What kind of politics are possible in worlds of immediate images? Is language a necessary condition of democracy and if so in what way?
Paul has been working through a reading of Agamben, particularly with regard to Agamben's discussion of a kind of language in itself, a language that doesn't transmit meaning or rely on arguments or texts or discussions or debates. I've been calling it politics for mumblers (out of fondness for Johnny Depp's version of Willy Wonka).
But there is a serious matter here, one that involves images and affect. If in the US (to specify a location) the population is moving toward post literacy, can they, we, govern themselves/ourselves? How? For it seems that we have media for democracy but accompanied with an inability to use language, to speak, to discuss, to reason.
For some, this is an advance precisely because the imbrications of Enlightenment reason in colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and immiseration. For others, the challege is redeeming the ideals invested in communicative possibility. For me, the matter is one of the conditions of possibility: I can't see in the current conjuncture, in communicative capitalism, conditions that could render democracy viable.
In fragmented globalization, societies are fundamentally media societies. Media is the great mirror, not of what a society is, but of what it should appear to be. Full of tautologies and obviousness, media society is short on reason and arguments. Here, repeating is demonstrating.
And what is repeated are images, like those grays the globalized screen is showing us now. Debray tells us: "The equation of the visual era is something like: the visible the real the true. This is idolatry revisited (and, indubitably, redefined)." (Re'gis Debray, op. cit., p. 200). And the intellectuals of the right have learned the lesson well. It is even one of the dogmas of their theology.
Where was the leap made which equated the visible with the true? Tricks of the globalized screen.
The entire world, or, more accurately, of all knowledge, is now in the hands of anyone with a television or a portable computer. Yes, but not just any world and not just any knowledge. Debray explains that the center of gravity of information has been displaced from the written to the visual, from the recorded to the direct, from the sign to the image. The advantages for the intellectuals of the right (and the disadvantages for the progressives) are obvious.
Analyzing the behavior of information in France during the Gulf War, the power of the media is revealed: at the beginning of the conflict, 70% of the French expressed hostility to the war. At the end, the same percentage supported it. Under the battering of the media, French public opinion "did an about-face" and the government obtained their blessing for its participation in the war.
We are in the "visual era." Information is thus presented to us in the obviousness of its immediacy, therefore what they show us is real, therefore what we see is true. There is no place for critical intellectual reflection. At best there is space for commentators who "complete" the reading of the image. The visual is not made, in this era, in or der to be seen, but rather to impart "knowledge." The world has become a mere multimedia representation, which suppresses the external world, able to be known to the same degree that it is seen. Yes, the beginning of the third millennium, the 21st century, and the resilient philosophy in our "modern" world is absolute idealism.
Some conclusions can now be drawn: the new intellectual of the right has to carry out his legitimizing function in the visual era; opt for the direct and immediate; move from sign to image and from reflection to television commentary. He does not even have to make an effort to legitimize a totalitarian, brutal, genocidal, racist, intolerant and exclusionary system. The world which is the object of his "intellectual function" is the one offered by the media: a virtual representation. If the Nation-State is redefined in the hyper-market of globalization as one more business, and those who govern as sales managers, and armies and police forces as security bodies, then the arena of Public Relations belongs to the intellectual right.
In other words, in globalization, intellectuals are "multipurpose": gravediggers for critical analysis and reflection, jugglers with the millstones of neoliberal theology, prompters for governments who forget the "script," commentators of the obvious, cheerleaders for soldiers and police officers, Gnostic judges who hand out labels of "true" or "false" at their convenience, theoretical bodyguards for the Prince and announcers of the "new history."