This paper was delivered on 11 May 2018 at the Critical Theory and Marxism Symposium at the University of St Andrews. Click here for the PowerPoint presentation.
When Walter Benjamin set out to analyse the mechanical reproduction of works of art in 1936, that mode of reproduction was still in its infancy.
In this paper, I would like to spur a mode for thinking about the idea of mechanically reproduced works of art in the context of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Specifically, I want to draw a focus on the developing roles of both film and television in an age of on-demand streaming and digital distribution. For this purpose, I will be analysing a series that has so far spanned an approximate twenty-five-year period, from its television pilot in 1990, to its revival as an “eighteen-hour film” in 2017.
I’ve been thinking recently about the concept of maturity and why it might be a good thing.
To put it one way, I’ve dated a lot of people I’d consider immature during recent encounters, and it’s been a stressful thing to deal with. It is, of course, difficult to define why this or that person might be “immature”. In some senses, it’s incorporeal. People just rub us the wrong way because they don’t act the way we think people should act. This can make things even more stressful.
But I think immaturity is something a little more defined than that.
In a recent article on Jezebel, the Eidolon editor Donna Zuckerberg discussed the rise of the notorious hate movement now known as the “alt-right”. On the issue of tackling online abuse, she argued that “[t]he only way to understand the alt-right is to [stop] thinking of it as a single monolithic entity and realize that it is a fragile coalition of hateful ideologies, of deplorable men using the internet to perform white masculinity by playacting as Nazis to feed on our fear”.
The spectre of the alt-right has been the focus of many left-leaning and progressive interventions throughout the past year. It is both everywhere and nowhere at once, permeating all aspects of western culture while also establishing no firm or actual political identity. Zuckerberg writes that one of the problems of the movement is that it can appear formless and “hard to pin down”. At the same time, however, she insists that “its lack of a coherent and stable ideology is also a tremendous weakness, fomenting internal friction within the community, and may lead to it splintering completely”. What does it mean to embody a contradiction of such tremendous scale that it can be both a source of strength as well as the cause of one’s undoing? More importantly, how can we place this paradox in the context of the very real consequences of its normativisation, including racist attacks, policy-making and public discourse?
In putting together and assembling notes for this new blog, I was struck by a passage from Andrew Culp’s recent breakout philosophy book Dark Deleuze. Writing on the creation of new concepts, Culp notes that for Deleuze “[t]rue thought is rare, painful, and usually forced on us by the brutality of an event so terrible that it cannot be resolved without the difficulty of thought”. Not only is Deleuze’s project informed by a similar destructive strain, Culp argues, but it is necessary to think Deleuze in contrast to the “happy means of construction” of today, which are “conflated with capitalist value, the empty promises of democracy, or just plain helpfulness”.
The severing of the old connection allows one to make new connections. This is something we learn after the painful experience of our first break-up. It is something we continue to learn with every subsequent break-up. The connections we make are always ones we intend to keep, but seldom do. We continue to grow, to outlive our worst mistakes.