Unreal Nature

February 28, 2010

Jump the Groove

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:15 am

If you’ve been following the sequence of posts from essays about Gilles Deleuze, you may have been wondering why I am so interested in a philosophy that is about the cinema — about moving images. Even worse, his philosophy emphasizes the significance of the “cut” between (motion) shots.

I am interested in Deleuze because I think a “still” photograph can be even more Deleuzian than a motion picture. I don’t think any kind of picture is capable of being “still.” When we look at images, still or moving, our minds are never still. They spiral, twirl, wander, build, tear down, solve, elaborate and so on. Motion pictures are not unique: when on trains or planes, or even carried in our mother’s arms, we experience arbitrary jump cuts in our visual experience.

In a “still” photograph, our “cut” is the frame (the edge of the image) and the timing of our “cut” is that instant when a new viewer’s eye falls on our pictures. We only get one “cut,” where the cinematographer gets many, but I think ours is more effective (or is as effective) precisely because we only get one. The arbitrary and relentless randomness of the kind of cut that Deleuze values is, I think, often repellant. We (viewers) are not passive. We can withhold or withdraw and I think we do when hammered by nonsequiturs. I can choose to let go, choose to watch his kind of movie but there you already have choice. Willingness. My collusion in the process which is exactly what he intends to precede. I do get, enjoy, value and, I believe, understand what Deleuze describes but I find it to be almost a form of work to give myself up to that kind of film.

A good, artistic, still photograph, on the other hand, entraps me quite painlessly; even effortlessly. It’s like the difference between (with a still photograph); capture by seduction, by lure or bait versus (with a Deleuzian film) being ambushed, assaulted; or in the worst kind of art film, being visually raped. In both cases I am had, but in the first I go willingly.

Whether the “cut” that happens when one encounters a still photograph does or can successfully overtake/precede thought … I’m not sure. It seems to me that it does, but I’m still thinking about it. But I’m also still thinking about whether motion pictures can or do, either.

In addition, I think that this Deleuzian stuff is about an expectation, even an assumption that something wonderful or at least fantastic (in the sense of fantasy) but in any case, unknown, lies “just around the corner,” between the cuts, in the interstices And if it’s not there, around/between the next, and the next and the next … it’s there! I know it is! That kind of eternal belief in the “just around the corner” is the essence of art photography. We are aware of the space that exceeds the image frame, of the goings-on that are implied but not shown. We do that. All day long. Though they can, I don’t think filmmakers do without deliberate effort. I think they are essentially plot/action driven precisely because they are making motion pictures. Motion wants to move towards a conclusion. This “toward a conclusion” is what Deleuze wishes to escape with his time-image, but we still photographers are already there/here.

Quoting, one last time from the Introduction to The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000):

… While the cinema can simply reiterate the facile circuits of the brain, appealing to “arbitrary violence and feeble eroticism,” it can also jump those old grooves, emancipating us from the typical image-rhythms, the calculable flow of images, opening us to a “thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invisible absence.”



Just For a Moment, Then

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:01 am

… We must learn, then, to affirm a landscape where lying and trickery mingle with “grace and chance,” for these are the elements of a world devoid of Truth.

Today’s are going to be the last extracts from the collection of essays on Gilles Deleuze, The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000). Several of the essays that follow what I quoted from yesterday are very interesting, but I’m not going to use them, mainly because they go off on tangents that I’m not as interested in, and because they are particularly jargon-filled. I’m going to close by returning to editor Gregory Flaxman’s Introduction:

… the “common-sense” of the sensory-motor schema is underwritten (though unsigned) by a whole moral-normal regimen. The very disinterestedness of this metaphysical relay is, as far as Deleuze is concerned, as bogus as political neutrality — not only a contradiction but a cover that allows an “axis” or “dimension” of power to go undetected, passing as transcendental legislation, the way things are. The ostensible impartiality of the sensory-motor schema is nourished by the discovery and prosecution of aberrance, of any kind of thinking otherwise, which the “rational orthodoxy” labels as deviant. Images we cannot recognize, events that elude our understanding, are quickly consigned to error, which in turn sustains the sovereign principle of regulated thought because error “pays homage to the ‘truth’…” This is why Deleuze lingers on “judicial” films, for they provide the most literal instance of the more generalized narrative mechanism of the classical cinema — to develop normal causal connections (“legal connections in space and chronological connections in time”) by determining abnormality in the name of higher values, and then to subject abnormality to action as a corrective or reactive force. “Narration always refers to a system of judgment,” Deleuze writes, but the catch is that the sensory-motor schema is in a position to script its own story, one in which it appears as the unprepossessing protagonist, cogitatio natura universalis, whose every encounter is that of innocent observation or honest adequation. Such is the “cunning of power” that we are seduced into this story as if it were our own, and so we submit to, and even support, the circumscription of thought. As Deleuze and Guattarie write at the outset of Anti-Oedipus (echoing Spinoza and Reich), “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as if it were their salvation?”

