Notes on Audience-Taste, Education and Capture

Disclaimer: This convoluted essay is a product of me processing recent events and my writing projects in Media Studies. But just because this is related to a school project, doesn’t mean I do not take these seriously. In fact, I’m probably more serious about this now more than ever. Writing these down to at least make it available out here, and to get back to it later. Then again, this disclaimer is from me asking for apology for writing this essay so convoluted that what I am saying might slip.

Let me know if there are things that aren’t clear. I could sure use some conversation.

Philippine Cinema is lucky to have an Erik Matti: not that we are expecting him to speak for any sort of good for his liberalism is not capable of reaching that point of moral reflection. But, at least we can hear him speak for himself and the non-points that he gives every single time. Over at a recent thread (posted August 26, 2019), he, again, expressed his cynicism on the state of Philippine Cinema, which, ended with his usual guilt-tripping. Not that there’s nothing to learn from him too. The things he’s pointing out are important: lack of newness in cinematic form and content, consumption, production, complicity to capital, labor, etc. Then again, these are all in the service of retention of the cinema that he knows and the cinema he’s working at: again, he’s speaking for himself, nothing for us to benefit from, even when he speaks of this ghastly figure of “the audience.”

An important shift happened at the comments section when film director Frasco Mortiz pointed out the thing a lot of liberal thinkers has been pointing out as the root-cause of it all: education. But his point is mainly of consumer behavior: “Years of dumbing down the Filipinos have taken its toll in every aspect of our lives, including TV and Film preference.” Whether or not this adds to the guilt-tripping Matti has laid upon his post, is still to be decided.

Something is left unprocessed at the thread: is this “dumbing down” a result of the education Mortiz has been talking about? Instead of answering there directly, a longer response, I think, would be more fitting.

Let’s try to go back again with Matti’s rant: the earlier part of his post concerns mostly of content. Basically, what’s he’s on to is to roundabout blaming a certain sense of complicity of the “film artists” to the “audience’s taste” and to what’s the tried and tested formula to sell. He left a window for speculation: that maybe, there’s an audience somewhere. But the bottomline is that, the frame of reference that he’s looking at his assessment of cinematic practices is this speculative notion of “audience preference.”

To synthesize Matti’s and Mortiz’ points: the “audience preference” to which Matti’s points are framed, is a result of what Mortiz, and later on Matti, identified as “years dumbing down” of the Filipinos, which Mortiz has pointed out as an issue of education.

Let’s just say that this is true: as a supplementary to knowledge, these preferences are a result of dumbed down education. Which is to say, that what we refer to as “dumbness” is learned.

There’s a ring of truth in this, something which Matti and Mortiz has never validated. Something which liberals in general, like Matti would never validate: that education is meant to be a capturing mechanism. To validate this point, otherwise is to rid Matti of anyone to blame but the political structure, which, of course, something that liberals in general are quite suspicious of.

Renato Constantino, in his classic essay “The Miseducation of the Filipinos” noted that “The moulding of men’s minds is the best means of conquest. Education, therefore, serves as a weapon in wars of colonial conquest.” Constantino in his most insightful stance on education, reached a more clarified conclusion, that colonial education has influenced our consumption habits.

Between Matti/Mortiz and Constantino, looms this haunting image of the consumer being formed by colonial education. This dumbed-down learning, so to say, may have been a result positive for capitalism. The cinematic complex which Matti’s been keen on defending and restoring, is quite dependent on this kind of education. Which is to say, there’s really no conflict between Matti’s project of a “different” kind of cinema and this “dumbed-down” education, since the cinema that he’s trying to salvage is something which is produced through the deployment of such “mis-“education. Otherwise, the “different” kind of cinema would never even be thinkable without the “same” cinema that the “dumbed-down” audience consume.

As mentioned earlier, none of the project of Matti would benefit us, or the phantom “audience” that he’s thinking. But something along the line of Mortiz’ problem can be thought of. If the root of the problem has something to do with education, what would be your alternative? Filmmaker Lav Diaz sees an opportunity to educate people through cinema since cinema is so powerful, but does this guarantee that the same will never happen? Isn’t it with the same notion of power that colonial education itself successfully captured the minds of its subjects?

