Cognitive mapping, totality and the realist turn
Alberto Toscano: The Poetics of Containerisation / Jeff Kinkle: Mapping Conspiracy: Parapolitics and Totality / Gail Day: Critical Realisms of Contemporary Art
The Poetics of Containerisationby Alberto Toscano
Containerisation is one of the most spatially transformative and socially disruptive dimensions of contemporary, 'globalised' capitalism, a crucial, if sometimes neglected, element in recurrent attempts at what David Harvey’s has termed the 'spatial fix' of capitalism's contradictions. Anonymity, automation and seriality also mean that, unlike the factory, whose hidden abode could be penetrated, or the railways, whose revolutionary development and function could be tracked, the container remains if nothing else a symbol of the opacity of a seemingly homogeneous and impersonal world of commerce in which labour vanishes and the intelligibility of exploitation is eroded. This talk will focus on a number of attempts in the filmic and visual arts to thematise 'the box' as an emblem of the refractoriness of contemporary capitalism to successful figuration or representation, in order to bridge the divide between the aesthetics of cognitive mapping and the analysis of capitalism's uneven development. Among the works under consideration will be Allan Sekula's ''Fish Story'' and ''The Lottery of the Sea'', episodes of TV shows ''Traffik'', ''The Wire'' and ''Dexter'', and the Comoros Islands' entry into the 2009 Venice Biennale, ''Djahazi''.
Mapping Conspiracy: Parapolitics and Totalityby Jeff Kinkle
In his essay ‘Cognitive Mapping’ (1988), Fredric Jameson writes, ‘Conspiracy, one is tempted to say, is the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age; it is a degraded figure of the total logic of late capital, a desperate attempt to represent the latter’s system, whose failure is marked by its slippage into sheer theme and content.’ An inability to cogently map or understand the complexities of global capitalism is replaced by paranoid visions of nefarious elites bent on world domination: the passage from the social relations between things to the relations between people takes the guise of fantasies of conspiracy. In the twenty years since Jameson made this claim, conspiracy theory has become increasingly mainstream and conspiratorial narratives seem to have lost none of their appeal, becoming all the more visible in both the cinema and the fine arts, as both theme and content. Recent years have also seen the rise of field of parapolitics, which focuses not merely on the activities and crimes of clandestine and criminal groups like security services, cartels, terrorist organisations, secret societies, and cabals, but primarily on the systemic roles played by such actors. This paper will focus on a series of examples in the cinema and fine arts that in one way or another raise pertinent questions about the ability to map and theorize global capitalism without necessarily dismissing parapolitical concerns about ‘systemic clandestinity’ and ‘criminal sovereignty’ (Cribb 2009). Works discussed will stretch from Mark Lombardi’s intricate graphs of the ‘overworld’, which not only reveal but dramatize and narrativize the political and economic relations between various events and scandals, to films like ''Michael Clayton, Il Divo'', and ''The International'', which utilize different narrative techniques to dramatize the relation between powerful individuals and systemic constraints.
Critical Realisms of Contemporary Artby Gail Day
In the field of the visual arts over recent years, it is widely acknowledged that there has been a growing prominence of politically-driven practices. Investigations into the nature of capitalist social relations in the early twenty-first century, commodification and expropriation, social geographies of migration and labour discipline, the machinations of global finance, not to mention the possibilities for social emancipation, variously shape significant artistic work and curatorial projects. Focusing on the debates over aesthetic form, this paper considers the extent to which these various efforts to grasp contemporary social contradictions might be understood as a renewal of the model of ‘critical realism’ or as a realisation of an ‘aesthetic of cognitive mapping’, situating them in the context of claims which take the representation of totality to be an ambition that is fundamentally compromised … or, at the very least, as one that is governed by complex dialectics of representation.