This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki . . . . . . . . . 1
Schnitstelle (Interface. more often than not. It was accompanied by a season of Farocki’s films at the Tate Modern and the publication of a new book of texts and essays on and by Farocki edited by Antje Ehman and Kodwo Eshun. âIs a Museum a Factory?’ Today. . in fact. 1995) to his latest Immersion (2009). the total capital.Hito Steyerl. does the eye/machine of Farocki’s cinema operate on and within this process? As if the world itself wanted to tell us something . the show comprised of Farocki’s two-or-more-screen video pieces.Loren Goldner. from the first. In addition. Benedict Seymour discovers a profound engagement with capitalism’s ongoing crisis of devalorisation.]. political films are very often screened in the exact same place as they always were: in former factories.. museums. always been located: not in the âfactory’ [.. âWorkers Leaving the Factory’ In reality. was an overdue opportunity to explore the German film-maker and writer’s work. . which are today. the retrospective of Harun Farocki’s video installations at Raven Row in London. 1 . Intelligently curated by the gallery’s director Alex Sainsbury. How.Harun Farocki. he considers. Raven Row made available a good selection of his films which could be viewed on a monitor in the entrance of the gallery. one can only be practical by posing contemporary problems where they have. but at the level of the total worker (Gesamtarbeiter) and his alienated phantom.Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki By Benedict Seymour Reading across the expanse of Harun Farocki’s oeuvre at his recent Raven Row retrospective. âThe Remaking of the American Working Class’ Against What? Against Whom?. Any other way of posing questions can only lead to the practice of what we have called the âleft wing of devalorization’.
But beyond this there was an unexpected. film itself as an agent for the displacement of labour from the process of production. 1978). by and large. Wie man sieht (As You See. From restructuring to crisis to war.perhaps the most consistent or possibly even the sole example in cinema. In normal parlance it is âKeynesianism’. and the failure to realise products’ value on the market. publication and screenings.made plain. The range and continuity of Farocki’s concerns across different media and over several decades became apparent in the matrix of inter-related âthemes’: the symbiotic relationship of (image) technologies across military. consumer and productive spheres. 2 . re-encounter with some fundamental questions concerning (image) technology that have. and Bilder der Welt und Inschrift der Krieges (Images of the World and the Inscription of War. and both innovation and adulteration. Capital has often had to âchange up’ and repackage its product. as the Farocki retrospective and its title . but the essays by Alice Creischer and Andreas Sieckman. and the simultaneous availability of the gallery installations and films such as Zwischen Zwei Kriegen (Between Two Wars. Devalorisation can also be used to denote the technological-social-economic process of production/destruction whereby capital deals with its contradictions at the expense of people and things. devalorisation is both the result of and response to the contradictions of advanced capitalism. perhaps. encourage a reading of Farocki as above all an analyst and practitioner of âdevalorisation’ . Faced with the tendency of technology to undermine the very basis of profit in the exploitation of human labour.[IMAGE] Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Between Two Wars. This happens first of all by the reconfiguration of production and the re/production of the worker. and timely. a rigorous and self-scrutinising investigation of the language of cinema and television. 1986).not to mention their cultural and institutional context . capital seeks to recompose value and so avoid a self-deflating downward spiral. and then. but since this lays the stress on the monetary inflation and consumer economy which is necessary to the first stage of the process and tends to overlook the destructive second phase (though Keynes and his German precursor Hjalmar Schact did not). the depreciation of existing capital by more efficient technologies. Whether Farocki would endorse this approach to his oeuvre I’m not sure. In their form and content . devalorisation is the Marxian name for the loss of value from productive assets arising through the technological displacement of labour. 1988). âdevalorisation’ is a more useful and less euphemistic name. the centrality of technological and pedagogical simulation in an increasingly performance-based capitalism. principally. spin-offs and start-ups are part of the process. when this strategy is played out. not to mention audiences with the director and his collaborators during the course of the show. was quite a revelation.Against What? Against Whom? . been overlooked or marginalised in film studies. They begin with the multiple stigmata of this process. Broadly. Naming and renaming. Tom Hollert and Diedrich Diedrichsen in the book. 1978 This constellation of exhibition. is also an important part of devalorisation: how we divide up reality and allot agency to parts of a social process is part of the constitution and re/production of that process. by laying waste to human and infrastructural capital.Farocki’s films and writings inscribe and are caught up within such processes of devalorisation.
security. As such they are ânon-productive forces’. destruction) which Marx foresaw in the Grundrisse but whose enormity and perversity long since outstripped 19 th century anticipations. he lets the images interrogate themselves. Here human labour has been reduced to the occasional monitoring of machine images (the âEye/Machine’). from the field of battle. animated cartoon of a second world war flying bomb made for the instruction of German pilots to the zero degree aesthetics-by-accident of a Cyclopean cruise missile’s âsuicide camera’. The film-maker responds in a kind of Brechtian self-amputation. soldiers scratching the true terms of real subsumption into the soil with their bayonets). The film-maker mimics this elimination of the human. however.The theme of devalorisation is explicit in Farocki’s early films such as Nicht Loschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire. rather than re-enacting these processes as narrative or searching for an image to represent them. finance and systems of control. Farocki’s sensitivity to and inscription of devalorisation is so refined and precise that it bleeds from the interstices of the shots. in the cut from the aesthetically embellished. the concomitant suppression of productive forces apparent within even the most advanced technologies. Farocki’s authorial ascesis corresponds to a development of forces of production which are increasingly non-reproductive . the progressive recomposition of value is there in the hinges of the images. absent from his own works. In his latest videos and installations. 2003) a two-screen work in the Raven Row show. this is authorship in an age of advanced non-reproduction. No need for CCTV camera players. After an overt Brechtian staging of the problematic (coded vignettes. In works such as Auge/Machine III (Eye/Machine III. The author is himself steadily displaced from production. the draining of narrative or mise-en-scene is already the truest index of the deepening alienation of the world. from aerial photography to CCTV and modern missile targeting software. or overtly destructive as in the case of the missile tracking systems in Eye/Machine III. a step sideways from production (and indeed. means that the âinscription of war’ is already the inscription of devalorisation. as opposed to expressive) images of which his films are constituted. Unlike Benjamin’s programme of converting authors into producers. Farocki’s formal economies coincide with innovations in imprisonment. as they are. out of âreadymade’ military-industrial images of consumption/destruction. rather than directly announcing his subject as narrative or theme it is there in the very instrumental (Farocki dubs them âoperational’. [IMAGE] 3 . Progressive abstraction and instrumentalisation of the image. The latter contribute to the policing of the (post)industrial reserve army or support the reproduction of a growing (but vast) minority of non-productive servants of capital. but persists and finds ever greater immediacy in his subsequent work. not to say 1960s dreams of a âleisure society’. Farocki’s films map the growing indistinction between technologies of reproduction and destruction. 1969) and Between Two Wars. but for occasional high precision textual or verbal fusillades. becoming a kind of latter-day Flaubertian artist-deity (or artist-engineer). devalorisation is progressively sublimated into the very texture of video works composed. of labour.innovations which eliminate the worker from the processes of (advanced) production while undermining the overall process of reproduction of the collective worker.
