mardi 25 janvier 2011

Hearing : Seeing

It is the middle of the year 1975, ten years after I began work on the film Ray Gun Virus, the first segment of my project of deconstructing cinema from a very particular frame of reference, a frame which is still not wholly defined. I had made films prior to 1965, but those works – sketches and some “imagistic,” haiku-like pieces involving actors/actresses and rather fragmented narratives – while c ritical of “cinematic illusionism” at a sort of Brechtian level, were not central to the more focused and intensive analyses of film which characterize the current project; to emphasize the irrelevancy of the early works, I destroyed them some years ao. This is not to say that concerns with narrativity were immediately dispensed with; there is a formalization of narrative structures in Ray Gun Virus (1966), Piece Mandala/End War (1966), Razor Blades (1965-68), N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G ,(1968) and, to a certain extent, STREAM:S:S:ECTION:S:ECTION:S:SECTION:S:ECTIONED(1971), but that formalization is not a primary feature of these films in terms of the more radical “meaning building” they propose. I do not want to discuss these issues in this context because many of them have been dealt with elsewhere,1 and because there is one aspect of my involvement in film which has never been expressed, by others or by myself, upon which I would now like to make a few comments.

Speaking rather generally, one could claim that much of the critical writing about a group of independent films made in the middle 1960s and early 1970s (including my work), in establishing the importance of the qualities of “wholeness” in these films, underemphasize the specific articulations of their internal parts, implying, perhaps unintentionally, that the filmmakers were constructing strictly from the outside inwards. This emphasis on the works’ macrostructure did help clarify what some of the more general aesthetic strategies were in the making of these films but it also led to an underestimation of the importance of their qualities of inner complexity. My own published statements regarding my work also tend to be overly general (or, more questionable, some of the statements are so diaristic and impressionistic that they confound theory with emotive mania and a kind of cartoon romanticism). At my most reasonable, I have at best suggested only certain concerns – analysis, information documentation, problems of filmic representation and signification but have not indicated other concurrent involvements, such as the frame-by-frame ordering of images and sounds. I’ve approached this micro/morphological level of construction from a number of perspectives, including the logical and mathematical, but what I want to focus through here is a perspective which, for lack of a better term, I will call the “musical.”

While I was studying painting in the early 1960s – involved, naturally enough, with some of the prominent issues of “formalist” art – I was also making films, those which no longer exist. I stopped painting in the middle 1960s, but became more and more engaged with film, attempting to isolate and essentialize aspects of its representation. I had also become most intrigued with the differences between reading and listening, or, more inclusively, the larger discontinuities between seeing and hearing; film, sound film, appeared to be the most natural medium for testing what thresholds of relatedness might exist between these perceptual modes. In making films, I have always been more interested in speech patterns, music and temporal pulses in nature than in the visual arts for exemplary models of composition (perhaps because I had studied music as a child and had internalized musical forms of structuring). I do not wish to suggest that I was or am captivated by the notion of “synaesthesia” and I hope that what follows will be clearly distinguishable from such a notion. I am not proposing that there exists any direct correspondence between, say, a specific color and a specific sound, but that operational analogues can be constructed between ways of seeing and ways of hearing (and sometimes, when such structural analogies are composed, one can thereby experience those levels of ultimate difference between the two systems).

My early “flicker” films – wherein clusters of differentiated single frames of solid colour can appear to almost blend, or, each frame, insisting upon its discreteness, can appear to aggressively vibrate – are filled with attempts to allow vision to function in ways usually particular to hearing. In those films of 1965 to 1968, the matters of “psychological theme” and perceptual analysis of filmic information were part of a set which included regard for the way in which rapidly alternating colour frames can generate, in vision, horizontal-temporal ‘chords” (as well as the more expected “melodic lines” and “tonal centres”). The fades and lap dissolves of these films function not only as theoretic metaphors of “motion but also flow along with and into the more discretely differentiated frame sequences, acting as ‘active punctuation” for the “sentences” being visually enunciated.2

The sprocket soundtrack of Ray Gun Virus works towards establishing an accurate representation of technological modularity, framing – and thereby noting – the ultimate matrix of 16mm film’s capability for visual representation (there being one sprocket hole for each fame of image along the filmstrip). The even meter of sprocket sound is found mirrored in spoken word forms in some of my alter films. In these word-soundtrack works, linguistic meaning levels, which form a sort of horizontal commentary to the streams of vertical harmonic relationships with the flow of visual pulses, are both equally operable. Having brought sound(tracks) into his discussion, it is a good point to begin developing my basic thesis by posing a question: can there exist a visual analogy of that quality found in a complex aural tone, the mixture of a fundamental tone with its overtones?

One can think of paintings which by various means – resonation between colour-shapes, echoing forms, etc. – create such a sense; Matisse went so far as to explain the curved lines emanating from around his subject in his painting of 1914, Mlle. Yvonne Landsberg, as being overtonal. 3 But how can one film frame of solid colour possess such a quality? It cannot. Yet, a series of single frames of different colours, which creates “flicker,” can, depending upon the order and frequency of the tones, suggest such a quality; but, it can only suggest, because to truly stimulate the sense of overtones one must have several visual elements existing within the same space. This problem intrigued me from the days of my earliest studies with so-called “flicker,” it continued as a concern throughout my work and is still an element of consideration in my works-in-progress. While it is not a primary, formative consideration, it is a kind of subtext operating actively within the larger propositions I wish to make about cinema; the rest of this discussion will revolve around “overtonality.”

If painting can achieve effects of overtonality in the spatial frame, then why not just borrow from painting those methods and adapt them to the film frame? Aside from the comical hybridic rush such an approach would constitute (music to painting, painting to film), there were, for me, other objections. It was obvious that it was necessary to somehow divide the frame into “parts,” to introduce enough complexity into the instantaneous image so that overtones could be legibly generated. However, having taken certain “modernist” conventions rather seriously, I could not simply complicate the surface of my images in just any manner – was convinced that any such complexity, to have its “integrity,” would have to be generated through an attentiveness to the natural qualities-textures-images of film, in terms of the film’s material and filmic processes.

It occurred to me that one alternative to surface division might be to multiply the single screen and in the two-screen film Razor Blades, I attempted to create various levels of dialogue between the side-by-side screens, color and shape dialogues and agreements and conflicts between meanings. In the final section of T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, I wanted to visualize “inverse pain” as a kind of imploding reverberation of the picture edge – the screen appears to collapse, in rhythmic pulses, into itself. This latter mode – of introducing shapes into the frame which were reflective of the film frame’s perimeter shape and which acted as a commentary on the state of consciousness of the film’s protagonist at that point in the (backwards) “narrative” – struck me later as being somewhat too related to strategies of painting, as did other aspects of my films of that earlier period.

After 1968, I wanted to remove from my work all influences of painting; also, I wanted to remove from the work literary structures and dramatic psychological themes. In relation to the removals of painting and literary elements, colour rhythms which evoked or produced senses of emotionality also would be eliminated; more sophisticated levels of “feeling,” derived from intense contemplation of filmic realities, were to replace the earlier, less specifically filmic methods and images.

In STREAM:S:S:ECTION:S:ECTION:S:SECTION:S:ECTIONED I finally came to use superimposition, as a way of attaining both “chordal depth” and the possibility of “counterpoint;” united with these “musical” motivations, there was the larger concern with the relationship of water’s directionalities and the flow of film through a projector. (By stressing the “musical” model, I am running the risk of oversimplifying other, more theoretical factors I the making of the films being discussed; it is hoped that the reader will recognize this and not jump to the conclusion that “musicality” is the primary intention behind the films.) The (emulsion) scratch, a very natural surface dividing actuality of cinema, became a prominent image generating method in S:S:S:S:S:S, referring always back to the vertical movement of the filmstrip downwards through the projector as well as serving as countermovement to the currents of the water images. Planes of water imagery interact with (white) textural planes composed of groupings of individual scratches.

The soundtrack, composed of superimposed layers of word loops – oscillating from high to low frequencies – functions on several levels in relation to the visual images, creating deeper “harmonic spaces.”

In later works where flat fields of film grains are enlarged – in Axiomatic Granularity, which is concerned with the fundamentals of image formation in/on emulsion, and in Apparent Motion, which deals with the basis of the filmic illusion of movement – undivided coherent surface are maintained, as in the “flicker” works, but, since the surfaces are particlized and appear to be “moving,” when they are superimposed over each other, harmonics, resonances and a sort of “overtonality” within the frame are possible.

