Cinema's Exhaustion and the Vitality of Affect
by Elena del Rio — University of Alberta
August 29, 2011 – 00:00
Like an expired body that blends with the dirt to form new molecules and living organisms, the body of cinema continues to blend with other image/sound technologies in processes of composition/decomposition that breed images with new speeds and new distributions of intensities. The cinema does not evaporate into nothingness, but transmutes in a becoming that has no point of origin or completion. Does the affect disappear when the image is emptied out of feeling? But perhaps, one shouldn’t start with the feeling, but always with the image. Is the image strong enough to know of its own capacities for creation and destruction—what it can bring together, what it will tear apart? Can the image portend our own becoming? If post-cinematic affect strikes us as a draining away of traditional modalities of feeling or emotion, an exhaustion of vital forces, there must still be a remnant of affect or vitality (in us, in the image) that allows for the hollowed out affect to resonate with palpable intensity. For affect always emerges through difference—a shocking divergence between two quantities giving rise to a new quality. Difference disorganizes the relation between the two things, which can no longer be gauged through comparison, analogy, or resemblance. Affect throws into disarray the system of recognition and naming. At once, the image gives something to feel and takes away my capacity to say “I feel.” How does affect fare in the age of global capitalism? If we believe we have reached a point of exhaustion, is this also the end of affect as an emergent possibility? Exhaustion without vitality is the zero degree of the body without organs, the emptied out body that has sabotaged its own capacity for transformation. But I believe, on the contrary, that the commodifying frenzy of global capitalism, its equalizing powers, cannot obliterate affect, or even tame it into a bland proliferation of commodified emotions. Instead, as Deleuze says in his book on Foucault, “when power becomes biopower, resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species [or] environment.” We are clearly at a point where the cinema has begun to transform itself beyond the stage that Deleuze envisioned in The Time-Image. But, is the distinction between the crassly commercial and the creative that he affirmed still possible or necessary, and does this distinction have any relevance to the production of affect?