Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Ethics forecloses Politics.

Capitalist Organisation captures subaltern biopolitical production.

Affect as an embodied and infinite capacity to affect and be affected can help to disrupt both.

These are working hypotheses. What do they have to do with the Creative Industries and cultural sectors in the UK?

I am reading academic journal articles in the fields of creative industries, organisation studies, business ethics, and affect studies. In this post I want to address some recent journal articles that seem to be using affect in a way that challenges both disciplinary boundaries and the body’s ontology (whose body, which body, where, when?).

My interest here is in understanding better (that’s an intensive quantity!) the state of play in organisation studies–and in specifically creative organisations–around the materiality of affect, posing questions of affect’s ontology, its ecological processes, its relations of motion and rest, its non-human becomings (Deleuze, 1990, Expressionism in philosophy: Spinoza). Why has organisation studies turned to affect in the past five to seven years? Which aspects of affect theory are they most likely to rehearse or reassemble? What does affect do in the discourse of organisation theory? Do we know yet what affect can do in organisations?

The first article is: “The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268.

What’s this article trying to do? Here’s their succinct abstract:

“This article explores how an allegedly ‘non-hierarchical’ and aestheticized managerial practice reconfigures power relations within a creative industry. The key problematic is ‘governmental’ in the sense suggested by Michel Foucault, in as much as the manager’s ethical self-practice—which involves expressive and ‘liberated’ bodily comportment—is used tactically to shape the space of conduct of others in the company. The study foregrounds the managerial body as ‘signifier’ in its own right. Empirically, this is done through an analysis of video material produced by the film company Zentropa about their apparently eccentric Managing Director, Peter Aalbæk. Contrary to much of the literature discussing embodiment and ethics in organization studies, we do not identify an ‘ethics of organization’ dominated by instrumental rationality, efficiency and desire for profit which is ostensibly juxtaposed to a non-alienating, embodied ethics. Rather, when the body becomes invested in management, we observe tensions, tactics of domination and unpredictability.” (p. 251)

 

First, what’s methodologically interesting is that they are using documentary film for analysis of organisational behaviour. They make clear in the article that film — indeed, any visual evidence — has been a dismissed and marginalised source of ‘data.’

 

Arguments for the legitimacy of films as data source have varied, but most of them view films as components in the construction of organizational reality alongside narratives, symbols, images, charts and other representations. Hence, visual artefacts may ‘create, transform, or stabilize particular “versions” of reality’ (Meyer et al., 2013: 509). Taking inspiration from Derrida and Lacan, Foreman and Thatchenkery (1996) argue that there is no fundamental reality of ‘the real’ organization, but merely a set of signifiers, simulacra or representations of it (p. 46). In this perspective, the pictorial elements in a film are signifiers that take part in the system of signification, the symbolic structure that makes up the unconscious. In a similar manner, Gagliardi (1996) conceives of films as representing in a very straightforward manner organizational artefacts which, as such, partake in the ‘aesthetic landscaping’ of the organization. Such artefacts may be practices enacted in ‘real time’, such as management activities that the employees experience, but may also, perhaps at the same time, be reproducible images, such as films and marketing material, which in this way gain force and significance into a wider collective, potentially becoming part of a generalized ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor, 2000). Common to these views is that visual modes of meaning construction are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. (p. 256)

So note the interpretative frame for treatment of films as visual modes of meaning construction that are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. Pretty standard 70’s era film criticism + critical management studies = ?

So films are signs. Is a manager a sign/ifier? Yes, according to the authors, managers are also sign/ifiers. What of the manager’s body? In this view, the body is always already in language and symbolic/imaginary: the authors thus dodge the difficult question of mediation in affect studies. Note, then, that the authors have set out that film as data is a way in to organizational signification. The signs are symptoms, not of a body, but of the nervous ticks on the face of ideology, as Bhabha once witheringly put it.

This is what I mean:

Taking Derrida’s lead, our objective is not to give a final judgement of the meaning of each image, but to insert it into a play of significations by explicating and intensifying the image’s internal contradictions. Hereby, we hope to open an avenue to question and contest the self-evidence and readily received narrative of the images…Eschewing hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches, our analysis proceeds by observing our central ‘actor’, the manager’s body, as a signifier, ‘in that punctuality in which it appears’ (Foucault, 1972: 25). This non-reductionist approach to a bodily statement (whether verbal or by gestures) does not look for any subjective intentionality or hidden motives but observes it as a ‘pure discursive event’ (Foucault, 1972: 27). (pg. 256-57)

I spent a good portion of my professional life as a researcher and writer and teacher doing some version of the above (although we would be hard pressed to find anywhere in Derrida’s oeuvre in which he describes deconstruction as the explication and intensifying of an image’s internal contradictions; nor can I find anything in Foucault to authorise such a reduction). Today, I feel that this method obscures affect rather than composes with it.

What’s happened to affect? What’s the relation of affect to signification/signs/signifier? Although the authors dutifully cite Deleuze, Spinoza, and Massumi, nowhere do they actually register what is at stake in Deleuze and Massumi’s insistence that affect is not emotion (feeling, mood), nor socially constructed.