Other works of the past few years are composed by rephotographing strips of “flicker” footage in a home-made system, wherein the projector element has no shutter blade or gripper arm and thereby allows the “subjects” – the “flicker” filmstrips – to be observed as continuous strips of film, with their sprocket holes visible, not only is there a natural horizontal and vertical division of the frame but there is also a possible laying of colour planes (when the strips are projected at a rapid speed and rephotographed, their differently coloured frames begin to blur into each other, forming whole images of shimmering colour bars and planes, several appearing at a time within the frame, some assuming dominance – like fundamental tones – while others pulse around/behind the dominants, as if they were their overtones.) The works which are make this way – such as the single-screen piece, Color Sound Frames, and the three-screen piece, Synchronoussoundtracks – are certainly more complex than I have described them: because their images “move” at varieties of speeds, contain superimpositions, have sound elements (sync soundtracks of the sprocket hole images’ rates of passage), etc., these factors also contribute to the films’ total “chordal fabrics.”

Something else having to do with “musicality” should perhaps be noted: all of the single screen films since S:S:S:S:S:S are made up of very definite and equally lengthed sections. (Inferential Current has three sections, Axiomatic Granularity and Color Sound Frames have four sections, Apparent Motion has two sections and each of the Analytical Studies series has from four to seven sections.) On one level, this sectioning has to do with a desire to create logical propositions and with an analytic desire to set up elements for comparison; on another level, this also indicates my interest in developing cinematic ideas in the form of “movements,” as in the sonata and/or other related musical forms.

The spatiality of music, the separation of instruments which determines the physical scale (width and depth) of a performed piece of music and which constitutes a compositional dimensionality beyond the simpler horizontal and vertical ordering of tones, is obviously something the single-screen film would have difficulty approximating, even if film could visually approximate all of music’s devices. However, if one had several screens to work with, arranged properly, one might be able to begin composing in ways at least related to the ways a composer might approach, say, a quartet: one screen could state a theme and another could answer it, elaborate upon it; the other screens could respond to this dialogue, vary it, analyze it, recapitulate it, etc.

There were numerous motivations for the work I began with multiple screen, installation pieces (“locations”); one of those motives was to approach the complexities of music’s spatial dimension. In the making of the first of these “locational” pieces, Sound Strip/Film Strip, I had in mind some of the forms I had come to admire in Beethoven’s late quartets. When several filmmaker friends previewed the piece with me, before its first public exhibition, one of them, Michael Snow, commented that the work reminded him of the Brandenburg Concertos. Beethoven or Bach, either way, it was gratifying to me that my sense of the work’s “musicality” was not a singularly personal delusion.

I have only sketched out, rather briefly and generally, some of those factors in my work which have to do with their internal structures. I’ve pursued one of many possible models – the “musical” – in discussing this inner level of construction and have made a few comments on the general impact that musical form has had upon my work of the past ten years. A detailed account of what I have only mentioned would necessitate specific examples accompanied by colour reproductions of the films’ scores and clips from the films; the magnitude of such a task is clearly beyond the scope of this set of introductory remarks. I hope that I have given at least some access to a part of my work which has otherwise remained undiscussed.

1. Chronologically: Regina Cornwell, “Paul Sharits: Between Illusion and Object,” Artforum (September 1971); Rosalind Krauss, “Paul Sharits: Stop Time,” Artforum (April 1973); P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film (N.Y., Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 423-427; Annette Michelson, “Paul Sharits and the Critique of Illusionism: An Introduction,” Projected Images (Minneapolis, Walker Art Centre, Exhibition Catalogue, 1974).
2. My notions concerning the relationships of film construction and signification to linguistics are not central to the present discussion but I do want to at least make some allusion to them in referring to a string of film frames as a “sentence.”
3. Frank Trapp, “Form and Symbol in the art of Matisse,” Arts Magazine, Vol. 49, No. 9 (May 1975), p. 57.
4. In 1929 Sergei Eisenstein enthusiastically proposed a visual (“montage”) model of the aural overtone. I am in general agreement with his concepts but have developed my own model from an essentially different set of circumstances and suggest that interested readers who wish to make their comparisons see “The Filmic Fourth Dimension,” Film Form and The Film Sense (Cleveland, World Publishing Co., 1963), pp. 64-71 (FT).

Paul Sharits, Hearing : Seeing. Originally published in: Ausgabe #2 Summer 1976, Film Culture #65-66, 1978 and Afterimage #7, 1978.


Paul Sharits - T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G

Mental Funerals

John Du Cane: Could you talk about your beginnings in painting and how that led to an interest in film?

Paul Sharits:
Actually the work didn’t originate from painting, in fact before I was interested in art at all, I was making films strictly for the pleasure of making them. I destroyed all those early works. When I was in high school I was pretty anti-social and had not begun to think seriously or critically. I felt that society didn’t merit intellectual consideration and I was making films that were very much involved with my own adolescent sexual feelings. Like most of the early psychodramatic works of the 50s, they were about sexual neuroses. We made them in 8mm with my friend’s parent’s camera. When I began studying painting and sculpture I just kept making films, though I didn’t want to study film. It was at the end of abstract expressionism when it was a sin to do figurative work. I felt that this is the kind of work I’ll do in my films so I don’t have to be evaluated on it. This is strictly my own conception, my own development, and it really didn’t bother me that it was just a past time.

Eventually it become more engaging and I was very surprised that theories I had developed about a sort of ‘haiku’ narrative film structure were very similar, theoretically, to Eisenstein’s montage. At first I was quite depressed, because I thought I’d figured out this thing that I never saw in regular movies, and then I found it in Eisenstein.

In graduate school at Indiana University I was making films, but not studying them. I didn’t think there was any place where it would be valuable to study film. Henry Smith encouraged me in photography, and I quickly learned its technical aspects. He said why don’t you go ahead and make films and I’ll give you credits. He was always very helpful to me and allowed me to devote a lot of time to my work and even helped a little with financing. I found directing a bore as it was not the thing I wanted to do with film. I started fragmenting my narratives to such an extent that I felt that this was the subject matter. The way I was editing/thinking made the acting and drama increasingly extraneous. There was little sense of beginnings or ends, everything overlapped, and I suppose many of my ideas were informed by my studies in the visual arts. But all along I felt I wasn’t going to apply theories and ideas from painting to film. You can’t apply the principals of painting to a medium that’s not painting. I was very much against abstract film and I remain uninterested in the traditional abstract film.

John Du Cane: When you say abstract film, which filmmakers are you really talking about?

Paul Sharits:
I’m thinking about the early avant-garde European movement, for instance, the films that were influenced by Constructivism. It’s not that I dislike them, I just don’t think they’re theoretically viable. Maya Deren also attempted to point this out. I think most people are somewhat aware of this. In any event my own work… I didn’t want the work I was doing in painting to directly inform my work in film. I was going to keep my film work off to the side so that it was completely free of any teaching. Well, I was getting ideas from all kinds of things, but they were my own synthesis, not pre-formulated conceptions of what film should be. I think it would be very bad for a serious filmmaker to go to a school and learn technique with the idea that after he learns the technique he will then have the tools to create intelligent, technically adequate forms. This seems silly to me; one doesn’t study sculpture by going through four years of woodworking. The attitudes those schools imbed subvert personal growth. Even if it’s not openly done, simply the training in what is right and wrong prevents one from seeing certain things through one’s own vision. Very few people survive this, even if their intentions are good. It’s like acquiring a lot of knowledge that you just have to suppress… I feel.

John Du Cane: How did you come to make Razor Blades?

Simon Fields: Making Razor Blades was presumably a distinct step from what you had been doing before.

Paul Sharits:
No, first there was Ray Gun Virus, which I don’t believe has been shown here at all. That film, I think, is the most radical film, if not the most accomplished. It was a break for me because the only subject matter was the film grain and the structuring of colour in time. The soundtrack is the continuous sound of the actual sprockets of the film. This is where I became…

I suppose it is true that I made an abrupt cut, the look of the work radically changed. I was very apprehensive about this, but I felt like I was coming very close to having a breakdown, so I tried to see through my own preconceptions at that particular time and that led me to try to eliminate absolutely everything and start from the most basic elements. I think I overlooked many of the basic elements, and I did not have a very sophisticated conception of how to approach this, but I was very conscious that I was eliminating a great deal. At that time I wrote on the way Godard was using colour in some of his early work. This was the sort of thing I wanted to do using a very pure form. I was still thinking in dramatic terms, in the sense that I felt the basic system, the machinery, could be compelling drama. I feel that I ‘m going through another big transition at this point in that I realize more and more that that is a conception I must break through. I must allow myself to negate this desire to make anything with dramatic qualities. So that I will be able to perceive from a new base again. This is why I no longer did any mandala-structured works after T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G. T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G is the end of my involvement with worrying about, or thinking about, films that should have some appeal to the cruder emotions. I want a cinema that is more distant from the whole theatric tradition. Even though film has been stripped down to changes in colour, the impulse remains to make something dramatic, it’s still being influenced by theatre. I made Ray Gun Virus and then became interested in using things I’d discovered with colour and this brought about a synthesis with my interest in Tibetan mysticism and my own experiments with Yoga meditation and to some extent an interest in drug experiences to make a meditative kind of cinema. This is not the normative idea of something being dramatic, but I see it as drama now, I see it as a stage. T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G was a dramatic film. I could go on making more dramatic films, I’ve learned enough about how to structure it that way, but I simply don’t want to. I think that it’s a quality that has to be negated to get to other levels.