[ … ]

… In this awful purgatory “Eros is dead,” the world is infected with disbelief, and faith (or, in Freudian terms, libido) is withdrawn from the institutions that structured human life: it is in this hallucinatory light that we see that factories are prisons, the “children are political prisoners” (Godard), that the cogito is a fraud — but what or where does that leave us? As Deleuze writes, “in our universal schizophrenia, we need reasons to believe in this world.” This is the real task of modern cinema — to return to us the world, “this world.” To do so requires that we refuse to nominate knowledge as the medium through which that return takes place, for knowledge reinvokes the whole logic of territorialization, of clichés, of illusions, of globalizing explanations (as Lacan says, all knowledge is paranoid) …

… Just for a moment, then, forget about the subject, quit looking for the old metaphysical-moral compass, stop worrying that the “center cannot hold,” and imagine a world where “force no longer refers to a centre, any more than it confronts a setting or obstacles. It only confronts other forces, it refers to other forces, that it affects or that affect it.” This world, as Robert Musil once wrote, “of qualities without a man” unfurls and folds, refulgent with singularities, the constituents of images and signs that filter through us, affect us, such that “we” are diffused into the flux, “our” molecules seeping into “all the names of history” (Nietzsche). We have returned to the place, or plane, of immanence with which we began, a metacinema where we extract ourselves from chaos, where life is always in the process of becoming, of creating, of thinking.



February 27, 2010

Naturing Nature

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:57 am

… if the brain is invented to surpass a closed plane of nature, does the human in turn invent cinema in order to surpass the closed duration of man?

From today’s chosen essay, I am going to give you the sesame seed bun, the lettuce, tomato and special sauce (hold the pickle). But I’m going to leave out what is supposed to be the main part, the Real Beef patty, because the author really, really wants to get into the political and I really, really don’t.

In the collection of essays on Gilles Deleuze, The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000), this one is Cinema and the Outside by Gregg Lambert. It’s long (35 pages) and I’m extracting only the narrow bits that I think are especially interesting, so this may be a bit choppy. Hang on for a wild ride:

… For Kant … the feeling of the sublime opens a “gap” (écart) in experience through which the idea of “subject as Whole” is engendered (literally given birth) as “something which is present in sensible nature.”

… Deleuze writes, “in the sublime there is a sensory-motor unity of nature and human, which means that nature must be named the non-indifferent,” because it is apparently nature itself that issues the demand for unification of the whole within the interiority of a subject …

… Art in the West — at least from the baroque period onward — can be said to be founded on this demand inasmuch as through it the faculty of desire gives birth to the presentation of a “higher finality,” which is symbolized by the unity of the artwork. The effect of “alienation” (Verfremdungseffekt) and the different conceptions of “shock” that we have been analyzing can therefore be understood as figures of the “discordant-accord” (Deleuze) between finite, a posteriori imagination and spontaneous, a priori power that belongs to the idea of the whole.

… hemmed in and confined by the limit of theatrical space [as opposed to filmic] — a limit that fuses with and partially institutes the concrete and historical limits of the imagination itself — such a “suprasensible idea” must first appear as a negative or critical force that breaks open the frames of classical representation and spills over to link together thought and action, causing the base-brain or “spiritual automaton” of a mass to undergo a change of quality.

Whether this force takes the form, as in Brecht, of an “interruption” of sympathetic identification (estrangement) or, as in Artaud, of “cruelty” and even “absolute sadism,” it marks the ferocity of desire for a higher finality that belongs to the nature of modern political theater, and of certain experimental traditions of modern art in general. To inflict a symbolic violence in perception, language, opinion, character, mood; to destroy common sense and wage a war against all forms of cliché internal and external; to bathe the prose of the world in the syntax of dreams; to wash the image in the grain of light or to evacuate it in favor of a pure “blankness” that lies underneath — these are the hallmarks of modern art. We might understand these figures of the “negative apprehension” of an idea of the whole that the artwork bears within itself like a seed, which marks both the temporal nature of its duration and the manic desire for total achievement that characterizes every finite attempt to express this nature in one formal unity. Within the contemporaneousness of the present that defines the current stage of its achievement, however, the idea of this nature is expressed as an internal dehiscence or bears the aspect of “danger” (Artaud) like the violent frenzy of a wounded animal. Consequently, in the sensible appearance of this ferocious and violent nature, we might also see a mise-en-scène of the sublime itself. First, the perfection of the work of art represents the overpowering nature of a demand for the “subject as whole” and reproduces this demand within the intercerebral interval between stimulus and response, between image and reaction, or, as Kant defined this interval in classical terms, between apprehensio and comprehensio (that is, between the presentation of the artwork and the comprehension of the spectator). Second, inasmuch as the whole of this interval extends beyond its own powers to actualize within a complete circuit that would run between image and brain (what Deleuze calls a “sensory-motor unity”), a certain figure of “formlessness” appears that comes to symbolize this unity in a negative manner and also to characterize the appearance of artwork generally.

… the cerebral interval becomes a deep “gap” or “void” that it cannot fill, an immense distance or abyss that it cannot cross, emerging instead as the crack or fissure that creases its body and constitutes an “outside” that it cannot express in language or present in the image “deeper than any interiority, further than any exteriority” (a formula that Deleuze adapts from Foucalt), the outside describes that mute and formless region that appears at the center of the modern work of art and becomes the principle cause of its “deformation” and even appears as its defect, its symptom, or its neurosis.

… the sensation or “feeling of formlessness” gives us an indirect representation of the whole that, although it can propose an image only in a negative manner, remains outside the powers of art to realize. As Kant wrote nearly two centuries earlier concerning a kind of “knowing” (thinking, apprehending) that is specific to the experience of art, one that breaks with the conditions of a knowledge that is immediately connected to a mental image of “action” (as in the cases of science and handicraft): “Only that which a human, even if he knows it completely, may not therefore have the skill to accomplish belongs to art.”

