[iDC] iDC Digest, Vol 55, Issue 31

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Sun Jul 19 18:24:58 UTC 2009

I want to thank Alan for so directly and provocatively voicing his  
concerns with respect to my statements about the imperatives of  
contemporary media theory, concerns which clearly are his, but very  
likely not only his. In response I would like to point out that  
although I suggested that what we are here calling "theory" operates  
under imperatives to be of service to social justice since its  
condition of possibility is social inequality -- and if theory is to  
be thought, then it necessarily must be critical of the conditions of  
its emergence -- neither statements of this type nor my utilization of  
my "own" subject position as one framework among others for staging  
the drama and imperatives of this kind of endeavor is in itself  
particularly essentialist or, for that matter, authentic. Would it  
make any sense to say that an avatar is authentic, or that a picture  
is essentialist?

Alan, as you note, the issues here are not trivial and I completely  
agree. What I see happening in the language of your response to me is  
the functioning of a set of linguistic subroutines that process/ 
interpret my transmission along certain metaphysical lines. I did not  
say anything about authenticity, you (as it were) however, recognized  
something in my message that felt/meant like authenticity, and  
expressed ambivalence about this perception: on the one hand you seem  
to have been drawn to some of the claims regarding exploitation and  
theory's commitment to being relevant to that problematic, on the  
other you were perhaps repulsed by what you may have felt to be the  
repressive exclusion of the suggestion that theory had to be this  
committed practice, whatever else it might be.

In my conclusion to the letter you responded to, you can see that I  
placed "rightfully," "belongs" and "global south" in quotation marks,  
as if to acknowledge that these words invoked metaphysical concepts  
that only held if one were aligned with the movement of my thought up  
to that point, and furthermore that this movement was contingent.  
Putting these words in quotation marks was itself a way of being open  
to other realities, as you say, and an explicit recognition that what  
my transmission desired to cast as a form of truth was (tragically?)  
not guaranteed -- indeed the proper role of theory, who thought  
belongs to, and who are its constituents and beneficiaries are among  
the questions being debated. The increasing inadequacy of language  
itself to represent the world in which we live is, in my view anyway,  
part of the problematic of media theory which must deal with the  
onslaught of visuality -- a phenomenon which at once marginalizes the  
traditional roles and capabilities of language and forces it to  
function increasingly as images do. When, after invoking the  
contingencies above, I asked "how to be adequate to such a reality?"  
-- a "reality" that includes both the production and reproduction of  
hierarchical society and capital-mediation in and through visuality --  
and did not place "reality" in quotation marks, that exclusion was a  
rhetorical (i might even say poetic) choice on my part, an effort to  
produce the image of the ring of truth (a sound, by the way), _as if_  
the metaphysical questions about contingency could be left behind.  
However the statement was less philosophical and more performative at  
that point -- it being recognized of course that performativity is  
(now) the condition of philosophy generally. The phrase was meant to  
mark the ineffable yet necessary movement of the possibility of  
justice. Thus I might call it a utopian gesture haunted by  
contingency, a projection of a certain form of redemptive possibility  
that, to take things too far, would be as beautiful as it is  
impossible -- the last flower in Pan's Labyrinth. I'm not saying that  
my letter achieved anything like this kind of movement (it really was  
not so carefully considered), but I am endeavoring here to say  
something about method: To make the words line up to produce the image  
of an actionable object is to strive to create "a natural perspective  
that is and is not," to coin a phrase. It is to produce, even  
momentarily, a full, desirable and pragmatic version of the world in  
an ocean of competing images and contingent claims -- what Jameson  
called the marketplace of ideas, but today is really just the  
marketplace in general. There may be the illusion of authenticity and  
of metaphysical ground, but there is nothing guaranteed about any of it.

Having said all this, I recognize that my particular exercise of such  
tactics, is not to everyone's taste. Like others, I do the best that I  
can, to operate in a matrix of mediations, and navigate towards  
becomings that may well be ultimately unfounded and unobtainable.  
Plying the myriad codes and mediations today (what used to be called  
writing) is perhaps an experience of what has been called post- 
representational democracy -- a movement through the infinite claims  
of history to date. However, we have not left representation behind  
entirely, even though we have a new set of terms that would include  
affect, intensity, viscerality, visuality and others, that are  
available as tools to calculate, measure, think, feel and strategize  
with. This is where we work -- all of us, at least to some degree --  
isn't that what the theories of cognitive capitalism point to? To  
write is to wager, it is to make a prediction, which as Gramsci taught  
us, is in fact, a programme.

Again, Alan, thanks for the opportunity to reflect on these issues.  
There is implicit in what I said, some thoughts on the production of  
consciousness, but I'll leave more explicit remarks on that topic for  
another time.

Kind regards,

Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Jul 17, 2009, at 6:41 PM, Alan Sondheim wrote:

> Hi -
> I hesitate to say anything here; I'm simply too ignorant, haven't  
> written
> on the topic, and so forth. But Jonathan's letter raises a number of
> questions that bother me although I'm definitely in agreement with its
> direction and tenor.
> My main problems deal with essentialism - i.e. Jonathan's experience  
> and
> life-world is somehow more attuned to a production of consciousness  
> that
> my experience is not (since I would, I assume, operate, from his  
> point of
> view, under the rubrik of 'high media theory' or some such), and  
> that his
> production/of/thru consciousness vis-a-vis his experience is somehow  
> more
> authentic, truer than mine. I won't disagree for a second re: the  
> horrific
> economics he describes and "our" (in quotes, because who are we here?)
> abject ignoring of the situation, but I don't understand what  
> "production
> of consciousness" is. I do understand consciousness-of, i.e.  
> intentional-
> ity, for example, consciousness of being-Jewish, but "production of
> consciousness" per se seems problematic to me, as does consciousness  
> _as_
> production or _a_ production - consciousness as _that object_  
> subject to
> creation vis-a-vis radical alterity (in which case where does  
> responsib-
> ility lie?). This isn't trivial; if consciousness is indeed  
> separable from
> economy (in one form or another, and I know I'm laying open to all  
> sorts
> of charges here), then those Adornamental issues of authenticity and  
> its
> problematic do come to the foreground.
> I do feel doubly sensitive to Jonathan's letter, which is why I'm  
> respond-
> ing in such a convoluted fashion - obviously (hopefully) sensitive  
> to the
> issues described (which I bring up in my teaching) but also  
> sensitive in a
> somewhat negative way to his fundamental put-down of anyone doing  
> theory
> here and dealing with the same. I'm from Wilkes-Barre and have  
> written on
> the brutal conditions of anthracite mining there, but I'm Jewish/ 
> mercan-
> tile on the other hand, so my authenticity is questionable all over  
> the
> map - which for me problematizes authenticity in the first place,  
> hence
> Adorno.
> I think there's a need to embrace queer/marx/feminist/whatever/ 
> hightheory/
> lowtheory/ and work with/through these and through education through  
> these
> - not talk through consciousness produced elsewhere. Jonathan asks  
> how to
> be adequate to such a reality and I would think one would want to be  
> open
> to _all_ realities, sensitive to their interrelationships and  
> political
> economies, and deal, for example, with where one's students might be
> "coming-from," rather than create situations of guilt and  
> dispossession
> (i.e. my consciousness is not my own because you educate me to believe
> otherwise). I've see what happens in the classroom in those cases, and
> they're disasterous.
> I feel I should also apologize here; as I said, I'm way over my head  
> and
> am not an economist; I also may be misreading, for which apologies as
> well.
> Good Rushkoff interview w/ Colbert by the way - it's amazing when  
> dialog
> actually seeps thru -
> - Alan
> On Fri, 17 Jul 2009, Jonathan Beller wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> Sorry for the abrupt entry into this discussion -- i'm finally  
>> getting
>> set up again after two weeks gone -- but i've got to weigh in on  
>> Michael
>> Bauwen's side here in this very brilliant exchange. As someone who  
>> wrote
>> one book on the emergence of new media as a technology of value
>> extraction and then a second book that was a direct response to the
>> challenges I felt by years of living and working in the Philippines  
>> to
>> make my what is now called media theory relevant in a third world/ 
>> global
>> south context, i have to agree that the (world-) systemic  
>> dimensions of
>> exploitation are on par in terms of importance with the violent
>> instances of the most recognizeable and brutal expressions of
>> exploititive practices: defacto agrarian slavery, the radical
>> dispossesion of casual workers in the slums, the captured bodies of
>> prostitutes, etc. To hypostasize: each is a condition of the other.
>> For what its worth, I think that one of the great problems of our  
>> time
>> is to make manifest the myriad links between the pleasures  
>> available in
>> global society -- pleasure which certainly include but are not  
>> limited
>> to screen pleasures -- and systemic murder, i.e., the
>> willed/automatic/unconscious deprivation of life (it is all of these)
>> that is the sine qua non of global capitalist perpetuity. What are  
>> the
>> mediations?
>> In my own experience of exchanges with members of the radical left,  
>> if
>> you will, in the Philippines (exchanges which I feel at once  
>> humbled by
>> and honored to partake in), there is great interest in terms of  
>> strategy
>> and tactics to understand the logistics of media-exploitation as  
>> well as
>> possible. This interest is manifest by those who organize protests  
>> and
>> public actions against, for example, disappearances sometimes called
>> political killings launched illegally by the Macapagal-Arroyo  
>> regime in
>> the Philippines in order to preserve the rule of law by assassinating
>> those who threaten its legitimacy (more than 800 since GMA took  
>> office),
>> as well as protests in solidarity with Jeepney drivers against
>> escalating gasoline prices, and many many other forms of protest.  
>> This
>> interest in a mediological analysis of sociality has deep roots in  
>> the
>> university and in the long-term anti-fascist and anti-imperialist
>> struggles and it informs scholarship, pedagogy, cultural theory,
>> filmmaking, art practice, and political strategy.
>> I'll close this all too brief account with two points: first, the
>> expropriation of the cognitive-linguistic as well as the sensual by
>> media-capital means that the struggle for the production of
>> consciousness as a moment in the overall struggle for the democratic
>> control of the means of production that informs the very possibilty  
>> of
>> social justice is at least as important as it has been in the past,  
>> if
>> not more so. Second, the high theory of media studies, academic  
>> marxism
>> (to use a pejorative term), feminist and queer theory, like the  
>> wealth
>> and culture of the great Western metropoles, rightfully belongs to  
>> the
>> third world/ global south. All these terms ("rightfully," "belongs,"
>> "global south") are subject to modification, but you get my drift --
>> consciousness itself, and the world that sustains it, is produced  
>> on the
>> backs of those who are most radically dispossessed. Personally, I am
>> haunted by an enduring question: how to be adequate to such a  
>> reality?
>> Best,
>> Jon
>> Jonathan Beller
>> Professor
>> Humanities and Media Studies
>> and Critical and Visual Studies
>> Pratt Institute
>> jbeller at pratt.edu
>> 718-636-3573 fax
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