John Du Cane: You feel you were using dramatic imagery?

Paul Sharits:
Besides the imagery, the rhythms are dramatic, though they might seem mathematical, even geometric. I know that I could evoke certain sorts of feelings without images, simply with the rhythm of the film. One could conceivably do a film that would leave people weeping via some variation on the black film form.

John Du Cane: It strikes me that something like T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, besides being meditative, is also an exorcism.
Paul Sharits:
Yes, yes. At that time I believed that film could be a lovely, magical object, a charmed experience. This is very personal, but I don’t particularly wish to do that any longer. I may change my mind some day but now there’s a big break.

With Ray Gun Virus I had imagined a form that had no end or beginning. I was thinking of a very long film with reels that could be played in any order. It wouldn’t show progression or development. There would be no overall shape to the film. None at all. Any part would be as appropriate as any other part.

Of course that’s not the same kind of drama that is involved in the mandala films. My intentions… you see there are so many things operating… we are talking about the idea of the mandala and the irony of structuring a film like that, that tries to put a centre in the film, which at once cancels the possibility of that film doing what a mandala does. Formally, to have a complete mandala in film, is to negate the possibility of an extended, meditative experience. Defining the overall shape negates the possibility of a true meditational experience; it’s a fragment of the meditative experience.

John Du Cane: I think there seems to be a conflict in your desire to remove meaning from your films, at the same time that there is, let’s not say an obsession, but a great concern with death, which is probably one of the reasons why your films remain dramatic.

Paul Sharits:
I don’t think many of us in Western culture are trained properly in seeing or responding to our eventual death. I’ve been struggling with this – to see life as a series of deaths and births. I think the body of work I’ve made struggles to present myself with certain questions on a formal level about death. I think it’s interesting that I’m doing it with a dying medium, as I think cinema is, in the form that we’re working in, technically obsolete, and will eventually be looked upon as quaint gizmos. But I love them, they have many interesting aspects that I’m just beginning to recognize. At first one thinks that a machine cannot be simply the delivery system for a process. The idea is that these machines have to serve us, they need to be used for something. To use them simply to amplify their own nature is not often thought interesting. Dadaists like Picabia made jokes about machines and the idea of machines. But I’m more interested in the Russian Constructivist reaction to the Industrial Age than the negative Dadaist reaction.

John Du Cane: I think one thing that you are obviously developing is a completely different sense of humour which ties in with your feeling for paradox. This humour might have been lacking a little in your earlier work, perhaps this absence didn’t allow you to have such a balanced understanding of the oppositions you were working with in your films.

Paul Sharits:
I have so many different moods. Sometimes I think about my things in a very serious manner. At other times I think it’s so absurd I just laugh. Sometimes I laugh when I see T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G because I think it’s very funny. But other times I feel a great horror. Sometimes I feel completely detached and just observe it.

John Du Cane: Could you talk about the oppositions you worked with in those films, in terms of the sound, colour and rhythms?

Paul Sharits:
The whole aesthetic was an attempt to synthesize opposites. Or not so much a synthesis but a plausible co-existence of opposites. No, not even opposites, but whatever lies beyond the opposites of irony, paradox and conflict. I just try to do whatever I feel is necessary.

John Du Cane: So the theory develops in the making?

Paul Sharits:
Sometimes everything seems theoretically very clear and other times it seems hopelessly complex and confused. I don’t mind contradicting myself; I think I probably contradict myself quite frequently. This is directly relevant to the kind of things I’ve been working with in my film. My life is very confused; so part of my struggle with these films was to find ways that made these things coherent to me. Intercutting positive and negative footage is an obvious way of dealing with dualities, for instance, or having opposing vectors in the temporal shape of the film.

Simon Field: Was that the reason for using two screens in Razor Blades?

Paul Sharits: Yes, I wanted a dialogue that would begin in Razor Blades with a harmonious relation until gradually more non-relational syntax (and symbology) were introduced. It gradually introduces various levels of meaning in the structure and in the referential qualities, then returns to a more related dialogue. But the dialogue is altered because of the previous changes. I’m not sure whether people experience the film this way or not. My idea is that these images slash at each other.

Simon Field: And the same holds true for the stereo sound?

Paul Sharits:
Yes, one track is exactly inverse to the other track.

John Du Cane: Could you talk about the importance of seeing movies as a procession of discrete events appearing 24 frames per second, comprised of single frames with pauses between each frame?

Paul Sharits:
If you see a movie there is an illusion – it’s not an illusion, it’s a physiological event in your nervous system – that you’re seeing a continuous light. But in fact the light is not on screen all the time. The soundtrack is different, because the sound is not interrupted by a shutter. The sound is continuous. So the sound can act in a way that the image cannot; the image cannot be on the screen continually. But the sound can be continual and mark out segments of time very exactingly, by emphasizing each frame, for instance.

Simon Field: One film we haven’t talked about so far is Piece Mandala/End War.

Paul Sharits: Well, I said I would talk a little about the magical aspect. I’ve given the impression at times that meditation itself was a major formative and generating source for the mandala films, but another reason they have that form is the magical aspect. This is not magic as Crowley would define it, this is a more personal sense I have that we make things, and if they’re devoid of normal usage then it’s possible, if they’re structured in certain ways, to have other effects. They have other usages that I can’t define exactly, but would name “magic.” I don’t mean magic in the “magician” sense of conjuring up an illusion. I mean an object, or an experience, that is charmed. One traditionally charms objects by making them oneself, or at least acquiring the materials oneself. This is one prerequisite of magical objects. And although you may be using very classical principles, another thing that’s important is your intention, which is an invisible quality. You really have to believe, and belief can’t be measured except in the effectiveness of the experience.

I don’t mean for my films to be magical to strangers. In many ways, I direct them to people that are close to me. I understand that Harry Smith at one time did not care to show his films to the public because he felt they were magical and were addressed to people he knew. I don’t know if you can address this kind of magic to strangers. I don’t know if film can do those kind of things to people that you don’t know, care about or think of while you’re making the thing; because part of the ritual of construction is intention. Piece Mandala/End War has a great deal to do with the relationship with my wife at that particular time. We are separated now, but at that time we had been separated for a short while and we got back together. Then the form crystallized for me: how could I make a film that would have a magical effect in our relationship? The film is dedicated to her.

There’s an image in the film of me shooting myself, that is also un-happening. I don’t what suicide is like, but there are other forms of suicide that I’ve practiced in my life that allow a rebirth. They’re not pleasant, I think of them as a form of death. Giving up whole frames of reference. One evening in the country, in the company of several very close friends, my wife and I performed a ritual of throwing away the charmed objects of our marriage. This was an event that my wife programmed for me to understand her frame of reference, so we threw away our wedding rings. What we were trying to do was find new levels of coordinating our relationship and get more intense.

A film like T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G is trying to negate certain forms of negation in several people, including myself. This film is directed towards a couple of other people who, like myself, are self-destructive. I wanted to frame this for us to study and respond to. The dedication of the film has never been formally accepted, and I believe it has been informally rejected by my brother. I don’t know if he’s seen the film or not, that certainly isn’t the level on which the acceptance or rejection would occur. But it was a film for him and for the people in it. The main image shows David Franks, a very close friend of mine, who I think is a very fine young poet, and his - how shall I say it, we have to be careful about this on tape - his lady at the time. She appears in the film scratching his face. It was a very intense occasion when we filmed this. Of course she didn’t really scratch his face; we applied streaks of glitter to his face, but we had to do it in such an intense psychological manner that she fainted. I became very incensed and had to transcend my personal feelings to care for my friends and insist, absolutely insist, that she get back and hold this posture properly, and become almost trance-like while shooting. It was a very intense occasion, part of the process of charming and investing the object-film with these intentions and vibrations, and so forth. Although it’s been condemned at times as being a sadistic work, I feel that the film essentially has to do with healing. It’s anti-sadistic.

John Du Cane: Can you talk about the image of the operation and the people making love?

Paul Sharits:
The image of sexual intercourse and the image of the eye operation do not have to be recognized as such. The only thing that’s necessary is that they’re briefly shown on the screen at certain moments to create an ideogram that tries to show an image of two creative forms of human contact. Both cases feature a probing or touching. In one case, a chrome instrument is put into the new lens of the eye. The sense of vision is constantly referred to, as well as the sense of creation. The poet and his tongue. The filmmaker and his eye. David’s eyes are closed until the end. When his eyes open, the screen collapses. The lust image frames the eye, or is in relation to the eyes and the mouth in such a way that it focuses on those areas, and in both of those shots the mouth is closed and the eyes are open.

John Du Cane: In Razor Blades there’s a similar kind of magic related to your mother’s death. In N:O:T:H:I:N:G you do this with death itself via the falling chair.

