’s project. There is an attempt to privilege the concept of aporia contra Marx’s paradoxical deployment of the reversal of Hegelian dialectic. The paragraph quoted above is written under the heading of Modern Political Fate and the Suppression of the Event of Time. It starts with the elaboration of how Hegel’s last work Philosophy of Right suppresses aporia. He said: ‘The aporia of dialectic ‘is’ the aporia of time’ (p. 91). This originates from the suppression of time under the logic of dialectic, leading to a paradoxical point where recognition becomes misrecognition, in which truth (time itself) is hidden.
In the previous paragraph, Marx enters as a bad example of deploying the concept of aporia. Beardsworth wrote: ‘Marx is certainly right in the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State to criticize Hegel for deriving the institutions of the social whole from a presupposed idea. But he gives the wrong reasons when he argues for the reversal of Hegelian idealism and for the practical and revolutionary development of the material existence of the people’ (p. 94). Beardsworth outwardly state Marx’s wrong move is the appropriation of Hegel’s dialectic: ‘The problem in Hegel is not the idea of the idea; the problem is the: logic of this idea. This logic, the law of contradiction, is repeated in Marx’s materialism, turning his thinking of ‘matter’ into a logical idea.’ (p. 94) Beardsworth accuses Marx of suppressing time within the philosophy of history. Beardsworth state: ‘His very attempt to go beyond philosophy, plunging it into the matter of socio-technical history, remains metaphysical when he inscribes his thinking of time and practice within the Hegelian logic of contradiction.’ (p. 94)
Beardsworth, however, does not accuse Marx entirely of the faults of Hegel. He considers Marx’s constitution of the dialectical relation between the proletariat and the ruling class as the aporetic limit in itself, as a ‘sublatable opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat’. What he points out is the replication of the logic of contradiction(?) in relation to Dialectical Materialism. Afterwards, Beardsworth move towards a moralization of violence with regards to depoliticization, or the erosion of political ontology, of nation-states. There is actually a dialectical materialist rationale behind these erosion of political ontology, that has nothing to do with the aporia that Beardsworth is trying to posture. It is the result of class struggle which is the politico-material manifestation of what he tries to efface as the logic of contradiction(?). Mao said that in his essay On Contradiction: ‘The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook.’ Beardsworth fails to reconcile that logic of contradiction is not a logic per se of coming to terms with reality but system of thought (a law) that allows us to think of nature and social conditions not as One but always Two. And in the recent iteration of Badiou, a Three.
With this, it is necessary to rescue aporia from the clutches of Beardsworth’s overdetermination of its metaphysical opposition by sublating it (via a negation of negation) and turning it upside down as a materialist concept. It might as well be important to read aporia in relation to a strand of thinking that can only be extracted from a Maoist lens of looking at contradiction, but also taking into account the historical importance of Derrida’s impetus to locate it at the conflicted area of materialism and idealism. Is there a way to appropriate aporia in class struggle? Beardsworth was close. He inscribed it as the sublatable opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. To transform aporia into a tool for analysing aesthetic objects, this requires another long post.
Detour 2: In Search of Marx’s Method on Film Analysis, or ‘What if Marx was a Film Theorist?’
This month of June, in between eczema flare-ups and restless weekends, I managed to gather a lot of books about the dialectical materialist methodology. In German Ideology, in the part where Marx disses Max Stirner, Marx deploys a close reading of Stirnex’s texts, in particular his most contentious Ego and His Own, the progenitor of anarchic individualism and, to some extent, poststructuralism, Marx was very much attentive to Stirner’s textual inscription, often making fun of Stirner’s use of metaphysical concepts etc.
Close reading can be done in films: frame-by-frame analysis, stylistic analysis, etc. But all of which has to be extended first from the base criterion of cinematic time. Cinematic images have to be analysed as temporal continuum, not as framed presences. Massumi’s idea of topological movement in Parables of the Virtual comes to mind.
The problem however is relating this temporal continuum to the story world, which contains some of the most interesting positions, expressions etc. that may reveal the ideological implications of the film. If viewed from a dialectical materialist perspective, it requires one to relate film style or film form in relation to the modes of production (the base) and the ideological superstructure. It is a basic problem in Marxist epistemology, specifically, the problem of the relation of the particular and the universal.
I have collected different references that might probably illuminate a method on ideological analysis of the aesthetic mode of production. Books like Dance of the Dialectic: Step in Marx’s Method by Bertell Ollman; a collection of essays titled Marx at the Movies: Revisiting History, Theory and Practice edited by Ewa Mazierska and Lars Kristensen which conceives the relation of cinema and Marxism from a post-Soviet historical moment; H.T. Wilson’s Marx’s Critical/Dialectical Procedure; and countless of essays that bear the term ‘method’, ‘dialectical’ and ‘materialist’ like Peter H. Sawchuk’s Dialectical Materialist Methodologies for Researching Work, Learning, Change: Implications for Class Consciousness, authors Cassia Baldini Soares, Celia Maria Sivalli Campos, and Tatiana Yonekura’s article Marxism as a theoretical and methodological framework in collective health: implications for systematic review and synthesis of evidence, and the article titled In the shadows of the dialectic method: Building a framework upon the thoughts of Adorno and Gramsci by Ulrich Hamenstadt, all of which provide you some groundwork from which you can explore dialectical materialism.