Instead what disappears 4 . the elimination of living labour. In the process both direct cinema and Brecht are dialectically transformed. in which the author survives the demise of production as a shimmer of irony haunting every shot.BRD (How To Live in the Federal Republic of Germany. 2003 Farocki’s large corpus of writings. The spectator who understands this becomes unimaginable to himself. reinflecting otherwise bald images of command/control with a kind of âgrin without a cat’ critique. This is the departure for a new image of man. i displaces work from re/production. the director is fascinated with (constant) capital’s tendency to render the world superfluous . tendentially.hence there is none of Negri or Baudrillard’s one-sided totalisation or euphoria here. Farocki presents this process of (technological) displacement dialectically. as in Benjamin’s image of revolutionary transformation as a minimal change to the state of things that nevertheless makes all the difference. From the imposition of abstract labour in the phase of formal domination to the present âsurreal subsumption’ capital progressively evacuates and. unassigned images haunting the protagonists (and audience) of a Haneke film such as CachÃ©. wordless auto-critique. If nothing else. particularly his essays in the now defunct Filmkritik. not to say minimal interventions that subtly underscore. the tragedy of corporate pedagogy turned into a grotesque but often highly amusing farce. Farocki manages the sarcastic refunctioning of neoliberal teaching films. filming and montaging the theatre which capitalism itself is perpetually staging and restaging in an era of accelerated restructuring and destruction turns it into satire. and globally. punctuated by measured. If devalorisation is Farocki’s great theme. as in a crystalline paean to the exquisite absurdity of commodity fetishism such as Still Life. This theme is repeated across different cinematic registers and modes. Like the silent. however .Â Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine III. from the symbolic and graphic figure of the worker’s absent (dead) body outlined in chalk on the ground at the end of Between Two Wars (the post-WW1 revolutionary âgesammtarbeiter’ first displaced from production then murdered by capital) to the lone worker silently superintending the automated pre-fabrication of a brick wall in contemporary Germany in Vergleich Ãber Ein Drittes (Comparison By A Third. 2007). Farocki’s economy finds a solution to the old Adornian-Brechtian enigma of how to represent society without reducing its complexity and softening its horror by simply applying direct cinema techniques to capitalist LehrstÃ¼ck. and the image itself. the occasional choice phrase. exist in a complementary relation to his films’ apparently growing verbal reticence. to flicker in their bottomless ambivalence . are becoming increasingly straitened: When you look at objects the people who produce them remain unimaginable. As Thomas Elsaesser observes in an interview with Farocki.at once utopian and âunimaginably’ strange. seems to me to be the key leitmotif of his films. The latter phrase itself reverberates in ironic ambivalence. 1990). no simple âend’ or âdematerialisation’ of work.this becomes the logic of his own writing and film making. Farocki reproduces a world in which imagination. âcapitalist Lehrstueck’ as Kodwo Eshun and Antje Ehmann term them. nudge or counterpoint the patient. A vast collective mis-education is turned against itself in films such as Leben . self-effacing work of montage. Farocki’s absence leaves the images room to drown in their own uncanniness. Everything Farocki re-presents is turned ever so slightly on its axis by the process of montage. Found images converse together. its primary cause. or.
but always in tension with the likelihood of intensified non-reproduction and the further deepening of the (brutal) contradiction Comparison begins with. 2007 Since the ’80s Farocki has increasingly worked under a self-imposed taboo against the staging of material. Farocki’s unalienated labour. fully human technology.the viewer is left to do the intellectual labour of reading and mediating the contrasting images.here and in other aspects of leftist politics and culture . The complete absence of commentary in this work is exemplary . one image is questioned and interpreted by another. vanishingly thin as it becomes. running in strict (combined and uneven) parallel. but also interrogate and criticise.potentially . each other. The official story of capitalist progress and its contemporary extension (by evasion or inversion) into narratives of a seamlessly âflat’ or irreversibly collapsing world. is continually played off against the alienated labour his films scrutinise and seek to understand. is baulked by the sheer complexity and hybridity of global production. The most basic shot/countershot is sufficient to catalyse in the viewer an effort to narrate the stark contradiction. neither the celebration of âappropriate technology’ and âcommunity’ nor the worship of high tech and efficiency that is its complementary opposite in the global constellation of devalorisation. held in a dialectical tension which forbids either nostalgia or unmediated technicist enthusiasm. to somehow make sense of the coexistence of antithetical yet surely interconnected processes of (non) reproduction. Does minimalism shade into a moralised militantism.at one pole of production is discovered re-emerging at another. Avoid interviews with documentary subjects. Farocki formally assimilates and assumes the same process of (self)abolition which is both capital’s historic mission and . True to Farocki’s notion of âsoft montage’ discussed in the essay of the same name reprinted in Against What?. revolutionary overcoming of the opposition sociality + poverty/ isolation + efficiency is present. Eshewing unnecessary labour like a good capitalist engineer fine-tuning his critical-analytic machine.this ascesis is a dialectical challenge to capital or merely its double. leave all the awkwardness to the idiots you distance yourself from. Comparison is a hypnotic two screen work contrasting the almost completely automated production of a brick wall in a cutting edge European factory with the very social and highly labour-intensive process of wall building in Africa. better to quote something already existing and create a new documentary quality. instead relying respectively on a very particular form of direct cinema and found footage: No actors. Farocki shows how the two poles posit and presuppose. Rather than progress or apocalypse. as ânegation 5 . [IMAGE] Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Comparison by a Third. no images made by myself. formal economy.the grounds for a fully socialised. the possibility of a dialectical. One might question to what extent .
