From The Cinematic Mode of Production to Computational Capital: An Interview with Jonathan Beller for Kulturpunkt

Social Text Collective Member Jonathan Beller, interviewed for Kulturpunkt by Ante Jeric and Diana Meheik. Re-posted from Thanks to Tanja Vrvilo and Film Mutations.

KP: The Cinematic Mode of Production is the term by which you seem to be introducing a new order of intelligibility into the historical experience of looking and, more broadly, living under capitalism. What is the relationship between the capitalist mode of production and cinematic mode production?

J.B.: The original title of The Cinematic Mode of Production was Towards the Political Economy of the Postmodern. In the late eighties I thought that I could try to follow up on one of Fredric Jameson’s insights that powerfully elucidated a sea change that the intensification of capitalism brought about in our then current reality. In the Postmodernism essay, Jameson posed a challenge that called for a rethinking of political economy in the context of a transformed cultural logic – what he famously denominated “the cultural logic of late capitalism.” My work actually sought a method to explore the political-economic dimension of the transformed cultural logic by trying to understand what appeared to me as the newest strategy of capitalist accumulation – though it had been nascent for some time – one that utilized culture itself as an economic engine of sorts. It seemed to me what was really going on now, with the flattening of language, the disappearance of the real and the rise of simulation and virtuality, was a shift in not just the metaphysics but the physics of production. If I learned anything at Duke (and I did) it was that social production and reproduction were not merely the unthought of the object world, but of the cultural world as well – and these relations were inflected by exigencies of temporality, scale, presence and spectacle (as well as oppression), that had everything to do with the systemic requirements of capitalist expansion. The way I understood the transformed cultural-material world gelled for me in a recognition that the assembly line was no longer the paradigm of capitalist accumulation and the fact that the whole mechanical process of assembly line labour was being translated into a new paradigm that was directly addressed to the senses and furthermore that the paramount sensory input was now – or perhaps had long been – visual. Cinema, as I argue in the book, is not an incidental technology but brings the industrial revolution to the eye and transforms looking by positing it as value-productive sensual labour. This all sort of takes place in the unconscious operations of the cinema as an industry. But, as I worked through the book, through revolutionary cinema, and simultaneously on another book about Philippine visual culture, I began to see that there were a lot of resistance practices in the visual which signaled a kind of corrective attempt to outflank capitalist accumulation strategies. Cinema was actually entering into the visual space in a revolutionary mode and it had to be reformatted by capitalism as a way as of absorbing revolutionary energies and converting them into productive labour. I called these changes in which machine-mediated mass sensibility/expression was commandeered by capital “the cinematic mode of production” because it was a way of recognizing the dialectics of a whole industry of the senses, of the visual, and of the imaginary that was historically necessary to develop new mental process while forestalling revolution to such a degree that capital was allowed to preserve its accumulation and the necessary correlate of capital accumulation: hierarchical society.

KP: In your assessment of revolutionary cinema you have singled out Vertov and Eisenstein as major figures whose film practices did not fulfill their theoretical ambitions, but who recognized the visual sphere as a sight of revolutionary praxis and shaped our understanding of that which constitutes cinematic critique of capital and the revolutionary praxis. In which way do their respective approaches differ from one another?