Education supplements capitalism, colonialism or any form of subjugation, through input and endless consumption of information. In the chain of production, the consumer learns through education what it is going to consume. This framework of education relies to positive feedback to the informational input to be harnessed more as exploited labor (either through an extension of working hours or through consumption). In here, production and consumption of cinema is not excluded: whether or not you assumed your “freedom” as an artist either to do “the same” or “something different,” the fact remains that once let go to the market, your film-commodity becomes one which demands positive informational/capital feedback upon consumption to sustain itself. An openly “educational” cinema would perform the same, only to produce surpluses.

Suppose, we suggest education as another key, but what are we going to teach? The “truth” is illusive, especially for those same people who advocates for “education” as the mere key for change. Not that we should dismiss the education project, the method itself is very important, given the fact that Constantino raised regarding its capability for “capturing minds.” In this end, we can propose a strategic end to which education should lean on: an education which unlearns instead of learns. Tentatively, we can call this negative education.

This kind of education is something Paulo Freire already hinted on his classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He noted that the condition for human existence (that is to exist humanly), is the capability to name the world in order to change it. In this sense, “naming” becomes a form of abduction and abandonment: you capture something to let it go or shift it to another. The “reappearance” of the world is important in this aspect: which can only be possible if the named is changed which requires new names.

In the light of Freire’s naming, Negative Education would bring about changing “dumbed down” education through unlearning it. But before one unlearns something, it must be acknowledged and learned first that that something is learned. “Being dumb” or “ignorant” is learned, and since it is learned, it can be unlearned. Negative Education wagers on Reza Negarestani’s project on cultivating intelligence which, for him, only matures with unlearning its slavery.

Standing in the conditions of intelligence, Negative Education do not see power through control as “evil,” unlike the petty Manichaeism of liberal philosophy. Negative Education completely harness control as an operational motivation to build its own tools to help with his continuous unlearning of slavery. It is in complete contradiction with capitalist capture of positive feedback: it excretes rather than accept information.

This unlearning will become a means to produce new knowledge. It will not guarantee, however, to that these knowledge to come will support Matti’s ideal cinema, as his ideal cinema is only possible through the capture of the minds as slave. Negative Education will actively reject capture as it strive for unlearning.


Narrative Conflict and The Elite

During the past few weeks, I was faced with a challenge over at a writing-gig/sideline to write about the “ultra rich,” as our creative head put it. He’s having me and my co-writer imagine their life. Of course, with the lack and impossibility of social practice, i.e. my class disposition, I am slumped to take the road again, of a commentator rather than the medium which is what us industrial writers should be.

The whole process of writing that piece, something which we were only able to finish yesterday morning, made me rethink of one of Alexis Tioseco’s wish: “I wish someone, anyone, would make a good, thought-provoking film about the Philippine upper class.” The context of which, back in 2009, is of course as a knee-jerk reaction  to what was termed as “poverty porn” years later. Even back then I am within this limbo as to whether I’d take this wish seriously. Perhaps even Tioseco did not think much about this.

This puts the question in front of us: “how are we going to think of the elite, creatively?” I can only imagine the bourgeois narrative conflict in this sense: that is, if we, writers not from the elite, are to write them, the limit of us thinking about them relies on the very conditions that we both share in the mode of production: they own it, and we work for/to it. Them having all the privilege of ownership are only in-conflict with us. The common practice among writers (industrial or otherwise) is to rethink them in-line with their privileges, for what are they without those, right? Bourgeois apologists among the middle class is, of course, set to disagree: they need nuance. But what nuances do they even need? So our tendency as writers not-from-the-elite, if we are to write a story about them, them being in-conflict with one another is to see them in these two possibilities: either that conflict will be very petty; or, it is psycho-pathological, which is of course, still “petty” in a narratological sense.

In the call for nuance, the elite narrative succumb to a kind of psychologism, instead of a rational world-building. Think of the more recent attempts to “humanize” the elite. Say, the films of Gino Santos (The Animals, #Y). At the very least, those are very honest films: there’s really nothing “on the outside” that makes them “special” even on their standard of humanity. It is therefore an imperative within the bourgeois narrative to “look inward.” That is, in the psychology of the characters. And, of course, by “psychology”, most of what their narratives think of are psychological pathologies. Suicide as a recourse of an “unhealthy psychological state” is a bourgeois narrative trope.

