Sunday, April 18, 2010

image, matter, memory, and words ...

There's an ambitious title. Continuing my reading of Bergson's Matter and Memory, which I share here, in my in-process notes, I see that Bergson is after the use of "image" as a "common sense" version of our ability to conceive of matter. He asks his readers to contend with this concept, absent awareness of philosophical debates, to perceive as
a mind unaware of the disputes between philosophers [i'm in]. Such a mind would naturally believe that matter exists just as it is perceived; and, since it is perceived as an image, the mind would make of it, in itself, an image. In a word, we consider matter before the dissociation which idealism and realism have brought about between its existence and its appearance. (viii-ix)

I appreciate a writer who is willing to sidebar an entire and entirely established line of reasoning in the name of advancing his argument. At the very least, it's bold, so I'm staying with this (whereas others have perhaps -- and simply -- dismissed Bergson at this "heresy").

As you might imagine, Bergson turns next to advance "memory" as crucial to the contemplation of matter, image, and our perceptions of each, all of which lead us (back) to questions of "the classical problem of the relations of body and soul" (xii-xiii). Bergson wants us to "see this problem as centering upon the subject of memory ..." which makes sense to me and surely to you, but what troubles me to some extent (although I do not disagree) is where he contends that memory as it relates to the body/soul problem, is "... particularly [focused] upon the memory of words" (xiii). Images? Sure. Words? Okay. But privileging words over images as crucial for seeing memory as the tool most useful for worrying the body/soul relationship? I am right now resisting this notion entirely, Brian Massumi whispering ghostly on "the primacy of affective in image reception" (24). And this resistance obtains, especially as I read Bergon's attempt to reason (slightly condescendingly) that "the physical state seems to us to be, in most cases, immensely wider than the cerebral state," which is to say that the brain is mostly about imaging the body's "movements of locomotion," (xiii) which is not a little reductive, perhaps. This cerebral activity is ongoing, for Bergson ... a perpetual "unrolling [a nicely cinematic term, like "unspooling," which also carries a hint of madness] ... of these sketched-out, or prepared movements" (xiii). Bergson contends that could we see inside the workings of the brain, this is the only "thing" we would be capable of seeing. We would see nothing of "consciousness," (xiv) which seems odd given that our ability to image movements as a kind of perpetual forecast seems profoundly or at least to some great extent contingent upon memory, and perhaps this is where Bergson plans to go ... toward some integration (surely).

... And I see that Bergson intends to go there, yes. In short, this perpetual imagistic forecast of our locomotive experience Bergon identifies as somewhat flexible. He argues that "our psychic life may be lived at different heights [no doubt!], now nearer to the action, now further removed from it, according to the degree of our attention to life" (xiv). This gets after Bergson's central concern: the soul is more complexly demanding of our mental efforts (conscious or not) than is our body. The soul represents "a greater dilatation [dilatation!] of the whole personality, which normally narrowed down by action, expands with the unscrewing of the vice in which it has allowed itself to be squeezed, and, always whole and undivided, spreads itself over a wider and wider surface" (xiv), the demanding biotch! And here, this "unscrewing" vibrates with Massumi's contention that "[t]he autonomy of affect is its participation in the virtual. Its autonomy is its openness" (33). Massumi, in fact, suggests that Bergson's work is helpful here (31), and I begin to see why. Spinoza, too, with his definition of joy as perceived emergence or " that passion by which the mind passes to a greater perfection," (III Proposition 11, Scholium, Ethics), or, as the author of the Spinoza entry has it over @ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (handy for the lay philosophy blogger) "the passion one experiences in the transition to an increased power to strive."

Open: Bergon wants to disrupt views on psychic disorders so that they are more about soul-liberating mental adjustments (and, if we are to imagine that brain activity devoted to movement must perhaps relinquish some of its time/energy to the body, well then also physical). That is, Bergson imagines a productive "unloosing or a breaking of the tie which binds the psychic life to its motor accompaniment, a weakening or an impairing of our attention to outward life" (xiv-xv). From this, Bergson wants to see psychology and metaphysics working together toward problem solving in interdisciplinary fashion. He desires a scene in which

psychological analysis ... never forget[s] the utilitarian character of our mental functions, which are essentially turned toward action ... [and] that the habits formed in action find their way up to the sphere of speculation, where they create fictitious problems, and that metaphysics must begin by dispersing this artificial obscurity." (xvii)

I'm seeing some juicy problems involving memory and the body. and visual rhetoric. and self-help books. and film-as-emergence, and the integration of sound and vision via Michel Chion's "audio-visual contract" (9).

