CRYPTOPHASIA & THE QUESTION OF DATABASE
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CRYPTOPHASIA & THE QUESTION OF DATABASE
Cinema was the first new media. New media did not begin in the 1980s in Silicon Valley; it began a hundred years prior at Etienne-Jules Marey’s Station Physiologique in the outskirts of Paris…cinema is the first medium to bring together techniques like compositing, recombination, digital sampling…and machine automation, techniques that, of course, are present in other media but never as effectively as the singular synthesis offered by the cinema. (Galloway 2011, 379) INTRODUCTION Over the last thirty years, once staunchly historical cinema scholars such as Thomas Elsaesser, Jane Gaines, Siegfried Zielinski, and André Gaudreault have abandoned history for historiography and film studies for media archaeology. With increasing attention on the “database” as a symbolic metaphor for postmodernity (Manovich 1999) and the decentered, networked tenants of the global present (Jameson 2019, 16), cinema is taking on the characteristics of new media, existing in intertextual space (Daly 2010, 81). Thus, the term “post-cinema” has been co-opted as a viable intermediary that accounts for new media conditions, as cinema is no longer emblematic of our cultural climate. As Giorgio Agamben wrote in 1992, “[t]he end of the cinema truly sounds the death knell of the ultimate metaphysical adventure of Dasein. In the twilight of post-cinema…human quasi-existence, now stripped of any metaphysical hypostasis and deprived of any theological model, will have to seek its proper generic consistency elsewhere” (2014, 23). Accordingly, we are no longer “moviegoing animals” (2002, 314) who seek images of ourselves among a collective in the dark but, rather, users interfacing within a network of moving images. The term “post-cinema” is bolstered by a variegated amalgam of “digital” tenants, including: self-reflexivity (Schaffner 2009), circular causation and feedback loops (Elsaesser, 2014), mise-en-abime, “hyper-text linking” (Berg 2006), hypothetical “alternate plots” (Branigan), an awareness of “platform capitalism” and it’s “experience economy” framework (Elseasser 2017), configuring a viewser (Daly 2010), productive paranoia (Elsaesser 2009), and video-game logic (Buckland 1998). Granted, I am painting in wide brushstrokes while canvassing this motley rupture. However, despite the differences between the cited cinema scholars’ arguments, the propinquity within this bevy is hedged on post-cinema’s participation in its own world of cross-medial interaction and its reliance on “database” logic. This means that post-cinema’s structured narratives (e.g., Memento, Lost Highway) reflect the storage-and-retrieval mode of the database. Postmodernity’s cultural database logic and the consequent filmic characteristics of the digital age were fostered by Lev Manovich’s 1999 essay “The Database as Symbolic Form,” whereby Manovich furthered Barthes’ adoption of Saussurrean sign-systems to describe cultural phenomena. In particular, Manovich applied Saussure’s description to postmodernity, delineating a juncture from modernism’s narrative-thralldom in the computer age, as “[i]nteractive interfaces foreground the paradigmatic dimension and often make explicit paradigmatic sets. Yet, they are still organized along the syntagmatic dimension” (232). The interface design process in new media primarily revolves around choices as in the file/folder metaphor; however, these actions ultimately collapse from the infinite choices into the finite syntagma of narrative structure. Such is the database narrative. In extending this Manovich’s definition to post-cinema, film scholar Marsha Kinder has argued that “database cinema” reifies contemporary ways of processing, storing, and retrieving information, privileging the process of selection “of a story’s elements over the story itself” (2002, 348). According to Allan Cameron, database narratives, or “modular narratives,” contain disarticulated narrative pieces, often composed in an achronological arrangement, where the narrative structure “exposes or thematizes the dual processes of selection and combination” (2006, 20). Regardless of the dissenting nuances, the database’s storage-and-retrieval modality has remained the most irrefutable nexus in post-cinema discourse. I propose that “post-cinema” scholarship has ignored some extra-filmic implications and adopted a fairly superficial understanding of “digitality.” Some may call this logos, others may call it a bit of madness, but by philosophically imploring that which the database cannot expose or thematize in its storing-and-retrieval process (through a particularly odd case study), I hope to puncture such “database universalism” for intensifying the platform capitalist process that Deleuze presciently called “dividual-ization,” or the data-fication of subject.