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