Détournement

Creation is not the arrangement of objects and forms, it is the invention of new laws of such arrangement.[i]

the difference between dérive and détournement lies in application and context, rather than in concept. instead of disrupting the psychogeography of everydayness through re-articulating sections of the city, détournement is a visual or auditory (or audio-visual) dérive that aims to disrupt through distortion of a viewer’s mnemonic expectations, and thus produce a state of critical reception through alienation, though devoid of the narrative drama of Brechtian theater. however, Debord gives détournement a more analytic description required by the complex interpretive possibilities of the audiovisual field, than the majority of the commentary on détournement has tended to articulate. Debord distinguished two types, as follows:

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Minor détournement is the détournement of an element which has no importance in itself and which thus draws all its meaning from the new context in which it has been placed. For example, a press clipping, a neutral phrase, a commonplace photograph.

Deceptive détournement, also termed premonitory-proposition détournement, is in contrast the détournement of an intrinsically significant element, which derives a different scope from the new context. A slogan of Saint-Just, for example, or a film sequence from Eisenstein.[ii]

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the differentiation of these two forms, context absorbent and context additive, clarifies what Debord meant in saying that creation is not a matter of mere composition (arrangement), but of the invention of new laws of composition. he describes the law of détournement in this way:

The distortions introduced in the détourned elements must be as simplified as possible, since the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements. This is well known. Let us simply note that if this dependence on memory implies that one must determine one’s public before devising a détournement, this is only a particular case of a general law that governs not only détournement but also any other form of action on the world. The idea of pure, absolute expression is dead; it only temporarily survives in parodic form as long as our other enemies survive.[iii]

this definition establishes a purely social criterion for aesthetic-political practice, in that it abolishes the concept of genius, of artist authorship as a singular, autonomous act of invention (absolute expression), by equating it with ‘any other form of action on the world.’ this reduction in effect abolishes the modern construction of art in general, first by returning it to the class of primitive actions, common to all creative agency. and secondly, by requiring that any conception of context, whether historical in the sense of mnemonic, or ahistorical in the sense of a new encounter that necessitates a new interpretation, be understood as a relational, collective act. Debord assumes a form of shared, public memory, publicly produced and publicly consumed within the frame of the everyday. Implicit in this definition is that both acts of consumption and production be simultaneously determined in their social relationality. to alter public reception then requires that their simultaneous relation be the target of détournement. typical interpretations of détournement treat only the production, or only the consumption, but not their simultaneity. the implicit lemma of this formulation entails the concept of ‘exchange.’ what else constitutes this simultaneous relation of production and consumption, than an act of ‘exchange?’to fail to shift from targeting only one pole or other of the capital-act, to its central function, exchange, means that an aesthetic-political act remains alienated and aestheticized. all productions of détournement must be determined by preconceived public reception, while all receptive consumption must be determined by linking a present, détourned experience to a past experience or some element of it. Détournement then, is articulated recollection, or a form of recall, and as such, is a specific species of historical consciousness, that potentially may be used either for or against the spectacle.[iv]

[i] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement,” Les Lèvres News #8, May, 1956.

[ii] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement.”

[iii] Guy Debord, “Methods of Détournement.”

[iv] This definition requires that we class sequels, serials, and remakes as species of recall. The only relevant political question then becomes whether or not they aid or resist the spectacle. For commentary on sequels, serials, and remakes, see Sven Lutticken, “Planet of the Remakes,” New Left Reveiw 25, January-February 2004, pp. 103-119.

