INFLeXions No. 4 - Transversal Fields of Experience (Dec. 2010)
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Link #1: David Lynch doesn't want to watch movies on his cell phone
In part this essay comes from a set of speculations inspired by this clip, an instance of a contemporary mobile media in several ways. That was David Lynch, in an interview ripped and remixed into a cheeky commercial for the iPhone from the “bonus” material on the two disc set of Inland Empire (2006). Beyond Lynch’s impassioned rejection of cell phone cinema, the clip alone raises the question, where exactly is the event of cinema today? In what way, for example, does such extra-theatrical bonus material count as part of the “eventness” of a film like Inland Empire? How does the circulation of this clip on YouTube cannibalize and reanimate a conceptual persona like Lynch who stands in for a very specific type of cinematic experience?
In some ways, it is a surprising outburst coming from an artist increasingly experimenting with the mutability of contemporary cinematic forms, as with his move to digital images with Inland Empire or the important place of DavidLynch.com as a site of experimentation and content distribution. The same mutability is evident in the baroque foldings of media architectures in Lynch’s recent Hollywood trilogy (Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001) and Inland Empire), in which Hollywood as real place becomes a topological site of incommensurable yet indistinguishable relations between the acted and the lived, onscreen and off, dream and waking life, studio and location, and film and video. His tirade emerges from the discomfiting friction between the divergent series of a notion of a properly cinematic experience and the host of new technologies implicated in a new media and the mutant reproduction of cinema. As cinema stutteringly incorporates and is excorporated by digital technologies, these divergent series extend our own corporealities via intensity, what Anna Munster describes as an extension that is not itself corporeal (as with, for instance, prosthetics) but “comprising an intensive capacity for being affected by the diverse speeds, rhythms and flows of information” (2006, 19). The effect of this, she notes, is an “extensive vector that draws embodiment away from its historical capture within a notion that the body is a bounded interiority” (33). While Lynch’s words resonate deeply with me, I am not sure I want to so easily dismiss a new mode of embodiment that the small screen of portable media might produce as a cinematic architecture. What happens when we re-imagine the event of cinema as no longer characterized by a spatially discrete and immersive place, but in terms of the relationality of bodies moving in space-time? Another, more practical question might be: will we ever be able to navigate mobility while immersing our eyes in the ways that we do now easily with the disjunctive ears of headphone listening? Imagining this I thought, there is only one way that this could end: roadkill.
The image of navigating a visual world around this blank spot in environmental perception might be a silly one, but it suggests an immersive mobility in extension that is a hallmark of contemporary media experience, and simultaneously a conceptual blank spot that either collapses or overstates the distinction between mental and environmental ecologies. A silly image, to be sure, but one drawn from the archive of the media of the contemporary technobody and the supposedly dangerous forms of its new mobilities and strange new cartographies, the threat that seems to underpin the dangers of mobile immersive media. Actually, strolling around the city, immersed in choosing the screen and choosing a song on my iPod, I’ve somehow managed to survive, largely by a cross-purpose sampling of the screen and surroundings as my eyes assessingly flicker back and forth. Such sampling is indeed characteristic of contemporary cinema, its disjunctive database exploited in museum installations and the remix culture of live cinema, two prominent examples of a newly mobile contemporary cinema. 1 We should remember that the “violent threat” to the body in its incorporation of media technologies is not merely the stuff of media fantasy but also of disciplinary control, and we might ask instead, what else is possible from this disjunctive articulation of sensing body and reproductive media? Why think of this as a blind spot, or if we do, how might we think of other cross modal sensory perceptions that might be re-attuned in creative compensation?
Walter Benjamin’s cautious proposition in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for the radical possibilities of the distraction of cinema is re-emerging as mobile screens mutate out of portable listening and communications devices and re-orient our attention away from the exclusive immersion of face to face encounter (both with other people and also with the screen). A mobile cinema might not be a simple extension of the atomization of crowds immersed in private worlds of media and communication, but can provide a critique of “interfaciality” as interactivity that dominates contemporary ideas about active spectatorship. Lynch’s outburst shows that the question of where is cinema today is one of affective urgency and its counterpart, uncertainty. Affect is a sign of a hesitation of habitual response, the embodied engagement before information. Cinema today is out of place, or rather, it is multiply positioned in a vertiginous explosion of possibilities. My question is not how can we fix the place of cinema today, but what is the potential of a cinema out of scale, one whose contemporary expansion and contraction produces a becoming–cinematic in unanticipated ways.
