Pisters, P.P.R.W. on Mon, 9 Jun 2008 03:34:11 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Machines of the Invisible - Manifesto for a Schizo-analysis of Media Culture

See also the blog Masters of Media: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl <https://webmail.uva.nl/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=https://webmail.uva.nl/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl> 
Machines of the Invisible
Manifesto for a Schizo-analysis of Media Culture

By Patricia Pisters (Dept. Media Studies, University of Amsterdam)
1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an
ever growing schizophrenic 'logic of addition'.
2. 'Old' mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.
3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v
4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.
5. The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in conception;
this becomes more evident and widespread in contemporary a/v culture.
6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges 'the reality of
7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous
8. The virtual is a real power.
9. Images have the power to act.
10. Affect is an autonomous power.
11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional
characters are symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the
Machines of the Invisible
It is argued with good reasons that digital technology has changed the
media landscape completely: old mass media like film, television and
radio have been replaced by more fragmented, non-hierarchical,
rhizomatic forms of media. This is, however, only partly true. By
looking at the level of image-production in contemporary a/v media, I
will take the changes in the cinematographic apparatus, or the
cinematographic regime, as a starting point for a manifesto for a
schizo-analysis of media culture.
The apparatus theory in the 1970s famously proposed to see cinema as a
'machine of the visible'. The underlying idea of this approach is that
cinema produces 'impressions of reality' or 'illusions taken for
reality'. Cinema is thus seen as a mass medium that invites us into
ideologically determined subject positions. However, in contemporary
media culture the paradigm has shifted: the audio-visual image in
digital culture no longer lures us into taking 'illusion for reality'
but gives us the 'reality of illusions'.  
At the heart of this change is the cinematographic apparatus itself,
which now could be conceived as a schizo-analytic producer of
heterogeneous and multiple connections that is tightly connected to
other forms of a/v media. The digital cinematographic-apparatus has to
be seen as a complex constellation of schizoid 'machines of the
1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an
ever growing schizophrenic 'logic of addition'.
Laptops, mobile phones, webcams, ipods, satellite television, web 2.0:
new forms of media grow like wild plants without deep roots (rhizomes)
in between older forms of mass media (newspapers, film, radio and
television). Undeniably, 'old mass media' have changed by this but it
doesn't mean that they have disappeared completely in the rhizomatic
network. The television news is no longer the only source of
information, CNN competes with Arab satellite channels, bloggers and
civil journalism, hypes emerge online, Youtube and Twitter turn
everybody into a media producer. But deeply rooted trees are not that
easily overgrown. The media have become individualized and fragmented
and specialized and opened up
and... and...
And they are also still mass medial. So no either... or-logic but an ever
growing process. Contemporary media culture can only be thought in the
stammering stream of an and...and...and logic. A schizophrenic logic of
intensity and multiplicity that begs for a schizo-analysis.
'We have grass in our heads' ... and there are also still many trees.
'We're tired of the tree because we have grass in our heads', Deleuze
and Guattari argue when they introduce non-hierarchical rhizomatic
thinking in A Thousand Plateaus. At the same time they indicate that
out of every rhizome a tree can grow, and that trees can behave
rhizomaticly. So it is not a matter of saying: old media are tools of
capitalist ideology, whereas new media free us from ideological
interpellation. 'Old' and 'new' media are two different ways of
thinking and behaving that can have both positive and negative effects,
produce the most beautiful creations and the most horrible
suffocations. The media are complex and interwoven networks of grass
roots and tree-structures. 
Mass media are dead. Long live the mass media!
2. 'Old' mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.
Like zombies or vampires 'old mass media' have strong regenerative
powers as indicated by the fact that for instance,
a. Programs such as 'Idols', 'Dancing on Ice' and other popular shows
are still able to keep a mass audience on a Saturday night in front of
the television set. Not to mention the Dutch BNN-program 'The Big Donor
Show' that attracted a million audience, 30.000 potentially new donors
and was Breaking News all over the world. Cinema retains or regains its
multiplex attractions.
b. Mass media are indeed no longer the most important makers or
distributors of the news, but still have a huge filtering function.