Paul Sharits:
Yes, the chair falls on its own, there’s no cause. It’s like a purified form, an uncaused negation. That film does not have any references to any particular function that I might impose on it. Whether it operates that way or not I’m not sure. With N:O:T:H:I:N:G I felt different, there was a struggle that was going on within me. T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G is also directed at myself. I spent several terrifying years in Baltimore, there’s a great deal of crime and anxiety there. In New York City the energy is not as neurotic and purely anxious, it creates things. In Baltimore, at least in the world that I knew there, there was a non-generative anxiety. It did not generate any forms, except more anxiety, and I was reacting to these kinds of things.

Many images come in dreams; most of my films would be full of images if I would have made them upon first conception. What I’ve done is eliminate images. In N:O:T:H:I:N:G there is a process of three years of eliminating images conceptually before I began shooting the film. In the beginning, the film was densely populated with images. I edited and edited and got to a point where I felt I didn’t need to eliminate any further. As you suggest, in Razor Blades, the sort of joke poem about suicide for my mother, who committed suicide… yes, that’s like a mental funeral for me. My mother influenced me in many ways that I must still probe. I feel that she has spoken to me several times after death, and I’ve had the sense that she has asked me to give up this life. But I don’t want to talk too much about that.

John Du Cane: I see a connection between the falling chair and dying and the light bulb. The same sort of magic is involved.

Paul Sharits:
Well, one of the aims of magic is to negate the concrete body state. As Crowley says, what you must do is convince yourself, finally, that you’ve become light. You’ve just become light instead of a being. And death, of course, is the most obvious form of negating the body, at least for the spirit or consciousness. The falling chair is a very evident image of death. My son Christopher was three years old at the time, and he regarded it as a dying chair. He asked me about that. But then to test where his level of symbolic understanding was, I wanted to see if he thought that objects had spirits in them. How could a chair die if it was not imbued with an anthropomorphic sense of being? I asked him why he wouldn’t give his pillow a drink of milk. He said because the pillow has no mouth, but what he meant was that the pillow didn’t have a spirit.

Mental Funerals: an interview with Paul Sharits by John Du Cane and Simon Field (London, 1970)

Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

Words Per Page III

One thing we can say for sure about the release print of a film is that it is a long single “line” of film stock and that during its projection, even though it may be structured according to retrograde vectorial concepts and even be experienced as temporally negative, it is, in fact a straight line in our actual overall isotropic time field. And the frames on the strip, as well as the image frame on the screen, is regular and repeating. So, a homogeneously structured film would be as valid an amplification of the nature of film as would be a vectorial oriented work. In fact, from his angle it would seem that film experiences that had any variation would disrupt this sense of linear homogeneity and would in effect be anti-filmic. However, by considering one of cinema’s most basic syntagms, “the fade,” we discover a most natural way of reintroducing structural directionality without negating either the continuous nature of the strip (the fade emphasizes the linear quality of the strip)or the flat, modular nature of the individual film frames (because the flat screen, being the most direct projection/image of the frame’s morphology, constantly refers our attention across its even surface in all directions to is edge, rather than looking through a “frame” into a picture, we find ourselves looking at an image of the film frame). My work of the past five years has been based on the importance of the fade; it provided a believable model for the vectorial construction of these works. My interest in creating temporal analogues of Tibetan mandalas, evoking their circularity and inverse symmetric balance, led me to making what are basically two-vector symmetric works in which the first part’s forward-directed structure is countered by the second part’s retrograde direction. A complex form of this vectorial approach, which issues a sense of isotropic homogeneity rather than a sense of developmental directness, can be obtained by overlapping or regularly intersecting two opposing vectors (that is, superimpose a forward progression “over” a backwards progression); the whole work is, so to speak, a conceptual “lap dissolve” and will have the curious quality of constant but directionless motion. In 1968 I abandoned the mandala-like structures and am now working with a single vector form, rather than dualistically balanced vectors; I have come to believe that while they provide discrete experiences, he latter are too closed and death-evoking in their overstressing of “beginning” and “ending” and, in this sense, are models of closed systems.

Once the screen frame is regarded as a projection of a total film frame, we must begin to think about appropriate scale relationships, such as distance of camera from subject to distance of screen and projected subject and viewer and, consequently, the size of the image to the size of its frame, and the size of the screen-as-image to the size of the wall on which it is projected. These features are normally regarded as arbitrary; the flat film frame does not have the deep space most “shots” containing diagonals evoke, yet directors do not hesitate in using diagonal shapes in their compositions, rarely do these diagonals refer to the rectangular shape of the frame. If the film frame is a valid subject of footage, then footage should be considered a valid subject within the screen frame. A continuous scratch across frame lines down the length of film refers not only to the footage as a flowing strip, but is also a valid internal division in its congruent relation to the verticality of the right and left edges of the frame image. An intensified splice not only refers to the horizontality of the top and bottom edge of the frame, but it also interrupts the flow of our experiencing a film in such a way that we are reminded that we are watching the flowing of footage through a projector. When a film “loses its loop”, it allows us to see a blurred strip of jerking frames; this is quite natural and quite compelling subject material. When this nonframed condition is intentionally induced, a procedure I am currently exploring, it could be thought of as “anti-framing.” I am developing another approach to simultaneously reveal both the frame and strip nature of film (each of which are normally hidden due to the intermittent shutter system) by removing the gripper arm and shutter mechanism from the projector.

Light and color are obviously primary aspects of cinema. However, even in fine cinema works color has not very convincingly realized its temporal potentialities. Some works use color as a “functional/symbolic tool, in an Eistensteinian sense, or for psychological reference and physical effect, or for definition and clarification of images in the picture. In many lesser works, color is decorative and ornamental or is used nonphilosophically merely for its stimulatory values; this latter use of color to produce essentially nonfilmic “psychedelic effects” is conceptually uninteresting and is better suited to video works where color more intense than cinema’s reflected screen color can be obtained. This area has elicited very little systematic concern from filmmakers and film critics. In many cases a great deal of attention is paid to getting “proper color balance” for no good cinematic purpose, this technical “attentiveness” is not what I mean by “systematic concern.” The vast problems of cinematic light and color structuring call for a separate discussion.

Perhaps the most engaging problem of cinema is the relationship sound may have to visual image. Although Warhol and Snow have used synchronous sound in convincing ways, an uncritical acceptance of this traditional mode of correlation usually leads to work in which both sound and image are mutually weakened: this is true in both the “lip synch” of anthropomorphic works and in the simplistic paralleling of sound and image effects in non-narrative works. Eistenstein’s idea of “vertical montage” is a classical point from which one can consider nonsynchronous uses of sound. It may be that through a controlled continuous collision of sound and image an emergent psychophysiological heterodyne effect could be generated. Both light and sound occur in waves, and in optical sound composite prints are both functions of interrupted light, that is, both are primarily vibratory experiences whose “continuous” qualities are illusional. The major difference, aside from obvious differences in physical qualities between the two systems, is that the soundtrack operates in terms of continuous passage over the projector sound head while the image intermittently jerks in discrete steps through the film gate – there are no frame lines in the soundtrack. From this angle it is apparent that drawing direct relationships between systems that have significant structural differences is an illusional oversight. There is also no intrinsically filmic relational logic supportive of the use of “mood music,” whether it be the electronic music background for so-called “abstract movies” or Bergman’s use of Bach fragments to act as psychological backups to certain key visual passages in his film Through a Glass Darkly. The variations on sound systems that are basically supportive of visual images are innumerable and vary widely in their levels of conceptual relationship to visual images. Whether or not the audio and visual systems should be discrete and powerful enough in themselves so that they achieve mutual autonomy is a serious question. What possibilities are there for developing both sound and image from the same structural principle and simply presenting them side-by-side as two equal yet autonomous articulations of one conception? Of course, sound need not be considered as a primary aspect of cinema; the wealth of films that succeed on visual levels alone is enough to justify silence. Aside from a few eccentricities, the first projectors had no sound option; the sound variable could be regarded as an arbitrary addition to an already complete visual system. (If we regard works that have no soundtracks as “silent films,” then why don’t we regard listening to music without visual accompaniment as “blind music”?) Only a few types of sound can be regarded without doubt as cinematic: the case in which the sound of a synch sound camera might be recorded and projected in synch with the visual “recording”, the case in which the drone sound of a projector projecting a visual “projection” might be head, and the case in which one hears the sound of sprockets acting as a commentary on the length each frame of visual image has in time.

