A Manifesto for Destructionist Film
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1. The Destructionist International is dedicated to the negative in all its forms. It is driven by a shared inclination: a taste that carries us toward the fury of destruction and away from the dull submission of situations to reasoned judgement. This passion helps DI maintain a militant indifference toward individuals, organization, and institutionalization of any kind. It owes its existence to radical events, those rare situations in which abolition becomes actual.
Abolition’s greatest task is that of the break. This was understood by the avant-garde, whose potent mix of critical negativity and utopian representation distilled aesthetics into pure politics. Today’s politics pales in comparison to the Russian Futurists, who sought to destroy rationality, depose time, and capture the sun. There is little use, however, in trying to pick up where they left off. We are driven not by the good old times, but the bad new ones.
2. To live up to its name, every opening gesture of the Destructionist International is a negative one. This is not because we are hopeless, but because we demand everything; which is to say, we have no interest in keeping anything and instead prefer to leave nothing in our wake. The DI abandons Marx’s old mole, who buries himself underground, auspiciously popping up just in time to make revolution. We are drawn instead to the endless hunger of the wildfire that destructively clears the ground of overgrowth.
We have nothing to say to today’s media-saturated world, which is drowning in information. Our task has nothing to do with helping anyone become “informed.” Facts are those ugly weeds that spring from signs on the metro, large billboards, and scrolling digital ads. The informed pluck a few, saving them to be furnished at the right opportunity – to sound tuned-in. No matter what anyone says, almost none of the interesting problems that plague us stem from a lack of information. In fact, we are bombarded by up-to-the-minute reports so constantly, that most of us spend more time actively working to forget things than remember any of it.
It is for this reason that the Cinema Committee of The Destructionist International openly declares war on information. And with it, our first targets are “exposure” and “transparency”. We declare: if radical media is to be political again, it must abandon the settled genres of documentary, whose theory of change is a shallow form of edutainment. In its place, we demand nothing less than the shared passion for destruction, and as such, an end to everything that is intolerable about this world.
3. The mold of our present was cast by liberal democracy, which safeguards itself against transgression by welcoming it. When everything can be said or shown, even the most illicit of political claims finds a place in this world. From this viewpoint, the politics of expression, and by extension of recognition, is invested in our dying world, sustaining the life cord that we should be cutting. To de-neutralise transgression, we need to break with exposure as its dominant form.
4. Exposure is the defining condition of the social network. Free speech is not only allowed, it is actively demanded. What’s happening? What’s on your mind, user? Join the conversation! The result is a battlefield littered with opinions, casualties of an algorithmic war for ever more exposure. Every citizen armed with a smartphone is now lauded as the journalist capable of holding power to account. Liberals mistake this convergence of opinions for truth, whereby the opposite is more likely: that certain opinions are pre-selected by institutions of power to generate consent for plans already in the making. Truth is then mistaken for popular opinion, treating information itself as the key lever in a theory of change. With information now just one more weapon in the war of appearances, politics as the acquisition of information leads only to the endless loop of self-congratulation that is liberalism. It is the documentary filmmaker who, invested in this infinite expansion of information circuits, is the worst propagandist of exposure.
5. To our regret, none of the genres of documentary film seem willing to confront their own complicity. The info-documentary is the purest in its embrace of informational exposure. The infodoc pretends to share facts, not opinions. Its most recent campaign is an all-out war on fake news. They imagine a perfect liberal subject behind every screen, whose chief desire is to be “in the know.” Even worse, some infodocs chastely refuse analysis altogether, misled by the belief that there is something important about individuals “making up their own mind”.
The infodoc is just one more farce to spring from the democratic maxim that it is everyone’s duty to become an expert in their own affairs. The viewer dwells in the self-congratulatory benefits of being an enlightened subject armed with their own opinion. Her taste for destruction has been replaced by a desire to play armchair pundit. A whole conveyor belt of documentarians - with Adam Curtis at its head – promise to make viewers a specialist. If the audience is ever pushed to intervene, the only weapon they are provided is a bloated sense of superiority (having “done the research”). They unwittingly neutralize everything political they touch. By confidently indulging in their own selfish need to endlessly debate, they forestall the action of those willing to pursue a shared sentiment.
6. Our second target, the entertainment documentary, adapts the info-doc’s obsession with exposure for a broad audience of consumer-viewers. Docutainment is the advertisification of cinema. The first ninety minutes are only an ad to sell the viewer their call to action at the end. No wonder they are so popular with parasitic NGOs, aspiring celebrities, and self-righteous ‘change-makers.’
The TED Talks simple, obscene format is its inspiration. First, a deep world-historical problem is reshaped into an advertising pitching slick enough to capture even the most disinterested viewer’s attention. The greatest fear of the entertainer/documentarian would be to turn the viewer off, to the point of insulting their intelligence. Second, by the end of the presentation, the audience is told that they will not only know how to solve the problem, but they will already have done their part. In this way, the solution appears just as neatly packaged as the problem.
Central to docutainment is its pursuit of catharsis. Catering completely to the viewer, this documentarian assumes no tolerance for ‘challenging conversations’ unless they preemptively promise a ‘constructive alternative’ before anything negative appears. The critique of an injustice builds up, the pressure heightens, and then is released via an auxiliary route – the comfort of a presumably well-meaning other that will set things straight as long as we offer it our political or financial support. Emotional relief releases the audience from any further need to engage the issue. Don’t worry, they say, with your support, others can finish the hard work you’ve already started.
