Reorientation of Time and Space: A Study of Narrative, Painting and Film

Deleuze’s interest in the relationship between time and space resonates through his work. Recent course readings have coalesced around ideas of rhythm and milieu along with the dynamic relationships they allow, setting groundwork, in a sense, for his treatise on the spatiotemporal, relating time to movement and image in film in Cinema I and Cinema II.  The texts have engaged my interest in a study of  how relationships of time and space have been employed artistically across various forms of media to evoke deterritorializing, intensive effects serving as a push toward a reorientation of values.

Kafka’s work serves as a Deleuzian model of print narrative as plots twist into and out of themselves creating intensive narrative connected to its own dissolution. Kafka’s use of temporality can be understood as a component of minor literature that deterritorializes the reader.

The short story A Country Doctor melds ideas of temporality and space in a way that divorces the reader from previously held valuations of such ideas. It is easily illustrated in a synopsis of the work in which entities are unreliably referred to by pronouns as the narrative oscillates between past and present. The country doctor is awakened to attend to a patient he does not know, on horses that mysteriously appear in his stable, likely at the price of his maid’s safety. He is whisked from the scene of the maid’s peril to the sick man’s bedside. Time and space mutate simultaneously. With little use of narrative transition, the doctor is transferred from place to place, but always needs to be somewhere else.

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor 2007/21 min. Yamamura Animation

Kafka creates a world of components which appear recognizable, yet work outside our experience, so that all understanding of their familiar characteristics and uses will not help us decipher their new relationships and values. If our seemingly stable and autonomous universe can possibly serve as  foundation for such a reality and can be extended and transformed in such a manner, its stability becomes problematic—the disturbing potential once acknowledged can no longer be dismissed.

Moving from spatiotemporal constructions generated by texts on the page to two-dimensional images, Francis Bacon’s work is exemplar of blurred time and space—streaked with smears, globs and scratches—indicative of a passage of time in a painted version of a photographic frame, suggestive the progression of time as the work itself was created. The works are intentionally finished complete with accidents and imperfections. Bacon’s work, as the work of those such as Cezanne and Braque nearly a century before, is an abstraction echoing the daily visual encounter with the world, with enough aberration to haunt our idea of reality and cause an affective deterritorialization.

In Study of a Baboon, a work housed in MoMA’s permanent collection, Bacon’s intense brushstrokes, wiped out and repainted at the focal point, evoke a moment in a seemingly furious movement or transition frozen for an eternity. Combined with the dry-brushed crossed lines, the image could be understood to include a cage, but one is unable to discern whether the figure is inside or outside of it. If inside, does it imply the spectator inside as well?

  Study of a Baboon, 1953. Francis Bacon

The image is familiar, yet foreign. The spectator learns from the title of the painting that the image could be interpreted as a baboon. The face of the baboon figure turns towards the spectator from a place of visual indiscernability and screams.  The viewer is once again implicated by this image frozen in time, causing an identification with feelings of intensive space and time, as well as deterritorialization.

As the discussion transitions from the still image of paint and canvas to the moving image of film, Tarkovsky stands out as one who takes seriously the relationship between time and image. Temporal deterritorialization could be said to be the main tenet of Tarkovsky’s cinema. His use of long takes, surreal settings and plot that typically resembles a type of science fiction engages the spectator in a sometimes excruciating and often futile attempt to follow or create a narrative. Any meaning that could be drawn from the work, comes not neatly in understanding ordered plot elements, but after reflecting on the film as a whole, both in form and in content.

This is true of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. The film follows the journey of three men: the stalker leads a writer and a scientist through the Zone, a hazy post-apocalyptic landscape, in search of the Room, a place the stalker has never seen but supposedly lies hidden in the deep tangled passages within the Zone. The Room is rumored to have the power to fulfill entrants’ innermost desires. Their quest ends as they finally arrive at the entrance to the Room. The three stand outside the entrance in an extended shot but never enter. The stalker, the writer and the professor are transferred, in a single cut, back in the bar where the journey began.

Stalker 1979/160 min. Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s trademark long take combined with his artistic choices to present time in a specific way through cuts creates a unique temporal deterritorialization. In combination with the setting that bears earthly resemblance, spectators identify with and are simultaneous alienated from the work. In many ways Stalker also imparts affects similar to those feelings imparted by Kafka’s novels and Bacon’s paintings. Deleuze would likely agree that Tarkovsky’s treatment of space and time in Stalker suggests an alternative way of viewing a film. It allows spectators to circumvent conventional understanding of what film structure and narrative should be—it causes the viewer to question their own view of reality and to look at the world in new way.  Tarkovsky’s treatment of time and space is indicative Deleuze’s summary of Bergson’s idea of time and subjectivity in Cinema II: “Time is not the interior in us, but just the opposite, it is the interiority in which we are, in which we move, live and change.” (Deleuze, 82)

–B. Paris

References:

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema II: The Time-Image. University of Minniesota Press. 1989.

Deleuze, Gilles. Logic of Sensation. University of Minniesota Press. 2002

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 30. 1986.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. “Affect Percept Concept”. What is Philosophy?. Columbia University Press. 1994

Kafka, Franz. “The Country Doctor”. A Metamorphosis and Other Stories. 1993

Tarkovsky, Andrei. Stalker. 1979

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