I suppose I should’t complain. That organisational studies is taking up the question of affect in a fairly serious way should be a cause for celebration (albeit a very low-key, one-drink kind of fete). But I suppose as well that, politically, which affect becomes hegemonic in organisational studies will have everything to do with the capture of affect in capitalist organisation, mostly in the service of private accumulation, branding, worker control, indebtedness, productivity squeezing (precarity), and continuing and in some ways deepening forms of racial and gender inequalities in the creative and cultural sectors. So those are political stakes: the reduction of affect to emotion to control creative labor, and further entrench an already well established whiteness in the creative industries and cultural sectors (I’m paying specific attention to the UK in this post; in future posts I hope to turn my attention to Cape Town, South Africa and Mumbai, India.)

Lets turn to ethics in this essay. The authors write:

How do we study the body as a vehicle for managerial performance? Of course, even the ‘rationalized’ organization’s ‘rational’ managers have bodies, but those bodies were conceived more as uniforms or at least as disciplined by uniforms (Harding, 2002). In contrast, in what has become known as the ‘post-bureaucratic organization’ (Grey and Garsten, 2001; Maravelias, 2007), the knowledge-intensive, creative sectors reveal new types of managerial practices. These new practices not only express what we may term ‘postmodern’, decentred and anti-hierarchical imageries but also echo wholly new configurations of management. Indeed, these complex configurations have been termed ‘soft bureaucracies’ (Courpasson, 2000), where more flexible structures are being deployed by an elite, who bypass the (shrinking) middle management with a softer, seemingly more humane, managerial practice without annulling the functioning bureaucratic forms. (p. 252)

The body as instrument and target of managerial performance is a question of ethics (and politics?). This is a forced, artificial embodied ethics and its violence is starkly apparent in the creative industries as the analysis of Peter Aalbæk shows. The new types of managerial practices in the creative sectors focus specifically on the ethics of embodied affect. As the authors note,

In this article, we wish to pursue this embodied/incarnated perspective by problematizing what we view as an increasingly urgent obligation in contemporary management to perform an ‘embodied ethics’. By embodied ethics, we refer to bodily acts that are performed in order to display a practical ethos. We assume this ethos to be particularly pronounced in the so-called creative sector. (252)

So the aims seem to be to resist the demand for organisationally appropriate affect as worker subjectivation in the creative industries. What does that mean exactly? The work of Camille Barbagallo, Sylvia Federici, Emma Dowling, and many others including Hardt and Negri all point to affective labour or carework as a specifically gendered and increasingly widespread form of worker control. That much is certain.

This is where the distinction between affect and emotion/care becomes difficult to maintain rigorously. And sometimes I wonder what’s the point in trying? Wouldn’t it be better if affect were embraced as this more even all- encompassing concept, and wouldn’t that be a “more bodily” way of framing affect?

My short answer is that something else is at stake in maintaining the distinction: affect as the variable material capacity to affect and be affected is preindividual (Simondon), ecological (Guattari), non-human (Grosz, Haraway), and non-capitalist (Hardt and Negri, et al). As such, emotion is a capture and organisation of actual and virtual intensities of affect, and Massumi and Manning in their various works make clear why this is important not merely conceptually, but in terms of experimental practice. We get a better sense of this capture of affect in this passage from a textbook on therapeutical practice with troubled adolescents:

There are two broad categories of emotion: emotions that are easy to cope with and promote productive behaviour, and emotions that are extreme, difficult to manage and block productive behaviour. Unrealistic interpretations are the cause of many of the second class of emotion; a more realistic interpretation of events for the child can free them from the difficult emotion. Understanding the links between events, the interpretation of events and the emotions that follow is an important key to resolving emotional difficulties. Parenting style, how much structure, nurture, time, attention, playfulness and challenge a parent or carer brings, is crucial. (Taylor, 2010, A practical guide to caring for children and teenagers with attachment difficulties, pg. 103)

 

Experimental practice is central to the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors, but in very different ways. Having had substantive conversations with Lois Keidan, Director of the Live Art Development Agency (I’m a Board of Trustees member) and with Keiko Higashi, Director of Project Phakama (I’ve been Chair of the Board for the past three years) over the past year, the distinction between creative industries practices and cultural sector practices seems very real. The Creative Industries in the UK (as elsewhere) have largely been dominated by software production and new media entrepreneurship (going by percentage of gross value added). It is thoroughly neoliberal, and unabashedly so. The cultural sector however comes out of very different formations, some of which Andrew Ross discusses in ‘Nice Work if you can Get it’, where he specifically contrasts John Maynard Keynes the first director of Arts Council England, who had an almost nonchalant view of arts policy, with today’s New Labour Tories and their austerity agenda.

As far as cultural policy went, almost every feature of the old dispensation was now subject to a makeover. When the Arts Council was established in 1945, its first chair, the serenely mischievous John Maynard Keynes, described the evolution of its famous ‘arms length’ funding principle as having ‘happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked, if you like’. Keynes would have us believe that Britain acquired its arts policy, like its empire, in a fit of absent-mindedness. In truth, it was simply falling in line with every other Western social democracy by acknowledging that the market failure of the arts should be counteracted through state subsidies. Keynes’s batty boosterism – ‘Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood’ – was a far cry from the regimen of requirements demanded fifty years later by Chris Smith, the first DCMS minister, who declared ex officio that he did not believe in ‘grants for grants’ sake’. Wherever possible, the 13 industries included in the government’s 1998 mapping document (film, television and radio, publishing, music, performing arts, arts and antiques, crafts, video and computer games, architecture, design, fashion, software and computer services, advertising) had to be treated like any other industry with a core business model. While it was acknowledged that some institutions and individuals would still require public support to produce their work, this would be spoken of as an investment with an anticipated return, rather than a subsidy offered to some supplicant, grant-dependent entity. Moreover, much of the arts funding would come through a source – the National Lottery – widely viewed as a form of regressive taxation. (Ross, ‘Nice Work if you Can Get it: The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policy’, pp. 23-24)

