[-empyre-] escape border supplement

John Hutnyk john.hutnyk at gmail.com
Sat Sep 19 01:23:30 EST 2009

Post 2

This time, trying to link the border to the city by way of the escape
into film,
I am resurrecting some notes from the archive. Here, the borders crossed are
more about categories, commonplaces, expectations. So we have, with another
aside on Derrida, and some comments on affect theory, a meditation on escape
velocity. In pursuing this theme I seem to have accumulated a
disproportionate bunch of notes on one book, in fact one chapter of one book.
This then is also not quite a review… a summary [with crit in square
brackets] of a colleague's (Janet Harbord) chapter on ‘Innocent Monsters:
film and other media’ in her book “The Evolution of Film: Rethinking Film
Studies” 2007 Polity Press.

This is a book critical of foundational, fixed, homogeneous, located notions
of film – ‘film isn’t what it used to be’. Harbord pursues an expanded
notion of what film is when it escapes the cinema, starting in this chapter
[I’m only reading chapter 5 here] with an archive of images of terror [not
detailed] ‘stacked and layered on top of each other’ (118) in Hoolbooms
‘Imitation of Life’ (2003).

She asks if we might reconfigure the story of the decline of cinema (no more
celluloid products) as a story of escape? The escape of film, not of us –
escaping from fixed, viewer controlled (the view decodes and digests)
contingency, escape from the cinema hall… So that film haunts new spaces,
walks the streets like the uncanny zombie resurrection [not unlike fetish
objects with their own lives and brains].

The question of the constructed nature of the non-human world arises – the
model of human construction has no dynamism, maybe the non-human is not to
be reduced: is the alterity of the non-human irreducible to human
experience, as claimed as foundation for those who deploy the concept of
affect (120)? Affect defies distinction between emotional response and
rational comprehension, conscious and unconscious, mind and body. Affect
belongs to sensory apprehension of rampant image-based multinational capital
(cites Deleuze translator Brian Massumi) in a post-grand narrative, post
‘belief’ realm –as pursued by intensity theorists – Deleuze, Bergson,

This appeals to Capitalism since it attracts but does not fix. Capital today
is shifty, always seeking renewal [wasn’t it always?]

Harbord cites a certain SLash who distinguishes film as old media from
information as new, non-narrative, not cinema. Harbord makes three points
here: she questions Lash’s division of film as content, information as form.
[This also goes against her interest in film as escape – but wasn’t running
away always too easy, always a way of making new tracks for commerce? Lash’s
information is the new terrain for capitalist growth]. She notes that film
as aura in the cinema, in Lash’s version an old media, is different to film
on DVD, and she points out that film in the cinema hall is being reworked
‘after’ recognition of contingencies in the expanded context of film (her
examples will bear this out – ie that films like “Momento” are no longer ‘in
sequence’ is related to fwd and rwd of video and DVD).

Then a discussion of early cinema and contingency in Doane and Kracauer.

New reworkings of classic films such as Gordon’s 24 hour version of “Psycho”
‘wrench open this desire to look’ that was examined by Doane and Kracauer –
so that new more than ever we see it all – still more focussed upon shot,
close-up, edit, contingency – but in a way that moves beyond Kracauer’s
assertion of transience of the image (it flows past us) and Doane’s
‘staging’ [in the frame of the story?]. Contingency mutates as film escapes
from the cinema (DVD, stop, pause, rwd, fwd).
[Does this overstate the case for the digital as expansion, and the domestic
control of the remote control?]

3 areas to examine new contingencies
- domestic use of technology, DVDs etc
- rang of viewing contexts (airports, galleries, phones)
- changes in narrative structure [which feedback into films in the cinema]

This chapter attempts to theorise films’ escape from the cinema hall as both
new contingency, and in terms of affect. The examples are detailed:
non-linear DVD Iranian taxi film ‘Ten’; the station screen with Laurel and
Hardy at Victoria BR; ‘My Architect’ in the cinema; Tate Modern video

Films in stations, galleries or malls have a quality of ghosting (141),
phantasmatic animation a la Benjamin’s arcades for the flaneur – who turns
out to be the ghost. Yet film, having left the cinema, walks the streets and
refuses to die. Indeed, contingency multiplies its affective charge. Film
reasserts (affectively):
- through its historical attachment, capturing us in time
- through its not yet worked through mutations of format
- through interplay of narrative and inventory

Results: its futile to search for film’s ontology [? She has been doing just
this, no?] because film’s mutations escape, they reinvent, cannot be defined
by what film has been.

At the end of the chapter a turn to Derrida to recognise film as the realm
of the supplement – it evolves, and incorporates its new emergent forms [ah,
a mobile ontology then? – this turn to Derrida sits strangely with what
comes next…]

Then a final return to the question of affect, which is also a return to
Massumi, and the idea of rumour governing the stock market- [but this
comparison is underdeveloped, the stock market is not wholly governed by
rumour, there is also profit, greed, accumulation, glee]

[can we say that film does not still fix – the close up, the
edit/juxtaposition – just as much as the stock market fixes brand value via
rumour – what is needed here is a Marxist understanding of value – not
branding, not prices – a critique of the hauntology, the fetish, the ghostly
rumours that are the surface of film/stock/life]

[Affect theorists fail to comprehend the social aggregation of value that
emerges via affect – rumour, fetish, image accretion, archive, hauntology.
And this amounts in effect (and affect) to an alibi for mutating capitalism
– where capitalism is ‘critiqued’ but only as an image-site for a new
post-cinema. I think Harbord’s chapter does indeed want to say this, but
doesn’t actually do so because it is stuck amongst three divergent angles:
old Kracauer, shorn of materialism; affect, read critically, but not in all
its implications; and Derrida’s supplement that could be better read through
the essay on hyperbole in ‘Writing and Difference’]

[The chapter’s last line etymology – contingency, from tangere = touch, does
not clinch the argument; and Chambers Dictionary gives more: Contingency,
from Latin contingentum = befall, happen, touch and contagion - which would
have infected this affect stuff nicely! ]

Good chapter. Glad I took time out to read it. The contagion across borders
is the illness we need. We can catch it at the movies.
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