Henri Lefebvre has already noted of this trope in a sociological scale. The specialization of work bring about a new kind of practice among those who are relatively well-off and not being burdened by the hard-labour of life: boredom. The capitalist boredom gave birth to stories of adventure among the elite, that there’s more to “everyday life.” Social practices of course, would disagree: nothing in this world can be built without labor. The only real conflict of the privileged is how to avoid labor. Their sense of adventure, their transcendental lives, depends on this avoidance to work. Once that they’ve discovered the whole planet, and there’s nothing more to be explored, they succumb to decadence of any form: the adventurism of the senses. Their notions of psycho-pathologies came from their very own internalized contradiction: their boredom gave birth to their own sicknesses. It is also why serial killers are a hot topic among the bourgeois: despite class disparities (sensationalized serial killers are not from the elite), the narratives of serial killers feed the bourgeois sense of  adventurism.

The pettiness of the bourgeois conflict reside within this sense of psychologism too. There’s really very few imaginable friction among them, most of which are limited to personal struggles. Why are they petty? Because they are trapped in unresolvability: in a literary-narratological sense, unresolvability of conflict make one complicit with fatalism, which requires very low level of imagination and thinking. Since their conflicts are unresolvable, the only possible resolution is stasis: a maintenance of the status quo. The notion of “history repeating itself” depend a lot from this bourgeois maintenance of stasis. It is observable among literary materials involving the elite that they go into cycles: if they are in-conflict among themselves, there really are no contradictory aspects to negate and therefore, no actual development, narrative or otherwise, is possible in the bourgeois literature. Which is why we are mostly provided with a biography of an imaginary elite and not an actual story: we mostly witness a “life” in their narratives. One gets born, grow up and die. There’s no story in there since we are presented with what we already know that’s going to happen: people die.

And, of course, we can’t really expect the elite to write about themselves: in the chain of production, them being the owners of the means, will never ever do that. Which is why they hire biographers: the elite are too dumb to even write about their own lives.

Tioseco’s wish for a thought-provoking film about the elite, of course has always happened, but not in the context that he’d actually consider as “thought-provoking film about the elite.” Their only narratological development lies on their own death. The bourgeois apologists among us middle class writers know this: which is why a lot of their bourgeois narratives end with death or they succumbing to their own decadence, but they do not work much as narrative development, but a book end. Again, there isn’t much “thought-provocation” there. Among middle class, of course, the elite are imaginable in dichotomy: as an aspiration and as hate, which are, again, psychologisms. The real conflict of the elite lies on their antagonism in the social relations brought about by capitalism: their antagonism against the working and peasant classes. And in this conflict, the real development of the bourgeois narrative is only imaginable through their own decline towards their own abolition as class.

Between Representation and Visualization

Concerns over “proper” representation has been hot cake since liberal academics weaponized semiotics away from its concern over information and/or data towards a less scientific concern for sentimentalism. There really isn’t any contradiction between the two before this weaponization happened. However, more recent developments on the production of images makes looking at visualization more urgent than interpreting representations.

If we are to re-read de Saussure, the fundamentals of organization of signs as the organization of information, has pointed us now to visualization as the actual practice of image production than representation. The arbitrary and relational properties of a sign can be seen more on the practices of visualization, from cartography to diagrams. Maps, for example, has depicted more accurate depiction and exposition of ideology and its implications, by explicating borders than, say, a film about fascism.

Hyperrepresentation has never really done anything to negate the perceived misrepresentations in media. What happened is more a diagrammatic displacement of images, but still depicting the same data and still performing the same process sets as their perceived misrepresentations, only with a different legend-sets.  See for example, the recent Twilight Zone episodes, where it boasts “representations of minorities” with less and exceptional white casting (recently, for “Not All Men”, which features patriarchy as its subject.) Of course, the new Twilight Zone will be seen as a champion if is looked at with the sentimentalist view and thirst for proper representation.

Representational readings look for “meanings” or “essence” in a non-helpful abstract-for-abstraction-sake way. To look at visualizations is not just to look not with what the images mean, but how the information, these “meanings” in a certain image, are organized. Not just with the sequence, visualization is also concerned with the methods to which the images are organized. This is where ideologies come in. In essence, looking at the history of thought, ideology, as some people say it, is a “way of looking at things.” It is, therefore, a way of organizing information. A method. Rather, a set of methods. To look at how images are conjured, visualized, is to find this set of methods—the processes which govern how the information are presented as images.