I am not arguing that the cultural sector is atavistic and the creative industries are the future. Hardly. I think what the hinge is between the two in the UK is precisely a question of biopolitics; or, ethics as embodiment, organisation as composition, and affect as power. Partly this has to do with very different business models–public funding, private investment, theatre ticket sales, IP and monopoly rents, crowd funding, self-funding (i.e. indebtedness).

Let’s return to Sørensen and Villadsen, The naked manager. They analyse the documentary about a day in the life of Aalbæk by following ‘focus points’: “1. The CEO’s body, including his pose, context, behaviour, dress and verbal utterances. 2. The intertextuality of images, that is, explicit or implicit references to managerial mythologies, figures, ideologies, utopias and so on. 3. The inherent paradox of authenticity versus the invocation of familiar conventions or ‘styles’ around which many of Aalbæk’s performances seem to revolve” (258). This is little more than a semiotics of film images. But what then is an image, a sign?

Spinoza therefore sets apart two domains which were always confused in earlier traditions: that of expression and of the expressive knowledge which is alone adequate; and that of signs and of knowledge by signs, through apophasis or analogy. Spinoza distinguishes different sorts of signs: indicative signs, which lead us to infer something from the state of our body; imperative signs, which lead us to grasp laws as moral laws; and revelatory signs which themselves lead us to obey them and which at the very most disclose to us certain “propria” of God. But whatever its sort, knowledge through signs is never expressive, and remains of the first kind. Indication is not an expression, but a confused state of involvement in which an idea remains powerless to explain itself or to express its own cause. An imperative sign is not an expression, but a confused impression which leads us to believe that the true expressions of God, the laws of nature, are so many commandments. Revelation is not an expression, but a cultivation of the inexpressible, a confused and relative knowledge through which we lend God determinations analogous to our own… (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, pg. 181)

 

A sensorimotor circuit. Not a sign, not signifier, but a customary, expressive and habituated assemblage of intensive quantities (light, movement, synaesthesia, muscle memory, shade, focus, sound, montage, anticipation, rhythm, action-potentials, etc.) that constitute what Spinoza called multiplicities with a very great number of parts. (I’m playing a little fast and loose here, and Deleuze’s analysis of Modal Existence in Expression in Philosophy (EiP), pp. 200-03 would need to be unpacked much more carefully for this to be rigorous as an addition to Deleuzean image theory). Note that the quantity, power or affects of the multiplicity do not proceed from the various parts, but ‘rather because it is infinite that it divides into a multitude of parts exceeding any number’ (Deleuze, EiP, 203). This certainly at a point involves what Lacan called cathexis and what Althusser called ideology, but in its affective ontology, an image immediately affects neurological circuits. This immediacy scares dogmatic dialecticians. It can be the organising point of radical affective politics that experiment and compose in ecologies of sensation.

Advertisements

FirstPersonShooter

With Sandra Mezzadra and others associated with UniNomade, I want to link dynamics of workers refusal of measure to questions of capital’s specific, if heterogeneous, deployment of affect through a consideration of this passage from

James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671:
http://www.academia.edu/4906196/Ash_Architectures_of_affect_anticipating_and_manipulatingthe_event_in_processes_of_videogame_design_and_testing

CAREFULLY.

As a preface, I should note that I have been reading Being and Time (his etymologism, so valued by subsequent deconstruction as method, tends toward an image of thought as authentic depth; his analysis of equipmentality is profoundly generative), with Hegel or Spinoza (an infinite text), reading Mezzadra’s excellent work:

Mezzadra S, 2006, ‘Borders,migrations, citizenship’, translated by Casas Cortes, S Cobarrubias,
http://deletetheborder.org/node/1515
Mezzadra S, 2007, ‘Living in transition: toward a heterolingual theory of the multitude
transversal’, in The Politics of Culture: Around theWork of Naoki Sakai Eds R F Calichman,
J N Kim (Routledge, London) pp 121 ^ 137, http://eipcp.net/transversal/1107/mezzadra/en
Mezzadra S, 2009a, `Italy, operaism and post-operaism’, in International Encyclopedia of
Revolution and Protest Ed. I Ness (Blackwell, Oxford) pp 1841 ^ 1845
Mezzadra S, 2009b, `The labyrinth of contemporary migrations’ European Alternatives
http://www.euroalter.com/2009/sandro-mezzadra-the-labyrinth-of-contemporary-migrations/
Mezzadra S, 2010, `The gaze of autonomy. Capitalism, migration and social struggles’, in
The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity Ed.V Squires (Routledge,
London) pp 121 ^ 142
Mezzadra S, 2011a, `How many histories of labour? Towards a theory of postcolonial capitalism’
Postcolonial Studies 14(2) 1 ^ 20

And thinking about methods of worker’s inquiries in different forms of community organising in East London.

Part of this set of researches into ontological methods has led me to consider the role of play in contemporary capital. Hence, James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671.

