Notes and Scribbles on Cinema, Literature, Games, Philosophy, Marxism, Memes, Vlogs…: Redux (Feb 2021)

from Nomadland (Chloe Zhao / USA / 2020)

Resurrecting the Old As New. I saw an old post in my old film blog Auditoire (RIP?). And I was wondering if I can replicate it again this new year. The things is, the feat was only possible in 2013 because I had so much free time. I think I was jobless at that time and I was looking for work. Fast forward to today, with so much on my plate: a full time job as a writer, a part time job as a researcher, with a master’s thesis waiting to be written, and large, large, large debts to pay (yes, I’m that desperate) from last year’s mishaps, I’m curious if I can sustain it.

Looking at the old post, it is amazing how I maintained a different line of thinking, a kind of erudite pondering on the images of films I had watched those times. Now, I just don’t know. I’m a bit disillusioned by cinema altogether, but finding new purpose on other things, more important than maybe watching the greatest film ever made as of 2020.

Now, with the second year of the pandemic in front of us, it is even more difficult for me to watch a film than to read a book. The times got crazier and valuing one’s cultural capital or one’s investment to cultural life is out of the question. Frankly, I find it easier to finish a book than to watch a whole film. Is it cinephilia burnout plus the pandemic rolled into one? Maybe. Maybe I’m just too tired physically and emotionally.

What kept me my desire for cinema afloat is Netflix. And lately, torrent. But mostly, I browse the Amazon Website and Libgen to look for the best ebook deals for my Kindle Paperwhite. To convert from Epub to Mobi using calibre: it’s my stress reliever these days. It works all the time, promise. It’s the most satisfactory digital conversion I have made these days, more than the mp4 to mp3 circa 2013-2015. Reading .mobi file on Kindle takes away all the bitterness, as if talking to a long lost friend. That is new normal, at least for me. Literature is a quieter field than cinema. I think perhaps because people have developed patience in reading books. Time is not essential.

Aside from reading, I also play PC games (follow me on Steam: MrLessegers) and MTG Arena. I also watch vlogs and live online selling when I have extra time.

I’m also currently involved in a COVID-19 archiving project as a head researcher.

So that’ll be that most of the content of this notes and scribbles for 2021.

I hope I won’t disappoint you, my dearest reader, or my future me in 2031 reading this again and sulking perhaps…

February 2021

Feb-ibig wins!

February 5 (Friday)


A Vietnamese police gunning down a Vietcong fighter last February 1, 1968. From here.

February 6 (Saturday)

Currently Reading Pile

  1. Snow (Orhan Pamuk) – 22%
  2. The Future of the Image (Jacques Ranciere) – 22%
  3. Science of Logic (George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) – 13%
  4. Bad Behavior (Mary Gaitskill) – 15%
  5. First Person, Plural (Edel Garcellano) – 0%


Kris Aquino Because… Meme (Source)


Reexamining Engels’s Legacy in the 21st Century (ed. Kohei Saito)

Table of Contents

  1. Engels‚Äôs Condition of the Working Class in England in the Context of Its Time (1845‚Äď1892), by Regina Roth
  2. The Theory of Class Struggle in the Peasant War in Germany by Ryuji Sasaki
  3. Engels, Thinking and Being by Tom Rockmore
  4. Engels’s Conception of Dialectics in the Plan 1878 of Dialectics of Nature by Kaan Kangal
  5. Engels’s Theory of Economic Crisis by Timm Graßmann
  6. Metabolism, Crisis, and Elasticity by Kohei Saito
  7. Engels’s Concept of Alternatives to Capitalism by Seongjin Jeong
  8. Engels as an Ecologist by Camilla Royle
  9. Engels and Gender by Heather Brown
  10. Engels and the Irish Question: Rethinking the Relationship between the Peasants and Socialism by Soichiro Sumida
  11. Engels’s Legacy to Anthropology by Thomas C. Patterson


February 7 (Sunday)

RIP Christopher Plummer (1929-2021)

Sweet Home – Season 1 (Dir. Lee Eung-bok, Jang Young-woo, Park So-hyun / South Korea / 2020) – 4/5 – Via Netflix – Sweet Home, a new Netflix TV Series, based on a webtoon of the same title, is about monsterization of the human as apocalypse or the end of the world, the kind of apocalyptic narratives you can find Western B-movies and Japanese body horror films. In an ever-increasing cosmopolitan aesthetic economy of South Korean filmic commodities, Sweet Home fits right in the middle of its cultural constellation alongside a handful of TV dramas that explored narrative arcs outside of melodrama. What makes the TV drama more Asian is the supernatural origin of the transformation of humans to monsters: the apocalyptic curse that turns humans into monsters whoever surrenders to their desires.

The theme of monsterization and the Apocalypse has been extensively explored in the Zombie, Alien, and Vampire subgenres. The theme is also explored in Shingeki No Kyojin (Attack on Titan), which explores the fate of humanity in relation to titans or humans with monstrous heights. Like most of these examples, Sweet Home hints, on the outset, a possible deus-ex-machina solution: a remedy of some sort that can reverse or control the curse of monsterization and restore humanity’s lost image. With this major arc present, issues of morality explored in the film are mainly focused on the antagonistic opposition between the monstrous and the human, and the dilemma on the co-existence of both in the same realm. ###

February 12 (Friday)

An Expanded Reading List. Coming soon.

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Transforming Film Criticism into a Militant Practice

Bibliographic Entry
Mendizabal, Adrian D. ‚ÄúTransforming Film Criticism into a Militant Practice.‚ÄĚ Strike II, 15 Dec. 2019,[Download PDF]

Film criticism, and the practice of criticism in art, literature, and humanities in general, has been practiced in the Philippines under the tutelage of the culture industry and the bourgeois institutions of culture. Film criticism, in particular, has only developed its corpus as a self-serving reflection of its own triumphs and demise. It has not also aroused any critical change in the film industry’s trajectory, which has only woven film criticism into its promotional and marketing arm. Film criticism has only served the Filipino elite’s dream towards the perfection of its own image of Philippine Cinema.

The attempt to practice film criticism as a pluralist, multi-perspective platform of opinion-making on the art and industry of filmmaking has only reduced film criticism‚Äôs critical function. Plurality is deluded by its own supposition that a multi-perspectival approach can supplement any democratic discourse. Plurality is another way to institutionalize the bourgeois project of “free-thinking only for themselves” with the real world as external to them. Given their free time and intensified engagement with the culture industry, the bourgeois enterprise of criticism has only tolerated debates on moralist issues of representation.

Critique as Opinions

Opinions are not criticisms that aspire for Truth. In the book Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Badiou describes opinions as the opposition of truth, and the one responsible for the establishment of sociality (Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil 50‚Äď51). The reason for this is that opinions are the basis for communication, and therefore even earns the rank of being beneath the binary of the True and the False (Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil 51). For the truth to emanate, one must have a radical encounter, an encounter not with what is the Same, but something beyond, a radical rupture that has ‚Äėfidelity‚Äô to all other radical breaks in the past. This encounter, since it moves you to a repurposing of oneself, is overwhelming because it contains an opening of a collective Universal idea that one is unable to contain because it is supra-personal. Not only is this a collective Universal idea, but it also gives one a new sense of purpose. It is therefore purposive.

