the collective individual



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.


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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s