Representation, as appropriated by capitalist realism, becomes reactive as time goes by. It settles with anything that would depict the oppressed subject as a minoritarian version of whiteness, or as Reza Negarestani puts it, it settles and “remains within the confines of the Western colonial notion of others as noble savages.” The new Twilight Zone does this Mexican, Asian, or Black version of white people best. So is Jordan Peele’s Us. Or Crazy Rich Asians. Or more recently, the depiction of women-empowerment still within the confines of patriarchy in Erik Matti’s Kuwaresma. “Progressive” content do not trickle down to the method, form always devour content. Representation resides within capitalist realism too, in so far as it does not do away with the methods and structure of capitalism as long as it gets the “proper” images it wants to have.

Representation banks on a perceived totalized being against another perceived totalized being. It is somewhat relatively dogmatic, ultimately consumerist. It settles with a limited amount of choice, with a hope to conserve aspects of these totalized being that champions of representation seek to forward. To repeat myself, none of the champions of “progressive representation” present any actual negation or alternative.

In contrast with representation, which settles with the present, visualization permits an opening for a future. In practice, to visualize is to draw a possible image of what could come out in the concrete. Since it concerns the concrete, it also concerns itself with the relative autonomy of each of the elements it depicts. It is aware of each and its own properties and measurement. These are blueprints, models, plans. Elements of visualizations are present too, in other forms of image-production, in so far as these forms are delimited from “creative” and “anthropological” use. Visualizations, as experimental as they are, also looks into the possibilities and becomings. Less to proving what is, but to what one has and can become.

Is a spectacular form like cinema a form of visualization too? Cinema is a planned, deliberate production of images. It does not merely “represent” or “reflect”, it is also information arranged and organized, something which can be rearranged and reorganized. To think of cinema as a visualization is to capture it to its wholeness, scope and limitation included. If anything, looking at the boundaries of cinema, and looking for boundaries in cinema, captures something close to truth.

For A Theory of Movie-going?

Last saturday, April 27, 2019, a concern over the current film industry’s overproduction of films was raised by Prof. Nick Deocampo on his talk on the Boom-and-Bust pattern of Philippine Film Economy, at the UP Film Institute. The concern centers on the concept of “demand”, something the Boom-and-Bust, being the liberal economic model that it is, seem to cover a lot. (Overproduction, i.e., we produce a lot of films which a few to none has seen).

But “demand” in any sense seem to be ghastly, more on the discussion of film. Can one really account on any film’s demand? If we quantify the list of top-selling films for the past 20 years, would it account to any fixed notion of “demand”? Can a “demand” for a specific film be established in the first place?

The notion of “demand”, in classical discussion of it in market economy, seem to center a lot of its decisions on the consumer. Consumer demand, as it turns out on recent expositions made, seem to be less concerned with what the consumers actually want. In a sense, what the consumer want is the Lacanian real for market economists. It’s that impossibility. That to get close to it, you’d only appeal to its symptoms, and not to its actuality. These symptoms can come in a form of survey, result of focus group discussions, or whatever quantitative research output economists and market researchers use.

Consumer demand, or at least the data of it, seem to be more synthetic than we can accept. It is a ghost from a community ghost story which we believe in strongly,despite only hearing it from someone, or only seeing things which are like it. Especially for a marginalized commodity as film — a commodity with very little use-value — producers and film marketers oftentimes use a lot of mechanisms to generate or conjure, to be consistent with our gothic metaphors, demand.

The hot topic of the past days, Avengers: Endgame, did conjure this ghost demand, but it does so in a very long process. Often times this could be mistaken as an “organic” process, but for a company as big as Marvel and Disney, its global audience is nothing organic or accidental. It is at most calibrated. It is capital as Nick Land would put it: an amplified response to positive feedback.

Cinema and positive feedback to it, as the social practice of blockbusters go, never seem to care much of “aesthetics”, or morals, or ethics, so to say. Its mystique comes from what Pauline Kael, in her classic essay “Trash, Art and the Movies,” call enjoyment. For Kael, enjoyment is the basic thing that we want to get from the movies, everything else is secondary to it. Weird thing that Kael do not want to equate what’s good in the movies — which is its fun — with art, meanwhile, Hito Steyerl would note that art needs to be salvaged for it is one of the sources of fun.

