It is a tale told in a voice of urgency. It is a tale told in a state of extreme fatigue. It is important to enter into states of extreme fatigue, into extreme states. Knut Hamsun knows that it is by entering into liminal/extreme states that one achieves a sense of otherness. By going to places to which the body is not used, the mind must follow – and as a result new thoughts can be found, because new physical conditions are the conditions for new modes of thought, new mental conditions – or at least Spinoza might claim that this is so. What follows may not be new thoughts to you; they are not necessarily new thoughts to me – but they are thoughts that have tonight been illuminated by the spotlight of consciousness such that they merit attention in the form of comment. In the form of a blog.
Watch this. It will help.
It seems apparent that the Browne Report will involve a huge cut, maybe a 100 per cent cut, in funding for humanities at universities. What does this mean?
I am not sure – and never will be – that I grasp fully what is going on in the world. It’s a big world. It’s a world that is larger than I can fathom. How could I grasp fully the rationale behind the desertion of funding for the humanities in higher UK education? This is the response that logically will be given to this post (should anyone read it to want to respond): you don’t understand the bigger picture. Subtending this (as yet hypothetical) response is the supposition that the person who makes this claim does understand the ‘bigger’ picture – whatever that is.
I work in Film Studies: the camera can only take in as much information as it takes in, as can the human eye. If you have eyes to see the ‘bigger’ picture, then what you gain in size (‘bigness’), you lose in detail; what you gain in detail, you lose in size. By which I mean to say: I don’t know what the bigger picture is – because we all take light into our eyes, we all see – even the physically blind, and if I cannot trust my own sense of vision, in combination with my other senses – i.e. if I cannot trust my sense of self (whatever that is), then I must be blind. If I am blind, then my perceptions are pointless: I see nothing. If my own perceptions are pointless, then how can I perceive how pointful are the perceptions of others? And yet, it would be by telling me that I perceive poorly that my hypothetical antagonists would undermine what I am about to write. Well, I perceive as best I can, and I write as honestly as possible in accordance with my perception. And so if I am wrong, I apologise – but not to you who merely thinks me wrong – but to you, the invisible (to me – i.e. God) who knows me wrong.
(A problem with Film Studies regarding shot sizes: it seems to me that in general a close up is considered to be more ‘detailed’ than a long shot. But this is not the case. A close up is as detailed as a long shot. A close up fills the same amount of screen as does a long shot. As such, there is as much information in a close up as in a long shot. Indeed, a long shot is – permit some twisted argumentation – a close up of length, and a close up is a long shot of closeness. Like the camera, we take in as much as we can at any given moment in time. Our subjective existence is only ever as big as our subjective existence is – and if a pin prick destroys my belief in God, when others require an atom bomb for this to be the case, then the object of pin or bomb is irrelevant: the process of the destruction of faith is the thing that is important. As such, objects, which exist in space are often prioritised over happenings or processes, which exist in time. It does matter what is the catalyst. It matters, because the catalyst, the thing, has a material existence. It is made up of matter; as such, it matters. But in other ways, the thing does not matter at all – and the only thing that ‘matters’ is the process. It is the immaterial, the invisible that also, perhaps even really, counts: the process. Time is the overlooked element – because we impoverished souls cannot see it. But it is there, a black hole whose effects are visible everywhere while it itself can never be seen, because no light escapes from it. The Higgs boson as a particle of time; time as a physical entity. We are happy to accept that the bed that currently supports me is created from particles that have divergent origins – and if we separated this bed into its constituent particles, we would be happy, I suspect, to accept that each particle was not destined to become a bed, but that it had the potential to be a bed, that it had ‘bedness’ embedded within it. But we do not assume that time might be the same – which is what I wonder is the case: time, like space, consists of particles that, if we were to look at them from their point of ‘origin,’ would not cohere to the fleeting moments in time that are my breathing in and breathing out. Instead, they, like particles of space – like matter because they are material – in fact come from all over – and what coheres them together is simply organisation, as opposed to continued and persistent identity in the form of memory. Time seen from ‘without’ (Aeon) is not the opportunity for us to see the past and the future in a coherent sense; rather we see the chaos that is time, and it is the process of experiential time (Chronos) that makes ‘sense’ of time, and gives it a ‘chronology.’ Time in and of itself has no order; and what time we experience in life is the ordering of otherwise random particles, particles which, like those spatial particles that comprise a bed, come from all over the Aeon, are from any and everywhere, but which ‘randomly’/spontaneously cohere/self-organise. The point of this: to readjust the common assumptions made about time would be to readjust our common assumptions about identity, which in turn leads to challenges in the field of politics and ethics. In effect, to contemplate Aeon might lead to tangible changes in Chronos – in the way in which we lead our lives and act upon the shared assumption that we love each other.)
