Issue cover
30: Visuality of Social Classes: Structures and Relations

No. 30: Visuality of Social Classes: Structures and Relations

Managing editors: Magda Szcześniak, Krzysztof Świrek

Christian Jankowski, Studies for a Monument to the Bourgeois Working Class, 2012, courtesy of the artist.

This issue was supported by the Film School in Łódź, Polish Studies Department of the University of Warsaw, and the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, from the Fund for the Promotion of Culture.

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Lauren Berlant (1957-2021). 

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Visuality of Social Classes: Structures and Relations

    ”Visuality of Social Classes: Structures and Relations”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2423

    Introduction to the issue on visuality of social classes, representations of class structures and relations.

    keywords: social class; class structure; visuality; representation; class difference; working classes

Closeup

  1. Class and Allegory in Contemporary Mass Culture: Dog Day Afternoon as a Political Film

    Fredric Jameson, ”Class and Allegory in Contemporary Mass Culture”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2403

    Polish translation of a classic article by Fredric Jameson, first published in 1977. Using the analysis of the film Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir. Sidney Lumet) as an example, author proposes a method for reading film as an allegory of class relations. For this purpose, he looks at elements of the film's plot, its genre and formal aspects, and its relation towards the system of visual production in Hollywood and American television of the time.

    Originally published as: „Class and Allegory in Contemporary Mass Culture: Dog Day Afternoon as a Political Film”, College English, Vol. 38, No. 8 (1977): 843-859.

    keywords: cinema; social class; capitalism; corporations; Fredric Jameson

  2. Class Difference: Symbolic, Imaginary and Real

    Krzysztof Świrek, ”Class Difference”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2414

    The way social classes exist is closely related to representation. In this paper, I look at the representation of class difference from a psychoanalytic perspective, using the concepts of symbolic, imaginary and real register introduced by Jacques Lacan. These concepts make it possible to distinguish between different dimensions of representation (above all, the symbolic and imaginary dimensions), and also raise the question of the aporetic nature of any representation (thanks to the notion of the real register). The symbolic dimension is related to group formation (inclusion and exclusion) and points to the normative character of class identifications. Related to the imaginary dimension are the embodied images of self and others, driven by the dynamics of envy and resentment. The real dimension, on the other hand, is introduced by metaphors of lost objects and traumatic interclass violence. I use a variety of visual materials and literary texts from different historical moments of capitalist social formation to illustrate the analyses of the three registers. In the concluding section of the text, I describe the interconnectedness of the three registers using the example of an excerpt from the biographical narrative of a worker. In the conclusion, I address the contemporary opacity of class relations, but I do not interpret it as an indicator of the "death of classes," but as a historical moment of the disarticulation of class difference.

    keywords: social classes; psychoanalysis; capitalism; representation; class difference

  3. Patriarchal Primitivism. Dying Peasant Women and the Soviet Anti-Developmental Turn

    Joy Neumeyer, ”Patriarchal Primitivism”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2379

    This article investigates the role played by images of the female peasantry in the late Soviet intelligentsia’s questioning of developmental modernism. From the mid-1960s, Soviet culture was replete with mournful female peasants. Painter Viktor Popkov pioneered this trope in visual art with a series of canvases that portrayed old peasant women as wizened saints. Subsequent works, including Larisa Shepitko and Elem Klimov’s 1981 film Farewell (based on Valentin Rasputin’s novel Farewell to Matyora), adopted Popkov’s techniques to more directly question the legacy of Soviet development. The article uses such images to examine what I call “patriarchal primitivism” as a common response to crises of modernity among imperial powers. It frames cultural nostalgia for an essentialized past as an attempt to resolve what the anthropologist Ernesto De Martino termed the “crisis of presence” in his studies of mourning and healing rituals in southern Italy. In the Soviet case, depictions of peasant women served to raise environmental consciousness while fueling a conservative nationalism that relegated women to subordinate roles. As in African colonial contexts, their posture of opposition was not only tolerated but cultivated by a state seeking to renew its claim to legitimacy as the authentic voice of the people.