But so my interests are vortexing about ... "unscrewed" ?? This is not unusual, but keep in mind that I am simply trying to make my way through this book (these books) that may or may not be of much use to me (or you). In other words ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

bergson's def of "image"

from Matter and Memory, by Henri Bergson, with and against whom Gilles Deleuze works his Cinema theories. I'm making my way through these works, and I will be writing about them here at kind of ... for a bit.

To begin: "... realism and idealism both go too far, ... it is a mistake to reduce matter to the perception which we have of it, a mistake also to make of it a thing able to produce in us perceptions, but in itself of another nature than they. Matter, in our view, is an aggregate of 'images.' And by 'image' we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing, -- an existence placed half-way between the 'thing' and the 'representation.' This conception of matter is simply common sense" (viii).

it might seem easy to get super-resistant to Bergson, here, especially with his formulation of "half-way," but i don't (maybe i have no common sense?). for he explores this conception reasonably well, continuing with a useful scenario:

"It would greatly astonish a man unaware of the speculations of philosophy if we told him that the object before him, which he sees and touches, exists only in his mind and for his mind, or even, more generally, exists only for mind ... " (viii).

sure. and there is even an obligatory nod to the "superiority" of philosophy, so keep going, say the academics. sure. and but so ...

"Such a man would always maintain that the object exists independently of the consciousness which perceives it. But, on the other hand, we should astonish him quite as much by telling him that the object is entirely different from that which is perceived in it, that is has neither the colour ascribed to it by the eye, nor the resistance found in it by the hand. The colour, the resistance, are, for him, in the object: they are not states of our mind; they are part and parcel of an existence really independent of our own. For common sense, then, the object exists in itself, and, on the other hand, the object is, in itself pictorial, as we perceive it: image it is, but a self-existing image" (viii).

There is much to love and worry and explore in this, but for now, I must "take my leave" (since we are adopting poses; i love Bergson's prescient adoption of YodaSpeak, btw). I am heading to campus to teach but will pick this up again as I work through Bergson and Deleuze on Cinema. You are excited for this.

Monday, April 12, 2010

so this is great ...

many of you saw that yesterday i was busy posting pics and raving about my new office workspace. and it IS great. but, i have to be honest and am not yet sure how i will deal with this, but ... the floor tilts a bit, and there is a nearly imperceptible (not for me!) pull to the right. and you see, the chair IS on casters, so it does want to roll, justaweelittlebit. and if i really look closely, i can see when i'm working on the macbook pro that the line skews down and to the right.

oh, who am i kidding? i am probably going to feel OCD'd into moving the whole operation to the center of the room, the "nadir" of the room, if you will (the center!! so unhip, design-wise). for now, i will fight, living slightly off-kilter (which is not unfamiliar to me). stay tuned for updates on this important matter (i'd smiley you, but this is serious, people).
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Friday, April 2, 2010

Deleuzian "out of the loopness" ??

in my efforts to develop my film studies knowledge, a project that has been happening behind the scenes of my film production efforts, i have read much of Deleuze. but it wasn't until i started reading his specific Cinema books (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, and Cinema 2: The Time-Image) that i found myself becoming more deeply invested in his concerns. i had been intrigued by Patricia Pisters fine work in The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working With Deleuze in Film Theory, as that work held forth a useful introduction to central concepts in Deleuzian thought (and i had not yet encountered Deleuze's work with Felix Guattari except by way of secondary sources, hallway chats, and the like).

so far, i have this to say: Deleuze's Cinema books are fascinating. they are heady and dense and sometimes seem contradictory, but in them i sense a logic that requires intense contemplation, and i believe that my own work as the director/producer (etc.) of several short documentary (digital) films has helped me to comprehend the dynamics informing Deleuzian logic as it vibrates (with pleasure, it seems to me) throughout the 2 books. i'm no expert, but i sense a comprehension. what's more, the works seem to focus upon filmic rhetoric itself, avoiding infantilizing moves to focus upon spectators (the continuing dominance of hermeneutics over production, it seems to me, rather than the emergent -- and "Deleuze-approved" rhetoric-as-production ... emergence ... becoming ... ).

so i am reading with great interest Richard Rushton's "Deleuzian Spectatorship" (Screen 50. Spring 2009). Rushton argues that many theoretical approaches to Deleuzian film theory emerge not by way of his Cinema books but by contemplating Deleuze's work with Felix Guattari; here, Rushton notes Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and *A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia as the sources from which Steven Shaviro (The Cinematic Body), Barbara Kennedy (Deleuze and Cinema), Patricia Pisters (see above), and Laura Marks (The Skin of the Film) primarily evolve their arguments on Deleuze and cinema.

