Letter

Sean Cubitt

Dear RealTime

I would like to thank Hamish Ford for a thoughtfully critical review of my book, The Cinema Effect (RT60, p18). There are 2 points he raises that it might be helpful to clarify.

Ford suggests that, despite Adorno, I recommend simulation as an alternative critical mode. What I failed to get across is that I fear Adorno’s negative aesthetics has become the normative and hegemonic form of critical despair, precisely among simulationists like Baudrillard. What I wanted to develop was a critique that, in dialectical style, negated Adorno to propose instead a positive critique: a criticism aimed at enabling engagement in the making and viewing of film, rather than just uncovering their weakness, duplicity and inner voids. It is in this vein that I tried to argue that, far from splitting audiences into suckers who fall for the illusion and connoisseurs who revel in artifice, contemporary spectacle invites a double vision in everyone who watches them. I would go further now, and argue that these films democratise the aristocratic, supercilious gaze that Nietzsche popularised. It is a small point, but the necessity for getting beyond both the negativity of Adorno and the nihilism of Baudrillard seems to me a vital part of any 21st century critical culture.

Which is why I would also contest the description of the closing section of the book as “naïve hopefulness.” Hopeful, yes, but not so much naïve as willful. The closing section of my last book was called “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” after Gramsci’s great slogan. I believe that a teacher’s ethical obligation is to retain hope, despite the undoubted horror of the contemporary world. I am currently working on a book about ecology and media, which if anything leaves even fewer grounds for cheerfulness. Nonetheless the luxury of reveling in the slough of despondency, like the Bataillean cult of cruelty and acephalic art, is not something a teacher can afford, nor, in my view, a cultural critic. Whether it is acceptable among curators and artists is a different question, and one worth raising in these pages.

Sean Cubitt
University of Waikato, New Zealand

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 20

© Sean Cubitt; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004
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