Back to the beef – and apologies if you are lost already – but it’s okay to get lost, because without getting lost you cannot find out where you are, you cannot re-think, I cannot learn: what do the proposed cuts in humanities funding suggest? Well, from my (by definition) limited point of view, they suggest a government-backed desire for universities not to encourage freedom of thought. Don’t get me wrong: a failure to back the humanities is not to say that the sciences, commonly if erroneously thought to be the humanities’ beautiful sister, do not encourage freedom of thought. Of course, the sciences do encourage freedom of thought. The sciences require freedom of thought for progress to happen. But it does mean that free thinking, perhaps the art that lends to the sciences its future, is undercut.
I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who works in Film Studies. Film Studies, as a relatively new discipline, often, like (New) Media Studies more generally, gets labelled a Mickey Mouse field of endeavour. What (the fuck) is the point of studying entertainment? Entertainment is simply there to entertain. It is not serious, and therefore is something not to take seriously.
Why do I think that Film, by which I mean the media more generally, is something to take seriously? Not only this, but why do I think that Film is perhaps the single cultural artifact to take more seriously than any other?
Firstly, the answer is in the way in which the question is posed. If one feels tempted to describe something like Film Studies as a Mickey Mouse endeavour, then the very fact that one uses a term from the history of film – Mickey Mouse – to describe the endeavour is highly significant. To describe Film Studies – among other disciplines – as ‘Mickey Mouse’ means that already one is influenced by the media – since Mickey Mouse is a media construct – that one wishes to dismiss. That is to say, to use the term ‘Mickey Mouse’ means that one is prey to not taking seriously precisely the media that helped to form the opinion that disciplines like Film Studies are ‘Mickey Mouse.’ If one is happy to use the term ‘Mickey Mouse’ without giving further thought to why one is using this phrase to describe this discipline, then the power of the media to hide their own operations already have you in their grip. We are encouraged not to take seriously the very thing that disavows how seriously we should take it. And, so I contend, as soon as we feel we should not take seriously something that shapes and helps to form our opinions, then this is the moment when we should begin to take these cultural influences – Mickey Mouse himself – most seriously indeed.
Teaching film is interesting: year after year (in the few, brief years I have been teaching it) I find students who express deep distrust in the idea that a piece of ‘mindless’ entertainment can influence our thinking. Two different but seemingly relevant examples come to mind.
Recently teaching Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928), conversation in class became obsessed with the idea that the prison guards who taunt and try to shame Joan (Falconetti) would not have had a metal pot – which occurs as a prop at one of these points in the film. It is not that students became concerned with the pot (which was raised as an example from them of an anachronism in the film) per se; or rather, I am not trying to single out a comment from a particular student as one in need of particular attention. That is, I am not trying to lord it over ‘ignorance,’ since I needed to go check on Wikipedia myself that metallurgy has been in recorded existence since at least 5,500BC. More, it is the idea that anyone – myself included – would think something like that 1431 would be an age in which metal would not be fashioned into something so basic as a pot/saucepan. By which I mean to say: that we collectively suffer from the perception that everything in the past was ignorant, and we are surprised – perhaps – by how long some ideas/technologies have been around.
I shall return to the above, but before that: secondly, in relation to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (Germany, 1927), a student put forward the idea that because the film is ‘old,’ the world that Metropolis depicts is old, is irrelevant, and therefore that the film has nothing to say to us today and is simply an (un)interesting artifact of a time gone by in which – again – people were somehow less ‘clever’ than they are today.