In the end, cinematic process as the “subject matter” of a new cinema, as in a work like Ken Jacobs’ brilliant Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son, which is literally a film of a film, or in more filmically concrete or conceptually filmic works, has already proven its viability. When a focus on highly general and prematurely fixed narrative or narrative-like forms is blurred in shifting perception to more distinctly contemporary focal lengths, then that “blur” measures wide angle lengths from “reality,” telephoto lengths to micomorphological understandings of “cinema” and, lengths of temporal modulation in what is ultimately an omnidirectional grammar. Certainly an analysis of the focussing process itself is necessary; but “focusing” does not necessarily mean “reductiveness.” It may be that by “limiting” oneself to a passionate definition of an elemental, primary cinema, one may find it necessary to construct systems involving either no projector at all or more than one projector and more than one flat screen, and more than one volumetric space between them. A focused film frame is not a “limit.”

Paul Sharits, Words Per Page

Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

Words Per Page II

Stan Brakhage’s massive work is too expansive in its implications and richness to discuss here except to mention that his use of the camera as a behavioural extension, his forceful modulation of disjunctive, “distractive” “mistakes” (blurs, splices, flares, frame lines, flash frames) and his decomposition-reconstitution of “subjects” in editing, because of their cinematically self-referential qualities (they reveal the system by which they are made), bring cinema up to date with the other advanced arts. And, in another manner, Andy Warhol has demonstrated in his early work that prolongations of the subject (redundant, “nonmotion” pictures), because they deflect attention finally to the material process of recording-projecting (to the succession of film frames, and by way of consciousness of film grain, scratches, and dirt particles, to the sense of the flow of the celluloid strip), it is perhaps as revealing of the “nature of cinema” as is consistent interruption of “normative” cinematic functions.

At one points some artists felt that painting had evolved irretrievably away from “reference.” Delaunay even believed that he was not only making “nonobjective” but also “shapeless” (pure-color) paintings. Because his semantic culture set did not recognize, as we recognize today, that regularly bounded color fields can be regarded as subsets of the concept “shape”, he was unaware of the referential nature of his forms. Definitions of “reality” change. It is hard today to make distinctions between what is “nonobjective” and what is “symbolic” and/or “referential.” “Reference” is no longer an adequate axis of differentiation, but there are those who still hold simplistic notions about the “intrinsic realism” of film (Kracauer). Further, most critics and historians still regard the tentative experience of perceiving a film as “more real,” in their definitions of cinema, than holding in their hand a nontentative strip of celluloid that has a measurable length and width and that has a measurable series of “frames,” degrees of opacity, and so on. It is interesting to consider some phenomenological differences between painting, music, and film: in viewing painting, our experience is changing while the painting’s existence is enduring; in music, both our experience and the existence of the music are changing: however, in film we have a case where we can experience both a changing and an enduring existence – we can look at the “same” film as an object, before or after projection (and it is not a “score”; it is “the film”), and as temporal process, while it is being” projected” on the stable support of the screen. This equivocality of object/projection is further complicated when we admit that there are occasions when we are looking at a screen and we don’t know whether we are or are not seeing “a film”; we cannot distinguish “the movie” from “the projection.” Let us say that the room is dark and the screen is white; we may believe that the projector is simply throwing light on the screen, because there is no indication that a film is being shown; yet, in fact, the projector may be casting images of a succession of clear-blank frames onto the screen, projecting not “light” but a picture which represents motion (the motion of the strip of film being projected); so, unless we are in the projection booth and thus experience both the film as object and as projection this “viewing” would be incomprehensible. Even Cage’s “silent” piece for piano does not present this problem because we can see the performer “nonperforming” the music without having to look “behind the scene.”

There are even deeper implications issuing from the apparent dualism of film’s “being” that those who acknowledge only the projected “movie” as a source of their metaphysics tend to impose a value hierarchy that recognize the frame and the strip of film only as potential distractions to the flow of a “higher” process, that temporal abstraction, “the shot.” Notice that in normative cinema we neither see the motion of the filmstrip (unless the strip is scratched) nor are we aware of a succession of frame units (unless the projector is “improperly framed”). The cameramen who shoot such “movies” utterly and disdainfully ignore the frame structure of their medium, when the cameraman “frames” a “shot” he is thinking in image boundary abstractions rather than acknowledging the basic modularity of his image support. On the other hand, a filmmaker like Man Ray, in his Return to Reason, directions attention to the fact of film’s frame structure in his rayogram constructed passages where there is discontinuity from frame to frame. Brakhage, in Mothlight, allows the natural length of his “subjects” to determine their duration on the screen – in the unforgettable passage where it seems as if a long thin leaf is passing us (rather than it seeming as if the camera is tracking over the leaf), we get an immediate fix on the filmstrip process which is in fact occurring; this remarkable film “feels frameless” and congruently, has no frame lines!

This problematic equivocality of film’s “being” is perhaps cinema’s most basic ontological issue. George Landow’s films coherently frame these issues, particularly Film in Which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, Dirt Particles, Etc; wherein one becomes involved in the perceptual differentiation of the dirt/scratches as image (those which refer to the printed frame) and the dirt/scratches that are actually on the surface of the particular print, the particular strip of film passing through the projector. One is reminded of Vermeer’s multiple mappings of mapping procedures in The Painter in His Studio.

To begin getting a clear perspective on these complex questions, it would be valuable to regard cinema as an informational system, rather than staring with a priori metaphysical theories or with a fully developed aesthetic or with the kind of exclamatory presumptions that Vertov’s “Kino Eye” concept typifies (the drawing of morphological analogies between the human body and the nonhuman instruments). Let us investigate the system as it exists in a descriptive, concrete modality of comprehension. It would be a mistake to be initially concerned with the intentions that formed the system, the naïve pseudo-aesthetic that “caused” the technological development of photography (“capturing a likeness of the world”) and cinematography (“Capturing a likeness of the world in motion”) – after all, the system exists today, with or without our “intention” that it do this or that. The system simply exists, and a taxonomy of its basic elements seems a more appropriate beginning for analysis than propounding rashly abstract, speculative “reasons” for its existence. This latter case, in its simple overgeneralizing has led, from the very beginning, to premature, so-called “languages of the film,” “grammars of the film”. Such a beginning accounts for the normative postulate that “the shot” is one of cinema’s irreducible particulars. As if their remarks were analytically suggestive, “informed cineastes” speak of “mise en scéne.” My hypothesis does not exclude the formation of higher abstraction classification; I only suggest that there is nothing to be gained by starting with highly abstract and highly questionable presuppositions. Lumiére was so emphatic in his belief in “the shot” that he constructed both the internal structure and external boundaries of his film with one and the same shot.

A listing of elements is confounded by the objection/projection “dualism”; but at least a crude breakdown of the model that the system can embody can be made; this seems necessary before “elements” can be located. There are at least: processes of intending to make a film, processes of recording light patterns on raw stock (films can be made that bypass this mode), processes of processing, and processes of experiencing. The problem of whether or not “concepts” like “intention” are “elements” complicates the issue; that is to say, even those “things” that are observable should be made as (tentative) fundamental frame of reference. We can observe cameras, projectors, and other pieces of equipment and their parts and their parts’ functions (shutters, numerous circular motions of parts, focus, and so on). We can observe the support itself, its emulsions before and after “exposure”, sprocket holes, frames, and so on. We can observe the effects of light on film and, likewise, can note the effects of light passing through the film and illuminating a reflective support. There is a remarkable structural parallel, which is suggestive of new systems of filmic organization, between a piece of film and the projections of light through it; both are simultaneously corpuscular (“frames”) and wave-like (“strip”).