Détournement

the collective individual

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i’ve been, and this blog is, inspired by the project that Bourdieu has described as the ‘collective intellectual.’ this trans-indiviidualist entity must ‘fulfill negative functions: it must work to produce and disseminate instruments of defense against symbolic domination…’ and it is only possible to be inspired by that concept because the organization by it might be brought into existence, as Bourdieu imagined, does not exist. this was his conception as presented in his essay, ‘Universal Corporatism: The Role Intellectuals in the Modern World, first delivered as a lecture in 1989 on the two hundred year anniversary of the French Revolution:

it will be necessary today to invent forms of organization which would give voice to a great collective intellectual, combining the qualifications and talents of all specific intellectuals. great historical precedents for this can be found (I am thinking, for instance, of the “philosophes” of the Encyclopedie). It is only a question of inventing a model of organization which, by turning to account the modern means of communication, would allow all competent intellectuals to give their symbolic support to public interventions, elaborated in each specific case by those among them most competent to address the given problem. The tension between central planning and spontaneous individual action could be resolved by constructing a true international network whose circumference (to adapt Nicholas de Cusa’s formula) would be everywhere and whose center would be nowhere.

Bourdieu was of course very aware of how difficult it would be to create such an organization:

But there is no overlooking the obstacles to such a collective mobilization. In order to raise intellectuals’ consciousness of their common interests, it would be necessary to neutralize the propensity to division and particularism which is inherent in the very logic of the field. Nothing is more difficult than to make intellectuals understand that their struggles, even those for purely corporate ends and aiming only at defending autonomy, have to be collective because so many of the powers to which they are subject (such as that of journalism) succeed as well as they do only because the opposition to them is scattered and divided against itself.

and of course, his vision has never been realized precisely because the organized forces he speaks of, the academy for example, are so deeply resistant to the concept, and therefore extraordinarily difficult to neutralize. but it is possible for individuals to simulate in far less effective ways, such an organization by allying themselves with other intellectuals and their methods and subjects of research, in order to add to them through their application in order to achieve some degree of common practice and social/cultural/political effect.

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my posts so far have looked to popular film and their historical and political contexts for examples of symbolic domination. i will continue to look in that direction for now, but by way of building an alliance for the creation of a collective individual inferior to that of Bourdieu’s vision. i will introduce some analytic concepts first posed by Guy Debord and the Situations in the 1960s, because it is with their methods and subjects that my analysis of popular film finds its most committed historical, political, and media-specific [film] alliance.

Debord introduced the concept of the Spectacle, a term he used for the visual manifestations of capitalism, and of which popular film plays a large role. along with advertising, all forms of media including television, and today of course the web and mobile media. i will specifically focus on the mechanisms of what he termed the integrated spectacle, in order to arrive at a transformation of Debord’s concept of détournement, to be taken up in the next post, as a means to expose some of the forms that symbolic domination takes. in his terms, this critical technique relies on memory traces, on the assumption that recall was possible. but the spacings i’ve literalized so far, through ‘filmic’ allegory in previous posts have never been forgotten, therefore cannot be recalled. hence, they cannot be détourned. Détournement, therefore, must shed it reliance on recall, one of the main forms by which the spectacle now governs, and aim instead to expose the visual production of invisible conjunctions that symbolic dominance strives effectively to hide. it is necessary to create a new form of détournement as a relentless deconstruction of false, political alibis, to create a more effective, filmic form of political-aesthetic practice.

