Book Review: Political Philosophy in Motion *.mkv

Codifying the title by analogy with site web media, with a code-breaking asterisk which suggests paratextual elements (footnote or annotation) or the extension of mkv files, Viorella Manolache has already moved inside a generic mix of multi-media associations, which, unlike the vertical linkage of hypertexts, generate a horizontally embedded sequence of images set in motion by camera movement, rapid succession of shots, framing and montage.

The Matryoshka nesting dolls were at the origin of the Video files originating in 2002 Russia, known as MKV files – containers which override the boundary between types of encoding that generate audio, video and textual media. Cinematography is the art that best serves as simulation model of the world picture conceived by the New Physics as emergent and permanently changing its Eigenstates. The asterisk therefore is a promise of explanation or definition that is never fulfilled, since the signifiers of the multimedia languages keep sliding under unstable signifieds, which become signifiers for new meanings.

The poststructuralist (Barthesian, Derridean and Lacanian) vocabularies serve to explain the resymbolization at the heart of what Linda Hutcheon considers to be the essence of postmodernist asthetics, that is, adaptation (A Theory of Adaptation, 2006). Discourse and image makers set out from an already codified original, some preexisting text which is either rewritten or mapped onto a screen version. The rapid succession of photographs in cinematography is repetition which creates difference, that deferral of meaning (Derrida) along the chain of signifiers that liberates the play of language subverting any authoritative and univocal structure of meaning.

If politics is a concept hinging on power, gained or lost, bearing upon related notions of freedom, rights, ethics, social norms and obligations, etc., the political philosophy will naturally seize on the space of free play with positions and attitudes that is created by nesting narratives of the human condition in an increasingly chaotic reality of atomistic private lives breaking loose from traditional bonds of family, national and social backgrounds. Dedoxification, Hutcheon’s term for the deconstruction of ideological dogmas incorporated in narratives of the great themes of political philosophy, seems to be more effective in cinematography than in the reinscription of previous literary texts (postmodernist metafiction or metafabulation) because the former lacks the explicitly subjective position inherent in the narrative voice, the voice over narrator being a rare and incomplete substitute. The story constructed through cuts from shot to shot and montage is fully dramatized, giving an impression of objectivity, just a reality show inviting spectators to make their own inferences and pass judgments.

9781527503922Well-acquainted with the tradition of esoteric and occult symbolism and apparently entertaining a passion for breaking codes, Viorella Manolache insists on visual clues in the movies she glosses on, her own collage for the front cover being extremely ingenious and appropriate for the whole argument. Renè Magritte’s poetics of non-representation and self-reflexivity succinctly stated in his Ceci n’est pas une pipe is embedded within an analogous version with permutated terms: Magritte’s pipe and text (This is not a pipe, meaning, this is a representation of a pipe) are inserted in a green crocodile mouth painted against a pink background and thus separated from the dark plane containing a film roll, while the word “film”, replacing pipe, straddles both planes. This is not a film, the collage reads, meaning this is an image cannibalizing another image, an aesthetic object whose meaning collects from its encounter with a previous message. Removed from the historical/social materiality of life, the relationship of power is modulated into that of dialogue, of negotiation of symbolic values and insertion of a new ideology. Magritte’s modernist vision of ontological breaks and aesthetic autonomy becomes the object of a postmodernist critique of intellectual narcissism concomitantly with the assertion of a Deleuzian continuity between art and world, the film being hooked into the green terror of victimizing power.

The author’s choice of the movies commenting on/ re-making predecessors or art objects cast into some other medium (parodying books, quoting music, using sculptures of paintings as props or scenery, etc.) is one more level of meta-discourse on issues pertaining to political philosophy.

The relationship between the hyper- and hypo levels of encoding is classified from various points of view: the change in generic status (for instance, the grafting of Noir onto SF or the occult in Angel Heart and Blade Runner), the reversed ethos (Face Off), the insert that destabilizes the structure of meaning or activates a latent one (the Phantasmal Other).

The cinematographic heterotopias are the privileged areas of Foucault’a spaces of otherness, of the encounter of opposite logics characterizing our postformal age. The demise of various ideological constructs, the collapse of all totalitarian blocks and the demystification of dogmatic systems highlighted by Gianni Vattimo as the hallmark of postmodernism calling for dedoxification as the preliminary therapy of a return to a commonly shared sophia, invite social critique in the movies, not by symbolic constitution of the new ideal state, which is not yet being adumbrated, but by polemical contexts that interrogate previous representations of the polis. V for Vendetta (2005), a dystopian political thriller film directed by James McTeigue and written by The Wachowski Brothers, based on the 1988 DC/Vertigo Comics, is commented in light of Thomas Hobbes’s philosophy of the social contract whose purpose is that of repressing man’s inborn violent nature (shared by the government’s use of torture and repression and the anarchists’ political rebellion and vandalism).

This is a most persuasive example of the abyss of subjectivity and the effacement of origin in postmodern re-makes: the DC graphic novel, The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman anthropomorphises abstractions (Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Death, Desire …) as in medieval moralities, while McTeigue’s contextual registers for the Vertigo draw into the mixing pot of the anarchists’ rebellion against a futuristic totalitarian regime in America icons of opposition and revenge, such as Guy Fawkes’s plot against absolutist James I, Edmond Dantès (The Count of Monte Cristo), Gaston Leroux’s Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera). A correct reading in political key, as the author remarks, should not be limited to a review of the eighteenth-century debate over self-love versus social love, but stretched out to include reflection on a crucial issue of our time: “Such an approach would exclude national societies from the terminological sphere, by certifying what theoreticians and international relations refer to by the phrase global society, deprived of international contract and normative-based, to the detriment of contractuality” (page 27). Such nonsensical speculations over the justification of violence and crimes in the name of revenge for violation of contract, with excesses sometimes disproportionate to alleged offences or executed against innocent and uninvolved victims, would be dispelled in an international order built on shared norms of justice.

The Philosophers (2013) is appreciated for its ingenious thematizing of political philosophy as “art and form of survival”. John Huddles, director and producer, along with George Zakk and Cybill Lui, talked in a press conference about the multicultural cast (students from various parts of the world), faced with the necessity to reboot humanity after a nuclear explosion. The peripatetic model of the Aristotelian school of philosophy is reset in terms of a modern classroom in which the teacher gives students cards describing the roles they will play. The philosopher alone possesses the key allowing his students to get out of the bunker that saves their lives during the nuclear attack, but, as the philosopher is left out, they will remain trapped inside in the first trajectory of the plot, while in parallel endings, they will survive. It is a girl with eidetic memory that remembers the cipher opening the bunker back to life, resembling Carroll’s allegory of Alice who saves herself from the underworld through games of the mind. The noemata, the intelligible contents of the mind will take Europeans into the heart of a reborn and redeemed continent, even if the journey there is on the “sleeping car” of a period of confusion and anarchy.

Viorella Manolache has managed to trace an optimistic project of humanities’ future in her survey of present cinematographic utopian and dystopian visions of an Alternophilosophia Politica, opening vistas to a renewed ethical and meaningful social order.

Professor Maria-Ana Tupan
Alba Iulia University

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