Only when an internet hype is reported by the 8 o'clock news it becomes
really popular and widely followed (such as the 'jumping'-dance hype in
the Netherlands). In this way traditional media have become the
'curators' of the internet.
c. Mass media use new forms of media as well: podcasting is also still
radio, the 8 o'clock news on demand is still the 8 o'clock news. Did
you miss an emission? 'Were you too afraid to watch (the 'Big Donor
Show')? Try again', broadcast company BNN says on their website. In
this way new media do not weaken the power of the traditional media but
reinforce it. And beside all fragmentation and multiplication, the
internet becomes a huge store, database and audiovisual archive of the
mass media.
Clinical and Critical
3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v
By arguing for a schizo-analysis of media culture I am not proposing to
pathologize culture, nor calling for insanity. However, the clinical
symptoms of schizophrenia do point to important characteristics of
contemporary a/v culture and criticize them at the same time.
Positive symptoms: an overflow of energy, intensity, everything is
connected to everything, liberated and recreated, explosion. As Deleuze
and Guattari say: 'Connecticut - Connect-I-Cut': machines and bodies,
bodies that liberate themselves from their normative organization
Negative symptoms: intensity turns into catatonia, inertia, apathy,
implosion. Every production provokes its own anti-production. That is
the core (axiom) of the immanent system of 'capitalism and
schizophrenia', indicated by Deleuze and Guattari. Our image culture is
more like a schizoid delirium that like the psychoanalytic dream. 
Alienations: Delirium is socio-political
4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.
The schizoid delirium is situated at the other end of the individual
Oedipal dream. The delirium is in the first place collective,
socio-political and world-historical. In Alienations documentary maker
Malek Bensmail has filmed patients and doctors on a psychiatric ward in
'Why are the Americans bombing Iraq...'
The patients are moving between hyperactivity and a stream of
delusional words and catatonic states. But at the same time their
remarks are incredibly sharp, addressing socio-political issues all the
This documentary also shows that the difference between doctor and
patient is not that big anymore. Everybody feels the insanity of the
contemporary situation. Doctors and patients, but also filmmakers and
spectators are implicated - we all share the collective deliria of our
audio-visual media society.
Cinematographic regime is schizoanalytic; a/v culture is abstract
5.  The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in
conception; this becomes more evident and widespread in contemporary
a/v culture.
As Ian Buchanan has argued the tripartite schizo-analytic conceptual
schema of 'body without organs', 'assemblage' and 'abstract machine'
informs the basic matrix of Deleuze's account of the cinematic image.
It follows the logic of the 'frame', the 'shot' and 'montage'. The
frame selects and deterritorializes the image, presenting it in new
ways (BwO), the shot unites elements in a closed set (assemblage),
montage joins together the powers of the frame and the shot (abstract
But the cinematic image also operates in a larger 'abstract machine' of
media culture, where it can join all kind of hegemonic and resisting
 From 'Illusions of Reality' to 'Reality of Illusions'
6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges 'the reality of
The classical film theoretical notion of the filmed (or mediated) image
as an 'impression', 'effect' or 'illusion of reality' has modulated
into the image as a 'reality of  illusions'. This insight translates
schizophrenic (and neurobiological and Deleuzian) findings that the
image has its own immanent power to do something (in our mind, in the
A schizo-analysis of media culture takes into account at least four
immanent (and autonomous) powers of the image: the power of the
virtual, the power of the performative speech act, the power of affect
and the power of the false.
7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous
These powers do not provide an unequivocal model of analysis. They
present themselves in all kind forms and on different types of levels,
they metamorphose in good and bad, nobel and base and everything in
Power of the Virtual
8. The virtual is a real power.
'There is no actual image that is not surrounded by a mist of virtual
images'. One of Deleuze's last aphorisms seems to grow in relevance
every minute. Every image we see resonates in all kinds of ways with
other images: images from our personal and collective memory, fantasy
images, film- and other media images.
Memories are stored on film, a film-image becomes a memory-image. Fact
and fiction chase each other, virtual and actual form a circuit as in
the hall of mirrors of The Lady from Shanghai. Hitchcock's fiction has
become a collective memory. Collective memory has been colored by
fiction (Stone's JFK). And where is Laura Dern in Inland Empire: in the
present, the past, in Poland, in America? In which layer of reality or
fictions is she moving... or trapped? And in this film, isn't it
precisely that scene of her death, explicitly indicated as fictitious
because we see an enormous camera appearing in a suddenly widening
frame, that is the most raw and social-realistic?