Let us consider this passage from the phenomenon of its intensities and sensations, as Massumi suggests, that is from an analysis of durations.

The game designers increased the length of the animation that was played every
time the user reloaded the grenade launcher. In the first testing sessions the reloading
process took less than two seconds; in the amended version the same reloading process
took close to four seconds. Although this difference may sound inconsequential to the
casual observer, the extended delay put the user at a severe disadvantage when taking
part in a multiplayer match. The two extra seconds left the user essentially defenceless;
they were unable to fire back if they encountered an enemy. As such, after each shot,
users would have to react defensively whilst the grenade launcher reloaded, and this
gave rival users a chance to enact their revenge. Through alterations made to the delay
between cause (hitting the Y button to reload on the Xbox 360 control pad) and effect
(having a reloaded grenade and the ability to fire again), the designers were able to
alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters
within any one match. By extending this delay, the designers were able to reduce
negatively affective encounters–they could minimise the experience of frustration
for the user–and avoid a breakdown in the user’s captivated state. Quite literally the
designers could design out the potential for creating particular visceral states in
users, such as the tense, shifting, agitated bodies described earlier. On the one hand, users waiting for the grenade launcher to reload experienced anxiety and a feeling that
time was passing very slowly as their avatar was exposed during the reload animation.
On the other hand, the other user who had been shot at with the grenade launcher
was given an increased window in which to react, which was experienced as a very
small amount of time to shoot at the other user. By extending the time taken to reload
the grenade launcher, the game designers could avoid the experience of time inter-
vening in and replacing the captivation of users (other than those using the grenade
launcher)…. After it had been altered to be less powerful and to
take longer to reload, users had to focus more closely and try to anticipate the
direction in which they thought the user might head because an indirect hit would
not kill the user. As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the
seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent. Page 664-65

This shift in the game’s architecture allowed designers to alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters within any one match. This consisted of adding two seconds between action and effect. That two second potentialized the play itself in that what happens in the intensive duration is that the possibility of having an effect in the game becomes active, thus what is opened is a kind of possibility space (Delanda’s Emergence of Synthetic Reason), interactivity becomes possibilistic. Why I like and admire this passage is that Ash is able to draw our attention to the minute intensificaiton of game play in First Person Shooter games through design strategy that attends to bodily dispositions and shifts through the process of the game play. His emphasis on the immersive quality of the gameplay is also to the point: through the process players become differentially involved in performing the competitive strategy of killing the enemy player, acting as a unit, marshalling dwindling resources (health, ammunition), keep moving to the pre-set targets. Ash writes, “As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent.” This is what he calls the process of captivation and its differential modulation across gameplay, proprioceptive engagement (the player’s sense of bodily movement), and staging contingent events/encounters.

For Ash, this argument contributes to contemporary theorisations of the event:

… this paper has added to current debates regarding theorisations of
the event, emphasising what might be termed an ecological rather than absolute
conception of the event. In an absolutist notion of the event, “the event cannot be
reduced to the fact that something happens. It may rain tonight, it may not rain. This
will not be an absolute event because I know what rain is … . The arrivant must be
absolutely other” (Derrida, 2002, page 13). Instead, I have outlined a conception of the
event as a process of ecological emergence. Here an event is the outcome of a material
assemblage of various entities, forces, and rules working together to encourage and
prohibit specific forms of movement and action. Whilst an absolute account of the
event is interesting, framing the event from an ecological perspective is useful because
it allows us to begin to pick apart how the potential for events to happen are being
designed into environments (both digital and physical) and thus begin to understand
how various bodily states (such as frustration and anger or pleasure and pain) can
potentially be produced and controlled through manipulating affective relations in
the environment. This then allows us to interrogate the possible responsibilities the
designers of such environments have in the kinds of affective relations (and thus
bodies) they (potentially) construct. page 667

One must say this is rather modestly put: the implications of this argument seem to me immense. The ecological perspective on affefct is effective in producing (counter-) engineering diagrams. It is processual in that it follows events through a virtual-actual circuit of becoming and being.

What this points to is both the autonomy of affect (Massumi, 2002) and the manifestation of affect as a multiplicity which encounters different bodies in complex ways that cannot be (pre-) resolved as either simply `positive’ or `negative’ for the body that is shaped by an encounter. Rather, what I have shown across this paper is that the `shaping’ of bodies and the `infusion of affective dispositions under the skin’ are not the product of passive exposure to, or reception of, affective images. Instead, I have argued that the body is shaped through the creative responses generated by users in relation to the images they
experience, rather than the images themselves.page 668

What Ash doesn’t attend to very well, that is not ecologically enough, is the form of subjectivation this event of potentialisation incorporates. As I suggested above, potentialisation is something of the nature of a creative encounter with the world’s necessities/tendencies/capacities/degrees of freedom. We must understand FPS games as tied closely to a form of neoliberal subjectivity: the particular aggressions, anticipations, pauses, bursts (recall the pause-burst structure of Hong Kong cinema analysed by Bordwell, there is some correlation to be drawn out in terms of the modulation of intensity in martial arts films and digital FPS gaming), and so on are all linked in different ways to the sad passions of control. This is to say, that while Ash is quite good at analysing carefully the autonomy of affect (as is Massumi) through an ecological multiplicity, he is less attentive to contextualizing FPS subjectivity as it ties in with forms of neoliberal control. Admittedly that’s not his aim (nor perhaps his interest) in this article, which is focused on a kind of phenomenology of affect in game design. But to write as if the contexts of for instance the hypercompetitiveness of captialist play, the psychopathologies of security, postcolonialism, debt, and precarity, not to mention the wide ranging integration of FPS interfaces across a variety of digital platforms (recall as just one example the penultimate ‘battale royale’ sequence in kickass in which Hitgirl’s nightvision glasses becomes a firstperson shooter perspective)–all these contexts play into the ecology of affect, directly and indirectly.