affective and communicational worlds of the (former) worker. a system of diabolical.as sinisterly hilarious as reality TV would be if it could just shut up and pay attention to the pedagogical routines unfolding around us like a 24 hour biopolitical soap-opera. of involution and contracted social reproduction.’ This adamic language is at its most amusing when the films are most ascetically reserved. irony performs a dialectical escape act. or venture capitalist negotiation session. His withdrawal from narrative cinema is at the same time. Arguably Farocki. endlessly refined productivity but rather a process which for a long time has been developing through self-cannibalisation. insofar as minimalism can helplessly undergo transubstantiation into the stuff of luxury (Raven Row is no third world building site). is an aesthetic of poverty . maternity class and police training exercise. Like a vast historical joke on the Maoist cultural revolution or Brechtian teaching programme. Work becomes an endlessly rehearsed performance in which nothing is re/produced but work. Farocki’s capitalism is not the accelerating. The suspicion that Farocki surrenders masochistically to the conditions of this system by abjuring any direct expressive function of film is checked by his works own internal discipline.supermax prisons. [IMAGE] 6 .âAs if the world itself wanted to tell us something. field of vision and field of fire merge with the gun/camera installations of the modern correctional facility. I would argue. professionally and critically involved with German TV throughout the ’70s and ’80s. simulating and re/modelling every inch of the âsocial factory’ appears in Farocki’s work as a project not of simple âexpansion’. Farocki pioneers new fields and forms of image analysis by scouting the emergent scenes of capitalist devalorisation . witness again How To Live in the Federal Republic of Germany or Nicht Ohne Risiko (Nothing Ventured) . invents reality TV in films like Leben .of the negation’ acting to produce a parallel politico-aesthetic devalorisation? Or.BRD. self-perfecting capitalism of Virillio or Deleuze. Capital’s growing interest in training and rehearsing. and to see these films today reminds us of how close this dystopian proletkult is to being a ruthless Marxian critique of everything existing.not doomed to become its niche marketed opposite? But Farocki is ahead of such criticisms insofar as he explicitly thematises the contradictions of his work’s own productive forces. Increasing precision is applied to increasingly unproductive and outright destructive functions.like other leftist cinematic propositions such as an âaesthetics of imperfection’ . rendering the muteness of developed capitalism voluble by letting its proliferating silences and scripted performances speak âfor themselves’ . capital combines ceaseless re-education with the progressive scuttling of material existence. (I am thinking of Farocki’s Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen [I Thought I was Seeing Convicts. Instead. but rather. 2000] which takes the Corcoran supermax prison in California as a site where guards effectively rehearse and stage gladiatorial combats between the inmates then shoot them down. The prison becomes a kind of (CC)TV studio churning out state snuff movies). in parallel with capital’s penetration of the personal. the exploration of a vast new world of (un/productive) images. combat simulators.
a cigarette at just 400. of a (self-)alienation which is not simply epistemological or ethical but institutional and systemic. Returning to devalorisation as âcontent’. 1978 7 . 2000 So much for Farocki’s formal strategy of austerity or âaesthetic of devalorisation’. Farocki uses a kind of institutional tracking shot to makes visible in one movement the inseparability of the productive and destructive arms of a single company. only a metonym for other sites of struggle. hence Farocki’s self-wounding gesture is not an actionist coup de theatre but rather a characteristically economical and accurate physical synopsis of the self-destructive (and necessary) separation that the system is predicated on.Image: installation shot of Harun Farocki’s I Thought I was Seeing Convicts. other refusals to reproduce the structures and logic of devalorisation. beyond a certain point in its development. Famously.e. Capital’s drive to convert and multiply a single rationalised productive process to yield different or opposing outputs. Overt exhortations of this kind are notably absent from the director’s later work. [IMAGE] Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Between Two Wars. were the scientists employed there to start thinking their activity in its totality and practically refusing it in concert with other workers at different points in the division of labour. to turn its forces of production against what it produces. the Raven Row archive revealed a film-maker confronting capital’s imperative head-on. Already in Inextinguishable Fire. the very forces of production machines and humans. Farocki insists on the highly political nature of ostensibly neutral objects of consumption. Rather than propaedeutically expose his audience to images of napalm’s horrific effects. Farocki had examined the emblematic scandal of Dow Chemical. The ensuing analysis reveals that Dow is no isolated malefactor but rather simply one exemplary node in a vaster system of production/destruction. Farocki. The film is a study in the right hand’s carefully constructed ignorance of what the left hand is doing. underscoring the inseparability of productive and unproductive activity. but it is the succeeding sequence based around a Brechtian mock-up of Dow Chemical’s internal division of labour that makes good the initial gestus (an âexpanded reproduction’ of the gesture?). in the guise of a TV announcer. to wipe out not only over-valued exchange values (as in our current economic crisis) but. but the focus on the ambivalence of capitalist ârationalisation’ remains a constant. remains ever present in Farocki’s work. It is identified as a potential site of struggle and refusal. As such Dow is also. increasingly. unsellable petroleum becomes napalm. mental and environmental resources. This gesture has captured most of the discussion. shipped out to Vietnam where it is used to flay the bodies and environment of the âcommunist’ antagonist. begins this movement by stubbing a cigarette out on his own forearm while the voice over explains that napalm burns at 3.000 degrees.i. like the gesture of stubbing out the cigarette. productive) output into materials for destruction and war . a company whose own technical efficiencies oblige it to turn its surplus (domestic.
