Yours, the World.

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Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul says here that he doesn’t believe Thailand really has an identity – by this, that Thailand is not essentially ‘one thing’ and cannot be defined by anything in particular. More fittingly, it is made up of many different cultural influences, effected by many cultural/ethinic spaces, products, ideas and politics. Then he says this, which I was drawn to because I’ve just written two essays on the cinema and architectural space:

When you treat your audience, in architecture, they walk into the space, they experience the space, the light and shadow, by walking through time. So you design the space to evoke certain feelings and certain reactions from the viewer. The same with film; you use time, but I think film is more forcing the audience to experience while sitting in the dark. So I think architecture gives more freedom in a way.

Architecture gives more freedom? True, in the sense that the occupier of physical space is (to some extent, anyway) able to move however they wish through and within it. The camera frames, the camera directs. But if it allows us to expand our thought beyond what is within the frame, then this is an undeniable experience of contemplative freedom. There was a moment inhis film Blissfully Yours when Min turns the stereo in the car up so loud that my seat started to reverberate with the sound- reminding me of my corporeality. My mind involved in the film, but my body too- my aesthetic response. And, I have to repeat Eagleton again here (sorry): ‘Aesthetics is born as a discourse of the body’ (1990:13).  

The feeling that stuck with me most about Apichatpong’s  Blissfully Yours (2002) is that none of the characters in the film were actually very nice; I couldn’t imagine myself being friends with any of them (like the four protagonists in Seinfeld).

Which means that what I liked most about the film was that it returned me again to a state felt toward the start of semester, the aesthetic experience of the transcendental. Finn and Chaudhuri quote Paul Schrader (2003:392):

When the image stops, the viewer keeps going, moving deeper and deeper, one might say, into the image. This is the “miracle” of sacred art.

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Rather than feeling connected to the characters in Blissfully Yours, nor, really to the narrative, I felt within the space of the film- a nonspecific space, undemanding, infinite. This space in which the film is created, and which is created by the film, enables the expression and production of contemplative time- time which allows thought. Rather than demanding ‘a thinking that never stops, never collects itself’, as Heidigger says (somewhere…see Frampton, ‘Filmosophy’:190) of structured calculative time, contemplative time allows us to meditate on moments within the cinematic frame, and also outside of it. This is what I love a lot about the cinema; getting lost in my own mind and struggling with my thoughts, as horrible as that sometimes is. Films which force us to stare at an image for so long, like images of faces/bodies/clouds/sun/mountains at the end of Blissfully Yours, the silent image of a woman’s face at the end of Man From London (Béla Tarr 2007), Mamo’s face, and the landscape, as the final images of Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi 2006) provoke thoughts that they don’t control, and this is the most amazing thing about them. Whether we reach the sublime with these thoughts or merely are affected by a sense of the infinite, our mind and body can be transported into a space beyond the space of cinema.

‘Flesh is the common ground of all being’

‘For Irigaray, sexual difference is not a topic to be introduced into metaphysics, but determines metaphysics as such.’ And the Deleuzian interpretations of sexual difference (by feminist theorists) have articulated it as transcendental philosophy, of how the subject relates to the given. How does Marie (Caroline Ducey) relate herself to the men in the film, how does she treat her own sexual difference? The sexual act for her is something given- bodies are made to have sex, so they should. She is angry that even though Paul (Sagamore Stévenin) can have sex he won’t, that he won’t fulfil his subject-role as her sexual partner. So what is Marie, then? Her continual comments that she should cheat on Paul suggest that it is through sex that she makes herself a woman. Becomes a woman by and in union with man.

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In the later part of her discussion, Colebrook then calls on us to ‘dispense with a notion of ‘the given’ (or being, or the body) and think of various distributions, various modes of thought’ (125). Think not of the sexual body in relation to its space, but of the specific body in terms of its metaphysical constitution and response. Marie’s girlfriend-body is different from her sexual-body, which is different from her raped-body, different again from her body-at-birth. Her response to her raped-body is to attempt to constitute herself as sexual again, and it is this failure that provokes her next actions. The formation of the subject, according to Colebrook, will always involve thought, and activity/action in response to thought, perhaps thought oppositional to standard society expectations. So to self-represent, one puts a ‘challenge to standard notions of thought [which] will concern the self which thinks’ ( 110).

Colebrook finally writes, ‘One response might not be to think of the mind-body relation, but to see as many relations as there are bodily questions’. So, she decides, perhaps it is not the state of mind that is altered when the body is affected, but the body’s sense itself becomes something new.