Why are these examples worth mentioning? Well, let’s start with the second one first. In conflating the age of the film with irrelevance, we/I see the strange effect that film has on our society. That is to say, because the film is ‘old,’ it is alleged that it also has nothing to say about today. That a society of rich people is subtended by a society of impoverished and imprisoned workers apparently has nothing to do with the present age, because such problems have been eradicated – or so the theory would go. I personally believe that while things may from certain points of view have gotten ‘better,’ the world today is not perfect – and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, in such a way that Metropolis remains a deeply relevant film – not least because it is set in the future, thereby suggesting that the ‘medieval’ not only coexists with the ‘modern,’ but that the modern needs the medieval to remain, precisely, medieval, in order for the modern to remain modern. But for someone to believe that this is so – that problems of class inequity – are today non-existent, an ‘artifact’ of the quaint and old-fashioned past, means that they are not given access to information that tells them about how such inequality not only persists but is the bedrock of contemporary privilege. And if they do not know/are in denial of the fact that problems of class/wealth do persist today, then this is perhaps because information about such things does not find its way into the media, is not publicised, which means that it does not find its way into the consensual consciousness. If people are not only unaware but also in denial of contemporary inequalities pertaining to wealth and class, and if this is related to the channels of information in the world, then a key question becomes: who has access to the channels of information/communication that do exist? Who controls these channels? And what is the agenda – be it conscious or otherwise – that determines the kind of information that is distributed via these channels? In other words: the media themselves, which here I umbrella under the term ‘film,’ determine our sense of the world – such that stories of class inequality are deemed to be ‘irrelevant,’ mythical even, in that they pertain to an age long since disappeared. Since this is not the case – that age of inequality is our age – the occultation of inequality via the media is something that we need to take very seriously. Cutting funding for the humanities – of which something like Film Studies forms a part – is to suggest that all is well with the media and the kind and channels of information that predominate. All may be ‘well,’ but to deny any encouragement critically to think about these things (via the removal of funding for the humanities) speaks of a complicity with – as opposed to a resistance to – the very messages and media that like to make themselves (the channels of communication and the agendas behind their content) invisible.
To return to the Joan of Arc example: this does not relate to Film Studies so much as to History – but the two are related. That we all are encouraged to think of our predecessors – the very humans that predicated our being here in the first place – as idiots and that everything that is ‘technological’ (i.e. pots and pans) is modern and ‘beyond’ the capabilities of those that lived less than 20 generations ago, is to fall foul of the idea that history in particular is not worth knowing. The past is another country, in the same way that countries that are ‘other’ to we Westerners are deemed somehow to be living in ‘the past,’ or ‘medieval.’ Film – and the media more generally – help to convey this message: if it ain’t fast and flashy, it is old and putrefied/shit. How fuckwitted might it be to assume that people from the past were fuckwits? And yet if – as I am contending – uncritically to think about our media and the messages that it distributes is also uncritically to assume that the contemporary saw the birth of everything ‘important,’ while the past was full of intellectual, cultural and moral retards, then a failure to take seriously the media that surround us might only lead further to this failure to grasp that at every moment in history, humans and all other creatures have been as brilliant (and probably as idiotic) as they can be. Perhaps we do not need to learn this lesson – in that no lesson is necessary, because we myopic humans cannot see time from without to know in advance what lessons will be useful to us before they become so. But that we can learn this lesson in and of itself means that we have developed a system of thought that probabilistically finds it useful to learn lessons – and in part to deny that – as the cutting of humanities funding seems to indicate – is not only to deny an opportunity not to re-perform the same mistakes as our ancestors, but it is also to deny in part something – learning from the past – that has become second/human nature.
Do the arts need funding to survive? Do the humanities? Nicholas Rombes has provocatively argued that young people today understand film and media far better than those that ‘educate’ them understand. In some respects, I have sympathy for this position. I do personally wonder that we have experienced something of a paradigm shift, starting with cinema, but continued with the digital era, whereby we think less in language and more in audiovision (for want of a better term, we think in ‘cinema’). Or rather: we – the multitude – have thought in cinema long before we have thought in language and will continue to do so. But language, not least because of the media, including voice and print press, that could distribute it, becomes the decentered medium for conveying thought, and is replaced by audiovision, by cinema, because cinema is more accurate, not least because it appeals to all of the senses, whereas ‘mere’ language – in many cases – appeals only to that supposedly rarefied – but in fact entirely embodied – phenomenon: the intellect.
If we think and, more importantly in the age of YouTube, if we express ourselves audiovisually, then the ‘translation’ that needs to take place in order for these audiovisually expressed thoughts and messages to be conveyed in the ‘old money’ of ‘rational’ and ‘academic’ language is always going to weaken the audiovisual message itself. Something – always – is lost in translation.
