Archive for the Bergson Category

Embodiment in New Media

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Phenomenology with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media [1] argues that New Media brings the possibility of overcoming the immobility and passiveness of observer as it was the case in theater, photography, cinema, etc. and enabling user to create meaning for digital data by unfolding it through embodied interaction. But a piece that is ignored is that the mediation happens through a software to create a reaction to users’ body. In a natural environment users action is propagated through environment creating a series of crystallization and events, creating a series of zones of in-determination that are unfolding through time. In case of a digital interface (embodied or a flat screen) the results are in most cases a series of causal deterministic events that are designed by the designer (artist) to respond to users’ interaction. If there is any degree of indeterminacy, it is either the result of hardware flaws (software by definition is deterministic) or a simulated pseudo-randomness designed and hard coded into the system by the designer. This is completely in contrast with what Bergson and Deleuze describe as the crystallization through time. When user input is entered into the digital system, it is in a realm that everything can be (and will be) re-created and happened absolutely the same.

So the process of phenomenological body and digital environment interaction does not give enough agency to the body (in comparison to the designer of software) to be credited as meaning giving embodied interaction. On the contrary, as Manovich explains [2], new media in many cases only make the interaction more explicit and objectified. If we consider interpretation as a form of interaction and negotiating context between observer and the object (art), new media art has made this process more conscious and explicit and more prone to banality.

On the other hand embodiment is not only the use of our bodily actuators in reaction to every stimulus from the environment. Especially in Art if we limit the notion of embodiment to such reactions, art through history has been mostly disembodied. I think embodiment in the broader sense is all the feeling and emotions that we experience as an embodied being but are not within the grasp of thought as concepts or words. Then art is a way of communicating these embodied feelings through images (not necessarily visual images). In that sense a movie or a classical painting or a monophonic sound piece may be more embodied than an interactive piece that user controls a camera with a joystick.

[1] Hansen, Mark B. N.. New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

[2] Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002. pp 55-61

Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo da Vinci)

Poetry & Perception

Posted in Bergson, Deleuze with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by immanentterrain2

One day in class, we were talking about Resnais’s Night and Fog and how the images of the Holocaust will change our perception of it. The representation of history is something that I’m very interested in. How can art even attempt to depict an event as huge as the Holocaust or 9/11? There are some artists, especially certain poets, that are very concerned with history and how it is represented in their work. To give some examples:

Paul Celan is a poet who lost both of his parents to the Holocaust and seemed to have lived his entire life with an immense amount of survivor’s guilt (he eventually committed suicide). His poems are all very fragmented and difficult to understand, mainly because he invents a lot of words and uses ambiguous phrases. Celan feels as if the German language has been tainted by the people who destroyed his life and killed his family (and so he tries to create a new language). Essentially, Celan explores two questions:

1. How has the Holocaust changed the meaning of what was written before it

2. How will the Holocaust change what is currently being written?

We said in class that the Holocaust should be remembered somewhere between the past and the present and that what can’t be represented is what is important. If the former is true, then why create art post-Holocaust? Won’t anything that is created just do the event and its impact an injustice? Celan’s poem, “Psalm” interests me because it is the poet’s attempt to muddle through all of these complicated questions and to try to decide what certain words and ideas mean after the Holocaust.

After an initial reading, this poem seems like a revised creation story. Instead of being molded by God, “No one moulds us again out of earth and clay, / no one conjures our dust. / No one.” To my knowledge, a psalm is a hymn that is taken from the Biblical book of Psalms. In the Bible, this book is filled with poems that are praiseworthy expressions of faith. Therefore, Celan’s poem is not really a Psalm, but an anti-Psalm. It doesn’t praise God; it praises nothingness. According to the Bible (and this poem), all men were made in God’s image: “For your sake / we shall flower. / Towards / you.” Humanity’s image is created in God’s image, but God’s image, according to this poem, is nothingness. Therefore, the connection between humans and God must be found in negation. The third stanza sounds very much like the negation used in another of Celan’s poems, “So many constellations…” The poem says, “A nothing / we were, are, shall / remain, flowering: / the nothing -, the / No one’s rose.” This section of the poem brings up the idea of timelessness, of past, present, and future merging together, becoming continuous: “we were, are, shall / remain.” Because of this section, I’m not sure if the poem’s tone is positive or negative; I think that it is neither. It’s not completely bitter but also definitely not comforting (the first stanza seems quite bleak).

The line, “Praised be your name, No one,” could be interpreted in two ways: 1) it could be a suggestion that believers praise something that is non-existent, that God is non-existent or 2) that God is mysterious and that no one can ever really know Him. I don’t know a ton about religion, but I do vaguely remember the concept of mysticism, which my desktop dictionary defines as “belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.” However, I’m not really sure that Celan would be a proponent of this. It makes sense that after the Holocaust, Celan has trouble believing in a loving God (after all, God allowed the Holocaust to happen). On the other hand, if the Jews hadn’t believe in God, the Holocaust never would have occurred. God created men in his likeness, but these men are the ones who caused the Holocaust (therefore, God created the Holocaust). Maybe I’m reading too much into it or making connections that aren’t really there, but this is what I feel that Celan might be trying to say or at least allude to. Celan seems to be standing right between affirmation and negation, right between the past and the present.