Converted into the structure for benzene. 8 . reorganising production such that the waste products of one process can help power another (âa network of pipelines’ would use exhaust gases from coking to heat blast furnaces for smelting.for example. In Between Two Wars Farocki draws on the theorist Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s Marxist analysis of the economy and class structure of fascism to posit an analogue between post-WW1 Germany and consumer capitalism after ’68. one might add. this first phase of devalorisation stores up a second. On the one hand.is central. sees in the image of the bird eating its own egg a formula for immanently overcoming capital’s problems. As the film goes on to show. The image of a bird that devours its own product proves. Farocki’s films. His interpretation of this archetypal image of regeneration and the entwinement of life and death was radically disenchanted . this very ârationalisation’ results in an increasing contradiction between production and consumption. The second worker’s vision of the integration of different industrial processes through âtotal flow production’ enables great leaps forward in output. a figure of regeneration becomes real and practical. on the other. The bird eating its own egg becomes the topology for the material recycling necessary to the rationalisation of production. stripped of symbolic meaning and turned into a topology.a story which Pynchon’s novel also seizes on as symbolically pivotal. The key image of capital’s self-destructive ârecycling’ in Between Two Wars is presented in a scene in which one worker tells another his dream. generally speaking. once applied in practice. Indeed. but that. as âsolution’ to an over accumulation of labour-power .the dream vision became a model for material production. the production line brings new economies of scale.). capitalist âefficiency’ is shown as constitutively dependent on and productive of this austerity. seem to begin by constructing dialectical images. KekulÃ© dreamt of a serpent eating its own tail. of a bird that hatches then eats its own egg. The second worker replies with the story of the scientist KekulÃ© . 1988) Farocki develops the logic of Inextinguishable Fire’s analysis to present a kind of Marxist version of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. the workers’ dreams are instrumentalised and put to work by capital. In good Brechtian fashion the workers discuss the interpretation of dreams. In Between Two Wars and the later film essays Wie man sieht (As You See. but above all of production through and at the cost of intensifying destruction. but rather a model of capitalist rational-irrationality. The recycling of waste products of capitalist and pre-capitalist culture is presented as the material for an increasingly schizophrenic and ambiguous economic expansion. to be the emblem of the austerity of the ’30s and of the succeeding imperialist war. as in the German steel industry of the ’20s.In Farocki’s films capital is a system of production. The second worker. While he was working on the problem of the molecular structure of benzene (essential to Dow’s later production of petrol and napalm). In both eras the logic of devalorisation as rationalised irrationality . in this period. like KekulÃ©. the machine gun automates murder on a mass basis. the dreamer concluding (like a naive German left-communist of the era?) that science must submit itself to the imagination of labour. almost hieroglyphs for materialist interpretation. the answer capital gives to its ongoing crisis so as to contain and overcome the threat of a communist response. 1986) and Bilder der Welt und Inschrift der Krieges (Images of the World and the Inscription of War. Yet in Farocki’s film KekulÃ© is not so much the spiritually impoverished seculariser of a spiritual metaphor as in Pynchon’s melancholic (Weberian?) version. with tragic irony. but. the mass production of machine guns (and. financial instruments).
is not a relic of the mid-20 th century but very much the reality of the last 40 years’ âneoliberal’ global experiment. militarisation of the economy and. The bird eats its own offspring.. of the productivist and nationalist left and right wings of socialism. Moreover. âI managed to have a look at the stenograph of a speech Hitler gave in an industrial club in Dusseldorf.] This Hitler guy talks like a Marxist’ The âsolution’ to devalorisation becomes in turn its cause. socialism’s productive and destructive arms can now be seen as inseparable. Within capitalist social relations the virtuous circle of the scientist is inseparable from the vicious circle of the fascist. the woman meets the blast-furnace man on a bridge. ultimately. And this holds true for almost every industry. war proved necessary to bring the market and the productive forces back into alignment. This contradiction between forces and relations of production and the resulting systemic tendency to self-consumption recurs across Farocki’s subsequent works. as its necessary continuation. Having broken the resistance of the working class with the help of the unions and socialist parties. not once but (at least) twice. Alice Creischer and Andreas Sieckmann quote a section of the film which brings this all together: In a scene set in 1932. And as Farocki’s film implies. capital ends up.In their essay in Harun Farocki: Against What Against Whom?. the outright destruction of value. mutually constituting. as Loren Goldner puts it. this murder of the rising generations.instead they mercilessly expose the proximity of the workers’ movement and fascism. Like Dow Chemical. Recycling as rationalisation of production impels.. this contraction of social reproduction. If the world’s entire car industry worked at 100% capacity. In Farocki’s film. micromanaging their murder. but if one wants to stop reproducing the tragedy of capitalist âdevelopment’ one must try and grasp it. [. projecting an image of national rebirth to mobilise and legitimate a process of social self-cannibalisation. playing the part of left wing of capital or better âthe left wing of devalorisation’. the entire car stock could be replaced within four and a half years. And the socialists helped come up with it. like a self-administered cigarette burn. Farocki’s films seem from early on to refuse the comforting notion of a return to a social democratic âalternative’ . The recognition may hurt. Increased production possibilities have become so high that today’s market stands in no relation to them any more. once again. a generation is sacrificed to ensure the reproduction of capital. Deinstitutionalisation and/or Devalorisation Redux 9 . Having perfected the Taylorist integration of production and the reproduction of workers. Excess of supply over demand and the inability to realise the value incorporated in products on the market led the capitalist class to find a new âsolution’ in the non-reproduction of workers. Nazism is revealed as the only political form capable of securing continued capitalist accumulation.