In any case, Kael’s point is never about art, but rather why do people go to the movie houses. Kael would note on enjoyment as something which is never really the same for everyone, but she nonetheless points out what she finds enjoyable on films that she sees. I think this dynamic of going to see a movie is something which is less considered when market study of films are being done. I’ve yet to look though, if studies are done, at least a survey, on why people are going to the movies. Of course, a hunch, just like Kael’s, is to enjoy. After all, enjoyment is the most basic of the use-value in consumerist societies.

Going to the movies costs a lot. It better be worth it.

Chris Fujiwara’s notion of the film critic as an organizer I think comes in here. We can understand why a lot of film critics stretch their hands to reach out to people and tell them to see this possibly underseen independent film or arthouse film. Fujiwara noted that at the most basic, you’re supposed to share the pleasure of watching the film on every review. In the context of the Philippines, however, there seems to be quite a few who are being honest on their own enjoyment.

See, for example, this review of Tristan Zinampan of Citizen Jake. It is mostly in the parentheticals that we can see what can possibly be enjoyable with the film. Mostly, the review goes back and forth between its director and the “political message” the film supposed to bring, very few on the plot points, fewest about what made the film worthwhile seeing. If the film, as the title suggest, is worthwhile as a wake-up call, it never really mentioned in the review how does the film wake you up. It just tells you things you already know.

The general tendency of film reviews center around either this form of moralism, or a point of snobbery. Most of the time, the fault is two fold between the critic and the filmmaker. Most especially, those who treat film in line with the fine arts. It is in this sense that Francis Joseph Cruz flat-out only made a review for a Lav Diaz film, and never really attempt to reach out for more audience, in his review of Ang Panahon ng Halimaw. He can choose to fault Diaz over this: on why the film seem to be a film for specialists. As it stands, his review seem to reflect a lot from which we can enjoy the film from, however, it may be as intimidating also as he said it would be.

There’s something I quite find unassuring however, of both reviews’ conclusions on both films. A wake up call and a call to arms. Both reviews merely survey the manifestations, but never really pointed out how they worked as such. Are they just working metaphorically? And if the times are as they say (dark, violent or whatever), aren’t these kinds of work… useless? For surely, who were they supposed to wake up? Who are they suppose to arm? Their already-assured audience?

Then again, if we go about fetishizing auteurs, no one would really watch a Mike de Leon film because one wants to wake up, or a Lav Diaz film because we want to bear arms. Those who follow them as artists already know how and where they stand politically, does it warrant for a repeat on the reviews of their films? What about what made them stand out as films? Isn’t that considered into equation?

It is unfair to fault an audience-base who do not know what they are dealing with to not see these kinds of films. No one even made a good case on whether anyone would have an enjoyable– if not, interesting — time watching those films. The cases which were raised by almost everyone who’d make you want to see Citizen Jake is its wokeness. But what if you don’t buy wokeness? What if you don’t buy film directors either?

Is it time for critics to consider the basic question, why do people go and see the movies, and consider them on their written pieces?

Time and again, the so-called nationalists virtue-call cinemas for blocking their screens with an all-day screening of, and fault audiences falling in line to, the next hollywood blockbusters. They also fault capitalism, “because business”, which, of course, the boogeyman we need to slay, but never really make a good case how did we come to this. This is a good case of call-out vs critique. The latter, is what we always lack when looking at this predicament.

Rather, we are afraid to critique this side of movie-going. Because it necessitates a “downgrading” of cinema from an “art” to a “mere” commodity. Critique of the cinema distributing system in a society like ours would necessitate a critique of the structure and system that enables it. And that will start always, in looking at production, modes of production, and commodities. That production, in the context of capitalism, is not art-production, but commodity production. Because these goods are exchanged for other commodities, more commonly, money. Cinema is a commodity. There’s no use crowdsourcing over at twitter on what your speculative audience want to see. We can only figure out why people go to see Avengers and not our movies, not in-lieu of their desires — these are merely the symptoms — if we start looking at films like in the manner of how we gauge our consumption of coffee.

