Cinema In The Age of Control Societies

machinesoflovinggrace

(Incredibly rough draft of part II of an article for Carte Semiotiche Annali 4, IMAGES OF CONTROL. Visibility and the Government of Bodies. Part I can be found here).

Given our critique of the affirmationist interpretation, and while Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is Patton’s exemplar of something that approximates a Deleuzean ethico-political program, we should turn our attention to Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film Alphaville as the measure (and critique) of this affirmationist reading. Turning to Alphaville is crucial since it is the film where Godard achieves in cinema what Deleuze himself would only put down to paper towards the end of his life: the problem of how one makes revolution from within the contemporary paradigm of control societies. Not only were societies of control emerging as the latest form of capitalism’s ongoing globalization in Deleuze’s own life time; specific for our purposes here, what Deleuze understands as the technical and material conditions of control societies is precisely what Godard explores through the figure of an artificially intelligent computer (Alpha 60) that regulates the city of Alphaville as a whole with the aim of ensuring ‘civic order’ and dependable (i.e., predictable) citizenry. It is Alpha 60 who surveils, polices, and determines the guilt or innocence of the citizenry; that is, this AI form of governance is the perfect instance of those cybernetic machines at work in capitalist-control societies. Additionally, this emerging problem of control was a consequence of the shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ as Deleuze notes. It is a shift to the paradigm  that “registers the collapse of sensory-motor schemes: characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble…So a new type of character appears” (Negotiations, 59).

However, what Deleuze leaves implicit and under theorized in his concept of the ‘time-image,’ is the following: after the second world war, where we see a shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ there was a simultaneous shift in how nation-states began to conceive of the role of global strategies of governance. During and after the war, information theorists, scientists, and academics were employed by the American government to develop the technological means for establishing a certain degree of civic order in a world that has proven itself capable of succumbing to the ever looming threat of global war. It was this emerging group of scientists and academics that would construct the very means for actualizing societies of control (Deleuze) and were the real world correlates for the social function of Alpha 60 (Godard):

the very persons who made substantial contributions to the new means of communication and of data processing after the Second World War also laid the basis of that “science” that Wiener called “cybernetics.” A term that Ampère…had had the good idea of defining as the “science of government.” So we’re talking about an art of governing whose formative moments are almost forgotten but whose concepts branched their way underground, feeding into information technology as much as biology, artificial intelligence, management, or the cognitive sciences, at the same time as the cables were strung one after the other over the whole surface of the globe […] As Norbert Wiener saw it, “We are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we make look forward as worthy of our dignity.” Cybernetic government is inherently apocalyptic. Its purpose is to locally impede the spontaneously entropic, chaotic movement of the world and to ensure “enclaves of order,” of stability, and–who knows?–the perpetual self-regulation of systems, through the unrestrained, transparent, and controllable circulation of information” (The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, p.107-9).

In the last instance, whether we speak of the paradigm of control in contemporary modes of governmentality or Alpha 60 in Alphaville, both Deleuze and Godard are concerned with the possibilities for the radical transformation of social life from within this context of cybernetic governance. Thus, it is against the background of societies of control that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, and the politics that logically follows, will be measured and tested; if only to underscore how the affirmationist’s Platonism demonstrates that the application of metaphysical and epistemic truths into the domain of politics culminates in a praxis that is impotent at best and reactionary at worst.

I. AGAINST ALL FUTURE ACCIDENTS, or CINEMA IN THE AGE OF CYBERNETICS

Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film, Alphaville, tells the story of secret agent Lemmy Caution, a resident of the ‘Outlands’ whose journey into the town of Alphaville (officially, he is on a government organized trip with the objective of tracking down a certain Dr. von Braun) and his encounter with the cities seemingly mindless and one-dimensional inhabitants. The citizens of Alphaville are individuals who have been made to feel contented in indulging their drug habits, who have been assigned the social task of providing ‘escort’ services (predominantly women) for business persons and citizens alike (who are predominantly men); or those who, and they appear to be relatively few in the film, were former secret agents (like Lemmy himself) but have succumbed to the demands of life in the city. It is a place where even something as trivial as the conventions surrounding everyday language accord to the following maxim:  “No one ever says ‘why;’ one says ‘because’” (00:50:06-00:50:10). And as Lemmy’s former colleague (now ex-secret agent) Henri Dickinson, remarks: “Their ideal here, in Alphaville, is a technocracy, like that of termites and ants” (00:23:23-00:23:32). In Alphaville, the citizens are governed such that they are treated as parts of an organic whole, who require attention and support only to the extent that all individuals can fulfill their social function, much like a worker ant relative to its queen.