the material conditions for the mass production of âstars’ out of mere âactors’ is put in place. Workers. both the world of industrial work from which the cinema classically posed an escape.Farocki’s Between Two Wars. used in Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory. The individual performer’s affective âoutput’. arguably.the primal scene of workers exiting the inventors’ photographic factory in Lyon (Sortie des Usines LumiÃ¨re Ã Lyon. A row of 12 monitors showing excerpts from 11 decades of feature. You could see what a shithole it is. 2006 On Construction reveals the logic of Taylorism operating in cinematic form.coincided with the consolidation of the worker as an identity. 1895. Workers does what it says on the can and shows workers leaving factories. as Deleuze suggests. Farocki selects images of the literal departure of workers (or actors playing workers) from factories in films such as Intolerance. The introduction of the shot/reverse shot gives us two sets for the price of one and enormously increases the transferential âproductivity’ of film grammar in the process. It is not only a document of the evolution of film and of factories but. No. it posits the continual âreappearance’ of the LumiÃ¨res’ first film .in particular of the worker as conscious revolutionary subject . industrial) labour in cinema are pursued again in Workers Leaving the Factory. is further broken down into parts. The Raven Row show’s installations. economics and the moving image. like that of the factory worker. The same dialectic of devalorisation as a simultaneous affirmation and suppression of labour can be seen in the evolution of the form and content of cinema itself. The dialectics of (abstract. and La reprise du travail aux usines Wonder from May ’68 (a Parisian worker who is leaving work when her bosses and union officials would like her to return: âNo. as Bert Rebhandl puts it in Against What?. and Dancer in the Dark as well as documentaries and documentary footage including a short scene outside a factory in Moscow from 1912. documentary and promotional films. Modern Times.of ii politics. suggest the way in which the absence/elimination of the worker . Without commentary. Metropolis.the Taylorist. 2006) with its analysis of the invention of shot/countershot as a recalibration of the cinematic law of value. foregrounds the general absence of the factory as a subject in cinema. I will not go back in there. by condensing film and labour history into a few screens and scenes. 10 . 1895).standing around waiting to manufacture torn halves of a virtual encounter. Il Deserto Rosso. 24 frames-per-second machine behind and within the projected image. is redoubled.’). I wouldn’t put a foot in that prison. but perhaps even more so his film essays As You See and Images of the World. while. It becomes at once more fascinating (for the viewer) and more boring (for the actor) . cinema acting becomes increasingly a matter of reacting. and its own fantasmatic production line . I will not go back. particularly Zur Bauweise des Films bei Griffith (On Construction of Griffith’s Films. and Arbeiter verlassen die fabrik (Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades. the installation implies that the cinematic apparatus is founded on a constitutive disavowal of production. [IMAGE] Image: still from the LumiÃ¨res’ Sortie des Usines LumiÃ¨re Ã Lyon. 2006) enabled one to trace this evolution forward from the birth of cinema and the rise of socialism to the present crisis . The (abstract and abstracted) labour of the actor. and the integration of the viewer/consumer.
however. In this respect Farocki’s Raven Row show was especially timely.including expressive or critical images . in which capital grows by being admixed with living labour.Money âplus an increment of surplus-value’). performing a rite of (fictitious) revalorisation upon the tranche of iii deindustrialised sub/urban space in which the museum or gallery is situated. That which was shunned as âdidactic’ returns as a purgative for a bloated art market. and the question Against What? Against Whom? pointedly apposite given that Farocki’s new visibility in the London art world was itself facilitated by Raven Row’s director. The neoliberalised museum is more like a supermarket. making do and getting by. What this analysis misses. Sainsbury.Commodity . but contributed precious little to the extraction of surplus value. of the two wings of capitalist devalorisation.since art spaces such as Raven Row are themselves sites of former industrial or artisanal labour.As well as staging a cinematic âreturn of the repressed’. but sees a re-evaluation of underappreciated art. It’s more of a downward spiral. The institutions of the cultural economy are now facing collapse and may well seek bail outs by private (even oligarchic?) capital.is being recalibrated. is the way in which the F-M-F spiral is not at all the upward movement of valorisation. capitalism can today use remnants of leftist culture and its archive to 11 . As such the show marked the convergence. while âhairshirt radicalism’. as J. J. 2006 That this is part of the movement of devalorisation in its current form of advanced non-reproduction is shown in the signal failure of such performances to produce anything other than claims on value that is extracted elsewhere in the circuit of capital. property values and the rest of the F. The conversion of (no longer) productive factories into unproductive sites of consumption has served to expand fictitious capital. heir to one of the great agents of the 20 th century devalorisation of British labour-power. she argues. the field of vision (or âdistribution of the sensible’ as RanciÃ¨re would say) would seem once again to be undergoing a reconfiguration.I. Hito Steyerl has wittily formulated the dialectic of the factory and museum that arises at the end of this arc in her essay âIs the Museum a Factory’.Museum Factory. As in the ’20s and ’30s. Real Estate) economy. (Finance. [IMAGE] Image: installation shot of Harun Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades.Money). in which a narrow section of the global unproductive classes g(r)aze more or less intensively while. can easily end up reproducing an ideology of morally virtuous belt-tightening.as in the case of Riga’s new art museum. if not reconciliation. through their presence. we could say that the museum has simply returned to its original function: Factory . Crisis not only resets the measure of value by driving down the price of labour-power.of work. Socialist guerilla film-maker meets repentant scion of (super)market capitalism in neoliberal infinity. Rather than protesting the inappropriateness of showing radical film in the museum. Insurance. to refunction Marx’s formula for the circulation of capital (Money . Among the middle class (and many artists) there is plenty of this sacrificial socialism which says we all have to take a bit of the pain if âthings are going to get better’.E. the radical art space an organic farmer’s market. and indeed of class struggle Workers is simultaneously an analytic cross section in 12 slices of the long arc of the workers’ movement: from revolutionary challenge to capital to vanguard of real subsumption to anti-bureaucratic revolt and on into a post-Fordist afterlife in which the installation itself (âthe line’ become a line of monitors) represents the worker as revenant .Commodity . In an era of open capitalist crisis.J. The museum as factory will have functioned at best as an advertisement for a new phase of accelerated looting . the âoperationality’ of images . Charlesworth calls it. M-C-M’ (Money .R.