Another poet who has interesting ideas about history is Greek poet Titos Patrikios. During the years of military dictatorship after the Civil War, Patrikios was sent to island detention camps and eventually exiled from his country completely (which gives him a different historical perspective, I think). In his longer poem, “To Go to Lvov,” we can get a pretty good understanding of Zagajewski as a poet and as a person who struggles with history and his place within it.  What Zagajewski strives for is to create a separate and personal space outside of the clutches of history.

The beginning of the poem makes Lvov a place that seems entirely imaginary (even though it is a real place): “To go to Lvov. Which station / for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew / gleams on a suitcase, when express trains and bullet trains are being born.” Lvov seems real and imaginary at the same time: the narrator wants to know what station he needs to go to but then immediately talks about dreams and dawn and more symbolic elements. The day is born at dawn and dew is water, so this can be seen as a baptism of sorts. What is being born in the first few lines of the poem is a new world where the literal and the imaginary simultaneously exist. The actual city of Lvov is in Ukraine (or it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991) and was a kind of cultural center in Poland before WWII. This poem uses Lvov because it is a real city, although the Lvov in the poem is not a real place.

Zagajewski says, “But only if Lvov exists / if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just / in my new passport.” Lvov doesn’t necessarily exist but it can exist according to these lines. There are many whimsical images in this poem that point to Lvov’s unreal or imaginative nature: “the snails converse / about eternity” and “it burst glasses, overflowed / each pond, lake, smoke through every /chimney, turned into fire, storm, / laughed with lightning.” In this poem, it seems like everyday lives and dream lives are overlapping (much like in The Science of Sleep). The narrator of the poem says, “But the cathedral rises, / you remember, so straight, as straight / as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket / full of raspberries standing on the floor, and / my desire which wasn’t born yet.” The desire he speaks of is for Lvov and for knowledge and imagination to become one.

In the end of the poem, he says that Lvov “is everywhere.” I take this to mean that Lvov lasts for a little bit and for forever. It isn’t really historical but it also isn’t futuristic. It seems to defy the elements of time and history, so it’s more like a representation of the strength of the imagination.

Both of these poets, Celan and Zagajewski, interest me because they try to orient themselves outside of history (or to create a new spot in history, at the very least). They also remind me of Deleuze’s “Desert Islands” and the rhizome (although I don’t think that they would wholly agree with D&G). Deleuze and Guattari say that it is hard to see things from the middle as opposed to “looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left.” Like the Rhizome, memory begins somewhere in the middle and has no true origin or end. In order to cope with memory, Celan and Zagajewski try to orient themselves outside of it. Because this is basically an impossible thing to do, they must create new words and ways to express themselves.

— Kilgore Trout

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2004), 9.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987), 23.

“Psalm” and “So many Constellations…” by Paul Celan

“To Go to Lvov” by Titos Patrikios

The Ergosphere as a facade: How the points of singularity in black holes and the worm holes they create connect to Deleuze’s concept of “The Fold”

Posted in Bergson, Deleuze, Philosophy and Science, Process Ontology with tags , on May 9, 2012 by immanentterrain2

(source: Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking)

Through the work of Gilles Deleuze, the connection found in the study of quantum and gravitational physics and black hole theory has never seemed more real. We have come to a point in our scientific endeavors where paradox itself, as a scientific and philosophical question, can be a valid solution to how human cognition (memory itself) works. Stephen Hawkings in his A Brief History of Time has gone into much detail with regards to this phenomena especially with concerns to his works with black holes. In effect, bringing these concepts down from the ether and calcifying them into a actual entity that can be somewhat conceived by the human intellect. A miracle of mathematics.  Hawkings has come to mathematically and theoretically articulate how travel in time is physically possible. This discourse alone opens up a myriad of ontological, epistemological, and philosophical questions. Why would we as human beings want to travel back and forth through time? The idea of paradoxes, of physically and consciously occupying two moments in time at the same instance, brings the question of the ethical and annihilatory capacity of this practice. What does it even mean to occupy to states in time essentially at the same time?

Worm holes make time travel possible. The connection of two points of singularity. Points of singularity are the points at which (in a black hole) gravity continuously collapses in on itself. A perpetual fold occurring past the event horizon, or the point at which time and space are affected by the movement of the black hole and can no longer escape.

The ergosphere around the event horizon is where everything gains a chromaticism. The portion of space and time where everything is in constant movement and variation. Deleuze’s philosophy is as much one of encounter as it is of proposing a process ontology. A philosophy of becoming. This process of slowing down the rotational spin caused by the gravity inherent with black holes is called frame dragging. Frame dragging, as conceived by theories of general relativity, is resultant of any rotating mass and its gravitational effects on the space-time directly outside of it. Whatever enters this ergosphere has the ability to enter and escape normally up to a certain extent. The interaction between black holes and the worm holes they create on both sides is made possible within this area of indetermination. An area that can be affected by but still retain some of its autonomy giving room for the process of the inward fold and the unfolding out into its milieu to take shape. What Deleuze would call, in his work with Leibniz and his concepts of monads with regards to identity, the façade.