Opinions, in so far as it concerns the communicative saturation of the Same i.e. film of the week, the top-rated film of the year, carried over a space of discourse that only requires discussion based on commonality, is also the stream of consciousness that compelled pluralists, multi-perspectival discourse to thrive. It directly assumes that different opinions constitute their notion of plurality and the private division of individuality that subjectifies these opinions constitute multi-perspectives, multiple personas.

Critique, in so far as it concerns a critical determination of an object, has a commitment to Truth that runs opposite to opinions, which means critique must reconstitute the notion of judgment and comprehension as an ethical responsibility to the film as a potential encounter. Hegel once said: ‚ÄėTo judge a thing that has substance and solid worth is quite easy, to comprehend it is much harder, and to blend judgment and comprehension in a definitive description is the hardest thing of all‚Äô (Hegel 3). Hence, critique must constitute judgment and comprehension as practices that arrive at Truth.

‘Criticisms as opinions’, which is always already communicative, in the critical spaces of cinema, is often misconstrued as unbiased and objective. In a span of a decade, the social media machine has further obscured opinion into the basic unit of its communicative neural network. It became a marketable product which further blurs its determinateness and further intensifies its commercialization. The more ‚ÄėIMHO‚Äô or ‚ÄėIn My Honest or Humble Opinion‚Äô one is, the more organic and valuable one‚Äôs opinion is. Social media‚Äôs neural network provided a prosthesis for indeterminate thought.

In the present condition of opinion, critique is stifled to produce its expected content: the Truth and its generalized Subject.  The opinion-laden discourse has individualized, atomized, and privatized critique rendering film criticism as a personalized form of sociality. People call it online cinephilia, but it is actually a systemic abandonment of cinema’s capacity to generate something new. The reduction of cinema as a communicative object places every aspect of it i.e. style, narrative, subject-position, within the plane of opinion, not Truth. Contemporary film criticism that spurned in social media sites like Letterboxd, Facebook groups, and Twitter all participate in transforming film criticism as opinion. This has disempowered the medium itself.

From Critique as Truth to Critique as Militant Practice

It is the function of Critique as Truth to break cinema and practice of film criticism from its communicative mold. One way to act on this is to constitute Critique as a Militant Practice, and that is, to make Dialectical Materialism as a core principle of critique.

Dialectical Materialism is, in its most basic sense, a materialist sublation of the Hegelian Project. Hegel’s philosophical project is simply about the rigorous analysis of the relation between mind and reality. Hegel traces the movement of thought of how the discipline of Science rationalizes the sensuous and the immediate and eventually how reason gives these sensuous and immediate objects a sense of purpose. For Hegel, this sense of purpose of the world-objects ultimately relies on the determination of a collective Subject whose aim is to constitute a self-knowing, self-conscious, systematic Absolute Knowledge of the world in general. While Hegel only spoke in general terms, what Karl Marx did in his materialist negation of the Hegelian Project is to constitute this generalize collective Subject as the Proletariat with a new sense of purpose. Instead of achieving Absolute knowledge, Karl Marx insists that Dialectical Materialism’s ultimate goal is to change to the world.

In this sense, Critique as Militant Practice also actualizes these two criteria: first, that the Proletariat as Subject links the materiality of the world and the collective mind; and second, that the goal of this proletarian subjectivity is not to reach absolute knowledge but to change the world. For Badiou, this materialist dialectical movement of Militant Practice constitutes an overcoming of representation (bodies and representation) and the insistent of Truth at the very end. With Badiou quoting Mao in: ‚ÄėWe will come to know everything that we did not know before‚Äô, he is responsive to Hegel‚Äôs idea: ‚ÄėThe True is the whole‚Äô, and with this, critique as a militant practice also aspires to know the dialectical Wholeness of a filmic phenomenon. (Badiou, Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2 8; Hegel 11)

Actualizing Critique as a Militant Practice

In Marx’s insistence to reverse the Hegelian dialectic, a new radical actuality emerges Рthe dictatorship of the proletariat, which is a praxiological concept that places the proletarian subjectivity at the center of the purposive act of changing the world. If we are to actualize this in the practice of writing a critique of cinema, we must, therefore, reorganize the act of writing as an act that places the proletarian subjectivity at the forefront, and the ultimate purpose: to espouse a change in the social practice of cinema. In order to transform critique as militant practice, several action points have to be made:

Smash the Fetishism of Cinema. Cinema is veiled with metaphysics of the indeterminate that industrializes the sensuous as the site of privileged seeing. Both Hollywood and Art Cinema establishments have used this veil of fetishism to conceal the materiality of cinema crystallized in its commodity form as dead labor. The task of a militant critic is to produce the dialectical relation between the proletarian subjectivity ossified in this dead labor and cinema’s fetishistic form. To smash the metaphysical bewilderment that plague cinema’s social character, one needs to carefully study, at the most basic instance, how the industry of cinema instrumentalizes its sensuous as both a product and a desire.

Affirmation of the Principal Contradiction. Cinema’s tendency to overcompensate the fetishistic character has also captured the imagination of film critics who write criticisms that magnify this fetishistic character. Critics have only dwelled on their individual relation to the film through aesthetic analysis. This one-to-one critical activity has only produced a dialogue between the filmmakers and the critic and has further obscured the proletarian subjectivity of cinema. The closure of critic-auteur or critic-film has only generated opinions on representations and not Truths. As Badiou insists, the truth lies outside representation.

A militant critic, whose commitment is to write the truth, must produce the principal contradiction of cinema per se. The principal contradiction lies in the absolute radical difference between the proletariat subjectivity and the subjectivity put forward by the ruling class. The discourse of cinema has always been for and about the bourgeois culture. To practice militancy in criticism, one must produce a counter-discourse that acts on the exploitation of the proletariats. For the true emancipation of cinema shall only occur when the proletarian subject unshackles its bondage from exploitative labor of cinema’s capitalist mode of production.

Establish the Totality of the System in order to Rectify the Present. In Walter Benjamin’s essay On the Concept of History, he talks about the role of critique is the wresting the overdetermination of the present of itself. In the same sense, a militant critic must also partake in rectifying the present condition. One can only rectify the present if one has concretely established its systematic articulation. The Truth is the Whole, in so far as the bearer of this truth is the proletarian subjectivity, who collectively produces the truth as such. The militant critic must therefore collectively be the proletarian subjectivity himself.

In transforming critique as a militant practice, the ultimate goal is to transform the film critic into a collective proletarian subjectivity whose aim is to transform cinema as a whole. It is only in these terms that film criticism can partake in the long-standing and on-going class war.


Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Translated by Peter Hallward, Verso Books, 2001.

—. Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller, Oxford University Press, 1977.



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My Top Filipino Films of the Decade



[Submitted for PinoyRebyuDecade Poll]

  1. Alipin ng Sining (Art Slave, Joyce Rochelle Monta√Īano, 2013)
  2. Pantomina sa mga anyong ikinubli ng alon (Pantomime for Figures Shrouded by Waves, Jon Lazam, 2013)
  3. The Filipino Dream (Jeffrey Deyto, 2016)
  4. Ang Araw Bago ang Wakas (The Day Before the End, Lav Diaz, 2016)
  5. In the end close of a long day when she said to herself time she stopped (Jean Claire Dy, 2015)
  6. Walay Naan Diri (There is Nothing There, Jean Claire Dy, 2015)
  7. Translación (Christian Tablazon, 2013)
  8. Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug 1931 (The Ashes And Ghosts Of Tayug 1931, Christopher Gozum, 2017)
  9. Balangiga: Howling Darkness (Khavn dela Cruz, 2017)
  10. Pagkatapos ng Tigkiwiri (Danielle Madrid, 2018)



Lav Diaz for being Lav Diaz himself. In this decade of decadence and self-contradiction, one name rules ’em all – Lav Diaz.


