Yes, the "Decades blogs" to which I was a contributor went into stasis a good while back. But there has been the scattered infrequent post from a few contributors over the past couple of years, albeit mostly very short and offhanded. But contributor William popped up in recent days at the' 90s blog to offer a longer piece -- a defense of Adam Curtis’s latest doco, Bitter Lake.
I’ve yet to watch Bitter Lake. In fact, I haven’t been (as you might’ve noticed) on the internets quite as much recently, and only found out about the film a few days ago, immediately queued it, and plan to get around to it by week’s end. But nevermind, William’s piece doesn’t have much to do with Bitter Lake specifically, or with its content; but rather a response to critics’ gripes about Curtis’s methods as a filmmaker -- about Curtis’s heavy-to-exclusive reliance on readymade archival film footage, his vault-raiding recontextualizations of presentations of things past, etc..
William offers some interesting comments in the early paragraphs, broader observations that fall well outside the sphere of my own critical misgivings about Curtis. One example:
“The internet was hailed as great breakthrough in multimedia, which it is of course. But it has also produced a revenge of the written word, and of those who believe writing is the senior service of media. Platforms like tumblr or pinterest have ended up devaluing images by reducing them to a churn; twitter actively defaces them, using pictures and video as fodder for jokes, constant fact-checking or abuse. Live-tweeting programs seems like a way of refusing to surrender to the pull of video and sound.”Of course, with Curtis we’re talking about footage culled from news and entertainment media -- that domain where glamour and atrocity, the sacred and the profane, the significant and the trivial meet on the same plane. Where truth and falsehood often cancel each other out, simply by dent of their coexistence within the same realm. Where signal to noise are deeply intertwined in a way that is deeply symbiotic, and sometimes even a little bit synergistic, as well. At his best, Adam Curtis is all too aware of these contradictions, and very often plays with them, employing them extensively in productions like It Felt Like A Kiss.*
With that latter idea mind, the latter stretch of William’s piece had me thinking of Michel Foucault’s comments on the archive in The Archeology of Knowledge. Specifically about the archive and its relation to what Foucault labels an “historical a priori":
“...All these various figures and individuals do not communicate solely by the logical succession of propositions that they advance, nor by the recurrence oft hemes, nor by the obstinacy of a meaning transmitted, forgotten, and rediscovered; they communicate by the form of positivity of their discourse, or more exactly, this form of positivity (and the conditions of operation of the enunciative function) defines a field in which formal identities, thematic continuities, translations of concepts, and polemical interchanges may be deployed. Thus positivity plays the role of what might be called a historical a priori.”
[...] This a priori does not elude historicity : it does not constitute, above events, and in an unmoving heaven, an atemporal structure; it is defined as the group of rules that characterize a discursive practice: but these rules are not imposed from the outside on the elements that they relate together; they are caught up in the very things that they connect; and if they are not modified with the least of them, they modify them, and are transformed with them into certain decisive thresholds. The priori of positivities is not only the system of a temporal dispersion; it is itself a transformable group.”
[...] “It cannot take account (by some kind of psychological or cultural genesis) of the formal priori but it enables us to understand how the formal prioris may have in history points of contact, places of insertion, irruption, or emergence, domains or occasions of operation, and to understand how this history may be not an absolutely extrinsic contingence, not a necessity of form deploying its own dialectic, but a specific regularity.”
In this context -- that being the present cultural context -- we could perhaps consider the film archive as the bedrock of a mediated empiricism.