EBR post: January 2018

Happy new year! We at EBR wish you all the best in 2018.

This month, we publish reviews by Gregor Baszak and Leiya Lee. Baszak’s observations of Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies are timely: his musing “reconsideration of the Internet” occurs in the midst of recent political debates about net neutrality, for instance. Lee’s review of Akira Mizuta Lippit’s text Cinema Without Reflection offers a reflective, counter-reflective, Derridean theory of cinema.

Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (2017) foregrounds political controversy, as hardly a day passes without another big Trump headline: nuclear war is approaching? Both sides were to blame? Meanwhile, these conversations and controversies are mirrored in online culture wars, predominantly on Twitter, where Trump keeps a very active account.

In his review, Gregor Baszak extracts from Nagle’s text the various efforts of categorization in the alt-right, white ethno-nationalism, or conservatism. One wonders if these categorizations, perhaps interesting in etching out some kind of toxic taxonomy and genealogy, are useful for the netizens at risk from their collective spew. What does a harassed teenaged Tumblr user care about the difference? Or: is it in fact necessary for said user to be able to identify what they are dealing with?—to be able to identify differences and similarities of the discourse of political spheres.

In particular, Baszak identifies Nagle’s negotiation of the alt-right and the left’s “online variant of ‘Tumblr liberalism’” that has arguably resulted in a battle between online left and academe. She describes subcultural cliquishness—the idea of an authoritative, “true and enlightened few” that reign in political discourse. This political intensification of Lyotardian expert culture we might otherwise today call “fake news.”

To this, I ask: in the era of fake news and the need to reclaim the Internet, where is the place of the critical academe? For scholars, cliquishness is also not helpful. We are not trying to shape a critique for an ivory tower academe. In fact, we share even with “fake news” noise ever-growing skepticism of buzzwords—including “fake news”—that I believe is a symptom of what Bruno Latour described in 2004 as critique’s “running out of steam.” In May 2017, I participated in a roundtable at the Canadian Comparative Literature Association entitled, “Revisiting and Renewing Critique,” during which our conversation turned to critique’s failure: do non-academics understand critique and why we need it? It is more imperative than ever that we ask how the rhetoric of critique has been exploited and appropriated by academics and non-academics under the guise of expert culture or subcultural cliquishness.

Also this month, Leiya Lee reviews Cinema Without Reflection (2016) by Akira Mizuta Lippit. Lippit’s argument is wholly Derridean in nature: by exploring a series of appearances by Jacques Derrida on film, Lippit ponders how the cinematic performance of philosophy through Derrida’s phantom-like form—phantom-like because cinema can only offer us the captured image of Derrida, and also phantom-like because Derrida has since passed away—can constitute a Derridean film theory. Put in another way: on screen, embodying his own philosophies, Derrida performs (rather than articulates) a Derridean theory of cinema in cinema: an enactment of his own concept of the trace.

It is clear that both Lippit and reviewer Lee are familiar with Derrida’s ouevre—as well as the unavoidable connections to Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema I and 2. Lippit’s text, especially through Lee’s careful handling, comes across as exciting in its theoretical contributions to the areas of film, image, psychoanalysis, and Derrida’s own work. Lee writes: “since Derrida is no longer with us, which is to say the image has lost its original object, for Lippit, this is a ‘reflection in reverse’, which in turn puts a new spin on the Lacanian mirror image utilised in traditional psychoanalytic film theory.” In addition, drawing upon Roland Barthes’ work on the dynamicism of self that occurs in front of the camera, by which Barthes described “transform[ing] myself in advance into an image” (qtd. in Lippit 18), the controversial argument is made that “even when Derrida was alive, Derrida was always-already not himself. More precisely, he was playing himself, a spectral version of himself, a second person.”

Added note that was not featured in my EBR post:
Here, I might offer a difference of this dynamicism compared to the photographed object of Barthesian study. Whereas the photographed inanimate object leaves a trace (note: clear links to hauntology here), I would argue that the trace of a photographed person contains the contingent depth of this dynamicism—a temporal depth that is not as simple as the contingent object, because memory must be accounted for. In this sense, this depth of dynamicism recalls Deleuze’s
Cinema I indeed—an aeon of eternal past and future presence (Nietzschean eternal return)—leaving us with a cinematic image of Derrida that does not capture him as a subject, but rather, as an embodiment by way of virtual image.

In this Derridean theory of Derridean film theory in action, Lippit focuses on Derrida’s recurring exploration of the myth of Echo and Narcissus. Lee’s pondering of Narcissus’s auto-eroticism highlights the self-embodiment in the cinematic trace—Derrida as a virtual image that is simultaneously not there and that ripples inwardly; similarly, one recalls his performative slippery negotiation between “l’amour” echoes and “le mort” absence in the documentary Derrida (2002).

Derrida in this documentary performs himself in all the ways that have continued to endear him to me as a thinker even now that he is gone. For all of us who have libraries of books that “will be read one day”—present ghosts—he offers a virtual image that is embued with Derridean philosophy. The interviewer asks of a stuffed library, “You’ve read all the books in here?” Camera panning over the clutter, the awkward walk among form and materiality, Derrida says quickly, “No, no, three or four. But I read those four really, really well.” A quirkly performance—but it leaves a trace.

–Lai-Tze Fan
Associate Editor, EBR

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