Skipping over “The state finds in the dominant principle of classical cinema (the action-image) the very means of breaking into the “storehouse of primitive or sensual thinking” and new techniques for establishing these patterns of habitual thought or normative laws toward the achievement of its own desire for finality (totality, absolutism, immanence). Hitler becomes the “spiritual automation” who gives birth to the German people in the Nazi period, “the subject as Whole.”” Skipping over “A qualitatively new monster emerges in the world at about the same time that it becomes a frequent character of modern cinema (particularly science fiction): an alien who latches on to the human face, smothering its mouth. These eggs are the physical, optical, and auditory clichés — the “little organs” of the reproductive imagination — to which the spiritual automaton of modern ideology gives birth.” Skipping, pages and pages, skipping, almost to the end — (which Dr. C — though I can’t imagine he will have made it this far — should not read because it makes numerous unsupported inferences about free will):

… Contrary to a kind of matter that is “determined,” the matter of the brain is capable of becoming “determining determination” (naturing nature). … in Deleuze’s Bergsonism, the concept of élan vital represents the positive “discovery” of the privilege of the brain, by which life “makes use” of the matter of the brain (that is, the matter of memory) in order to “get through,” to leap from the closed circle of an already determined and “closed” nature.

… If the nature of human is (quid facte?) the naturing nature of the brain, then the question becomes “What is human?” With this question, the priority is reversed and the duration occupied by the human is subordinated to the principal creation of memory (of the brain). Although this might appear to be circular reasoning, it is actually the difference and repetition inserted between brain and subject: “Will the turning point not be elsewhere, in the place where the brain is ‘subject,’ where it becomes subject? It is the brain that thinks and not man — the latter being only a cerebral crystallization. We will speak of the brain as Cézanne spoke of the landscape: man absent from, but completely within the brain.” In other words, “nature” does not find its end with the form of man, because this form is closed, alienated from itself, and must be overcome, and the brain is the machine that is capable of making this happen.

… it was Eisenstein who discovered in the “machine” of cinema a means of transcending the mechanisms of perception, opinion (common ideas, or views), and cliché in order to invent newer and finer articulations of the linkages between the human and the world… Cinema does this precisely by making use of the conventions and determinations “to pass through the net of determinations that have spread out” into a world (determinations of perception, opinion, character, etc.) and, as a result, it fashions its own conventions, which become doxa as well — and there is always a danger that these forms will become rigid and dominant. There is also the danger of cinema in the service of an already-existing national character, a kind of monumental cinema that represents the propagandistic function of both Soviet cinema and American popular cinema. Applying the statements above to the brain constructed by cinema, we might recognize in the “goal” of intellectual cinema the desire to build a better brain, “to leap from the circle of closed societies”; moreover, cinema “makes use” of the matter of the brain (that is, the matter of memory) in order to “get through,” to leap from the closed circle of natured nature, “to make a machine to triumph over mechanism,” “to use the determination of nature to pass through the meshes of the net which this very determination has spread.”

Does this not imply a doubling of an earlier solution that Bergson found in the élan vital? That is, if the brain is invented to surpass a closed plane of nature, does the human in turn invent cinema in order to surpass the closed duration of man? Here, the whole question of the relationship between cinema and thought resides, and it all depends on what kind of brain we want — the deficient brain of an idiot, or the creative brain of a thinker.



February 26, 2010

The Hole in the Image

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:40 am

… What is implicit in the image ruptures any continuity offered by its explicit face.

Next from the essays on Gilles Deleuze in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000), is Signs of the Time: Deleuze, Peirce, and the Documentary Image by Laura Marks. Yes, it’s the same Laura Marks whose book, The Skin of the Film I posted from so extensively not too long ago. She’s good! This essay begins with what I found to be a really interesting look at the connections between the theories of Charles Peirce and Deleuze. In particular, Peirce’s sign system (modes: Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness) which I won’t even try to convey. It’s not essential that you get the Peircian angle in the extracts that I will use below.

So, off we go:

… At every level of the sign, certain qualities, perceptions, actions, and thoughts are thus extracted from a virtual archive that includes, but is not limited to, memory, what is forgotten or unknown, and what is known only to the body. An image is the actualization — which is to say, the presentification, the making “now” — of the virtual, and so the virtual itself remains largely “outside” the vast majority of cinematic images, comprising the “deserted layers of our time which bury our own phantoms.” But how do we get to this deserted layer, this “unthought” which Deleuze claims it is our task to try to think?

[ … ]

Time-image documentaries are “difficult” — not because they intentionally seek to frustrate the viewer, but rather because they seek to acknowledge the fact that the most important “events” are invisible and unvisualizable.

… where a conventional documentary ultimately judges (or encourages the viewer to judge) that one image is truer than others, the time-image strategy is to create the conditions for new thought in this confrontation among incommensurable images. In other words, the past is preserved among various discursive strata that confront each other with, in Leibniz’s term, incompossible truths.

… Deleuze reminds us that the virtual image (what may or may not be recorded in memory) is opposed to the actual image (what was recorded) but not to the real — “far from it.” Such an indiscernible complex he calls the crystal-image: the original point at which actual and virtual images reflect each other produces a widening circuit of actual and virtual images like a hall of mirrors. Is it the end of the war or just a glance down the street (in Miraculous Beginnings)? Is it a prison camp or a mirage (in This is Not Beirut)? Is this articulate interviewee an expert or an expert liar (in Talaeen a Junuub)? The powers of the false are at work when there is no single point that can be referred to as real or true — for example, when an intercessor’s tale derails the unity of the film’s story. The lucid madman in Credits Included is such an intercessor, and [Jalal] Toufic is utterly willing to allow this character to introduce the postulate (the mental image) that madness is the correct perspective with which to comprehend civil war.