The energy emitted from this point, its unfolding, is the façade from which we perceive it as fundamentally different from others. A mask – open, sensitive, and receptive – that allows for it to interact with the space and time that encompasses it. Allowing it to enter-into-activity with other singularities while holding its quasi-autonomy. Allowing it to always be in a state of becoming, constantly changing, affecting others as much as it is affected. Deleuze would use the idea of the Leibnizian Monad, an interior which acts much like the nuclear reaction or collapsing of gravity that occurs within a point of singularity or black hole, to relate how something that has this substantial interiority can interact with an exterior environment. “The mondad is the autonomy of the interior, an interior without exterior. Yet it has a correlative the independence of the façade, an exterior with an interior. It – the façade – can have doors and windows, it is full of holes, although there is no such thing as an empty space, a hole being nothing more than the site of a more subtle matter”[1]. Interactivity in and of itself gains a new meaning. As black holes and points of singularity, as being just that singular, all have a difference that is calculated by their relationship to their milieu.

The continuous folding and unfolding of these entities is of particular interest when it comes to travel in time. A mode of being that is indicative by its becoming as process. If points of singularity make up the terrain of all matter within the universe, proposed by Stephen Hawkings, and memory itself is the persistance of past image into the present, as proposed by Henri Bergson, then the fold as thought in and of itself gains a true materiality. As space,time, and light travels between points of singularity, the encounter of an interior with its exterior in space and time might just be the time travel that is spoken of by Bergson in his Matter and Memory. 

– Victor Peterson


[1] Deleuze, Gilles. “The Fold”. ” in Yale French Studies, trans. Jonathan Strauss, no. 80 (1991): p. 233

Hawking, S. W. A brief history of time. Bantam, 1998.

Of Actor-Networks and Virtual Assemblages

Posted in Bergson, Deleuze, Philosophy and Science, Process Ontology with tags , , , on April 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In Reassembling the Social Bruno Latour, a sociologist of science, explains Actor-Network Theory which seeks to understand constitutive relationships between actors, both animate and inanimate, and the generative potential of those interactions. He writes “…network does not designate a thing out there that would have roughly the shape of interconnected points, much like a telephone, a freeway, or a sewage ‘network’… It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors engage in unexpected relations.” (Latour, 129)

Latour’s social science includes some appropriations of Deleuzian thought.In his introduction to Reassembling the Social, he proposes to reinvent or redefine sociology not as the ‘science of the social’ but as the ‘tracing of associations’. The social in Latour’s estimation does not imply a thing among things, “like a black sheep among white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are generally understood as social”. (Latour, 5) The study of the social does not emphasize actors simply co-existing with other actors as much as processes of interactions. Deleuzian notions of the intensive, the virtual and even the ‘will to power’ covered in Deleuze’s monographs on Hume, Leibniz and Nietzsche, as well as A Thousand Plateaus, along with other readings for class encouraged me to attempt to understand Actor-Network Theory in terms of Deleuzian thought and/or vice versa. During the course of the semester, I have been trying to slowly tease out three related questions concerning these thinkers: 1) in what ways are the theories put forth by these two philosophers similar; 2) what exactly sets them apart? 3) What is the significance of this relationship?

As Latour discusses the nature of facts in a larger project of build upon thought common to the social sciences and discover new controversies as to what the universe is comprised of, he proposes a four-part process that should allow the unveiling of the construction of what he calls “scientific facts”– the last item of which is of interest in this discussion: it is now possible to determine the processes allowing for plural realities as well as those leading to stability, whereas before scientific facts were understood in a linear, hierarchical way. Virtual assemblages in Latour’s thinking are comprised of objects, ideas and beings aggregated relationships in a body of potential. (Latour, 119)

Here Latour understands the virtual and the idea of the assemblage in the same way Deleuze would, and though not lacking in ontological importance, Latour’s assemblage is more concerned with tracking and noting permutations of ontic qualities within an an assemblage than Deleuze. Latour goes on to say: “An entity gains in reality if it is associated with many others that are viewed as collaborating with it. It loses reality if, on the contrary, it has to shed associates or collaborators—animate and/or inanimate.” (Latour, 257) In my mind this fits with Deleuze’s idea of  a diverse assemblage of animate and inanimate relationships of a body’s existence. I understand this as the double articulation that Deleuze would claim is inherent to the reality of entities.

In A Thousand Plateaus—“10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals”, the authors describe the first articulation as a process that combines substances into forms—a type of self production or regulation of becomings imposed on substances. This articulation is “the plane of content“. The second articulation provides overcoding, unification and heirarchization” in the “plane of expression” which refers to the agency, potential and attributes that the new aggregated object expresses.

