the last 458 words of my essay on networks in The Human Surge

This was the first thing I wrote for my M.A. and I had no idea what I was doing (I titled it OK. OK. OK.), but I had a lot of fun with it


In much of his theoretical writing, Latour premises his theories of agency and subjectivity upon a distinction between actors and actants. All ‘actors’ can do is act; ‘actant’ shifts that subjectivity to a more useful definition of the assemblages of factors which play a role in those acts. The characters – rather, figures – in an Eduardo Williams film are not actants in his narrative; they talk and they hang out, but never at any point are they driving whatever loose ‘narrative’ there might be, or guiding the movement of the camera. The humans in Williams’ films are aimless subject-objects, native to a world in which notions of human mastery over our environment have been eradicated in some senses and hyper-accelerated in others. It is telling that critics ascribe to Williams’ casually peopled landscapes not overtones of apocalypse (for this is what his scenes often superficially resemble), but a sense of permanent and partly abstract ruination. This is the contemporaneity Williams’ films depict. The planet cannot fathomably do anything other than deteriorate, labour cannot be anything but cheap and precarious, sex too-easy and loveless, and so on.

There is one more radical break in setting in The Human Surge, which takes place in its very last shot. There is no elaborate linkage as with the cam-sex show or the five-minute journey into the abyss via one man’s urinal stream. We simply see a factory, bright and artificially lit. In it are human workers, covered in white and moving robotically, appearing as if they might as well be machines. They are assembling phones, and on the soundtrack we hear a droning “OK. OK. OK.” The camera lingers on the insides of the phones like a surgeon examining organs. Here we have networks of labour, technology, transcultural exchange, capital, machinic agency, all encompassed in one shot, intersecting.

Williams’ ecologically-obsessed cinema exemplifies the very contemporary notion of irresolution as artistic praxis, and as such might be described as a cinematic manifestation of the goals of ecological thinkers such as Latour. The ultimate project of Latour, Williams and others cited here might be described as their grand refusal of finality, their outright rejection of totality, as a mode of being in the world in which articulation and process are emphasised over explanation or outcome. Irmgard Emmelhainz wrote that “the image of the Anthropocene” – which for the purpose of this essay we might extend to mean simply an ecological understanding of contemporaneity – “is yet to come. The Anthropocene is “the age of man” that announces its own extinction.” Williams’ work rehearses, performs and characterises this extinction. In its cogent visualisation of a world tangled up in its networks, we arrive finally at a form of cinema which meets the demands of our epoch.