Which leads us to pose the question of gameplay design from the perspective of an analysis of capitalist subjectivity today, which potentializes affect to the extent that immersive integration is successfully modulated to add value and accumulate brand equity, a kind of accumulation in the realm of affect (Clough). Ash ends his essay by noting that most FPS games don’t in fact do this: they fail at capturing attention.

51a1QxYNRiL._SY445_

Review of

Tejaswini Ganti, Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

In Producing Bollywood, Tejaswini Ganti argues that Hindi cinema has gone through a process of ‘gentrification’ from 1996 to the present day. Gentrification in this media context is a “manifestation of the film industry’s quest to manage unpredictability in the arena of film consumption, the process of rationalization is its counterpart, addressing uncertainty in the production process” (11). Overall, her research shows that a certain kind of class war has been conducted through the codes, exhibition and distribution practices, and financial and organizational infrastructure of Hindi cinema. The corporatization of Bollywood has since around 2000 introduced economies of scale, allowing for the development of multiple revenue streams, and a restructuring and rationalizing of the work cultures throughout the industry (264). Through a corporate-style risk management buttressed by the infusion of “previously unheard of amounts of capital into the Hindi film industry, making available consistent finance, so that the risk of a film not being completed has decreased drastically” (11), an abject figure of exclusion has been produced, policed, and quarantined through the gentrification of Hindi cinema. This mass figure of abjection is that of the atavistic, sensation-driven, illiterate Bihari or North and East Indian peasant. His (and it is definitely a paan-chewing, ma-bahen [mother-sister] swearing, boisterous adult male that is the vehicle of this stereotype—think Arshad Warsi in Ishqiya [2010]) Other is the newly globalized consumer-citizen whose brand-frenzy expends itself every weekend in those mushrooming, securitized playgrounds for the rich and aspirational, the Indian malltiplex. As Ganti writes, “the gentrification of Hindi cinema is part of a broader socio-historical conjuncture where urban middle classes are celebrated in state and media discourses as the main agents, as well as markers of modernity and development in India” (17). In that sense, we should mark that the abjection of the multitude (as the young Marx might have said)* concerns not merely discourses and stereotypes of the illiterate peasant, but more crucially the very biopolitics of filmic populations in India today.

One of my interests in this book is the limits and possibilities of Ganti’s method. She claims to be interested in “practice, experience, meaning-making, and social life,” and through this multi-focused lens she examines filmmaking and filmmakers rather than specific films, per se. Departing from the clichéd notion of “films as texts” Ganti regards them “as social and discursive object that come to possess their meaning through practice and social life, which leads me to concentrate on how filmmakers interpret, discuss, and assign social as well as cultural significance to particular films” (21). In other words, she turns the filmwallas own words (and there are a lot of them given that her fieldwork extended from 1996-2010: “producers, directors, actors and actresses, writers, distributors, exhibitors—and those who shape the discourse about films, filmmaking, and filmmakers—journalists” [25]) into her interpretative text. What method is behind this sleight of hand? Basically, Ganti operates explicitly through a kind of post-deconstructionist discourse analysis of the social construction or mediation of meaning, which at times means little other than ideology critique (43).

Yet there is something else operating in her text, which, without deconstructing it per se, belies this explicit commitment to a banal social constructivism. We might call it a kind of media materialism, or media assemblage analysis, whose primary force is not critique but ontologies of becoming through organizational and aesthetic mutations in media form. Ganti writes, “Sippy’s reflexivity about this period [late 1980s and early 1990s], along with his own representation of his internalization of the constraints imposed by the changing technological and economic landscape for filmmaking, is an example of how the subjectivity of a commercial filmmaker is forged in concert with figures of the imagined audience, mediated through box office returns and new technologies of distribution such as video” (86-7). Mediations notwithstanding, this complex understanding of the interplay and imbrication between filmmakers’ subjectivities and the material world runs throughout her analyses and makes the book well-worth reading. For another example, during the course of her analysis of the “horrible” 1980s, Ganti notes that the peculiarly bad aesthetic of that decade had less to do with the influence of South Indian cinema and “more to do with the introduction of videocassette technology and its concomitant problems of video piracy and changes in the patterns of film consumption” (82). Ganti’s consistent attention to the materiality of the “altered media landscape” that Hindi filmmakers operate in today includes the presence of satellite television and new digital media (93). This media materialism draws Ganti on to analyzing the qualitative shifts from the late 1990’s onward, in the viewing experience for Indian film audiences (definitely one of the strongest aspects of this book): “middle and upper classes, who were seeing all of the films on video anyway. With the steep increase in ticket rates, the ‘front-benchers’—who according to the press were ‘extending to the dress-gallery’ by the early ‘90s—had been priced out of these areas and put firmly back in their place in the cinema hall; therefore, the celebrated ‘return’ of audiences to theatres in the mid-199s was really about reinforcing social hierarchies and re-inscribing social distance into spatial distance with the public space of the cinema hall” (97).