Someone mentioned in the tute this week that Briellat’s films, instead of having the happy ending that we expect, draw shock from the viewer with violent and uncomfortable scenes. This is mentioned a lot at university, and in a lot of film theory as well (although I’m not sure how much of it is recent), but I just don’t know that this is the case any longer. Do we really expect a happy ending? I often don’t- so many films do defy Classical Narrative closure that this is not a model on which I base my reception of all films. Rather than being passive receivers of film who will happily expect and accept a fully completed ending, and be shocked if we are not given one, my subjective position as viewer changes with every film I see. The intersection of the film itself, my state at the time, and the space in which i am viewing it are all influences. Reading fragments of Frampton’s article ‘Film Phenomenology’, I am interested not so much in how film is a body, and is a form of world-making, but I am interested in us: ‘Human bodily existence, material flesh, is the first premise of sense and signification – our human body should no longer be seen as a passive machine registering and decoding reality, but as actively engaged in processes of world-making (world-thinking)’ (42). We are always-already constituted and continually affected by our corporeality.

The opposite of desire

Looking at the pile (perhaps this definition is too formal) of books next to my bed, I realised today that I had not finished reading Virilio’s The Original Accident, 2007. So because it’s a nice size and relatively light I put it in my bag for reading during the interstitial moments of my day. And from page 100 (the perfect, complete number):

Everything, right now! Such is the crazy catch-cry of hypermodern times, of this hypercentre of temporal compression where everything crashes together, telescoping endlessly under the fearful pressure of telecommunications, into this ‘teleobjective’ proximity that has nothing concrete about it except its infectious hysteria.

Let’s not forget: too much light and you get blindness; too much justice and you get injustice; too much speed, the speed of light, and you get inertia, polar inertia.

Do we try and achieve so much that we achieve nothing? I think about politics, and the (non-core) promises of politicians: not that I have much knowledge about these things, but there is so much on their agenda to win votes that the percentage of things which actually are followed through is minimal.

Do we constitute ourselves now in terms not of who we want to be, in terms of our subjective relation to others, to spaces, to events, but in terms of what we can achieve? How much we get done, which becomes how much we don’t get done because we are not good enough to do it yet.

…to be continued…or, attemping too much on November 6th, maybe not…

Sound and subjectivity

Simon Frith theorises music in terms of how it produces and shapes an experience, and the characters within. Our experience of this aesthetic medium must be had from a space of subjective and collective identity, which means that as we experience music, we also change our own subjectivity, and thus identity. So, ‘identity is mobile, a becoming and not a being’.

In Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, much of the sound seems as though it is non-diegetic because of its obvious removal from the temporal space of eighteenth-century France, even if it is represented as coming from the frame. Coppola presents sound in terms of both music and voice as deterritorialized from the space and time of the film’s historical universe. Music within the space of the film as product, such as New Order’s ‘Ceremony’, and a montage sequence with ‘I Want Candy’ layered over the images, form two purposes: the image and images become what they are by direct relation (ie. in reality) to the sound, but also the space of the images are enlarged by sounds (ie. our formation of ideas is driven mainly by what the sound does to the image) . The sound thus alters the way that we see the space and consume the world offered to us from the film- does it allow us to form a close relationship to the film, or does it dislocate us too strongly from it by its lack of symbiosity between characters and surroundings? Either, I think – depending on how we react to the sound. By violating spectator expectations, film can force us to change our subjectivity, and expand our understanding of what is acceptable/possible/reality, so if we do allow ourselves to expand with the film we can become closer to the film world. Coppola recreates history, a new, groovy, glamourous history in which Marie Antoinette (or anyone) is not actually seen dead. Because Coppola focuses so much on making MA seem young and funky, and that’s just about it, it is hard to get past this dislocative sound and to see the film as something of reality/relevant.

Patricia Pisters writes that voice and body ‘can express the same thing’. As an extension of this, the removal of vocal and bodily self-function and their objectification can represent the same thing; both serve to disempower and deterritorialize. Coppola removes Marie Antoinette’s ability to own and control both her own voice and her body, filling her vocabulary with culturally and periodically jarring words like ‘ridiculous’, and never allowing us to be unaware that Marie Antoinette’s body is subjected and scrutinized, but rarely admired, by spectators.

But what of MA when she sings in her own performance? A woman-becoming? This act of becoming does not really offer a transcendence, she is still stuck in the prison-like closed territory of public and private scrutiny.

Becomings furthermore make us realize that we are witnessing a becoming-cinema of the world and the becoming-life of the cinema. (Pisters 2003:215)

Cinema enables the representation of becoming, is the holding medium of variations of sound and image together that allow the image to become outside of its literal (signified) space and allow the spectator to become outside of their relational subjectivity into a collective one.  But cinema can also fail at that.