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My 2019 in Cinema


from Heimat is a Space in Time (2019)

The year 2019 was not much of a good year for me. It was a  year of struggle over debt, precarity, and lack of job security. Albeit almost completing my long overdue MA Thesis Proposal, which has to be defended and completed this coming year 2020, the economic realities I faced have been overly harsh. It came to a point that I cannot afford to watch films in theaters or participate in film festivals as actively as before, much more so, to spend some days eating only twice a day (yes!). This is the reason why I have not watched most of the Filipino film releases this year, nor do I have the energy to catch all of them given the financial situation I have been. 

Yet I am thankful that after all these, I’m still here, functioning well albeit struggling to come to terms with the future. I will thread on and will not be cowered by the past. Next year would be a different year, a chance to come to terms with my mistakes and march on towards the revolutionary future. Indeed, we make mistakes, yet there is always time to rectify them, to begin again, and to start anew.

I mainly blame the speculative aspect of money, its symbolic and heretical function, for making my year a living hell. Our economy has deluded itself to promises of instant gratification and instant wealth. 

We all learn the hard way in life. We are compelled to sell our labor power to sustain our daily needs. Yet, even at this level of depravity, some people still managed to take advantage of other people by manipulating the speculative aspect of money, to make it look something bigger, only to find out that it has already transformed into a debt pit. 

Neoliberalism works this way, by false assurances, by insisting on the supposed value of money more than its real value. In neoliberalism, all is seduced by the speculative and fetishistic character of financial capital, without looking into what constitutes as real. This was what happened during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and what happened to me this year 2019. 


from Reason (2018)

Some Highlights of My Year

My 2019 was my first year to fully integrate with the streaming platform. I purchased a digital television (Sony Bravia) back in 2018, but since I could not afford an Android TV, I bought an Android Box as an alternative. I then subscribed to Netflix, Fox Plus,, iFlix, Spotify, and other digital platforms to immerse myself in the new world order of film distribution. 

It was not actually that satisfying. The limited choice of films has made the experience lacking. The curation both in Netflix and FoxPlus is less diverse. may have better curatorial choices, but due to the limited number of days of exhibition per film in the digital portal, I couldn’t catch up with some of the films.¬†

Aside from my foray into the digital platforms of viewing, I have also been lucky this year to attend one major film conference in Singapore, the 2019 Asian Cinema Studies Society Conference (ACSSC) held at LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore. I presented a paper titled ‘Dialectics of Decentering: The Logic of Decentering Spacetime Environments in the Cinema of Lav Diaz‘ in a panel on Rural Cinemas in the Philippines co-presented with fellow Filipino film scholars Rolando Tolentino, Tito Quiling Jr., and Katrina Ross Tan.


As 2019 comes to close, we are reminded always that cinema is not at all only about the films per se, but also, and more importantly, about the industry and the people behind it. One of the notable highlights of my year is the launching of our website STRIKE II (, a research and education platform dedicated to the critical and political-economic study of the Philippine Film Industry. Jointly created with VCinema writer-colleague Epoy Deyto and other young Filipino scholars, STRIKE II strives to provide a critical platform for Filipino film workers, students, and other interested parties where they can learn more about their present condition as film laborers. With this platform, we hope to shed some light on the current issues and problems that Filipino film workers continue to face every day: from lack of job security to unpaid labor practices.


Best of 2019 in Cinema


MIDSOMMAR (Ari Aster / USA / 2019)


In the folk horror genre, magic is the transgressive substance that disturbs a supposed reality. It is that substance in which enchantment overcomes the disenchanted. Midsommar opens a window to this archaic world of the occult, of communities unwritten, unstudied, and unsung, of a world displaced by today’s technocracies. What we see is a contradiction rooted in the irreconcilability of the mundane and the sacred, with a narrative built on the notion of permeability of cultural borders and the evolution of arcane into the familiar through participative and collaborative practice. Aster depicts the horrific in the idea of cultural contiguity in occult ideologies. Albeit being a less horrific film than Aster‚Äôs previous film Hereditary (2018), in Midsommar, Aster shows mastery of the mise-en-scene.


REASON (Anand Patwardhan / India / 2018)


Anand Patwardhan’s film is about India’s contemporary political crisis rooted in the divide between right-wing fundamentalists (Hindus) and religious minorities (Muslims, Christians, Communists, Rationalists). Strewn in a dialectical fashion, Patwardhan tries to make sense of the partisan logic between the two sides, often highlighting the motives and arguments. Patwardhan is careful not to overthrow the balance, but what inescapably appears on-screen is an immense class inequality between the ruling class fundamentalists and the political minorities censored for speaking against those who hold power. What plays is a stark depiction of class struggle in a subcontinent troubled by centuries of colonial rule and plagued by a religion-based caste system that continues to justify killings today on the basis of religious differences.


KRABI, 2562 (Ben Rivers & Anocha Suwichakornpong / Thailand / 2019)


Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornporn’s film is a collaborative experiment on psychogeography, with no other postmodern gimmicks other than the play between myth and documentary reality vis-a-vis time and space. While Anocha‚Äôs previous film By the Time it Gets Dark (2016) has used extensively postmodern devices to circle around the historical trauma of Thailand, in Krabi, 2562, she has tamed her postmodern flare, first, through her collaboration with Ben Rivers, and second, by going for a simpler route on the narrative. Krabi, 2562 is about places in thought, of foreignness of the land and its people, and myths that bind everything together in a circularity of time.


THE CORDILLERA OF DREAMS (Patricio Guzman / Chile / 2019)


Patricio Guzman’s The Cordillera of Dreams completes his latest trilogy, a trilogy which he started with Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and followed by The Pearl Button (2015). In The Cordillera of Dreams, Guzman explores the historical trauma etched in Chile’s dominant geological feature – the world’s longest cordillera – the Andes Mountains, which stands in its precipice as definitive of Chile’s resilience amidst its troubled history. In the film, Guzman depicts the earth as an active participant in shaping human history, in the same way how he depicts water in The Pearl Button and light in Nostalgia for the Light. Instead of achieving closure, The Cordillera of Dreams opens towards the future as Guzman highlights allies in his craft. He more or less shows the necessity of succession in documenting the violent history of his country, like the cordillera that continues to grow roots.


JOKER (Todd Phillips / USA / 2019)


Joker (2019) is one big hefty salute to the 1970s Scorsese and went even beyond the representational politics of the director. The film’s narrative follows the logic of ‘falling into place’. There is a grand narrative playing in the background: the well-established narrative of how Bruce Wayne became Batman. And pieces from the film’s narrative picks on some of these narrative clues to tie together its own tight narration of how Arthur Fleck became Joker. The style of narration is not so straightforward. It lingers on the act, on every obsession, delusion, illness, and bodily pain that Phoenix greatly effectuate. His performance paints mental disability beyond recognition but in a very precise way, shifting within a whole spectrum of disembodiment that systematically fractures as time passes. Phoenix’s performance is almost like a staged performance art piece: it is indeterminable, yet it falls into place somehow, somewhere, but not quite, under the rigor of character motivations.

Joker has shown class antagonism in populist rigor, both in its societal and individualist form,¬† making the film utterly political. However, it somewhat tries to evade being tagged as a political film itself, for an obvious reason: it has to sell itself as a popular film. But it carries bits and pieces of contemporary critique on the State’s lack of support for social services and its passive erasure of class minorities i.e. the deviant, the marginalized, among others.