But the challenge is ‘converting’ the method as an epistemological tool to analyse films and non-filmic materials. One of the candidates for such a method is political economy of film. However, political economy is more interested in looking at the bigger relations, the industrial relations of people, not so much on the close analysis of the content.
My dilemma is actually rooted in creating a method that would bridge the universal (ideological space) with specific (the story world, the film, the modes of production of the film). Such an attempt to account for a more comprehensive while also looks at the detail led us to the next section, Badiou’s essay The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process.
Detour 3: Crystallizing my Methodology via Badiou’s essay Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process
Badiou’s essay The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process, published in his recent work The Age of the Poets, was an unexpected find. Last month, when I was preparing my presentation paper for Marx @ 200, I encountered Badiou’s essay via Karlo Mongoya, fellow Marxist scholar who also reads Badiou (see his blog here). Since my essay last month is about contesting Deleuze’s notion of affect and art as autonomous, Badiou’s essay came in a surprise since Badiou is a Marxist and, assuming he had read Marx, he also knows the importance of accounting any phenomena, object, idea or a thing, as a product of social forces and relations. Badiou is a materialist dialectician, with Maoist and Lacanian influences, and would probably have read Deleuze. Deleuze is however not a materialist, but a transcendental empiricist, who emphasizes the primacy of pre-anthropocentric multiplicity – the plane of immanence – that continuously re-organizes reality. If Badiou would eventually come across the autonomy of art in Deleuze and Guattari’s book What is Philosophy?, it would most likely resonate in this essay. However, Badiou’s essay was written twenty-five years or so years before the publication of What is Philosophy?, hence, the tangent would just have been accidental.
When I read Badiou’s essay The Autonomy of Aesthetic Process, a month after accessing it, to be exact, last June 29, it felt as if all my crises about the political ontology of film style, ideology, and the author has been resolved. Badiou’s essay is an introduction to a methodology towards an analysis of representation, maybe his own methodology of doing aesthetic analysis.
His essay starts with a problem: the lazy approach of Marxist analysis of arts that assigns art work as a reflection of ideology of class. This is not Deleuzian territory. Badiou’s essay creates a corrective approach to ideological analysis. There is an obvious adaptation/appropriation of Althusserian notion of ideological apparatus as ‘a homological relation that it is supposed to maintain with the real of history’ (p. 111).
What Badiou attempted in this work was to appropriate two works of two thinkers: Mao’s critical program in Yenan Lectures and Pierre Macheray initial, unfinished attempt to think beyond the idea of art as ideological form.
First, Badiou takes on Mao’s project as part of the corrective mechanism: ‘to study the development of this old culture, to reject its feudal dross and assimilate its democratic essence in a necessary condition for developing a new national culture.’ (p.113) From there, he derives nine statements on the relation of art, ideology and science.
In the first statement, Badiou negates the usual Marxist line of critique on art as an ideological form, because, for Badiou, art’s specificity of its aesthetic process decenters the specular relation of the closed infinitude of ideology. For Badiou, ideology is a homological concept, which is a clear adaptation of Althusserian ideology as an enveloping relation. (p. 112)
In the second statement, Badiou marks the break between science and art. For Badiou, art does not affect knowledge. However, unlike ideology, Badiou states that art is closer to science than ideology because both art and science produces reality effects. However, what differentiates them are their products: art produces imaginary reality while science produces real reality. (p. 112) For Badiou, the usual lazy Marxist approach to art works as either theoretical or ideological forms must be liquidated. In light of truth, signification in the artwork is not enough to check artwork’s concealed transhistoricity and prophetic value. Hence, he proposes a proper way of looking at ‘art, as the ideological appearance of the theoretical, the non-true as the glorious envelope of the true’ (p. 113). This notion is affirmed by Lenin. Badiou therefore conclude that ‘We cannot declare at the same time that there is a democratic essence to feudal art and that this art is a purely ideological reflection, with a universal vocation, of the ‘lived experience’ of the dominant class. We cannot observe that art produces the true on the basis of the false and declare, as in a certain socialist realism that in the final instance theoretical truth conditions aesthetic validity’ (p. 114). This severs the binary opposition between art and science/ideology.
