Zoned for Interest (Notes With and Around Serge Daney)

Curator's Note

1. Before and After the Image: One arrives at Jonathan Glazer’s Zone of Interest (2023) with one’s takes ready to hand. Erstwhile aperçus like “Volksgemeinschaft kitsch” precede the film’s opening Volksgemeinschaft kitsch. (Image 1) To be disclosed in this clearing: only Nazis. Into Heidegger we’re thrown. Or rather: he’s thrown at us—for those with the post-secondary education to catch him. (Duck.) For the rest of us Ceejays, there’s “lebensraum”: a term spit by Hedgwig Höss (Sandra Hüller) during her Meet-Me-In-Auschwitz spat with her Nazi camp commandant husband Rudolf; a term that works a kind of reality effect: we know (paratextually?) that the Hösses are history, that they murdered millions, and that beyond naked self-interest propaganda played some motivating role. We congratulate ourselves: we know we get it, and that we can get it ‘for’ our readership—drop a reference, do some chin-stroking, bilingually cosplay, allude (vaguely) to trends arising. But we also know that we should double-check all this—consult the copy, open Wikipedia: do one’s ‘research.’ It’s the Holocaust, after all; the index prods, repeatedly, jabbing us toward something: historical conviction? Perhaps, but this would require a politics—for the posting public sphere, aftermarket Arendt is enough. Writing-as-SEO (or just writing), its po-faced midcult feed: heart your Adorno quote; swipe left for Levi; and for Spiegelman (god forbid) drop some poggers. This is glib of course. But the discourse is glib, trivialized, rendered automated by the algorithmic convergences of content circulation—history as lore, think-piece currency, festival distinction-making—not to mention the banalization of a genocide into an any-atrocity-whatever, into an auratic coating industrially sprayed onto depreciated discursive fixtures, refurbishing them into ethical collateral for the leveraging of certain lebensraum-minded interests, which is to say, “in our time all politics is about real estate”—which is to say, zoning.[1] And so it goes for spectatorship.

2. A Tomb for the Eye: There’s nothing surprising about the content of the film. Yet it’s clearly of interest: Oscar, Speech, Letter—a KPI bumper crop for the digital enclosure to say the least.[2] But that’s not quite the right metaphor, though, for there’s an ongoingness to the metrical logic here, a logistics sustaining our synaptic labor into a social factory double-shift, beyond the just-in-time production of the Gimp.[3] Surely though we’ve exhausted the Holocaust, its Oskar Schindler questions of individual ethics, good and evil, their binary banalities? After Marker and Resnais, what else is there left to say—gesture toward, really—but the chamber’s epistemic limits? (Image 2) But we don’t need to say anything: for the chamber is here with us, circulating on our timelines, our feeds—making us interested. Suddenly, transhistorical alibi gets rehistoricized, allegory operationalized, and we see again that aesthetics always implies—is—politics. Dialectics—dumbly—in action. And in Zone, what’s again made of interest is the image, and not just the discursive freight it carries, but the image and how we look at it: why we don’t zone out before it, yet don’t just identify with it; how distance and slowness, detachment and distraction, mean the most close and focused of looking; and that truly looking means “washing the images of the already-seen, bringing out (making it seep out, making it evident, getting rid of it) the power that willed them and the power that wants these images to no longer surprise us,” wants to reduce our engagement therewith to ethical consumption, which under capitalism, exists: as the consumption of ethics (or morality, or politics).[4]  But not just any cinematic image will do—we’ll pass in silence over Jojo Rabbit—for pedagogical questions are always one of form.