My Key Take-aways from the Zizek-Peterson Debate

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  • Peterson is, of course, a conservative. That we do not need to verify over and over again, but something worth noting. But is he a conservative in the worst sense? At the most, he isn’t quite a fascist, but sure harbors ideas which can possibly help forward authoritarian agenda.
  • Reasonable leftists watched this to enjoy. I got in at the last hour or so, and I enjoyed listening to both.
  • Both present clear challenge not to each other, but to the whole liberal-capitalist world. Both challenge the notion of forced-diversity and political correctness but only differ on the other end of the thread. Peterson favors, of course, a kind of restoration of authoritarian, pre-Kaynesian capitalism.
  • I know my Zizek, I think, so I don’t seem to get more surprised at all with him. Peterson is admittedly, an interesting character. What interests me the most how he poses more similarity with a lot of sides of all the political spectrum. He harbors values which, I wouldn’t say essential but, are useful to leftists: mostly with his disdain of the postmodern anti-narrativism which trapped us all in this forced-diversity and political correctness. Only this useful character of his is in the service of the restoration of capitalism.
  • The debate seem to try to resolve behind it how the two camps would address the post-2008, post-Brexit, pro-Jack Ma, pro-Elon Musk, crisis-driven neoliberal world that we’re in right now. They’re not really talking to each other. They’re talking to their respective audiences.
  • Zizek’s last note poses very serious challenges to urban leftists. The first challenge is to “not oblige one’s self to be politically correct.” The second, is to “not be afraid to think.” The first poses a total overhaul of the “gains” of the postmodern turn of the left. The second relates to the first one in a very demanding way. Zizek noted of the dangers of political correctness which comes with quick reductions, symptomatic of lazy thinking.
  • Relating to the last bullet point, what happens with this quick reductions and lazy thinking is a lack in dialectical process in thought. None of the both resolves anything, and never even get to the point closer to self-conscious thinking. It is in this sense that Peterson got it right how it becomes symptomatic of the left to pose for moral high-grounding just because of a sense of high-duty, as supplemented by Zizek as a product of new age thinking, which also has become a part of the postmodern turn.
  • It is in this New Age thinking that Zizek cornered Peterson, and where Zizek also exposed the weakness of the politically-correct left. Political correctness assumes that all conflicts has been resolved already, that giving out the correct pronoun resolves the power-relations surrounding all sources of political issues of identity. Zizek exposes this link between new age and fascism through citing the life and military command Heinrich Himmler, who carries with him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in war. In this sense, the new ageism of political correctness and intersectionality only repeats the new ageism of the SS in their command to atrocity only happening as a consequence of universe resolving everything but in the present context, not in a sense of a grand accident, but the pseudo-participatory / pseudo-democratic stance of guilt-tripping people into being politically correct.
  • It is in this sense that the call of the Neoreactionaries for intelligence comes of importance. I think the extreme intensification of contradictions placed to us by the multiple crises of neoliberalism and global capitalism has given us the answer to the question “for whom” more clearer than before. The most essential moral question has been answered already and was being reiterated whenever we have a chance. The call for thinking, the call for intelligence, requires a review of method. The current age, I think, is not asking “for whom”, but is now asking “how.”
  • Addendum: I think if we — the urban left from the Philippines — are to move forward with these, in developing a culture of intelligence in the service of the working class and all the underprivileged sectors in the country, we need a total overhaul of how we do things: from our half-serious (rather, post-ironic), almost ritualistic, attitude towards the parliamentary to the way we self-criticize. And it must start, I think, by redefining–and quite possibly revising/updating our notion of liberalism stemming from Mao’s classic text, for us to be more effective in combatting it.
  • Addendum 2: “Seriousness” isn’t revolutionary.

DMRTLW 3: “Everything is connected” / “Everything is political”

I once subscribed to the thought. But now when I think about it, I could hear Joey Ayala singing “ang lahat ng bagay ay magkaugnay/magkaugnay ang lahat” with his “lumad” voice. The thought that “everything is connected” brought comfort to my younger self who was  trying to get involved with politics.

But to acknowledge Marxism is of course, to acknowledge contradictions, to acknowledge the law of dialectics. Why do things conflict and contradict? Simply put, things, objects, people, formations, everything in the real world, even reality itself, have their own property which can be considered as autonomous. The further development of the focus of physical sciences, from its departure from Newtonian inertia to relativity to quantum physics bring about the validity of everything’s relative autonomy.

The real “theory of everything” resides in this internal property of everything to move by themselves, according to their own set of rules, whether set by its material properties and formations or by its own sentience, in the case of us human beings.

Things, then, can be connected, only through conflict. Not inherently, like the propaganda of the Joey Ayala song.

