The Aesthetics of Confinement

The title is misleading, or perhaps tautological. Essentially, aesthetics has always been dependent on a certain sense of confinement. Sensual experiences depend more on the space that surrounds us, not the ones we occupy. What we see in front of us, what our ears capture, what can be smelled from meters away, etc. Cinema, if we believe that it is art, is not exempted and has always been judged first and foremost, sensually. For a group of cinema industry elites to call their latest project as “unconfined” not only exposes their cluelessness on the practices and products of the craft that they are doing, but also their disregard for the developments and history of the platform that they are attempting to occupy. Weirdly enough, it’s kind of expected. Elites do what elites do: be elitist.

This so-called “unconfined cinema” is probably more familiar to a lot of people now who have internet access. It started out as a video live feed of a conversation between actors John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. It has been documented all too well by different websites related to the artists’ talent agency. [See here, here, and here.] For the most part, it seems like it is a kind of promo or something. It is obvious that they are performing. There’s a sense of suspicion whenever something “viral” comes from people within the industry, even during this quarantine period. And a lot of these suspicions are probably right.

Earlier tonight, Star Cinema film director Antoinette Jadaone revealed via facebook post that what conspired between the actors Cruz and Alonzo is, indeed, a performance. The performance was assembled by very familiar industry people: Jadaone, publicist Philbert Dy, musician/producer Erwin Romulo, and director/cinematographer Dan Villegas.  But Rappler was wrong to think that the live feed was not a promo. It is the “pilot”, so to say, of this very project. A fucking promo followed by a promo by its creators.

Well, advertising work differently within the internet, or to use an older term, “cyberspace,” since we’re talking about spaces. Despite the liberal-speak of early cyberspace as manifested by the California Ideology and JP Barlow, neoliberalism has subsumed all of these and made it its own symptom. Early cyberspace commentator, Carmen Hermosillo, has already noted of this subsumption of the cyberspace and cyberculture’s posture of “independence” in the logic of imperialist globalization. Writing as humdog, Hermosillo noted the following in the oft-cited personal essay, Pandora’s Vox

i have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified myself. commodification means that you turn something into a product which has a money-value. […] i created my interior thoughts as a means of production for the corporation that owned the board i was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment. that means that i sold my soul like a tennis shoe and i derived no profit from the sale of my soul. 

She added further:

proponents of so-called cyber-communities rarely emphasize the economic, business-mind nature of the community: many cyber-communities are businesses that rely upon the commodification of human interaction. they market their businesses by appeal to hysterical identification and fetishism no more or less than the corporations that brought us the two hundred dollar athletic shoe.

Jadaone’s post invites a kind of formation of a “community” among filmmakers and artists to join them on that endeavor on developing “our” (read: their) cinema towards a post-Covid19 situation. But this attempt to actualize this community can only be a kind of reterritorialization of the cinema they represent within a distribution platform which user-base has already developed further a kind of language and convention very far from where Jadaone and Company come from. They do not seem conditioned to leave the cinema that they know. The fact that they brought in the formula from their cinematic work into social media platforms only reflects their inability to really explore the medium and to insist their cinema into this not-so-new platform. This is to advertise their brand and nothing else. 

This attempt for an “unconfined cinema” is really just another confinement. This leaves the “unconfined cinema” as nothing more than a hysterical identification: to fetishize an online content into their “cinema.” This might be just the first attempt, but it is never really premature to assess. It’s a colonization of sorts: they announce their arrival, claim the lands for theirs, reconfigure the terrain regardless of its history, the practices of its “indigents”, and its life. While the cyberspace is indeed, a very vast space with a lot of opening for “fringes” or rather multiplicity, none of these acts of the so-called “unconfined cinema” aim to reach that point as they are acting up as though they are “exploring” for things to do the first time as if nothing has ever been done in the space they are trying to colonize.

What they are doing is what exactly they’ve been doing in their cinema only they are scaling it down. It is a continuation of their productions which are halted by the quarantine. A confinement of the seemingly novel sensual experience of social media into the backwardness of their Philippine Cinema.

They aim for popular appeal using movie stars. They knowingly use romance — that feudal and macho infested genre — as a populist trope to gain more relevance, as stated on Jadaone’s post: “Love stories have always had their place in Filipino cinema, and we wanted to bring the feelings that those movies inspire to a platform that has become more relevant and utilised in this time of quarantine.” What everything here reeks of the industrial model of Philippine cinema.  It’s never really a step forward, both for the platform and the cinema that they represent, but a relapse into the hell that is their Philippine Cinema for their fear of irrelevance. 

It’s quite witty (lol, I remember Jadaone’s brand which capitalizes on being “witty). But never call it experimental or new, because it isn’t. Will it “open eyes”? It doesn’t seem the aim. Nor they are not really trying on the first one. Nor the people involved never really tried ever since will they now? If anything, they sure seem to me a bored bunch. 

It is what is left off Philippine narrative filmmaking hanging on to their feudal and colonial lords who’s been dictating its aesthetic and political directions. It’s not surprising that they’d jump into the cheapest platform possible, it is after all, what feudal lords and the elites do to capitalize. It’s a fucking clickbait. But at least, clickbaits are more honest.

 

Words (for Edel Garcellano)

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(photo by Karl Castro, taken from his post at the Edel Garcellano Study Group Facebook Page)

Yesterday flowed in a rather strange way. Very early after midnight, my faculty colleague, the scholar Led Villafuerte, who’s formerly an aide for poet and critic Edel Garcellano back when he was still teaching at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, informed us of Garcellano’s death. I’m not sure what I felt after that. After all, it was mentioned to us hypertextually. It lacked that necessary emotional pause of physical confrontation. 

Just a while ago, another friend, scholar Ruben Garcia, shared the Esquire write up on poet Virgilio Almario’s activity of writing a poem a day until the Community Quarantine Ends. Today, Rodrigo Duterte, through Harry Roque, announced the extension of the Quarantine in “high-risk areas.” It looks like Almario will not stop anytime soon.

For those who have read Garcellano as a critic, no one got past another text without reading his essay “Reportage on the State of Class War and Philippine Literature.” It is in this essay, appearing as the first entry in his first essay anthology, First Person, Plural (1987), that Garcellano clearly situated, in an almost tactical way, Philippine Literature as a domain of superstructural contention in the midst of an on-going Class War. Contextually, this has also been the reason why I thought that the day was weird: the essay ended with a metacritique on Almario’s critique of revolutionary theory being applied to literature and criticism.

Commenting on both the pessimism and snarky remarks of Garcellano from personal experience, scholar Jayson Jimenez noted of Garcellano being a “killer of villainous gods.” Was he, really?

