Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_023

The number 23 has, it could be said, an enigma attached to it. Robert Anton Wilson: “I added the Law of 23s, derived from Burroughs, on the grounds that 2 + 3 = 5, and Discordians were soon reporting 23s and 5s from everywhere in current history and the past.” This is probably the last of the cinetagmatics for the time being. I hear tell of a somber, geriatric gentleman in the state of Washington. The orderlies call him Surely Surly Jay. They say he’s all kinds of disconnected. He throws elbows on the way down the hall. It would hardly be likely to strike this elderly unfortunate that he owes me a reply. Where will any of us be in 23 + 5 years? Riddle me hwhat. You’re late. Kiss me. Jean Genet in Palestine. Tourne la page. Does the number 23 come up in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1996 masterpiece For Ever Mozart? When did you last see it? I’ve revisited it twice this ignoble though quite miraculous January of the year 2021. A somber old man, beginning voice off (with English subtitles): “This is what Juan Goytisolo told me in Madrid: Is the history of Europe in the 1900’s a simple rehearsal with slight symphonic variations of the cowardice and chaos on the 1930’s? Austria, Ethiopia, Spain, Czechoslovakia: a dreadful, unending Bolero by Ravel.” Godard’s film is on the road to anywhere and everywhere between here and Descartes, assessing the damage at the level of the faltering embodied imagination, a crumblebum system for the induction and conduction of images. You’ve got these itinerant thespians of disaster capitalism. There are more things in heaven and Earth, Sarajevo. What’s the writing on the wall? It’s Cyrillic. Inspiration is always in the air. Dread, likewise. In another film Godard has told us that the “catastrophe” is a particular strophe in any poem that happens to contain one. The itinerant thespians of disaster capitalism seem to be set on staging a caravan theatre about how we ought not fall in love in a hellscape. Whatever its airs, this is a tourism in over its head. As for the semi-dotard patriarchs, well, bless them if they behold unusual effervescences in the plain old light. This 1996 film from Godard actually has some salient business in common with Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which I originally saw first run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema (whose doors recently closed permanent). Mozart and Ghost Dog. We are talking here about more than merely the sects of senescence (and its beyonds). Is there as encapsulating a sequence from the year 1999 as that in Ghost Dog which finds Forest Whitaker and Isaach De Bankolé wryly bilingually commentating-in on the oddball neighbour across the way who would appear to be building some hobbyist miniaturist Noah’s Arc on the roof? Has this man across the way been talking to Juan Goytisolo? Whoever saw September 11th, 2001 coming didn’t pinpoint it very precisely and still can’t. A game of battledore and shuttlecock, a routinized ritual of whip-back-around. The whole metric is shot to shit and anybody with a big story on the odds is selling you a peg leg. For September 11th, 2001, in the province where I’m licensed to practice, it might be customary to turn the worthy client over to Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. Or, better yet, Paul West’s The Immensity of the Here and Now: A Novel of 9.11. It is hardly a well kept secret that my foremost obsession since December of 2019 has almost certainly been the writing of Paul West. Let me quote at length from the West text just addressed. What can I say? Doing this at length is the only truly righteous act I have at my immediate disposal. “Unable to discern in everyday life things that had gone wrong or awry, Shrop began to pick on bizarre reports that told him, as well as many others, they were indeed living in an unusual, even unprecedented time. It was not that almost everyone reported a headache, but that a certain Beast of Cricklewood, in fact a lynx, had stalked the streets of Purchase, NY, unidentified, for months, while in New Delhi a Monkey Man—short, human body, with a monkey’s head and metal claws—had committed numerous nighttime attacks. In the Pacific area, a gigantic stick insect had been identified as a ‘walking sausage.’ Crocodiles had been found in Vienna. A minor tornado had deluged a Wiltshire golf course with goldfish and koi carp. Frogs had poured, and were pouring, from the Italian skies. Sand from the Sahara (ah, this he understood and saw as normal) was landing on the cars of Europe. It was clear to him, however, that the world was twisting about, trying to be different. Evolution, he persuaded himself, was scratching itself and trying to be flashy. Had the two topless towers not been attacked, he wondered, would all this have seemed in the least strange? One injection of the weird was enough to draw attention to all the weird stuff that had lain doggo for years, unsaluted and unappraised. It was like (he tried in his befuddled way to regain his Shakespeare) the night in Macbeth when the horses go mad in the stables and start to eat one another, just because other unnatural things are happening in the human domain (Duncan is being murdered). All things go together, he told himself: first one, then all the rest, in wholesale perversion.” West’s novel was published in 2003, the same year he would suffer a debilitating stroke. When was the last time you thought practicably about