Flat Death: Necropolitics of Photography in Paradise Now

By Daniel Carnie
Submitted to Session P4567 (Revolutionary Affects: At the Crossroads of Aesthetics and Politics in the Middle East, 2016 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
LCD Projector without Audio;
In the course of this talk, I argue that Paradise Now undoes normative constructions of sovereignty, politics and ethics in order to present the neocolonial reality of Palestinian life under occupation. As theorists such as Achille Mbembe and Esmail Nashif have shown, Palestine constitutes a political state of exception in which the “generalized instrumentation of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations” predominates over the struggle for political autonomy through reason and representation. Mbembe and Nashif leave us with the question of how to rethink political life. Paradise Now recognizes this necropolitical stake and expresses it through the underpinnings of the filmic medium. Film is thought of, often, as an inherently generative and “lively” medium. According to Vivian Sobchack, for instance, film models a triumph over death (or a Hegelian “becoming subject”) by converting a cobbled-together group of still frames into a smooth and inviting future-oriented temporality. Yet film always has the capacity to revert back to the photograph, and it is in this capacity — as Paradise Now recognizes — that film has can affectively index (if not represent) necropolitics.
With the help of Frantz Fanon and Roland Barthes, I suggest that the ontology of the photograph carries a construction of the subject, and a configuration of ethics, in Paradise Now that parallel the necropolitics of Zionist occupation. And I hope to prove, moreover, that the purchase of this ontology for the reconstruction of ethics and sociality is other than “progressive” (in the normative liberal-democratic sense). Rather than a film about the struggle for autonomy, reason and ethical reciprocity, Paradise Now is about the binding force of death, and the affective “shock” through which it saturates the field of visual relations in Israel/Palestine. Ultimately, I mean to suggest that Abu-Assad’s film repels the depth-hermeneutics of close reading in order to demand a more radical approach to “the conflict” than is customarily offered.