If anyone is to read his three essay anthologies (First Person, Plural (1987), Intertext (1990), Interventions (1998)) along with his poetry from the 1990s up to 2016, one can notice Garcellano’s further decline into pessimism which he clearly articulated in the determinism of base and superstructural relations:

from

“If Marcos, Enrile, Ver, Benedicto, Cojuangco did not exist, the corporate state would have just the same way invented Marcos, Enrile, Ver, Benedicto, Cojuangco.”  (“A Conjectural Letter for the Children of the Third Generation”)

To

“Malaki na ang mga bata. Silang nalahian na rin ng takot ng matatanda ay bagkus ngayong tumatahak sa daang kanyang iniiwasan. Marahil sa kanilang panahon ito ngayon ang nararapat gawin. Marahil anuman ang mangyayari, inisip nilang baka pagsisihan sa dakong huli ang di pagsunod sa kutob at lohika ng nararapat sa mundo.

Ganun nga siguro. Ang kinabukasan ay nililigiran ng mga bangkay ng mga berdugo ng kapitalismo at mangingibig ng hustisya at karapatan.”

(The children have now grown up. They who shared the fears of the old now walk the road they are avoiding. Maybe it is what should be done in their time. Whatever might happen, they will think that they might, in the end, regret if they did not follow their hunches and logic that befits the world.

Maybe, that’s the way it is. The future is filled with corpses of butchers of capitalism and lovers of justice and rights.)

(Bali-Balita)

I can never express any personal anecdote about Garcellano, but looking at Almario being alive and well and still writing poetry whom he forces people to read by the virtue of the power vested to him by Rodrigo Duterte, I understand why Garcellano would turn pessimist.

Garcellano understood it: if not Almario, someone like him will be produced by the semifeudal superstructure surrounding literary production and all kinds of artistic production in the Philippines. This pessimism comes from an acknowledgment that one man can never kill God. 

“How can you not be suckered into thinking

that you must act beyond the finite of words?

Who would benefit from your choice?”

Garcellano asked in one of his last poems posted on his blog. In the same entry, he called poetry a “savage God.” In the same entry, which was a lecture, he tried for young people to steer away from poetry, as it is a “savage calling.” In another poem, one of his more famous ones, he referred to poetry as a minor matter.

But as a thinker of dialectical logic, this pessimism comes with it a positive suggestion. If one can never kill a God, can the many do it?

His notion of literature being a politically partisan endeavor bears with it the kind of suggestion that whatever it is that literature has become did not come from a singular genius, but rather on a structure which produces and reproduces such forms and “geniuses.” That the way to actually become “alternative” in that mode of production is not to seek other forms or sources of content, but rather to commit to a position in the ongoing contention of the superstructure. One thing that Garcellano never mentioned directly in his writings is his equation of conscious and committed resistance as the only act of freedom and reason. That anyone who thinks they are doing their work of art or literature as individual freedom, bearing universalizing content, are oftentimes do not act within their very freedom and reason, in fact, they even deny artmaking as a logical work. 

In the field of struggle, those who are within the state power, like Almario, do not act within realms of freedom and reason but rather through privilege and class impunity. In fact, they will never, ever, give in to reason. Garcellano, in an essay entitled “Of Theorizing Anti-Theorists, Nativists and Literary Shitheads”: “The power cliques that infest the state apparati still hold court— as they do now, here— and no amount of lucidity, much less dialectical finesse, would make them see the errors of their privileged ways. The system that has generously supported this southern trip is the very same system that will not allow its own subversion…” It is within the contradictory contexts between partisanship, privilege, and freedom that such pessimism expressed by Garcellano in participating in literary production comes from. Most especially that the contemporary rhetoric of weaponization of art and literature has been subsumed by the ruling class in their intensified wage of class war from above.

But this subsumption is, indeed, a dialectical moment. And it is within what theorist Jonathan Beller noted of Garcellano’s “pessimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will” that a true resolution for the contradictions within literature (between base and superstructure, production and consumption of literature, writing and critique) can appear. Dialectical logic assures that this subsumption, which seemingly brought with it academically institutionalized progressive discourse that spread like a doomsday religion, may have relegitimized canonized thought in literature, but it can surely become a way for the twilight of the gods.

The popular anecdote in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, of a Madman who proclaimed the death of God, add to it how, in his own reasoning, upon looking at his audience who are silent and surprised at his proclamation, he said: “I come too early.” It is within this anecdote that I always see how the task of murdering God is still at hand. Nietzsche’s madman, as Garcellano too, understood: it is “we” that killed God. And if God is not dead yet, it will also take a “we” to do so. The defiance against absolutism, to reach the point of the actual absolute through looking at contradictions, is the task among progressives that Garcellano understood too well, and has repeated several times, that it made Garcellano, according to him, “a lot of enemies/people who could have been friends.”

If there is one lesson one can capture from Garcellano’s criticisms and poetry written after the 90s (and even from anecdotes of his former students) is that in the time of imperialist globalization, new age entrepreneurial thinking, prosperity churches, identity politics white-knighting, mental health advocacy for inner idealist peace, and progressives unproblematically rubbing elbows and sharing offices with state bureaucrats who purport murder against the people, antagonism as an act and an attitude is not just essential, it is the only true expression of struggle. To antagonize God and the absolutized self (contained in bourgeois literary “self-expression”) is the only expression of freedom.

Rest in Power, Ka Edel.

 

Non-Blind Items for a Safe Quarantine

Repeating some old ideas which still make sense, even today. Below are unorganized notes of thoughts I’ve been trying to organize for days now. It still came up unorganized and I apologize for it.

  1. Honorary fathers are often times weird. Especially, Godfathers.

    Bourgeois history is often concerned with founders, or, Godfathers. Whether or not the Godfather has anything to do with writing that sort of history or not. And with this, replicates the dominance of the singular being responsible for building something that is worthy of being written as historical. Within this historiography established around the figure of a godfather, practices and relationships are established, reestablished, produced, reproduced, and replicated surrounding what the Godfather supposedly has built. It is no surprise that fathers, or godfathers, are often the source of psychological trauma among children: psychoanalysis has long established that presence (where abuse is possible) or absence (where lack is highlighted) causes one’s own trauma. Lacan would extend this on trying to understand the sources of knowledge through codes established around a system, which we can call as language. And hence, the accusation that language (or even “language” as we refer to conventions) and the knowledge we gain which is established from it, intrinsically fall within patriarchy and its looping trauma. In the sense of Godfathers “building” something is the trauma of shame if one does not follow as the Godfather’s example.