Warhol, in his early “static” films, by disregarding the normative idea that a film is composed of parts and that its timescale (its duration) is the sum of those heterogeneous parts, made the important discovery that the internal structure of a film (the natural duration of its “subject”) could define, be congruent to, be a parallel of, the perimeter of a film’s shape; this is a temporal analogy to Jasper Johns’ making the edge of his “flag” works congruent with their surface area image. Ironically, this freed film from its “scale” being dependent upon arbitrary subject-oriented judgments; now we see that even when there are internal subdivisions in a film, the “edge” of the film can be generated by, rather than arbitrarily contain, the internal structure of the film; a sort of natural (“necessary”) wholeness is possible. As P. Adams Sitney has pointed out, the edges of the temporal shape of some new films are highly emphasized; this is because a film’s shape, its time-surface area is comprehensible as a discrete unit. The factor of “wholeness” is central to this discreteness. In time, this wholeness is sensed in homogeneous structured works as a constantly simultaneous gestalt, whereas in developmental works, senses of linear direction through nonsimultaneous, nonredundant time gives a sense of coherent overall duration-shape (in other words the “edges” of the duration-shape of a film are not just the beginning and ending measurements but have as much to do with defining the shape(s) of the time after the film begins being projected and all during the projection until the film stops being projected); in these works, which appear to have the kind of cohesiveness wherein shape and edge are indistinguishable, one cannot speak of “beginning” and “end” because this would imply a fragmentation of the film’s shape and a truly one-part temporal shape cannot be apprehended as such if we make it three discrete shapes (“beginning” “ending,” and “middle”). What an irony it is that such a discrete shape does not have the boundaries of the beginning and ending! Somehow, these new films achieve the quality of being revelatory fragments of a larger system patterned after the prototype of the film itself. Warhol’s “actual scale,” in works like Sleep and Empire, because it documents cyclic ideas such as sleep/wakefulness/sleep and night/day/night obviously implies larger cyclic systems; another homogeneous work, Snow/Wieland’s Dripping Water, does not imply a cycle of any kind because there is no predictable measure of where the dripping began or ended or whether it even began or will end – so, since there is no definable boundary such as “end,” this noncyclic work implies, that it is a segment of a larger noncyclic system. One can conceive of many forms of homogeneous and nonhomogeneous overall time-shapes. In what senses can these shapes be regarded as cinematic? Snow understood the vectorial implications of the projector light beam and this seems to account, at least in part, for Wavelength’s directional structure. Physically, the conic shape is directed toward the projector lens; yet, we sense the internal projectiveness of the beam directing itself toward the screen, as if magnitude was its target. In 1966 I became aware of the projectory beam, in a piece called Unrolling Movie Screen, and to a certain extend allowed the beam’s projective and volumetric vectorial characteristics to inform the overall structuring of the piece. The piece involved the projection of a film loop called Instructions, which depicts one conventional way a roll of soft white tissue can be used; using rolls of that white tissue, I gradually, physically actualized the light beam while I delivered an informal lecture on the logical necessity of developing movie screens that would realize the projected image at every point, from the projector lens to the screen. The piece ended when the screen finally became a volumetric, tautological metaphor of the projector beam.. One could say that because time itself is “an arrow,” it is impossible to avoid vectorial directionality in articulating temporal media and that one inevitably ends up with a sort of story form. But this “story,” if it is such a form, is a physical or procedural one and what it tells us is analogous to what we are actually perceiving while it is being projected. Besides, approaching film from these new frames of reference, we are free to conceive of not only forward-oriented vectors but any vectorial direction; negative vectors come to mind easily but they are something which are not intrinsic to narrative development logic. Last Year at Marienbad and other works that shift temporal arrangements out of linear order nevertheless do not ever achieve retrograde vectorial structures.

Paul Sharits, Words Per Page

Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

Paul Sharits - Ray Gun Virus

lundi 24 janvier 2011

Words Per Page I

Can we begin in the present? If film is to be “an art,” it will measure itself in terms of the maturity, rigor, and complexity of the “other arts” (advanced painting, dance, sculpture, music, and so on). Although the specific problems of film (temporal) are not the same as the problems of, say, sculpture (spatial), there seems to be some general aesthetic interests shared by contemporary arts (one of which is, “paradoxically” self-definition – “Painting as the subject of painting,” etc.). Being “contemporary” is not a simplistic matter of being “abstract” rather than “realistic” in subject choice; probably any “content” is valid – what is more problematic is attitude and systems of forming. Certain attitudes (nonintellectual, nonreflective, self-indulgent, noncritical, “intuitive-emotional”) seem a bit out of place in the 1970s. Certain forms of organization (“the story,” “metaphor-allegory,” reference to “psychological states”) seem to be somewhat expended. Older forms need not be negated but can become transformed through radical restructuring (Bresson and Dreyer) or through a purification wherein, say, “the story” may become “direct autobiography” (Jonas Mekas’ Diaries) and then investigation or “measurement” or “document” (wherein the less interesting the subject is, the more interesting the procedure of recording becomes: methodology as subject matter; “the story” as a map of actual behaviour). I would like you, in this “course,” to regard your art as research, research in contemporary communication and “meaning” systems. Anticipating objections that this may be “sterile” and/or “nonexpressive,” I would like to suggest that current research methodologies such as general systems, information and communication theory, structuralism, cybernetics, and others which are more involved with “form/function” than with “content/substance” are not isolated nonhumanistic fads. Because they are increasingly significant in anthropology, linguistics, sociology, economics, natural sciences, community planning, communication and transportation systems, engineering, medicine, psychology, and so forth, they are defining our environment and, as such, they must have some significant implications for culturally relevant art.

Before saying anything more about film, it is necessary to point out a few general concepts that have emerged in the last several years in painting and new three-dimensional work. The idea of “wholeness” is obviously not new, but recently it has taken on a meaning different than the accepted “organic unity” principle, which Eisenstein stated so lucidly: “…in an organic work of art, elements that nourish the work as a whole pervade all the features composing this work. A unified canon pierces not only the whole and each of its parts, but also each element that is called to participate in the work of composition. One and the same principle will feed any element, appearing each in a qualitatively different form. Only in this case are we justified in considering a work of art organic, the notion ‘organism’ being used in the sense which Engels spoke of it in his ‘Dialectic of Nature’: “The organism is certainly a higher unity?” (“The Composition of Potemkin”) This idea of a unity of tensional relationships (“collisional montage”) and Kandinsky’s, Mondrian’s and, Malevich’s ideas of “dynamic” asymmetrical balance are quite different from Pollock’s influential nonrelational unity of the entire visual field; Pollock’s “overallness”, directness, flatness gives his works the “presence” of autonomous objects. In all cases, in the structural “self-sufficiency” of early nonobjective art and in the literalness of recent work, an attempt is made to segregate the works from “reality,” so that the works take their place as part of rather than representative of that reality; the works define rather than mimic actuality. “Objecthood” is achieved by: intensification of materiality (repetitive stress of “flaws” in a process, over-use of a variable accumulation, intersection, allowing materials to shape themselves, and so forth); equal internal division of parts to create a sense of isotropism and to allow an easy enough gestalt so that the whole seems nonrelational; use of a priori systems of serial or nonhierarchical or chance or random or numerical ordering. Often serial structuring has the dynamic effect of shifting organization of the whole out of the work so that the perceiving mind is actively engaged in perceptual and conceptual creation. Before rejecting the viability of systematic approaches, because they sound “mechanical” and “nonemotional,” think of the power of Bach’s Art of the Fugue; at the very least, a priori decisions regarding ordering or nonordering have heuristic value in that surprising forms may emerge from their use which could never be preconceived or developed intuitively. Along with these phenomenological means, new ontological approaches have been highly developed. “Self-reference,” through both formal tautology (as in Stella’s edge-referring internal surface division in his “striped” paintings) and conceptual tautology (as in (Jasper) Johns’ early “target,” “map,” and “flag” paintings) generate convincingly self-sufficient works.

When Andre Bazin asks, “What is Cinema? he answers by describing the interesting ways in which cinema has been used to tell stories, enlarge upon theatre, cinematize “human themes.” If we dispense with such nonfilmic answers, do we have anything left? I believe that we can turn away from the cinema that began with Lumiére (using cinema to create illusions of nonfilm movement), and which developed through Mélies, Griffith, Eisenstein, and so on up to today’s Bergman, Fellini, and others, and we can ask a new set of questions that greatly expand the possibilities of the system. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of value in the nonfilmic tradition of cinema, in the accepted descriptions of cinemas as illusionistic representation and as “documentary”; but any further developments of these areas, without acute reappraisal of their metaphysical premises, will lead most probably to mere elaborations and effete indulgences in a time of massive cultural transvaluation. This is not to say that cinema should be, say, “nonrepresentational.” Film, “motion picture” and “still” film, unlike painting and sculpture, can achieve an autonomous presence without negating iconic reference because the phenomenology of the system includes “recording” as a physical fact. And the linear-temporal physicality of motion pictures allows for a kind of “representation” suggested by Barthes in his essay “The Activity of Structuralism.”

“The aim of all structuralist activity, in the fields of both thought and poetry is to reconstitute an ‘object,’ and, by this process, to make known the rule of functioning, of ‘functions,’ of this object. The structure is, therefore, effectively a representation of the object, but it is a representation that is both purposeful and relevant, since the object derived by imitation brings out something that remained invisible or, if you like unintelligible in the natural object. The structuralist takes reality, decomposes it, and recomposes it again… ‘something new’ is brought into being, and this new element is nothing less than intelligibility: the representation is intellect added to the object… (the structuralist activity derives) from a ‘mimesis,’ founded not on the analogy of substances (as in ‘realist’ art) but on the analogy of functions…”

Not denying the viability of this proposition, I would extend this ‘mimeticism” (by involution) and suggest that the “recoding “ of the structure-process of recording can free cinema from referring to anything beyond itself; cinema can then legitimately become “meaningless” syntax. It is, of course, too soon to define limits; numerous areas provoke interest and potentiality – some involve first-order mimeticism and some do not. The question, “What is cinema?” is rather open. At moments, when faced with the overwhelming, confusing clutter of physical and conceptual definitions of cinema, that set of random anthropomorphic accumulations which is only understandable in its muddled definitions, is a worse point of departure for an understanding of human communication than is the more precise concept of “linguistics.” Perhaps the vague term cinema should be abandoned with all its anthropomorphic, pseudopsychological presuppositions and, instead, the less fashionable term cinematics should be used as a base for our fresh systems. A lot could be gained from a study of linguistics if one wished to build a comprehensive and usable “cinematic” model. As a process, film is related to language in that both are on many levels linear systems; for example, “the sound wave emanating from the mouth of a speaker is physically a continuum” (Malmberg, Structural Linguistics and Human Communication) – this is easily demonstrated by looking at the way speech is patterned on an optical soundtrack of a film. And, as Ferdinand de Saussure pointed out, “The signifier, being auditory, is unfolded solely in time from which it gets the following characteristics: (1) it represents a span, and (b) the span is measurable in a single dimension, it is a line.” (Course in General Linguistics) I am not prepared to make or support at this time the hypothesis that “cinematics” is a viable analogue of “linguistics,” but I am convinced that thought in this direction is not without value; it is easy to see how these concepts in the following quotation are relevant to such a case.

