- Autoimmune Cinema
The spectrality of the cinema shares an affinity with a thinking-after-extinction. Like Akira Lippit (2000), who argues in Electric Animal that the proliferation of media technologies in the 19th and 20th centuries was coextensive with the accelerated extinction of animal species, Tom Cohen muses, "Does the machinal era of cinema not overlap too perfectly with that of accelerated ecocide, not to mention hyperindustrial appropriative optics, to appear incidental, so much so that the term cin-anthropocene more accurately applies? Does not cinema itself know this, 'know too much,' guarantee it, while providing the mortuary archive as itself?" (2017, 252). And further, "Without oil there would be no age of cinema, no industrialized electric light—black, subterranean, the residue of organic 'life' and the liquefaction of all possible inscriptions exhumed to the surface as the black gift of massive 'cheap' energy" (255). While a geology-of-media style analysis will inevitably link ecocide with cinemacide—arguing from the vantage point of fossil fuels, their extraction, and the burning up of the remainders of living [End Page 221] beings to provide materials and energy for media technologies is of critical importance—there might be other ways to intersect the self-destructive forces at work in the anthropocene with cinematechnics in general.
Something other than an accelerated anthropocene effect—the massive peripeteia that is bringing life to an end on spaceship earth—also comes into view with the environmental pileup of media-technological debris, plastic remnants, and the junk orbit of inoperative satellites: dead media engender a future synthetic archive of machinic life and machinic ecologies. This scenario gives new meaning to Bernard Stiegler's discussion of technics and time: epiphylogenetics—the prosthetic supplementation of living beings by tertiary retentions—now belongs just as much to the machinic phylum as it does the natural one. In the 21st century, mnemotechnics offshores and stores the data memories of artificial intelligences just as much as human ones. Given the prognosis of the anthropocene, the future fossil record, say Benjamin Bratton and Manuel DeLanda, will comprise technological waste unearthed not by a human being but by some "robot media archaeologist" (Parikka 2015a, 37). If the deep time of earth's history is inscribed as strata of sedimentation and erosion, a future media archeology will reveal strata signaling the emergence and eventual depletion of machinic life. And if, as Cohen states, "we can speak of a cin-anthropocene parenthesis, which, however, would also bind cinematic processes to the archiving, capture, and consumption of Earth's life forms" (2017, 254)—that is, ecocide as cinemacide—the end of cinema itself comes into view as well with this eventual depletion, this biodegradability, of machinic life. This is why Cohen must ask, "Is a cinema that marks extinction, including its own—which is to say, a cinema of the cin-anthropocene itself—possible, from the position of cinematic technics irreducible to any 'human' eye or referential regimes?" (247). This question is posed not only as a sci-fi speculation or phantasmatic projection but as an interrogation of the peculiar negativity at work in what Bernard Stiegler calls arche-cinema. Neither early cinema nor even precinema in the narrow sense, arche-cinema is an epiphylogenetics that precedes—and this is the question—arche-writing.1 As Cohen explains, "The arche-cinematic for Stiegler, antecedes Jacques Derrida's arche-writing as a full-spectrum organization of the inorganic, of the eye and movement, millennia in advance of any script or pictograms" (245), and it [End Page 222] is upon this premise that Cohen can assert that "arche-cinema always was pre- and post-anthropocene" (255). Therefore, if we think of "cinematics as the agent of the annihilation" (256), it will perhaps not be upon the model of the material ecology and political economy of the history of cinema but upon a deconstruction of arche-cinema's own self-destruction, its own autoimmunity.
To begin, arche-cinema is not early cinema or even precinema but concerns what Stiegler calls, in his multivolume Technics and Time project, the cinematography of consciousness.2 Recent books on precinema—for instance, Marc Azéma's (2015) Préhistoire du...