… [Jayce] Salloum takes the archaeological approach in his work, frustrating efforts to carve a coherent meaning from the images by revealing their discursive construction at every turn; for instance, into This Is Not Beirut Salloum incorporates footage that he shot during the making of Talaeen a Junuub. Most of the images are public and street scenes of Beirut, but Salloum uses a battery of techniques to prevent them from signifying the city, or much of anything at all. Many shots are taken from a speeding car; jump cuts obliterate objects just coming into view and abort dialogue mid-sentence. The result is jarring and frustrating, and it effectively blocks the mental image that automatically links the affection-image “war-torn” with the index “Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, [Walid] Ra’ad was shooting footage of a quite different sort: not the public spaces of the city but the intimate and largely uninhabited interiors of his father’s house and office in Beirut. While Salloum seeks to obliterate easy signification by fracturing images ad infinitum, Ra’ad attempts to do so by slowing images almost to stillness. In Missing Lebanese Wars, long takes slowly scan the furniture, objects, walls, and other mute interior surfaces. The objects seem to hold within them histories that Ra’ad is anxious to indicate, but he is hesitant to do so by narrating stories – stories of his family life in Lebanon, for example.

… Family snapshots, one would think, are introduced at such a point to explore the untold stories — by, for example, scanning the image of Mrs.Fakhouri’s face for clues to her unhappiness. The camera does move into each image in three increasingly close-up shots, but instead of examining the family’s faces, it slides over their shoulders to focus on a chair, a sculpture, or some other object, which we recognize as being the same things that populate Ra’ad’s father’s home now. It is the surface of these objects that the camera scans, with infinite slowness, as though seeking to massage forth from them the stories of his family’s dispersal. The emergent quality in Missing Lebanese Wars, then, is a tactile sort of perception. Ra’ad extracts affection-images from the photographs, in an attempt to evoke memories that seem unable to take shape any other way. Whereas Salloum excavates the image from the archive, Ra’ad returns to the body of the image.

… Deleuze writes that cinema cannot give us back the body, but it can give us “the ‘genesis of an unknown body’ which we have in the back of our heads, like the unthought in thought, the birth of the visible which is still hidden from view.” The time-image “opens to the outside” because its images are connected to an unseeable and unsayable real. What is implicit in the image ruptures any continuity offered by its explicit face. This hole in the image connects to the body of the viewer, inviting us to complete in our bodies what cannot be said in the image. Thus documentary returns to the body to seek that degree zero from which experience might arise anew.




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:32 am

by C.K. Williams

Even when the rain falls relatively hard,
only one leaf at a time of the little tree
you planted on the balcony last year,
then another leaf at its time, and one more,
is set trembling by the constant droplets,

but the rain, the clouds flocked over the city,
you at the piano inside, your hesitant music
mingling with the din of the downpour,
the gush of rivulets loosed from the eaves,
the iron railings and flowing gutters,

all of it fuses in me with such intensity
that I can’t help wondering why my longing
to live forever has so abated that it hardly
comes to me anymore, and never as it did,
as regret for what I might not live to live,

but rather as a layering of instants like this,
transient as the mist drawn from the rooftops,
yet emphatic as any note of the nocturne
you practice, and, the storm faltering, fading
into its own radiant passing, you practice again.

The Dance
by C.K. Williams

A middle-aged woman, quite plain, to be polite about it, and somewhat stout, to be more courteous still,
but when she and the rather good-looking, much younger man she’s with get up to dance,
her forearm descends with such delicate lightness, such restrained but confident ardor athwart his shoulder,
drawing him to her with such a firm, compelling warmth, and moving him with effortless grace
into the union she’s instantly established with the not at all rhythmically solid music in this second-rate café,

that something in the rest of us, some doubt about ourselves, some sad conjecture, seems to be allayed,
nothing that we’d ever thought of as a real lack, nothing not to be admired or be repentant for,
but something to which we’ve never adequately given credence,
which might have consoling implications about how we misbelieve ourselves, and so the world,
that world beyond us which so often disappoints, but which sometimes shows us, lovely, what we are.


[If you’re wondering where/why various poets seem to get “featured” in this blog, I buy whatever poetry volumes Daedalus Books has that are especially cheap (they only sell remainders). Some of it’s good; some of it’s not.]



February 25, 2010

For Thinking to Begin

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:12 am

It is this “stammering” that connects to Deleuze’s most overarching intellectual project: to arrive at the “unthought,” in order for thinking to begin.

Proceeding through the essays on Gilles Deleuze in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000), the following are from the piece, Into the Breach: Between the Movement-Image and the Time-Image by Angelo Restivo:

… Classical narrative cinema constructs itself from the interaction between space and protagonist, the images of both constructed in such a way as to connect them through a “sensory-motor” link. The “action” in the cinema of the “action-image,” then, is to be seen as a kind of analogy to the movement of the (biological) organism, where the latter is a kind of perceptual filter, or nodal point, or screen: in this way, an unproblematized link is created between sensation and movement. In a sense, this view of classical cinematic narration is eminently compatible with the “canonical” position … namely, that narration is the construction of causal chains. In both cases, narrative relies on the unproblematic bridging of gaps. We enter the modern cinema when this “bridging operation” breaks down: when a character such as Aldo in Il grido becomes a spectator to the very images he is immersed in, so that all he can do when his girlfriend inexplicably ends their relationship is wander through the mists of the Po Valley, taking odd jobs and drifting into casual affairs.

