Post-Cinematic Effects

Curator's Note

Shaviro argues that the cinematic epoch is coming to a close. We are now at the end(s) of the cinematic. This is registered within cinema, and cinema remains influential across all of its inheritors. Hence, the times are ‘post-cinematic’ and not anti- or non-cinematic: gaming, all things interactive, the music video, and so forth, all remain informed by cinematography, but they move away from its technological limitations. Meanwhile, cinema attempts to incorporate the new technological advancements within itself. Accordingly, films like Blade Runner or Sim-One are not post-cinematic, whilst The Matrix and even Old Boy are. The former are about future technologies; the latter incorporate future technologies into themselves, affecting the styles of computer simulated choreographies: The Matrix employs the sharpness and precision of arcade game fights; Old Boy incorporates the two-dimensional plane of old computer games, but counterbalanced by including all the scrappiness of messy brawling that most action films sanitize.

Quite what the ‘affect’ of all of this ‘is’ is irreducibly debatable. In viewing the famous corridor fight in Old Boy, I perceived passion: Oh Dae-su enjoyed his vengeance. And this reading was consistent with the film’s themes: Oh Dae-su’s response to five years of sensual deprivation; his inability to resist, and his delight in every sensual experience. Accordingly, this fight was 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 that of someone who’s lost everything, fear, hope, 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 or ecology of affect(s); just as there is not one reading of one text. Post-cinematic effects, yes; 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, is whether approaching the world in terms of affect offers anything specific for cultural theory and the understanding of culture and politics.

Comments

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Post-Cinematic Effects (uncut)

 Those wishing to comment on Paul’s provocative and polemical post might wish to read a longer version of the text which introduces the notion of post-cinematic affect as it is laid out by Shaviro, discusses Rey Chow’s meditations on the emergence of cinema in her book Primitive Passions, considers the inter-implicated histories of literature and cinema in modernity and the ways in which literature can be thought of as itself post-cinematic, reads the fight scene in Old Boy in terms of its many affects, and finally argues for post-cinematic "effects" rather than the more problematic "affects". It can be found here: 

http://ranciere.blogspot.com/2011/07/post-cinematic-effects.html

MOR

Shane Denson's picture

Affect/Effect

Paul, thanks for this great post, which raises several very interesting questions. I’d like to comment on two aspects that occur to me, and hopefully you can say a few more words about them.

The first is the distinction between being "about" future technologies and "incorporating" them, which you offer as a way of thinking about the difference between the cinematic and post-cinematic. While there is certainly heuristic value in this perspective, it remains problematic in that a genre like science fiction film has always gone beyond science fiction literature in precisely this way: if future tech was a thematic feature in the latter, it was always incorporated, highlighted, and displayed in the former (e.g. in special effects, which invite attention to images and interrupt the narrative). According to someone like Brooks Landon, this gets underway well before the 1950s birth of a dedicated SF film genre, as early as Lumieres’ La Charcuterie Mecanique.

Which makes me think, coming to the second point, that a prioritization of effect over affect is already at the center of this perspective on the difference between the cinematic and post-cinematic. More to the point, it seems that the "many affects" you describe are not the same affects meant by people coming from a Deleuzian (Bergsonian, Spinozan, etc.) background. To ask about your reading of the images’ affective meaning vs. that of the director is already to personalize affect, to appropriate or subjectivize it as emotion, for example, while the affects of the tradition mentioned are pre-personal. I understand that there are reasons to be skeptical of that understanding of affect, as it is always vague and conceptually indeterminable. The reasons for advocating it are aesthetic/ontological, though, and would have to be refuted on those grounds. I don’t see that understanding of affect as somehow singular, though, so I see no contradiction with the multiplicity of effects. Instead, it seems to me that emphasizing effects over affects is precisely in line with postmodern theory, identity politics, etc., whereas affect is perceived by advocates of this line of thinking as a way out of there: as a reintroduction of a messy experiential realm that is categorically bracketed out of postmodern textualism and its exclusive interest in textual effects (including subject-positions and the like).

Thanks again for a great presentation!