J.B.: One of the things I was trying to do with the idea of cinema was to de-fetishize the platform by raising questions about the materiality and social embeddedness of cinema through apparatus theory. All these machines built for doing things with sight! I tend to understand that cinema is actually embedded deeply in myriad social practices – mechanical, cultural, economic, psychological, imaginal. Its ontology, if you will, is political and social and it can only be understood as a change in the way that representation functions. Part of that change is that representation practices are now being mechanized while also being turned towards value accumulation for capitalism. Looking was labor and also exploited labor. The way I came to understand that was, strangely, through Eisenstein and Vertov. Their turn towards the visual as a sight of revolutionary praxis made me think about the necessity of moving into the space that was not yet necessarily foreclosed by the domination of capitalism. It was actually the alternative that the visual provided which was an opportunity for revolution because it was still open in some ways – incompletely coded and colonized, at least from the standpoint of today. Eisenstein and Vertov pursued this opening, which was sensual, affective, epistemological and utopian, according to their own, very different, visions of revolutionary struggle. Vertov says that the film is the factory of facts. By being what Deleuze calls an eye in matter cinema can be everywhere (in places, times and things) and can bind itself cybernetically to human perception allowing people to perceive the totality of the socius as well as its processes of production. You can see all the perspectives of production while sitting in the theater and understand that not only is each person working in the part of city on a part of this or that, but also that the very consciousness that you are having in the cinema is a result of the collective industrial formation. In Vertov’s work you are actually seeing through the social — seeing through the collective social product — when you are in the cinema – and you know it. It was a very beautiful and extraordinary thing which didn’t work out, but it was an amazing achievement on Vertov’s part to understand that cinema had this potential. The fact is that he failed and the fact is that the whole dialectics of cinema was foreclosed — even by Eisenstein who had a very different practice, also incredible, but in some ways more conventional. Hollywood was the one who was victorious. This Vertovian possibility was foreclosed precisely by the visual logic which became necessary, not as a supplement but as a central stage in the organization of the psyche and the social through visual understanding and the visual ordination of discourse and social practice. Vertov’s film and his revolutionary insights show us the opening of the visual and his failure allows us to mark its foreclosure. In the chapter of the book called “Dziga Vertov and The Film of Money” I argue how for Vertov cinema had the ability to become an alternative kind of currency. By taking the imprint of a commodity that would function very much like a price that allowed for the object’s circulation, cinema, rather than repressing the object’s history as does the market, would allow the object to carry it’s history along with it thus enabling one to see the social relations in each moment in their interdependent, networked totality. It was actually the first attempt to transform perception in a way which would enable people to see dialectically. This attempt was intended to become a template for film practice and eventually for a mode of perception that would be adequate to industrial production by allowing all of the social relations to become visible by passing through  those things (commodities) that we now perceive as objects. Against a vision able to discern the subjectivity impacted in our objects, reification and fetishism kind of won the day. The Vertovian opening was foreclosed and, when you think of it, it had to be foreclosed visually. That’s why I said earlier that all these innovations in perception that were a result of industrial progress and had revolutionary, democratizing possibilities, capitalism simply had to address in order to contain them. Cinema as we know it was the revolutionizing of the productive forces that gave bourgeois society its new life and current form. The whole advertising industry and it’s theater of the mind was an attempt to use images to tap into human hopes and aspirations and convert them into precisely the thing that would foreclose the possibility of realizing these hopes and aspirations. People are being introduced to the regime of commodity consumption and are educated to desire only commodities – items that are presented as an answer to their problems but that in fact only create more problems.

For Eisenstein film was “a tractor ploughing over the audience’s psyche in a particular class context” which is to say that he recognized very directly that the filmmaker was an engineer of the soul as Stalin had said. He was in fact trained as an engineer and worked very self-consciously as an engineer dedicated to reprogramming and reformatting workers’ and spectators’ conditioned reflexes so that they could actually make the revolution. This was an avant-gardist practice, which without a doubt was radical in its way, but also quickly became kind of a reflexological Pavlovian paradigm for the emerging advertising industry. “The Spectatorship of the Proletariat,” another chapter in The CMP, was really about the double-edged sword of organizing the revolutionary class through an avant-gardist perspective that fundamentally neither could nor can be democratic. It could have democratic sensibilities but it had come from above in some ways and stood as an appropriation of technology by subjective agents that, to some extent, foreclosed other kinds of subjectivity. The people are represented but did they create their own representation? Of course, that was always a problem with revolutions: how do you constitute a form of agency in which a collective can express itself socially and practically? It’s still a problem.

KP: Marx in the Capital does not determine labour in the immediate form as a source of wealth.  The social substance of wealth or value in capitalism is abstract labour. It does not matter whether this abstract labour can be traced back to labour-power expended in the process of production, or to the transfer of value of used means of production. So, if we continue to treat abstract labour as the substance of value, then it is not clear why labour time can no longer be its intrinsic measure nor why production based on exchange value should necessarily collapse. I am lifting this already known objection addressed to the theorists of immaterial labour because in the course of your lecture you had pointed out that many of them hold the opinion that value has become immeasurable after which you expressed your disagreement with them on this matter. Can you clarify your position vis-a-vis the problem of value?