If this paradigm shift is happening/has happened, then perhaps the humanities do not need funding to survive. In the age of citizen tubing, then perhaps the arts do not, either. Or rather: maybe the arts and the humanities need funding in an absolute sense, but communication itself has changed such that language – spoken or written – no longer forms the core part of the process, but just another element, along with the tactile, sonorous and intellectual elements of film.
And if young people actually ‘speak’ audiovisual better than they ‘speak’ linguistic, then why waste money on training them to say in ‘old speak’ (i.e. in spoken/written language) that which they already understand through their bodies and which they already speak in audiovisual (here, ‘new’ speak)? In other words: why not cut funding in the humanities?
I am not saying that we should abandon spoken/written language; audiovisual does not replace it, but it sure as hell supplements and expands it. In fact, by this rationale, I think that not only should the humanities in general and Film Studies in particular benefit from continued governmental support, but that it is absolutely vital that this is the case. Otherwise we seriously risk alienation between generations and peers; we seriously risk failing to take seriously the ‘language’ that emerges when communication moves beyond words and into the realm of the senses. We the older people with the purse strings can moan all we like about how it is the fault of the young for not speaking our language; but it is our fault, similarly, for not speaking theirs. And humanities funding allows us to learn the (audiovisual) language of the young and to help it move into dialogue with the (linguistic) language of the old.
Do the arts need funding to survive? A year ago, I made a film called En Attendant Godard (UK, 2009). It has had some modest ‘success,’ and while I would be delighted to promise in this blog as a form of plug that I am happy to send the film to those that request it, provided they give me a postal address, the reason that I mention it is this. I made the film, which is far from being a good film (whatever that is), as a means of proving that one does not need funding anymore from anyone in order to make a… film. In other words, in the digital age if not before (but almost certainly before), artists do not need funding to survive.
(But it is not as if even the earliest professional artists did not need some form of payment – in terms of food and shelter – in order to survive. Artists need funding of a sort – but they will find a way to live even if their art is not what supports them in a material sense.)
To deprive people of things is to make them understand what they need, and it is to make them – perhaps – autonomous, in that they work out that of which they are deprived, and creatively they find ways to win it. Conceivably one might argue that there is a perverse benefit to cutting humanities funding: the humanities will have to find novel and innovative ways in order to remain relevant. Threaten it with death and at this moment it will feel most alive.
Beyond this, however, it was as a fuck you to funding bodies that I wanted to make the film. Not only that – but by having no funding, I could make the film I wanted, even if the film is (willfully) full of things over which I had no control and in which, in hindsight, I/the film revel – because having no control over, in particular, a large group scene that pays homage to Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, France/Italy, 1967), a scene that has had most criticism from people as a scene that should be cut from the film (as if other people knew better what the film should be [not because I do know better what the film should be, but perhaps precisely because no one can know what this, or any, film should be] meant that the film raised precisely these issues of what a or any film should be at all).
If I set out to ‘prove’ that one needs no funding to create art, and if I were successful in this bid (which is debatable), then what (the hell) am I complaining about? Well, what I feel upset about is that even if the unusual, even if the amateur, even if that most perplexing of phenomena in the capitalist world system – the useless – can and will persist regardless of the lack of institutional support that comes it way, it is still an insult not to support such endeavours. Because I made this – and my next film, Afterimages – for no money, I hope that I am exempt here from sour grapes. If no one ever gives me money to make my films, this will not stop me from making them. No one can and no one will stop me. I shall not stop.
But, as at one point I make Alex, the main actor and character of En Attendant Godard, say, the world needs the useless, it needs the previously un-illuminated, it needs the (even willfully) opaque, in order for there to be progress. Not that progress is the movement towards a pre-defined goal or telos. Who knows that to which we are headed? But change, the hope for something better, is dependent upon that which is not now understood, in order for us to come to understand. If, perhaps contra Nicholas Rombes, we do not understand everything already, then we can only understand more, we can only learn, by coming into contact with that which we did not previously understand, with that which we did not previously know.
Even if I say so myself, there is more to my Godard film than this; but by isolating this aspect of the film, I want to reiterate, but now in a blog as opposed to in that film, that that which is now apparently useless can indeed come to be useful. And even if it never comes to be useful or liked, it has its place in the ‘grand scheme of things.’ But to rule out before the fact that neither the arts nor the humanities will have use or value, which seems to be the message of cutting humanities funding at universities, is precisely to pre-determine the (lack of) use and value of the arts – which historically do have incredible use and value, even if it is not clear, known or recognised at the time of that art work’s creation. (And I am not claiming that En Attendant Godard is this; I could not know if it will prove ‘useful,’ but I put it out there – as feebly/best as I can/could – in order at the very least to give it a try.)