Aesthetics for a dystopian reality

I dislike Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006). Firstly for the clichéd moments in the film that I have come to expect from films which have an oppressive mood, like the moment in the car when the characters are having fun with a golf ball moments before Julian’s traumatic death- lightening the mood so that the shock can have more impact. Could see it coming, moved on.

Moving on- reading about artistic regimes, I think I have discerned that I just prefer films that don’t have this kind of obviously attempted grittiness and rawness to them. Films from the poetic, mimetic regime, as Rancière classifies art that is regulated around reality and imitation, don’t offer as much as his other defined types.

Rancière’s two other theorized regimes, an ethical one that builds on images, and an aesthetic regime that focuses on the form of the artistic method, are richer because they operate with the real but also beyond the realm of the real, invoking signs and signification, providing a space for many interpretations of meaning.

‘The aesthetic regime of the arts is the regime that strictly identifies art in the singular and frees it from any specific rule, from any hierarchy of the arts, subject matter, and genres.’ (Rancière 23)

In contrast to Cuarón’s long takes, look at this single take from Godard’s 1968 La Chinoise. It’s not as long, but would have needed many things to come together at once for it to work, which is what Cuarón should be impressed by. And this, within the aesthetic regime, does assert ‘the absolute singularity of art’, while working with the ethical regime of images, showing that images have an affective potential, how they can key in to our consciousness as individuals and community spectators.

Virilio writes about the landscape of war becoming cinematic, war being an absolute performance, war being about the total visibility of large events and minute details. So does Baudrillard. So why, if we have access to wars through their representations in cinematic weaponry, do we need war films that capture reality. What do films offer with an invested interest in capturing the frame of war, the real time and space of battle? We are given affective contact to the events of war through their mediated representations on television, in the newspaper; through those images produced to ‘project a final image of the world‘ (Virilio). Even those films with little projected interest in capturing a realist aesthetic, like Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001), Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998), don’t do much more than illustrate the technical proficiency of their filmmaking skills. We already know what war looks like via its actual existence in cinematographic forms.

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As audiences we can gain more from a film’s significatory meaning, from its mobilization of symbolic details, than from its place in the continuum of (mediated) realness. The affective strength of Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959) builds on not images or representations of actual nuclear explosions, but on images of the city post-event. Memories of death are revealed by the discord between images of the past and the present, between one state and another, meaning communicated through the composition of images and signs rather than merely images of battle. It seems to me rare that one could delve beyond fictional images of battle to find further meaning. So, look at the representation of ideas rather than events.

The alteration of perception (**Separate assessment**)

A nation is always something smaller than humanity and bigger than an ethnic group or region.

– Thomas Elsaesser: 652

How do we, and how does von Trier, define what a nation or community is and how it comes into formation? How do we perceive the concept, and how are we shaped by the actual?

In her lecture and blog, Felicity talks about Dogville being about the incongruities of the laws and lawlessness that dictate humanity, the laws of our ‘democratic’ organisation. We can come to this thinking by way of Thomas Elsaesser’s writing, who says that identity (specifically the identity of Europeans) is in most cases always diasporic, formed as such by the ideas of nations, religions, ethnicities, geographies, genders, that will often be strictly enforced. Identity is doubly occupied- an idea whereby we are a positive concept of ‘something’, but also are a negative concept of ‘something different’. Elsaesser looks too on a larger scale, many European nation-states are recent, are often the result of disparate groups being forced and patched together, which will obviously cause problems as national and ethnic imaginaries inevitably clash.

In Dogville, the townspeople’s attitude towards Grace changes when they become consciously aware that Grace has a relationship to the outside world, when they begin to think about and react to the double-occupancy of her identity. The community/stranger dialectic here becomes more of an issue in the film. In Lars von Trier’s literal and analogous blueprint of how we organise the world, he demonstrates that the co-existence of perceptions within one space is rare. I see it as less as a case for the ‘ideal immigrant’ that Elsaesser writes of but in fact more like a parable of the stranger vs. community, the self vs. culture. It is about, to quote from the film, ‘the human problem: to receive’. ‘Dogville cannot accept or receive anything from external to itself because it cannot move beyond or expand its own space. It is a lack of ‘fundamental or non-negotiable principles’ (Elsaesser 654) that restricts Dogville from receiving, as without principles, thoughts and actions will be dictated in favour of the self. (See this article for discussion of this via Kant/Derrida).

Paul Virilio writes in The Original Accident that there is a present crisis in the concept of dimension that leads to a fracturing of the concept of identity (national, communal), and thus to a ‘critical space’ where nothing is whole anymore. Dogville‘s dialectic of the individual and community is the very illustration of this ‘critical space’. People are separate from each other, even members of the community do not stick to a strict set of morals, and possessing an individual consciousness is held against you. Dogville is the visual opposite of a whole, too- the white outlines on a black soundstage, the naked film technologies, the imagined dog, these all work in excess of their Brechtian function and expose the faults in a society that tries to build and maintain its foundations by a sort of checklist.

