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Post-cinematic effects.

Steven Shaviro, Post-Cinematic Affect, London, Zero Books, 2010, 191pp; 10.99[pounds sterling] paperback

Steven Shaviro's Post-Cinematic Affect engages with the effects of post- cinematic technologies on our experiences, orientations, emotions, feelings and lives. 'Post-cinematic' technologies include all that is associated with the rise of interactivity, gaming, multimedia, and the proliferation of different internet platforms, as well as various new types of text, such as the music video, the new ways, modes and contexts of experiencing and consuming them and the effects they have on consciousness and perception. Shaviro considers the rise to dominance of these 'post-cinematic' technologies in terms of a transformation of 'affects': mutations of experiential landscapes, emotional geographies, and perceptual and sensorial ecosystems. Using Raymond Williams' term, yet following and developing a distinctly Deleuzean paradigm, Shaviro characterises this as an epochal transformation in dominant 'structures of feeling'.

If such post-cinematic technologies have transformed structures of feeling, this is not the first time this has happened. Consider the emergence of cinema itself. Rey Chow opens her 1995 book Primitive Passions with a reconsideration of the famous story of the turn towards a writing career of the monumental figure of Chinese literature, Lu Xun. Whilst a medical student at the very beginning of the twentieth century, Lu Xun watched with horror newsreels depicting atrocities committed in the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria, including the executions of Chinese people. Chow emphasises the significance of the fact that this new technology (the cinematic apparatus) precipitated a peculiar response from Lu Xun: he turned away from medicine and towards literature, believing that he could do more to improve the health of China by cultural (or ideological) intervention than by medical intervention.

Central to Chow's reading of this famous narrative is the following: Lu's response to the new cultural technology (cinema) sends him into a relationship with an older technology (literature). From this, Chow proposes that it is possible to perceive the effects of cinema in (and on) Lu's literature. From this point, one may broaden the perspective and begin to grasp the significance of the emergence of cinema in much, if not all, subsequent developments in literature. Indeed, we might begin to regard the majority of twentieth-century literature as 'post-cinematic', insofar as it is literature produced in a cultural world into which the cinematic apparatus has intervened. In other words, in the wake of cinema, literature could never be the same again. In this sense, Lu Xun's story is exemplary of the epochal mutation entailed in the shocks of modernity. Literature in modernity is itself post-cinematic, even if this reverses the chronological periodization and emphasis that organizes Shaviro's title. For, the 'post-cinematic' that Shaviro refers us to is of course all that new stuff that comes after cinema: computers, the internet and so on. But, as with Lyotard's 'post-modern', one of the key points about the postmodern is that the 'post' is there at the outset. Postmodern thinkers of the postmodern have long pointed out that the postmodern is implied in and active in the emergence of the modern, right from the start.

Chow's reading of Lu Xun's affective response to these early experiences of (or encounters with) cinema demonstrate this explicitly. The new technology intervenes into, informs and thereby transforms the cultural landscape in ways which have knock on (albeit unpredictable) effects on other forms of cultural production and reception. To see this at a basic level, one need merely consider the extent to which so many literary best-sellers today have clearly been written with the production requirements of the standard Hollywood film form firmly in mind. This is but one register of the hegemony of the cinematic form and its 'hegemonization' of so-called literature.

Nevertheless, Shaviro's book argues that contemporary cultural conditions are such that the cinematic epoch is coming to a close. We are now at the end(s) of the cinematic. This is being registered within cinema, even as cinema remains strongly influential across all of cinema's inheritors. (Hence, the times are 'post-cinematic' and not 'anti' or 'non-cinematic'.) Thus, gaming, all things interactive, the music video, and so forth, all remain hugely informed by cinematography, but they move away from its technological limitations.

Meanwhile, cinema itself attempts to incorporate the new technological advancements: from DVD menus, extras, commentaries, outtakes and other supplements, all the way to the inclusion of forms of interactivity that ultimately signal the demise of the older form. According to this perspective, films like Blade Runner or S1mOne are not post-cinematic, whilst The Matrix and even Old Boy are. The former are films about future technologies, whilst the latter incorporate future technologies into themselves, insofar as both films famously affect the styles of computer simulated choreographies in their most famous fight scenes, albeit in different ways: The Matrix employs the sharpness and precision of arcade game fights, whilst Old Boy incorporates the two- dimensional plane of older forms of computer game, but it counterbalances this with the inclusion of all of the scrappiness, imprecision, stumbling, gasping, moaning and, indeed, messy brawling, that almost all action films exclude or repress (as exemplified by the ultra-precise choreography of The Matrix or The Bourne trilogy).

Quite what the 'affect' of all of this 'is'--if it necessarily has 'one' or if indeed there necessarily is 'one'--is, to my mind, irreducibly debatable. In my own first viewing of the famous fight scene in Old Boy, for example, I distinctly remember perceiving passion, enjoyment, delight: Oh Dae-su was enjoying his vengeance, I thought. And this reading was eminently in keeping with the theme the film had introduced earlier, upon Oh Dae-su's first release from his five years of sensual deprivation in captivity: the film showed us his inability to resist, and his delight in, each and every kind of sensual experience. Accordingly, this fight, I supposed, was simply a continuation of that theme: a real orgy of violence. Yet, the director's commentary later informed me that the scene was conceptualised as one of loneliness: Oh Dae-su was the loneliest man in the world; his lack of fear was the lack of fear of someone who has lost everything, all fear, all hope (anelpis), all passion ...

So whose reading is 'right', mine or the director's? And what is the 'affect'? To my mind, this 'affect' is not 'one'. There is not one 'affect', nor even one economy, ecosystem, ecology, or whatever of affect(s); just as there is not one reading of one text. Post-cinematic effects, yes, certainly; Shaviro makes an important observation. But affects? I'm not so sure why or how they would be different from everything that postmodern theorists have long been saying about postmodernity. The ultimate question, to me, and the only one which matters, is the extent to which approaching the world in terms of affect offers or adds (or indeed takes or denudes) anything specific for cultural theory and the understanding of culture and politics.

DOI: 10.3898/NEWF77.REY04.2012
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Author:Bowman, Paul
Publication:New Formations
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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