Central to Latour’s theory is the notion that the part and whole are always one in the same body, instead of existing and functioning as separate bodies, as classical sociology dictates. This theory echoes Bergson’s idea of the part’s relationship to the whole. “It is…the performance of the movements which follow in the movements which precede, a performance whereby the part virtually contains the whole, as when each note of a tune learned by heart seems to lean over the next to watch its execution.” (Bergson, 94) This understanding of the part and the whole central Latour’s work is prefigured by the sociological theories of  Gabriel Tarde, who Deleuze and Guattari refer to in the “Micropolitics and Segmentarity” of A Thousand Plateaus—

 [while] Durkheim’s preferred objects of study were the great collective representations, which are generally binary, resonant, and overcoded. Tarde countered that collective representations presuppose exactly what needs explaining, namely “the similarity of millions of people. That is why Tarde was interested in the world of detail, or of the infinitesimal: the little imitations, oppositions, and inventions constituting an entire realm of subrepresentative matter… at a deeper level, it has to do not with an individual but with a flow or a wave. What, according to Tarde, is a flow? It is belief or desire (the two aspects of every [social] assemblage); a flow is always of belief and desire. Beliefs and desires are the basis of every society, because they are flows and as such are ‘quantifiable’; they are veritable Social Quantities, whereas sensations are qualitative and representations are simple resultants. (Deleuze and Guattari, 218-219)

Latour’s ideas of actor networks do not only appear similar to particular notions of process, virtual and actual in the work of Deleuze, Bergson and Tarde, but also of Gilbert Simondon and his notion of working beyond ideas of the real and the possible. In addition, Simondon’s introduction to  of On the Mode of Existence of Technical Object proposes a study to promote awareness of the importance of technology and technological objects as mediators between man and nature, which is similar to Latour’s focus in Actor-Network Theory. Simondon further declares  in the essay that culture incorrectly ignores technics as an essential component of human understanding and reality by donning a “mask of facile humanism to bind us to a reality full of human striving and rich in natural forces.” (Simondon, 1)

However, Latour emphasizes that these unexpected relationships between bodies or “actors” are useful for the development of a social science that could be derived between the interaction of actors. He wants these processes to be understood in some way, at least to persist in describing what is happening in any given instant. His goal is to actualize the virtual while not denying the existence of this potential. “It is a if [he] is saying to actors: ‘We won’t try to discipline you, to make you fit into our categories; we will let you deploy your own worlds, and only later will we ask you to explain how you came about settling them’.” (Latour, 23) He asks qualitative questions to actualize the virtuality of an actor’s experience. While respecting the ontological potential, Latour’s intent is clearly epistemological, or to quantify qualitative relations.

This is where I understand the philosophy of these two thinkers to depart and where the significance lies.  Deleuze’s philosophy is unquestionably ontological. In his mind, everything is a process—much like in Latour’s theory, but he is not interested in documenting this process or understanding the specific levels of flows of potential within a body. He is interested in the idea that these potentials exist unseen, indiscernible, containing and contributing to endless possibility. Though he realizes the actual must exist at points, his interest is in the process of change—not in what can be described but in what remains indescribable.

B. Paris

References:

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Zone. 1990.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press. 1987

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford University Press. 2007.

Simondon, Gilbert. “Genesis of the Individual”. in Interpretations. ed. Crary and Kwinter. 1992.

Simondon, Gilbert. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. trans. Ninian Mellaphy. 1980.

I Don’t Want to be a Spaghetti

Posted in Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film, Immanence with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Lately, I have been obsessed with the concept of suspension of disbelief. To fully enjoy a movie, we must suspend our disbelief to a certain extent. If we sit there thinking, “this is only a movie,” we will not become immersed and the experience will not be as meaningful. To me, watching a good film is very much like being in a dream. In my dreams, sometimes bizarre events occur (and sometimes I even find them bizarre as I’m dreaming) but I never stop to analyze them – I just continue on with my actions. Also, transmogrification is a big part of dreaming. Throughout a dream, I might be in several radically different locations without any explanation as to how I got there. In dreams (and to a certain extent in films), time can be nonlinear and rapid changes need no explanation.

While watching the second half of Tropical Malady in class, it wasn’t until after the film had ended that I wondered, “what exactly did I just watch?” As the action was occurring on the screen, I was watching intently, curious to see what would happen next. Weerasethakul ended part one of his film without any resolution. Tong finishes licking Keng’s (potentially) urined-stained fingers and then walks away. When the second part of the film starts, it becomes clear that we are following a different narrative. While the same actors pop up, it is unclear to the viewer whether or not they are the same characters in part one. The fact that films like this exist (and are able to win the Jury Prize at Cannes) excites me. If viewers are becoming advanced enough to watch and enjoy films like Tropical Malady, the art of filmmaking will surely advance to new and exciting territories.

So, how does all of this apply to Gilles Deleuze? From what I understand thus far, Deleuze holds cinema in very high regard. Unlike other art (painting, sculpture, dance, etc.) it is not merely a means for communicating a message or an aesthetic device. Instead, cinema is pure immanence and sensation; cinema is its own reality. It’s also important to note that as a film is being made, it’s already a memory. While a painter can see what is he is working on as he works, a filmmaker cannot. Sure, he can edit and re-watch material thousands of times; however, memory plays a big role in the filmmaking process (after all, cinema is movement in time, so it’s not something that can be immediately absorbed all at once). At this point, Deleuze’s writings on memory and sensation are what most interest me most and have helped me to understand why he’s an important philosopher. Deleuze’s body of work seems to build toward a radically different film theory.