3. Off-Screen Discourse: Put simply, a Glazerian pedagogy means formalism, but of a very particular vintage—that of political modernism. Call it nostalgia theory if you like, but to approach the film’s poetics of the off/screen one must first think counter-cinematically—rather than slowly. For one, the renewed stakes of the de-dramatized but interesting-in-spite-of-all images foreclose the slow’s tendency toward boredom, reverie, and sleep,[5] keeping the ever-diverted eye (and mind) within the confines of the frame, making our model spectator (every take has one) a model student for the film’s formal curricula—which itself, too, by way of its residually engagé off-screen praxis, aids this attention-gathering work, curiously (interestingly, as we’ll see). And so, first lesson: the off comes in two modalities, or zones, let’s say: the first—the diegetic off-screen—is the least interesting by far, sounding primarily through the acousmetre: cries, moans, wails, shouts, screams, and gunshots mean industrial slaughter, simply, directing our mental cinemas to cross-cut to the camps, screen Kapofied oners, or throw up the black-screen of its Rivettian censormontage obligatory in short. Incredibly ‘cool,’ but by far Zone’s least interesting aspect, the award-winning sound design proves little more than the ‘aural’ complement to Serge Daney’s “the visual”; even Mica Levi’s atonal womps and drones get instrumentalized for consumption, become Spotified mood music, reduced to culinary sonic information for the poster-viewer’s moral delectation.[6] Our spectator—our subject—is only positioned to read here—implicated in crafting a take (all the better if ethical). Take the Le Bonheur-biting montage of flowers (Image 3): its ‘Gimping’ invites us to share it, to spot the reference, to hermeneutically source their fertilizer—Jew or Palestinian (Image 4)—and perhaps even drive us—again—paratextually to discover that the mix features captured noise from the 2023 Parisian pension uprisings, thus keying us to a labor reading of the film (like the one we’re not so subtly working toward here). But this is just another reading, one of many, a take generated by its “interesting” aesthetic affect, which as Sianne Ngai reminds us, means the circulation of information, discourse, content,[7] which I’ll remind you means reproduction, labor, work. Against interpretation then? To a degree. For we must recognize that the metes and bounds of the work transmedially possess us and our work (adversely?) beyond the limits of its screening—that the off-screen itself always includes an off-screen.[8] Which is to say, today, form works a spectatorial fix: much like 24/7 life, space visible and invisible—or just visual—gets partitioned for the interest, ostensibly, of spectatorial cultivation, for manifesting depths latent to those destined—reserved—to occupy it, to be occupied by it, the text, its interpretive leasehold, where fungible atrocity and its working codify a temporal zoning that’s ultimately extractive, a matter of monetary interest however (in)formed, that’s in the end exhaustive for all alike—and for some more reliably than others, if we’re speaking terrestrially especially. In short, the real(i)ty of these (in)visible estates is accumulation, immiseration, exploitation, death. And zombified Screen pastiche—taken off the mortuary S.L.A.B.—can only take us so far. But even so, despite its Brecht-For-Dummies ethics, it is formally interesting.

4. Re-Mise en Scène: Banal form, banal content: we work the one into the other, processing it into statements on capital, geopolitics, technology, difference, in an extractive poetics of off-screen interpretation, which is to say, a logistics. And Zone’s no different: it’s a festival film—it operationalizes “anti-frame” stylistics to such metrical ends.[9] But it does more than that: interesting content demands interest in form, requiring we weigh it, assess its worth, gauge its suitability to the content at hand, determine whether other forms might not do, might be necessary. Every stylistic choice then becomes metaformal, framing a statement on form itself, its histories and contexts, thus “metaframing” (Martin) them.[10] And in doing so, it lets us see the “off,” our second zone, into with which Daney as our guide (or consultant) we can now venture, to learn that “what’s in the shot (a zone, remember, of dreams and anguish) refers to an elsewhere,” where “[e]verything that isn’t there is, a priori, equally lost—and so, equally important to produce…For production means two things: one produces a commodity (through one’s work) and one produces a piece of evidence (when one must). Cinema = exhibition + work.”[11] In the off then, we make the off-screen, its manifest/latent, visible/invisible flows of interpretive surplus, a task which in Zone means the work of adduction, a bringing forth, a discovery, of discursive proof that’s always a fabrication, a production, of a take to be sure, but more pertinently, more profitably: information, circulation—para-metrics in every sense of the word. But the para-metrical form here does more than just incentivize allegoresis through art film ambiguity—it works diagrammatically, showing us its manufacture. With that, class is back in session:

-Two parametric channels distribute the film’s stylistics: the first supplies the just discussed off-screen logistics. It prosecutes the Höss family with the full precedential force of festival academicism: the “imprisoning” and “judgmental” framings of the Berlin School; Godard’s “non-bourgeoise camera style” and its planimetric lateral tracks; the surveillant “sadomodernism” of Haneke; and Jean Dielman’s “hyperreal minimalism.”[12] (Images 5-9) Channel two—with its more-Grandrieux-than-Patiño thermal imaging of a Laughton-adapted History and Obstinacy—meanwhile, counterpoints the first, inviting us to relate the one to the other, asking us to examine what’s actually on-screen, rather than just interpretively off.

-Channel-switching fluxes signal and noise, recoding the latter into former: second-channel heat signatures steer attention to frame-margin, to the crematory’s corpse-fed exhaust, to the death-train’s locomotive plumes, inviting us to probe the ‘natural’ image with a “heuristic eye,” to scan its daylit peripheries, to look “deeper” into the Höss haus, its landscaped divisions and best-life orderings of off-screen and on, interior and exterior, center and edge—to locate therein excess, the punctum, the avisual.[13] (Images 10-13) 

-After a time (of labor), war-crime Where’s Waldo becomes busywork, just another spectatorial schema: for the Reddit Brigade goofuses, index-as-easter-egg scavenger hunts; for the cancelled-their-Jacobin-subscription gallants, next-gen pitches for ethics-implicating UX—but again, tracking shots are now a question of metrics. Which is to say, this forensic sweeping takes us beyond identification—or rather, before it—to an intensity of concentration that eventually disintegrates the frame with its disinterring look, exhuming support from diegesis. Take the shot of the Hösses by the river: planimetric framing and the still/moving, figure/ground gestalt of posed human/streaking water triggers a “two-folded” looking, rendering the receding planes of water, hill, sky into flattened lateral bands, rending them into disjunctive color fields onto which we composite the Hösses.[14] (Image 14) Or the shot of Hüller modelling looted furs: a “complex mirror shot” (Hanich) activates the image’s “intraface” (Galloway), rendering its interface “unworkable,” reminding us that we operate it, that “primary technical identification” (Hodge) is also—or just first—a matter of work, a working of technics, their imagings, their screens.[15] (Image 15) (Or so I say—for who will actually make this inductive leap?)

5. The Therrorized: Film, apparatus, viewer: a dispositif rendered continuous with screen culture broadly by the film's dual-channel para-metrics, its  ‘of interest’ formal system: The total continuity of its precision-tuned matches-on-action first suggests reality TV—Big Brother is a discourse go-to—which spurs paratextual drives shunting us to copy informing us—selling to us—the ‘smart’ armature of the home’s post-panoptical We Live in Publikum camera grid, its mo-capping micro-temporal intervals registering—allegorically—a machinic monitoring beyond—before—our own critical operationalizing of the images into takes and pieces, into our own Syberbergian livestream-dumbshows on YouTube and Twitch, our super-cutting of our recuperative findings to show that the vulgar Straubism of the Rudolf-in-the-camps close-up lambasts parodically the simulated immediacies of Nemes TM’s cutting-edge Auschwitz tech (Image 16), to prove that his equine (male) fantasies and prima nocta night moves—signing toward Malle and Cavani respectively (Images 17-18)—ask us to summon (and interrogate) in “anti-retro” fashion a whole nostalgia discourse iteratively gripping our feeds—cottage core anyone?[16] (Image 19)—not to mention festival form itself, its bien pensant contemplation of global misery, its rendering the latter “merely interesting,” something to be chatted about, discoursed about online, over brunch, over mimosas, just as with the flood of images of genocide and famine deluging our feeds (along with Mr. Beast and his algorithmic friends), images whose exhibitions of atrocity we pore over, investigate for traces of slaughter, so as to uncover them, but also debunk or manipulate or fabricate and, assuredly, circulate them, circulate them while turning to the next film on the Mubi queue, a Hausner or Parasite or Exhibition say, whose wide-angle “topographics” (Burch) send us back to Tati, to Mon Oncle,[17] to other varieties of master-shot cinematic realty, whether filmed with similar épater-le-petit-bourgeoise animus—as with O.C. and Stiggs terroristic zooms—or Saltburn’s bourgeois-humping lust, a film whose rotating camera views of Instagrammable topiary complement Zone’s lateral tracks past like-and-subscribe homegrown sustainability, redirecting us not, or not just, to promo material informing us of the set’s archival modelling on photos of the historic haus, but to our social feeds, to Trulia or Crexi links taking us to interactive virtual house tours in Germany, France, the USA, England—and I’ll state it directly now: Israel—all together, in sum, in total, thereby giving us a global perspective on politics-as-real-estate (or just Capital), a satellite view imaging ‘vertically’ zones of interest, lending us a ‘diagrammatic eye’ (Images 20-22), a critical and not just theoretical one, one that cinema gives us uniquely vis-à-vis other media forms—and the logics of our work therewith.[18]