Elena del Rio's picture

post-cinematic effects

Hi Paul. Great clip! I wanted to respond to some things in your post that made me think of other things. I totally agree that affects cannot be part of a prescriptive system and that in cinema they work dependent on whoever is watching and the predominant affects in them at that point. I also think that affects are more like clusters than singular identifiable emotions. They tend to be muddy or muddled rather than clear. I don’t see a contradiction in the affects you are describing in the Old Boy fight scene: passion versus loneliness. To me, it feels like a formidable will to power that is able to subdue the (quantifiably) much greater forces that he fights. His strength is based on intensity rather than extension or quantity. And that is both passionate and requires an extreme amount of concentration of force. No dissipation, hence loneliness.

I also find the distinction between affects and effects not that important and maybe just a matter of a different vocabulary. Affects are close to the idea of effects that canot be traced to actual causes or causes that are actualized in particular states of affairs. They are like chains of effects that have no exact point of origin and no final point or resolution. Deleuze speaks of an affective causality or virtual causality (quasi-causality) and I think in that sense one could align affects with effects.

To the issue of whether affect may contribute anything different than postmodernism, I think there would be a lot to say. I think Steve would be much better equipped than me to tackle this one. The postmodern concept of the ‘aestheticization of violence,’ which is quite relevant to your clip, seems to look at violence as a visual FORM that expresses the surface tendencies of postmodern culture. From the point of view of affects, this play of surfaces is a shifting encounter of FORCES with a capacity for mutation, a kind of materiality that has an ethical and creative dimension.

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Post-Continuity Cinema

 

Shaviro has a post up at The Pinocchio Theory blog  today on his notion of “post-continuity” cinema ( http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1003)which makes me wonder about Paul’s fight scene clip from Old Boy and whether this is continuity cinema or post-continuity.  In his longer description of the fight sequence Paul makes a distinction between the precisely choreographed fight scenes of The Matrix which incorporates the post-cinematic “sharpness and precision” of arcade games and the more traditional “two-dimensional” plane of the fight scene in Old Boy. While this makes Old Boy a film which draws on post-cimematic technologies, Paul also claims that this is counterbalanced “with the inclusion of all of the scrappiness, imprecision, stumbling, gasping, moaning and, indeed, messy brawling, that almost all action films exclude or repress”. In a response to Mattias Stork’s formulation of “chaos cinema” Shaviro expands on his own notion of “post-continuity” which first surfaced in Post-Cinematic Affect. He explains that the “stylistics” of post-continuity (mostly in action films but also horror and other genres) involves “a preoccupation with moment-to-moment excitement, and with delivering continual shocks to the audience” which “trumps any concern with traditional continuity, either on a shot-by-shot level or in terms of larger narrative structures”. He makes a sharp distinction between his own understanding of these (mostly Hollywood) film-making practices and David Bordwell’s well known concept of “intensified continuity” which features “more rapid editing … bipolar extremes of lens lengths … more close framings in dialogue scenes…[and] a free-ranging camera.”. For Bordwell this is an intensification (rather than a breakdown or discarding) of traditional continuity but Shaviro claims that there has been a perceptible shift in the stylistics of continuity in the 21st century. And it is worth considering the fight scene in Old Boy and Paul’s discussion of its effects and affects in the context of these changes. Does Old Boy intensify traditional fight segment techniques? Or, does it make a radical break with them?

MOR

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Sensual Flows and Empty Orgies

Thanks for an excellent post, Paul! I agree with Shane and Elena that you’re raising several very important questions about cinematic affect as well as cinematic representation in general. Since Shane and Elena have responded to your discussion regarding effects and affects, I’d like to turn to your discussion of passion and the senses in Old Boy.

I would agree with Elena that the corridor scene in Old Boy features both loneliness and passion, but not necessarily for the same reason. I don’t even think that they are two separate emotional states (certainly not affect(s), because like Shane, I consider affect to be something slightly different), but part of a complex affective flow conducted through this scene. I am not talking about the effect here (that would be the impact it has on the viewer(s)), but the sensual communication that is taking place.