the collective individual

when no one could be watching

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The plot of the “recall double-cross” takes place in the future anterior: Mr. Universe returns to the past in order, once again, to cancel the revolution of mille neuf soixante huit, (Kennedy’s eternal flame[i] eternally haunts the US political imaginary; even when snuffed by Reagan’s California governorship, like a trick candle, it automatically relights.), in order that the neo-liberal totalitarian revolution can continue to deepen its successes. In this performative, fully concrete charade of public alliance making, the structure of spacetime is literally altered. The double-cross need no longer be serial, no longer needs two sets of victims, since, the spectacle is now an integrated,[ii] ubiquitous force field that spreads as it concentrates, and concentrates as it spreads. The double-cross is internalized in a single object of deceit, by means of a conversion machine that produces series of transitive re-interpolations, as demonstrated by Terminator 1-3. ‘John’ the yet unborn figure of the future revolutionary leader in T1 and countercultural hacker of the second episode, shades by episode three into ‘John’ the counter-terrorist, as the Terminator itself morphs from ‘enemy’ in T1 (sent into the past to kill the mother of the future leader of the resistance), to ‘friend’ in T2, in preparation we must assume, for Schwarzenegger’s ‘recall’ race. The Matrix series reinforces the pattern; Mr. Andersen the hacker gives way to Neo the new age savior in the power game of predestination ‘governed’ by the architect-oracle dualism (white male/black woman, mind/body, law/chance) that maintains the racialized economy of the matrix, and rules human subjection through mere iteration disguised as revolution. More on this below. It is a decidedly Lutheran-Buddhist vision that allows for only asocial, libertarian redemption, modeled on the standard martyrdom of the white, master-savior of black Zion, apparently incapable, as usual, of saving itself. The result: sociopolitical closure as a zero-sum game. The lesson: the switch of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in each case took place between films when no one could be watching.

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These non-visual spaces – spacings in the Derridean sense, localities with duration – are materialized within the spectacle as a new order of spacetime, materially constituted as invisibility. They are the intervals between the release dates of episodes of a sequel. They are chronotopes of a far more radical, material character than those first brilliantly diagnosed by Bakhtin for the novelist imaginary. And they are far more sinister. They will remain forever beyond visuality, beyond all phenomenologies. They cannot be sensed, neither seen nor heard. Other analytic methods are necessary to discover how these spacings constitute new orders of spectacular integration.

[i] Of importance here is the work of Antfarm’s “Eternal Frame,” the reenactment of Kennedy’s assassination based on the Segruder film. See the catalog, Ant Farm, 1968-1978: January 21-April 25, 2004. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, 2004

[ii] ‘Integration’ in this article refers to two sources: Guy Debord, Comments of the Society of the Spectacle, translated by Malcolm Imrie, Verso, 9-11, and Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance, 75, where the interviewer introduces Umberto Eco’s concept of the “integrated intellectual.” See note 15 below.

when no one could be watching

Dia-Gnosis

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admittedly, at first glance, my filmic references are almost ancient history. the first film of the Terminator series came out in 1984, for example, but the fifth in the series, Terminator Genisys, came out only last year, 2015. Schwarzenegger has been around in cyborgian form for quite awhile. the history of the Matrix franchise is far more telescoped; the first installment came out in 1999 while the second two were both released in 2003. That happens to be the same year both T3 and Ang Lee’s Hulk came out. the Alien series unfolded over an 18 year period, between 1979 and 1997. Batman has seen three distinct temporal series; 1943 to 1966, 1989 to 1997, and most recently, 2005 to 2012. X-Men has so far been distributed over a 14 year period, from 2000 to 2014, with future installments scheduled through 2017. Two extensions of Avatar are in development. And there is speculation that Scott is planning a Bladerunner sequel. i won’t bore anyone with the genealogy of Star Wars, which it seems will be an infinite series.

my point here is that some historical forces unfold relatively slowly, are discontinuous, constructed over a long period interrupted by variable-length intervals. the reasons for this are not important here. it’s the effect that interests me. the serialization of blockbuster films are able to influence vast populations on a global scale, over multiple generations. Star Wars is indeed the most extreme example. such films effect us repetitively, passing their effects from one generation to another, from one culture to another, almost genetically. such repetition constitutes a kind of reinforcement of cultural values, whatever those values may be. some are good and some are not. and we should be careful here to recognize that such filmic influences are not the same for everyone, not the same for all viewers. but whatever reception they receive, they are compounded by the fact of the repetition, no matter how modulated by personal or cultural differences. histories of cultural values are deeply tied to them. but the inverse is also true; their content both consciously and unconsciously reflects the historical moment in which each episode is released. this is what makes serials interesting; they are to some degree not only indexes of specific historical and cultural moments, but can, again to some degree, index the changes from one period to another.

