Tuesday, 18 August 2015

To live: keep our teeth nice and clean

Staff wear No-Face masks during working hours at a service company on July 14, 2015 in Handan, Hebei Province of China. As a service company, its staff must smile to customers everyday. On 'No-Face Day', the staff wore No-Face masks to reduce pressure and relax themselves. No-Face is a silent masked creature who has no facial expressions in the Japanese animated fantasy film 'Spirited Away'.The Independent 16/07/2015
Where efficiency of function is institutionalised as the predominant ideal, resistant formations take up positions in defence of the irreducible complexities of character. Wherever the process of governance veers from populist conventions to the reductionist discourse of technocracy, cultural practice tends to break off its direct engagement with politics and recapitulates the ambivalences of characterisation - at such moments, the world's medusa-like effect may only be scrutinised as a reflection in the facial expressions of those subject to its glare. Kurosawa's Ikiru conforms to this common predisposition by emphasising the study of character in circumstances that are distinguished by a further political shift towards the opaque and remote. The character, Watanabe retreats from the increasing anonymity of the administration within which he works as a functionary towards constructing a representative suffering face upon which the incomprehensible movements of power are reflected as the play of affective response. His 'journey' takes his character from integrated impassivity to authentic emotional redemption. The existentialist rite of the self-separating individual freeing itself from bureaucratic dehumanisation is presented almost uncritically - but Ikiru is saved from its own message by the complexity and ambiguity around the potential utility of the individual qua hero. Even so, where the contradiction inherent within the extreme discrepancy of scale between social force and the face of the one who has been forced is then taken up subjectively, an argument for the autonomy of affect emerges, and as a correlative of this, the rudimentary critique of the utilitarian is also advanced. The danger of sentimentalism and the counter-simplifications of narratives where character is set in opposition to reductive process, lies in its capacity for the elicitation of affect. Where the plight of the character is represented as nothing but a trigger for responses in those consuming it, the potential revolt of the individual is already contained. If the governmental ideal of power via technique provokes compensatory investments in non-compliant personality traits and capricious individuals, then the codes of these eccentricities may be manufactured in commodity versions. Despite this, character, and portraiture, as understood within the contradiction it sets in motion against the momentum of social planning, is still a struggle against the function of psychology (and in particular the psychologisation of the masses) as the science of manipulation and depoliticisation. This does not alter the extreme limit offered by any face may offer to the encroachment of process, and which cannot extricate itself from its reactionary form. The utilisation of the appeal of the face, either in advertisements or as sentimentalist totalitarian propaganda, signals the potential for the cultivation and harvesting of affect and the triggers of affect which, when implemented, also appear ideologically as individually releasing, expressive, subjective. The face ceaselessly performs the reductionist rite of 'revolt into conformity.' The resultant oscillation within the modes of power between the tendency towards bureaucracy (facelessness) and populism (the nation's 'true face') is seemingly eternal ('socialism with a human face', 'the iron face in the velvet mask' - the 'Iraqi' shoe applied to the dictator's image)... each eliciting the critique of the other: 'how tempting it is to let yourself get caught, to lull yourself into it, to latch onto a face.' The antiquity of the problem of the expressive face in bonded relation with impassive power is demonstrated by the ancients' recourse to the mask - but the mask itself has become expressive, a commodified face-like motif for circulation through the markets for gestures of rebellion. The modern post-mask, which is not a mask as such, must approach the problem of the post-face: the sincere non-faces of service industry training videos, and the selfie-pout conventions of social media. If power is to be evaded, concealment may no longer enact the strategy for display by other means, where a submerged agency moves its intimate self beneath a self-remoting surface, but must move towards a genuine disappearance and non-engagement. The idealist slogan, 'beneath the burqa, the atheist' still relies upon the already factored mechanisms of the 'tell' and the reveal (activating recuperated tropes of individual desire and 'authentic' individuality)... and the atheism of the buried face is no doubt insufficient, but still the potential clandestinity of a character that does not turn its face towards the camera, that refuses to be represented and cultivated for its capacity to register affect, is now almost too uncertain a prospect to mention.