The film can be seen as a fractured dystopian mirror of our contemporary discontent with the ruling class, reminiscent of contemporary mass protests happening across the world, most predominantly, in Hong Kong, several anti-Trump protests, the Yellow Jacket movement in Europe, among others. 


THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese / USA / 2019)


Scorsese’s The Irishman has a crooked moral surface: a mobster hires a family man to become a ‘house painter’ or a hitman. The family man, unable to reconcile family and mob life, is rejected by his daughter. In a sense, The Irishman is about the contradiction behind social compartmentalization. Frank Sheeran lives a double life as a breadwinner to a family and a hitman to a mob royalty, only to face his ultimate fate as an aged and abandoned father lost in time, unable to regain the love of his daughter. At the start, it felt that Frank’s odd job as a hitman is only routine, only part of a deal, which he can compartmentalize and keep secret from the family. Frank eventually becomes entangled in the murky world of the mafia, earning notoriety of being a fixer, able to fix anything for the people in power. Frank is compelled to fulfill his job as a hitman even it takes for him to kill his friend – Jimmy Hoffa. In essence, The Irishman portrays the demise of patriarchal ego, an ego that does not guarantee true happiness and a life well-lived.¬†


THE DEAD DON’T DIE (Jim Jarmusch / USA / 2019)


What makes The Dead Don’t Die as a one of a kind experience is its slapstick breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy that spins the zombie subgenre around, reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Jarmusch plays with elements of suburbia, pop culture, cult, and other popular tropes to create a rich hodgepodge that parodies the zombification of people under the spell of communication capitalism. The film is truly an enjoyable idiosyncratic take on Zombie apocalypse.


WHITE NOISE (Antoine D’Agata / France / 2019)


In the film White Noise, Antoine D’Agata explores the state of humanity in its most horrid state. D’Agata asks ‘what is human?’ in the underbelly of the body economy in which the erasure of the body via drug addiction, poverty, prostitution, violence is operative. White Noise offers a scathing critique on the abandonment of the state of the human body and on capitalism’s expropriation of undead labor through bodily spectacle. White Noise looks into the darkest desires of the Human to exploit its own body to its very end, leading a pathway towards dark enlightenment and inhumanism.


PARASITE (Bong Joon Ho / South Korea / 2019)


Bong Joon Ho‚Äôs Parasite (2019) expresses the class contradiction of South Korean society in ways truly menacing and comedic at the same time. It is a film that perfectly balances social critique and tragicomedy with technical precision, especially in executing its mise-en-scene design as an allegory to the nation-state’s occluded rottenness behind its bourgeois facade.


MARRIAGE STORY (Noah Baumbach / USA / 2019)


Marriage Story is perhaps the most problematic film in this list because of its narrow band of class consciousness and an issue – divorce – mostly attuned with the middle class. In the film, we are drawn to a couple in the process of ending their eight-year marriage. Baumbach approaches his subject without sentiment and with atypical frankness. In the filmic reality of the Marriage Story, no inhibitions from the character can be felt. Each word uttered is a direct statement, a self-conscious action that articulates one’s desire. It is as if each of the film characters possesses enough authenticity that makes them capable of verbalizing their own points, their own right to live, and their artistic and individual freedom. Their class position grants them the privilege to explore and exercise their individual liberties and powers, even if such freedom necessarily means dissolving their marriage. At the end of the film, Marriage Story appeals to the perceived middle-class fantasy of non-oppositional conflict: that peace and love can overcome and repair a shattered partnership. In reality, most of the time, such things do not happen.


HEIMAT IS A SPACE IN TIME (Thomas Heise / Germany / 2019)


Heimat is a Space in Time is a work of genealogy. German director Thomas Heise traces the history of violence that disrupted his family over the ages, often juxtaposed to images of desolation (e.g. Nazi concentration camps) and family heirloom (e.g. photographs, ornaments, lists of names) hovering over time and space. The degree of the exhibition is staggering as Heise unravels generational trauma from the monstrosity of wars from World War I to World War II to the division of Germany into East and West Banks and the onset of neoliberalism. What we witness is a contemplative work on historical guilt and despair, piecing together a broken image of Germany.


SYNONYMS (Nadav Lapid / France-Israel / 2019)


There is no one word or a synonym of such that can describe Nadav Lapid’s idiosyncratic tale of a lost migrant in Paris. Here is a character named Yoav who wants to renounce his citizenship as an Israeli and dreams of becoming a full-fledged citizen of France. In his act of self-exile, he becomes the fetishized subject of the bourgeois estate in Paris. When Yoav arrived in Paris, he was almost naked with no material possessions, shivering in the cold weather. At his barest state, he encountered Emile and Caroline who are wealthy enough to lend him money and clothes, enough to make him live again. It seems as though Lapid is dramatizing the allegory on naturalization and migration to other countries as a means of escape. The process does not hide the fact that Yoav, who served in his home country as a soldier killing Palestinians, cannot hide generations of historical atrocities his country has perpetuated. His complicity to Israel’s repressive agenda has made the process of naturalization unnatural. Yoav is a testament to the contradictions at the border.


THE BLONDE ONE (Marco Berger / Argentina / 2019)


The Blonde One is a love story of unfulfilled love. It explores the love affair between two bisexual men. The gravity of their love is magnified by their secrecy wrapped around the veil of heteronormativity and patriarchy in Argentina. Films like The Blonde One speaks of the radical impetus of homosexual desire in the face of heteronormativity and its power to destroy preconceived notions of love. Yet Berger also takes into account of another force at work, a force capable of complexifying the desire and rationalizing it – the capitalist economy, which compels these two men to abandon their brewing partnership and their contrived positions, all in the name of dead labor to sustain each of their families. It only shows that true queer liberation can only be attained if the economic patriarchy of capitalism is smashed.


THE GOLDEN GLOVE (Fatih Akin / Germany / 2019)


The Golden Glove is perhaps the most polarizing film in this list, but its grotesqueness and ultraviolence are what makes it absolutely exhilarating. The neglect of civil society on lumpenproletariat subjects is the onerous theme of this film. Serial killers depicted on-screen are points of reflection of the Negative of humanism. Their existence in society is a sign of exteriorized societal alienation laid bare in the normalized standards of society, a society that erases and criminalizes deviant behavior. The Golden Glove masterfully executes its mise-en-scene to depict the societal monstrosity rooted in civil societies’ criminal neglect of minorities – the poor, the destitute, the deviant, and the insane.


PAGKATAPOS NG TIGKIWIRI (Danielle Madrid / Philippines / 2018)


Danielle Madrid’s Pagkatapos ng Tigkiwiri (2018) is notable for its frank depiction of Filipino farmers in Negros Island and their struggle for genuine land reform. In a semi-feudal, a semi-colonial country like the Philippines, films like Madrid’s have become necessary in making sense of the ongoing people’s struggle. Philippine cinema needs more films like this. Without such films from the ground, the people’s struggle is in dire risk of being reduced into obscurity by propagandists of the ruling class.


HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTION (Maxime Martinot / France / 2019)


History of the Revolution, a short film by Maxime Martinot, traces the necessity of revolution from the ancient times to the present, ending with Gilet Jaunes, France’s newest iteration of the 1968 worker’s revolt. The film plays with the idea of revolution, from its scientific definition to its political ramifications, quoting passages from revolutionary and scientific texts. The film reminds us again of the necessity of revolution and the overturning of society‚Äôs order at the height when the primary contradiction has reached an irreversible point.¬†


TALKING ABOUT TREES (Suhaib Gasmelbari / Sudan / 2019)


Sudanese cinema is non-existent today due to the strict and oppressive censorship of the Sudan government. Film clubs like the Sudanese Film Group, composed of aged film directors from the by-gone age of their film culture, have resisted the fact that they couldn’t show a film to the greater public. In the documentary, we see their struggle to cultivate a vibrant film culture in their locale in their attempt to show Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) for free in their village. The documentary traces the nostalgic root of their longing and struggle, articulating the sense of loss and difficulty of living in a country with a curtailed freedom of expression. 


MR. LEATHER (Daniel Nolasco / Brazil / 2019)

Mr. Leather is a documentary about the practice of leather culture in Brazil, paying tribute to artist extraordinaire Tom of Finland, whose lurid homoerotic sketches of men have ignited the leather culture in the 1970s-80s. What made the film more than merely being a sketch of fetishism is the degree of critical awareness of its subjects. Aside from subscribing to a fetishism of a commodified kind, they refuse to be reduced only to such categories. They see the need to abstract this sexual fetishism in ways that recognize a community of like-minded practitioners. It is surprising that in their search for Mr. Leather Brasil 2019, contestants are assessed based on their level of self-consciousness and depth of knowledge one possesses about their own subculture. Their critical awareness as a community is important in their struggle to fight the stigma against LGBTQ, especially in addressing the public’s prejudice on leather culture.


JOSE (Li Cheng / Guatemala / 2018)


Li Cheng’s Jose is a bittersweet love story of two men on the outskirts of Guatemala. In some sense, it is like The Blonde One in its insistence to carve a homosexual subjectivity against the macho-laden Latin American culture of Guatemala, highlighting the disparity between sexual freedom and economic freedom. While the characters are compelled to follow their hearts, what weighs more than this delusion is the economic reality that forces one to regurgitate back to their daily struggle. The film invalidates the notion of intersectionality by insisting that there no greater contradiction than the class struggle itself.





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Merry Chris-Marx & Happy New Fear!

merry christmarx

Of Returning to the Fold. Now that my thesis proposal is almost complete in its first draft look, it is safe to say that I can now return to the fold, well, the digital fold to be exact. I have been experimenting with my time schedule for two years now, and it appears I can balance gym, thesis, other writing projects, reading, and work without sacrificing my sanity. And given that I’m almost done gestating my thesis proposal, which is a whopping 49,000+ words long (I have to pare it down this next few days), I have more time in writing other stuff, including short blog posts for Omnitudo. So expect more to come next year.


STRIKE II Website Launched. We, members of STRIKE II, though only a handful, are proud to launch this year our website platform, which will serve as a research and educational platform dedicated to the critical and political-economic study of the Philippine Film Industry. I will be leading the project Discussion Guides for Media Workers which ‘aims to provide curated, popularized, modularized study guides of relevant progressive texts that can be of aid to film workers, students, and other interested parties in conducting their educational discussions.’

Each study guide is divided by module, with each module covering a chapter or section of the text in focus. Each module is comprised of a downloadable Powerpoint Presentation (ppt), a handout as well as links to publicly available audio-visual materials and other relevant materials that educators can use in their educational discussions. All modules are accessible for public use and educators are free to modify their contents depending on their needs.

The series will kick off with the study guide for Marx’s Capital Volumes 1 to 3, published monthly (one module per month).


Auditoire to Omnitudo. I’ll also be transferring some of my writings and posts to this blog as a cross-post so that they can link back to my old blog. Old posts coming soon.

Holiday Readings. The two books that occupy my time these past few days were Ed Cabagnot’s Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa and Richard Bolisay’s Break it to Me Gently: Essays on Filipino Film. I’m done with Cabagnot’s book and now reading the opening pages of Bolisay’s work. I find both books easy to read and hoping to finish Bolisay’s book by Friday if the time allows.

I’m also trying to finish sections from two other books: Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, all scheduled to be read after these two books.

Sison’s Greetings. Join the revolution.

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Blog Status: It’s Complicated


A still from Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson (2016)

Over the past few months, I have been quiet on this blog. I am not dead yet, nor is this blog, or my pending blog projects like the Lit Review, or the Specters of Marx close reading¬†series,¬† as I am trying to beat a deadline. I am trying to finish my master’s thesis proposal before the year ends. It is a long overdue document because I could have finished writing it¬†two years ago when I accomplished all my course requirements and comprehensive exams.

But for the past few months starting March 2019, I have been patiently looking for a way to make the writing and research process faster. Hence, I have tried desperate measures to make this happen:

Writing Thesis At Sea


On board MOOV 5002

Last April 2019, I joined a 15-day seaborne operations in the middle of the Visayan Sea inside one of the law enforcement fleets of the Philippine Fisheries Bureau for the purpose of 1) to do my job – assist the media in documenting the seaborne operations, and 2) to seclude myself (no internet connection) and get things done with my thesis.

Time inside the ship is really long. Aside from starring at the sea, waking up in the morning for illegal fishing apprehensions, and some occasional docking at Bantayan Island, San Carlos City Port, and Cebu Port, I don’t have anything much to do so that gave me time to really fix focus on my writing and find the writing rhythm.

Writing inside the ship in the middle of the sea without a phone signal is refreshing. Good thing it was summer and the Visayan Sea was calm. I was not distracted by any calls, any urges. No beer, no time to party, no time to fool around. Just me and my laptop and a hell lot of readings I’ve already downloaded days before the ops.

I taught myself to fast read and to make use of my Mendeley app to save my annotations. My reading pace inside the ship became quicker: I read one book every one to two days. As a result, I have made a lot of progress and ended up with a 15,000-word thesis proposal document at the end of the journey.

A Thesis Log To Keep Track 


My main problem for the last two years that I have been doing for my thesis is that I did not know the means of keeping track of my progress. Writing can be easy for 800-word essays. But for writings with subdivisions and word-count length reaching up to 20,000++ words, you can get easily lost. I actually tried doing flash cash to keep track, as well as maintaining a diary app on my phone but it became too straining.

In order to fix this, I designed a Thesis Log. A Thesis Log is a word processor document of an unedited log of the things I do related to my thesis. It is arranged in reverse chronology with the latest update on top.

My process was, before I start doing my work, I log the start time and what I plan to do for the writing session especially the things I need to achieve, and all the necessary expectations. Then, by the time I finish, I log the end time. In this way, I can track my progress through time.

Building My Theoretical Framework, Step 1 – Marx


Photo credits to Red Flag

One of the challenges in writing a master’s thesis is establishing a foolproof theoretical framework. Advise to fellow peers who are struggling in writing their thesis, if you already have the materials, even a partial set of materials which you can base your research on, it is important establish your theoretical base before the writing.

Building a foolproof theoretical framework took me years, a journey which started back in 2015. I started my Masters with a Deleuzian framework. Most of my papers during my early years were Deleuzian in orientation. As I explore the field of Deleuzian philosophy and its influences in various fields, I began reading its offshoots in Speculative Materialism. Speculative Materialism led me to Colletti, a Marxist critical of Hegelian school. And with a bit of a push from Dr. Diosa Labiste, Colletti led me to Dialectical Materialism. It was only last year 2018 when I became oriented towards strictly Marxism. Then afterwards, Hegelian Marxism.