courtship? Not even hell is hell if you are left to your own devises, but a good tangle is the cat’s pyjamas. What is there to do but do? So, what has been going on since things started to go screwy with the moles? Who doesn’t recall the extraterritorial adventures the perpetrators in their gall have themselves called the forever wars? History is torrential tomfoolery. Here and now the perpetrators positively paralyze you with their gall. Let us thank our lucky stars for that recent box set from Arrow featuring three feature narrative Shohei Imamura films. The filmmaker in question spent a lot of time in his work—whether this take the form of lavish feature movies or low-budget television documentaries—making a point of the fact that the imperial Co-Prosperity Sphere in Asia was in large part a vice racket. But I have good new for you, too. It is not only psychotropic herbs one can grow in one’s terrarium or what have you! Not at all, pish posh. The news is you can make your own springtime in the comfort of your own home. Replete with kimonos, should that be to your taste. May this too grow communicable, adapting itself in any number of ways. Unpredictable and you wouldn’t wanna be in the predicting game now at any rate, friend. I am still on the board and serving as the Programming committee chair for a still adequately optimistic cinematheque. I owe some copy to our Communications person because we do in fact have a series more or less ready to be set running, although there is of course no legitimately saying as to when exactly. What else? Any additional excuses? I have been in the pond with an echo. Underscore that. I submitted a piece of short fiction about the obscenity of telling stories, to The Puritan. I continue writing religiously (elsewhere) about books. I have also, finally in finality, undertaken a large and ambitious musical project, this first of all being a recording project in two parts and then whatever it is after that. The real throb of the matter is the throb of life, and you will all pardon me if I make a special case of living; I’ve witnessed the desiccation and ruin of those lost souls who fatefully scorned to heed the call. Surf the obscenity that is the obscenity of 21st century life. Did I tell you? You can surf here in Spring. Tonight I made sure to have a shower before I sat down and revisited Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1953) (in sterling 1080p from the British Film Institute). It is the zealous Man of God who reviles you with your “mortal soul” and warns you of “mortal danger.” Dryer’s first major sound film is one of more than one of his in which broken people with unbroken spirits plead for their lives, though some question does persist as to whether or not those spirits have been subject to infernal subversion. Tag Gallagher would have us take on credit that Dryer believed we the living could raise the dead. I am neither here to say this is wrong nor that we cannot raise the dead. I am not saying and cannot be expected to ever be saying either thing. I’ve got to do whatever I’ve got to do not to get loaded. And you’ll pardon me if I’ve kind of overconstructed my life for the moment. It is the poet John Ashbery who tells us in “The Lonedale Operator”: “Anything can change as fast as it wants to, and in doing so may pass through a more or less terrible phase, but the true terror is in the swiftness of changing, forward or backward, slipping always just beyond our control. The actors are like people on drugs, though they aren’t doing anything unusual—as a matter of fact, they are performing brilliantly.” When I think of Godard’s For Ever Mozart, and I do think about it often, I commonly summon to mind the moment a male voice-over speaks of the great philosophical master who when confronted by his student, the speaker, incredulous that anyone could imagine a cosmic endpoint or barrier beyond which there is nothing, fronts with the simple observation that “If it ends, beyond it is nothing.” The coup de grâce: “My master was the only philosopher who was truly sincere.” I sincerely doubt it. Or maybe that is merely a question in the form of a false positive. I am not sure there is all that much I can do other than rebop in the exact same words an earlier question, augmented: what is there to do but do, do da doo? I seem to recall reading an interview (or about an interview, maybe a press conference) with Godard in Film Comment as a teenager, this being an interview I seem to recall having taken place at Cannes, somebody asking Godard about the first two words in the title of For Ever Mozart being separated as two words instead of combined as one, and the Swiss filmmaker responding (or being reported to have responded) to the effect that there is a French sense here is which it is mandated to dream. You know, I am shitting you not when I tell you I have a couple crates in that closet behind me of Film Comments dating back to my high school years. There is neither pride nor shame in this, but I would still like to insist that I am not categorically opposed to lending either pride or shame a helping hand, rig it up or rope it down, come what may or whichever way the totoing and froing should happen to be going. You cannot break it down into something that doesn’t add up without having people come along like shitheads and set about adding it up on their own dang account. Hey, it may be Spring but I’m no chicken. Clouds of dirt on a country road. What does it matter when the dream is beautiful?