If we go back to Uexküll and the tick, we remember that the only way that tick knows of its existence is when it comes into contact with a warm blooded animal or the sun; the tick’s entire life revolves around these two sensations. For humans, life is different because there are larger external forces, more things to influence and to be influenced by. Sitting in a dark movie theater, watching a movie like Tropical Malady, my life becomes more like that of the tick because I am entering into a whole new existence, a new reality, a place that is “between art and life” (according to Godard) and seems more like a dream than being awake. When other elements are combined with the moving image, I think it becomes harder to become absorbed and experience a film the way a tick would sunlight. When I am just faced with the moving image and nothing more, I am given the opportunity to notice new things and to let my mind run wild. In movies without dialogue, I often find myself thinking incredibly random thoughts that don’t directly have anything to do with the film. Because I don’t have any dialogue to follow, I’m letting my eyes absorb the images and my mind run wild. When I watch films multiple times, I never experience them in the same exact way – it all depends on my mood, what I had been thinking about previous to the film screening, etc. Although the same images are repeating themselves, every single viewing is unique.

Since watching a movie is like dreaming, when we see a dream in a movie it is like having a dream within a dream. For example, the final scene of Ingmar Bergman’s Shame feels like a dream although it is not blatantly identified as such. Although I can’t find a clip of the final scene, here is the trailer for those who haven’t seen it:

To make a long analysis short, Bergman does many things in this final scene in order to make it feel dreamlike to the audience. In the beginning of the film, a character name Fillip is introduced as an acquaintance of the two main characters, Jan and Eva. When we see him again, he seems to have no memory of the couple – he doesn’t show any sort of recognition or compassion towards them when he sees them during war. Another character, Mrs. Jacobi, also goes unrecognized at the end of the film. In real life, people remember one another and even if they’re pretending not to, we can see glimmers of recognition in their eyes or on their faces. When watching the film, I Jan, Eva, and Fillip to remember one another; however, when they did not, I accepted it and did not question it until after the fact. In real life, I would find this lack of recognition strange and unacceptable; in cinema life (or cinema reality) I don’t really question anything until the film is over and the lights are turned on.

Recently, there have been many films about dreams. In Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, Stephane’s father has just died and he’s moved back to France to live in his childhood apartment. While his mother has promised him a creative job, he realizes from the first day that he is just a cog in the wheel, copying and pasting text that he himself has not created. As the film progresses, the images on the screen become less easy to identify. Is this a dream? Is this really happening? As film progresses, I accept the images as the reality of the cinema – what is happening on the screen is, in some way, actually happening to Stephane. After the film is over and I actually try to decide what were Stephane’s dream and what was his reality, I realize that it is impossible to do. Gondry has created a film that is an combination of dream and reality – it’s a dream reality that we see on a screen (if that makes sense). Without artificial constructions, our minds are haphazard… filled with unconnected, delirious thoughts. In Gondry’s film, there are no artificial constructions and we are able to experience a mind unbound. The following is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:

Movies like The Science of Sleep are important because they provide a starting point for discussing philosophical ideas. As long as filmmakers keep creating works like Tropical Malady, people will continue to respond in new ways…there will be more opportunities for them to affect and be affected.

— Kilgore Trout

Democracy, Affect, and “Enter-activity” in Zoe Strauss

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Immanence, Process Ontology, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 3, 2012 by immanentterrain2

The first of these ideas is the concept of antagonism. Laclau and Mouffe argue that a fully functioning democratic society is not one in which all antagonisms have disappeared, but one in which new political frontiers are constantly being drawn and brought into debate — in other words, a democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased. Without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order—a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.

Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics – Claire Bishop

It is always a truly peculiar situation. The tension residing in the interstices between the one and the other. The stark juxtaposition between percept and affect. The grinding in between.  The antagonism we reference above is resultant of one being thrown amongst the detritus of society. Those forgotten. That’s how it begins.  A violence that confronts the somnambulist as they are awakened from their complacent, passive, acceptance of the world about. The attempt to striate the miasma, to diffuse the smell, to relegate and delineate roles and responsibility, has created a zone of possibility where finally . . . finally, the representative becomes expressive. This I believe was the goal and intent of a Ms. Zoe Strauss. An utterance that could finally be discerned from the constructed milieu of an art world, of a home, of a people. One that resounded “don’t forget us”.

Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, located throughout the city of Philadelphia as billboards with her work strategically positioned in neighborhoods and business districts as well as in the Philadelphia Art Museum, is a materialization of these utterances and the memories of those left along the margins of our society. The identity of these individuals, as just that, individuals, via this display, has created a psycho-geography of sorts out of the cityscape as their stories inscribe their-story (as opposed to his-story) along billboards that dot the sky. The contrast of these images can be jarring as you pass the hopes and dreams of these individuals and the falling out of those same dreams against the progressive utopic skyline of a area betting everything on becoming “America’s next great city”. Zoe is calling for a reading of the lives of the individuals she documents – people she has lived with and befriended – to disturb those walking by. To wake them up. Calling attention to the artistry of these people and the environment that many blindly walk through as these people, trembling and hungry, stand to make up the foundation of our society. Kafka’s melancholic style, resultant of the hyper industrialization of the times he lived in makes plenty of commentary on these facts. His Hunger Artist is evocative of his resentment of the times. “When . . . some leisurely passer-by stopped . . . and spoke of cheating, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward”[1]. Zoe attempts to show the failings of this society in a very human way. To show that society has cheated that which it was meant to protect and afford the right to live. For isn’t the mainstay of our culture supposed to be the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Most importantly to life?

The role of identity within these images – the expressive gestures finally enunciated by those who were subjected to alterity in our society – begs to action not only from the reader of these works but from the subjects documented themselves. In a process of individuation, their identity moves from that of negation to a bellowing affirmation of self. As me because I am me. In truth it was hard to hear these voices at first. The space was filled not with shock and awe but with what Gilles Deleuze would state from his analysis of the works of Francis Bacon, a scream where the source was nowhere to be found. The residue of an attempt to codify and define, to striate the subjects and the subject matter within these pieces. A violent disorientation was the end goal. Screams to the tune of “that’s disgusting” . . . “do people live this way” . . . “this is so random” were ever apparent as they were said by the reader’s of the exhibit.  It was angering, however, this violent disorientation was required of myself as well. Amidst the sounds of laughter, disgust, awe, “don’t go in there . . . don’t look”, was a beautifully tragic project. Tragic in the Greek sense of the hero falling at the expense of what they love or those closest. This story however was re-invented. Zoe’s attempt to give voice to these situations were not about heroicizing problems or vilifying the people’s stories displayed by her works but to vivify their memory. To add a thickness and intensity that contributed to the materialization of their memory. Not as an epithet or effigy but to in-liven their faces.

The soundscape that accompanied the experience of these works added to the working assemblage of constructing their meaning.  The juxtaposition of the well off, high middle class and the open display of the lower rungs of society and the resultant reactions were a jarring reminder of the socio-political landscape that we occupy in our contemporary urban landscape.  “Images without sound are powerless to express horror”. [2] The exegesis of this horror is essential to begin a process of constituting the subject and the individual within this environment of the exhibition space. Allowing for an affective re-constitution that transforms both agents within this assemblage of meaning. There is a rebellious duty to disturb that is evident in each piece by Strauss. Art is meant to disturb and disrupt the status quo. In other words to question.

Zoe Strauss (source: Philly.com)

Identity really becomes material as one traverses the landscape of the exhibit. The promise of photography as a medium is its ability to record difference and time. Difference becomes innate and identity is not constituted through a negation of an other. It becomes a process.  The idea of the subject becoming an individual breaks with a historical trajectory that has tried to demarcate the boundaries of humanity and those included within its purview. The other and their existence, their minor status within the social, have been shown to be a conscious construct of those (regardless of number) who have ascertained power in relation to those subjected to it. “One ever feels his twoness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”[3] One ever feels their status and the status that has been imposed on them. DuBois would go further to say that “[i]t is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” The work of Zoe Strauss is an attempt to reconfigure the image of those with this double consciousness. Those that are subjected to the discursive laws of society and made to feel a “twoness” as the result of the unity of the multiple forces that constitute their identity being torn between two ends or points in the landscape that make up or social-hierarchical structure. To render the invisible not merely as a form of representation but to begin the process of expressing the identity of those within the photographs at that particular instance in history.

Zoe, with an allusion to Bergson and his notions of concrete and abstract time, tries to render the forces within our social terrain visible and remove the confusion that Bergson would constantly refer to in his ideas on time, matter, and memory.  Strauss wants the viewers of these pieces to be realized and to know that they are existent because they truly are. The viewers experiences juxtaposed with those in the photographs renders this distinction more real.  For the viewer, they become a part of this coming into existence as they travel through the spatial enunciation of this identity recorded in a visually material literature. A material language that is read through their active participation in the construction of these spaces meaning and recording in history. To turn this image on its head and give voice to those who in society were told that their voice could only be validated through certain schema or blocks in the social terrain of human experience.

In the case of antagonism, argue Laclau and Mouffe, ‘we are confronted with a different situation: the presence of the ‘Other’ prevents me from being totally myself. The relation arises not from full totalities, but from the impossibility of their constitution.’ 40 In other words, the presence of what is not me renders my identity precarious and vulnerable, and the threat that the other represents transforms my own sense of self into something questionable. When played out on a social level, antagonism can be viewed as the limits of society’s ability to fully constitute itself. Whatever is at the boundary of the social (and of identity), seeking to define it also destroys its ambition to constitute a full presence: ‘As conditions of possibility for the existence of a pluralist democracy, conflicts and antagonisms constitute at the same time the condition of impossibility of its final achievement.’[4] We must push to the edges of those boundaries and burst through. To invent through the openings that have been created via the intense accumulation of otherness on the fringes of society. “Antagonism is discursively constituted”[5] and was made evident through the conversation surrounding each piece within the art gallery and the pieces throughout the city as well.

