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.

 

We March Along with the Future

Scattered throughout the writings of the late Mark Fisher is this concept of lost future identified with a stasis buried behind “a superficial frenzy of ‘newness’, of perpetual movement.” This is in agreement with Franco Berardi’s declaration of the slow cancellation of the future as experienced by the psyche in the cultural superstructure. Fisher did not shy away to refer neoliberalism and all its notion of continuity of growth, or what liberal economists, sociologists or development studies academics refer to as “sustainable development,” as the main reason why it seems that in the superstructure touched by neoliberal movements, “there is no present to grasp or articulate anymore.” 

For those of us who are living the most apparent symptom of neoliberal attacks, this is true. If there’s any word that can define this decade for a lot of us *younger* urban middle and working class, it is the word precarity. Social security is not our vibe. Or at least, we are not led to mind it because we have a lot of deadlines for unsecured paycheck releases. For us, nothing matters now, our “now” is reserved for a deadline either ahead or already past-due.

Some of us enjoy tenure, but almost always at the mercy of rigid hierarchical bigotry or imperialist plunder of cheap labor. What’s more, this tenure comes with it a paid-for health-maintenance to ensure on-the-dot surplus labor extraction: so that the wetware can support the round-the-clock demands of hardware and software processing. More importantly, we are entertained. Artist Hito Steyerl mentioned a spatial equivalent of Fisher’s lost future: that we are now commonly experiencing groundlessness for our “base metaphysical claims or foundational political myths” and hence, a perpetual state of free falling. “Paradoxically,” Steyerl adds, “while you are falling, you will probably feel as if you are floating.” Momentarily, these moments in lost futures and in free fall are entertaining moments: we’re practically (or at least, metaphysically) floating in mid-air. Ain’t it fun?

But what can be said collectively within these theorizations of the experiences of lost futures and free-falling is that they are grounded within accounts of the determinism of powers outside actual bodies. For mathematician Gilles Chatelet, “in the era of market’s Invisible Hand,” the market’s ghastly digits “applies its pressure everywhere and nowhere” and has neoliberalist ideologues as its voice. Voices that aims to extract from the middle-class “fear, envy, and conformity.” Perhaps, these three elements supplement precarity.

However, it is easy to think of the future being lost from conditions with which, a certain future was made possible. Having developed capitalism at a more advanced pace, what Fisher and Berardi identified in Europe with these are correct. Perhaps, looking at it from this side of the world, it can only be partly true. Why so? Such historical trajectories can perhaps only be made possible with the same conditions of development in the mode of production. The Philippines, with its semifeudal and semicolonial character, might have captured this sense of development in the superstructure in places wherein capitalism was developed further. The maldevelopment of capitalism in other parts of the Philippines does not guarantee the backwardness of other parts of the country either. Some zones have already captured the future and are living in it, perhaps, within the last 51 years.

Fisher’s formulation of the dominance of capitalist realism — the idea that there’s no more viable economic system than capitalism — can only be partly true for us, as proven by the Red Zones which do not give up, and are standing strong. The future is among us, but this time, it isn’t a matter of when but of where. Where we are, urban middle class, is not the future: capital centers only serve us eternal contemporaneity. Among us is the future that Berardi and Fisher can only be jealous of, and this future is within our grasp.

But how do we make it there? More importantly, who can make it there? 

Karl Marx and Frederic Engels called for the working class to unite in their famous manifesto. To dismantle the conditions of enslavement and plunder of their labor, and establish firstly communism. Such is the trajectory of history envisioned by historical materialism as the path to take for actual historical progress. Marxist philosophy itself is not naive to see this as deterministic. Reza Negarestani notes on the epistemological discovery of Marx of humans as an “intelligence that treats and intervenes within its own history scientifically.” But how does human intelligence do this? Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt refer to “labor” — “the human ability to change matter purposefully” — which commodities the matter changes into “engenders social relations and develops communities”, ultimately produces history.

To reach that point of future as such in the red zones is not to be trapped in the future Fisher thought was lost or Berardi thought is getting canceled, but to look into the determinations of past, present, and future in the way historical materialism understands historical progress. History is not merely an account of the past. Nor is time is a flow from the past to the future. Both are hermeneutically deterministic and are inconsiderate of human intelligence. Negarestani pointed out of Marx’s epistemology transforms man’s “pursuit of understanding and intervention” into a project. To have a history is “to reorient and repurpose that history toward ends unseen by the past, whose recognition should never be an impediment but merely a way to liberate the present.” An end unseen by the past is an end in which all givens of the past have been abolished.

Mao Tse-tung notes: “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” This is the ultimate goal of our method to “learn from the people.” We learn from the people because as a class which is moderately in-cahoots with the oppressive classes (directly or indirectly), history does not belong to us. We learn from the people not mainly to “help” the people, but the other way around: it is our learnings from the people who help us know how to directly participate in the production of history. What we learn from the people is the way towards becoming the intelligence that directly intervenes with history.

The masses, either with untapped potential or are currently organized, bear with them the future. In some geographical parts, the future is in social laboratories we call the red zones, where conditions for the flourishment and development of this future are being practiced, theorized and developed further. Some may have advanced way further, some may not. In the capital centers, it is not much that the future cannot be enacted or that the mass movements have given it up, however, the greatest contradiction is there: capitalism, which as Fisher rightly put, “obstructs the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.”

We have never lost the future, the future always marches along with us. The future is those from the urban poor settlements who smile at you on regular meetings but are fierce at the face of the enemies. The future is those agricultural workers who tirelessly teaches you the ways to till and protect the land. The future stands in the assembly line with a final product in mind, producing parts of it, along with others, who sit with the other people in the assembly line to check on each other, and protect each other when needed to. We can never be them, at least not yet. We do what we can to stand in solidarity, to learn as much from them, to struggle with them, to reclaim history that they themselves produce. Until finally, we become one who can produce history along with the people. We march among the futures until we ourselves become one, who can assault the rest of time — the oppressive past and present — altogether. 

 

Works Cited

Chatelet, Gilles. 2014. To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies. Translated by Robin McKay. Falmouth, UK & New York: Urbanomic Media Ltd. & Sequence Press.

Fisher, Mark. 2017. “Acid Communism.” In K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016). London: Repeater Books.

—. 2014. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Hants: Zer0 Books.

Kluge, Alexander, and Oskar Negt. 2014. History and Obstinacy. Translated by Richard Langston, Cyrus Shahan, Martin Brady, Helen Hughes and Joel Golb. New York: Zone Books.

Negarestani, Reza. 2018. Intelligence and Spirit. Falmouth, UK & New York: Urbanomic Press and Sequence Press.

Steyerl, Hito. 2011. “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.” e-flux (24): 1-11. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/24/67860/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/.

Tse-tung, Mao. 1965. Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. III. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.

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.

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.