(Trying: trying is a sign of faith. Being prepared to take risks is necessary, not as a thing, by which I mean one cannot know in advance – in spite of pressure to know in advance – what will be useful. If we knew, there would be no risk involved. But taking risks as a process is the cornerstone of progress – again, not towards a previously identified telos, but as a process in and of itself. The apparently ‘useless,’ therefore, is most useful. Outliers are de facto precisely that: people who lie outside of the currently useful. Not that EAG is useful – perhaps it never will be. But I put it out there in good faith that I am taking part in a human process of… good faith. Bad faith is risk aversion, a refusal to try anything new, a decision to forsake the foreign for the familiar – a decision to prejudge the foreign, to exclude, to dismiss, to show no interest, to ignore – be the object of that prejudice, exclusion, dismissal, disinterest and ignorance something from a different place or, in the case of ‘old films,’ from a different time.)
A paradox, which takes us in the direction of tautology, which perhaps is the profoundest level of insight that we can have about the world (namely, that it is as it is, even if we contribute to and change it, even if it is dynamic, precisely because it is dynamic, and any attempts at essentialisation/reification are doomed to failure): if art and the humanities can and will get by without governmental support in the UK – which they will because no government has nor will be able to stop a culture from becoming aware of itself – even if we educators are wrong in feeling that we play an active role in this education happening (because the students know it all already) and even if we are as a result of this already redundant, regardless of whether our employers make this officially so – then surely there is no problem in cutting funding regarding humanities and the arts?
In some senses, this is true.
But if you turn your back on the useless in favour of that which is deemed singularly useful, and if then the world changes, and you go rooting around to find that which earlier you discarded because now you realise it will come in very handy, but cannot find it because it has been destroyed in a fire, then you, my friend, are fucked.
You burn your humanities, you burn your past. And with no past, you have no future.
Idiots that people in the humanities are, though, you people who despise the humanities and who despise artists won’t be fucked. Because we’ll still be here when you do need us – and we’ll be here even if that day never arrives and you can die smugly saying that you got by without us because we were, indeed, as far as your existence was concerned, useless and you were correct in burning us off.
And like idiots, if ever you do need us, we’ll be ‘naïve’ enough according to your standards, to let you take advantage of us in the same way that school bullies occasionally condescend to the swots because they need their homework doing. You’ll think us weak for being ‘kind’ enough to help you, because your value system would never help anyone for free, because you value system is based not upon courage and having a heart/cœur, but upon, precisely, attributing ‘values.’ You’ll think us weak and you’ll never realise that it is only the strongest who can take your persecution, as opposed to feeling that to persecute is to show strength.
The paradox, the tautology: you are right to forsake the humanities. But you are wrong in thinking that this is because the humanities are the weak point in the world. The humanities, like the poor, are the strongest. You may never learn that we let you fuck us over because we are the only ones that can take it and you are fools that need to feel justified in your military industrial sense of self. Artists, like people from the past, are from your perspective idiots. You feel like you suffer us. But the truth is that we suffer you. We, in fact the multitude that you wish was yourself, hence your need to try to make everyone into a person of use and value, are not the people that need you; to cut the humanities funding proves that you need us. You need us precisely to sacrifice us, tautologically to make us the others we always already were.
The ‘you’ and ‘we’ just described, though, are actually just a ‘we’: we are all together, and to divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’/’you’ is potentially counterproductive. We need we in our diversity; we need we artists, even if artists and humanities scholars all we are not. We – stupidly – continue to hope that one day we will treat ourselves equally and with respect. We are all in this together, and while some of us want to discard certain members because the boat might sink if we are not removed from the equation, others of us continue working and fighting until the bitter, salty end, in the hope, perhaps even in the knowledge, that we will triumph – all of us – because faith in others is in fact a thing worth retaining now as ever before. This, surely, is the key to the humanities, be they topics in the ‘Humanities’ or in the ‘Sciences’: we believe in humanity, however good, bad, same, or different. As such, we want humanity to blossom; not just certain aspects of it.
We don’t have to; we won’t, perhaps, remember. But remembering that humanity is the heart of the Humanities can never be a bad thing to consider.