Richard Burt Duly Noted or Off the Record?



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I turn to cinema in order to clarify how allegory delivers the law through media, media understood, however, not as prosthetic devices and technologies that are used instrumentally by humans.12 Notes, along with other media such as telephones, televisions, typewriters, writing pads, computers, video, film, among others, operate as referents in the conspiratorial film by their deconstruction a seemingly obvious and questionable distinction between humans and technology: as Avital Ronell puts, “Being is already hard-wired” (1989). Notes are not merely a theme in films about the law and secrets: their resistance to re/reading and relative invisibility grounds the commonplace understanding of secrets as hidden information stored and retrieved only under certain conditions by certain people. The medium of film makes that resistance furtively visible.

I turn first to the divisibility of newspaper reporters’ notes in All the President’s Men by way of Frederic Jameson, who discusses it as a postmodern “conspiratorial film.” According to Jameson, media allegories in these films operate through analogy as a cognitive mapping of global flows of capital, to provide at least some access to the always already unrepresentable “social totality.” according to Jameson the always already empirically unrepresentable social totality may also be (totally) cognitively mapped through analogy. Jameson’s maintains that postmodern conspiratorial films conspiratorial films deconstruct a narrative distinction that enabled the clarity of the earlier detective story: “The detective story presupposed an absolute distinction between the story of the crime and the story of its resolution; here the distance between the two has been reduced to an absolute minimum by the positing of a ‘crime’ as informational and media-centered as its own solution” (68). 13 If the minimal distance between the two stories based on information and media produces problems of evidence when storing it, the conspiratorial film dialectically recuperates this opacity by constructed a linear history of media as the history of its obsolescence. In Three Days of the Condor, Jameson writes, “no matter how systematically reorganized and postmodernized, telephone technology is still marked as relatively old-fashioned or archaic within the new post-industrial landscape” (14-15).

Concluding his chapter with All the President’s Men, Jameson almost arrives at a paradoxical formulation of the way media become secret as they reveal state secrets: “it seems crucial that the Library of Congress’ slips are still on paper; that the checks and Segretti’s credit card receipts are not yet stored away in the computer; that the typewriter . . . should thereby be allowed to celebrate an anachronistic if not indeed posthumous triumph . . . such archaic technology impacts on the possibilities of representation to the very degree that the newer communicational machinery—the data bank, for instance—evades conventional representation altogether. . . we can most adequately represent the contemporary by way of what is already past, slightly out of style, or in the process of historical obsolescence. . . the representability of this narrative material is somehow deeply related to what is already archaic about it, to what is already secretly no longer actual, what is outmoded and already old-fashioned, whether or not the participants or indeed the viewers are aware of it” (76-77, my emphasis).

Jameson cannot quite arrive at a paradoxical formulation of secrecy, however, for two reasons: first, his dialectical cognitive mapping of the social totality is structuralist, media being indivisible; and second, his notion of allegory is mimetic: one invisible unit that resembles another may therefore be substituted for it. Jameson embeds a structure dividing visible from invisible media within another structure dividing representation from the unrepresentable: the social totality of late capitalism can still be represented and historicized in cinema by its concrete representations of media. By allegorizing media as indivisible units, Jameson can linearize them and thereby advance his understanding the postmodern space of geopolitics: out-of-date, transparent media such as photography are replaced by new, opaque media in the form of storage devices.

When I was very young—and until quite recently—I used to project a film in my mind of someone who, by midnight, plants bombs on the railway: blowing up the enemy structure, planting the delayed-action device and then watching the explosion or least hearing it at a distance. I see very well that this image, which translates a deep phantasmatic compulsion, could be illustrated by deconstructive operations, which consist in planting discreetly, with a delayed-action mechanism, devices that all of a sudden put a transit out of commission, making the enemy’s movements more hazardous. But the friend, too, will have to live and think differently, know where he’s going, tread lightly.

--Jacques Derrida, Taste of the Secret, 51-52
The wall designed to surround the symbolic order of the law once the codification is complete turns everything outside into rubbish and file trash.

Cornelia Vismann, Files, 64





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