Unreal Nature

October 30, 2014

Neither Simple Nor Obvious

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… The present, like movements, is neither simple nor obvious, but plural and only ever glimpsed in a fleeting, felt image.

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

… The art of cinema involves a fabulation of images, a narrative of images that may well (indeed, will) ‘thwart’ the textural narrative, interrupting it, contradicting it. There is a certain way in which ‘the play of appearances’ is put ‘into images,’ a ‘logic that puts the fable into images’ that is different from the ‘story,’ so-called, the plot or fabula (as Bordwell described it). A fable has a moral that both ‘meets’ the narrated story and thwarts it in a twofold approach: through another meaning and, more essentially, through being another source of meaning. Films can tell stories cinematically that exceed both their scripts and their concepts. As Rancière states when discussing They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948), a woman’s words may say one thing, but her ‘loose and brushed hair’ admit something else. An actor’s performance, even his or her appearance, is another writing of the work.

Rancière sets out the basis of this dissent within the film-aesthetic, a disagreement between two regimes of art. The ‘representative regime’ is a system that coordinates the relations between what can be seen and what can be said, between the unfolding of schemas of intelligibility and the unfolding of material manifestations. There is a strict regime of what counts as art, what makes a suitable subject for art, and what rules must be adhered to to render this subject into art. The ‘aesthetic regime,’ by contrast, rejects this ‘double identity of opposites,’ seeing both as ‘an absolute power of making on the part of the artwork,’ as well as a site for this power of unconditioned production in ‘absolute passivity.’ To cite Novalis (as Rancière is fond of doing) ‘everything speaks’ — not just those parts of reality deemed appropriately ‘aesthetic.’ Art is autonomous and anything can be art — animals, trees, stones.

[ … ]

Now there is poetry anywhere and everywhere — in the attitude of a bear, the flick of a fan, or the movement of a head of hair. There is poetry wherever some spectacle can symbolize the identity of what is thought and what is not thought, what is wanted and what is not wanted. [Rancière]

On the other hand, however, this ‘everything’ that speaks is also absolutely passive, for it now needs an artist to let it speak, to let its activity act. And this is the paradox of the aesthetic regime, both in the arts in general and in film art in particular. The aesthetic regime posits the ‘radical autonomy of art’ from any rule external to art, but it therewith makes everything artful and so mundane. This very mundanity of the world beckons the power of the artist as the necessary center through which the world can assume its artful mantle. We are left, as Film Fables puts it, with a bipolar ‘pure creative activity thenceforward thought to be without rules or models, and the pure passivity of the expressive power inscribed on the very surface of things, independently of every desire to signify or create.’

[ … ]

… filmologist Albert Michotte … showed experimentally that people tend to anthropomorphize even the simplest films of moving dots and squares with qualities like causality, life and intention. Since it is the movement alone, he argued, that is actual on the screen (as opposed to the objects which are represented) it is that which ‘liberates the object from the plane in which it is integrated’ when the viewer identifies the filmic object with what it represents. Objects only appear on the screen, while the movement there is a reality.

… Finally, then, the reality effect in fictional film lies not simply in the artifice of fabricating fact, but also in fabricating time, bringing to the image (constructed in the past) the ‘illusion of the present tense.’ … We feel that we are seeing it happen now, and it is from this temporal state of actuality that our paradoxical ‘beliefs and desires’ also follow. One could argue that animating fiction is, by the same token, a present-making, for what is alive must also be present.

… Is not fabulation itself of this ilk, letting matter live? Think again of the swinging kitchen door in Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot: it becomes a kind of person, a tired and bored presence coexisting with the waiters themselves, but not in the same moment as the waiters. This living sound is another present, another life, created alongside those others already perceptible in the film. No less than we see in Awakenings and ‘Wink of an Eye,’ there is no one speed at which the film can be seen nor one present in which the film itself moves. The present, like movements, is neither simple nor obvious, but plural and only ever glimpsed in a fleeting, felt image.

My most recent previous post from Mullarkey’s book is here.




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