The process of individuation and democracy must be exhausted as these terms – democracy, interactivity, agency, etc. – are blindly wielded in not only the art world but also the world theater at large. How is a sense of agency, empowerment, or democracy within these theaters even possible based on certain superficial or superimposed ideals glazed over agents and bodies in society? Identity must be valid within one’s self. If unity is multiplicity, as discussed by Nietzsche or even Spinoza, we cannot solely rely on a constituted subject as the result of a derogatory machine that works, subjugates and “reposes on a double identity: of the thinking subject, and of the concepts it creates and to which it lends its own presumed attributes of sameness and constancy . . . In thought its end is truth, in action justice. The weapons it wields in their pursuit are limitive distribution (the determination of the exclusive set of properties possessed by each term in contradistinction to the others: logos, law) and hierarchical ranking (the measurement of the degree of perfection of a term’s self-resemblance in relation to a supreme standard, man, god, or gold: value, morality). The modus operandi is negation: x = x = not y. Identity, resemblance, truth, justice, and negation . . . The end product would be ‘a fully legitimated subject of knowledge and society’ . . . endlessly reproduced and disseminated at every level of the social fabric.” [6] An X = X not because X is not equal to Y but because X is X. This demarcates an indiscernible zone of autonomy within the social landscape that allows for identity to stand in and of itself. A zone that is relationally and affectively interconnected with its milieu. Zoe herself is emblematic of this concept as she still lives within the environments and personally interacts with all of those in her work. The question now becomes how, in these “indiscernible” zones of autonomy, do we truly identify the subject and give it voice? How do we release it from the territorialzed confines of society at large? How do we allow for it’s becoming?

The subject, identity, and/or the individual is realized through a spatial/relational orientation with its milieu. This is an affective relationship. One that allows for all parties involved to enact change on each other. Without this relationship constituted in this way, nothing can occur within the modernist or postmodernist ideal as we have defined it (if we can truly say that it is something that can be defined). Interactivity occurs within the encounter and experience derived of actively perceiving these images that afford us the opportunity to think outside given frameworks. There is no cause and effect type of relationship here as these perceptions and the subsequent meaning – created, not derived – from them occur in the instantaneous moments which we perceive as we “enter-act” (as opposed to merely interact) with pieces. They are created in praesenti. As Hume would note, cause and effect is inferred – it is not given. It is a construction that humanity uses to make the world sensible or intelligible and occurs a posteriori. Hindsight is always 20/20. Thus is logic and causality. Our knowledge and meaning emerges in that miraculous duration of attentive tinkering we call perception. “ . . . The emergence of both individual and milieu – following a course [devenir] in which preliminary tensions are resolved but also preserved . . . the conservation of being through becoming”[7]. Any democratic notions inherent within these works are upheld through this tension. This tension is the creative force, in the in-between (mediation or medius in its pure etymological sense), that materializes the memories and stories told through the interaction one enters into with the photography in the exhibit and billboards displayed throughout the city.

Memory and perception are the apparatus by which we construct a narrative through perceiving these works. Along with Bergson (In his Matter and Memory), the inventive capacity of our cognition, our action in thinking, lies within our ability to forget – our short term memory – which in turn forces us to invent. Henri Bergson defines memory itself as an image that intervenes in active perceptions as we experience the world. Memories become the residual of our affective experience of the world about. These memories are “materially” perceived. By attaching memory and consciousness to a physical process of perception, I believe Bergson allows for the materialization of not only matter but identity itself to be rendered comprehensible even in art. “Matter can be impressed with a form, and the source of ontogenesis can be derived from this matter – form relation. Indeed, if haecceities were not somehow inherent within the atom, or matter, or indeed form, it would be impossible to find a principle of individuation in any . . . realities. To seek the principle of individuation in something that preexists this same individuation is tantamount to reducing individuation to nothing more than ontogenesis. The principle of individuation here is the source of haecceity”[8]. This formation of matter is the beginning of our material perception of our milieu and the beginning of how we can enter into interactivity with the world and in this case this exhibit. Our memory (in the long-term) can no longer be perceived as a latent vegetative contemplation or “image”. “In truth, it no longer represents our past to us, it acts it; and if it still deserves the name of memory, it is not because it conserves bygone images, but because it prolongs their useful effect into the present moment”.[9] This expressive transformation of memory as images and its becoming active in the present is exactly what Zoe’s aim becomes as she spatially gives voice to those within her photographs throughout the city and the art gallery. Our perception of these elements, interwoven into the social fabric of the urban landscape, and the socio-political and economic landscape of the art gallery, allow for a prolonging, and vivification of our experiences long gone but brought to the for.