Ever since last year, around early May 2018, when I decided that my framework is dialectical materialism, which was inaugurated by my paper presentation during the Marx @ 200 Conference at UP Diliman titled Marx Contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign,¬† I dedicated the rest of the year in reading Marx’s Capital.¬†I initiated in forming a reading group for UP CMC graduate students especially those who are working on research projects related to political economy of the media, historical research, and/or value theory. We formed a reading group called¬†Reading Capital as Media Studies led by the prestigious Marxist scholar Dr. Diosa Labiste who specializes in Critical Media Theory and Theory of Technology.

Prior to reading Capital, I already did preliminary readings on other works of Marx: Theses on Feuerbach, which formed the backbone of my theoretical orientation towards dialectical materialism, some parts of Grundrisse, German Ideology, and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The year 2018 was a Marxist year for me. In the same year, I have also collected all the major works of Lenin as well as some works of Mao in preparation of further studies.

Building My Theoretical Framework, Step 2 – Badiou & Mao


Images from here and here

As most of you might remember, I also did a paper presentation at Yogyakarta last year around June. That was part of my effort to build my theoretical framework. The main intent was to polemically engage with Diaz’s metaphysics of time using Badiou’s Hegelian Maoist writings as framework. Badiou’s essay The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process¬†was my gateway to a deeper understanding of Mao’s notion on Art and Literature. Both Badiou and Mao’s writings are influential readings for my framework. Badiou’s other essay Metaphysics and the Critique of Metaphysics would eventually led me to Hegel.

Building My Theoretical Framework, Step 3 – Hegel


Images from here. 

Badiou’s essay Metaphysics and the Critique of Metaphysics was written convincingly enough to seal the deal – the framework for my thesis wouldn’t just be dialectical materialism alone but most importantly a Hegelian one. After my readings on several Marxist texts, this led me to read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which I started early this year. The measure in reading Hegel was to understand the theoretical schematics by which Marxists work on their studies. And now, with enough ground covered (at least covering major sections of Phenomenology of Spirit), I had more appreciation on what Marx did with Capital. It helped me a lot in moving forward.

What Lies Ahead

These measures were meant to put things in order, to actualize what has been intentionally planned. I started MA with a plan to do research on Lav Diaz. That has been my goal ever since. Given the work load of my current job and the thesis, much of my other habits began to suffer:

  • Lack of interest in cinema in general.
  • Lack of interest in all blog projects.
  • Lack of time to do other things like sustained film criticism. Apologies to my editor at VCinema John Berra. I tried to contribute once in awhile.
  • Lack of interest for logging what I watched (a series, a clip, whatever). It’s exhausting. But I have to begin again sometime in the future.
  • More interested in reading than in watching. I can finish reading a thin book in less than 10 hrs; a short philosophy book in 3 days.
  • Lack of interest to go to parties and socialize. I mean, sorry guys. Gotta werk!
  • Less sleep, of course.

Good thing, the only habit I kept all this time is my gym exercise routine. I go to the gym four to five times a week. Gym actually helps me unclog my mind

A New Blog for ‘Logs’ (LINK)


With all this, I wanted to say that I’m doing pretty well except that I find this blog Omnitudo a little too out of my league as of the moment. In the future, I might need to reorient the aims of this blog. This blog is a professional one, a blog on Philosophy and Cinema. And like all professional blogs with an intended audience – the academia – I don’t get to make mistakes here. That is why, I made a new one where I can put my unedited thesis log and my reading log without the pressure of sounding like a professional academic blogger.

With my new ‘log blog,’ I will regularly update the new one while keeping this old one up for occasional essay-type pieces whenever I have time. In the meantime, I’m also arranging an additional log, a watch log which logs highlights of my day-to-day watching activities.


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Book Haul for February 2019 – De Guzman, Badiou, Jameson, Zizek, Althusser, Balibar, Establet, Macherey & Ranciere


I’m glad to wrap up my February with a good news from Donna Miranda that my books I ordered from Verso finally arrived at their doorstep.

So here’s my book haul for this February:

  • Domingo De Guzmna’s Rescued History: Essays on the New History of the Philippine Revolution Vol 1 & 2
  • Domingo De Guzman’s Trysts, Elegies & Revolutions: Mga pagtatagpo, Elihiya, at Rebolusyon¬†
  • Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis
  • Frederic Jameson’s The Hegel Variations
  • Slavoj Zizek’s Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialetical Materialism
  • Althusser, Balibar, Establet, Macherey, and Ranciere’s Reading Capital: The Complete Edition
  • Frederic Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic

More this coming March!


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Marx on Free Time

Free time

(Grundrisse, Marx, 1993, p. 634)


‚Äėin capitalist society, free time is produced for one class by the¬† conversion¬† of the whole¬† lifetime¬† of the masses¬† into¬† labour-time.‚Äô

(Capital Volume 1, Marx, 1990, p. 667)



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Reflections on Roland Barthes’ The Photographic Message (1961)

25 January 2014

[Republished from here]



Why even bother about Barthes?

I saw the book¬†Image Music Text¬†by Barthes lying on a bookshelf at home sandwiched between two novels by Michael Cunningham. I was drawn to its exterior mold. It has a thinness unusual for a book on critical theory with a cover page exhuming the image of Sergei Eisenstein’s¬†Ivan the Terrible. Eisenstein’s image, his films, and others films from Soviet Montage movement flashed back in my mind. I was invaded once again by memories of my early years in cinephilia.

I first approached it that way, through the¬†act of looking, an act of remembering, a visual encounter, which seizes me to approach it almost without hesitation, as if I have encountered it in the past and now an artifact. This act of looking, this seizing moment came first before the¬†act of thinking.¬†This is a fundamental encounter, a productive one that urges me to produce some form of writing: a reflection, a series of notes, an anti-reflection, anything goes really. My desire for¬†encounters,¬†in this case a textual encounter with Roland Barthes’ essay¬†The Photographic Message¬†(1961), stems from Gilles Deleuze’s¬†C for Culture¬†response in¬†L’Abecedaire de Gilles Deleuze¬†(1988-1989)…


…where he admonishes the idea of¬†culture¬†by moving towards the¬†power of encounters. Encounters more than culture, and, in the words of Deleuze, to be always ‘on the lookout‘ — these were my initial thoughts when I first approached the surface of Barthes’ essay collection.

I wonder why most people look after his works. In many bookshops I visit these days (2010 – present), from¬†Bookay-Ukay¬†at Maginhawa St., UP Diliman to online bookstores like¬†Roel’s Bookshop, Roland Barthes’ presence is overwhelming. His books are almost¬†omnipresent, at least in Manila, sprawling within the local cultural domain. Have his theories amalgamated within the local discourse on arts, culture, or cinema? One could think of a possible marriage – transnational, if I may say – French-Filipino thinking, in search of ways to ‘understand’ the assemblage of life in the Philippines. Barthes’ entry to local bookstores is symptomatic of the bustling presence of European critical theory in the Philippines, amplified entirely by the thriving (anti)intellectual discourse in social media nowadays (though I haven’t seen a Barthes meme frolicking over my Facebook newsfeed for the past few years.¬†This is a good one though). This is why I wanted to read Barthes: out of curiosity. What is it with him that seems to be so elusive, so seductive for a ‘theorist’?

