On Beller

Jonathan Beller’s work has been noticed by some philosophical/scholarly bloggers. Here is the short comment I posted to Le Colonel Chabert‘s blog (with hyperlinks added and grammar/spelling fixed! well as fixed as you are going to get from super-busy me!).

Just a short note to suggest that although Beller’s work is very interesting and I have been thinking about it for some time, however, it is also very 20th century. Beller isolates a Deleuze somewhere between his Cinema books and Anti-Oedipus. There are three main points to make about this:

  1. Cinema is not the only or even the primary mode from the reproduction of ‘state’ forms. There are many screens (as Virilio might say). From phones to TV to car entertainment systems there are screens everywhere, but beyond this are the bodies across which images circulate and which undergo incorporeal transformations. The cinematic machine does not only exist in cinema and the crux of my problem with Beller is that he removes the labour of looking from the labour of circulation (‘pure circulation’ — AO). The example I give is of Jaws — the first blockbuster — versus Star Wars — the first blockbuster cultural franchise. Yes, Jaws, it was huge, however Star Wars is something else. The cultural franchise exists across a singular form of expression but many forms of content: the toys, the computer games, the books, the franchise fast food themed ‘happy meals’, the multiple iterations of the films on DVD (special, directors, widescreen, etc editions). The concept of ‘high concept’ only takes into account the relatively simplistic singular form of expression: ‘Star Wars’. Yet the image of ‘Star Wars’ is reproduced across a number of bodies played with (toys, computer games), read (books, comics), watched (video, DVD, film, TV), eaten (branded foods), and so on. The image of the film is only one part in the circulation of the image of the cultural franchise, it circulates across all of these other bodies. Why restrict the cinematic machine to cinema? Has Beller never eaten pop corn?
  2. Between the image and the viewer is a relationship of looking, however this is not the only relationship. There is the question of intensity, or desire, or what I would call ‘enthusiasm’, that enabled the articulation of the viewer-image as an instantiation of the cultural industry. This is not some kind of desire as lack, enthusiasm is an over-flowing, a demand or requirement to act, an affective compulsion. The cultural industries cultivate this desire, not in aid of some state abstract machine, although these may form up on the surface of the enthusiasm (fans and their cultural capital), but in aid of the circulation of the image and the machinic bodies with which consumers connect. The desire or enthusiasm is what is at stake. The multiple series of sense of the expression, the way the image of the cultural franchise meshes with other images and senses, is legislated into reference by the intermediaries of reviewers, critics, and others serving this function. It is at the point of legislation (incorporeal transformation) that the bodies become part of the circulation of the image.
  3. Lastly, Deleuze attempts to isolate those artists, thinkers, whomever who can free sense from previous legislations and free desire from the circulations laid out with capital or the State. Indeed most cultural forms are shit, if ‘shit’ is precisely an expression which circulates across bodies in the well worn and well cultivated circulation of sense or of desire. Deleuze isolated various creators in cinema that did not produce films that were advertisements of themselves (the film) and demonstrated why this is the case. Indeed as the colonel says, boycott those circuits of desire and legislated sense.

4 replies on “On Beller”

  1. I’m curious now: can you give an top-line overview of the methodology you’re using in your thesis? You’ve moved from an ethnographic study into something else, involving various bits of philosophy and media/cultural-studies approaches — but it’s not clear to me what’s going on. I’m moving in a similar directions, so am veeeeery curious. How do your old fieldwork and new(er) readings relate?

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