Zoe Strauss Billoard Project Map
(source: Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The first records, in the form of memory-images, all the events of our daily life as they occur in time; it neglects no detail; it leaves to each fact, to each gesture, its place and date. Regardless of utility or of practical application, it stores up the past by the mere necessity of its own nature. By this memory is made possible the intelligent, or rather intellectual, recognition of a perception already experienced; in it we take refuge every time that, in the search for a particular image, we remount the slope of our past. But every perception is prolonged into a nascent action; and while the images are taking their place and order in this memory, the movements which continue them modify the organism, and create in the body new dispositions towards action.

Matter and Memory – Henri Bergson

These new dispositions allow for a transformative change that in a present, immanent, world of relationality we gain agency in our autonomy as a becoming individual. Agency can no longer be relegated to something that is bequeathed to subjects which in turn subjectifies and indebts them once more to the one who gave this all-too-wonderful gift. These changes can be read as we, as well as our milieu, come into existence in a symbiosis of in-volution. These changes can be read across many different mediums.

This is the primary reason why, in this essay, we have referred to the viewers of these works as readers. This in-volution calls for a new form of literacy in how we interact and navigate an environment such as the one we have been describing in gallery space housing Zoe’s exhibit. A form of literacy that in many ways has been devalued as it cannot be controlled or has been subjugated to other forms of knowledge construction so that it can be. For are not words microcosms of difference that are physically and psychically read due to their innate and minute differences in their constitution and how they’re juxtaposed against open space? Are they not read by the scanning of even the most infinitesimal differences in the assemblage of their visual components? Do we not hold them in contrast to the plane from which they emerge (their environment/milieu)? Essentially, a poetic (and by poetic we mean in the greek sense of creation) attempt to striate, territorialize, and demarcate areas of space to construct systematic meanings from a smooth, indiscernible plane? This action in and of itself, and the illocution or statements that elicit performative acts is exactly what constitutes a language (especially when it comes to art and materially based linguistic systems), otherwise, what is the point? “[T]he performative itself is explained by the illocutionary . . . and the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation”[10].

It is in these assemblages that we are truly interested in order to ascertain a new image of what it means to read these newly re-constituted spaces. What begins to define these territories are these becomings of expression, the enunciated utterances mediated through the words represented by the works placed throughout the city and the gallery space. “ . . . [T]his moment: the becoming-expressive . . . the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints . . . [is] the essential thing. . . [T]he disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory”[11]. The coding of these territorialized spaces are due expressively to this “disjunction”, juxstaposition, or difference in contrast to the milieu these objects are embedded in. In other words, a psycho-geographical rendering of urban space that we consciously perceive and begin to read. And finally beginning to construct knowledge and meaning based on their collective force in expressing their identity. These codes are not predetermined, a priori, determinations of meaning but are derivative of experience and experimentation (as Hume would lay out on his artifice of thought). Through Zoe’s works, it becomes apparent that we enter into these assemblages of meaning not by choice or rationale, but by a necessity to make sense of it all. An affective, symbiotic, relationship that interconnects bodies, modalities, or these indiscernible zones of being to one another. As stated before, if left to logic and ratiocinicity, there would be no room for readers to perceive the variance or chromaticism innate within these pieces. We would be confined to the same functive, normalizing lingual games that we continually impose on environments to derive sense from them after the fact. Meaning can no longer unfold and we are taken out of the immanent and immediate environment in which we conceptualize and communicate the beauty in the world. We must be inventive and through our collective assemblages of meaning and affective (instead of effective) interaction with each other we can communicate this ontogenetic, engendering knowledge. For a new image of language, “[t]he organization of qualified marks into motifs and counterpoints necessarily entails a taking on of consistency, or a capture of the marks of another quality, a mutual branching of . . . colors-gestures . . . Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of a differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were formerly content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the ‘consolidation’ of their coexistence and succession”[12]. This consolidation of expression begins to constitute our new image of language, the word itself, and move toward the valorization of lingual systems that are not primarily representative.

This capacity is found in art and is exemplified by the work of Zoe Strauss in her 10 years exhibit and billboard project. Zoe’s work, “produces an active solidarity in spite of skepticism; and if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility”[13]. An act of solidarity bellowing out from the margins of society and captured in Zoe’s photography.

Victor Peterson 

Notes:

Zoe Strauss: 10 Years Exhibit – Philadelphia Museum of Art

Zoe Strauss Billboard Project in Philadelphia


[1] Kafka, Franz. A Hunger Artist. CreateSpace , 2010. Print.

[2] Toussaint, Jean-Philipe. The Bathroom. Dalkey Archive Press, 1985. Print.

[3] DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls Of Black Folk. Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.

[4] Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2004): 51-79. Print.

[5] Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, Towards A Radical Democratic Politics. Verso Books, 2001. (P. 168)

[6] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

[7] Simmondon, Gilbert. The Birth of the Individual. J. Crary and S. Kwinter. Zone Books, 1992. Print.

[8] Simmondon p. 298. A Haecceity encompasses the discreet qualities, innate to a body or entity. Difference is at the root of all identity.

[9] Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. , 2004. Print.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print. (p. 78).

[11] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p 322.

[12] Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 330.

[13] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guatarri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Theory and History of Literature. Volume 30. (1986) Print.

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

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Deleuze, Film, Subjectivity with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2012 by immanentterrain2

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