7. A third culprit, the ‘historical avant-garde’, presents itself as the perfect antidote to viewer pacification. These filmmakers’ favored method is that of Brechtian estrangement: sub-narratives, fourth-wall breaks, self-reflexive twists, and audiovisual juxtapositions that work alongside one another to shock the sleeping audience into action. Like all revolutionary weapons, however, estrangement has an expiry date.
Today’s problem is not that people lack activity, but that they are all too active. If anything, people are over-stretched and worn out. Corporations, media giants, and political campaigners alike fight over each of our waking hours, encroaching ever further on the sleep of an overworked and exhausted populace. With no psychic space left to be activated, avant-garde estrangement reaches a feverish pitch.
To stay true to the original taste for destruction that fueled the historical avant-garde, its form must evolve. Sell-by dates come quicker than expiry dates, with commercial advertising looking to cash-in while a technique is still potent. This would surprise none of the historical avant-garde. Even the Situationists abandoned psychogeography in search of paving stones when things heated up. Having missed the message, culture jammers and subversive interventionists mindlessly repeat the situationist method as if their conditions were our own.
Against the audience activation of the historical avant-garde and its pathetic heirs, the Destructionist International feeds its neglected roots, fuelling a hatred for all that exists.
8. The need for a destruction of this world inevitably collides with our fourth and final target of documentary film: the futurist's ‘world-making films.’ The filmic construction of alternative pasts and futures is not without its merits. We are not interested in slighting accomplices who find value in revisionist histories and feminist utopias, or sharpen problems by locating them outside our present point-of-view. Our objection lies with the enchantment of prefigurative politics.
Building a new world out of materials of the now requires compromising too much with the present. Swayed by the lure of affirmation, the search for seeds of ‘other’ worlds in the present ends up just creating a mirror of what is already there. World-making film repeats Walter Benjamin’s mistake, wanting a revolution to create a world like our own in which everything is moved just a few degrees to the left.
Prefiguration is at its most feverish when hope is made into an excuse for retaining intolerable elements of this world. Not only are contingent phenomena taken as inevitable (racism, patriarchy, capitalism), many are treated as necessary parts of a ‘better world’. At best, these elements are treated only as ‘problems’ to be overcome, which is to say, washing in positivity that which needs to be negated. Rather than a better world, or a restored relation to this world, the DI is unforgiving in its evocation of their breakdown: an abolitionist passion that is incommensurable with, and against, this world.
9. To guide its assault on the present, the Cinema Committee of the Destructionist International joins with others over a series of nos.
- No to easy, common sense, or entertaining film catering to reassurance.
- No to catharsis, for there is no worse crime than giving an audience a sense of resolution for having simply watched a film.
- No to revelation, whose only trick is the cheap exposure of the horrors of the present.
- No to informative films and their concern for factuality.
- No to persuasion, as our purpose is not to convince the reluctant.
- No to calls to action, because the fully-mobilized public has already been activated too much.
- No to endorsements that would vault anyone into power under the mistaken idea that some other faction would be better at pulling the strings.
- No to the already-present, because we have lost faith in all existing peoples and causes.
- No to this world, as the only place left for film is to help bring about its end.
10. The Destructionist International declares that “there is nothing worth defending.” Defending programs, names, reputations, parties, territories, and all other degraded forms of authority is costly and time-consuming. Such efforts are only necessary for those looking to save the already-dead. We instead agree with the avant-garde notion that the only forms worth saving come from a future that is not yet known.
11. The DI’s taste for negation is drawn to whatever force empties the content of everything it encounters. The result is a dedication to a politics of destruction for its own sake. Make no mistake, it has no patience for edginess, cheap novelty, or depressive self-pity. Our destruction is as rigorous as it is specific: a consequence of our hatred for this world as a whole. It would be naive to ignore the reactionaries who have similar inclinations; their desires are easily distinguished, as reactionaries always safeguard fascist centers of power through the half-measures of racism or other privatizations of hierarchy. We are fueled by the need for a complete transformation. This is more than a revolution, which too many take to be the seizure and redirection of preexisting forms for different purposes. The fulfillment of the politics of destruction is the arrival of a future where no-thing of the present persist. This is because the only future worth having is one that is totally beyond recognition.
12. We welcome those who share our passion for destruction. Easy representative images of that passion might be thrilling, but miss the point. The Destructionist International will be a performative enactment that enfolds the force of destruction, inducing others to embody it – or it will die a much deserved death. The purpose of the DI is to develop visual-conceptual weapons in the service of that passion. But in doing so, it must also ward off reader-guard actions, which means becoming indifferent to the principles of self-interest, moral grounding, or common identity. Only then can we evade attempts to short-circuit destruction, deadening or recuperating it by jamming it back into the usual grid of politics, reducing its force to forms of information, or policing who has access to it.
Unleashing destruction requires unseen forms and experiments with unknown methods. This is what it means to be on the attack. Extending the excessive reach of destruction is what allows unexpected moments to arise. And it is for this reason that, for the Destructionist International, the only thing worth beginning is the end.