'Decision Time: Neoliberalism Personhood, Popular Aesthetics, and the Inexorability of Agency'
In this talk, I examine the challenges that the hegemony of neoliberal forms of governance presents to our understanding of the relations among time, power and agency. While many such theorizations seek means through which agency might be located or enhanced—Judith Butler’s performativity would be one classic example—the work of many contemporary thinkers has made clear that neoliberal governance works through rather than against individual agency; it constantly requires that people make meaningful choices whose outcomes differ significantly, and it assigns sole responsibility for these choices and outcomes to the individual in question. I consider the effects of this transformation by turning to a series of texts that focus on what I term suffering agency, or the experience of agency as a form of anguished entrapment rather than self-enhancing empowerment. These works, which include texts from Dave Eggers’ novel What is the What to the torture-porn Saw franchise, offer visions of neoliberal personhood in which to be an individual making agential choice appears either akin to or literally a form of torture. I offer an account of how these works map suffering agency and the role that time plays in both generating this experience and in imagining potential alternatives.
Dr Jane Elliott's research focuses on three main areas: post-1945 fiction, with a particular emphasis on the intersection between popular forms and political theory; contemporary theory; and the novel during and after postmodernism. She also has interests in contemporary fantasy fiction and film, ethnic American literature, and contemporary American popular culture.
Dr Elliott's current research explores the conjoined aesthetic and political developments that have emerged since the turn of the 21st century and the waning of the postmodern moment. This interest is reflected in the twenty-essay collection she has recently co-edited, entitled Theory after 'Theory' (Routledge 2011); the second editor for the collection is Derek Attridge. The collection draws together a diverse body of thinkers from various disciplines, including Rey Chow, Roberto Esposito, Simon Gikandi, Brian Massumi, Elizabeth Povinelli, Bernard Stiegler and Eugene Thacker, in order to examine the ways in which theory has taken on new forms that challenge some of the fundamental intellectual stances that once defined ‘Theory’. Dr Elliott is currently working on a monograph that explores the intersection of neoliberal microeconomics, popular aesthetics and the Left theorization of agency in a variety of American and British novels and films, from the novel and film Never Let Me Go to the horror franchise Saw to Hurricane Katrina documentaries. Essays from this project have appeared in Novel and the collection Old and New Media after Katrina.
Dr Elliott's first book, Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time was published by Palgrave in 2008, and her work on contemporary literature and theory has also appeared in Cultural Critique, Modern Fiction Studies, and the PMLA. In addition, she serves as the Humanities Editor for The Public Intellectual, an online journal devoted to bringing academic insights to a mainstream audience.
Change4Life: Calculation, prediction and the future
This paper focuses on the British government’s ongoing attempt to intervene in the predicted obesity crisis through the Change4Life health campaign, ‘a society-wide movement that aims to prevent people from becoming overweight by encouraging them to eat better and move more’ (Department of Health). Drawing on recent analyses of the campaign (Evans 2010, Evans et al 2011, Moor 2011), the paper explores the ways in which Change4Life is organised around particular versions of the future that are brought into the present via predictions, calculations and measurements, and that become materialized as current ways of life. The paper contributes to a renewed interest in time and futures (Adkins 2008, 2009, Adams, Murphy and Clarke 2009, Anderson 2010, 2011, Adam and Groves 2007, Cooper 2006, Coleman 2012) by conceiving time not only in terms of linear progression, butalso as multiple, affective, intensive. Indeed, as Adams et al indicate, contemporary life might be defined in terms of anticipation, where ‘possible futures […] are lived and felt as inevitable in the present’ (2009: 248). If Change4Life is a campaign that aims to bring the future into the present so that the obesity crisis can be intervened in, now, in what ways does it function as a form of anticipatory politics? Or, in Brian Massumi’s terms, how is prediction converted into pre-emption, where the present becomes organised around the future, ‘as if it had already occurred’ (2005: 8)? In this sense, how is politics acting on the future, on time itself? How is time a ma(r)ker of the social, and of social difference? The paper addresses these questions via a concern with the role of measure and valuation in predictions and calculations about the ‘obesity crisis’.
Rebecca Coleman's research interests are in bodies, images, time and futures, and affect. She is currently leading an ESRC Research Seminar Series on 'Austerity Futures? Imagining and Materialising the Future in an "Age of Austerity" which examines possible changes in the ways in which the future is imagined, planned for, worked towards and brought into being. She has recently published Transforming Images: Screens, Affect, Futures (2012, Routledge) which tracks a socio-cultural and bodily imperative for transformation across a range of different screens and considers how images of transformation function affectively through a version of a better future. Also on bodies, images and time is her previous book, The Becoming of Bodies: Girls, Images, Experience (2009, Manchester UP).