One of Ganti’s most interesting methodological moves is her use of a fictionalized sketch of a routine day on a film set—common practice in cultural anthropology, of course. Yet through it she is able in an exemplary way to tease out the multiple layers of the “decentralized and fragmented nature of filmmaking in India,” showing the relative ease with which individuals with access to capital can become filmmakers (this was the case until the late-1990s, it is unclear if that is true any longer, given new global standards of financing, accounting, marketing, and management throughout the Indian film industry—162), even as she shows how kinship relationships and personalized social networks often have the effect of both granting an immediacy to interactions and serving as a form of gatekeeping throughout the industry (176). Crucial to this process of teasing out the multiple, even haphazard nature of Bollywood, and what makes her analysis at times quite compelling, is the renewed significance of the film distributor, especially with the rise of the Overseas Territory as the most lucrative distribution domains, as well as the continued centrality of male stars to the production process (208).

The gentrification of Bollywood has affected its erstwhile shady financial management. So-called black money from various organized crime schemes has been central to Hindi film production at least since the 1950s if not earlier, and gained in importance and notoriety throughout the 80s and early 90s; circuits of racketeering were one of the few ways that producers and ‘proposal makers’ could access enough cash to even begin thinking of making a film. Ganti notes that black money refers to “unreported, untaxed income that could be generated from legal enterprises, the intensely cash-based nature of the financial dealings of the film industry until the early 2000s made it possible for the world of organised crime to be involved with filmmaking. References to the underworld-film industry ‘nexus’…began in the late 1980s” (181). The gentrification of Bollywood has also meant that black money in Bollywood has diminished in quantity, and probably also changed its processes within the film industry (given the grave state of banking worldwide and the widespread prevalence of banking fraud, are all the finances now simply grey?).

Probably the best chapters of this rather long, at times repetitive book, is Ganti’s turn to a kind of political economy of film production. There she usefully delineates the three main types of distribution arrangements common in the Hindi film industry. The ‘MG’ or minimum guarantee system, the most common, enables the distributor to bid for and guarantee the producer a specific sum that is disbursed in instalments from the onset of production. In the commission system, distributors bear the least risk because the most they may invest in a film are in its publicity and print costs; distributors in this system deduct between 25 and 50 percent of box-office receipts as a commission and remit the rest to the producer. In an outright sale scenario, distributors pay producers for the right to distribute their films for a given time period, during which all expenses incurred and all income earned are solely the distributors’. The MG auction system for allocating films often produces a kind of “winner’s curse”: “the distributor who wins the rights has the highest chance of having overestimated what a film will gross and therefore has the highest chance for a flop. As the buyers of films, distributors occupy the structural position of consumers—albeit a specialized one—which the filmmaking process, but they are rarely implicated in the wide ranging discussions about the commercial outcome of a film carried out in the film industry, the media, and among viewers. Instead, box-office performance is discussed by filmmakers in terms of audience composition, tastes, and desires. Hits and flops are interpreted and represented as indices of audience subjectivities rather than of distributors’ commercial predictions” (190-91). There is then a kind of objective illusion, as Deleuze might say, operating within the film industry: the reified, actual, and/or proleptic tastes of segmented audiences are assumed to be the driving force of filmic value, when in its material processes the forms of value emergent from such modalities as distributors’ auctions or the emergent trade in distribution rights (277) and their relative importance remain covered over by the fetish of class/mass taste. This results in what Ganti usefully calls an erasure of the economic, which means basically “the absence of attention to exhibition conditions (decrepit cinemas, not enough cinemas), regional economic variation, state taxation, diverse rates of admission, and the role of distributors’ pricing decisions” (313).

Another important contribution Ganti’s research makes to the burgeoning field of South Asian film and media is the at times stark, not to say binaristic contrast that filmwallas make between the Indian and Hollywood systems of film production. Although she doesn’t dwell at any length on this fact, yet one of the major differences in the organizational form of the two industries is the relatively higher degree of effective unionization of Hollywood workers, and the involvement of unions in most labor struggles around work time, benefits, and working conditions. This last, as Ganti shows, is a site of constant contestation in the Hindi film industry, and given the relative low-level of unionization in this industry, trying to get the film industry management, government, and power brokers to attend to the everyday working hazards (no toilets, interminable and ever changing working hours, physical violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault) for day laborers in the industry has been an uphill task to say the least (221). Other important differences between the two industries are in terms of the oral agreements of contracts and the lack of bound scripts (222-23). In short, for most Bollywood filmmakers Hollywood is “…more organized, more disciplined, more efficient, and more professional than the Hindi film industry” (223); more positively, Bollywood until around 2000 was best characterized by its “flexibility—by which I mean the ability to make impromptu decisions, the capacity to adapt to uncertainty, and a willingness to change the course of action—that is characteristic of Hindi filmmaking” (156). Layered onto these distinctions within the B/Hollywood opposition is the fact that, “rather than increasing, the total number of screens in India appears to be declining, as it has been for a number of years. According to statistics compiled by the Government of India’s Ministry of Statistics, the number of permanent cinema halls in India decreased approximately 27 percent between 1999 and 2009, from 9, 095 to 6,607. Of these, about 300 are multiplexes with a total of 900 screens, which leads to an estimated total of 7,207 screens for all of India in 2009—a 20 percent decrease in the number of screens from the previous decade” (71).

