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  • Pathologistics of Attention
  • Jonathan Beller (bio)

As it turns out, our nonexistent democracies increasingly rely on automation, and more particularly the automation of psychopathology, in order to sustain the irreality necessary to their function. Psychopathology, in the modern sense, while an overly general term, most often results from some dissociation of sensibility, or in other words (a necessity, it seems), some slippage of the signifier from the signified. While this slippage was correctly grasped by poststructuralism as characteristic of language’s function generally, a historicization of these emerging insights into the ontological failure of language to image Being understands poststructuralism as itself an inflection point in which this generalized slippage intensifies. While the paradigms of reality and truth are irrevocably lost in the mid-twentieth-century West, one sees, retroactively, that the gradual intensification and awareness of this slippage was also the condition not only of structuralism but also of psychoanalysis in toto. Naturally, this view of signifiers slipping off of no longer fully presentable signifieds in accord with new organizational principles (drives, fetishes, desires, etc.) could be stretched back into historical time to explain the need for hermeneutical analysis (Marxism, psychoanalysis) as well as the opening of the space (gap) that will give rise to and be ramified by modern literature, abstraction, and visual culture. Here, however, I will be interested not in the formal characteristics of linguistic and identificatory dysfunction but instead in what I take to be the increasing automation of this [End Page 46] dissociation of sensibility, that is, of psychopathology—an automation that tends to exceed its psychic dimensions while extensively developing the patho-logical dimensions.

The automation of pathologistics of attention can be and has been pursued from the standpoint of the experience of today’s large-scale psychological afflictions (burn-out, depression, autism, sociopathology, etc.). However, my interest here will be less in the psychoanalytic aspects of the generalization “mental illness” in the twenty-first century and more in the infrastructure of the logistics of attention that organize psychopathology. As a mediological analysis would be aware, these logistics are not only internal to subjects but are also distributed throughout the mediatic and material forms of the socius itself. Thus, we shall turn to the “support, apparatus [and] procedure” of modes of transmission of meaning and the organization of attention—in short, to screens and, more particularly, cinema.1

An exploration of the pathologistics of attention proposes the following hypotheses:

  1. 1. Films are programs of visualization and hence for discourse.

  2. 2. Iconic films mobilize paradigmatic programs. These programs provide the infrastructure for the organization of attention.

  3. 3. Psychological aspects of these programs are functional and legible, but the logistics are distributed in the organization of bodies and apparatuses—in materiality.

  4. 4. Apparatuses automate aspects of formerly human decision and intelligence.

  5. 5. Sovereignty is increasingly moving into the material, which is to say, the computational environment.

  6. 6. Convergence, ordinarily thought to mean the convergence of various media platforms into the digital medium known as the computer, must also be understood as the convergence of linguistic function and financialization with these other vectors and platforms. This is a tendency, not a fait accompli.

The present essay then builds on the claim I make in The Cinematic Mode of Production that cinema brings the industrial revolution to the eye. By studying select films made at various moments along the evolutionary path taken by cinema, films that not incidentally all have a thematic relation to money at their libidinal cores, we may document with some precision the implication of Karl Marx’s idea that “industry is the open book of man’s essential powers, the exposure to the senses of human psychology.”2 However, in this case, our “open book” will be cinema conceived as a transitional [End Page 47] phase between industrialization and what is understood today as the social factory of digital culture (postfordism). We will be documenting, dialectically as it were, the organization of the psyche itself as well as the modes of attention that correspond to said organization. To this end, we may observe that montage, deep focus, and the cut, as theorized during the history of cinema thus far, all correspond to neurological...


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