J.B.: What I used in my talk yesterday and what I find important to think about is what Marx said about the price-form. The Price-form posits an abstract labour content, it posits value, to pretty much anything it can be assigned to regardless of the way in which that thing was actually produced. The value of the thing priced may be real or imaginary but it can be treated as if it had abstract universal labour time. To me (and I may not answer this as well as I would like to in the given space and time) the fact that price still continues to measure something implies that abstract universal labour time has not disappeared as a standard. It only disappears as a standard if you forget that underneath the global capitalist production, underneath that which I call the World Media-System, is radical, planet-wide dispossession and that dispossession is integrated from the bottom-up in relationship to the production of value. The value-form is the dialectical antithesis of human exploitation. It is the other side of alienated labor. From the most abject, and from the rest, wealth is taken by profiteers of the derivative. What is not well understood is that, and this is why I used the logic of the derivative in what I was talking about yesterday regarding the nature of the commodity-form, is that multitasking and the interface of the screen become the means of separating or chunking people’s temporal capacities and bundling them according to the requisites of the specific derivative. It’s a misunderstanding — a category mistake — to think that the commodity form is necessarily or even fundamentally an object, and that misunderstanding, I think, is what leads people astray. Theorists who treat commodity-form as an object, and observe that more and more people are no longer making objects, conclude that labour must be immaterial and that there must be no temporal standard, no abstract universal labour time, constituting what are now, admittedly, very-difficult-to-identify commodities. But if you think of commodity as an integrated product – made across a network rather than across an assembly line — that is made of chunks of subjective time that are rebundled through a computational process — and capital, even without computers, is fundamentally such a process – you can see that human time, that is, sensual labor, or we could say attention (or cognition, or neuro-power), still underlines this system. It’s a question of metrics, which is precisely what is implied when the business folks talk about monetization. There is a need for the political project that would aim to articulate and track that process of separation and recombination. In this sense my commitment to abstract universal labour time is actually a political one. It makes it impossible to disavow exploitation, immiseration, and the Global South.

KP: Another distinguishing feature of your work in respect to aforementioned theorists is your emphasis on the role which the so-called Third World plays within the what you call World-Media System. You don’t seem to think that existence of slum dwellers or the informal proletariat is outside of and external to capital’s productive base. In which ways are the subalterns constitutive for the reproduction of capital?

J.B.: I want to register my complete disagreement that there is a fundamental –or indeed any — disconnection between colonialism, imperialism, and the contemporary system of global apartheid and the accumulation of wealth in the Global North. As I said earlier, this is an integrated process bound together by the world media-system. What is not well researched is the way this integration functions and also that this functioning depends upon the continual disappearance and resignifying of what used to be called The Third World. What I argued in the short essay called Paying Attention that was published in Cabinet a couple of years ago is that the bodies of the dispossessed have become signifying surfaces for world media’s representational practices (politics), which is to say the lives of the dispossessed have become the  material substrate for the spin practices that the media captains require in order to deliver the commodity that they are trafficking, that is basically value-productive human attention. Our leaders would like to be able to signify on the surface of the global population in a way which would make legitimate, meaning to say produce legitimacy for requirements imposed by the sovereign banks and their states. Often it comes down to securing the expansion of business practices for associates who have huge investments behind them and necessitate a kind of market (for weapons, for example) or development (for fossil fuels, say). It includes legitimation of settler colonialism and drones, and the de-legitimation of refugees, historical victims of imperialist practices, and those most disastrously affected by climate change. These exploitative vectors of desiring practice are injected through the psychology and the intelligence of the globe, resignifying the minds and bodies of others.  People, the masses, in my understanding are forced to labour in the image, images that are in fact the machines that organize social relations and sociality itself, or, they are forced to live beneath these images (as refugees, terrorists, feminized victims, non-entities) as a support network or signifying stratum, sometimes both. One has to labor to survive in the World Media-System which means s/he could easily end up being signified on or signifying on someone else’s back. In another essay I critique Agamben because of the disappearance (repression) of his own signifying practice from the concept of ‘bare life’. ‘Bare life’ should always be written in quotation marks in order to, at the very least, mark the fact that you are signifying on the body which has been historically dispossessed and that you are engaging that body in a kind of representational politics. This may be an unavoidable practice to a certain extent because anyone who is enfranchised by the Global North is by definition beneficiary of the history of dispossession. Nevertheless, it is, I would say, only responsible (responsive) and also politically astute to recognize this relationship and try to transcend it by engaging it in a way which allows the creative agency of survival, that endures in the Global South, to be at once legible and resonant. There is one additional dimension of this relationship which complicates things further: Every discursive instance has a politics to it. There are no isolated spaces that are somehow separated from global production – for us, at least. The whole Virno idea of capital capturing our cognitive-linguistic capacities, brilliantly articulated in A Grammar of the Multitude, shows that the discursive ground itself has been captured by capitalist production, that we have become very good speakers for capital and that, no matter what else we do, our very negotiation of our own survival is in part complicit with the system of accumulation that perpetuates hierarchical society.  To me an awareness, an abiding awareness, of this condition mandates a kind of politics that I call “the politics of the utterance.” It is a kind of haunting by the unrepresented and, under current conditions, perhaps unrepresentable which (who) demands something from us. These agents are not only extrinsic (as in beyond “our” borders) but also intrinsic (part of the very constitution of consciousness).  I would say that one thing that is demanded is a recognition that our own signifying practice at the most fundamental level depends upon the history of dispossession and the logic of it and that whatever we say, will say or might say owes something to the invisibility and the foreclosure of the representation of the exploited global poor past and present.