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_022

22.1. Far away and long ago and we are faced, effaced, with a frozen imaging, an ancient chariot suspended in the vast Argentine Pampa; it fixes itself steadily before dawn or dusk, we are not sure which, some kind of question about history from the standpoint of the faced effacement, whether something is rising or rather setting, dice-tossed into auxiliary prairie, the awakening that is the condition of the reinsinuation of the dream by underhanded means.
22.2. A Gaucho sits by his fire.

22.3. Time breaks itself in pieces, science of scarcity and absurdity of bean-count, to take the reinsinuated dream serious, like a meter maid or old aardvark arriviste, the Old World conjured for a dead man now born, i.e. Why does He return to this sad place once decorated by man? Himself, His aerial mother, His brothers His sisters. À la recherche. Things past, or adjacent theretofore.
22.4. Like the graceful Blanca, strange and ambitious, who let the man devour himself with passions, get caught up in the netting, trapped in his britches, after kissing her up against dawn or dusk, we are not sure which, all is linked…she knows that the weak let doubt destroy their hopes and she is surrounded by shrouded women to whom she is nebulously bound; she is one of them, a woman in a gossamer mask. The flower of nightmares. Black widow. Her man his death she brings. Because he is weak.
22.5. He too is bound by tragic memory, a world a word a logos where monsters are also ever-present, but not necessarily feminine or shrouded, they come and go within and without…as when they buried His dog and He saw His own Self in the pit before the dirt was piled on top. It was not the fact that He then came to terms with His own mortality, not that He apprehended in death its promise to someday take Him…this is not the frightening looming obelisk-of-heavens hallucinated-afore that frightens…rather that He was or is already dead…Somewhere.
22.6. He is told that “death makes no distinctions” but realizes that it cannot be so simple or complex because, in such an equation, such an absurdity-of-bean-count, life goes unaccounted for, dropped for convenience, bottom of a well.
22.7. A distant version of Himself unveils that He only ever wanted “to live, live eternally.” He sees that he is already succeeding but that He must also die eternally.
22.8. The devil looks on but the devil is a child like Him and is neither shrouded nor imposing; the child-devil too rides in all directions, but does so on horseback.
22.9. And in the devil’s wake appears war also on horseback and it brings the Gaucho to his knees to bleed on this treasured maternal soil, once decorated by man. War is Mars and not Mars and it leaves a dead prisoner out front of his family’s estancia, dead eyes piercing downward through earth as the dead man hears beyond the veil of the postmortem the Gaucho pronounce solemn last rights for the world, purely formalized ritual: “The war, again the war.”
22.10. Neither Darwin nor captured birds may sate His hunger for eternity and He is afraid to defend Himself.
22.11. Another bird is caged. Margarita is dead; “so beautiful…dead.”
22.12. He comes together from every place in time to greet death and tears appear again, he asks his mother: “Why did Margarita die if she was so full of life?” Faced, effaced, with a frozen imaging, an ancient chariot suspended in the vast Argentine Pampa, it fixes itself steadily before dawn or dusk, we are not sure which, history rising or setting. He is answered with His real question.
22.13. He comes together from every place in time to greet the Gaucho, realizing that “many years have passed” but none have, and He turns to Himself and the Gaucho and says: “I have come to say goodbye to everything.” But the land, that which was once decorated by man, auxiliary prairie, does not bid farewell.