  2. I want to tug the concept of “independence” from an old debate about “independent cinema.” The other day, I stumbled upon this post about this debate from Oggs Cruz’ old blog. Bottomline of the debate is that “independence” in independent cinema resides within artistic creation. The blog will link you to an older post by Raya Martin which reaches the same point of independence of form. While the idea is noble, it can be assessed now that the discursive liberalism of the mid-2000s indie commentators seem to fall within the same kind of entrepreneurial naivete that prosperity churches give off their followers which is why it often makes sense to me that Lav Diaz calls it Digital Cinema as Liberation Theology.

    Weirdly enough surrounding this debate on what is indie, there seems to be quite a quiet approval about its non-antagonism and coexistence with the thing it supposedly is trying to be independent of. Looking at the sides existing in the debate, the conscious choice to remain “in the fringes” plays very well for the existence of the center. Like neoliberal economic policies, their notion of “independence” is not ambitious enough to break free from debt: it is precisely their existence that bloats the debt to the center.

  3. I think we can establish now that the real historical “Father” or “Godfather” of the independent cinema is the mainstream center and not some weirdo from Bagiuo.

  4. Talks about educating the audience about “independent” or “alternative” cinema have been going around circles of “alternative” filmmakers and connoisseurs, bearing with them an automatic cynicism of non-ambition to become dominant someday. After all, they need a mainstream to differentiate themselves with.

  5. More often than not, attempts to novelty are exacerbated by identity politics when what is being considered as new is old stuff done by people with fringe identification.

  6. The independent cinema circle of the 2000s has reached a point of collaborating with the center in a very ideal set up: that they are distinguished in style. Despite some people’s disagreement, I think they are living Liza Dino-Seguerra’s and Teddy Co’s wet dream of “one cinema” now. It’s the other end of the string that needs to be addressed now: the consumers.

  7. In pre-pandemic times, watching films at home does not count as watching and is shameful to your cinephilia. It does disrespect to the Name of the Father. Even more so, most of the home-watching activities are considered illegal, because you have not paid for it. Even if you have subscription-based streaming that YOU PAID FOR are not really looked at as a very noble kind of film watching.

    The pandemic and the quarantine period that went with it has finally rendered home-watching some legitimacy, but Father needs to approve of what you’re watching first.

    Then again, what are you watching, really?

  8. To go back to the “independent” cinema and their cynicism. I read of a filmmaker who acts all rebellious on takes but sings praises to the murderers at the Armed Forces due to some sort of charity work.

    Well, this is not new. (the following is a synthesized insight with my friends’ which I won’t name just yet). The “alternative“ or independent cinema in this country has always had this non-radical-radicalism on them (or simply put, “trendy” reaction, or, say, “woke” reaction). I only got conscious of it now that I’m older but I first witnessed this on a lot of “trendy” people from my youth a lot of whom are associated with Philippine indie. Raymond Red has long been openly reactionary and is really anti-protest. I think Jerrold Tarog’s Randian Fascism has always been out in the open. In my youth, there’s a parallel between Ramon Bautista or Lourd De Veyra’s anti-activist monologs and the piling bodies of activist dead and missing under Oplan Bayanihan, while Pangilinan’s Ako Mismo campaign rolled with Bautista himself insulting activists in the ad like a contemporary Duterte Supporter. There’s one short film back in 2010 which is literally titled “we don’t care for democracy”, I’ve yet to rewatch the film, I’m not sure if it’s ironic or not. We’ve now reached a point that activists have willingly become background decorations for a romcom.

    This reflects a lot in their films. Where those who boast “new forms” oftentimes bear with them old ideas. It can be observed in the sense of frictionlessness of a lot of films produced in the “alternative” movement. If you had a chance to see a lot of Mowelfund works, say of Raymond Red, Roxlee, or Eli Guieb for example, a lot of them do not seem to problematize the image much to the point of not generating any lasting affect other than a moment of discomfort. For supposed pioneers, a lot their works do not really generate anything new with regards to signification.
    If you mix this formal aesthetic bore with the anti-radicalism, you’d get the current indie cinema.

  9. Duterte is a really really easy target for them. First of all, he’s ugly and has an “indecent” mouth. His murderous policies are already a given, but you can never see from them a reaction beyond conservative moralism: none of their woke productions has ever problematized the economic and cultural policies they are so much benefiting from and how those support the Presidential murders.

    Now that all the mishandling of this administration is exposed, at the height of the rage weeks ago, the same bootlicker filmmaker questioned the call for ouster, asking for “reason” and “practicality.” And that woke filmmaker told people to “wait a little longer.” Uhm, really?

  10. Cinema after this lockdown will never develop further despite the ecological and microbiological changes surrounding us without a change in economics. The dialectics of charity in Lockdown cinema ensured this: that you’ll never forget the Father. 

Theses on Terrorist Cinema

  1. The greatest invention of the 21st century is not the iPhone, but the terrorist.
  2. Of course, the “terrorist” as a concept has been around for a long time. But it is only recently that terrorism has been translated materially (as an ideological apparatus).
  3. Terrorism is a discourse of the state. Terrorism as an ideology necessarily comes from the state. Terrorism, in post-9/11 times, is the ideology of the state. 
  4. The iPhone intensified terrorism.
  5. Cinema, in the early years of the 21st century, became the main text of which terrorism was defined.
  6. Cinema determines terrorists, the state validates it.
  7. Terrorist cinema started with Steven Spielberg and ends with Kathryn Bigelow. The rest after Bigelow are terrorist post-cinema.
  8. What is seen on TV can be considered as terrorist post-cinema (e.g. Ang Probinsyano, Homeland, Blindspot, your favorite noon-time variety show).
  9. Terrorist cinema and post-cinema’s greatest legacy is the intensification of the reduction of every legitimate struggle and uprising into an “act of civil disobedience” if not, “of terrorism.” This brings the condition where it has become possible that every member of every legitimate organization forwarding progressive agendas to be considered as “terrorists.”
  10. Of course, this has been going on for a long time, even going back to Pre-Cold war times. Which highlights the backwardness and reactionary quality of the Terrorist ideology. 
  11. The government, its military, business partners, i.e. the state of the ruling class (i.e. THE state), being firm believers and theorists of Terrorist ideology can be collectively called as Terrorists in a sense that they believe and theorize the formation and existence of the terrorist as a common enemy of the order. Their apparatuses, whether repressive (military, paramilitary, law enforcement) or ideological (media, educational institutions, other social institutions), can also be included in this collective terminology. (here we will start to distinguish the Terrorist in upper-case T as the believers of ideology against the terrorist with lower-case t as the imagined enemy of the order.)
  12. The ideology of Terrorism does not reside on anything new or progressive. If anything, the theories of terrorism roots from the bourgeois-humanist point of view. War on Terror is the greatest wage for the bourgeois-humanist notion of good. War on terror is waged in the name of the “better good,” better translated as private property.
  13. The terrorist is framed. As in the cinematic framing. Conditions are being set to prepare the audience when the terrorist enters the frame. But before the terrorist enters the frame, the Terrorists define him/her.
  14. The effect of the determination of the terrorist is also metafilmic. The audience of terrorist cinema can now identify the terrorist even outside the movie theater or even when he/she is away from his/her TV set. 
  15. The audience is always invited by the state to participate and become one with them as Terrorists.