Robert Cooper says that the present world order based on liberal democracy will come to an end (and, I assume, is coming to an end) (Elsaesser 656). Unlike other European films that Elsaesser discusses, from France and Germany, Denmark’s aesthetic has Dogville analogise that the ‘utopian reality’ of a coexistence of perceptions will not happen/is not sustainable. The other European films suggest a successful and comfortable model of double occupancy, because of this idea of mutual interference- alterations of perceptions to benefit on a two-party level. So what does this say about von Trier’s aesthetic judgement of Denmark? Why is Denmark unable to produce a model of mutual benefit, to alter and expand perceptive range in pursuit of democracy?

Moving on (but only slightly). Elsaesser writes that the arts are involved in the invention and maintenance of spheres of discourse, spaces of cultural occupancy (648). Dogville as a film fits into this understanding, and von Trier consciously includes this within the narrative too. Tom Edison Jr is writing a novel, but why is it that his narrative reflects only what happens in his reality? Because he doesn’t want to alter anything from the outside. That is his (and Dogville’s) idea of community preservation, which is why they turn against Grace. They want no external influence. Parallel to this, Elsaesser includes the views of Theo van Gogh, who saw art and the realm of popular entertainment etc., as ‘the common code of a European culture that lives its differences in the realm of discourse rather than by force’ (Elsaesser 650). That is, who lives its differences through passivity, or lived them not at all. So Tom’s burgeoning novel, and his insistence on holding meetings for moral discussion (at which the people of Dogville voice point/counterpoint yet often make no decision which they practice), form part of this realm of discourse where no progress is made. Lars von Trier has expressed a similar sentiment- that goes further than his challenge to the mainstream style of art with his Dogma 95 aesthetic. There is a parallel between von Trier and van Gogh’s attack on ‘the sometimes hypocritical lip-service to multicultural ideals in today’s consensual but deeply conservative Dutch society.’ Somewhere (perhaps someone can tell me where, von Trier voiced his objection to the terrible American disease called ‘political correctness’, whereby opposition to inequality/conservatism could be muted because of arbitrary or scant presence in popular culture, ‘proving’ liberalism in art rather than in reality- he references the black president in 24 as an example. This is, too, only paying lip service to ideals which nations/states/individuals think other people think they should have and think will make them popular, but keeping in the realm of liberal art as in reality such things would not even be a consideration.

What this comes down to is self-preservation, preservation of the status quo, reluctance to accept an exterior and refusal to alter perceptions, rooted in a conservative system of thought that has/will entirely destroy democracy. Is Lars von Trier’s dialectic aesthetic this harsh?

Over-democratization

Aesthetics is, we have determined, a discourse of the body; thought of in relation to the body, spoken about in terms of our body, and felt by the body. As something so personally physical, it must be theorised outside of the logic that dictates rationality. One person’s aesthetic response or perception cannot be thought of in terms of the theory or preference of an entire society or culture (a singular preference of an entire culture would be hard to find in any case).

Aesthetics exists in ‘the world of perception and experience’ and demands its own language, its own logic, outside of a broader recognition of reason (Eagleton 16). It is related to affect, something which is precognitive, but can only be grasped fully with the interception of thought after the event.

As bodies, as thinking bodies, we confront our aesthetic preferences every day, are always being affected by things. But thinking about these sorts of issues is important to realise the source of our responses. I couldn’t play Gonzalo Frasca’s game September 12th (morbidly subtitled: A Toy World) for much more than a minute because I felt so inhuman, even with only my virtual body located in the game-verse. Thinking also, a few months ago I downloaded (from Boing Boing – is it really a directory of wonderful things?) five separate parts of a mobile phone video of a teenage girl being stoned to death, and after watching only one I couldn’t go further. I couldn’t understand why I had originally felt the need to watch this. I knew what was going to happen and I didn’t need to go through the experience of viewing it.

Rancière writes:

Benjamin’s explanation via the fatal aestheticization of politics in the ‘era of the masses’ overlooks, perhaps, the long-standing connection between the unanimous consensus of the citizenry and the exaltation of the free movement of the masses.

So there is a freedom for our bodies, for movement within the world, but this doesn’t mean that recording a young girl being stoned to death (unlawfully, too, by a group of young boys/men) should be captured for a ‘representation’ of a distant part of the world. The aestheticization of this global terror is fatal. It is evidence of this anthropophagy that Virilio talks about – purposeful anthropophagy, infiltrated by the largest world powers with the most money and the biggest weapons, but also by those who perhaps don’t realise until too late, or at all, that it is a horrible thing to watch a girl being stoned to death.