22.14. Suddenly we see, faced effaced, erasure beyond censure, or the reverse and perhaps also in reverse, a frozen imaging of an ancient chariot suspended in the vast Argentine Pampa…and it is suddenly free to approach, the horizon narrows, the barrels spins, the joints lock-up, a contraption the mechanic has fixed, almost as though by accident. The Gaucho and his fire are permitted to go out, history sundered in sunders and put to bed and the madness and the grave exhalation of the grave itself and of a spread-open not knowing.
22.15. The past and future are slowly escorted out by the present or its rough equivalent. He wonders in his chariot whether the sun is rising or setting.
22.16. Both and neither and God’s aura or God’s rough equivalent and this of course is enough. Somewhere He is dying. And being born.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_021

Gayatri Charavorty Spivak, in her essay “Harlem,” a piece collected in the superlative volume An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization: “Identitarianism is a denial of the imagination. The imagination is our inbuilt instrument of othering, of thinking things that are not in the here and now, of wanting to become others. I was delighted to see, in a recent issue of the Sunday New York Times devoted to the problem of race, that Erroll McDonald, a Caribbean American editor at Pantheon Books, thinks that 'at the heart of reading is an open engagement with another, often across centuries and cultural moments.' In the academy, the myth of identity goes something like this: the dominant self has an identity, and the subordinate other has an identity. Mirror images, the self othering the other, indefinitely. I call this, in academic vernacular, an abyssal specular alterity.” Spivak first arrived to notoriety and a certain amount of renown on account of her ambitious and altogether remarkable translation of Jacques Derrida’s daunting 1967 door-stopper Of Grammatology, and, like Derrida, she is a theoretician for whom difference is always first and foremost heterogeneous difference, which is to say manifold and hyperactive, a precondition for any kind of discernment or perception whatsoever. A face resembles other faces when we recognize in that face all the various different components that add up to a face—eyes and nostrils and lips and so forth—just as we perform this operation by distinguishing the face from the phenomenal field surrounding it; we differentiate the face from what is not the face, then we differentiate the different elements of the face in mentally processing it as a face. The differences adding up to any given face will also differentiate that face from other faces which we also recognize as faces, but different ones. People are made to look at police line-ups or folders of mug shots: they are expected to differentiate all the faces, and presumably it is hoped that they will remember one in particular. Spivak regularly notes that the persistence of rigid segmentations of difference around racial/ethnic lines and those of binary sexuation are most pervasive and deeply imprinted because these are the first primary differences a child is able to notice with its sensory apparatus before the child comes to attain anything like operational sense from the standpoint of one or another language or sociocultural domain. A huge part of how we come to be socialized involves formal and informal instruction in how to codify these differences within a field of sense. Racism and sexism become routinized campaigns of programming, meant to establish fidelity to the tribe, submission to prescribed roles, and suspicion (or worse) of those classified as Other. These are legitimate issues, they are utterly pervasive, and only the worst kind of sophist would seek to convince you otherwise. Marginalized voices, communities, bodies, and peoples need to and do advocate for themselves. That being said, the identitarian “abyssal specular alterity” that begins by accepting the dominant’s rigid and exclusionary classificatory operations begins by handing to racism and sexism what would on the face of it appear to be both the terms of the debate and a short-circuiting of intersectional opportunities. When awareness of the pure heterogeneity of difference is cut off, it is not only difference itself that is lost in bulk, but along with it the possibility of identifying imaginatively within difference. That racism will tend to have already quite comprehensively poisoned those tasked with resisting it is a fact that was hardly lost on James Baldwin, who shows us some of the forms this can take in his book The Fire Next Time. Baldwin spoke from a place of trauma on behalf of the dormant “humanity” of his countrymen. What he mourns above all else are opportunities never born, a legacy of hatred and violence having arrested a nation in its sundry tribalistic purgatories, the soil rendered inhospitable to any kind of genuine communication across enemy lines and thus of any opportunity for collective growth. In “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind,” the second, lengthier essay of the two incorporated into The Fire Next Time, its title already suggesting a focus on the