Film and Ideology

This note is something I used for my culminating lecture on an Introduction to Film subject I handled last semester. I apologize for the lack of citation, but I have noted from who does the ideas I mentioned came from.


The semester started by looking into the Feature-Length Film as our object of study, with the understanding that film is, by function, a medium that works in producing illusions. Specifically, we looked into how the mainstream film industry, modeled from Hollywood’s framework despite having relative variations, develops its products and practices throughout the years of its existence. 

We have established the following, at least in the context of the Philippines:

    • That the Classical Hollywood Narrative, along with its conventions and styles, is the dominant film language in the Philippines, with years of backwardness in its developments. 
    • The Classical Hollywood Narrative imported the practice of involving genre into its framework. Set of conventions which makes it easy for the audience to determine the narrative that they are viewing.
    • With regards to style, since the Philippine Films has adapted the Classical Hollywood Narrative, it imported also its concern over realism. Realism brings forth emphasis with coherence both in mise en scene and seamless editing. 
    • Realism is a vital part of Classical Hollywood Narrative. Realism lessens the tension between the audience and the film product. Adherence to realism erases traces of syntheticity and of being constructed. Realism is often presented in two ways: mise-en-scene and dialogue. 
    • In the country, we have also adapted the studio system of production – a manifestation of the industrial nature of filmmaking – wherein a film is not just singularly authored but is produced in an assembly-line like way, that it goes from various aspects of production (Creatives, Talents, Logistics, and Finance) to distribution (film studios, distribution companies, platforms, brokers, etc) and exhibition (commercial cinemas, specialized theaters, streaming platforms, etc.).
    • The Philippine film industry has also imported the practice of Star System, which assumes that a film’s success is largely due to the following of the actors that played in it. An actor which makes a film that becomes either box office or critical hit may be considered a star. The star system is a mode of valorization wherein the film’s value is determined by either who appears on the screen, and such, the production is planned with the actor at the center. The same kind of valorization seems to apply too with film directors, but it is seldom that audience identification happens with film directors, which makes it hard to determine whether film directors actually contribute to the “star factor” of a film. 

Such is common practice with industrial, and even small-scale independent filmmaking that it almost “disappears” in the film product. Our craving for narrative and seamless storytelling, realistic dialogue and performances, the fulfillment of spectacular expectations from specific genres, now appears to be natural. But cravings, like desire, are learned. Nothing is natural about these desires of ours for a Hollywood-style narrative in cinema. We became receptive to films which are similar to dominant practices because precisely we are thought to view cinema in this way. To look for films these things, and not the other. This development of our desire for a Hollywood-like cinema came from decades of our practice in watching films. And from these practices, ideological mechanisms are produced, developed and reproduced. 

The production of desire is a practice that happens within the realm of ideology. Cinema is just one of its mechanism to reproduce desire, as what Slavoj Zizek said: cinema teaches you how to desire. Hinting that the role of ideology in Film in the formation of our desire is more in the way it operations than its content. 

To expound further on ideology, I want us to look into the work of Louis Althusser, a philosopher whose lifework has been to describe and make sense of ideology, a formerly phantastic notion, within the realm of material reality. Althusser forwarded two theses on Ideology:

    • Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
    • Ideology has a material existence.

The first thesis can be our working definition of ideology moving forward. 

The first thesis implies a sensuousness in the definition: we can refer to the word “imaginary” in the way psychoanalysis uses it. That is, in the realm of images. Using this definition, ideology is then an apparent relationship. What faces you even before “real conditions of existence.” However, due to ideology’s dependency on “disappearance” for it to work successfully, we have always accessed ideology through what Jacques Lacan, coming from Karl Marx, as a symptom. 

Slavoj Zizek defined symptom as “a particular element which subverts its own universal foundation, a species subverting its own genus.” In line with what Greame Turner has identified in his definition of ideology: “Ideology works to obscure the process of history so that it appears natural, a process we cannot control and which it seems churlish to question.”

In our last discussion on stars, we refer to mythologies in the terms of Claude Levi-Strauss as “were used to deal with the contradictions in experience, to explain the apparently inexplicable, and to justify the inevitable.” Myths work to make us believe that there is something within our world which is “natural” and therefore something which cannot change. This does not refer to any point of organic origins, but natural in a metaphysical way. Myth, as part of the discourses, is just one way in which ideology works. Zizek refers to Myths as “ideological Universals”: notions that include specific cases that break its own unity. Most of what we determine as “common knowledge”, “common sense” at present can be said as ideological. However, what we refer to as “common knowledge” is only common in so far as the conditions for the said, “knowledge” (including its learning) is met.  It is in a similar manner that cinema works exactly like ideology: what film techniques in classical Hollywood narrative do is to make it seem that “techniques” are not there. We can say that a good film is that film which erases cinema and leaves out the narrative for you to remember. 

The proof of the existence of an ideology, its symptom, can be found in these instances of the utterance of “nature” or “common sense”. Our social practices bear with its ideological content: going to churches, attending school, finding our means of entertainment. Contrary to what is commonly thought in relation to ideology, it is not all ingrained deep. Most ideological manifestations are often on the nose. 

Althusser identified what he calls as Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA), in contrast with Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA), as means where we can validate the existence of ideology. Belonging to this ISAs are cultural ISAs such as cultural institutions, artists, etc; educational ISAs; religious ISAs to name a few. ISAs reproduces dominant ideologies through the products of its specific institutions. Cinema, belonging to the complex of cultural and business ISAs, more often than not reproduces the dominant ideologies. However, looking at ISAs dialectically, it is also seen that these are also sites wherein resistance to dominating systems is expressed either in a manner that is fully militant or in a negotiated manner. 