But what is important is that, for Deleuze, this severing of the sensory-motor link is not read as an allegory of the plight of modernity(which is, sadly, all too often the discourse in which Antonioni’s films are framed); in other words, Antonioni is not diagnosing a postwar malaise. In fact, the demise of the action-image is what allowed the cinema finally to fully realize itself; liberated from the grip of narrative, the cinema was able to do self-consciously what it had always been able to do (if only in exceptional cases) — to give us aberrant movement, false continuity, so as to allow that which is seen to become charged with that which is unseen.

… In the case of Antonioni, these marks of the time-image are clearly evident, from his famous deployment of “dead time” before and after the characters are in the frame, to his use of what Pasolini called cinematic free indirect discourse. Each of these stylistic innovations is clearly dependent on the image liberated from its (nominal) representation, liberated, that is, from the characters’ interactions with their environments.

… For Deleuze, the shot faces two directions: toward parts within the frame, and toward a “whole” outside the frame. The cinema, that is, always posits a virtual wholeness or continuum of the world (what Bazin calls”the myth of total cinema”), while at the same time necessarily — by the very requirement of the motion-picture camera — subjecting the whole to discontinuity; dissemination. This idea is central to Deleuze’s project, for it is what allows the cinema to function in the way that consciousness does — dividing things up, reassembling things into sets, framing its interests, forming wholes. From here, we can now talk about the modes of consciousness that the cinema enacts.

Jumping (regretfully) to the end of this long and very good essay:

…. Television, Deleuze argues elsewhere, should force us to revise the classic theory of information, which constructs a binary opposition between information and “noise.” Rather, we should conceive information as falling somewhere between a different binary opposition, with “precepts” (the instructions and commands issued through various media) on the one end, and on the other end a kind of grasping toward the new, which can take the form of “stammering” or — significant in light of the films discussed here — the scream.

It is this “stammering” that connects to Deleuze’s most overarching intellectual project: to arrive at the “unthought,” in order for thinking to begin. We could thus argue that he is mobilizing the sublime in relation to the modern cinema. Many consequences flow from this, the most salient being that Deleuze returns the aesthetic question to cinema studies. This is an aesthetics in a precise Kantian sense: as that which can articulate a connection between epistemology and ethics, between the world as known and the world as acted upon. As [D.N.] Rodowick notes, “the time-image asks us to believe again in the world in which we live, in time and changing, and to believe again in the inventiveness of time where it is possible to think and to choose other modes of existence.” Or, in Deleuze’s own words, the time-image is redemptive: “the irrational cycle of the visual and the sound is related … to information and its overcoming. Redemptive, art beyond knowledge, is also creation beyond information.”




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am

… the narrative principles of modern cinema consist in making possible the realization of virtually existing supersensible worlds. The aim of modern cinema as such is the creation of mental images that are independent of the logic of practical sensory experience.

Continuing with my reading of the essays on Gilles Deleuze in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000), (skipping over several that I didn’t find as interesting) this post is on The Film History of Thought by András Bákubt Kovács (translated by Sándor Hervey):

… the quality that Deleuze singles out in neorealism is critical for the development of modernism. According to Deleuze, the significance of neorealism lies in the way it replaces situations embedded in action with “optical-acoustic” situations. In other words, the aim of neorealism is not the transaction of certain events, but the realization of the visual and acoustic space surrounding events. It is in this connection that the aimless loitering so indicative of, say, Rosellini and De Sica move to the forefront of cinema, enveloping action in a kind of waiting (or, as Deleuze would say, “patience,” even “exhaustion”) that becomes, paradoxically, the “action” itself. Deleuze’s observations provide an apt summation of the importance of neorealism from the viewpoint of the further development of the cinema, even if these observations do not give an exhaustive picture of neorealism itself. The reason why this style became one of the most significant paradigms of the ensuing thirty or forty years involves the way neorealism introduced the possibility of a story without a plot, without the schematic determinations and linkages of strict action (i.e., causality). Even if this development was never entirely consummated by neoreslism, Deleuze locates its specific origin there: producing increasingly “plotless” narratives, neorealism lingers on situations in which action has become impossible. Indeed, Antonioni became the father of modern film, so to speak, because he consistently elaborated this fundamental affinity for “tirednesses and waitings.” One sees this most clearly in the trend he inspires (and which extends beyond modernism per se) in the likes of Jancsó and Angelopoulos, later in Wenders, Jarmusch, and Tarr, to name only its most important representatives. This trend is modernism’s strongest universal current — a trend that is rooted in pure optical-sound situations, which is to say, the radical disjunction of action and situation.

The main consequence of events replaced as the focal point of interest by the milieu is that the role of time in the cinema changes entirely. If time and space are split off from the logic of events, an abstract space-time dimension is created. This is what Deleuze calls an “any-space-whatever,” namely, a dimension to which the only reality one can attribute is a subjective reality as part of some function of consciousness (because it is no longer determined by the logic of events). According to Deleuze, modern cinema means, on the one hand, the different variations of the composition of abstract time (in this respect he is in complete agreement with Tarkovsky, who calls film “sculpting in time”); on the other hand, it means a variable formation of images of subjectivity. A major tendency in modern cinema is to blur the boundary between fact and fancy, dream and reality. Modern cinema conceives of, and realizes (“virtualizes”), time in a totally Bergsonian sense: that is, in absolutely subjective terms. As such, time-images and forms of subjectivity converge, and one can see this in the visions, imaginations, memories, or failures of memory (amnesia, ellipses) that come to dominate modern cinema. All are time-space extensions of subjective consciousness, at the same time as being forms connected to time and to systems of time, whose deployment signifies a fundamental revolution with respect to narrative. In modern cinema, the narrative (or “storytelling”) aspect no longer represents “reality,” but concentrates on showing how the act of narration falsifies reality itself.

