Mike Wayne introduces his new film essay
The Dialectical Image is a film essay about experience and the aesthetic. I say 'the' aesthetic because I am not so much concerned with the variety of aesthetic strategies that one can find in say a given medium, like film, as the kind of experience that the aesthetic offers. So, The Dialectical Image is about ordinary everyday experience and the special kind of experience that the aesthetic can offer. And it is about the connections, the relationships and the differences between these two kinds of experience, especially as they are shaped by capitalism.
The thinking behind this short film goes back to my earlier book Red Kant: Aesthetics, Marxism and the Third Critique (Bloomsbury 2014). There I argued that bourgeois philosophy had entombed Kant's aesthetic philosophy in its own world view, but that actually Kant was a much more contradictory thinker, and that those contradictions point forward to Marx and Marxism more generally. Kant actually began to lay the basis for thinking about both experience and the aesthetic experience in social terms, and socialising both experience and aesthetic experience is fundamentally what this short film is about.
By classifying it as a 'film essay', I situate it in a tradition of archive footage-based montage filmmaking that goes back to the Soviets in the 1920s and was also cross-fertilized with German philosophers such as Adorno and Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. While the essay form was typically thought of as a literary product, the image was increasingly seen, especially by Benjamin, as an excellent medium for encouraging dialectical thought. The film essay eschews narrative in favour of association, argumentation, concepts, chapters, metaphor and mood. Hopefully, it stirs things up, stimulates, provokes and gives plenty of scope for the viewer to take what they want from it.
Mike Wayne is a Professor of Film and Media at Brunel University.