KP: Your account of capitalist capturing devices clearly affirms the position that our thoughts, imagination and bodily practices are being increasingly governed by an ever-developing matrix of control. Nevertheless, as you hinted earlier in the course of the interview, throughout your work you have traced the emergence of all sorts of oppositional practices within cinematography. Since they are given special emphasis in your analysis of the Philippine cinema, it would be interesting to know more about the ways in which it helped you to refine your theoretical framework and informed your subsequent work.

J.B.: I went to Philippines for variety of reasons, but I saw my first two years there as an occasion to really test out ideas developed in the dissertation (the first draft of The CMP) and see how they stood up to what I felt as a kind of postcolonial critique of the things I was saying. My own dialectical practice had maybe just a little too much Eisenstein in it in some ways. The theory first appeared through the set of abstractions which were sort of burbling up in the Global Northish space of Duke’s Program in Literature in Durham, North Carolina, and not arrived at through the immersion in the mass. In the Philippines I was faced on the daily basis with what for me was a new reality and I needed to change in order to understand things from there. For the Philippines to become the place of understanding for me, it actually required a lot of changes in the way I thought, in the way my body works, the way in which I spoke to people on a daily basis, and many other things that I won’t go into here. The thing I really wanted to test in relation to the analytical intervention that I was trying to bring into focus was the idea that visuality was transformed by “the people” at least as much as by “capitalism,” and that Capitalism really was one step behind the innovation of the collective. If the proletariat really is the subject of history, or a subject in the sphere of visual or cinematic culture, then it would be a terrible mistake to think that creativity resides primarily on the side of domination and on the side of power. I wanted to see if my ideas could in some ways redefine themselves in relation to that. My analysis started from my interest in the work of the preeminent Philippine modernist painter H.R. Ocampo.  He started out as a fiction writer and wrote a little known, serially-published novel called Scenes and Spaces in which his young main character ends up feeling humiliated and indeed unmanned by his experience in the English language classroom presided over by a female American teacher with whom he also fell in love. Ocampo’s character couldn’t construct himself as the agential subject in language, in large part because English was being used to erase Tagolog in accord with the U.S. Imperial project begun there in the moments before the Philippine-American War, and the young man begins to cultivate hallucinations as a kind of compensatory practice. These hallucinations, rising up (sometime right out of the ground) in the face of subjective and discursive failure, always provided some kind of revelation and transformation as well as sensual and intellectual pleasure. Years later, following Ocampo’s imprisonment during WWII for being a collaborator with the Japanese in the war against the Americans, H.R. Ocampo, the writer, stopped writing and became an abstract painter – he painted the hallucinations cultivated by the young protagonist of Scenes and Spaces. I’ve gotten from this episode that he actually saw the visual as a space of possibility for the redemption of a Philippine nationalist struggle that was discursively foreclosed. The inability to realize himself narratively and discursively pushed him to the space of the visual where the possibility of pleasure, creativity, community and understanding became actual through creation of the biomorphic abstract forms that didn’t really have any specific figurations but were very mobile and capable of taking on many different possible configurations depending on the observer and this observer’s concentration or perspective. That extraordinary formal innovation, which depended in part on being able to shift foreground into background and vice-versa, kept people from being locked into the set of discursive meanings that any way you sliced it could only mean colonization, and therefore inferiority and secondarity. With Ocampo’s paintings the painter and the observer were engaged in a kind of open play where agency and pleasure were shared and combined. In the subsequent creation of a national abstract art by numerous Filipino Modernists, the visual was opened up as a new space of freedom which was then contested radically on the one hand by the unbelievable movement of revolutionary cinema represented spurred by the people like Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon and others and fascistically on the other by the Marcos spectacle. The social-realist filmmakers (and with them a new group of social-realist painters) launched an attempt to show that there was an abstract logic functioning within the concrete of visibility of social life, and that one had to go beyond the surface of mere appearances in order to understand the organizing force of the social in an intersubjective manner. Simply put, that means that none of the characters in some of Brocka’s films were unable to realize their individual dreams or find in their own lives or to perceive the solutions to the problems they were confronted with. For the poor working-class protagonist, there was no answer on how to make more money in order to pay for the hospital care your lover needs without killing somebody else. At the level of the socially given that compulsion to violence was the only thing that was there. Narratively however, stealing from a friend or killing somebody else in order to get the money you needed to survive led to your own destruction in the end, and often to the destruction of everything you loved. All too often the central characters were destroyed in Brocka’s films, so an audience, looking for answers – Brocka always said he was not committed to the great Filipino film but to the great Filipino audience — had to think beyond the concrete situations and beyond the world of appearances in order to begin to posit solutions to the problems these films so eloquently presented. Thinking a few steps further than reality allowed and envisioning social alternatives lodged a radical change inside of the visually concrete problems that were being presented. Brocka’s films showed that an abstract logic that foreclosed people’s possibilities held sway, and that it would take a radical change in multiple circumstances, let us call them the totality of the situation, in order to generate a space where the population of Philippines might receive some relief from the immanent tragedies of colonialism, imperialism and fascism, and achieve some kind of genuine autonomy.

