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Totality in a Box: The Shipping Container from Commodity to Allegory

Menozzi, F (2023) Totality in a Box: The Shipping Container from Commodity to Allegory. Qui Parle: critical humanities and social sciences, 32 (1). pp. 163-197. ISSN 1041-8385

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This paper proposes a reading of American photographer Allan Sekula’s 1995 essay “Dismal Science” alongside The Forgotten Space, an essay film he co-authored with Noël Burch in 2010. These works are still resonant today because they suggest the possibility of picturing the totality of capitalist modernity. Sekula’s representations of the shipping container and the subsequent shifts in maritime economy recuperate the prospect of a panoramic, totalising view in an era marked by a prevalence of detail and data over meaningful grand narrative. The totality the container embodies and represents, however, is not the whole of a frictionless and seamless accumulation of capital, but rather a non-synchronous, polemic, and critical totality of struggle and antagonism. Sekula turns the shipping container from a stand-in for a system of commodity circulation to an allegorical sign of the continuing fight between labour and capital. Rather than envisioning this totality of struggle as mere thematic concern, Sekula’s compositions eschew commodification on the level of form, by delving into the constitutive tensions of realism and by reintroducing a living context of militancy and resistance into the matter of representation itself.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the Accepted version of an article published in the Journal Title Qui Parle: critical humanities and social sciences avaialble at https://doi.org/10.1215/10418385-10427981
Uncontrolled Keywords: 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Publisher: Duke University Press
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2022 09:50
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2023 10:24
DOI or ID number: 10.1215/10418385-10427981
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/18030
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