Of course this coexists with a âreactionary’ lunge back to proven national brands . The eclipse of state funding will see the emergence of other sources of individualised private-public patronage. we should invert this dodgy equation and extend our critique from a fraction of the system to its totality. or indeed the military arm of the culture-finance-military-(post-)industrial complex. maybe.cultural and general. And. Celebrating the âliberating’ post-crunch opportunity for naming and blaming culprits (evil bankers) in isolation worked to reverse or at least impede the movement of Farocki’s montage. Whereas scapegoating works by announcing the disciplining or even elimination of one part of capital. may be a pleasure but is it any use when it leaves the relations of part to whole unexamined? The media heaves with naming and blaming ressentiment patently aimed at misdirecting any burgeoning opposition to the system as a totality. are by their nature more autocratic and unaccountable than public bodies. the truth of the Sainsbury-Zabludowicz continuum (the shot and counter-shot of a process of contracting social reproduction. Analysis lacks engagement with class as a decisive and relational rather than subsidiary and sociological 12 . the napalm. In this sense.the wives of arms’ manufacturers and oligarchs. Behind the petrol. At the (rather over stage-managed) panel discussion for the launch of Against What/Against Whom? Kodwo Eshun seemed to cheerfully invert or abbreviate the lesson of Inextinguishable Fire. but from funding. beneath the farmer’s market. restraint and economy in a period of deflation is not lost on capitalist institutions in crisis . The apparently incongruous convergence of private capital and political art and film is a straw in the wind indicating the imminent collapse of the neoliberal cultural surrogate for a âpublic sphere’ that succeeded the state-funded regime (Arts Council and the dole). whether their money is new or old. Stubbing a fag out on the âbad’ financial arm of capital. their tastes and commitment as fickle and superficial as Sainsbury’s is informed and (comparatively) sustained. Not to fetishise the latter. new patrons. If the general tendency of recent decades is anything to go by. politicised and above all cheap art work.the ICA plans to reboot with a show of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s work . lest this be misunderstood. but rather by seeing both as necessary to the continuation of accumulation . Even the most intelligent and engaged patron represents part of this wider process of cultural non-reproduction. definitely. I think we can take a page out of Farocki’s analysis of Dow Chemical and see. but their contraction or collapse is one more symptom of the ongoing destruction of value by and for capital. this is not a matter of scapegoating any particular branch of capital or its bearers. as it were) is not discovered by collapsing one into the other. the new patrons could end up more on the model of Anita Zabludowicz (director/proprietor of 176 art space in North London) than Alex Sainsbury . In the end the new liberal/artworld tolerance for a sub-Brechtian âcrude thinking’ of the kind that remains too ubiqitous in political art. behind the benign and human face of the âgood’ reproductive capitalism of Sainsburys and socialism.provide cheap content (viz the ICA’s ill-fated âradical experiment in deinstitutionalisation’) and an ideological justification for austerity. austerity coincides with a promotion of ethical. along with a portion of the working class. Consequently at the top end of the capitalist circulation of goods. devalorisationist economy of Zabludowicz. the occupied settlements of East Jerusalem.both in the culture sector and in the EasyCouncil-style (private/)public sector beyond.but the utility of a left-wing ethos of DIY autonomy. but their tastes may well be less âradical’ than Sainsbury’s. reveals the superficiality of the politics as well as the aesthetics. intellectual. the true and destructive. a âliberation’ from bureaucracy.