imagination as an exemplary political tool complimentary to Spivak’s above-quoted formulation, Baldwin writes of growing up in Harlem, a neglected and yet aggressively scrutinized community that came to progressively take on a great deal of what the oppressor projected upon it (at it, into it). Baldwin writes of having rapidly fallen out of love with the church and its hypocrisy. Instead of the tenets of “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” Christendom came to seem grounded in “Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others.” Terror, fear: those pervasive spiritual and intellectual cripplers, whatever a person’s skin colour. “And the passion with which we loved the Lord was a measure of how deeply we feared and distrusted and, in the end, hated almost all strangers, always, and avoided and despised ourselves.” A person could not hope to find a more apt encapsulation of abyssal specular alterity. Baldwin suspects he apprehends in the racial intolerance of whites a kernel of self-hatred and self-ignorance, already the emergence of a suppressed self-identification within difference that throws supposed binaries—“the self othering the other”— into confusion: “whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.” There is an absence of authentic conscience, but it is preceded by a failure of imagination. In Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Baldwin sees a force of black supremacy rising up against white supremacy, and in its so doing becoming mirror image of the dominant, ineffectually Africanizing the tropes of a long extant white supremacy. From the standpoint of Christian white supremacy, black people are the sons and daughters of Ham, cursed as such, unequal, consigned to slavery. From the standpoint of the Nation of Islam, black people are Allah’s chosen, they will rise again, white people are literal devils of whom Allah disapproves. Baldwin: “Whoever debases others is debasing himself.” Hatred and violence are loss, hurt, neglect, and need, before they erupt in the form of explosive animus. But they are above all based in a fear or a terror that produces spiritual atrophy and paralysis of the imagination. “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” The tribalistic segmentation of difference is a lie that seeks to suppress the dynamism and polyvalence of difference itself, the sole tool we have at our disposal to recognize elements of ourselves (or possible elements of ourselves) in others and identify with them outside of or peripheral to the mandates of the normative. Most of us surely know this, even if we don’t know that we know it. Think of the home in which you grew up. Parents, siblings, any number of intense gulfs between disparate parties, volatile disputes, unexpected changes in trajectory, weird intimacies and alliances, each member of this “nuclear” cell impossible to mistake in their uniqueness for any other, even should there happen to be one or more sets of twins on hand (who can only be confused momentarily). A family of origin is one kind of institution that cannot be summed up meaningfully—if we take my family as an example—as four Caucasian people who happen to not be from the Caucasus and are also quite a bit taller than average. An exemplary film here is, to my mind, anthropologist-ethnologist and peripatetic cinematic-situation-enabler Jean Rouch’s 1961 La pyramide humaine. Rouch thought of himself as a maker not of documentaries but rather of collaborative ethnofictions in which participants from a given milieu contribute to the telling of stories extrapolated from their lives and from the myth-systems of their heritage. Of the collaborative films Rouch made in Africa, he is doubtlessly most famous for those such as Mammy Waters (1953), The Mad Masters (1957), The Lion Hunters (1966) and Jaguar (1967) that focus on myth and ritual within the context of (often remote) tribal microcosms. La pyramide humaine is a purely contemporary urban feature, perfectly easy for the unschooled viewer to take for pure documentary employing more than usually aggressive self-reflexive/self-interrogative techniques, set within (and within the context of) an interracial lycée on the Ivory Coast. The film was made during a period of multiple active movements for national independence in French-speaking African territories, and there is, as one would imagine, a considerable amount of racial tension in play. The film incorporates the students it depicts as agents of critique and disputants in the negotiation of alliances and splits, the film telling us outright that it intends to get to the bottom of why white and black students almost completely avoid fraternizing outside of school. The white student body consists of reactionaries, radicals, and moderates, as does the black student body. Very quickly, it becomes very obvious that the film is not and cannot be a dialectical one about two cleanly divided camps, each Other to the other. This is first and most lastingly evident because all of the black students and all of the white students are dynamic, curious, idiosyncratic individuals, not properly anything resembling a stationary stereotype, though some will, naturally, from time to time