Rushton wonders (as do i, now that i see the problem -- and i will certainly explore his claims more fully) why these keyworks in film theory evade Deleuzian works that specifically take up concerns involving cinema, spectatorship, and the ostensibly (according to decades of film theory) passive cinematic body. Rushton wonders if perhaps "such research has avoided Deleuze's cinema books because those books are exceptionally difficult, especially inasmuch as they discard most of the language traditionally associated with film studies" (47). ha! i love the candor with which Rushton here surfaces the extent to which entrenched scholarly discourses often scoff at efforts to reanimate the nature of what is "now playing" through the introduction of new terms, through the reframing of key characters and even (gasp!) the request that certain players (i'm talking to you, psychoanalytic theories thrown @ the screen) exit the scene. Rushton explains that "Deleuze simply ignores the language associated with Screen Theory" (47).

Rushton poses the following explanation for missing Deleuzian theories in mainstream film studies: "Deleuze has no explicit conception of the cinema spectator. His discourses and categories seem bereft of any thoughts about viewers, beholders or audiences -- the people who go to the cinema" (47). So. Deleuze emphasizes the film itself as the subject of inquiry, and this has, for Rushton, placed him "quite simply out of the loop" (47).

i can't help reading this without considering mainstream film studies' concern for the ostensibly passive cinema spectator (who is rarely if ever "passive"). i have long found the conventional formulations somewhat ambiguously tiresome (i'm w/ John Fiske, Cultural Studies-wise; Henry Jenkins becomes interesting for this conversation, as well; see Textual Poachers). Rushton identifies these (passive spectatorship) conceptulizations in this way: "Passive spectators were the products of mainstream, orthodox, Hollywood cinema, while active spectators were the hoped-for products of an avant-garde cinema" (47). sure, but were/are spectators ever truly passive? i have long resisted mainstream film theory because of this formulation and its perpetual (re)circulation. instead -- although i hadn't worked out a cogent theory -- i held and imagine(d) that Deleuze sees the film spectator as so naturally, so unquestionably active as to be nearly beyond consideration, and thus the work of film studies is to explore film (as) rhetoric, as active agent capable of generating multiple and multiply experienced effects. This notion of cinematic agency appears to be what Deleuze seems invested in exploring, which seems to me an appropriate focus, one that does not infantilize spectators (who are ostensibly so overdetermined as to be unable to evade but general and repetitive cinematic experiences) but instead resonates as potential via emergence. That is to say, cinematic agency is potential, as it renders vectoring effects, multiple meanings to a "spectator who cannot be said to exist prior to a film ... [whose] subjectivity is thoroughly dismantled by the film that unfolds in front of this spectatorial entity which, for all intents and purposes, is a 'non-subject'" (48).

Rushton explains this Deleuzian conception of the "non-subject" by strategically reading the Cinema books, noting repetition of Deleuze's conception of the "'spiritual automaton' ... and "a preference for terms such as 'pre-individual singularities' or 'non-personal individuations' instead of 'subjects'" (48). Rushton elaborates by pointing to Deleuze's work with Bergson, found early in Cinema 1, noting with special emphasis the concept of consciousness. Rushton explains that for both Bergson and Deleuze, "[c]onsciousness ... does not conceive of things by becoming conscious of them, but instead, consciousness is itself formed by things" (48). the active spectator, always already emerges into consciousness (of) in the context of the immersive cinematic experience, unique and discrete to its moment of immersion.

i have more reading to do, but for now i must say that the clarity Rushton brings to reading Deleuze's Cinema books feels nearly holy. more soon ...

n.b., half-formed, emergent ... this is compelling thinking for work i have been attempting to forward, the concept of film-composition as a rhetoric, as rhetorical activity that in itself produces affects/effects for filmmakers, and of special note, for students of rhetoric for whom we hope to promote increasingly -- or, better and perhaps more accurately reanimate existing -- sensitive rhetorical awareness (in mainstream terms, via The WPA Outcomes Statement, "Rhetorical Knowledge and Skill"). so but ... the film itself, its production, emergence ... not exclusively critical reflection/contemplation of it ... as the work, but critical reflection/consciousness/rhetorical awareness as the work that manifests, even absent overt effort, in the context of producing the work. trust.

* see Rhetoric scholar Clay Spinuzzi's brief take.

stand up straight & let me get a look at you

It's awards show Sunday, so i'm giving Margot. I'm through with the wishfulness and angst and regret, and Margot, more than an...