in addition to the reciprocal influences of filmic blockbuster spectacles and their specific reflections of history, the comparative impacts of one film to another, of a group of films to each other, needs also to be considered. clearly, the popular imagination can’t help itself from comparing, both positively and negatively, batman to superman to wolverine to hulk, and the like. so groups of films also reciprocally influence each other and their audiences. this is a second level of reinforcement. a third level arises from the ways in which film writers and directors mine other films, from other cultures and times, for their structures and contents. Star Wars I is modeled on Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, for example.

though it would be a very complicated task, it would be possible to map the system of such influences to determine what might be called the overall gestalt effects of specific components of a given film matrix. my previous entry did a bit of that through my comparison of Neo and Hulk to their real-world analogues, Bush and Schwarzenegger. i want to develop this analysis further by focusing on a particular matrix of influences that revolves around Schwarzenegger.

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Recall , as a concept, took on a very different meaning in cultural life since Philip K. Dick’s inspired science fiction film, Total Recall, added a new effect to the already flickering border between the fictive and the real, and morphed into California’s 2003 special gubernatorial election dubbed the ‘Davis Recall.’ That was the moment when then Governor Davis was challenged in the middle of his term, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lost. He was ‘recalled’ in the sense that he was forced to abdicate the governorship. Both of these events, the film and the political challenge, featured the crosscutting change-agent, Schwarzenegger. It would be mistaken to treat these alliances as accidental and of no socio-political interest.[1] The key question is: Just what form of governmentality emerges from this spectacular re-interpolation?

 

This transition opens and demarks a new historical moment in the re-calling forth of political subjection, perhaps the launch of a sequel to the persistent neo-con, thirty year campaign, but certainly, a new phase of the spectacle as it sutures the real and the fictive in inverse “filmic” form – not the reality of the screen, but, the screen of reality. The theme as announced by Schwarzenegger himself: “The democrats must go.” – as if they hadn’t already defected from even the libertarian liberalism that has constituted their illusory shred of difference, parlaying their own deal making skills to occupy (and benefit from) the first phase of the double-double cross as the “lesser of evils” decoy. (More on this in a following post.)

The analysis must take a genealogical path: the Schwarzenegger recall is of second order, itself a recall of another, equivalent neoconservative moment. Reagan had already played the role as two-bit thug who masterminded the double double-cross in the Killers (1964), establishing the precedent for Schwarzenegger’s supercession. This sequel structure reveals governmentality in Hegelian terms – philosophically, the double double-cross is the negation of negation, and is a strategy the neo-cons have learned to use with consummate skill. A two-bit, automaton superhero now performs his own version of the double double-cross – in trumping Davis he trumped Kennedy (again), manifest as, and consummated by, the politically symbolic matrimonial kiss assertively proffered by Maria Schriver during Terminator’s cum Governator’s televised acceptance speech. With the Kennedy and Schriver families carefully arranged at ringside, the signal is this: the alliance hierarchy has shifted and the kiss is the sign of capitulation of the liberals to the conservatives.

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[1] “Social movements are several symbolic revolutions behind their opponents, who use media consultants, public relations consultants and so on.” Pierre Bourdieu, “Social Scientists, Economic Science, and Social Movements,” in Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market, 1998, p. 53.)

 

Dia-Gnosis

cartesian meditation 2

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i present this ‘document’ for inspection. appearances to the contrary, this document is not a photograph, it is not even photographic. what may be detected here is the structure of spectacular integration. the multi-dimensional, monstrous handshake between Bush and Schwarzenegger is that between neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and symbolizes the sealing of a contract integrating and initiating a new member into the spectra of its identities.