… Yet [Deleuze] … does not regard modern cinema simply as the disintegration, distortion, pastiche, parody, or ironic reflection of particular preexisting forms. Although he does not deny that these constitute a part of modernism, Deleuze’s position cannot be said to be equated with the tautology “stories happen only in stories” (Wim Wenders, The State of Things). Modern cinema is not only a matter of crisis or intellectual reflection. Deleuze senses the appearance in modernism of a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at the world, which goes beyond the crisis in traditional narrative film and beyond the conflict between the mass-produced film industry of Hollywood and the genre of European intellectual art films. Classical cinema is, for Deleuze, a specific state of cinematographic thinking, which leads to another state (modern cinema), from a description of which we get glimmerings of yet another further (postmodern) state.

In any case, for Deleuze cinema does not “represent” thoughts or modes of thinking. It is thought itself, the image of thinking.

…Because of its mechanical nature, Deleuze regards film as a particular kind of thought machine or time machine that — though not unconsciously, yet without the mediation of language — makes visible the fundamental prelinguistic mechanisms and contents of thinking. This, in a nutshell, is Deleuze’s conception of cinema. Thinking is inseparable from time, and modern cinema creates direct images of time, images divorced from practical (“sensory-motor”) relationships and determined only by “optical and sound situations.” “[I]n modern cinema … the time-image is no longer empirical, nor metaphysical; it is ‘transcendental’ in the sense that Kant gives this word: time is out of joint and presents itself in the pure state.” The main characteristic of the direct time-image is the conflation of incommensurable units of time and space. That is why Deleuze terms the constructive principles of modernism, collectively, a “crystalline system,” thereby opposing it to the “organic system” of classical cinema. According to Deleuze, modern cinema develops a mode of perception that makes it possible to sense virtual worlds, that is, worlds divorced from space-time built on the logic of practical action, worlds containing simultaneously the past, the present, and the future, the imaginary and the real. In the concept of the time-image, then, Deleuze does not see a movement away from narrative per se, but rather, the birth of a new kind of narrative.



February 24, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 12:55 pm

by C. K. Williams

Wouldn’t it be nice, I think, when the blue-haired lady in the doctor’s waiting room bends over the magazine table
and farts, just a little, and violently blushes, wouldn’t it be nice if intestinal gas came embodied in visible clouds
so she could see that her really quite inoffensive pop had only barely grazed my face before it drifted away?

[first verse of four verses]




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:03 am

Moving on to the second essay on Gilles Deleuze in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000), this one is Cinema Year Zero and it is by the editor, Flaxman. In it he is looking at what he believes is a misinterpretation by Deleuze of the change in Bergson’s philosophy between his (Bergson’s) books, Matter and Memory (1896) and his later Creative Evolution (1907). I’ll jump in where he gives a description of the foundations of Bergson’s views:

… An image is the expression of matter, its consistency in movement, and not the re-presentation of that matter; indeed, when Bergson speaks of an image, the connotation is not of an illusion but of an affective intensity. Matter is tantamount to perception, and Bergson maintains that images themselves are the expression of this confluence: matter = movement = image = perception.

… For Bergson, the world is an “aggregate of images” which coagulate and disperse, act and re-act on each other in a universal variation. … Matter is “the identity of image and movement,” thereby rendering perception, usually a point of origin, always already included within the flux of images (matter). As Deleuze puts it, “can I even, at this level, speak of ‘ego’, or eye, of brain and of body?”

… we cannot extract a subject from the universe of images as we might deduce it, in Kantian terms, from universal conditions. Rather, the subject is the extraction, the process of drawing order from this “chaos of light” as if through a sieve.

… In a sense, the subject is a point at which the universe sees itself: the subject synthesizes the world from a particular point of view, but the subject also derives from that world, each perspective constituting a self-synthesis …

… While all images, naturally, collide with other images, the brain introduces an interval in which thought stimulus occurs, thereby provoking actions. Actions, in turn, translate perception-images into new images, a process whereby the subject moves to acclimate to the exigencies of situations. One perceives by selecting from the image what one can manage, converting the “vibrations” of matter “into practical deed.” An onrushing train, the prick of a pin, a bidding gesture: images give rise to the movements of the body, to actions that are increasingly confident and practiced, engraved in memory. The space-time of cognition, of the image-sensations that affect us, we call a sign, though because at this juncture signs are re-cognized we must be clear about the limitations on which Bergson’s philosophy is careful to insist. In other words, though we cannot deduce subjectivity as such, we have deduced a system of habitual response that takes hold of us — and this “education,” to use Hegel’s word, constitutes a subject. For his part, Bergson calls this system of habitual responses a sensory-motor schema (SMS), a deliberate mechanism that adapts the body to the vagaries of images, that litigates over signs to assure their regularity, their “common sense.”

… the understanding of the world as an “aggregate of images” conditions the development of a commonsensical system of actions that, in turn, renders the antecedent understanding increasingly inconceivable.

… we have seen that the SMS develops to react to our consistency within the field of images; indeed, by virtue of that reaction, it comes to imagine itself as a “center of action.” No longer “any-point-whatever” in the aggregate of images, the SMS constitutes our “anchorage” in a world that we perceive to surround (englober) us. The shift might be compared to the grafting of Euclidean geometry on the aggregate of images, a conceptual mapping that intimates what I would call “soft dualism” — not so much a difference in kind between perception and images, which Bergson persistently rebuts, but the belief  in such a difference, the infiltration of a moral-metaphysical ideology.

