The reasons I am writing this might not make perfect sense without the full responses, which are on the empyre list and comments on the previous post here, but my return post was an attempt to clarify where questioned and engage where challenged. Was useful for me if no-one else:
Hi All, Apologies for being slow at responding, some family difficulties have taken precedence, and the never ending routines of.. well, no need to whine on about it.
Many many thanks for the responses and comments. I was planning a post that would take us elsewhere, but time already achieved that. Let’s say I am happy to stick with the productivity of going ‘off topic’ in good directions, of even being out of sync – and of later attempting difficult crossings and even slightly impatient and breathless connection making (which I really liked, thanks Micha).
The thing about audio in cinema/movies is that while lip-service is paid to the ‘silence … action on set’ its exactly that priority – silence because the action will start that has sound continually relegated to the status of a second class citizen. Sound recording is fraught, often forgotten – and we have become very much accustomed to images, they seem easy (sure, they are not, but…), well, sound is not of equal import in the discourse on film, and that’s just the problem. When I was teaching documentary film (in my first ten years at Goldsmiths) there was one clear consequence of the limited resources we had. Picture image was pretty good on the various cheap-ish cameras available, such as TVR 900 and so on, but the sound was terrible. And when it came to editing, if the sound was terrible, that was about as good as things got. Great images, crap sound, often meant disaster. Some great films were made (you can see them on Daily Motion) but oftentimes they could have been a whole lot better.
“Except in music videos and cartoons, the soundtrack seems always to exist in function of the image” – Menotti
But even in music videos the sound seemed to be relegated – as Andrew Goodwin long ago argued in “Dancing in the Distraction Factory”, critics had become deaf. I don’t think he was just bemoaning the fact that New Romantic music was dominated by rubbish fashion. That he includes factory in the title of his book did not align him with Adorno or the autonomists, but it would have been nice if it had – I think there is something to be explored in the way the visual – surveillance, coding, presence – belongs to the realm of production under capital. The grooves of the record industry riff on this over and over, a culture industry, a distraction factory, a machine for value extraction. In the cinema no-one lets you scream.
I am happy to hear talk of mediation (Menotti), as without mediation, or rather without theorising mediation, I think we remain unable to comprehend what is going on. To the extent the cinema escapes its older factory conditions, it escapes via a mediation into new conditions, new circuits of occupying the city-space/our lives. Without mediation between the image and the production apparatus, there are only reified fixations – on the image, on the auteur, on the screen mechanics, even on the circuit. I like to call this trinketization – a limiting fascination with abstracted and isolated components of a system that cannot be grasped without a theory of mediation. The trinketization syndrome is very strong in cultural studies (objects, things, the fetish of commodities) and also in cinema (close ups, Kane’s Rosebud). Here Adorno chastised Benjamin writing his Arcades project wanting to have the things (all those bits and pieces of Paris etc he collected for so long, snowdomes and the like) communicate with each other in some kind of auto-dialectical arrangement. Adorno insisted this could not stand without a theory of relation, of mediation. I’ve long been a fan of juxtaposition, but agree that mere montage, revolutionary once, has so readily been co-opted by the culture industry that its no longer even raising eyebrows. The famous picture of Sergei Eisenstien shaking hands with Mickey Mouse is a trinket to ironize exactly this.
I’ve a slowly gestating piece on Citizen Kane (oh no, not again) along these lines, developed slowly as the opening to my lecture course on Marx’s “Capital” (lecture one – ‘The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense collection of commodities’ – Kane collects… Without Kane, without the mediation that is Kane as capital, Kane in Xanadu, Kane and politics, newspapers, media (without Kane as William Randolph Hearst…) there are only trinkets, only Rosebuds. For the record, the gist is in these posts:https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/welles-hearst-capital/ https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2006/09/03/quoting-marx-for-the-slums-–-zizek’s-parallax-viewpoint/ https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/kanes-snow-globe/ https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2005/10/13/why-film-students-babble-on-about-orsen-welles/
What I meant when I suggested – just threw it out there really – that “the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure” is that the border is not just at the airport or the seaport, or the passport control check. The border extends, like sound, into every register of our lives. I have to refer to the back catalogue again here. A post on trinketization from the anniversary of Sputnik, in honour of Leika:
The border is not only geography and vision – though a line on the map and the sign at immigration control are our most immediate experiences of control – the border is also a process, an order, an iteration, uneven, performative and aural. The border is not just at the edge or boundary, it is also in the street, in the post, in the pub. The border operates between people. The hand raised to silence the offer of the migrant DVD salesperson who interrupts your quiet enjoyment of a beer – that too is a brutal moment of border control. Although of course we can insist that state boundaries are also porous, continually bypassed, more and less easily, in so many different ways; immigration control still stands as a block to movement and mediation.