It can be observed with the deployment of film techniques. A study by Robert Stam and Louise Spence provides an introduction in the way Colonialism and Racism are deployed through film techniques in classical Hollywood films. They emphasized, however, that the colonialist images in cinema did not begin on Film but rather “it is rooted in a vast colonial intertext, a widely disseminated set of discursive practices.” (Stam & Spence, Colonialism, Racism and Representation). Some examples they made is with casting: the presence or absence of African Americans in films which context should have their presence or absence. 

In the Philippines, colonial imagery can be seen in the way we recognize who should be on screens. Despite the overpowering presence of Malayan or Indonesian qualities in our populace, most Filipino films in the early days are populated with images of Mestizas and Mestizos. Such practices persist up to this day.

What Althusser refers to as “real conditions of existence” is derived from the dialectics between the Economic Base (the dominating mode of production) and the superstructure (the set of culture and politics). The mode of production, in the dialectical materialist understanding, is a social relation. It determines the place of each individual in accordance with the way society organizes them within itself. In Althusser’s historical understanding, the mode of production in 20th century Europe is dominantly capitalist. We can, therefore, say that most of the films produced in Europe over the last century bear with it either practices or belief relevant to the maintenance of the dominating order, or expressions of resistance against it. 

To situate the Philippines’ economic base, it is important to look into its history to determine at what point has it developed in the present. Our developments from the Feudal mode of production from the Colonial Times to the Imperialist plunder during the 20th century to the present provides the Philippines with a very specific development in its conditions of existence. While we adopt the capitalist system in the city centers, the vast majority of the islands are still working under feudal ownership whose compradors are also complicit with imperialist interests. Amado Guerrero from the 1960s has rightfully identified the development in the mode of production in the middle of the 20th century as semifeudal and semicolonial. Since the country is running in the same objective condition economically, it has also affected the superstructure of our country greatly. 

As a direct correspondence with the semifeudal and semicolonial realities, Philippine Cinema has been founded also in the same vein of conditions. Early film studios are founded by Land-owning people, and as such, running like feudal lands. Issues of delayed and below living wages are of a great concern in the Film Industry in the 60s which led to a massive Filipino Film Workers’ Strike. The strike came alongside the Philippines’ development towards more radical movements such as the Diliman Commune and the First Quarter Storm. These developments in the history of the city center bookended what was considered as the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.

If we are to reconsider the films being made by those in the foundation of Philippine Cinema in the light of its ideological function, nothing can be clearer in its semifeudal and semicolonial character than LVN’s first film, Giliw Ko (1939), where we see an obvious preference of the then-new elite with the American way of life over the Spanish legacy, but are both depicted in a light and positive way as if the colonization did not take place. 

In a more recent example, we can see more imperialist pandering in films such as Heneral Luna (2015). If we are to see it in its entirety, the film was never about a nation but its doubt of it. Heneral Luna panders over its brand of humanism (which is just postmodern cynicism coated in words like “humans” and “nature”, hence, a directly ideological stance). But as if it’s not enough to transmit the film’s cynicism and defeatism by just depicting the humanistic errs of each character and pointing the fingers back to ourselves, the film sought validation of its views from Luna’s enemies: America. The merry drunk Caucasians on the pseudo-interview scenes, in the end, are depicted as though they are the only professionals of war between the Filipinos and Americans, thus, it was never complete without sharing five cents from them. After all, the Filipinos are depicted as traitors in this film, therefore, not one word is to be trusted.

In these kinds of dialogue between film and ideology that we try to make sense of a social ideological development we call nationalism. A nation is quite vague, but its existence is within establishing a community formed on a basis of a certain commonality (either a common language, history, ethnicity, etc).  At one point, establishing a nation helped emancipate the oppressed and the colonized towards their own liberation against their oppressors. The concept of a nation helped imagine a scope outside the bounds of one’s limited world. It is in such imagination that Benedict Anderson referred to this idea of a nation as an Imagined Community. 

In film, such imagination also takes place. Some of us call these stereotypes if the imaginations seem to us quite absurd or just hasty. Stereotypes in film help the narrative unfold easier by establishing lesser effort for characterization by not considering the supposed complexity of human identity. In the practice of cinema, stereotypes have been domains of symbolic domination of the powerful over a specific community’s discourse. In our case, as in Heneral Luna or Giliw Ko, it is their discourse, funded by landed millionaires, imagining us – all of us – in a frame which is still contended, but is claimed to be real. 

The dialogue between film and ideology brings us back to the generic function of Cinema’s social practice to produce illusions as a point of synthesis. While we aspire to access what is real, we also get to acknowledge that reality is more often than not, constructed by various agents, and thus, not a homologous space. Ideology is also contended: in the multitude of contradicting thoughts, which one should dominate? And it is within this field of contention that the acknowledgment of cinema as illusion is important: it isn’t a matter of recognizing whether what we see is real or not, but whether or not should we enjoy the illusions that are presented to us, or should we create our own. 

On Edel Garcellano (1): Philippine Literature and Class War

This is not a lecture note but is a part of a shelved project, a monograph on Edel Garcellano’s criticism which I can’t continue at the moment. I’ll share what I have at hand in the meantime.


Edel Garcellano’s practice of literary criticism centers on locating literature as produced in the Philippines on the larger context of class struggle, or what he specifically calls class war. This follows a clearly articulated political line when it comes to writing: Garcellano invokes the use of Marxism in literary criticism not just an academic exercise but as an extension of the inevitable participation of the author and his words in this war. It is not within discourse, as much as Garcellano himself worried of, that the function of the word will be determined, but of who’s going to claim victory from this war. The class war isn’t invoked here as a merely discursive frame, but in the inverse, it is only through the class war that discourse is possible.

This critical frame follows a materialist approach to history. In this frame, literary production is looked at from the backdrop of what Amado Guerrero identified in his influential book, Philippine Society and Revolution, as the semifeudal and semicolonial society.[1] For Guerrero, this condition determines the relationship between the country’s economic base and superstructural relations. Or essentially, the relations of production. This status is determined by “U.S. imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism” the “three historical evils” which afflict the Philippine Society. Garcellano extends this analysis on his criticism of the function of the literary text under these conditions of imperialist, feudalist and bureaucratic domination as manifested by the institutions which enable the production of such texts. This thought came from a long history of understanding how institutions “enforce the code or ideology of the ruling class,”[2] from Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to Louis Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses. These institutions come in the form of workshops, publication networks, academic institutions, etc.