    keywords: Soviet Union; Russia; socialism; modernization; women; peasantry; intelligentsia; primitivism; environmentalism

  4. Film and the Politics of Negative Community. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dialectic in the Late 1970s Polish People’s Republic

    Dominic Leppla, ”Film and the Politics of Negative Community”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2384

    Polish People’s Republic (PRL) in the late 1970s saw an increased alliance among, and indeed, a blending of, workers and intellectuals, young and old, women and men, actively struggling against the state. A new kind of solidarity emerged that threw off tired notions of what constituted the working class. The preeminent filmmaker of this time, Krzysztof Kieślowski, is often seen as increasingly depoliticized as he moved into fiction, but in this paper the author argues for the dialogic value of his work with respect to political organizing. Kieślowski’s documentarist sensitivity to registering Polish reality and the intimacy of human engagement with the world led him to question the prevailing mode of representing these shifts in politics and class. His feature films, in articulating failures of representation, challenge a “realism” that purported to be universal, but instead reified a certain historical anxiety in the Polish political imaginary (workers vs. intellectuals, urban elites vs. peasantry), or precisely that which was being unraveled by the praxis of the late 1970s. Further, they refuse to cordon off interests of individuals from the very state shown to be oppressing them. Here we have a filmic counterpart to the immanent praxis of workers and intellectuals that turned one of the engines of the state—the trade union—into the greatest weapon against it. The author shows how this functions, in negative terms, in Kieślowski’s first feature, Blizna/The Scar (1976), in which class solidarity is felt stylistically as aporia, and is further developed in Amator/Camera Buff (1979), which expresses the personal as political in the tension between the desire for spokój (peace and quiet) and czegoś wiecej (something more). Rather than a retreat, we should see this in correspondence with the revolutionary consciousness being inscribed in individual Poles by the collective labor action of Solidarity in 1980.

    keywords: class; solidarity; film; Krzysztof Kieślowski; negative community

  5. “Not the Tracksuit, Please, It Sends the Wrong Message”: The Role of Body Image in Shaping Subjectivity in the Working Class

    Dorota Olko, ”“Not the Tracksuit, Please, It Sends the Wrong Message””, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2389

    The subject of the article is the importance of classed representations in shaping the attitude towards the body and constructing their own subjectivity by people from the working class. The text is based on a qualitative analysis of individual in-depth interviews with working-class women and men, as well as reality shows with the participation of the working class: Project Lady and Warsaw Shore. Contrary to previous studies (Skeggs 1997), in the light of the conducted analyzes, class representations are a negative point of reference not only for women, but also for the majority of adult men from the working class. The study shows that while it is difficult to reconstruct the representation of an attractive body that would be the object of desire and aspiration of the studied group (middle-class patterns of caring for the body are not accepted uncritically), the key in the construction of subjectivity is striving to distinguish oneselves from the representation of the working class functioning in popular culture (the figure of chavs) and from people who are at the bottom of the social structure (homeless and bums).

    keywords: representation; sociology of the body; respectability; working class

  6. How Not to Aim the Camera Downward. Representing the Feminized Working Poor

    Olympia Contopidis, ”How Not to Aim the Camera Downward”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2418

    The identity of the working-class woman is a particularly precarious one, as stereotypical western feminine ideals are not associated with any of the archetypical trades of the working class, which has instead embodied the masculine ideal of the manual, industrial labourer. In this essay, I argue how the struggle of working-class femininity extends to gender roles of the (former) working class more generally, investigating how this becomes apparent in photographic representations of council housing communities in contemporary art, taking Richard Billingham’s body of work Ray’s a Laugh (1996) and LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work The Notion of the Family (2001-14) as case studies. Both Billingham’s and Frazier’s work deal with the identity of the working poor from the inside: they represent the decline of the working class and the demise of blue-collar communities, lacking investment and falling prey to the dismantling of the welfare state.