KP: The opening and widening the space of possibilities for some different way of living you described accords well and is in fact  grounded by your insistence that the real subsumption of life under capital can never be complete if the talk of changing the existing state of affairs is to have any meaning at all. The concept you use to elucidate your point on this matter is wager. What does the wager mean to you?

J.B.: If everything that we are talking about is even close to being correct, metaphysical ground, meaning to say ontological “reality,” is not really an option. As we might learn from Ariella Azoulay’s brilliant treatment of photography (if we did not properly learn it from Nietzsche or Derrida or Spillers), all ontology is political. As soon as you say that, then you are in situation which requires movement and then the question becomes where, when and how? To me that’s a wager. It’s a bet that certain directions are more productive in struggle for transformation than others. The wager is also, and this is another part of it that is equally important, what you do to survive. Brillante Mendoza has a really extraordinary film called Lola which is about two grandmothers who have grandsons. One grandson murders the other grandson and the murderer ends up in jail. The film is about a way in which these two grandmothers have to seek some kind of justice, some kind of resolution, in a society that is completely indifferent to them, one that is so overcoded by wealth, power and indifference that they don’t matter at all. These ordinarily invisible and unremarked personages are the subjects of the film. What happens is that they make wagers of their life energy and power in accord with their own aspirations towards achieving a life worth living. To me the wager comes from the question of whether or not there a life worth living and, if there is one, what concrete form could it take? Here there are no ontological guarantees. Because we cannot know the answer, and because we as individuals will never solve the problem of capitalism by ourselves, we have to call on our collective knowledge and singular capacities to address the question and problem of life – and I mean that in a very complicated way. The collective knowledge is in each of us, because we are the repository of practices for which there really is no complete archaeology, there are so many historical forces operating between and within us, so many voices, that we selectively have to discover from which ones we can draw on in order to connect with everybody else through cultural network, through socialization, through aesthetics, through our political practices, through who and how we love, through many, many things. The resources of the collectivity inhere in each of us to varying degrees, and the less obscured the collective in each of us is, by bourgeois forms of individuality, morality or the State, the more access we might have – and the more solidarity we might find. To me this question of the collectivity, of consciousness, of representation and the wager goes back to what I call the politics of the utterance. It’s a wager that some ways are better than others. I know that sounds quite unsatisfying because there are no fast rules there that say ‘this way to the revolution’, but if we ourselves draw on progressive forces of our time and align ourselves with the people, and movements, and histories which have proven successes in a movement towards democratization, people’s autonomy and social justice, then we are in a good company: and that is something I would bet on. 

KP: Does the vote today constitute one form of wager?