It is painful to hear how what counts as “critical thinking” in wokeness is the ability to make rhetorical connections to everything. This is where the logic of liberal intersectionality fail. These “connections” are essentially another form of conspiracy theory.

It is in this theory of connectivity that we can find one of the sources of liberal cynicism and petit-bourgeois nihilism. This is the reversal of the understanding of politics as power relations. This theory of connectivity assumes the classic capitalist phantom of the “invisible hand” but this time, this hand “controls” either your mind, your fate. They pass these off as “sad realities.” See for example, contemporary thrillers which features naive persons with high sense of justice as its protagonists always end up “exposing” a grand conspiracy which in the end gets out of their control. Like Star Cinema’s On The Job. Conspiracy theories like these often undermines agency of all forms, and mostly exposes a supposed “dead end” which works for the benefit of those who they think they are trying to expose. Since it undermines agency, it denies dialectics.

Dialectical materialism always assumes agency. Which is why the elementary conflict in human history according to Marx is, still, class conflict, or the class struggle. Struggles assume agency. Marx’ theory of value ensures the agency of the oppressed: the working class are the only ones who produces value, and therefore, has agency. And this agency, along with their self-consciousness of their own conditions, highlights class struggle. The only connection that there is between the working class and the ruling class is their relationship with the means of production which determines the current mode of production.

Seen in the light of dialectical materialism, vague, fatalistic and linear connections disappear, and we are presented with paths which can be taken on different ways. And these paths determine the politics of class struggle.

It is in the same sense that we can say that not everything is political, unlike the common phrase that we could hear from younger woke folks. This might be the same case of misunderstanding, as it was in the personal is political. From what I see, this came from a misreading of Michel Foucault’s concept that power is everywhere. But what did Foucault actually mean by it?

A bit of syntactic play, everything is not inherently political, but there can be politics in everything (or as Dauber-Mankowsky noted, everything can be politicized), provided that these “things” that we are looking at are modes of “relationship.” As understood in contemporary critical theory, what we mean by “politics” is, as I mentioned earlier, power relations. The operative term is “power.”

But what is power? Traditional conception of power has something to do with an “agency” to propose a kind of domination. Foucault challenged this notion of power as “diffused” and has given a kind of inter-change with knowledge. His notion of “power/knowledge” signifies that power has something to do with a capacity to express, and is expressed through accepted forms of “knowledge”, “scientific understanding” and “truth.” To assume the dialectical relative autonomy, is to assume also that power, and not politics, is inherent to everything.

Let’s think of class struggle. Class struggle is, of course, as a signifier, and as an operative concept, itself political. It points out a relationship and not a thing: that is, a relationship within a mode of production. Value, whether use- or exchange-, comes in through modes of valorization after being produced by the working class, which in itself a form of knowledge. Class struggle comes as political, on the conflict on who between the workers or the ruling class should determine value and take credit for it. Both conflicting classes, have their own properties, and move in accordance with these properties — their relationship with the means of production — and therefore perform their end of the negotiation.

What moves the individual power into political is its negotiation with another individual. Communities, tribes, and other group-formation of humans are established through these negotiations. These formations are modes of relationship, which are necessarily established through negotiations in power. Developments, of course, in relationships, especially in relationships within modes of production, do not come smoothly. Marx noted that commodities stand in for our social relationships, most especially, with money as its crystalized form — as the universal commodity. The more that the workers produce, of course, the more that power takes on different forms, since commodities that the workers produce also produces differences in the way social relationships take form.

Of course, looking at it in a general sense, under capitalism, we only have one form of relationship, and that is consumer relationship, a relationship between and as commodities. Contemporary political realities diffuse these relationships more. Neoliberal modes of work force a worker to forget any form of negotiation and contract to make one believe that what he’s doing is his own, as commodities these modes of work shift from analog to digital. It is harder now to think of a kind of disconnect among things and commodity-relationships, but, we need to always remember this simple fact: that politics only happened through these relationships. That what made our every move — or even non-motions — political, especially under bureaucrat capitalism, is because our daily conflict with capital, which involves not just our labor, but the labor of multiple working classes — lives among us through the commodities we produce but never really take enjoyment from.

