Sunday, October 23, 2011

Encountering the Blair Witch: the Effacement of Mediation

I watched The Blair Witch Project with my friends this Saturday with our text, Remediation, fresh on my mind. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified: I've seen the film several times, and at least one other time within the past year, yet the specter of the unknown, unseen Blair Witch haunted my dreams and kept me curled up next to my girlfriend at night. What made this particular antagonist so terrifying - was it my imagination, filling in the empty signifier "witch" with the most horrible, gruesome monster that my mind could conjure up? No: upon interrogation, it was precisely the absence of the witch - what perhaps Bolter and Grusin would call the "self-effacement" of the experience of media offered by the film - that plagued my nighttime thoughts. Indeed, it was the very reality of the film that haunted me. The characters' experience, seemingly unfiltered by Hollywood, commanded the power of authenticity, yea, even the aura that Benjamin spoke of. As Ryan asked: What would Benjamin say - that the experience technology offers belies the absence of media, of mediation: it obscures the means of its own production. The Blair Witch's absence belies the absence of intention, of mediation - of capital. When the characters, lost in the woods, flee from their tent upon having their campsite disturbed by an unknown force, we flee with them; however, we aren't running away from the witch, we are chasing her, immersing ourselves even further in the Hyperreal, fully invigorated by our encounter with the horror of Reality.

What is interesting about the Blair Witch Project is that it actually requires no imagination, even though the film seems to demand it: never do we actually need to imagine the figure of the witch to be terrified. Rather, we need only dare let ourselves not imagine, let ourselves accept that the "unknown" is our relationship with this radical alterity (the Blair Witch, the Supernatural). Otherness is terrifying, but, an Other that we can never encounter: that is Hitchcockian, baby. The Witch is an Other so possessed of Otherness that we can never encounter her - she is forever off-screen, always in the periphery. We can never reconcile ourselves with her. From a Marxist perspective, what this amounts to is alienation - we long to encounter the witch, to have power over that which never manifests itself. Perhaps, as Foucault would say, we desire to subject her to a field of visibility so that we may subordinate her to a strategy or a tactic

This text owes much to Jean Baudrillard and the authors make note of it. The implications of the

But what does any of this MEAN: why do we bother interpreting film and other media through the critical lenses offered by Benjamin, Zizek and Bolter and Grusin?

In reading Remediation, I couldn't help but recall several questions that came to mind during last Monday's class with Dr. Moberly: what is the point of critically interrogating media? Why did we spend time deconstructing James Cameron's Avatar only to come to understands already evident with readings of Marx and Dyers-Witheford? Perhaps a better question would be: what's the point of understanding theory through film, or, for that matter, any other particular form of media? What's to be gained through interpreting Avatar via particular critical lenses: Dr. Moberly explains that there are two different iterations of capitalism battling themselves out in the film, simultaneously exposing but effacing themselves through their very articulation. But what the hell does this mean?

I don't ask these questions superfluously, these are some very serious thoughts that come to mind - I know Marx, but does the application grant me? Why spend 2.5 hours learning about Marx via Avatar rather than discussing actual readings of Marx?

Mediation begs a number of questions:

I wonder if the text understated how much it owes to Jean Baudrillard. Hypermediacy is, at least it seems to me, an extrapolation on his notion of the simulacrum: the hyperreal, or in other words, a reality more real than our immediate sensory experience.

Perhaps my question is directed at the political or, in other words, the relationship between

1 comment:

  1. "Why spend 2.5 hours learning about Marx via Avatar rather than discussing actual readings of Marx?"

    I love this question, and I think that the answer is that sometimes the best way to learn something is to see how others have used it. Also, the examination of others' work often lends insights that we might not have seen otherwise. For example, I never would have thought to make an ideological comparison between Marx and Avatar.

    Crushin' on your post a bit here...