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.

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