“A structure, according to everyday usage, is made up of parts or elements having a certain mutual relationship, as opposed to a mere accumulation of mutually independent items. If human language is said to be structured, this should be understood in such a way that any language is built up of so-called discrete elements (that is, sharply delimited from each other and without any possible gradual passage from one to the other). Language consequently is analyzable into minimal independent units, which are restricted in number and the functions of which are determined by their relations to the other units with which they are combined, within a system of communication possibilities (a paradigm) and within the actual speech sequence, the chain (or the syntagm)…. If linguistics is called structural, this consequently implies that its main concern is the description and analysis of its functional units (its discrete elements) and the relationship between these.” (Malmberg)

We see that it is highly problematic (to determine) which of the parameters of “cinema” can be legitimately regarded as “elements”; in fact, it is clear that our definition of what we shall regard as our “morphemes” and “phonemes” will predetermine what paradigms we can create. How can we discover “elements”? Certainly not be conceptual logic along. William Burroughs suggested that his “cut-up” writing method could reveal the essence of a political speech more easily than a careful analysis of the unaltered speech; that is, cut the thing apart and scan over the random reassembly of words and phrases and the deeper logic of the statement becomes glaringly apparent. A method of empirically probing the cinema system, aside from looking at the system one part at a time, is to allow several redundant and permuting parts to “rub against each other” in time; emergents from such systematic interactions can be regarded as “natural” macroscopic representations of “microscopic” “cinematic” elements. So-called “defective parts,” which in “cinema”: are regarded as “mistakes” are probably the most adequate parts to deal with in “cinematics” approach; obviously, flaws reveal the fabric and “cinematics” the art of the cinema’s fabric. (For the sake of brevity, I have decided into to develop the “cinematics” model any further in this introduction; so, I will most often use the conventional term cinema, rather than “cinematics” when referring to our “subject”; however, before leaving “cinematics”, it is worth nothing that because this approach is structural-informational, because it provides a means of creating powerfully direct perceptions, it is as fruitful an approach for the politically motivated filmmaker as it is for pure researchers. Godard has begun to understand this in newer works such as One Plus One (1968) where he seems to be cautiously moving away from traditional narrative-dramatic modes towards the sort of compellingly blunt recording style Warhol has invented. But these are not convincing examples for the truly radical political filmmaker because while Godard’s films “contain” political sentiments, they are not ultimately politically activating because they are viewed not by “masses,” who need to be activated but by a group of persons who are no doubt already convinced of at least the possibility that a form of revolution is occurring. Truly effective political statements have not been made yet; however, the important experimental filmmakers working in Russia after the Revolution of 1917, by scrutinizing what they believed to be the syntax of film, came closest in making radicalizing films.)

Paul Sharits, Words Per Page

Petit Trianon

Eugène Atget - Petit Trianon

dimanche 23 janvier 2011

Nerval - Aurélia X

Comment peindre l’étrange désespoir où ces idées me réduisirent peu à peu ? Un mauvais génie avait pris ma place dans le monde des âmes ; — pour Aurélia, c’était moi-même, et l’esprit désolé qui vivifiait mon corps, affaibli, dédaigné, méconnu d’elle, se voyait à jamais destiné au désespoir ou au néant. J’employai toutes les forces de ma volonté pour pénétrer encore le mystère dont j’avais levé quelques voiles. Le rêve se jouait parfois de mes efforts et n’amenait que des figures grimaçantes et fugitives. Je ne puis donner ici qu’une idée assez bizarre de ce qui résulta de cette contention d’esprit. Je me sentais glisser comme sur un fil tendu dont la longueur était infinie. La terre, traversée de veines colorées de métaux en fusion, comme je l’avais vue déjà, s’éclaircissait peu à peu par l’épanouissement du feu central, dont la blancheur se fondait avec les teintes cerise qui coloraient les flancs de l’orbe intérieur. Je m’étonnais de temps en temps de rencontrer de vastes flaques d’eau, suspendues comme le sont les nuages dans l’air, et toutefois offrant une telle densité, qu’on pouvait en détacher des flocons ; mais il est clair qu’il s’agissait là d’un liquide différent de l’eau terrestre, et qui était sans doute l’évaporation de celui qui figurait la mer et les fleuves pour le monde des esprits.

J’arrivai en vue d’une vaste plage montueuse et toute couverte d’une espèce de roseaux de teinte verdâtre, jaunis aux extrémités comme si les feux du soleil les eussent en partie desséchés, — mais je n’ai pas vu de soleil plus que les autres fois. — Un château dominait la côte que je me mis à gravir. Sur l’autre versant, je vis s’étendre une ville immense. Pendant que j’avais traversé la montagne, la nuit était venue, et j’apercevais les lumières des habitations et des rues. En descendant, je me trouvai dans un marché où l’on vendait des fruits et des légumes pareils à ceux du Midi.

Je descendis par un escalier obscur et me trouvai dans les rues. On affichait l’ouverture d’un casino, et les détails de sa distribution se trouvaient énoncés par articles. L’encadrement typographique était fait de guirlandes de fleurs si bien représentées et coloriées, qu’elles semblaient naturelles. — Une partie du bâtiment était encore en construction. J’entrai dans un atelier où je vis des ouvriers qui modelaient en glaise un animal énorme de la forme d’un lama, mais qui paraissait devoir être muni de grandes ailes. Ce monstre était comme traversé d’un jet de feu qui l’animait peu à peu, de sorte qu’il se tordait, pénétré par mille reflets pourprés, formant les veines et les artères et fécondant pour ainsi dire l’inerte matière, qui se revêtait d’une végétation instantanée d’appendices fibreux d’ailerons et de touffes laineuses. Je m’arrêtai à contempler ce chef-d’œuvre, où l’on semblait avoir surpris les secrets de la création divine. « — C’est que nous avons ici, me dit-on, le feu primitif qui anima les premiers êtres… Jadis, il s’élançait jusqu’à la surface de la terre, mais les sources se sont taries. » Je vis aussi des travaux d’orfèvrerie où l’on employait deux métaux inconnus sur la terre : l’un rouge qui semblait correspondre au cinabre, et l’autre bleu d’azur. Les ornements n’étaient ni martelés, ni ciselés, mais se formaient, se coloraient et s’épanouissaient comme les plantes métalliques qu’on fait renaître de certaines mixtions chimiques. « — Ne créerait-on pas aussi des hommes ? » dis-je à l’un des travailleurs ; mais il me répliqua : « — Les hommes viennent d’en haut et non d’en bas : pouvons-nous créer nous-mêmes ? Ici, l’on ne fait que formuler par les progrès successifs de nos industries une matière plus subtile que celle qui compose la croûte terrestre. Ces fleurs qui vous paraissent naturelles, cet animal qui semblera vivre, ne seront que des produits de l’art élevé au plus haut point de nos connaissances, et chacun les jugera ainsi. »

Telles sont à peu près les paroles qui me furent dites, ou dont je crus percevoir la signification. Je me mis à parcourir les salles du casino et j’y vis une grande foule, dans laquelle je distinguai quelques personnes qui m’étaient connues, les unes vivantes, d’autres mortes en divers temps. Les premières semblaient ne pas me voir, tandis que les autres me répondaient sans avoir l’air de me connaître. J’étais arrivé à la plus grande salle, qui était toute tendue de velours ponceau à bandes d’or tramé, formant de riches dessins. Au milieu se trouvait un sofa en forme de trône. Quelques passants s’y asseyaient pour en éprouver l’élasticité ; mais, les préparatifs n’étant pas terminés, ils se dirigeaient vers d’autres salles. On parlait d’un mariage et de l’époux qui, disait-on, devait arriver pour annoncer le moment de la fête. Aussitôt un transport insensé s’empara de moi. J’imaginai que celui qu’on attendait était mon double qui devait épouser Aurélia, et je fis un scandale qui sembla consterner l’assemblée. Je me mis à parler avec violence, expliquant mes griefs et invoquant le secours de ceux qui me connaissaient. Un vieillard me dit : « — Mais on ne se conduit pas ainsi, vous effrayez tout le monde. » Alors je m’écriai : « — Je sais bien qu’il m’a frappé déjà de ses armes, mais je l’attends sans crainte et je connais le signe qui doit le vaincre. »

En ce moment, un des ouvriers de l’atelier que j’avais visité en entrant parut, tenant une longue barre dont l’extrémité se composait d’une boule rougie au feu. Je voulus m’élancer sur lui, mais la boule qu’il tenait en arrêt menaçait toujours ma tête… On semblait autour de moi me railler de mon impuissance… Alors, je me reculai jusqu’au trône l’âme pleine d’un indicible orgueil, et je levai le bras pour faire un signe qui me semblait avoir une puissance magique. Le cri d’une femme, distinct et vibrant, empreint d’une douleur déchirante, me réveilla en sursaut ! Les syllabes d’un mot inconnu que j’allais prononcer expiraient sur mes lèvres… Je me précipitai à terre et je me mis à prier avec ferveur en pleurant à chaudes larmes. — Mais quelle était donc cette voix qui venait de résonner si douloureusement dans la nuit ?

