Mendizabal, Adrian D. “Transforming Film Criticism into a Militant Practice.” Strike II, 15 Dec. 2019, http://strk2.com/2019/12/transforming-film-criticism-into-a-militant-practice/.[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’s 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 50–51). 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 ‘fidelity’ 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: ‘To 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’ (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 ‘IMHO’ or ‘In My Honest or Humble Opinion’ one is, the more organic and valuable one’s opinion is. Social media’s 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: ‘We will come to know everything that we did not know before’, he is responsive to Hegel’s idea: ‘The True is the whole’, 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 – the 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.