Chris Fujiwara on Film Criticism and Programming

plus some commentary


chris fujiwara

Chris Fujiwara and his presentation

Yesterday, March 21, 2018, I was able to catch up with Chris Fujiwara’s lecture (albeit, very late on his lecture) on Film Criticism and Programming at the University of the Philippines’ Film Center. The lecture was part of the on-going Working Title workshops organized by Japan Foundation in Manila for young film programmers from East and Southeast Asia.

Fujiwara was talking about the task of the critic as an analyst, which for him, was never really about “producing knowledge” but of imparting pleasure and presenting assessment of the work. I wasn’t able to catch how he built up leading to this, but his summary provided a good entry point to his whole thought on the matter.

If a critic does not produce knowledge, what does he produce? Fujiwara notes of these three things: pleasure, distance, and community.

From what I get from his discussion, a critic and programmer produce pleasure by providing different ways of looking at things. A film may mean one thing, but by writing what the critic thinks of the film, the critic, one way or another, provides different avenues to which the film can be differently appreciated. For the programmer, is this organization of a film or number of films to a kind of framing – a framing which can be thematic, operational, etc.

These for Fujiwara, again, do not amount to a kind of production of knowledge. Fujiwara added how “pleasure” can also be derived from encounters with the uncomfortable (which, may be the case of programmers curating experimental or unconventional works) and pain (in the case of the film critic, can be the displeasures one can encounter from watching certain films, which can be turned into an avenue to its appreciation.) Fujiwara evokes what Lacan, and those who come after him, noted of the jouissance as the enjoyment which comes from non-pleasurable encounters, such as pain. Validating, of course, the perverse nature of Cinema, as per Zizek.

The most important thing, I think, that Fujiwara has noted is that the critic and the programmer necessarily produce distance. Over at the quick Q&A, he further expounded his point on how global capitalism and neoliberalism necessitate blurring of lines between cinematic realities and reality-as-such. This blurring of lines, for Fujiwara, results to a non-coherent understanding of cinematic plasticity and mediation. He refers to this process as the “disintermediation” of cinema. The critic, for him, should necessarily bring this mediated reality forward. This brings his discussion back to the task of the critic as an analyst, which, to my understanding, necessarily highlights the effectivity/non-effectivity of the mediation – film criticism as an analysis of cinematic quality, first and foremost. This is mostly a good response to the kind of contemporary audience which needs a constant reminder that they are watching a movie.

The first two points build up to Fujiwara’s last point. But how does one produce a community, really? At first look, for criticism and programming to produce a community seem to be a grand (delusional) vision of its tasks. But then again, conscious efforts for film curating most especially, seem to go to that direction of a community being “produced.” But is this community single-handedly produced by the programmer and the critic? Fujiwara never pointed such a thing. However, his discussion leads to how desires and pleasures derived from multitudes looking at a single movie can possibly give this sense of community.

What Fujiwara left out from his discussion is a synthesis of these three items the critic and programmer produce. Fujiwara does not seem keen to suggest anything outside of these three, although these may seem to suggest an organizational function for the critic and the programmer. It can easily be thought for the film programmer, but for the film critic? I guess, for the film critic, this synthesis – the film critic as an organizer – can be derived from his 2nd suggestion that the film critic produces distance.

I’m going for a stretch here to extract a different reading of “production of distance” as the organization of space. This space includes highlighting what’s between cinema and reality. But answering to Fujiwara’s concern over blurring of realities in the neoliberal, global capitalist realm, this also necessitates a qualification of cinema to its own current historical realities. The task of the critic and the programmer to lead social organization need to address the conditions which produce cinematic realities and how they become ubiquitous – referring to Fujiwara’s concern over the blurring between the cinematic and reality – in the same way that digitization of things is becoming ubiquitous.

Producing a community, as the aspiration Fujiwara leads his discussion of the tasks of the critic and the programmer, necessitates the organization of desire. If any, the spatial organization provided by the production of distance should also lead to the differentiation and synthesis of the desire with those of the organizer. This, I’m guessing, was already addressed by the first thing that the critic and the programmer produce: pleasure.

As it stands, this discussion probably made things even grander than it’s supposed to be, but I guess, this is one way where an act organization needs to go. Flatness, as already defined by Fredric Jameson, is already one of the qualities necessitated by global capitalism to sustain itself. And imagining a community to be organized against flatness, to the point of seeming delusions of grandeurs, might be just what we need. But being self-conscious about its ramifications, or even just about its own qualities, do not place organization in being delusional. If anything, this, I think, is the only task that one must do.