Most interestingly, I think that Old Boy provides a meta-narrative insight on affect as a concept. Being deprived of the sensual in-take, like Oh Dae-su , is not very different from being deprived of affect, is it? You are entirely cut off from the affective flows that surround you. When he regains it, Oh Dae-su gorges himself. He works his way through the men in the corridor (and the architectural lay-out here really emphasises his journey), and relishes in every point of contact - as you say, he takes delight in every sensual experience. However, as he steps out of the lift at the end, we are made aware that he remains as lonely (or sense-deprived) as ever throughout. As Elena suggested in yesterday’s discussion an affective overflow will result in exactly no affect at all. It’s a full emptiness. Oh Dae-su’s sensual orgy leaves him disconnected, unaffected and spent.

KS

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Post-Continuity Cinema (continued...)

Shaviro asserts that in recent action cinema “the expansion of the techniques of intensified continuity, especially in action films and action sequences, has led to a situation where continuity itself has been fractured and devalued, or fragmented and reduced to incoherence”.  He suggests that “Bordwell himself implicitly admits as much, when he complains that, in recent years, ‘Hollywood action scenes became “impressionistic,” rendering a combat or pursuit as a blurred confusion. We got a flurry of cuts calibrated not in relation to each other or to the action, but instead suggesting a vast busyness. Here camerawork and editing didn’t serve the specificity of the action but overwhelmed, even buried it”. Paul is getting at precisely this impressionism and “blurred confusion” when he talks about Old Boy’s “inclusion of all of the scrappiness, imprecision, stumbling, gasping, moaning and, indeed, messy brawling” that other action films have routinely sanitized. Shaviro says that “in mainstream action films … as well as in lower-budget action features … continuity is no longer ‘intensified’; rather, it is more or less abandoned, or subordinated to the search for immediate shocks, thrills, and spectacular effects by means of all sorts of non-classical techniques. This is the situation that I refer to as post-continuity”. So, we might ask whether Old Boy is an exemplar of “intensified continuity” in Bordwell’s sense or “post-continuity” in Shaviro’s? 

MOR

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Post-Continuist Affect

 

And what about post-continuist affect? Shaviro argues that Stork’s video-essay is too dismissive of post-continuist cinema and its effects on audiences when he posits that viewers can “sense” the action but are “not truly experiencing it”. Like Paul, Stork is arguably making a distinction between effects and affects. However, Old Boy appears to fit with Shaviro’s definitions of both  the post-cinematic and the post-continuist (as the Paranormal Activity films do too. He discusses those films here: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=992) especially in so far as it does not, as Paul says, completely dispense with the more traditional, classical techniques of action fight scenes. Rather, Old Boy simultaneously moves “‘beyond’ “ or “apart from” those stylistic devices “so that their energy and investments point elsewhere”. It also seems to resonate with Shaviro’s understanding of post-cinematic affect since what ties the various films he would designate as post-continuity cinema together is that they share a “structure of feeling” in Raymond Williams’ terms.

 

MOR

Sean Geoghegan's picture

Old School 'Old Boy'

I view the scene above as a response to a post continuous cinema (or post cinema). It reeks of authenticity. In tracing the stylistics of “post-continuity” and “chaos cinema” the advertising industry it unconsidered from the very first new wave jump cut they have pioneered intensified continuity. Immersive involvement  hyper advanced with the rise of the gaming industry offering audiences greater enagagement and inclusion (hero’s pov) - at a cost. Watching offers a different set of human experiences than ‘being’ or ‘doing’ in gaming driven (post) cinema.There is a profound disengagement brought about by the over use of hyper cutting and fluid point of view (non fixed) - of a constantly moving camera. It maybe that this effect (set of) creates/allows for confused readings. The lack of an enforced theme (or subtle sub themes) offers the viewer thrills only and provides them with no clear ‘direction’ (thematic) of the story.

For me the scene evokes lonliness as he fights alone, in his   posture and also in the distancing effect/ lack of close ups. We are made to watch, are not ‘in’ the action, neither on the side of our hero nor ‘inside’ him (his pov) - as we find in most action/video games today.

All hail the cinematic anti-post continuous cinema.

 

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