This essay reassesses the concept of spectacle and argues for aesthetic refusal as a key strategy for contesting spectacle’s expanding hold on everyday existence. Against the view that spectacle renders the individual passive, the essay asserts instead that spectacle develops as a central postwar mechanism for intensifying the subject’s productivity and managing the growing anxiety that pervades post-Fordist social life. Highlighting the “refusal of work” that grounds 1960s Italian workerist movements, the essay proposes a corresponding refusal of communication, a form of aesthetic refusal that, as with political refusal, operates not through simple negation, but through creating openings or ruptures that allow new possibilities to emerge. Such aesthetic refusal, which finds its most radical postwar expression in the antispectacular films of Guy Debord, thus arises as a means to reorient perception, to break with existing modes of seeing so that different forms of existence might be envisioned and initiated.
Cinema against Communication: Spectacle, Anxiety, and the Aesthetics of Refusal
kenneth berger teaches in the Department of the Theory and History of Art and Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. His recent publications include “From the End of Man to the Art of Life: Rereading Foucault’s Changing Aesthetics,” in Foucault Studies, and “The Refusal of Spectacle—Debord’s Howls for Sade,” in Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019), a collection of texts on “unwatchable” film and media.
Kenneth Berger; Cinema against Communication: Spectacle, Anxiety, and the Aesthetics of Refusal. differences 1 May 2020; 31 (1): 1–35. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-8218746
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