i’ve supplemented these announcements of the spectacle’s integration with two other integral forms that occur in the caesuras between the spectacle’s filmic unfolding. “Neo” of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, is in fact figured by the “Neo” of the Matrix, where he takes the form of a syncretic spiritualism that negates every trace of resistance to the spectacle it manifestly critiques. for what happens at the end of the trilogy but simple a return to the same old cycle of events – Neo is the sixth avatar of himself to fought the same battle, only to be temporarily defeated so that he can be reincarnated in the future to begin the vicious pattern all over gain. and this same pattern is described in another form by Niobe, in the language of new spiritualism, the denouement of the film with the words: ‘Two ships in two directions: sounds like a prophecy doesn’t it Morpheus?’ One ship, the Logos (reason) – carrying the integrated human-code One (Neo), the integrated love-forms (eros, philia, agape – desire, friendship, compassion) of Trinity, and the fallen code-Devil (Bain-Smith) – travels to the Machine City to be sacrificed in inevitable transcendence of the final integration – the Neo-Smith-Machine worlds collapsing into each other.

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representing the current US theocratic nationalism, this configuration accomplishes the conversion of secular reason and knowledge (logos), of knowing, into theological faith. knowledge of the future is precluded, as only faith in miracles is now possible. the second ship, the Hammer – carrying the anti-Bain-Smith, pro-council captains in another impossible (miracle) feat of piloting to rescue Zion – represents the current israeli, zionist theocratic nationalism set on annihilating the palestinians. Bain-Smith is the suicidal secular/islamist (he committed a terrorist act in destroying Zion’s fleet of ships by setting off their main weapon against the machines, the electromagnetic pulse) whose aim is to defeat secular government by theocratic proliferation of jihadic armies of programmed sameness (limitless Smiths). In annihilating palestine, Bain is also annihilated. in order for the One (totalitarianism) to triumph, he must first make a pact (hindu in the from the daughter-code, Sati) with the devil in order to continue the trading between the oracle and the architect’s all-but-perfect (divine) systems of control, between the law of scientific determinancy, and the law of theocracy, integrated in order to produce the totalitarian, spectacular state, in which individualism and freedom are precluded.

taken together, these two feats demonstrate Neo’s superiority over totalitarianism and pluralism that is the pure inscription of his own integration into and identity with the networks of digital power. defeating Smith is impossible because once a program always a program; even “choice paths” have always already been pre-programmed; the only ‘act’ (i do, therefore i am)possible is programmed iteration and re-iteration through synthesis, or integration, a perpetual cycling between the scientific and theocratic legalities of predetermined binaries.  there is no escape from right wing religious fanaticism in any of its guises – Christian, Judaic, Islamist; architect, oracle, human – you must take your orders and revel in the false sensuality of spectacular materialism. like the chinese finger puzzle, the more you struggle the more you defeat yourself. the only other ‘choice’ is to become what you fight, thereby reinforcing the integration. this is the moral lesson of (our) Epoch, whom jealousy drives to betrayal, only himself to be denied his recall to the hedonistic illusions of the matrix, killed without reward (recalled as a famous actor), and caught in the logic of ‘no escape’ from capital’s endless cycles of crises.

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only the ‘one’ is qualified for the ascension into the spectacular corporate heaven since he has integrated all the mechanisms of the spectacle, its agency, its subversion, and the oracular rendering of its future possibilities. the inscription of Neo is incomplete, however, without linking him to his “green,” Zapatista,  militarized other, Hulk (science run sweetly, innocently and violently amok), whose oedipal transformation is complete only when recognizing that his mother is mother nature figured by his ‘greening’ effect on the world – just as Neo achieved apotheosis through his final integration to maintain the zero sum game between binaristicly structured divinities, so Hulk’s defeat of his mad (physically unstable) militaristic, scientistic, electrodynamic but impotent father leads to his own apotheosis through diffusion and integration as organic, environmental, vegetal force in the greening of the desert. just as the nextel ad recalls the handshake ad, so the Hulk recalls Neo.

the last form of integration needs no comment. there is no doubt that the flag and the media are equivalent forms of propaganda for reinforcing each other, which is to reinforce the diffusion and concentration of american imperialism. this makes the flag, corporate media, and the Nextel ad identical to the spectacular film. thus this analysis of spectacle inscription required the writing together of photojournalism, advertising and two only apparently unrelated spectacle films. it is through their differences that they achieve the unity of the integrated spectacle.

