Consciousness (viz. Nationalism) Exists Only as An Ideal Point Within an Apparatus – “The (Political) Machine … In Complete Control of The Government of This State”

Posted: April 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

Leni Riefensthal
Triumph of The Will (1935)

Orson Welles
Citizen Kane (1941)

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in The Age
of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936):

Even more revealing is the comparison of these circumstances, which differ so much from those of the theater, with the situation in painting. Here the question is: How does the cameraman compare with the painter? To answer this we take recourse to an analogy with a surgical operation. The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician – who is still hidden in the medical practitioner – the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him.


During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well. . . . This is the first consequence of the fact that the [film] actor’s performance is presented by means of a camera. Also the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during the performance to the audience during his performance to the audience in person. This permits the the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing. . . . The shooting of a film, especially of a sound film, affords a spectacle unimaginable anywhere ar any time before this. It presents a process in which it is impossible to assign to a spectator a viewpoint which would exclude from the actual scene such extraneous accessories as camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants, etc. – unless his eye were on a line parallel with the lens.


Dziga Vertov
The Man with the Movie Camera, (1929)
35mm film, black and white, silent, 65 minutes (approx.)

Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900):

The idea which is thus put before us is one of psychic locality. We shall wholly ignore the fact that the psychic apparatus concerned is known to us also as an anatomical preparation, and we shall carefully avoid the temptation to determine the psychic locality in any anatomical sense. We shall remain on psychological ground, and we shall do no more than accept the invitation to think of the instrument which serves the psychic activities much as we think of a compound microscope, a photographic camera, or other apparatus. The psychic locality [the entirely virtual location where the mind itself actually resides, note: bk], then, corresponds to a place within such an apparatus in which one of the preliminary phases of the image comes into existence. As is well known, there are in the microscope and the telescope such ideal localities or planes, in which no tangible portion of the apparatus is located. I think it superfluous to apologise for the imperfections of this and all similar figures. These comparisons are designed only to assist us in our attempt to make intelligible the complication of the psychic performance by dissecting it and referring the individual performances to the individual components of the apparatus. . . . Accordingly, we conceive the psychic apparatus as a compound instrument, the component parts of which we shall call instances, or, for the sake of clearness, systems.

  1. Javier says:

    You can see what Benjamin was talking about, when you see the shots of her films. Many of the things she was doing we still see in film today all the time. In fact, some of Hitler’s speeches looked a lot like the scenes in The Force Awakens when the first order is getting ready to destroy the rebel star system. She did a fantastic job of making the politics seem beautiful and rousing. Makes sense that Benjamin could see how people accustomed to such films would find beauty in war and in napalm.

    • I’m glad you took a moment to watch this video. I wish the technology in our classroom had been a bit more cooperative. If you should choose to watch the entire documentary, you will see Riefenstahl carefully explain all the new techniques she devised to create a cinematic world that feels larger than life. Most of these techniques, which should come as no surprise, have been appropriated by American studios. Benjamin’s point is that such cinematography and editing are largely used to mesmerize and audience in pure spectacle, which is to say, hide all the labor and political aspects of the film. His response is to argue that instead progressive (if not outright revolutionary) politics should dedicate itself to exposing the political forces at work behind the sheer spectacle. This, for Benjamin, will begin with reveal the cinematic image as the most representative and most powerful commodity in modern society.

      • Javier says:

        Another thing that came to mind was that because the film is created at the editing board, the editor and director have the say in what we see. Which is obvious, and taken for granted, but the experience of one of the foot-soldiers seeing Adolf speak would be completely different from the masses of people seeing Triumph of the Will. The film audience has only one lens into the scene, while someone attending the speech could see how hard Riefenstahl was working at making Hitler into this hypnotic figure, while noticing at the same time one of the guys behind him drifting off to sleep or picking his nose. The film deprives the viewer the opportunity to decide where they will focus and how they will view the event.

        • We feel as though there were soldiers watching Hitler speak at the rally. But we don’t know how much of the speech might have been filmed elsewhere, and spliced together out of multiple tapes. What we consider to have been a real historical event may well have been a mere fabrication.

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