My father went to the cinema every Saturday where he saw the newsreels showing the liberation of the camps. The two things were always linked in his reminiscence: the joy of the screen and its stars and ‘having to see’ what ‘had to be seen.’ ‘Had to be’ because the postlogue usually went, You didn’t, did you? to my mother, as if she’d been both deprived enjoyment and spared knowledge.
No. She hadn’t seen – and therefore didn’t ‘know’ – since her parents wouldn’t let her go to the cinema. It wasn’t until she had boyfriends who would take her that she went to movies by which time the newsreels had given way to shorts, even cartoons, before the main feature.
My father was prepared you might say by this double exposure to the screen for a life in the theatre. But his unpublished novels have a cinematic quality.
The theatre seriously in the 1970s took up the problem or crisis of representation associated with Adorno’s name as with Celan’s. The fact theatre was not by then a popular medium but on its way to being museumised made it a place where it was sometimes possible to ask difficult questions. Sometimes, that is, when its practitioners were not already in complicity with the rising economic rationale.
Cinema seems to have come late to such a tragic recognition of the limits of representation at which complicity becomes general, for example in Michael Haneke’s Caché. A different complicity than that by which artists would join forces with capitalism. But equal, in so far as there is a lessening of the power to choose. However, in the case of seeing newsreels of the liberation of Auschwitz it is involuntary, and not thereafter innocent, and in the case of accepting the inevitability of the economic rationalisation of every facet of life and society, it is voluntary, and therefore not innocent.
Compulsory viewing was a moral category and the screen had the physical authority to insist that its viewers not turn their heads away. Its resources possibly exhausted, long since having reached peak Plato, still it is worthwhile in this regard recalling the cave. In its darkness men, women, children are captivated by the shadows projected on the cave wall of a procession of real objects and events. Held captive, they can neither turn away nor see over the barrier below which reality parades, firelight behind it casting its image as the only visible reality. Except for the philosopher who breaks out.
First he sees the whole theatrical or cinematographic set-up, the cave, the bound men, women, children, the barrier, the firelight and the actual things and events in motion before it. But this epiphany is insufficient for him to free the others. So he exits the cave. And finds out where everything has come from, which so far only firelight has set flickering in shadows up the cave wall, which so far has appeared only in insubstantial series. This is not yet enough to make him a hero rescuer, a freedom fighter and go back; he returns but is somehow trapped in his knowledge and lessened by it.
He chooses another medium, in other words, prepared by this double exposure to the screen. Nevertheless, his dialogues have this quality of theatrical or cinematic presentation.
Compulsory viewing is now an aesthetic contribution. Seeing Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is compulsory. Nobody wants to (be seen to) force anybody to see anything real even if (unseen) they try it on: the double articulation of sharism and advertising leads to a voluntary screenism. Which, being voluntary, is not innocent.
A general break is advocated for sometimes militated for from being held captive to totalitarian modernity. The spectacle, that is, of politics.
The multiplication of screens has passed a critical threshold but not one of ubiquity, rather a ubiquitous or immanent atomic threshold. Since this multiplication has proceeded in two directions: miniaturisation and universal mobility.
Screens have sunk into the skin of our modernity. Our post-atomic modernity. And behind this skin, a light. Plath’s lampshade or a general state of illumination behind the realm of husks and shells, Qlipphoth. But also within the space of this skin – perforations.
A general screenism perforates reality which porosity acts as a filter stretched across the world, described by Leibniz. And where these mediatic pores combine screens with cameras the sum effect of universal visibility is in fact invisibility. A general and generalisable status quo.
It is no coincidence that schools do not bar pupils from watching they attempt to ban touching. [ref] Screens touch. They ‘bump.’ A euphemism for fucking.
Screens are in the process of becoming skins. Whether by transplant, substitution or extension into new powers of affecting and being affected is a good question.
I look forward to the tactility of screens, the new haptic qualities, where research continues, beyond the general atomism of the screen and its presentation of modernity, post-screen… [link]