through the practice of the wildcat strike and the urban riot.with the continuation of this legacy in the anti-imperialist movement of the ’60s: âI had sided with the Vietcong without dealing with the politics of the victorious communist regime and without mentioning the boat people or the detention camps. an avatar who is given historical and intellectual consecration with the rise of the modern bureaucracy . which includes detailed discussions of Farocki’s early attempts at Marxist pedagogy. if indeed class is mentioned at all. later films such as Etwas wird sichtbar (Before Your Eyes. Even most of the articles in Against What?. Farocki’s films and writings manage to be much more penetrating than many of the readings produced by their academic fans. the active theorisation and education work.that the political insights of a fraction of the bourgeoisie have a privileged analytic or indeed practical value. in fact.concept . As such. We can propose a countershot that upsets the received idea that the âreturn’ of the left to the cultural centre marks the renaissance of a repressed radicalism. What if the left who now return to denounce neoliberalism in crisis were. Vietnam. in the absence of an analysis of class as relation. 1982) engaged critically . yet Farocki’s films seem as much concerned with value as with control and âbiopolitics’. those attuned to the predominance of a Hegelian ânegation of the negation’ statist perspective in 20 th century socialism will recognise the dead hand of devalorisation behind the romantic figure of the freedom fighter. of labour as embodiment (and antagonist) of value. simply the vanguard of the retrogression that followed in subsequent decades. Looking back from our present crisis to the social revolution of the ’60s. yet as Carl Schmitt grasped.’ he confides in Against What? In âDog From the Freeway’. The partisan is not the conventional soldier. Farocki criticises the âidentical mental mechanisms’ of denial of the China-Cambodia and Soviet Union-Vietnam factions. In fact by exploring the link between these things/processes in a way which at least implies labour-power as a central category. Having explored the complicity of the socialist movement in devalorisation in Between Two Wars. 1969 Unsurprisingly. in their own youth. is a kind of microcosm of the state. Vietnam.but ambivalently .form. for example. seem to do without a historical-relational conception of class.apparently alive and well . there is little discussion in this milieu of the myopias of leftist film. 13 .and anti-state (âThe working class and the employing class have nothing in common’ as the IWW put it). Not to mention the assumption . Foucault generally takes presidence over Marx. a text which accompanies Before Your Eyes. The notion is not completely alien to Farocki.not so much its other as its Clausewitzian continuation by other means. [IMAGE] Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire. Nonetheless he also retained loyalty to the âhistorical character’ of the nationalist opposition to US imperialism and seems enthusiastic for the figure of the partisan and the guerilla activity of the Vietcong which here eclipses any notion of the revolutionary working class as primarily non. as in the value form AND aesthetic form (and the latter as a mode of exploring and opposing the former) is dominated by a rigid and politically correct combination of formalism and content-ism. one could argue that Farocki and his peers were actually in the rearguard of a proletarian refusal which did the real thinking.
Returning to the current struggle in the cultural sector. one must wonder exactly how far one can rely on the teachings of Farocki. Again. he never seems to draw the logical conclusion . One might hope that the current ejection of the gallery from the converted factory will produce a new class consciousness among those affected.that the enemy of workers and peasants was not only American imperialism but their domestic bourgeoisie. This is a far cry from the prescient analysis of the Situationist International back in 1967: âThe point [.] is not to give unconditional (or even conditional) support to the Vietcong.and more of an all or nothing rout or exodus. anarchist.. For all Farocki’s attentiveness to the manipulation of atrocity images by both âcommunist’ sides and the ugly contradictions confronting the nationalist anti-imperialist position.’ With this tragic socialist betrayal of the working class in mind. but so far even this dialectical twist in the conversion spiral doesn’t seem to have had much power to consolidate resistance. Despite Hito Steyerl’s caveats.in this historical juncture I suspect it’s a sign of weakness not strength: the lack of opposition at the deluxe end of the market reflects a wider passivity and insecurity. The division of labour which Farocki has sedulously explored in his films has evolved to the point where opposition may be less a matter of coordination across sectors .as espoused in Inextinguishable Fire . of work.. films such as Between Two Wars are a salutary reminder of capital’s ability to raid the âdreams of the worker’ and put them to work against them. but to struggle consistently and without any concessions against American imperialism. second time in factories-turned-galleries .first time in factories. While the non-reproduction of the non-reproductive sector could be seen as one of the first tasks of revolution .capital doing our work for us .the one staged and re-staged by their social democratic. and of capitalist ideology itself complicit in the ongoing capitalist project of devalorisation? This particular absence/elimination of the working class . we can re-examine the question of what is at stake here.’ Although presumably Farocki would agree that âThe Vietnam war is rooted in America and it is from there that it must be rooted out... render Farocki’s criticism of the image.is the most serious one âin’ (but never confronted by) Farocki’s films. and Trotskyist representatives . The Self-Excluding Worker 14 . the âparticipative’ and active citizenship promoted by the Vietcong is not subject to critique as the very form of a (bloody) capitalist agrarian revolution. To what degree does the theoretical and practical elision of the working class as self-subsisting positive. the (ongoing) return of radical cinema . as a form of activity radically opposed to the dialectical labour of negation of the Prussian state bureaucrat and his 20 th century descendents.In Farocki’s essay. a revolution without a programme for social reproduction as well as the abolition of work could be an even more effective agent of social contraction. Having said that.still seems farcically emptied of (the) class as such. however.
This was the pedagogy of (as in by) the proletariat . the exemplary space of capital’s decision over life/death in terms of work/non-work). devalorisation made visible what it sought to eradicate. burst in through the elegant Georgian doors of the white cube. post-Fordist (non)worker as the missing final screen in Workers Leaving the Factory.the factory . The intruder/extruder was like the (bad) supplement to Farocki’s haul of departing workers.the worker . This real-life performance of the contemporary âeliminated worker’ was. clutching a lager. If the process begins with the birth of cinema .with the image of workers leaving the factory . The charade of cultural value production is discovered as a sham extension of a wider fictitious capital bubble. a step . alienated from any class consciousness. the worker who accidentally and drunkenly enters the art/politics factory is immediately repelled by sober acts of attention to black and white screens . disaggregated. the museum as (social) factory is closing down all over the shop. shouting. There was something hallucinatorily absurd and scandalous about his brief visit. He didn’t hang around long enough to be ejected. 2003Â 15 .and socialism deified . Rather than running for the exit. this time not concealed behind the reformist/devalorisationist carapace of a heroic identity but diffused. by contrast with How To Live’s pageant of capitalist re-training exercises. drunk. What Hollywood screened out .perhaps he even glimpses Workers Leaving the Factory at the back of the space and recoils? [IMAGE] Image: installation shot of Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine III. at the critic of self-critical leftist cinema . perhaps. by accident. like an eidetic image of the supposedly âreal world’ which being in a gallery always conjures up (La vraie vie est ailleurs) but which almost never breaks in on the interior spectacle.in the present moment of crisis this displacement has come full circle. completely unscripted. Meanwhile. (Or was this just the typically narcissistic delusion of the film-viewer?) In this case the worker was self-ejecting. a âfree improvisation’ albeit a solo one. but leapt back out almost instantaneously. the human surplus displaced by the super-efficient automated factory gates shown on the 11 th monitor. appearing and disappearing without a trace. workers may think of occupation. but rather precision targeted.or leap .As I was watching Between Two Wars on the monitor in the entrance of Raven Row an actually existing proletarian.me.it simultaneously destroyed.toward their self-abolition as capital. or indeed of new forms of solidarity capable of turning this new ejection to their own advantage. But his ad hoc intervention was enough to make the historical dialectic of labour’s dis/appearance clearer. the worker is said to remain absent from the stage of history. simultaneously consigning much of the labour force to the status of invisible non-People. It was tempting to consider this undisciplined. everywhere we look the exit from the factory is being forcibly levered open and the worker expelled .is this the condition for the complete self-abolition of the working class or the current limit of anti-capitalist struggle? Either way.not scored by capital for labour’s edification. The elimination of the worker coincides in the phase of Fordist devalorisation with a cult of the worker as identity and a cull of those identified as non-workers (Farocki’s Images of the World is devastating on the Nazi deployment of this distinction in the camps.by capital. It’s ambiguous .
