The Class of Images


Salt of the Earth (1954).

The international conference Politics and Image, organized by the Institute of Philosophical Studies, is taking place this week between the 15 and 17th of November at the University of Coimbra. More information on this page.

Here is the abstract for my paper, “The Class of Images: Sketch for a Research Project”:

The concept of class has been progressively erased in contemporary discussions around art — and other topics. The explanatory power of this economic and social category, as articulated by Karl Marx, has been annulled precisely at a time when the contradictions of late capitalism are growing, composing an ideological background that creates conditions for the perpetuation of this system. From a Marxist point of view, class is neither a product of Marx’s invention nor of anyone who thinks with him, but reflects existing social relations and the dynamics of everyday life. By isolating art production from historical processes, by privileging the inner workings of languages, by favoring an aestheticist approach to art, postmodernist cultural theory has relinquished critical knowledge about art as a phenomenon irremediably pertaining to the social fabric. If in this theoretical framework, cultural differences replaced class antagonisms as the driving force of society, then one must ask how these differences emerge and operate, what determines them and what do they produce, thus recognizing the fundamental importance of their material basis. To think critically about art to its foundations is to re-materialize it as a production process instead of analyzing works of art in an idealist manner. The same may be said about religion. In order to tackle these matters, I will focus on film images understood as material, creative, and symbolic productions, and in the way they evoke class antinomies, expose class marks, and use Christian concepts and imagery in the portrait of working-class life in American cinema.