6. Minimum Materialism: Or does it? Are we not still in the land of counter-cinematic demystification?  And why should this device-baring reflexivity necessarily mean labor to the semi-sutured viewer? What authorizes my leap from #4 to #5? Does the spectator read labor? (Does the academic?)  Reaching, grasping, does not Zone bring to view to the spectator their work, figure it in the film’s closing contemporary montage of Auschwitz museum cleaners, linking their likely precarious labor—and their likely East of Center European ethnicity—with that of the assuredly precarious work of the Höss’s more-or-less indentured local domestics, one of whom includes the actantial Aniela, whose day/night traversals cross-fade our two parametrical frequencies, inviting us to read, by virtue of our fabula-making tracking, labor into every spatial and temporal sector of the film, to see that the Jeff Wall imaging of vitrine-wiping service work figures a Daney-inspired ‘washing’ of these auratic images? Or perhaps it merely facilitates their glass-screened consumption, cueing us to do our own screenwork thereon—to circulate these visual reliquaries, reproducing them and their mythic sheen? (Images 23-24) Do just like many Zonal readings then, transcode all this humanistically: let the fire-hosed sentiment of the written-in-the-camps resistance song disperse the film’s formal givens, leaving standing only its weepy keying, its misty-eyed piano recital of the survival of the human spirit, its soggy persistence in the face of evil, and so on and so forth. In other words, we can’t escape allegoresis; we can’t escape the sheer optionality of interpretation; and we can’t escape production, but we can at least do it with a greater degree of discretion, of discipline, and at times abstention, which means—like the film to this platitudinous sequence—quarantining our automated readings, surrounding them, framing them—metaframing them—with a language, cinematic or otherwise, that asks us to reflect on their making, their reading, and so consider the conditions of their hermeneutic possibility—and thus production. All of which is to say we need to push metacommentary further: if the “imagination of disaster [or atrocity]” means work, then surely this should go for interpretation as well.[19] Like mine for instance, herein, an unreadable act of prolix obfuscation, of uncompensated, peerlessly-reviewed general expenditure: an attempt, charitably, to slow down circulation, clog it, cut it off, if not redirect it— but at the very least, be against it. We’ve eroticized art; we’ve interpreted it; we’ve ethicized and politicized it (to what effect?); let’s begin thinking about its working. Because if not us, who will? Or has, already— because work makes one free.