The institutions noted reproduces dominant social (exploitative) practices as much as it reproduces dominant ideology through the literary texts. Literary workshops, for example, reproduces its own “patriarchs” in the form of the workshop “elders.” A veteran writer, for example, also a resident workshop facilitator in a lot of writing soirees, is fond of being called by a word synonymous to “father,” reinforcing the feudal character of the society at large. Tilde Acuna remembered an instance when he was casually asked by someone during his attendance at the 2017 Philippine Writers Festival whether his “father” or “mother” is this or that professor.[3] These “godfathers” and “godmothers” gatekeep the dominant literary aesthetic through their “cult of mentorship.”[4]

Literary wards similarly look at the same gatekeeping. Garcellano looks at awards as “symbolic capital in the economy of exchange”[5] in the same manner as acceptance to literary workshops are a validation of capital as represented by its conveners. Awards and its winners enforces “a canon of what is possibly literature” by virtue of “particular school of writing and philosophizing[.]”[6] Further limiting any possibility of emergence of actually new forms is the gatekeeping under the canons of award-giving bodies what can only be considered and be accepted as literature.

Academic institutions further reproduce these conditions. Recent developments on the education of literature from primary to secondary school-levels solidify the institutionalization of literature by limiting what can be taught to what is identifiable only at the level of acknowledgment in National Artist circles. The Department of Education’s curriculum guideline on teaching the subject 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World specifically outlines as one of its goals to have the students learn of the “canonical authors and works of Philippine National Artists in Literature.”[7]

The thread of thought of which Garcellano’s critique of literary institutions flows functions also as an interrogation of the function of writing. The author, as produced by these institutions, also determines what the function of writing is. As already pointed out by Caroline Hau, the author in Garcellano’s critiques functions more as a “principle” which is “responsible for authorizing statements in and about literature.”[8] But this pronouncement of the role of the author does not really work towards his salvation for a possible revolutionary role, as Hau would state, Garcellano “uses the very concept of authorship to debunk the cult of authorial personality.”[9] This stance is reflective of Garcellano’s poststructuralist leanings throughout time but is grounded on the necessities specific to the character of the class struggle in the Philippines.

This practice of questioning the author also questions the function of the word.

As historically seen, writing works in parallel with functioning authority. As taught in primary education, archaeologists devoted a significant amount of time deciphering codes written in fossilized cuneiform and tablets. These codes are laws determining how the population of the earliest of the civilizations will be organized. Most popularly known of these is the Babylonian Law promulgated by the Sumerian King, Hammurabi who began his rule about 1750 BC.[10] The oldest yet discovered writing, is also a code, propagated by Ur-Nammu around 2050 BC.[11] The latest developments on the researches of the origins of writing further illuminate the historical use of writing for the official functions of authority. As one of the earliest written texts from Uruk provides a list of names of authorities and specialists, economic data, political and scholarly writings.[12]

The origins of the better known phonemic writing, the Alphabet, in itself has a similar function. The etymology itself of the term “alphabet” refers to the first two letters of the Greek writing system – the alpha and the beta – which indicates a sequence – a syntax, a rule. The Alphabet song concludes with the lines “Now I know my ABCs” which essentially refer to the basics of knowing by following a set of rules.

Garcellano’s structural critique of literature and literary institutions bears with it a theory of the function of the word: that writing is historically a functionary of authority. The source for the word author itself bears with him this history, the author as the originator, promulgator of laws, similar to the Lacanian name of the father in the oedipal relations of institutions.[13] Garcellano methodologically extended this analysis in three categorizations which he stated in his critique of Azucena Grajo Uranza’s Bamboo in the Wind. For Garcellano, the text must be read as: “1) a legitimate construction of ideological position, which realism dissimulates, or seemingly diffuses, 2) a possible extension and/or subversion of state ideological apparatus, which the establishment has already nullified, anyway, and 3) a perpetuation of universalizing discourse in Philippine hermeneutics.”[14] In this method, Garcellano follows an Althusserian approach to critical discourse analysis, that is, his method isn’t strictly that of the Foucauldian one, which underscores the exposure of structural construction of ideology through discourse, but rather one which brings critical discourse analysis back to a Marxist analysis of class structures.

Ideology, as understood here, isn’t simply a “belief-system” or as Engels’ false consciousness, but leaning towards the Althusserian understanding. For Althusser, ideology functions concretely at “the level of individual ‘subjects:’ that is, people as they exist in their concrete individuality, in their work, daily lives, acts, commitments, hesitations, doubts, and sense of what is most immediately self-evident.”[15] Ben Brewster clarified Althusser’s notion of ideology as “the ‘lived’ relation between men and the world,”[16] which is less of a metaphysical subject.

Mao Tse-tung has noted that “every form of ideology, has its own particular contradiction and particular essence.”[17] Garcellano’s criticism maps out the formations of totalizing and authoritative statements of writers, institutions, and literature as ideologically situated to the specific historical realities of the Philippines (as their particularity). Ideology is not here fleshed out in the writings as if hermeneutically embedded in poetry, but rather as practically manifested in their own words. As a critic, Garcellano underlines: “But where do we start but from the word?”[18]

But this, however, does not invite for a merely formalist mode of reading. As Garcellano continues, “the speaker of the word […] had to be resurrected,” to distance himself from Barthesian structuralism whose author has died (or was killed),[19] “because his pre-mature dissolution […] was, it turned out later, the contradiscourse of detractors who were terrified by the October revolution and those “mobs” that slew the Tzar.”[20] Garcellano here salvages formalism from its vulgarity and resolved it with structural analysis of the text – not with the linguistic structure, but the text as a product of literary labor and hence, being placed on the larger structure of mode of production, of base and superstructure relations. It must be acknowledged here that in Garcellano’s criticisms, the products of literary practice (the literary piece) and the practice of literary production (how one writes) are being scrutinized as one as they are being united by the text. And the text, the material, has its own origin in the author who “articulates from his own specific site/sight, his domain of power[.]”[21]

This site is the location of both the author and the text in the larger map of class structure. In his criticisms, Garcellano often ask, from where does the author/text speak? Garcellano treats literary criticism as “a rendering of reality mediated by a text that must be deconstructed and reconstructed to frame a truth in its own specificity and historic placement,” although, he warned that, “[y]es, every truth is a possible reading [or misreading]” which necessitates for the critic to also be read.[22] Surveying the field of class struggle, the author, critic, and the text are found not arbitrarily, but historically, serving the interest of their own class on their manner of reading/rereading and writing/rewriting.

Notes:

[1] Amado Guerrero, Philippine Society and Revolution (Manila: Aklat ng Bayan, 2006), ##.

[2] Edel Garcellano, “Marxism, Feminism and the Literary Text: “The Difference of View, The Difference of Standard”” from First Person, Plural, (Quezon City: Edel E. Garcellano, 1987), 138-139.