Badiou then adapts Mao Zedong’s response to this problem. In order to assess the relation of aesthetic object to the dominant class, Mao introduces four matrices of analysis: (1) class being – the class where the writer belongs, (2) class-stand or class position – the general space of the problematic of the write, or the political position for which the writer stands. For Badiou, this is the space of questions. (3) class-attitude – the approach of the writer in answering the problematic, for Badiou, this is the space of answers; (4) the class-study or class-culture – the structure of the theoretical realm, the one that structures the class stand of the writer, or in simpler terms, the power relations that structures one’s stand. For Badiou, Mao’s response to the problem is a particular decentering between aesthetic process, historical reality and ideology. This leaves us a question: what is the relationship among aesthetic process, historical reality and ideology?
Badiou then brings up Pierre Macherey for offering an answer. Macherey posits that aesthetic process is irreducible to ‘theoretical grasping of reality’ or ‘ideological process’ (p. 116). Macherey concludes that ‘the artwork is not what translates ideology, nor what effaces it: it is what renders it visible, decipherable, insofar as it confers upon it the discordant unity of a form; exposed as content, ideology speaks of that whereof it cannot speak as ideology: its contours, its limits’ (p. 117). For Badiou, the ideology functions as a closed infinity of a specular relation, ‘a closed infinity that cannot show its closure without breaking the mirror in which it is reduplicated.’ (p. 117)
In his third statement, Badiou further clarifies the relationship of ideology and art as ideology that produces the imagination of reality, and in return, art produces ideology as imaginary reality (p. 117). Summarily, Badiou notes that ‘art repeats in the real the ideological repetition of this real. Nevertheless this reversal does not produce the real; it realizes its reflection.’ (p. 118)
Badiou proposes a decentered relation between historical reality and the aesthetic process. Reading Macherey, he proposes four matrices that structures the relation: (1) the real – the global historical structure i.e. the capitalists, the proletarian class, the bourgeois, etc. in displaceable power relation, (2) the ideologies – always in series, fragmentary reflections brought about by the ensemble of pressures upon the class they represent.’ (p. 118); (3) the author – not a creative subjectivity, but a concept of place, a point of view, where Mao’s concept of class being, class stand, class attitude and class structure applies. For Badiou, the author is not a psychological concept, but a topological one. (4) the work – a donation of forms, an exhibition of limits.
Badiou however discovers the flaw in Macheray’s conception of the relation. For Macheray, the form of the art work’s presence is ideologically produced. For Badiou, this misconceives the presence effect of the artwork which, for Badiou, is the materiality of the artwork itself. This led Badiou to conclude that aesthetic process comprise of the double articulation of the signification of the artwork and its presence effect as an object of material culture. Ideology’s reversal is assigned to the signification effect, while the historical real is related to the presence effect.
Since this requires Badiou to synthesize a statement on separable ideological contents, which contains the following conditions:
- It produces in and of itself a complete effect of signification, without any enclaves
- It has a logical structure of a universal proposition
- It is not tied contextually to any subjectivity
Badiou gives an example by analysing Robert Musil’s unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities. From his analysis, Badiou comes up with four types of statements. Three of which do not fulfil the criteria of separable statements: (1) the I-statement of the speaker (X [d(y)]), which is enclaved in a context, with singular proposition. For Badiou, this statement does not contain any effect of signification, (2) the d(X) statements, which are descriptions of characters and objects in the story, does not have any universal proposition, (3) the X(S) statements, statements with universal proposition, but tied to a subjectivity in the novel.
For Badiou, the only statement that fulfils the three conditions are of the type S (example: The voice of truth is always accompanied by fairly suspect parasites, but those who are most interested want to know nothing about it.)
A brief segue on cinematic ‘statements’. We can actually classify shots in terms of Badiou’s classification of statements: (1) the I-statement stands for the subjective shot of the characters, (2) the d(X) statements stands for establishing shots, (3) X(S) statements stand for shot/reverse shot of a film, while the S statements stands for master shots where there is full coverage of the mise-en-scene. Hence, in cinema, a separable ideological shot involves one that is not (1) a subjective shot, (2) not an establishing shot, (3) not a shot-reverse shot, but rather a mise-en-scene shot from the third person perspective. This is an insufficient comparison, however, since Badiou formulated his theory in terms of literature, which he termed as novelistic discourse.
Badiou also reminds us that the raw materials for the production of aesthetic products are already aesthetic, hence incapable of ‘aestheticizing ideological elements’. This led Badiou to formulate the theory of aesthetic mode of production (theoretical aesthetics).
Badiou conceives the aesthetic mode of production as double articulation of the presence-effect and the effect of signification, or the production of film-as-material and film-as-diegetic-material. I asked my thesis critic, media studies expert Ma. Diosa Labiste, on the significance of this finding. She said that this is the basic process of representation. She is also critical of the one-to-one relation of ideological series and the effect of signification and the presence-effect and the historical real, and suggested that I should Derrida Sending: On Representation, which provides another perspective in looking at the process of representation as decentered by time itself. Derrida is always critical of the deployment of presencing in the process of representation. And perhaps, in reading Badiou’s essay alongside Derrida’s notion of representation, we may be able to grasp a critical notion of representation that would undo its very notion.