So I was really floored by Steve Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect, and right after I read it, I wrote a book review, more in an attempt to outline the text for myself than for anything else. Originally I wrote it to be a blog post, but then I was like, why not publish it? I need things like this on the CV while I’m editing the book manuscripts. But since that’s such a long process, I figured it would make sense to put some of the review on the blog, so that I can work to publish the full version, yet still convey to people how cool this book is. So, here’s a clipped version:
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Welcome to the post-cinematic mediasphere, the timeless time of the space of flows, the neuro-affective flat ontology of smooth capital. Steve Shaviro’s new text, Post-Cinematic Affect (Zero Books, 2010), is many things. On the one hand, it is a guided tour of the mediascape to come, a futureflash of the way the world will feel once today’s emergent media formations reach their mature forms. On the other hand, Shaviro’s text is an attempt at diagnosis, an attempt to understand the manner in which capital and the image will intertwine in the world to come. Both a text of media analysis and critique of capital, Shaviro’s slim tome is understated in its presentation, but wide in its potential effects. It’s an important book, one at the cutting edge of working to think the dark side of the networked age to come.
Shaviro describes his enterprise as an attempt to perform an “affective mapping” of what James Cascio calls the “participatory panopticon” and Gilles Deleuze the “control society” which, for Shaviro “comes from everywhere and nowhere at once” (8). What’s the cause? The precaritization of work, the shift from physical to symbolic production, material to affective/intellectual labor. In such a world, ““everything is a potential medium of exchange, a mode of payment for something else” and “personalities. . . [are reduced to] shells within which social forces are temporarilly contained” (108). All spaces are any-spaces-whatsoever (espace-quelconque), monadicaly disconnected from each other, yet vague enough to morph at will in the timeless time, the “always being about to happen”-ness of a space which is purely relational, without exterior. Welcome to the network as vision of hell.
What is left in a world where space, time, subjectivity, agency, community, and all the seeming fixities of the cinematic age are dissolved? Affect. Waves and waves of affect. Affect, for Shaviro, is counter-representational by nature, emergent, transpersonal. It is that which flows in the world in which humans used produce and consume. Instead of subjects and objects, what’s left is figures, and this is precisely what Shaviro works to map. The bulk of the text is made up of close readings of four recent media works, by Grace Jones/Nick Hooker, Oliver Assayas, Richard Kelley, and Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor. But Shaviro’s aim is understanding the monster itself: “the only thing that remains transgressive today is capital itself . . . [it] transgresses the very possibility of transgression, because it is always only transgressing in order to make more of itself, devouring not only it’s own tail but it’s entire body, in order to achieve greater levels of montstrosity” (31).
Shaviro tracks the manner in which many of the buzzwords valorized by contemporary Deleuzian inspired theory are ironicly most apt for describing the most terrifying aspects of today’s world. Contemporary space has become relational and virtual, in that it can morph into anything at will, yet needs to remain smooth to serve capital’s needs on the fly based on the needs of ‘just-in-time’ production and the flow of digits. Where there used to be masters (and master signifiers), now there are icons, patterns of modulation, for which “modulation is the process that allows for the greatest difference and variety of products, while still maintaining an underlying control.” In place of subjects there are points of transfer of affect, modulatory figures which echo the icons which direct them, each composed of the flows whose densities determine the spacetime terrain in which accumulation occurs, siphoned somewhere eternally off-site. It’s all “affective constellation,” the result of which feels “unspeakably ridiculous . . . creepily menacing . . . [and] exhiliarating.” It is the world of the perpetual music video, in which one can “never leap from affect to concept.”
Such a world, for Shaviro, is one best described by the much valorized term “flat ontology.” For when anything can become a medium of exchange for anything else, the ability to distinguish between master signifier and the chain of signifiers slips on the smooth space of numbers which, for Shaviro, underpins the whole apparatus. For it is “digital transcoding as common basis” which allows for the interchangeability of everything that can be quanified. Within the perpetual now of the modulatory regime, motion and duration are simulated, and resistance is, at least so it seems, futile . . .
It seems possible, however, that there are many types of metastability. And if we are to find any hope in between the lines of Shaviro’s dystopia, it is that perhaps there are ways to turn the very tools of capital against itself. Shaviro seems to hesistate – he knows we cannot go back, but we also cannot go forward on our current path without the dystopian world he analyzes in his text from coming true. But perhaps there are other types of networks, other types of meta-stability, flat ontology, relational space, virtuality? This, it seems, is the deeper question this text tries to ask, and it is a question that truly hits at the debates central to contemporary theory today. And while Shaviro occasionally nips at the counter-strategies composed by Michael Hardt and Antonion Negri, it seems that this is because Shaviro feels that the real strategies of resistance are yet to come. But before we can get there, we need to map the new terrain, and that is what this slim yet sly volume seeks to do, and suceeds masterfully.