J.B.: To say that would be to make voting far more responsive and complex than it seems to be in a current state practices. In a way the vote in most states functions as the most artificial of all choices. In United States for example the vote may have some significance somewhere but the deeper meaning of it is the legitimation of American system. Even Obama who brought so much promise has become just another leader of Empire: his record on immigration is abysmal, he supports imperialistic modes of governance including incarceration, settler colonialism, and the ramping up of surveillance and drone warfare. The thing in question is a micrological process in which, with the refinement of thinking, discourse and even bodily practice, one can make choices which as much as possible forestall the practice of capital’s capturing of one’s productive capacities. Capital has become so vast an apparatus of enclosure and capture that is almost impossible to elide it. But if you don’t think that it is possible to elide capital in some way or another then there’s no point to this conversation. If this conversation, as you reminded me earlier, is actually to be different from every other conversation in The Economist or in Business Today, it has to posit a practice which has a kind of negative capability in relationship to capitalist agendas. If one were to think of voting like that, as an effort to overthrow capitalist exploitation and the racism, sexism, and nationalism that it requires, then voting would become much more interesting. Then we would really have a model for agency, a kind of micrological agency of choice which can in some ways defy the way in which capital is capturing our senses and discourses. Capitalism operates ubiquitously and micrologically. We need to recognize that and we need to seek every opportunity, every moment, every nanosecond, as having an opportunity for transformation. Back to the politics of the utterance, we need to be voting against capitalism, against exploitation, against inequality all the time. And we need to build these ideas into the infrastructure and the hardware, the very materials and machines of our society. It’s what used to be called a program and could be again, but now in a new sense.

KP: While delivering your lecture on computational capital you touched an idea of communist computing. Being curious where your future work may be headed, we are eager to discover more about  what you mean by that phrase. Is there a concept behind it?

J.B.: I alluded to the couple of works published recently. One of them is Nick Dyer-Witheford’s Red Plenty Platforms and the other is Joss Hands’ Platform Communism, both published in Volume 14 of Culture Machine. One idea brilliantly laid out in Red Plenty Platforms is that planned economy was not able to outflank the market because the Party’s computational capacity was not adequate to the situation of production and distribution in the field. It was not possible to figure out who needed what, when, where and how to distribute it in the way that matched the speed and the efficiency with which the market at that stage of technical development functioned. The idea that I am developing in my next book, Computational Capital, is that capitalism today functions like a computer, is, in fact, a computer. Early capitalism was really Digital Culture 1.0 and represented the imposition of large-scale quantification upon the lifeworld. Famously, capitalism turns qualities into quantities. Digital Culture 2.0 with the advent of the Universal Turing Machine becomes an intensification of that process of working on the world by means of numbers, in part through the ability to represent and manipulate any-element whatever to the point at which both markets and galaxy formation can today be simulated by big digital computers. Seeing computation as emerging out of capital-logic marks the discreet state machine as another evolutionary moment, yet another sea change, that I am tempted to say definitively confirms the need to change the way in which one thinks about the history of the screen and of cinema in accord with what I attempted in The CMP, and also places so-called digital culture (the pundits leave off the 2.0) where it belongs, that is to say at the center of financialization. The screen is both a value-productive interface and a development in the history of digitization. The fact is that computation has advanced to the point where it can and does track capitalist practices at the micro-level. For example, as Dyer-Witherford shows by citing Jameson’s characteristically unforgettable analysis of Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart handles and tracks more than 680 million items per week and 20 million customer transactions per day;  that’s an unbelievable amount of  information and it is used to increase both the efficiency of Wal-Mart’s distribution of use-values and the vast fortune of Waltons. Wouldn’t it be possible, Dyer-Witherford asks, to create communist agents or communist algorithms? I think that it is possible and necessary. If capitalism is actually organizing time in increasingly small fragments and discourse in increasingly small pieces then it is functioning to program sight, sound and time; and if it is programming sight, sound and time these can also be deprogrammed or reprogrammed – at the speed of life and in ways in which collective social knowledge organizes production and distribution. I don’t want this to sound like a cliché, but to a certain extent this intensification of communication is something that we want, that is, the collectivization of life is the other side of the real subsumption. Significant aspects of the processes of communication and interconnection which have been developed are actually, like visual culture before, consequences of the desire of people to talk to one another, to know one another, to be among each other: the desire for solidarity, mutual recognition, autonomy, peace — the self-consciousness and autonomy of interdependence. The problem has been that these technologies of exchange have been captured through the logic of private property. As Berardi might say, the general intellect is alienated – it is in search of a body.  You have users of Facebook or Google left out of what could be the far more profound benefits of a Facebook or a Google, platforms that though collectively built are currently privatized and geared towards making profits to be shared only among shareholders. All that work of attention, all that infrastructure provided by bodies and minds and their practical activities are stolen and then sold on the market. We need to understand and to rethink those practices. Communist computing would mean rethinking from the ground up the interface and the bios within the digital domain. I don’t know if that is a concept, but it is certainly an aspiration.

Jonathan Beller

Jonathan Beller is professor of humanities and media studies and director of the Graduate Program in Media Studies at Pratt Institute. His books include The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (2006) and Acquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle, and the World-Media System (2006).