[3] The complete passage is in strike-through text. See Tilde Acuna and Arlo Mendoza, Terorismo ng Texto & Ang Manunulat sa Panahon ng Sentimentalismo (Quezon City: Tilde Acuna, Arlo Mendoza, 2017), 31.

[4] For a longer discussion of the gangster-esque practice in literary circles, see Rogelo Braga, “Philippine Literary ‘Mafia’,” Facebook, October 7, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/notes/rogelio-braga/philippine-literary-mafia/195693597523775/

[5] Edel Garcellano, “Hopefully, the Last Word,” from Interventions (Manila: Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press, 1998), 159.

[6] Edel Garcellano, “A Reductive Letter to Imaginary Warriors: Or, Minor Subversions for Our Times” from Interventions (Manila: Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press, 1998), 8.

[7] See K to 12 Basic Education Curriculum for 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World, 2013. 1. <https://www.deped.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SHS-Core_21st-Century-Literature-from-the-Philippines-and-the-World-CG.pdf&gt;

[8] Caroline Hau, “Introduction” from Edel Garcellano, Knife’s Edge: Selected Essays (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001), xvi.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 51.

[11] Ibid, 52.

[12] See Ira Spar, “The Origins of Writing,” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wrtg/hd_wrtg.htm&gt; (October 2004).

[13] “It is in the name of the father that we must recognize the basis of the symbolic function which, since the dawn of historical time, has identified his person with the figure of the law.” Jacques Lacan, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006). 230.

[14] Edel Garcellano, “Bamboo In The Wind and The Strategy of Containment,” from Interventions (Manila: Polytechnic University of the Philippines, 1998), 21.

[15] Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (London: Verso, 2006), 176.

[16] Ben Brewster, “Glossary” from Louis Althusser, For Marx (London: Verso, 2005), 265.

[17] Mao Tse-tung, “On Contradiction” from Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Vol. 1, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1965), 320.

[18] Edel Garcellano, “The Filipino as Critic in a Time of War” from Intertext (Manila: Kalikasan Press, 1990), 107.

[19] See Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author” from Image, Music, Text (London: Fontana Press, 1977) 42-48.

[20] Garcellano, “The Filipino as Critic in a Time of War,” 107

[21] Edel Garcellano, “Hermeneutics for our Time: From Where do We Speak?” from Intertext (Manila: Kalikasan Press, 1990), 46.

[22] Garcellano, “The Filipino as Critic in a Time of War,” 109.

On Postmodernism

These are the lecture notes I prepared back when I handled a Reading Visual Arts class early last year. The actual lecture happened on March 29, 2019. Since this is a lecture note, I did not attempt to add any “new” insights on the subject matter. This is a plain general review of ideas on the subject of Postmodernism sourced from the literature of Jean Francois Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Hal Foster, and Mark Fisher.


“…in acquiring more and more life, machines demand in return more abstract human vitality … Computers, expert systems and artificial intelligence add as much to thought as they subtract from thinking.”

Felix Guattari, Chaosophy

 

There’s a paradox when one attempts to talk about Postmodernism.

But before we talk about that paradox, let’s talk first about the tendencies when one talks about Postmodernism. 

There are basically 2 tendencies:

First, one would believe that there’s such a thing as postmodernism.

Second, one would believe that there isn’t. 

The second would settle to believe that postmodernism isn’t true, and therefore, we must not talk about it. 

The first had the responsibility, and also the sin, of committing the paradox that we are talking about. For one to talk about postmodernism is to define its meaning: to answer the question “what is postmodernism?”

So let us start with looking for a definition.

Jean Francois Lyotard is one of the first to map out the very definition of postmodernity, in his book The Postmodern Condition (1979), as one which defies any sort of definition. For Lyotard, postmodernity, in simplest terms is an “incrudility to metanarratives.” Metanarratives are what he also calls as grand narratives, to which we base our life and the basis of our own meanings, like the Father in Lacanian psychonanalysis as the basis of all trauma, and therefore, the fate of one person. Metanarratives are our basis for truth. For Lyotard, computer technologies and the development of artificial intelligence and machine translation show a shift in linguistic and symbolic production which has resulted in the plurality of language games. At the same time, what happened in the hard or exact sciences in the postmodern turn, was a replacement of the goal of truth with “performativity”. Science now merely functions according to need, not to explore unknown things, or to “produce knowledge”, so to say. But this doing has also shifted our notion of knowledge: the postmodern turn also shifts our idea of knowledge into the performative aspect. 

This notion of performativity explains the shift in visual art by the postmodern turn. Most of the ideas in postmodern art came from a very diffused poststructuralism, which first and foremost, calls to attention to the form. Form, we can say, in the postmodern sense, is “what the piece performs.” Understanding a postmodern art demands this kind of shift in thought: that art no longer has meaning: that art now performs. And to define what it performs is the role of aesthetics in postmodernity. The question to answer is not “what is the work saying?” but “what is the work doing?”

See, for example, this work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L5gIMHZ7_8

The work is performed by Joseph Beuys, entitled “How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.”

We will not try to explain “what the work means” here, but to make sense of what is the artist is doing. I think Joseph Beuys also noted the same approach to his art, that it isn’t meant to be “understood” in a cerebral or intellectual way, but more in an affective sense. Which, of course, is another paradox.

As a historical period, the signifier “post-“ referring to something which “came after”, we are noting no actual historical time mark to when postmodernism started, which is to say, there’s no definite time mark when modernism has ended. Some theorists, as the younger ones such as Hal Foster and Mark Fisher, would note that it started in the 80s or the 90s. Lyotard noted that it has started in the 1950s when the projects of European restoration from the war was finished. 

This historical marker is very important politically. As it is when the majority of the world’s economic capital is beginning to acknowledge the necessity to abandon great modernist projects, such as nationalist dominations which have led to totalitarian tendencies back in the war, with Fascism and Nazism. To also prevent another imperialist war, the then-established World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund asked United Nations member-states to abide by a globalist opening of each members’ market for each of the other members, the later-signed General Agreement on Tariff and Trade. The Philippines, recognized as a sovereign state, finally, after 1946, also joined this project.