Keywords: time and futures; bodies; materialisation; images; affect.
‘Cinema and Boredom: Wasting Time with Andy Warhol’
Andy Warhol’s movies – a significant corpus of work made between 1963 and 1968 – have often been criticised as boring. These accusations have been levelled against his experiments with endurance, such as the 25 hour long **** (Four Stars) of 1967, as much as shorter works that experiment with stillness and stasis, or that test the boundaries of generic form to exhaustion. However, the complex form of this boredom – as a deliberate aesthetic strategy employed by Warhol, as a marked feature of some of the films’ content, and as an affective response experienced by viewers – remains largely critically neglected. Claiming that a cultural text is ‘boring’, in other words, most often operates as a dismissal, shutting down discourse rather than opening it up. Using Warhol’s movies as a focus, this paper will explore the political force and valence of boredom as it has been employed by a range of filmmakers. Connections will be made to other artists and directors experimenting with experiences of time in the 1960s and ‘70s (Akerman, Antonioni, Tarkovsky), as well as to some of those associated with the recent ‘slow cinema’ movement (Apichatpong, Costa, Tarr), a number of whom have explicitly identified Warhol as an influence on their films. Walter Benjamin’s suggestion, in The Arcades Project, that ‘boredom is the threshold of great deeds’, will be used to examine the ways in which this embodied and affective experience can be inflected positively. The experience of boredom, I will suggest, especially as it relates to the moving image, should not be merely abandoned as ‘wasted time’, but recalibrated as a potentially powerful corrective to normative conceptions of speed, chronology and time.
Glyn Davis is Chancellor's Fellow and Reader in Screen Studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he is exploring the relationships between cinema and boredom. He is the co-editor of 'Queer TV: Theories, Histories, Politics' (Routledge, 2009) and 'Warhol in Ten Takes' (BFI, 2013), and the author of monographs on 'Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story' (Columbia UP, 2008) and 'Far from Heaven' (Edinburgh UP, 2011).
Cottonopolis Chronotope – Lessons from a Cinesonic Loom
Deleuze posits in The Fold (1988), that history, arriving through rupture rather than continuity, is like a loom, with its warp and weft and sudden break of threads by ‘an accumulation of forces and timings’. Shamji Vishram, Kutch master weaver, says ‘the powerloom has only one song, it tires the mind...but in handloom if you stop, you might be playing for a while and the mind freshens…sometimes the design and count change the sound and this is a voice for the handloom’ (interview, 2012). The loom is a powerful symbol of craft and village as much as work, city, and imperialism, with a specific temporal choreography defined by factory or workshop locale. The feature documentary Cottonopolis (Greenhalgh, 2012), considers power, time and agency in the manufacture of powerloom and handloom cotton in contemporary India, through the reflections and consciousness of people from “Manchesters”. Expressing this complex film fabric required texturing a cinesonic chronotope and an aesthetic mirroring affective relations with cotton processes. In this sensory ethnographic historiography, time exists within the stories of individuals: cyclical, progressive, sacred, ancestral, historical, traumatic, meditative, memory, machinic, digital, crafted, spontaneous, creative, political, economic…time. Naficy (2001) suggests filmed chronotopes are ‘organizing centres’, involving the ‘human sensorium and memory…temporality often structures feeling’. “Cottonopolis” (Manchester’s old nickname) is still there as a “state of mind”, for impressions of the “great industry that once was” mingle feelings of pride and loss for textile city inhabitants and descendents. Whilst Manchester’s decline and rising mill heritage took several decades, re-industrializing cotton cities, such as Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Lodz (Poland) discard and recycle, reinvent and rebrand, displace migrants and outsource skills at alarming speed. For this short talk, a film sequence and description of filming weavers and looms will encapsulate different temporalities and suggest ways we might rethink the importance of allowing a “variety of time” in life experience.
Cathy is Principal Lecturer; Film, Sound and Television Programme, Media Faculty, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Originally working as a cinematographer in the film industry, Cathy has produced a long term ethnography with feature film cinematographers and directs and shoots films with elements of choreography, animation, ethnography and documentary for cinema, gallery and museum spaces. Her interests and publications centre on collaborative and interdisciplinary creativity, filmmaking practices and communities of practice, cinematographic phenomena and aesthetics, textiles and colour, performativity and narrative.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013