Early into the film we learn alongside our main character the reason for this ideal of technocracy: Alpha 60, an artificially intelligent computer program, monitors Alphaville’s inhabitants with the aim of maintaining a certain order and stability in the city as a whole. Alpha 60 is the police, government, judge, and jury whose authority stems from its superhuman capacity for computational analysis. Regarding this form of cybernetic governance, Alpha 60’s sole interest lies in determining which individuals of the population are capable of being socialized into civil society  and which individuals are unassimilable and therefore must be exterminated. If Alphaville has something in common with Deleuze’s concept of control societies it is with regard to the question of contemporary forms of governance whose means are becoming less those of confinement and more so those of ensuring the aggregation of information, its transparency, in order to better surveil and control populations. We can see Godard’s concern with the set of problems of control and governance, of resistance and ordered obedience, in the conversation between Lemmy Caution and Alpha 60 towards the end of the film:

Alpha 60: You are a menace to the security of Alphaville.
Lemmy Caution: I refuse to become what you call normal.
Alpha 60: Those you call mutants form a race superior to ordinary men whom we have almost eliminated.
Lemmy Caution: Unthinkable. An entire race cannot be destroyed.
Alpha 60: I shall calculate so that failure is impossible.
Lemmy Caution: I shall fight so that failure is possible. (01:17:45-01:18:32)

In light of this final dialogue, two things are worth noting. First, the antagonism between Lemmy Caution and Alpha 60; between the symbol of liberation from cybernetic governance and the symbol of control societies; takes the form of a struggle over what is deemed as possible and impossible. That is to say, not only is it the case that cybernetic governance is a form of control since it seeks to pre-emptively foreclose the possibility of the radical transformation of society. More importantly, and regarding the relation between Deleuze and Godard, it is precisely in the domain of the existence or inexistence of possibility that Deleuze locates the radical potential of both cinema and political change. As Deleuze writes in his now oft cited passage,

“Which, then, is the subtle way out? To believe, not in a different world, but in a link between man and the world, in love or life, to believe in this as in the impossible, the unthinkable, which none the less cannot but be thought: ‘something possible, otherwise I will suffocate.’ It is this belief that makes the unthought the specific power of thought, through the absurd, by virtue of the absurd” (C2, 170).

If ‘belief’ is the concept that offers the potential for freeing ourselves from control societies, it must be understood in the terms of the debate between Lemmy and Alpha 60. Determining what is possible and impossible becomes the contested site of politics, where the revolutionary, reformist, or reactionary character of one’s politics is but to the tested and ultimately revealed. In terms of Alphaville, it is clear that Lemmy Caution is a symbol of belief; the one who struggles for what is calculated as an impossibility from the perspective of the society of control regulated by Alpha 60 itself.

Second, and regarding the relationship between Alphaville and the emergence of cybernetics as form of governmentality in general, one cannot be faulted for thinking that Godard himself created Alpha 60 simply from the aims and ambitions of the marriage between cybernetics and government as outlined by the French Information theorist Abraham Moles:

 

“We envision that one global society, one State, could be managed in such a way that they could be protected against all the accidents of the future: such that eternity changes them into themselves. This is the ideal of a stable society, expressed by objectively controllable social mechanisms” (cited in ‘The Cybernetic Hypothesis,’ Tiqqun).

Given this situation of control as the dominant form of governance in both Alphaville and contemporary capitalism, of what use could we make of Patton’s affirmationist politics? Does Alphaville and the present control society violate his reading of a Deleuzean vitalist principle of the ‘inherent creative powers of life’ and obstruct the experience of joyous encounters? In other words, with control societies as well as Alphaville, do we encounter an organization of social life such that there is an obstruction/violation of the essential productivity that defines the nature and structure of reality as well as the highest virtue for living beings as such?

For Patton, the answer is straightforwardly affirmative: whether we consider Alphaville or societies of control, what we can be certain of is the ongoing violation of the creative powers of individuals in society and an obstruction of the possibility of living a life defined by joy as opposed to sadness. And it is precisely in this affirmative response that we see how Patton’s reconstruction of Deleuze’s metaphysical and epistemic commitments undercut any possibility for an ethico-political paradigm that can make good on the aspiration of the fundamental transformation of capitalist society into full communism as such: when what is understood to be metaphysically true (inherent creativity/productivity of life) is then used as the socio-political means to resist capitalist control, one may very well end up with a politics that privileges affirmation and creativity but it would not be a politics that necessarily coheres with that of Deleuze. For example, as Deleuze and Guattari state in the very first pages of Anti-Oedipus, this vitalist principle of continuous productivity and creation may be metaphysically significant but cannot be blindly projected as a program for political intervention. As they write, “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together” (AO, 2). Or again:

“Even within society, this characteristic man-nature, industry-nature, society-nature relationship is responsible for the distinction of relatively autonomous spheres that are called production, distribution, consumption. But in general this entire level of distinctions, examined from the point of view of its formal developed structures, presupposes (as Marx has demonstrated) not only the existence of capital and the division of labor, but also the false consciousness that the capitalist being necessarily acquires, both of itself and of the supposedly fixed elements within an overall process. For the real truth of the matter [is]…everything is production” (AO, 3-4)

Thus, and while it remains true at the level of the nature of flows and becomings that there is some creative capacity to which human society and economic production remains intractably subject to, it is clear that the simple valorization of creativity/productivity as such does not provide us with the means to discriminate between different political orientations.

Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, which collapses its metaphysical claims into its political prescriptions, fails to account for Deleuze and Guattari’s own principle that everything is production; and this initial principle necessarily includes qualitatively different organizations of society (e.g., capitalism, communism, fascism, libertarian). By equating what is essential for ‘life as such’ with what is desirable in the domain of politics, Patton precludes any possibility of deciding between competing political alternatives to presently existing capitalism. For Deleuze and Guattari, every social organization of society is productive in its own manner just as power produces more than it represses a la Foucault. Thus, if the criteria for the affirmationist position is the ‘freeing up of productivity wherever it is stymied,’ then the politics that stems from this principle affirms any and all organizations of social life necessarily since every form of society must be said to be productive, necessarily, though in its own particular manner.

Thus, one of the major consequences of such a position is that Patton subtracts our capacity for proposing alternative visions of the world in relation to present circumstances. In depriving ourselves of the capacity for proposing an alternative to our present, not only does Patton’s political position exacerbate the very problem Deleuze took as the problem posed to the project of revolutionary transformation; Patton’s position also appears as a deviation from the very category of creativity that Deleuze himself valorized in the domains of art, philosophy, and ultimately, politics: “We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present…Art and philosophy converge at this point: the constitution of an earth and a people that are lacking as the correlate of creation” (WP, 108). 

If Deleuze retains some place in his political framework for the category of creativity, it must be understood not as the most general feature of reality and rather as the construction of an alternative to the present. In order to create something that is against one’s present and one’s time, one requires the capacity of discriminating between alternatives and this is precisely what Patton’s interpretation forecloses from the outset. By ignoring this specific use of the category of creativity in the realm of politics, Patton affirms, by necessity, everything (since everything is productive) and therefore prescribes a politics devoid of content/prescriptions, and abandoned to the machinations of the present. In this case, not even a nostalgia of the past ‘creativity’ of May ’68 can save Patton since, as Guattari notes:

“Capitalism can always arrange things and smooth them over locally, but for the most part and essentially, everything has become increasingly worse […] The response to many actions has been predicted organized and calculated by the machines of state power. I am convinced that all of the possible variants of another May 1968 have already been programmed on an IBM” (‘We Are All Groupuscules’).

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2 thoughts on “Cinema In The Age of Control Societies

  1. Reblogged this on Interaction Design Arts & CTS at LCC and commented:
    “I. AGAINST ALL FUTURE ACCIDENTS, or CINEMA IN THE AGE OF CYBERNETICS

    Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film, Alphaville, tells the story of secret agent Lemmy Caution, a resident of the ‘Outlands’ whose journey into the town of Alphaville (officially, he is on a government organized trip with the objective of tracking down a certain Dr. von Braun) and his encounter with the cities seemingly mindless and one-dimensional inhabitants. The citizens of Alphaville are individuals who have been made to feel contented in indulging their drug habits, who have been assigned the social task of providing ‘escort’ services (predominantly women) for business persons and citizens alike (who are predominantly men); or those who, and they appear to be relatively few in the film, were former secret agents (like Lemmy himself) but have succumbed to the demands of life in the city. It is a place where even something as trivial as the conventions surrounding everyday language accord to the following maxim: “No one ever says ‘why;’ one says ‘because’” (00:50:06-00:50:10). And as Lemmy’s former colleague (now ex-secret agent) Henri Dickinson, remarks: “Their ideal here, in Alphaville, is a technocracy, like that of termites and ants” (00:23:23-00:23:32). In Alphaville, the citizens are governed such that they are treated as parts of an organic whole, who require attention and support only to the extent that all individuals can fulfill their social function, much like a worker ant relative to its queen.”

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