It is the anti-action film. Yet. the warehousing. much is absurd.org> is a contributing editor to Mute and is currently working on a film treatment about a popstar who survives a serious car crash to discovers that he can suddenly see the price of everything he looks at Info Against What? Against Whom? was at Raven Row.activity remains his subject. 19 November 2009 . has any bearing on a resurgence of working class self-activity remains to be seen. The absence of the working class is thus as ambivalent as ever . an empty space apparently increasingly dependent for its existence (inflation?) on the largesse of private capital. cultural workers discussing political action helplessly reproduce the position of an earlier generation of vanguardists. economically and elegantly precipitating thought by re-presenting images of the world inscribed and disfigured by value in crisis. This is politicisation in an (aesthetic) vacuum. Farocki continues to put the question of the abolition of (alienated) labour at the centre of his work. âthrillers for those bored by thrillers’.7 February 2010 16 .but as Farocki’s films show us. At the poles of capitalist (non/re)production workers are either too many or too few. (If the worker-intruder had hung around long enough. historically . labour is engaged in a charade of activity that is technologically superfluous. the global proletariat is definitely unevenly developed. as Kodwo Eshun and Antje Ehmann put it.my guess is that Farocki’s current art-world sponsors represent the displaced last gasp of social democracy. much of the material is grim.Whether or not any of the current politicised discussion in cultural institutions amid cuts and lay offs.not to say practically. London. perhaps he would have been invited to stay and watch the installation?) Farocki makes difficult viewing for anyone. other workers would have been on hand to remove him. perhaps the class’s self-abolition is immediately at hand. surveillance and/or destruction of one fraction of the class by another. Benedict Seymour <ben AT kein. Whatever the limits of his politics. even if this activity is theoretically . better/worse. action . one is dealing with âguard labour’. Or. as such. Is it a shame that the undisciplined worker who burst through the door just as quickly burst back out? Or is the indifference of actually existing workers to the pedagogy of the left in itself a result of the definitive historical overcoming of social democracy? With no class identity to affirm.entwined with its containment by the value form and those who ambiguously represent capital and/or its negation. as Farocki’s films suggest. and it relentlessly abstains from cheap visual pleasures. What seems more certain is that while any real social movement opposing capital is absent in the UK. Increasingly. both front of house and behind the scenes. and not yet consciously combined in its opposition to what passes for âdevelopment’. to take the final step on the path. Maybe . the worker just needs to walk away from the machine. the final convergence of the mainstream and left-wing of devalorisation in a privately funded non-market gallery space.
Cf âYou Think Greece Has Problems? Latvia’s Road to Serfdom’ Michael Hudson and Jeff Sommers. Harun Farocki. but appropriately.org. 22 Films 1968â2009’.html The attempt to fashion a surrogate âpublic sphere’ of political action in cultural institutions is at best a utopian complement of this primitive accumulation process.counterpunch. http://www. âShot/Countershot: The Most Important Expression in Cinematic Law of Value’. in Metamute. which opened just as the country’s fictitious capital and primitive accumulation based economy collapsed.uk/modern Kodwo Eshun & Antje Ehman eds. making two sets out of one. 2006).Harun Farocki. http://www. Latvia. we have surreal subsumption: the return of absolute surplus value extraction in formerly relative surplus value centred economies.org/en/Drowning-by-Numbers : âAfter devalorisation. just as the introduction of industrial production introduced the evening shift’ . multiplied by primitive accumulation.metamute. December 2006. commissioned by Raven Row..tate. a season of single-screen films and events at Tate Modern. So much for culture as a site of value production though as a catalyst to loot it clearly still has a future.This project was linked to ’Harun Farocki. published by Koenig Books. today we have the final stages of devalorisation through its post-Fordist decomposition. 13 Novemberâ6 December. something which may remind us of the ambiguous position of the Constructivists within Soviet war communism. Steyerl’s essay on E-Flux is illustrated with images of the new OMA-designed art museum in Riga. curated by Stuart Comer. Clark’s Farewell to an Idea.J.’ ii âWith the introduction of shot-countershot. capital now attempts the destruction of already reduced standards of living and expectations on the part of already ravaged communities of workers. cf T. iii Ironically. Antje Ehmann and the Otolith Group. Against What? Against Whom?. the room was divided into two.org/hudson02152010. Coupled with intensified labour. http://www. quoted in âAto Z of HF or: 26 Introductions to HF by Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun in Against What? Against Whom?) and Arbeiter verlassen die fabrik (Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades. 17 . that is the destruction or ânon-reproduction of labour power’ through (Fordist) recomposition.The Non-Reproduction of New Orleans’. After the âreal subsumption’ of the worker under capital. 2010 Footnotes i For more on âsurreal subsumption’ see my âDrowning by Numbers .