If screen size is taken as synecdoche for the cinema, we can observe fluctuating mutations in our contemporary world, where miniaturization accompanies the maximalization of the home cinema, where the interface with gaming technologies is rewriting and reintegrating the immersive world of the “virtual window”, to borrow Anne Friedberg’s term, as a cliché for characterizing visions of the future.
As the place of cinema mutates out of its familiar forms, however, we need to pay attention to the multiple places, actual and virtual, where it makes it presence felt. As Will Straw argues:
He describes this as producing an “enchantment effect” on these material supports of images, where a multitude of everyday objects serve as attractors for audiovisual imagery, giving such artifacts an expanded life and not simply as a multiplication of the same concept (screen). Such enchantment could be understood as a space made felt in its relationality, or cinema as an “emergent experience”. If mutating screens lend themselves so well to futurity, it may be because one aspect of an emergent event is the folding of multiple temporalities. So if an earlier, strictly aural, headphone walking might have trained us to navigate visually today while watching a screen, we can also ask, was cinema, with its bright screen dimming though not eliminating the rest of the visual field and with its effect of virtual mobility, a training ground for the split sensory mobility of (in particular) mobile headphones? Does contemporary headphone mobility and its new cinema at once refold a past media history and make new cinematic corporealities possible?
As I attempt to sketch a few affective cartographies of the place of cinema today, I want to draw on Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the diagram, in particular as he develops it in relation to the work of Michel Foucault, to suggest that today we are we experiencing a topological relation to cinema. A topological relation is one defined by folding; it is one of multiple folds. Thus one way we could think about the place of cinema today is to move away from the concrete actualizations of multiplexes, characterized by a division into units that can be multiplied, a disciplinary simultaneity that restricts cross-movie sampling and relationality, and a historical separation of cinema from the flows of urban space, towards a virtualization of the multiplex, as the reanimation of its Latin root in the word “to fold”, a multiplicity of perspectives. How, where and when might we sense such multiplex cinematic foldings? To think about the place of cinema now is also to think about the potential for cinematic modes of subjectivation, modes that, like the cinematic medium itself, may gain strange new possibilities in their attenuation from institutional practices and habitual encounters. Too often cinema is thought of as an escape from reality, a source of illusory experience, or even a technique for cannibalizing the real. How can we think otherwise about that strange doubling of immediate experience that we might have in an experience of becoming-cinematic?
A renewed perception of the cinematic medium exists today, even as the medium itself increasingly falls into obsolescence, with digital code displacing celluloid film, the glow of electronic screens pushing back against the projector’s beam. Rosalind Krauss (2006) has argued that we are now living in a “post-medium” age, where conditions of possibility, rather than material substrate, offer us ways to articulate the workings of aesthetic practices. Such conditions of possibility extend well beyond the new tools for creation and exhibition, and disrupt communication itself. As Brian Massumi has argued: “When the communicational medium ceases to be transparent and perforce stands out in its materiality, information blends into perception. Information then precedes its understanding: it is experienced as a dimension of the confound before being understood and used and perhaps lending itself to invention” (2001, 1082).
Deleuze’s concept of the diagram and his topological aesthetics offer us a way to articulate such an experience of the twisting and folding of information into perception. Our perceptions are not of a world, but immediately part of it, in a space-time that changes as we move through it in an immanently relational configuration. The diagram is deforming: if the archive is a “history of forms”, as Deleuze writes in his study of Foucault, it is “doubled by an evolution of forces”, or the diagram (43). A diagram does not only map existing actualized forms nor what Deleuze terms “possibility” or what we already know can occur based on what is already there. The diagram is a topological transformation of an existing social field, engaging both with possibility and also with virtual potential, a reserve of newness and difference. Memory is one name that Deleuze gives to such potential.