embody general tendencies germane to their respective castes, some of the more reactionary students, either black or white (though generally male), remaining more than a little resolute in their avowed support for some sort of general segregation, though the practical logistics of the situation mean that the enforced separation or barrier only really exists in their limited imaginations. This is an institution in which intersectionality hardly needs advocates because it is so obviously an inevitable byproduct of the situation. Black and white students will not only meet outside of class—and have long been doing so—they will meet for far more than merely chitchat, not that this is without its capacity to make trouble for them. What intersectionality needs is a schooling as pertains to its ongoing negotiation, which is to say a pedagogy, which is what Rouch’s film ultimately attempts to instigate, in so doing aligning it with Spivak’s work on the necessary impossibilities of effective aesthetic education (institutional practices devoted to the use of the imagination in producing new alliances and/or lines of fortuitous development). Let us now consider how two recent longform television/streaming series situate the problem of the inauthentic or excessively narrow segmentation/compartmentalization of difference within institutional or extrainstitutional spaces. First consider the second season of the Netflix series Mindhunter, in which behavioural scientists, forensics specialists, and F.B.I. field agents working out of Quantico in the early 1980s, having already begun to compile an exhaustive database concerning patterns within the case histories of serial murderers, consistently find their data ineffectual at best, the condition in which they investigate ongoing cases the same fundamental one of presiding opacity it has always been, the data and the various tenuous assurances it affords, if anything, only muddying the waters all the more. This is the early 80s we are addressing, as mentioned, and in case there should be any doubt, season two has consistent cutaway sequences featuring active serial killer Dennis Rader (The BTK killer), who will not be apprehended until 2005 (by way of old-fashioned police work, facilitated by slip-ups from Mr. Rader). The motto of the series in toto could well be a quip offered by gruff agent Bill Tench (nicknamed “Colonel Patton” by a local lesbian bartender), who responds to free-associate spitball postulations respective what is “known” about certain kinds of criminals from his zealous younger colleague by ruefully observing that he once knew an Irishman who only drank milk. Consider secondarily the remarkable BBC ONE/HBO series I May Destroy You, created by, co-written by, and starring the absolutely astonishing Michaela Coel, the whole all-too-timely premise of which, aside from possibly having something to do with the Hindu concept of māyā, rests on the core precept that as necessary (or at least unavoidable) as it is to have learned preconceptions and strongly held principles, in going out into the world each day one can expect the messy lived affairs mobilized within unavoidably intersectional social environments to throw those preconceptions and principles into an utter shambles, and one will have to adjust, which may even mean ultimately coming to recognize oneself in the worst and most seemingly remote enemy one had heretofore ever imagined was out there somewhere, this specular enemy also having for some time taken up destabilizing residency in one's head. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_020

Loneliness is the only test of any worth. You don’t have to pass it. You don’t have to do anything. There is nothing at stake in this world: nobody gets out alive. Still, loneliness is a test, and it can fuck a person up real good, because it, loneliness, is also the perfect embodiment of Pharmakon, in that it can come to serve a rich solitary practice, veritable panacea, just as it may send the lost soul into a shame spiral and/or vivid living hell. Pure shame is: I am the worthlessness that is All. What if shame and loneliness take you to a very bad place? And what if you happen to be for all intents and purposes a dude? If nobody wants anything to do with me and that makes me feel mentally and physically and spiritually ill, is this merely an unattractive feature of my ego and the rigidity of my (gendered) programming? If a baby is left in a dumpster by a desperate mother who cannot care for that baby and is herself stuck in some kind of living hell, we do not tend to consider the baby’s problem an ego problem. But the grown-ass man is not a baby. Except of course we routinely recognize the baby in the grown-ass man. The “pop psychology” archetype known as the “inner child” is the part of us that is wailing from the depths as soon as the cold air hits exposed nerves. What is the inner child or the helpless baby? Fear, hurt, and need. Bundled up in tissue. The Hank Williams song that perhaps most speaks to me is “Cold, Cold Heart.” I have been thinking about this song lately. Hank was a scared, hurt person, and an addict, slave to need. He died at the age of twenty-nine, laid out on the floor in