[1] Fredric Jameson, “The Aesthetics of Singularity,” New Left Review, no. 92 (2015): 101-32,

[2] Mark Andrejevic, “Surveillance in the Digital Enclosure,” The Communication Review 10, no. 4 (December 5, 2007): 295–317,

[3] Jason Read, The Double Shift: Spinoza and Marx on the Politics and Ideology of Work (London ; New York: Verso, 2024). “Synaptic labor” and its relation to logistics (and operations management) comes from Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, All Incomplete (Colchester New York Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2021). The “social factory” is an Autonomist term borrowed from Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor,” Social Text 18, no. 2 (2000): 33–58,

[4] Serge Daney, Footlights: Critical Notebook 1970-1982, trans. Nicholas Elliott (South Pasadena, California: Semiotext(e), 2023), 84. Another translation, by Stoffel Debuysere, can be found here:

[5] See Jean Ma, At the Edges of Sleep: Moving Images and Somnolent Spectators (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2022).

[6] Serge Daney, “Before and After the Image.” Discourse Vol. 21, No. 1 (Winter 1999), 181-190;

[7] Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[8] On the need for a more expansive thinking of our objects, see Nico Baumbach, “Film Theory as Ideology Critique (after Trump),” in The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, ed. Kyle Stevens, 1st ed. (Oxford University Press, 2022),; to this end, vis-à-vis narrative fiction film, see Thomas Elsaesser, The Mind-Game Film: Distributed Agency, Time Travel, and Productive Pathology, ed. Warren Buckland, Dana B. Polan, and Seong hun Jeong (New York London: Routledge, 2021); “Digital Cinema. Delivery, Event, Time,” in Film History as Media Archaeology (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 231–52,

[9] Adrian Martin, “Frame,” in Global Cinema Networks, ed. Elena Gorfinkel and Tami Williams (Rutgers University Press, 2019), 37–52,

[10] Martin, “Frame,” 42, 49-50.

[11] On balance, Daney is referring to the work of the filmmakers here but implicit in the (short) piece is the spectator’s co-constitutive role in this production of the off. Serge Daney, The Cinema House and the World I: The Cahiers Du Cinéma Years 1962-1981, ed. Patrice Rollet, trans. Christine Pichini (South Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2022), 201-202. See also

[12] Roger F. Cook, Lutz Koepnick, et al., Berlin School Glossary: An ABC of the New Wave in German Cinema (Bristol: Intellect Ltd, 2013), 137-46; Brian Henderson, “Toward a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style,” Film Quarterly 24, no. 2 (December 1970): 2–14,; Ivone Margulies, Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996).

[13] Daney, “An Additional Bear,” in Footlights, 98-105.

[14] Jordan Schonig, “Seeing Aspects of the Moving Camera: On the Twofoldness of the Mobile Frame,” Synoptique Vol. 5, no. 2 (2017).

[15] Julian Hanich, “Reflecting on Reflections: Cinema’s Complex Mirror Shots,” in Indefinite Visions, ed. Martine Beugnet et al. (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 131-156; Alexander Galloway, “The Unworkable Interface,” The Interface Effect (Malden, MA: Polity, 2012), 25-53; James J. Hodge, “Gifts of Ubiquity,” Film Criticism, vol. 39, no. 2, (Winter, 2014-15), p. 74.

John David Rhodes, “Belabored: Style as Work,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 53, no. 1 (2012): 47–64,

[16] On the “anti-retro,” see Daney, “The Critical Function,” in The Cinema House, 331-57.

[17] Thank you Jayson Quearry for the Tati catch here. As for “topographic reading,” it comes from Noël Burch, Life to Those Shadows (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 152.

[18] On the “cinematic,” see Angelo Restivo, Breaking Bad and Cinematic Television (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019); Kara Keeling, The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007). As for the diagram, see John W. Roberts, “Dancing the Dance of Another: Allegory, the Diagram, and Suspiria (2018),” Discourse 45, no. 1–2 (March 2023): 33–64,

[19] Fredric Jameson, “Metacommentary,” PMLA/Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 86, no. 1 (January 1971): 9–18, Always historicize! For the periodizers, note this piece’s 1971 publication at the onset of Post-Fordism.

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