As the space of cinema becomes increasingly redistributed in part due to its in- and ex-corporations of digital technology, we might think of this process as a de-measuring of the place of cinema, no longer definable by a Cartesian positioning, discrete subject/object relations, or the centered orientation of a perceiving subject. This de-measuring includes the loss of a space that provides a singular external orientation for a spectator. Gilles Deleuze identifies such a loss of scale at work in a form of cinema in which there is no longer any “out of field”, that is to say the creation of a contiguous space that continues outside of the frame of the shot. “The organization of space here loses its privileged directions, and first of all the privilege of the vertical which the position of the screen still displays, in favour of an omni-directional space which constantly varies its angles and coordinates, to exchange the vertical and the horizontal” (Deleuze 1989, 265).
Link #2: Pedestrian
In Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser’s 2002 digital installation Pedestrian, originally created as an homage to New York city following the 9/11 attacks, synthespians (digitally created actors) produced through motion capture technology move through a city space projected from above onto a sidewalk or gallery floor. In this work of digital projection as public sculpture, these de-measured characters reanimate walking in the city via a vertiginous compression of perspectives and orientations. The piece folds the horizontal and vertical axis, creating a moving sidewalk that brings the view from above to street level. This digital embodiment of the synthespians is thus doubled for the viewer, their pedestrian movement that negotiates an immediate perception of the actual situation interfacing and interfering with a memory image sampled from the modern
archive, the iconic image of the city from a skyscraper and the tiny people down below.
Link #3: Pedestrian Clip 2
In the first clip, an audience hovers at the edge of space as if unsure how to enter into the flow of movement of the city sidewalk, something that we are generally very good at, as if they are witnesses at a crime scene. It is a new articulation of stop-motion animation. In this second clip, the best parts are when the child goes to kick the figures like so many soccer balls, as much for its evocation of play as for the disjunctive confusion between the proprioceptive (our ability to orient ourselves in space) and the visual register that the piece enables. This incursion of cinematic space of projection and animation into everyday movement, for these kids, provokes a spirit of play. Discussing his own work articulating human movement from the virtuoso movement of dance of Bill T. Jones to the anonymous choreography of urban flows, Kaiser describes this effect as producing a vertiginous “double vision”.
For Kaiser, the key problem and potential he worries over in mediated movement lies in what he understands as technology’s ability to abstract motion from the body, an excorporative theft. If we imagine the abstraction he describes less as an excorporative theft, and more as the generative action of the diagram (which Deleuze also calls the abstract machine), we can better understand the way that Kaiser’s words turn in on themselves as the marker of change. In Foucault, Deleuze argues that diagrams “never function in order to represent a persisting world but produce a new kind of reality, a new model of truth…It makes history by unmaking preceding realities and significations, constituting hundreds of points of emergence or creativity, unexpected conjunctions or improbable continuums. It doubles history with a sense of continual evolution” (35). In other words, the diagram or abstract machine provokes new articulations in an existing social field by abstracting virtual potential, creating new assemblages. As Deleuze and Guattari write in A Thousand Plateaus: “There is a diagram whenever a singular abstract machine functions directly in a matter” (142). The diagram is the inseparability of body and milieu; in other words, we no longer have the relation of subject and object, but only a relation of forces, differential intensities and our propensity for assemblage that allows for an intensive experience of an actualization and of the virtual elements of an assemblage, the swarming mass not individuated but made visible in its multiple, heterogeneous compositions (cells, ant, memory, matter, movement, technology). The “double vision” that Kaiser describes is itself always a part of what the movement of the body entails. Pedestrian produces a super-positionality of walkers not simply by projecting images into real spaces, but by making forces felt in that space through a confounding of perceptive strategies (proprioceptive and visual) and a doubling of the everyday via memory, the memory of the feeling of walking in the city as you hang back on the edge of the screen, the memory of a multitude of viewing positions compressed and overlaid, and the memory of a horizontal relation to a vertical screen: the memory of the familiar made strange. In redeploying all of these cinematic tools, Kaiser and Eshkar make a machine for living cinematically that reroutes the mournful response to September 11, an event all too often described as “like a film”, into the problem of how now to act and move, the “yet to come”.
