Beyond the Theological Spectacle
Of the contemporary thinkers who have taken up Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle, Giorgio Agamben has done the most to elaborate on the centrality of the theories of both secularization and sovereignty to Debord’s thinking. In The Kingdom and the Glory, and elsewhere, Agamben takes Debord’s argument that the spectacle is merely a “secularization of a religious illusion,” and expands on this thesis to generate a theory of the power of “the media” that is based on a theological glory that he understands to be the absent center of contemporary political economy. My paper explores the consequences of Agamben’s work on Debord and the notion of the profaned image for contemporary film and media philosophy. Departing from a tradition of theorizing the cinematic image beginning with Walter Benjamin, one that understands the industrial production of visual media to break with the theological tradition and the “aura,” Agamben reintroduces theological power into our understanding of the cinematic image. I argue that Agamben’s reading of Debord highlights the latent theological underpinnings of the theory of the spectacle, and that this presupposition has serious consequences for contemporary criticism. What would a theory of the spectacle that does not rely on transcendent theological notions of sovereignty look like? What are the political and theoretical stakes of defining the spectacle today? In contrast to Agamben, I propose a materialist theory of the spectacle that is grounded in neither sovereignty nor theology, but rather on the immanentist tradition of Spinoza as Gilles Deleuze interprets it.
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