Then there is the submerged question of the Nation in Producing Bollywood. Ganti writes that Jawaharlal Nehru’s statements about film as basically operator of debauched sensation machines “have been a consistent feature of the discourse surrounding cinema in postcolonial India…Since Nehru, what has been operating in state discourses toward cinema, especially with respect to the relationship between entertainment and quality, is the ‘logic of deferrence’, where entertainment has been viewed as something that a postcolonial, ‘developing,’ nation-state like India cannot afford” (48, 51). In some sense the postcolonial pedagogical vocation for film has haunted Indian filmmaking until very recently. ‘In their very objectified and elaborated representations of Indianans,” as Ganti has it (63), Bollywood has explicated its codes, narratives, clichés, and sensory-motor circuits (images) in complex imbrication with the desires of national belonging. But what has happened to this secular socialist and paternalistic commitment to the ‘masses’?

One of the most consistent explanatory figures in Ganti’s analysis is what she terms the binary between masses and classes inhabiting the ambivalence at the heart of nationalist filmmaking. This binary opposition of the ‘masses/classes’ is the primary mode for filmmakers to make sense of the vastly diverse audiences for Hindi cinema, although for the past ten years it has become in a sense de-sedimented from its supposed fixity. For Ganti, the underlying hierarchy naturalized through this binary is that “the masses and classes are fundamentally different, and their tastes and world-views are completely incommensurable. Despite this incommensurability, Hindi filmmakers, for much of the industry’s history, strove to make films that would appeal across these divides” (35; see also 298). This binary is tied closely to the fate of nationalism within the Hindi film industry. Nehru’s statements about the pernicious effects of commercial cinema on the (supposedly ignorant) masses, went hand in hand with a pedagogical model for beneficial, socially relevant cinema. But is this the binary that social constructionism hunts for in the ambivalences of textuality? The Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti’s adaptation of Kant’s distinction between a dialectical contradiction and real opposition (Realrepugnanz; “a relation of mutual repulsion” [6])** is useful here. If in India “most state governments also stipulated that movie theaters could not be constructed near schools, colleges, places of worship, residential areas, and government offices,” (54) what was ontologized through this social and spatial differentiation was not a binary opposition but rather a material and multifarious process of producing a real opposition and biopolitical strategy between lower caste, working class film cultures and postcolonial national and now today globalized “middle class” values.

These processes of gentrification have an aesthetic correlate in film form. Indeed, since 2000 we can speak of something like a thoroughgoing morphogenesis of Bollywood film—in terms of codes, address, apparatus, exhibition, and organizational and financial structures, Hindi filmmaking has departed both from its own clichés and its own postcolonial socialist commitments (however paternalistic and narrowly nationalistic these were). Throughout its history right up to around 2000, filmmakers would “try to encode into their films what they [saw] as some shared cultural norms, common to everyone in India” (314).
Consider the stereotypical song-dance sequence, for instance: non-lip-synched songs continue to have a presence in most films today, however, now they frequently express the “psychological state of a character or the emotional tenor of a particular situation. As music’s narrative significance has diminished with the decrease of lip-synch songs in many contemporary Hindi films, it has arguably taken on an even greater commercial significance within the industry, for it is primarily created for marketing, promotion, and ancillary revenue purposes” (258). The gentrification of Bollywood has translated into a baleful (but nationally consistent) shift from mass inclusion to radical exclusion. Thus, in 1996 well-known director Aditya Chopra could celebrate a filmic vision of class inclusion: “You just realize that you’re making a film for people who are going to be different, and you have to try and thread them in some way, link all of them together. That is actually what Dilwale was—this belief that, even if they come from different classes, this guy might ride an auto-rickshaw and we might go in a Mercedes-Benz—but he’s also going to cry if his mother dies, he’s also going to react when his sister gets married. Okay, so what you need to do is get to the essence of being Indian and strike that chord that will somehow or the other have a place in everybody’s heart” (303). This has been entirely eroded in the subsequent decade of dot com booms and busts, service economies, call centres, and business operations outsourcing. As Ganti puts it, “While filmmakers earlier had located themselves along the class-axis of the masses/classes binary, they were clear that the bulk of their audience was on the mass side of the binary. Bhatt’s statements not only indicate a change in target audiences, but also reveal how changes in the Indian media landscape—his reference to satellite television and corporate production companies—have had an impact on filmmakers’ understandings of their audiences” (324-25). This then is finally the lasting contribution of Ganti’s fairly comprehensive study of Producing Bollywood in the form of a familiar filmi lament and political warning: the abjection of the masses will return to haunt the global ambitions of Bollywood.

NOTES
* Marx, “Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature – Doctoral Dissertation,” 118. Thanks Bue.