From Pedestrian’s machine for remaking urban mobility, I turn to another configuration of contemporary media embodiment, the mobile écouteur, or from the interior monologue to an interior sonologue. In his books on the cinema, Gilles Deleuze claims that modern cinema is constituted of images of “the free indirect”: through which speech, thought and vision become disconnected from a stable and centered point of view which would organize space into rationalized and measurable zones of sensory-motor action. Deleuze describes modern cinema as characterized by a “sliding of ground”, breaking the uniformity of internal monologue to replace it by the diversity, the deformity and the otherness of free indirect discourse, what Foucault describes as the anonymous murmur of discourse. Deleuze characterizes such discourse as that of the spiritual automaton, a film that thinks the unthought. The spiritual automaton is a topological relation of viewer and images, where interiority is nothing more than a fold of the exterior. Here, instead of the speaking subject I, “one speaks”, and in the topological relation that this implies, we have a means for reimaging headphone listening not as a atomistic isolation of individual “choice”, a management of our affective geography through soundtrack creation, but rather as a resonant perception. A resonant perception is one that immediately redoubles the discretion of what is perceived with an intensive awareness of the shadings and modulations of an immersive environment.
Our engagements with media allow us to experience our corporeality via an intensive extension. By this, I mean an extension of the body that is not simply spatial, but one that works via the resonance of affective encounter on the incorporeal dimension of the body, allowing us to sense the body’s ongoing becoming. This intensive extension doubles our sense of immediate perception, introducing a perceptible delay into experience, a minor gap. No longer a question of a perceiving subject and a perceived object, this intensive extension makes relation felt as a resonant reserve of potential.
Link #4: Richard Serra and Nancy Holt's 1974 video 'Boomerang'
In Richard Serra and Nancy Holt’s 1974 video Boomerang, Nancy Holt witnesses her own affective sensation of hearing her words rebounding in their sense and sensibility within an evidently affective and temporal delay. As Holt is filmed in medium close-up, listening to herself describe her experience of hearing her own description through headphones, the audio track plays the words in their tinny and disjunctive echo, a slight auditive gap transmuted in the visuals not via a visible double but in Holt’s visible disengagement from her surroundings. Holt fluctuates between a fascinated perception of the echo effect and a dutiful attempt to describe an experience of intimate strangeness, what she calls the distinction between immediate perception versus mirror perception. More than anything, her experience is of an involution of the self, feeling the fold of the world that is interiority: “I am surrounded by me and my mind is surrounded by me”, and “my mind goes out in the world and then comes back inside of me”. That this is not a closed circuit, or an opening of a bounded interiority, comes across in her statement that “sometimes I say the first part and my mind is stimulated by a new direction”. Both the video and Holt share a sensory derangement; Holt describes her audition, here reduced and minimized to a world held in the embrace of the headphones, as a feeling of “eat(ing) words”, a synaesthetic serialization of incorporation, an indistinction of the aural and alimentary canals, or better yet, a mutation of their functionality.
Holt and Serra’s video intensifies and isolates one sense in order to intensify synaesthetic confounding. In “Anxious Loves”, Sean Cubitt writes, “Cinema prefers the closure of sound into an inward-directed stereophony which imitates not the world as soundspace through which one moves altering the sound, but the imaginary fullness of a consciousness at the assured centre of its world” (1998). How might we imagine a different cinematic effect that asks us to think carefully about cinematic hearing--a technological audition? More importantly, what would this tell us about cinema’s demeasured place in the world? This video, itself an example of the non-newness of cinema’s ambiguous place, stages through headphones a different kind of audio-visuality than the one Cubitt describes as characteristic of institutionalized cinema.