Elle n’appartenait pas au rêve ; c’était la voix d’une personne vivante, et pourtant c’était pour moi la voix et l’accent d’Aurélia…

J’ouvris ma fenêtre ; tout était tranquille, et le cri ne se répéta plus. — Je m’informai au dehors, personne n’avait rien entendu. — Et cependant, je suis encore certain que le cri était réel et que l’air des vivants en avait retenti… Sans doute on me dira que le hasard a pu faire qu’en ce moment-là une femme souffrante ait crié dans les environs de ma demeure. — Mais, selon ma pensée, les événements terrestres étaient liés à ceux du monde invisible. C’est un de ces rapports étranges dont je ne me rends pas compte moi-même et qu’il est plus aisé d’indiquer que de définir…

Qu’avais-je fait ? J’avais troublé l’harmonie de l’univers magique où mon âme puisait la certitude d’une existence immortelle. J’étais maudit peut-être pour avoir voulu percer un mystère redoutable en offensant la loi divine ; je ne devais plus attendre que la colère et le mépris ! Les ombres irritées fuyaient en jetant des cris et traçant dans l’air des cercles fatals, comme les oiseaux à l’approche d’un orage.

Gérard de Nerval

Saint Cloud

Eugène Atget - Parc de Saint Cloud

Nerval - Aurélia IX

Telles furent les images qui se montrèrent tour à tour devant mes yeux. Peu à peu le calme était rentré dans mon esprit, et je quittai cette demeure qui était pour moi un paradis. Des circonstances fatales préparèrent, longtemps après, une rechute qui renoua la série interrompue de ces étranges rêveries. — Je me promenais dans la campagne, préoccupé d’un travail qui se rattachait aux idées religieuses. En passant devant une maison, j’entendis un oiseau qui parlait selon quelques mots qu’on lui avait appris, mais dont le bavardage confus me parut avoir un sens : il me rappela celui de la vision que j’ai racontée plus haut, et je sentis un frémissement de mauvais augure. Quelques pas plus loin, je rencontrai un ami que je n’avais pas vu depuis longtemps et qui demeurait dans une maison voisine. Il me fit voir sa propriété, et, dans cette visite, il me fit monter sur une terrasse élevée d’où l’on découvrait un vaste horizon. C’était au coucher du soleil. En descendant les marches d’un escalier rustique, je fis un faux pas, et ma poitrine alla porter sur l’angle d’un meuble. J’eus assez de force pour me relever et m’élançai jusqu’au milieu du jardin, me croyant frappé à mort, mais voulant, avant de mourir, jeter un dernier regard au soleil couchant. Au milieu des regrets qu’entraîne un tel moment, je me sentais heureux de mourir ainsi, à cette heure, et au milieu des arbres, des treilles et des fleurs d’automne. Ce ne fut cependant qu’un évanouissement, après lequel j’eus encore la force de regagner ma demeure pour me mettre au lit. La fièvre s’empara de moi ; en me rappelant de quel point j’étais tombé, je me souvins que la vue que j’avais admirée donnait sur un cimetière, celui même où se trouvait le tombeau d’Aurélia. Je n’y pensai véritablement qu’alors ; sans quoi, je pourrais attribuer ma chute à l’impression que cet aspect m’aurait fait éprouver. — Cela même me donna l’idée d’une fatalité plus précise. Je regrettai d’autant plus que la mort ne m’eût pas réuni à elle. Puis, en y songeant, je me dis que je n’en étais pas digne. Je me représentai amèrement la vie que j’avais menée depuis sa mort, me reprochant, non de l’avoir oubliée, ce qui n’était point arrivé, mais d’avoir, en de faciles amours, fait outrage à sa mémoire. L’idée me vint d’interroger le sommeil : mais son image, qui m’était apparue souvent, ne revenait plus dans mes songes. Je n’eus d’abord que des rêves confus, mêlés de scènes sanglantes. Il semblait que toute une race fatale se fût déchaînée au milieu du monde idéal que j’avais vu autrefois et dont elle était la reine. Le même Esprit qui m’avait menacé, — lorsque j’entrai dans la demeure de ces familles pures qui habitaient les hauteurs de la Ville mystérieuse, — passa devant moi, non plus dans ce costume blanc qu’il portait jadis, ainsi que ceux de sa race, mais vêtu en prince d’Orient. Je m’élançai vers lui, le menaçant, mais il se tourna tranquillement vers moi. Ô terreur ! ô colère ! c’était mon visage, c’était toute ma forme idéalisée et grandie… Alors, je me souvins de celui qui avait été arrêté la même nuit que moi et que, selon ma pensée, on avait fait sortir sous mon nom du corps de garde, lorsque deux amis étaient venus pour me chercher. Il portait à la main une arme dont je distinguais mal la forme, et l’un de ceux qui l’accompagnaient dit : « C’est avec cela qu’il l’a frappé. »

Je ne sais comment expliquer que, dans mes idées, les événements terrestres pouvaient coïncider avec ceux du monde surnaturel, cela est plus facile à sentir qu’à énoncer clairement [2]. Mais quel était donc cet Esprit qui était moi et en dehors de moi ? Était-ce le Double des légendes, ou ce frère mystique que les Orientaux appellent Ferouër ? — N’avais-je pas été frappé de l’histoire de ce chevalier qui combattit toute une nuit dans une forêt contre un inconnu qui était lui-même ? Quoi qu’il en soit, je crois que l’imagination humaine n’a rien inventé qui ne soit vrai, dans ce monde ou dans les autres, et je ne pouvais douter de ce que j’avais vu si distinctement.

Une idée terrible me vint : — L’homme est double, me dis-je. — « Je sens deux hommes en moi », a écrit un Père de l’Église. — Le concours de deux âmes a déposé ce germe mixte dans un corps qui lui-même offre à la vue deux portions similaires reproduites dans tous les organes de sa structure. Il y a en tout homme un spectateur et un acteur, celui qui parle et celui qui répond. Les Orientaux ont vu là deux ennemis : le bon et le mauvais génie. — Suis-je le bon ? suis-je le mauvais ? me disais-je. En tout cas, l’autre m’est hostile… Qui sait s’il n’y a pas telle circonstance ou tel âge où ces deux esprits se séparent ? Attachés au même corps tous deux par une affinité matérielle, peut-être l’un est-il promis à la gloire et au bonheur, l’autre à l’anéantissement ou à la souffrance éternelle ? — Un éclair fatal traversa tout à coup cette obscurité… Aurélia n’était plus à moi !… Je croyais entendre parler d’une cérémonie qui se passait ailleurs, et des apprêts d’un mariage mystique qui était le mien, et où l’autre allait profiter de l’erreur de mes amis et d’Aurélia elle-même. Les personnes les plus chères qui venaient me voir et me consoler me paraissaient en proie à l’incertitude, c’est-à-dire que les deux parties de leurs âmes se séparaient aussi à mon égard, l’une affectionnée et confiante, l’autre comme frappée de mort à mon égard. Dans ce que ces personnes me disaient, il y avait un sens double, bien que toutefois elles ne s’en rendissent pas compte, puisqu’elles n’étaient pas en esprit comme moi. Un instant même, cette pensée me sembla comique en songeant à Amphitryon et à Sosie. Mais, si ce symbole grotesque était autre chose, — si, dans d’autres fables de l’antiquité, c’était la vérité fatale sous un masque de folie ? — Eh bien, me dis-je, luttons contre l’esprit fatal, luttons contre le dieu lui-même avec les armes de la tradition et de la science. Quoi qu’il fasse dans l’ombre et la nuit, j’existe, — et j’ai pour le vaincre tout le temps qu’il m’est donné encore de vivre sur la terre.

Gérard de Nerval

2. Cela faisait allusion, pour moi, au coup que j’avais reçu dans ma chute.

Parc de Sceaux

Eugène Atget - Parc de Sceaux

Eugène Atget - Parc de Sceaux