The resonance of the war and power is strong here – echoing with the sounds of silence, dispossession and death to which our eyes become deaf, our ears have become blind.
Is our boundary prejudice built into the structure of the border control? A logic of presence, geography and vision govern the strong sense of truth that belongs to knowledge. We say knowledge is divided into fields (geography) and seem most often to designate knowing through a confident designation. We indicate truths by pointing (vision), there is presence in understanding. Now perhaps there is an alternative in the metaphoric code with which we name movement and sound. It may be possible to hear a more critical tone, to raise questions about the assertions of certitude – when critical we say we are not sure we agree, we doubt, we say we do not like the tone. Can thinking through travel and sound suggest new ways of linking across the borders between us all – as sound crosses the border in ways that tamper with visual and geographic blocks (pirate radio, music, language, the sound of falling bombs…). But we also say, when critical, that we cannot see the point. Ahh, with this last the too easy divide of metaphor into those that point and assert knowledge through vision and those that question and challenge through sound does finally break down. But perhaps there is something in sound that can suggest more, that allows us at least to listen to another possibility, temporarily opening up ears and minds.
It is often thought, but we could be more precise – that movement across borders of all kinds is a good thing, breaking taboos and genre rules is an unmitigated good. Of course, cross disciplinarity is claimed as a boon (in cultural studies for sure), but clearly other crossings – of capital, of weapons, of imperial power – are not so welcome. Capital moves one way, surplus value extraction another. Cross-border global movement (music distribution, television news, democracy) might not always be a boon. No doubt pirate radio enjoys much approval, but communications media also have a less favourable heritage (radio as used, say, by the National Socialists in Germany) and present (the contemporary normative narrations of ‘democracy’ by the Voice of America, the BBC, or with the televisual uniformity of CNN). A more careful thinking that notes the metaphors of critique, distinguishes movement and sonic registers that affirm or disavow, works to undo that which destroys and divides, fosters that which unites, organises capacity to live otherwise with others…
Crossing the border, a great achievement, pushing the boundaries, also sometimes caught and fraught in contradictions. For cross-disciplinarity and border transgression, against control by Capital – we need to sublate movement out of, under and around control. No simple task. The sound of a dog barking in space might caution against uncritical celebrations. Lest we forget Laika, dead on Sputnik 2 these 51 years ago today.
And earlier, an attempt to suggest we could start working against a geographical model of the Border or the Boundary. If we recognize the border is not just the port, but the entire city, as in “everywhere, in everything we do”, in each interaction between people related, somehow somewhere to belonging – how violent this is – if we recognize the border as a wall between us all, then we might see reason to have to reconfigure the very idea of nation, boundary and movement that so distracts us. Secondly, the border is not just at the edge, but at any port, at the immigration office, in the postal service that delivers the visa, in the police checks, the detention procedure – in the everyday reactions of people to each other even as they stand and stare. Thirdly, if we think of the way sound and meaning travels across the border, might we start to develop ways of thinking critically against this geographic boundary – and the old models of nation, culture, race that the border secures? What would it be to ask critically about, and so reject, the way we have fixed the border through property, maps, geography – and so leave that space that has been deaf to other movements, transmissions, resonances. Would this work things differently, otherwise?
Which might be what I might – maybe – could – possibly have meant by “filming your way across”? The ‘second life’ of theoretical language (thanks Johannes, I like that) is pretty useless if it does not provoke suggestions that might lead us to actions more effective, more capable, more able to win (against Capital, which has tanks and theory… there is so much more to do here… but I must run elsewhere).
Thanks so much for the time, if you read this far. I will lurk on…