In reimagining modern media space, Thomas Elsaesser suggests that: “Rather than continue to think about the cinema as an ocular-specular phenomenon whose indexical realism we either celebrated or whose illusionism we excoriated…. scholars now tend to regard the cinema as an immersive perceptual event. Body and sound-space, somatic, kinetic and affective sensations have become its default values, and not the eye, the look and ocular verification” (2003, 120). He concludes: “no wonder film theory is attempting to draw level with the multi-vocal sense-surround immersion in space that is increasingly our everyday experience” (122). Elsaesser links this contemporary shift to the ubiquity of the mobile telephone, and in particular its function in relation to media events such as the coverage of the 9/11 attacks, but I wonder about the model of bi-directional and successful communication that phone implies, and the dimming of attention to surroundings as well. Instead, I’d like to think about that ubiquitous mobile media device, the portable headphone, and what it suggests for a transversal cinema that replaces a strictly immersive ideal of perceptual experience with one that makes felt the affective gap of emergent alterfication. In relation to cinema, the headphone is interesting for several reasons. It can reconfigure the perceptual, especially the visual field, by sparking an awareness of, as Simondon might describe this, the “background as harbour of dynamisms”; it “de-syncs” sound from image, a cinematic legacy. It makes us reimagine clichés of cinematic movement outside of the terms of a sampling of the real and allows this creative gap to occur elsewhere (1980, 53). The selective punch of the filmstrip and the blink of the shutter as equivalent of the eye demand a different model of the differential gap when confronted with the fact that as Murray Scheffer has said, there are no earlids (2003, 25). As a mobile écouteur, how else could we reimagine the “inward directed” soundscape Cubbitt describes, to account less for a paranoid fantasy of corporeal threat and instead for the joyous mutations of felt becoming? Cubitt’s description is adequate to certain institutionalized cinematic clichés of headphone listening--the murder victim whose pop soundtrack makes her oblivious to an impending threat, the use of pop music and lyrics to represent a character’s emotional state by blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, but other modalities of headphone experience exist which suggest a fluctuating convergence between headphones and cinema around questions of virtual mobility and a distracted sensorium. Of particular relevance for any study of medium is the distributed nature of the cinematic medium itself, where certain elements (the camera, for instance) are frequently privileged synecdoches for the whole. Headphones are both an integral part of that medium, essential elements of production that speak to the “untrained” or non-selective “ear” of sound recording devices, and also tangential to the cinematic medium, the immersive world of sound they offer at odds with the supporting role sound often plays in popular and academic understandings of the audio-visuality of cinema.
With the emergence of portable media devices like the Walkman and the iPod, we are granted access to an immersive experience that promises subjective control in terms of affective modulation over our surroundings--if not exactly earlids, an aural environment. However, I’m less interested in starting from the question of the subject than I am from the question of sociality and social relations. To do so, it is crucial not to understand immersive headphone listening as an act of disembodiment or disengagement, but as a discontinuity that activates the potential for producing new kinds of connection. The immersive listening of headphones may reawaken us to elements of the visual field in all their strangeness and the potential of delay. The affective mobility of headphone listening reminds us of Bergson’s claim that “real movement is rather the transference of a state than of a thing” (202).
Anna Munster asks: “what if we were to produce a different genealogy (non-Cartesian) for digital embodiments with the machine, one that gave us room to take body, sensation, movement and conditions such as place and duration into account?” (2006, 3). In a brief aside, as an answer to her own question, Munster draws on the figure of the “walk-man” to displace the flâneur (that figure of the mobilized virtual gaze) with what she terms the mobile écouteur as a concept more apt for thinking our contemporary differential incorporations of media and information. She writes:
Part of that inhumanity, I would argue, stems not from the interface with technology, but from the renewed sensitivity to environmental agents, and not just other people. One reads here both the echo of Deleuze’s control society of modulation, in which the doctrine of flexibility takes the guise of agentic choice in order to produce a frequently brutal availability, adaptation and alterfication, but also another potential in the absorption of flows which sparks not a conservative flexibility but a monstrous mutation.
The double audition of écouteur--both listener and headphones--refers to the double articulation of a new mode of embodiment. Marcel Duchamp once said that you can see seeing, but you cannot hear hearing. To hear hearing, as we might in this double audition is to stretch open the reconfiguration of the body that merely speaking puts into proximity. When we speak, we do hear a double audition, both the vibration carried through air to the ear but also our voice as conducted by bone and body to the inner region of the ear, an intracranial sensation. As Douglas Kahn describes this, a speaker hears one voice, but others hear it deboned; thus “the presence produced by voice always entails a degree of delusion” (2001, 7). What is if we are not simply deluding ourselves, however, but engaging with what Deleuze calls the powers of the false, a double audition that repeats the self, an auto-audition as auto-affection of the self, that sense of becoming other to what we have been?2
In French, the Walkman is a baladeur. In his books on cinema, Deleuze draws on a double sense of bal(l)ade—both the song and to stroll, to propose a certain type of detoured wandering that for him, characteristic of a cinema coming unmoored from a spatial determination and habitual extension of action.3 I’d like to take such a detour now, to explore how the mobile écouteur might reanimate a cinematic archive and the synecdoche of the screen. In short, what happens when we think the cinematic medium through headphones? In keeping with Munster’s suggestion that the mobile écouteur might be the figure of new media aesthetics, I want to look briefly at an event based on the MP3 player that for me, reanimated the cinematic archive; the Other Theatre’s Spiral Jetty. Through its use of the ambiguous embodiment of headphone listening and almost hallucinatory evocation of what we might term a virtual ecology of the audio-visual screen, my experience in the participatory event of Spiral Jetty powerfully produced a new existential territory for thinking cinema.