the back of a moving Cadillac. The song “Cold, Cold Heart” is addressed to a guarded beloved, a woman who it is presumed has been wronged by men in the past and therefore appraises her latest suitor with gun-shy suspicion. “Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue / And so my heart is paying now for things I didn't do / In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start / Why can't I free your doubtful mind, and melt your cold, cold heart.” Note that immediate leap from “things I didn’t do” to “In anger unkind words are said.” The narrator of this song, the voice transmitted through Hank’s, may not be especially self-aware. Yes, this woman has been hurt before. And she additionally very much ought to be wary of this voice, the lonesome pleading voice that may well shortly grow short, agitated/combative, as it confesses to having previously done. Nineteen-year-old me and forty-one-year-old me read and hear “Cold, Cold Heart” very differently. It is well known that the masculinist ego has a propensity to presume the unimpeachable reasonableness of its uninflected objectivity. This is analogous to what is lost on many people with respect to “white supremacy,” the fundamental foundation of which is the uncritical presumption of “objective” values, legalistic or general, that descend unambiguously from the European Enlightenment without their needing to be consciously understood to have done so. Nineteen-year-old me weeps vicariously for Hank and in so doing weeps for his naked baby self. Forty-one-year-old me is confident that he does right in his outrageous performativity and twenty-four-seven cha-cha dance of irony, just as he believes the Other, object of amorous projection or not, does right in putting up an impenetrable barrier against him. That is how this goes. There is no legitimate “ought” here being transgressed by either party. I write lately with some regularity concerning how the actress is generally my principal point of identification in the cinema. I think of myself often as a diva, which is not a closed conditionality, but rather an open question. During the last Calgary Cinematheque season, I amused one of my fellow programmers very much when I told him that Cruising (1980), the notorious William Friedkin film situated in and around the New York gay leather bar scene, which we had included as part of a Sexuality series, is, for me, totally an abstract intellectual exercise about fascism, fluid subject-positions, uniforms, and bodies…until the very end of the film when Karen Allen, who plays the girlfriend of Al Pacino’s undercover dick, puts on a the leather jacket and cap, indulging in a momentary bit of happenstantial butch drag, and I immediately think: “wait, oh my God, this movie is about ME.” This is not a claim I make facetiously; it is precisely how I experience Cruising. I am more or less male and am surely perceived by and large to be so. The vast majority of my lovers—though not the totality—have been female. What do we make of my identification with the actress? Is it perhaps a kink or perversion analogous to Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs? Do I want to put on their bodies as costumes, walk around wearing them? Maybe, in a sense, that is part of it. What seems more salient to me is that each of us is our very self the wellspring of difference and the shock of a recognition, the instantaneous emergence of a perceived complimentarity or similitude, has to be fielded by difference, thrown into relief by it. Difference is the condition of recognition. I identify with the incorporation or inclusion of something we might have imagined excluded or exclusive. I am a rare bird and I seek my compliment in other rare birds. For me, personal identification is already rarity and decadence. This happens to only be part of why I identify so strongly with the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman. Akerman’s suicide in October of 2015 affected me powerfully, uncommonly so. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder (one or two) as I am myself, her work routinely suggested a moving dialogue with a problem and a solution, an alienation working toward and in dialogue with a creative praxis. In Akerman I see a working through and within the conception of Pharmakon I opened this piece by establishing. Key films like Golden Eighties (1986), A Couch in New York (1996), and Tomorrow We Move (2004) seem especially characteristic of a tendency in her later work to foreground salubrious communal exchange, suggesting of the cinema that it might provide an ideal space for a kind of collaborative play, an inclusive extraterritoriality for those excluded, the audience able to avail itself of some of the core benefits. Akerman was a month and two days older than my mother, and she took her own life shortly after the death of her own mother. Having caused my mother as much pain as I have, especially during the years of active addiction and endless harrowing crises, I am conscious that it would be unpardonable now for me to kill myself while my mother is still alive. I took my mom, who is no cinephile, to see Akerman's mother-and-daughter-and-dying doc No Home Movie when it played