I fairly do not have warm feelings for theory nowadays – film theory, for that matter. Some critics have announced its eminent¬†death. This made me suspicious of its stability as a field. After discovering D.N. Rodowick and Gilles Deleuze last year, I bade goodbye to theory and move towards a more multiple region in critical inquiry: the cusp between cinema and philosophy,¬†cine-philosophy, where one is forced to be¬†nomadic.¬†A nomad, who has no mother or father – an¬†orphan, must learn how to squat, stare, and observe momentarily¬†at¬†books, texts, films, short stories, paintings, alleys, objects, subjects, benches, and/or open fields. A nomadic life is an active movement of one’s body towards the world, an opening, a journey away from the traditions of¬†home¬†life – a journey of becoming. This is opposed to intellectualism, which forces one to sit, think, and contemplate of singular aspects of life typically displayed by the¬†Thinking Man, a figure of contemplation.¬†A nomad walks on the streets. He is out looking for encounters, not with people, but with objects, ideas, and forms. The street – its intersections, cul-de-sacs, and U-turns – is his home and his guide through life.

My engagement with critical theory came from a nomadic walk away from film theory. I was drawn to its uncanny body, its perturbations, and its transformations. This massive field opened itself to me and, in various entry points, I tried to wrestle with it in fragments. What attracts me perhaps is its massive effort to decentralize traditions. A large part of its task is to revolt against traditional thinking: common sense, common beliefs, common life.¬†Critical theory¬†is one of the pervasive mode of thinking in sociology, arts, and the humanities, created by Europeans to rethink their lives – the society and the culture they belong. Critical theory is a mid-20th century amalgamation of Marxism, psychoanalysis, and linguistics. Multitudinous transformations have occurred within and outside its domain symptomatic of its tempestuous relationship with history, and to some point, technology. I won’t be discussing in detail the immanence of Critical theory or its transformations from the beginning. I would instead dwell on a microlevel: an encounter with critical texts, as excruciating as it might be. This¬†is a self-inflicted torture – to confront each polemical text headlong.

Confronting the text headlong may leave some terminologies and concepts unclear. But like I said in a¬†previous post, incomplete or unclear ideas can create new pathways of thinking. Hence, I won’t be troubling myself with terminologies or their definitions because I might encounter them in the future in a different light.

The goal is to withstand the thrust of the text, to experience it, to read through it like I would read a novel or a short story, and allow the formation of feelings, affects, sensations, intensities. Emotions, affects, and feelings are usually set aside when reading such texts. I wanted to explore this region in critical inquiry: how does one respond emotionally, along with critical response, to academic texts? How does one deal with a strange jargon? What makes the the text inviting?

Each essay has a way of putting words into sentences. Each has its own system of organizing its ideas, and maybe eliciting some sensations: visual or experiential. Almost each one has its own of putting forward a stance, a world, a new concept. I shall approach each text aesthetically along with a crude critical assessment of some of its ideas. Screw me if you think I misconstrue and/or misjudge some elements and concepts from the text as I am not an expert in this area. The key phrase here is experience through encounter.

The Essay[link]

Roland Barthes’ essay¬†The Photographic Message¬†opens with its object (a press photograph) followed by its guiding structure, an ‘assemblage’ in Barthes’ words. He arranged it in a succession: a point of emission (the one who takes the photo), a channel of transmission (the newspaper), and a point of reception (the readers of the newspaper). This is the first image that one has to confront in the opening part of the essay. Barthes presents a pathway with a room in each stop.

Barthes’ use of language is dry and cold. Semioticians write their theories formally with a sleight of hand. A semiotician’s essay has this certain straightforwardness that makes a College Math book look more interesting. Yet Barthe’s essay is few of the most lucid, most crystal-clear writing I’ve ¬†read in my life. In this crystal-clear text, there is, at times, no room for breathing. As Barthes elucidates the nuance of the photographic message, one feels an utter discomfort. One enters a tortuous structured pathway punctuated by large blocks of ideas to confront. At some point, the semiotic jargon seems too alienating for an everyman. Small parts builds on bigger parts. This is a typical touch of a structuralist text: order and control.

Semiotics runs together with the Structuralist movement. It sees the world as an amalgam of signs. While linguistics studies words, semiotics studies the non-words: images, sounds, three-dimensional objects (do they even study cross-linked artifacts like audiovisual displays?), and how they produce meanings. Semioticians also deal with their objects as if they have inherent structures in them. This is the world that one approaches when reading Barthes’¬†The Photographic Message. A press photograph, his object of analysis, is wedged within this preordained world, examined at its limits.

One can find a press photograph in areas where communities thrive, in societies centered on information. For Barthes, this is the simplest visual object that one can encounter in such societies of control, apart from magazine advertisements, which he scrutinized intently in his essay¬†Rhetoric of the Image.¬†The Photographic Message¬†is the critique of the press photograph.It is interesting to note that Barthes version of the press photograph isn’t only a photograph by itself. It is a photograph with a text like this…

Barthes proposes this as the basic structure of a press photograph: an image with a text. He says that each element, image and text, must be analyzed individually before analyzing their combined state.

The Photograph, a Paradox

When one looks at the picture above, of men and women all joined together to skate, one observes that the picture is a reduced three-dimensional reality. Barthes says this is mathematical transformation (from 3D to 2D) where the image (the photograph) becomes the¬†analogon¬†of the object. This process of ‘copying’ reality is¬†denotation. He also added that this image is the¬†message without a code¬†primarily because it is a continuous imitation of reality. Aside from imitating reality, it must also be accounted that a photograph is also captured in some specific cultural landscape, a certain time and space, and therefore¬†connoted.

Barthes positioning of the photograph as both a mathematical (or mechanical) and cultural object proves important and influential. There were only few theorist before who were interested in studying photographs. Through this essay, Barthes gives the basic framework on how to deal with photographs. If you are semantics student, this will make you happy.

A¬†connotation procedure¬†refers to the manner a photographer captures a photograph.¬†For Barthes, this is the reason why a photograph has no objectivity. It is not created based on a ‘universal symbolic order’, but rather an object ‘worked on, chosen, composed, constructed, treated with professional aesthetics’. It is therefore a¬†message with a code.¬†Barthes suggest that connotation allows the photograph to be read. It connects the photograph again to the world. There is once again noticeable bipolar relation between¬†connotation-denotation,¬†but their functions are far technical and must not be taken lightly.¬†This conceptual tandem rift throughout the text exploring the nuances of the photograph message.

The presence of both messages, the analogon (message without a code) and the connoted message (message with a code), in one is the photographic paradox. Barthes continues his analysis by specifying the various ways connotation can be performed in a photograph. The reader enters an ossified field as Barthes provides a room for each. He identifies six ways: trick effects (i.e photoshop, faking a photograph), pose (i.e. stereotypical codes, a woman wears a skirt, a man wears pants), objects (i.e. artificial arrangement of objects, a old bookcase may signify an intellectual atmosphere of sorts), photogenia (i.e. embellishment of the photograph through lighting, exposure, and printing), aestheticism (i.e. photograph as a painting, painterly effects of landscapes, photography as art), syntax (i.e. putting two (un)related photographs side-by-side to produce a meaning).

This is perhaps what makes Barthes essay hard to grasp at first, at least for me. Each concept has its room: numbered paragraphs arranged from simplest to the most complex terms. The text forwards likes a process of enumeration, one element after the other, proceeding stately and carefully until reaching an end.