** Colletti writes: “So in real opposition too there is negation, annulment, but of a kind that is quite different from contradiction. Real opposites are not, as in contradiction, negatives in themselves and hence only the Negative of the other; on the contrary, they are both positive and real. In this instance, says Kant, ‘both the predicates A and B are affirmative.’ The negation which each exerts on the other consists only in the fact that they mutually annul their effects. Briefly, in a real opposition or relation of contrariety (Gegenverhältnis), the extremes are both positive, even when one of them is indicates as the negative contrary of the other” (L. Colletti, “Marxism and the Dialectic,” New Left Review I/93, September-October 1975, 7). I am wary of taking this logical discussion too far in social analysis, as I am aware of Colletti’s problematic political shifts, but I find here a useful ontological resource to move beyond the dead-ends of social constructivism.

reticulation 9.6 copy

Abstract: This essay aims to diagram the set of connectivities (or “system of relations”) developing in business outsourcing affective, communicative labor and the value-adding digital image in contemporary Hindi-Urdu cinema. What emerges is a resonant set of nested temporalities constituting a new media assemblage. Throughout, I draw on a set of analyses that has developed the notion of affective labor as a decisive break in the organization of value under capital. In this work by feminist political economists, postcolonial critics, and Marxist phenomenologists, affect becomes the substance of interaction and communication: distinct from “emotion,” affect is defined by its relational, bodily character, and cannot be reduced to an internalized feeling. In that regard, affect is considered pre-individual, operating in that moving strata of being and becoming where the subject and populations meet. Affect is both virtual and actual at once, it is an emergent, incipient space of mutation and potential as well as the site of modulation, control, and capitalist valorization. Theoretical frameworks that have brought together Marx, Freud, Foucault, and Deleuze have conceived of affective labor using terms such as desiring production, and more significantly, numerous feminist investigations, analyzing the potentials within what has been designated traditionally as women’s work, have grasped affective labor with terms such as kin work and caring labor [or “labor in the bodily mode”]. Through an analysis of No smoking (Kashyap, 2008) and Office Tigers (Mermin, 2006), I explore the singular emergence of affective labor in the South Asian context, in pervasive processes that are informatizing (rendering as/through data) various forms of life and work. I correlate the function of affective labor in both business outsourcing and digital media through analyses of two key modalities: the evolving functionality of information in the nonlinear, open system of computer technology; and the modulation of subjectivity in the capacities of attention and sensation of value creation.

(more…)

This video is a montage of the images with their digital “originals.” I think the video helps defetishize the images, that is it makes the compositing processes a little more palpable. Changing the level of detail changes the sharpness of the color transitions. The processes involved in perception traversing these gradients is what I have been insisting we understand politically, economically, technologically, bodily. At once and altogether. An ecology of sensation, where ecology is understood as a system far from equilibrium involved in creative resonance with other forces, ecologies, material and informational flows.

Arriving trains, Chembur Station

Santa Cruz

(more…)

Train to Virar

These photos seem to me to have come together quite by chance, but then they also emerged from patterns of behavior and forms of style, against the backdrop of flows of people, traffic, capital, information. In India today these patterns are emerging through a new ecology of sensation. But I make no claim for these photographs as “art.” And yet clearly the history of perspectivalism, the dominance of representationalism in the engagement with a living multiplicity is at stake for me in creating these images. There is an accretion of information some of which coheres, much of which does not, but each image has a certain duration at different scales of perception, a noncoinciding resonant unity, a unity-in-multiplicity is what I hope to continue through the photography (mutating affect, not representation). An ecology of sensation meeting its cliché: Bollywood meets graphic novels at the back of a rikshaw, Agra’s Mughal-era oriental(ized) stone work turning topological and dimensional (is it less or more racist? to what extent is the question relevant to what it does?), the ferris wheel on Juhu beach, the weighing machine at the local station. This time that I have been able to spend here in India thanks to a research grant from the Fulbright foundation, has allowed me to research the materiality of the ecology of sensation of mobile phones and experiment in forms of creatively engaging this ecology.

(more…)

We will begin here with Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility” (Second Version of 1936). (I’m not going to justify using this version except to say that there are aspects to it that exceed Adorno’s policing of Walter!)

W.J.T. Mitchell has clarified the genealogy that ties Benjamin’s “Artwork” essay to an effective diagramming of our present. “I will state it as a bald proposition, then, that biocybernetic reproduction has replaced Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction as the fundamental technical determinant of our age. If mechanical reproducibility (photography, cinema, and associated industrial processes like the assembly line) dominated the era of modernism, biocybernetic reproduction (high-speed computing, video, digital imaging, virtual reality, the internet, and the industrialization of genetic engineering) dominates the age that we have called ‘postmodern.’ This term, which played its role as a place-holder in the 1970s and 80s, now seems to have outlived its usefulness, and is ready to be replaced by more descriptive notions such as biocybernetics” (W. J. T. Mitchell, “The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction” 486-87).

One of the first things that strikes me in Benjamin’s oft-cited essay is the notion that concepts must be created that can track, or account for the tendencies of capitalist cultural production–or rather cultural production under capitalism, and that these concepts aspire to the status of being completely useless for fascism. So Benjamin poses to us a question that, while having lost none of its pertinence, seems nonetheless so distant today, to us doubly ironic, postcolonial postmoderns. And that is can concepts–in their form and function–exceed Potestas-Power-Domination-Capital-Fascism? These are by no means all the same thing, but certainly there is a sense that Benjamin wanted to develop a kind of critique that would reject and dismantle the foundations of thought under fascism-capitalism.

It reminds me of Michel Foucault’s celebration of Anti-Oedipus as a handbook for an anti-fascist life (cf. the Foreword); it reminds me as well of Negri’s repeated assertion that today there is nothing outside of Power, and all nodes of resistance (through potentia) are produced as part of its very functioning.
Read on: “But let us return to Benjamin…”