Against the flux of images, the endless modulation and variation of the world, Bergson holds out an SMS that is not qualitatively different but habitually so. What this means is that the “unloosening” of the SMS necessarily entails rending the subject from its habitus as a “center of action.”

… Deleuze’s point is that, though they arise imminently out of the cinema, schemata are not the essence of cinema. Rather, the classical patterns of narrative emerge from our own habit of treating the cinema as an extension of perception. … Deleuze begins from an entirely different, acentered, and one could say “nonhuman” perspective within which the human emerges as a center of indetermination. Because this center is not presupposed and does not exist prior to the world, the possibility exists that the cinema may allow us to return to an acentered perception. For this reason, Deleuze constantly gravitates in [his] cinema books to moments “as for example in Renoir, when the camera leaves a character,” because such moments reveal a movement-image unfastened from any center of action. This cleavage of camera and character (center) suggests the way the cinema surpasses human perception: what we discover is not perception, but rather a means to “rid ourselves of ourselves.”

In his later book:

… Bergson has refashioned the sensory-motor schema: whereas images once acted upon a receptive perception, now they are acted upon by perception and thus “re-presented” according to its presuppositions. Ultimately, we are inured to any moment that would unloosen the constraints of recognition because a purpose precedes this encounter.

This difficult point is perhaps more easily understood according to what Godard avouched as his desire for cinema, a formula that Deleuze often repeats: “not a just image, just an image” (“pas une image juste, juste une image”). Just images — good, moral images — are the result of a sensory-motor schema that, having been internalized, ensures regularity, dependability, and the semblance of totality. In the cinema, the great example of this schematism is classical Hollywood because there the presupposition of a “destiny” organizes images organically.

… By force of habit and education (for they amount to the same thing), the regularity of the SMS migrates into the supposition of a fixed and transcendental ego whose internalization secures identity by acting upon images rather than being acted upon by images.

But if the route back to the unbridled images of the plane of immanence has been closed off, the hopes of cinema and philosophy are, as we find in [Deleuze’s] The Time-Image, cast with a new project: to trigger the deregulations of the sensory-matrix itself, to disrupt the certainty of the image-realty, and finally to assemble the intensities of the plane of immanence on the body itself. The new procedure can be understood along the lines of what is called an “embolism,” a term that we normally understand to be a clotting or an occlusion, as in a blood vessel; but this interference is linked to another, and even more primary, definition of embolism, that of intercalation, the process of altering the calendar, of “messing” with time. We begin to disrupt the normative functioning of the body when we begin to disrupt the normative flow of time; such is the modern project of cinema — to make irregularities (false continuity), to unleash unspeakable durations (becoming), so that the sensory regularity of our organs (SMS) can be transformed into a “body without organs” (BWO). Pars destruens, pars construens.

To get back to the images that Bergson had intuited — this becomes the aim of cinema, but under a new guise. By unloosening the constraints that had been thrust upon it, the cinema unloosens the sensory-motor schema: “not just images, just images,” that is, images ripped from the moorings of determinations. Whereas Bergson’s trajectory is one of retrenchment, Deleuze’s trajectory in the cinema books charts not only cinema but, indeed, thought from its categorial optimism to a contrapuntal “deterritorialization,” the (dis)juncture at which thought is rended from the world (habitus, terre).

Both Bergson and Deleuze remind me of a bit from Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks that begins:

The air is filled with endless images of the objects distributed in it; and all are represented in all, and all in one, and all in each …



February 23, 2010

Explosive Affections

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:52 am

… Each perceptive pointing, in cutting through the landscape toward the exterior, hones itself toward the interior that will pick it clean of perspectives in order to form a continual and durable volume.

As promised in my previous post, today I begin working my way through the essays on Gilles Deleuze in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (2000).

The first essay is Of Images and Worlds by Jean-Clet Martin. His writing style is … what’s a good word for purple? Exuberant? Over-the-top? Royal purple on black velvet with sequins? It’s translated from the French and I have a feeling it proved beyond the capabilities of its two translators (who shall remain nameless). Because in yesterday’s post I said I would give you the good/interesting and not the ridiculous/nonsensical Deleuze, I have tried very hard to extract only those parts that are a pale purple and sequin-free. I also do this because I’m worried about Dr. C. If anybody there in his office finds him running in tight circles waving his fists and periodically slamming his head repeatedly into the wall (beyond what he normally does), please (try to) restrain him. If this is too dangerous, try putting a few (heavily medicated) bagels on the floor where he can see them.

Purple or not, Martin has some good stuff to say if you put on your RayBans before reading:

It is difficult to accurately define the fate Deleuze wished to reserve for what he called the “image of thought” if we do not grasp from the outset the profound kinship between image and thought. It is therefore out of the question to deal, on the one hand, with the process of the image and, on the other, with that of thought. There is no dualism that would permit one to posit them each on opposite sides. As we know, Deleuze never begins by positing terms that would be exterior to one another. Doing philosophy is to be conceived starting off in the middle. We start off neither with the image nor with the thought, but in the middle, where each melts with the other one into a common plane, the plane of immanence. It does not matter that this fold of the one upon the other is not identical in philosophy, in science, or in the domain of art. Each elaborates its respective plane in a middle where image and thought correspond according to modalities that need to be specified every time.

Because Deleuze’s views are developed so closely from those of Henri Bergson, Martin reviews some of Bergson:

… As soon as [I wake up; open my eyes after sleep], a luminous breach shocks perception, unsealing this still absent gaze with the force of a continuity of flowering images, each reacting upon the others in an order that Bergson takes it upon himself to progressively unravel:

Here is a system of images which I term my perception of the universe, and which may be entirely altered by a very slight change in a certain privileged image — my body. This image occupies the center: by it all the others are conditioned; at each of its movements everything changes, as though by the turn of a kaleidoscope.

