Thinking the commodity through the moving image: a philosophical investigation into cinematic consciousness and the commodity as a mode of communication

Nicholas Mercer

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the historical, theoretical and philosophical development of cinematic media as a collective form of technological perception and consciousness. Central to my inquiry is the philosophical notion that with the invention of cinema emerges a cyborg vision, a new modern mechanics of thinking that extends the phenomenological and epistemological experience of human perception and knowledge into hitherto unknown realms of thinking, sensation and being. Drawing on some of the key cultural thinkers and philosophers of the twentieth century, including Walter Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze, as well as contemporary philosophers of media such as Jonathan Beller, Sean Cubitt, D.N. Rodowick and Mark B. Hansen, my research into the philosophy of cinema and digital media articulates a branch of media theory that reads the political economy of the moving image through an amalgam of continental philosophy, marxist theory and film studies. Coterminous with the investigation into the philosophical object of cinematic or media consciousness, the thesis also endeavors to map the historical genealogy of the moving image as it evolves from the industrial mechanics of cinematic technologies to the virtual informatics of digital culture. Central to this inquiry is the idea that the history of cinematic and visual media is inextricably connected with the rise, towards the end of the twentieth century, of postmodern consumer culture and the global information society. The transition from a modern industrial economy to a postmodern information economy that reorganises the logic of production according to the 'variables' of scientific knowledge, communication and informational technologies, parallels a metamorphosis in our media consciousness as the representational ontology of cinematic moving image is transformed by the virtual ontology of the digital image. The first part of my thesis looks at the period of industrial cinema, focusing on Soviet constructivism and the films of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. In this section I trace the origins of cinema as a mode of communication for the commodity, examining how the modern cinematic imaginary opens up new economies of vision and sensation for capital. Following this investigation into what Jonathan Beller calls the cinematic mode of production, the second part of my thesis proceeds to investigate how cinematic consciousness is transformed from the industrial to the post-industrial era. Taking Deleuze's historiographical demarcation of cinema into the two regimes of the 'movement-image' and the 'time-image' as a philosophical frame, the second section of my thesis investigates how in the post-war films of the Italian neorealists and Michelengelo Antonioni our cinematic consciousness develops a new way of thinking the ontology of time and space. This analysis leads into my discussion of how in the age of digital special effects and the Hollywood blockbuster, cinematic consciousness is further expanded with the time-consciousness of the 'virtual' as our bodies attempt to accommodate the heightened flows of information that bombard our senses in the interfaces of digital culture.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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