Power of the speech act
9. Images have the power to act.
Another power that is acknowledged by a schizo-analytic approach of
media culture, is the power of the speech act, 'act de parole' as
Deleuze says. Or better still we should perhaps speak of an 'act de l'
image'. Philosophers of language have since long demonstrated
convincingly that words have performative power: the power to do
something or to have something done. In this way words operate in
reality. Images have the same kind of (or maybe more) performative
power of the speech act.
Even if everybody knows that an image is staged, it has an effect: it
penetrates our mind and puts itself somewhere in the flux of images. Of
course this effect is not new. Propaganda images have been used like
this for a long time. But this power goes beyond conscious
propagandistic means. All images have this creative power of the speech
So, in a similar vein the image can be used to tell stories that call a
minority group into existence, 'creating a people'. The active power of
the image is not to be underestimated. The Battle of Algiers has become
the Algerian War of Independence.
On the level of the contents of the images the Algerian women in The
Battle of Algiers are very conscious of the power of the performative:
with bleached hair, speaking perfect French and in an elegant dress the
French barricades in the city are no longer closed. And in a recent
French movie the message is cynical: a simple French man all of a
sudden sees the absurdity of random (and not so random) identity checks
and the whole social system: he ends up in a police cell, then in a
psychiatric hospital and finally looses his job. But with a fake cv and
following the social 'rules of the game' without too many critical
questions, everything turns out all right: ?a va?  tres bien merci!
Power of Affect
10. Affect is an autonomous power.
The schizophrenic feeling of a too much of everything, too much
injustice, too unbearable, too many images - it all reduces our
sensory-motor capacities. But it creates more room for the affect.
Deleuze has demonstrated how the affect is connected to the close-up.
The close-up is one of the most typical and most striking stylistic
features of the cinematographic/audio-visual image. In that way cinema
has contributed to the power of affect. Faces and other bodily parts or
objects in close-up obtain affective impressive or expressive
qualities. The eyes loose their perspectival overview, disoriented the
image touches us directly. 'The affect has autonomous power', Brian
Massumi has elaborated on this. It works independent of story or
On a political level the power of affect takes on a different guise.
Helen Mirren as Queen Elisabeth gradually discovers that the
representative powers of the 'Queen as the Country' has modulated into
the affective power of the 'Queen of Hearts'.
Power of the false
11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional
characters are symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the
Finally the schizoanalytic lesson of Orson Welles, again first noted by
Deleuze. In F For Fake Welles performs as a magician to introduce the
stories of other charlatans. Master forger Elmyr de Hory draws a
Picasso in ten minutes: no museum in the world that distinguishes it
from an original one. The magician knows like no body else how to play
with the reality of illusions. The art forger undermines the difference
between copy and original. The conman plays a game with our
expectations and conventions (Sawyer in Lost). The artist plays this
game most creatively and most generously.
What is demonstrated in the power of the false is that the truth is
very difficult to retrieve and most of the time is based on a choice.
An affective choice, even if it is often wrapped in rational arguments,
moral principles or dogmatic convictions. But the true ethical
evaluation should be the affirmative creative potentiality, the
ultimate motivation of the 'charlatan'. In The Illusionist we don't
really know how Eisenheim has conjured his plan. But inspector Uhl
decides that he knows what happened. And real magic or just a trick, it
actually doesn't matter, Eisenheim's motivation (love, life) is what
The media are an immanent system that feeds itself. An abstract machine
that always grows, expands, produces: from the most cruel and horrific
to the most beautiful and sublime. Production and anti-production.
Schizo-analysis not as a disease but as a process and method to
understand the immanent powers of the image, to play with them, and
break through them (without breaking down).
The brain and the screen maintain an intimate and complex relationship.
The camera has penetrated our mind, for the best and for the worst. But
the brain also determines for a large part what we see on the screen,
for the best and for the worst. The cinematographic apparatus is no
longer a machine that renders the visible, a machine of the visible.
The new cinematic regime of digital a/v culture points to the fact that
the screen is that thin membrane between world and brain and that the
mediated image, in producing all kind of 'invisible' powers, should be
conceived as 'machines of the invisible.'

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@kein.org