As it happens, there is no mark that would distinguish image and reality. Each image will be considered real from the outset, each expressing the others out of its place, the locus of which constitutes its transcendental principle. Indeed, the place can never be reduced to the site.

… a point of view never resolves itself into matter. It is to be conceived more as a way of being than as the form of a being. It places itself more on the side of “memory” than of “matter” — to use Bergson’s terms. Each urban complex presents itself as a set or a “block.” It designates a finite grouping of elements, of cataloged, numerable buildings. On the other hand, what will necessarily exceed the enumeration of elements is the infinite figure of possible perspectives that this city could offer us depending on the point of view from which one considers it. There is something like an unfurling of loci that opens in the midst of the site and that will cut in the sky a singular array of rooftops, a composition of relations organized along sight lines that are characteristic every time.

… In logical terms, one would say that these places do not belong to the site. They are not elements of the site, but incorporeals, in the sense that the Stoics reserved for this term — events of the cut, or the cut out, surfaces piled up or planes superimposed in a way that depends on the displacement of the observer (or of the locutor), on the variation of the adopted points of view: something volatile that undoes itself with the rapidity of movement and the successive shifting of perspectives.

… The points of view on the city approach infinity while the architectural components remain essentially numerable. Without belonging to the site in a stable manner, this virtual combinatory of perspectives inhabits the site in the mode of inclusion. More numerous than the elements of the site, the perspectives escape it, hover over it in proliferating series that must nevertheless be included in the site itself. Thus, the perspectives will not be real by the same rights as the hard elements of the set.

… There is always an excess of places (loci) with respect to the site (situs) — as one would say in Cantor’s language. Would one then go so far to say that all these virtualities, these points of view on the city, are simply fictive? Is the view that I have from this bridge, or this bench, unreal? This is to formulate the question badly because each perspective reveals a determinable aspect of the city, or cuts out a characteristic image. The view that I unfurl using myself is a kaleidoscopic set of images superimposed all along a line that cuts through the city. The least modification of place leads to a redistribution of the landscape in its entirety. … There are images and piles of images, a matter and a memory. The least perception is already an overload of images and supposes a memory as the law of their superimposition. In this sense, there is nothing unreal about a view — regardless of the place at which planes join, or from which the landscape gets cut out. But for all that, the point of view will not allow itself to be touched, handled like a pebble or a brick. Therein lies all the difference between the world as it has consistency and the world as it is experienced, traversed by a perspectival cut that persists in memory — that is to say, in this accumulation that tears mobile landscapes out of the world.

… each time my perception launches its tip in a given direction, my memory takes off, and contracts its lens of remembrance in the direction of this cone … Each perceptive pointing, in cutting through the landscape toward the exterior, hones itself toward the interior that will pick it clean of perspectives in order to form a continual and durable volume.

… Architecture is a visual montage in which the world gets called into existence in the form of the ideality of a space that remains phenomenal, a world totally interior to the ediface that thereby ceases to be perceived simply from the outside. A space is born that is not reducible to exteriority; instead of condemning us to see things from the outside, it clarifies them from within. Everything works toward this clarification according to the immanence of a point of view with which philosophy necessarily enters into relation. Between the volume of an idea and the volume of an architectural form there is an interior spark that comes to idealize a thoroughly spiritual contour.

… The Abbey of Cluny: a mental design laid out in an interlocking series of vaults, the center of which is everywhere and the periphery nowhere.

… The image and, in the image, philosophical contemplation are born on the occasion of a rupture with the geographical site, the occasion of a gathering able to illuminate things in a space not to be confused with the exteriority of the parts it was believed to separate — a space that allows things to be taken from “inside,” What we need is a gaze liable to develop itself from the interior, encircled by the mass of a wall that presents itself as a volume swollen with light, so that images and thoughts, crypts and tombs may be born. This is true to such an extent that philosophy, in its entirely, must define itself — as the inverse of science — by an invagination or a turn of the gaze up into the head, by this indefatigable desire to explore an imperceptible world, taking as its only guide the internal architecture of a problem, more than in the exteriority of matter.

[ … ]

… if nature and mind conjoin in a common membrane, this fusion does not amount to a dismal identity wherein every difference would merge into the uniformity out of which, as Hegel would say, nothing ever emerges. At stake here is not a night when all the cats are grey, but a live surface, cavernous and differential, streaked with holes and lights.

The immanence of being and thought is not a fall into the indiscernible, the equalization of all tensions in a lifeless homogeneous soup. It is more of a metastable surface in a perpetual variation, a surface on which matter and memory touch and conjoin one another, an intermediate canvas where images begin to flicker. What is an image that is not this psychophysical encounter of thought and nature? Where to situate an image, if not upon a common membrane, neither of pure spirit nor of pure matter but, rather, the intermediate fringe on which they blend? An image cannot be reduced to the cold, objective reality of independent matter, but neither is it the simple subjective survey of my mind as it exacts a look at the inaccessible back of things. The image is born in the middle, between the two, in the crucible of being and thought, as a new reality, an entity that comes to live an autonomous life that is impossible to place in me or outside of me. … The image, envisaged in the form of a live membrane, is not a dead plane, an undifferentiated mix where both I and not-I are abolished and “all the cows have become grey.” In truth, the univocity in which being and thought conjoin, the image that articulates them, instead of fading into the One, unfurls as a complex multiplicity of broken hues, cracked ideas, explosive affections.

To be continued …



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