The Other Theatre is a Montreal-based experimental performance company founded by Stacey Christadoulou. For Spiral Jetty, she collaborated with architect Enrique Enriquez and filmmaker Tamara Scherbak, producing a piece which exploited the time lag characteristic of cinema to reanimate the immediacy of live experience in such a way as to call attention to expansive and intensive modes of embodiment. Inspired by Robert Smithson and in particular his site-specific installation Spiral Jetty (1970), the Other Theatre sought to develop a participatory performance using MP3 players that would transform audio experience “into both an internal and external cinema”. In April 2009, I joined 19 strangers, in an abandoned church now converted to a contemporary dance studio. We were each given an MP3 player and told to follow the instructions. At first these were simple and even banal--walk around the space, raise your right arm in the air, stand in a circle around the jacket. In this clip, you can see and hear some of what took place.
Link #5: Spiral Jetty
I could see that some other people appeared to have the same set of instructions as me, albeit at a staggered time delay. At first I kept wondering if I should listen to the voice, whether it was reasonable to be so passive, but in fact, I did not feel passive at all. For one thing, I was clearly part of a choreography that was neither improvised nor rehearsed--a decidedly unusual experience and one with a distinct and distributed temporality. Secondly, the intimacy of the non-deboned voice in my head made my movements and my body into a resonant space; I became for the time being a hollow body with a distinct sense of standing apart from myself while being fully in control of my actions as well. This apartness was doubly resonant, both in the unfolding echoes of my movement alongside the other participants in the space and in the interior occupation of my body. In other words, I felt myself engaged in what Whitehead terms “prehension”, the activity before action. While the first half of the piece was active--do this, do that--eventually I was “shot” and instructed to crumple to the floor. After a while, some people came and dragged me to a different part of the room, and the sound changed from physical action to mental imagery via detailed descriptions of scenarios, inducing in me an almost hallucinatory state of virtual doing. As I lay there, I was dreaming the visuals of this strictly aural
description into being. This was my first experience in the piece of a becoming-cinematic.
After the piece was over, walking home through the park, listening to my headphones, I was helplessly struck by an almost paranoid and passionate interest in what others were doing and hearing when I saw them with their headphones. What instructions were they receiving? The entire visual field seemed charged with a cinematic potential by this experience. Why characterize this as becoming cinematic? In part, because of the way it reactivated my embodied technological articulation, but also because it produced a sense of standing aside from myself, and recording without registering my engagement with the world. Such automated choreography, a guiding of perception and affective modulation, is deeply familiar from watching movies. Spiral Jetty made explicit the kind of directed attention that editing, framing and soundtrack do implicitly by pre-selecting which elements of a shots are crucial. However, by juxtaposing such explicit selection (imagine this, picture that) with a long sequence where we were left to dream our own guided imagery reveals that lie at the heart of apparatus theory, which sees cinema as a mechanical production of standardized effects, ignoring the haze of potential that every spectator brings on-scene. Instead, Spiral Jetty makes apparent this potential of a machinic producer of difference, where the machinic is the term for articulation. The active passivity of Spiral Jetty also shows the limits of a critique of cinema that posits its salvation only in “interactivity”, such as “choose your own adventure” models of fragmented narratives. I myself was the recording device in the piece, playing back my affective sensation at a delay as with Nancy Holt. What would it mean to understand a becoming-cinematic of space as a hallucinatory experience? Would this not simply return us to a simple sense of subjective experience? Where is the dissonant self that can become other than what it was?
As a coda to these, I want to come back to the scene of the screen and a different mode of walking that, like the transversal experiments of the Other Theatre, Pedestrian and others, is an affective cartography of cinema today, from a filmmaker best known as a memory worker.