After restoring what each of the nation-states’ thinks to restore, is the seeming development of each of their own country’s economies. What is playing within the globalist trade agreements, is, of course, the unfair playing field of the liberal free market. The free market can only handle much, the Philippines, of course, can’t compete to the United States and all the other former colonial states’ (which is still under imperialist states’) trade without the help of international debt to support his own trade. And to support the payment of this growing debt, the then-president Ferdinand Marcos adapted the new economic policy of UK in the 70s which economists called neoliberalism

Neoliberalism works in three ways: through further liberalization of markets, privatization, and deregulation

When we say, “liberalization of markets” this is in its literal sense, an opening of the market, to what? To other foreign competitors. The justification for this is the classic supply-demand theory. Let’s see the recently approved law, the Rice Tariffication Law. This law gives more taxes to foreign rice which is going to be imported, at the expense of accepting more rice imports. The rationale of this comes in two: first, to make “rice prices competitive” (i.e., making local farmers sell their rice at a lower price), second, the taxes that will come from this will be used for the development of rice industry. The general tendency of protective tariffs is that, since most exporting countries export surplus, they can lower the cost of their own produce, pay the taxes, and still get the expected profit. They will sell low. While local farmers need to compete with these by selling lower than expected.

Next is privatization. It is the conversion of government-owned companies and industries into the hands of private companies. Late in his term, Ferdinand Marcos was supported by World Bank with a massive loan of $300 Million for privatization campaigns. These campaigns were later pursued and completed by the Corazon Aquino administration with the privatization of the following companies: 

GOCCs

The privatization projects were never completed until the mid-90s, under the Fidel Ramos administration, with the (re-)privatization of the most basic of our industries such as Oil (Petron), Water (MWSS/Manila Water/Maynilad) and Electricity (Napocor/Meralco).

Deregulation is letting go of government control over at the price of a certain controlled commodity. The rationale mostly on deregulations is, still, to make prices “competitive. 

These highly corporate-leaning realities beg for further explanation of its effects which Jameson has provided in his now-classic book, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1989). In his critique of postmodernism, he cites the following symptoms:

    • Weakening of historicity – in the postmodern age, we follow history but not in the sense of a grand narrative but rather in further questioning of truth, or rather it is always posited in the way that truth is elusive. We can site how our pop history brought us to this direction. See how, for example, the fascination over people’s psychological states, or the menu at the dinner (in the case of Ambeth Ocampo), or whether one is involved with a certain person romantically or not is our notion of Historical truth. (Lourd de Veyra’s history chismis). We never really care about the development of society as a whole: on how each change on the way we do things affected our lives in the present. We’re more concerned whether or not the Marcoses had Ninoy killed than, say, the actual violence not just of Marcos’ martial rule, but of his political and economic policies. The breaking of semiotic chain.
    • The breakdown of high and low culture – as we see the breakdown of grand narratives, and so is the breakdown of the formerly bourgeois high culture, and be diffused to what we formerly referred to as the low culture. But not for the benefit of a certain flattening, not to the convergence of bourgeois and working-class cultures. See how dance clubs, for example, formerly of lowly culture, is now affiliated with the ruling class with exclusive clubs. 
    • A new depthlessness – Jameson refers to this in a literal sense. See how postmodern architecture emphasizes on cleaner lines. These are not manifests of minimalism: none of the skyscrapers are actually minimal or minimalist. Back in the day, we are led to believe that we can move beyond ideology at this phase, now that we do not care about grand narratives. That we can explore “deeper truths”. But as manifested in our visual culture, we are left instead with what Jameson refers to as “multiple surfaces.” Really, there’s no deeper meaning on this architecture. Much as there’s no deeper meaning, say, in this illustration: (image of cyberpunk, of “aesthetics”)
    • Waning of the affect – the image-led us to what Jameson refers to as the waning of the affect. “general depthlessness and affectlessness of postmodern culture is countered by outrageous claims for extreme moments of intense emotion”. Most of the time, I encounter this symptom of students whenever I ask them about a certain profound art. They are trying to explain the art in the most abstract sense, but never really reach any sort of understanding. They mostly say that this conveys some emotions, but an emotion they cannot say. As categorical imperatives go, nothing which isn’t intelligible—be it physical or psychological – can exist. These are what Jameson called “intensities”, these aren’t emotions, but merely intensified affects emitted by the visual, but in a sense that it is emitted through a certain lack of affect. Perhaps, the waning of the affect is an intensification of lack. Jameson refers to this lack of emotion in the same manner that a certain kind of emotion is communicated by a Rimbaud still-life. 
    • A general tendency of the postmodern in visual culture can be found in pastiches. For Jameson, these breaking of semiotic chain, of class identities in culture, its surfaces, the waning of the affect, contributed to the “increasing unavailability of personal style.” Since our sense of history, of temporality, has weakened, what now happens is a certain repetition of styles from the past, being revived like zombies. Pastiches are the undead of culture: they are cultural products with appropriated styles from the past without their specific cultural or historical context.

It is in this general idea of the pastiche in the Postmodern that Mark Fisher reflected on the words of Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, and the primary driver of neoliberalism back in the 1970s, when she said that “there’s no real alternative in capitalism.”

See how everything seems to be having a kind of revival. No one among the following artists is original, and they actually are pastiches of old styles: Bruno Mars, The 1975 (note the name), Amy Winehouse, Adele, and most pop artists you can think about who came from the west. Not to mention, the capture of the cinematic industrial complex of the “cinematic universes” which finds its history on whether it can capture a comic book accurately. We’ve become captured nostalgia audience without memories. Of course, I guess, we are excited to see the next season of Stranger Things

Along with Francis Fukuyama’s claim that history has ended at the fall of Berlin Wall, Fisher saw the time from the 80s and later as the time when the future is slowly being canceled. In this canceled future, Capitalist Realism becomes the prime ideology. It is loosely defined as “the dominant conception that capitalism is the only viable economic system, and thus, there can be no imaginable alternative.” It is a kind of ideology that fits into the postmodern mold: it is a project-less ideology that seeks to reinforce and reconstruct itself.

Fisher refers to this quotation, both attributed to Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, to further enlighten what capitalism is: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Fisher, of course, refers to the dominance of dystopian tales post-911, from the revival of Zombie Apocalypse movies to I Am Legend, to Hunger Games. At times, promising rebellion, but never really to the full extent. 

It is not that postmodernism waived all our grand narratives, a lot are still intact, in fact. Like our conception of competition as “natural law” in the capitalist appropriation of Darwin’s natural selection. Hence, the further promotion of every state of neoliberalism and neoliberal policies despite it bringing us to different cycles of crises until we get a sense of normalized crises. Things can get worse, but at least we get by.

Art, of course, is in crisis. But it is still beautiful. Even if our sense of “aesthetics” has been reduced to one color palette set, we still do not panic. What the multinational and globalist market has given us is this desensitization to crises. Our emotions for panic also wane, as we are consistently in panic. This crisis affects our sense of time: see how fashion forecasts tell us that the next trend is going to be a comeback from the past. Why can’t we think of a future style? Why can’t we think of a future at all?