The Text

Barthes continues on. He focuses on the presence of the text, the caption, in a press photograph. Barthes says there are three functions of a text in a press photograph. One function of the text is to become a parasitic message to the photograph. The text quickens the connotation. This is, for Barthes, a historical reversal: ‘the image no longer illustrates words, the words becomes a parasite to the image.’ Text burdens the image with ‘culture, moral, and imagination’, Barthes continues. Second function would be duplication/non-duplication of the image. ‘The closer the text to the image, the lesser its connotation’. And lastly, the text also amplifies (pro or anti-image) the connotations of the photograph.

One may find these procedural elucidation of the three functions difficult to understand, but Barthes sees to it that each of these categories returns back to reality by providing examples. In this way, the text has never left us. Examples jut out from various portions of the text surging towards us, connecting us to its difficult jargon. What is blocking us, of course, appreciating the text fully is the lack of connections with subject of semiotics and structuralism itself. As an outside of the field, I struggled through the essay for about a week and half, trying to somehow deal with it.

Is a Photograph of Pure Denotation possible?

Nevertheless, Barthes posed an intriguing question in the end, a staggering rift in the text: “Is…pure denotation…impossible?” He said that a photograph, through connotations, is always historical and cultural, ¬†never natural nor artificial. ¬†These historical and cultural connotations give the photograph a¬†meaning.¬†It allows us to¬†read¬†the photograph. The challenge is to find a way by which this¬†meaning is blocked. In a way, Barthes is posing a question of limits by reaching a certain boundary:¬†Is pure connotation possible? Is pure denotation possible?¬†These inquiries lead us to think of an Outside, a certain Other apart the text.

To answer the question, Barthes says that¬†pure denotation¬†exist in absolutely traumatic images…

kim-phucNight & Fog (10)DinoDoliente14b
Traumatic Photographs (Top to Bottom): Victims of Napalm bomb during the Vietnam War, Mass grave in Poland during the Holocaust, and the Mendiola Massacre 1987

“The trauma is a suspension of language, a blocking of meaning,” he said. He added: “[…] the traumatic photograph is the photograph about which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant: no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold on the process instituting the signification.”

A limit has been reached, and perhaps this is what I’ve always been looking for in critical texts. A desire exists in the limits, a desire that seizes one to think. And by virtue of encounters, a certain limit must always be reached: an ending that never ends, a beginning that seizes to begin.


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Continuities of Darkness in Cinema

Reposted from old blog


Continuities of darkness in cinema: (Top to Bottom) White Epilepsy (2012),
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2009),
Kinatay (2009), Los (2001), and On the Job (2013)
What is darkness?
An absence of light, a depth of a shadow. In cinema, darkness accentuates light from a movie projector. When light pierces through its continuous body, we see light’s imminent trace, a emerging source of hope. We see light only in darkness. The stars wouldn’t be stars without the wide emptiness of space. It remains, however, a mystery why objects in the dark are indistinguishable. When shrouded by darkness, objects become formless, nonexistent (or absent), and immutable; they lose their solidity. (Yet the human eye trains the body to adapt to this continuous, immeasurable blanket. A body must grasp objects, move in space, or find one’s path, hence, the eye must adapt.)
In the city of desolation, darkness creeps evenly in structured spaces. It hides, reaches, and envelops movement permeating in every unguarded corner. Yet it remains shallow, often having a measurable depth, engulfing only small spaces, but light is its enemy. City lights purges this dissenting atmosphere darkness invades. Streetlights, exploding textual displays on bars and restaurants, colorful disco lights emanating from party places, and lights from high-rise buildings all punctuate the darkness. In the city at night, one can strongly feel the solidity of objects: the buildings, the avenues, the crevices… Darkness seems to function economically entombing aberrant human activities and crimes within its basking blackness. It becomes a distinguishable space.

In shadows of building, within dark rooms, in empty spaces at night, crime thrives like an underground vegetation, restricted in small spaces, unexposed, hidden, and destructive creeping sporadically at various entrances and exits of city life. Darkness has a thriving economy of consumption: one man stabbed to death on the dark aisle of the underpass, forgotten; the act of killing: quick and methodical; killer’s emotional response: empty, mundane, ‘this too shall pass’; killer’s motive: money (poverty at its root), a procedural job, a disaffected life.

Travelling for almost two to three times a year from Manila to my province Sorsogon, I wonder if there is a difference between the the darkness I feel in the city and the darkness I feel in the provinces. In twelve-hour bus trips at night, one can experience the vast difference of these two worlds. Leaving the city at eight in the evening, a bus travels south of Manila along the boulevards of the city. EDSA remains alive at night. People walk along the sidewalks at their usual pace, only quicker as they would walk in daylight. As the bus enters the South Luzon Expressway, light from the streets began to dim slowly. Darkness creeps within the halls of the moving bus. Within three hours, as the bus reach the outskirts of Batangas province, darkness becomes unbearably deep, deeper than the darkness I feel in the city. Three hours more, deep within the Quezon province, darkness asphyxiates any man awake. There is no escape. The light that one can only see comes from the bus headlights. Witnessing this descent in almost every province-bound bus travel I had in my life makes me wonder further how deep this provincial darkness can be.
Darkness in the provinces is phenomenally expansive and deep. Unlike in the city invaded by light, night in the provinces engulfs light. Even the brightest lighting equipment cannot measure its depth. Provincial darkness stretches out in open fields, in jungles, in neighboring houses keeping almost everyone inside their houses. Even¬†crime¬†finds its place to hide. Night in the province starts as early as six in the evening. Jeepneys seize their operations at seven-thirty, but tricycles never sleep. They brave the twelve-hour darkness in service to wandering ghouls and lost travelers. At night in the province, the streets are almost empty, deserted. Night feels like an act of waiting, time’s long passage.
Night and its arching darkness seems to puncture the hearts of men and women in the provinces. Its passage in time lengthens their patience as each awaits for sunrise. It deepens their scars, their delusions, their doubts.

Crimes in the provinces are, to me, committed with so much intensity and force, surfacing from very deep scars, very deep guilt. These crimes are not governed by some economic of consumption as they would play in the city. They surge within this pantheon of provincial darkness, seeping most of their power from this incomprehensible, limitless, and devouring negative space. For a crime, no matter how simple, committed within the premises of this provincial darkness involves so much passion, so much complexity, a crime beyond what one can commit in a city.

Fabian’s bloodshed in¬†Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan¬†(Norte, End of History, Lav Diaz, 2013), Hamin’s cry of desolation in¬†Death in the Land of Encantos(2007), Florentina’s cry for help in¬†Florentina Hubaldo, CTE¬†(2012), and Heremias’ descent into darkness in¬†Heremias Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess(2006), all these acts and gestures perpetuate the emanating darkness from the provinces, a darkness that engulfs light, pierces the heart, and transforms them into phantoms of the night: lost, indistinguishable, and immutable. In this darkness, their limiting figures arise: shaped by light but continuously dissolved by shadows. Each of them are entrenched within this void, society’s ultimate space of nothingness — the Black hole. Maybe this is why Lav Diaz gravitates towards the outskirts of provinces. He wanted to reach this Black hole history, politics, and natural space created. Darkness has always been a socio-political condition, aside from being a spatial experience. Each dark space emanates from both the restrictions of control societies and soul’s tempestuous agony. It appears now that in places where progress lags, where progress creep slowly, darkness expands intensely it penetrates even the most strong-willed, the most brave, the meekest one. No one is spared; everyone is engulfed. No light, not even the strongest light, can gauge its depth. Only cinema can capture its depth.

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