    The image of the post-war, post-industrial (and post-feminist) underemployed female has been analysed principally by sociologists and media studies researchers in relation to reality TV programmes, which produce and represent the working class female body as abject. I will therefore employ cultural theory as well as sociological research studies by Beverly Skegg, Imogen Tyler, and Angela McRobbie to identify stereotypes of working-class femininity in visual culture to then assess their relationship to lens-based artistic representations of the working class. The analysis of working-class masculinity and its place in the post-industrial, precarious labour market has been even more limited especially regarding art (let alone photography), with the exception of Angela Dimitrakaki’s essay "Masculinity, Art, and Value Extraction" (2019). The article draws on her discussion as well as on Norbert Trenkle’s "The Rise and Fall of the Working Man" (2008) to investigate Frazier’s and Billingam’s depictions of male family members and show how the decline of the working class, through deindustrialisation, precarisation, and the dismantling of the welfare state, has impacted the image of working-class masculinity.

    keywords: photography; class; Marxist art history; neoliberalism; deindustrialisation; gender; femininity; masculinity; Latoya Ruby Frazier; Richard Billingham

Viewpoint

  1. “I Will Fashion the Lot of Poland For You”

    Tomasz Armada, Agata Zborowska, ”“I Will Fashion the Lot of Poland For You””, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2424

    Presentation of Tomasz Armada's works - clothes and styling - in photographic form (photos by Agnieszka Murak and Michał Korta). It is accompanied by a critical commentary by Agata Zborowska.

    keywords: Tomasz Armada; fashion; clothes; Łódź

Perspectives

  1. There’s Something Wrong with the Entire Mode of Valorization. Sianne Ngai in Conversation with Magda Szcześniak

    Sianne Ngai, Magda Szcześniak, ”There’s Something Wrong with the Entire Mode of Valorization”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2391

    A conversation about Sianne Ngai's latest book Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgement and Capitalist Form (2020), which explores the uneasy mix of attraction and repulsion produced by the gimmick across a range of forms specific to capitalist culture.

    keywords: gimmick; valorization; capitalism; aesthetic categories

Snapshots

  1. Sunburnt. Shade and the Communities of the Climate Catastrophe

    Aleksandra Brylska, ”Sunburnt. Shade and the Communities of the Climate Catastrophe”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2399

    A review of Andrzej Marzec's book Antropocień. Filozofia i estetyka po końcu świata, in which the author reflects on the category of the shadow in the age of climate catastrophe and the real status of the object communities proposed in the book. Analyzing examples from contemporary art and films, she wonders what strategies can help the multispecies communities to survive the catastrophe and what are the ethical consequences of object-oriented-ontology postulates for these kinds of communities.

    keywords: Anthropocene; shadow; object; subjectivity; anthropocentrism

  2. Philosophical Ekphrasis

    Mateusz Salwa, ”Philosophical Ekphrasis ”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2401

    Critical essay devoted to a book by Marta Olesik entilted Kwadrat przebity włócznią. René Descartes, Georges de La Tour, nowoczesne doświadczenie ciała i zmysłowa praktyka abstrakcji [Square Pierced by a Spear. René Descartes, Georges de La Tour, the modern experience of the body, and the sensuous practice of abstraction] (Warszawa, 2020).

    keywords: René Descartes; Georges de La Tour; modernity; experience; body; Baroque; abstraction

  3. From Socially Engaged Art to the Abolition of Wage Labor

    Torsten Andreasen , ”From Socially Engaged Art to the Abolition of Wage Labor”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 30 (2021), https://doi.org/10.36854/widok/2021.30.2395

    A review of Leigh Claire La Berge's, Wages Against Artwork: Decommodified Labor and the Claims of Socially Engaged Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

    keywords: Leigh Claire La Berge; contemporary art; financialization; labor; Marxism