PRESIDENT BUSH GESTURES AT PRESS CONFERENCE ON TEXAS RANCH
Bush, in his 2004 acceptance speech made two comments that underscore this analysis. first he said: ‘There is an old saying: pray not for tasks equal to your powers, but pray for power equal to the task.’ he fails, not surprisingly, to cite his source, in order not to compromise with identity the obvious truth of this ancient adage, which so clearly integrates religion with state power. he then followed up a few moments later by a second imperial dictum; “There is no limit to the greatness of America.”

this non-image is an example of a complex extra-linguistic sign, the function of which is to articulate relations that spectacle ironically works to make invisible. the image-assemblage is a non-image because what it depicts cannot be presented to perception. it materially inscribes the invisible. and for similar reasons, it cannot be identified as a form of language because it does not signify, through the same double-articulation that semiosis requires. what it ‘presents’ are the operations that the spectacle performs in order to achieve integration. these operations consist of an array of reciprocal negations that permeate the entire spectrum of power. forms of cultural analysis that fail to expose these operations as arrays of negations fail to expose its forms of political oppression.

cartesian meditation 2

a cartesian meditation

4

as a first post, i will return to a ‘philosophical encounter’ i had a number of years ago.

i photographed this billboard as it hovered over the highway that leads to the bay bridge, in san francisco, california. so literally millions saw it during the several months its crass, imageless image sought to cut through the barrage of media glut, by denying the standard visual strategies of advertising, as though it were a text or twitter message, and therefore a personal message to ‘you’. the hideous architecture of the financial district was directly behind it, so the sign was essentially a message sent from there. It is really quite an ominous one, both a warming and a threat. though it’s no longer there, its extraordinary message still announces the main message of neoliberalism today – “i” have the power. it’s extraordinary because corporate capital typically masks its real agenda, while here it’s unconscious diktat is writ large as a barbarization of one of the most famous of philosophical statements – i think therefore i am. for thought, action is substituted – “i do”.  it is only action, this message implies, thoughtless action, that brings being (i am) into existence. but the phrase, ‘i do’, also suggests the promise of matrimony (‘i do take you as my lawfully wedded consumer’), and we are now bound by economic law. and further, common sense is the target of this message as it intends to subvert the adage: think before you act. but the message it transmits is also an integration of descartes statement and nextel’s reinterpretation, but also the annihilation of the difference between two forms of subjectivity – the corporate ‘i’ of action and the cartesian ‘i of rational thought. this perversion of cartesianism in an announcement of an accomplished fact – written in the imperative voice it has the authority of  incontrovertible fact, and is an ‘order.’ do as i say, and put yours in now, or else. its message recalls social darwinism’s entitlement to dominate because those who collectively send it are clearly the strongest – that they rule, and that we must obey, is a perfect and indisputable logical global consequences of their power, is as clear and distinct a thought as descartes demanded, a rational and scientific fact. the message is a complete negation of identity, of freedom and rights for the individual, period. ‘i do because i can’ is a bald corporate-imperial pronouncement, an educational rescript if you will, and asserts the symmetrical corollary to, ‘don’t think, act’ – that is, you can’t either think or act because your are powerless to ‘do’ anything, and implying that therefore you don’t exist. which is in fact true in the sense that the great majority don’t exists as anything other than a spreadsheet entry that pay taxes directly into the pockets of the corporate wealthy.

that is fact, and nextel has made this loud and clear. it’s a done deal – buy nextel.done. so i begin to make a case against capital’s barbarity. to bring evidence of that, against it, for those willing to consider not just the evidence, but far more importantly, to bring summary judgment against it.

a cartesian meditation