Link #6: Sleepwalkers
Guy Maddin is notorious as a filmmaker who reanimates the archive of cinematic style, making films that are dynamic pastiches of obsolete cinematic styles, degrading the image to call loving attention to the celluloid medium itself. In recent years, Maddin has produced an “autobiographical trilogy” of works (2003’s Cowards Bend the Knee, 2006’s Brand Upon the Brain and 2007’s My Winnipeg), in which his typical plundering of stylistic archives is mapped onto what he calls “docu-fantasia” of his own life and milieu. Form and expression become increasingly indistinct in his work, and it is ironically through the cinematic self-portrait of “Guy Maddin” that he approaches Foucault’s “anonymous murmur”, redistributing consistency and heterogeneity. This trilogy is marked not only by an obsessive attempt to explore the past of context but also through experiment with cinematic forms from the early days of cinema culture, including live orchestration and narration, installation of peephole cinemas. This following clip is from the delightful My Winnipeg, commissioned by the Documentary channel, is a diagram of that city shot through at every level with the uncanny liveliness of the media archive. If Maddin’s films have often figured Winnipeg as the radiant heart of a continent, as in his recent short Night Mayor (2009), My Winnipeg is an attempt to make sensible the virtualities underpinning, intersecting and resonating amidst the affective and actual cartographies he describes.
Maddin has described the film as a “walking film”, and the sleepwalker is a critical figure here. Much of the film relies on uncomfortable juxtapositions and a lack of authorized common spaces that are displaced of zones of intimate exposure, neither public nor private: a relational network of back alleys navigated by taxis, homeless rooftop shanties, afterhours deviant occupations of governmental, sporting and shopping spaces. Maddin explores that way that memory is a distributed event, at once what is most intimate to ourselves, the ground of subjectivity, and the name for what opens us to the world. Through media memories, which are neither public nor private, we make unauthorized claims; they give us an illicit purchase that is activated by duration. Such is the figure of the sleepwalker in Maddin’s film. In this way, the sleepwalker is the figure of a lived image. Unlike accounts of media, which compare cinema to a dream, usually positing a distinction between dream life and waking like, Maddin’s figure of the sleepwalker is immediately doubled by the strange witness or witnessing stranger, the proper occupant dispossessed of ownership and charged with the responsibility of witnessing duration. In this doubling of dreaming and witness, away from an interfacial encounter, Maddin reanimates the ethico-aesthetical responsiveness that cinema can create. Sleepwalker and witness share an immersive estrangement and eventness of relation.
In describing the diagram that doubles and disrupts the archive in Foucault, Deleuze speaks of a return to an anonymous murmur underpinning an authorized and determining relation between the seen and the said in the archive, the basis of representation and interpretation. Such an anonymous murmur emerges in the doubled resonance of Nancy Holt’s self-perception, in the hesitation of pedestrian movement in Kaiser and Eshkar’s piece, in the automatic cinema produced by the Other Theatre’s headphone choreographies. In Maddin’s film, such a murmur emerges in the superposed mappings of city and self via cinema. In the multiplex strangeness of this encounter, we can perhaps see the place of a spatially uncoordinated cinema dispossessed of a singular space, and keys in hand, wandering errantly, making itself at home.
Bergson, Henri. 1991. Matter and Memory. Translated by Nancy Paul and W. Scott Palmer. New York: Zone Books.
Cubitt, Sean. 1998. “Anxious Loves”. http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9803/msg00044.html.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. Foucault. Translated and edited by Sean Hand. London:
Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Elsaesser, Thomas. 2003. “Where Were You When...?"; Or, "I Phone, Therefore I Am." PMLA. 118.1 (January): 120-122.
Friedberg, Anne. 2006. The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Helfand, Chris. 2002. “Pop-pop-pop-pop-culture video.” Wired. (May). http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2002/05/52031.
Kahn, Douglas. 2001. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Krauss, Rosalind. 2006. “Two Moments from the Post-Medium Condition”. October 116 (Spring 2006) 55-62.
Massumi, Brian. 2001. “Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible,” Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. Vol. 3. ed. Gary Genosko. London: Routledge. 1066-1084.
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|INFLeXions No. 4 (Dec. 2010)
Transversal Fields of Experience