in Calgary in 2016. I think she was quietly moved by it, even if she had very little point of reference. In My Mother Laughs, the final book Akerman wrote, published in English translation in 2019, the author writes of routinely feeling like a kind of alien and alienated child. “As soon as the child arrived, ever exhausted by the adult life it couldn’t live, it went straight for the couch and slept a few hours. Afterward, a little less exhausted, it ate.” The adult child reverts to torpor and ultimately to eternal rest. Self-care becomes a desperate sink-or-swim proposition. It is a slippage, precisely the demarcation of a zone of reversion. This is the thing that is at stake every lived day if there is indeed anything at stake. If I am an impassioned, gregarious, outlandish, and even a joyful performer of my everyday life, this is the surface manifestation of a spiritual struggle, the application of a panacea that can at any moment be revoked…or turn on itself. My spiritual practice and my jouissance need to be threaded through with a present and accounted for knowledge of the immediate accessibility of reversion and shame spiral. The two-sided coin of Pharmakon: a love the size of everything or a proportional cancer, one the double of the other, each alive and reachable right here and right now. The fellow programmer I amused with my distillation of how I read Cruising, asked me, in a separate incident, whether or not there are men or actors I relate to in the cinema. Naturally, the answer is yes, and in elaborating, I cannot help but trace the outline of a developmental schematic. In my teens I identified strongly with Johnny, David Thewlis’s character in the 1993 Mike Leigh film Naked, an aberrant monologist and apocalyptician who passes through ressentiment and bad conscience so as to achieve Zarathustra’s mad zeal. I open my mouth and, to steal the title of Chantal Akerman's first short film, I saute ma ville. If you live this way…you start to rack up bodies, leave wreckage…and you find yourself mired in nerve-shredding frenzy. When I read Georges Bataille's Blue of Noon near the beginning of the 21st century, I was astonished to discover the degree to which it expertly encapsulates this woeful infirmity of the nerves. No other work of fiction had previously nor would subsequently come anywhere near it in this respect. Trapped in this hell, another performance projected itself to me for me to ritualistically absorb and somaticize. This was Warren Oates’s performance in Monte Hellman’s 1974 film Cockfighter. Another renegade monologist, though one who has overshot the mark and is angling to do penance. Oates’s Frank Mansfield, trainer and handler of fighting cocks, has run his mouth, alcohol a mitigating factor, and has both made a fool of himself and set himself back professionally. He thereafter aspires to maintain a vow of silence until he wins Cockfighter of the Year. Which he does. He remains silent. And wins. Warren Oates communicates a baby’s stubborn sagacity and a nearly impossible amount of hundred-proof pathos, his silence and his eyes a wound that triumphs and is triumph. He symbolically and symbologically castrates himself; this proves to be the precondition for his ability to give himself to Patricia Pearcy’s Mary Elizabeth, the wary beloved, something of an analogue for the addressee of “Cold, Cold Heart.” A kind of fraught détente is attained, but Oates’s trainer of fighting cocks perversely bungles it by performing an aggressive and obscene act with his (ahem) dead cock—one which cannot help but provoke horror and revulsion in the affronted beloved. Our errant hero then utters the only words he will verbalize in the film’s present tense, these words tinged with an irony so ruthless that they suggest not only one individual man’s lack of proper perspective, but a universal absence of coherent metric. Cockfighter defines my twenties in that it suggests a false hope, another level of potential self-mastery, a higher tier of being, and then guts me, emptying the cavity, its fatuous degree zero established as the false start that stands in for all false starts. The male performance that comes to encapsulate my period of sobriety and recovery, from age thirty-three to the present day, exactly a month after my forty-first birthday, is that of the French rock star Jacques Dutronc playing the painter Vincent van Gogh in the 1991 Maurice Pialat film named for him. Dutronc as van Gogh expresses a total embodied gnosis with respect to what stakes there are if stakes we are willing to countenance. He shows you with a remarkable compression of means a specific tightrope walk through a tenuous recovery, almost as though those famous fields of Northern French yellow are replete with land mines. Vincent has been through the wringer. Repeatedly. He wears it well, even if this ultimately only means that corrosion becomes him. He knows—and tells you silently that he knows—that to be blown to smithereens has nothing on the damage a still-living person can continue to carry around, doomed to agonizingly persist. His gaze and gait are just deliberate enough to betray the immediate proximity of invisible trap-doors in and around inhabitated spaces. While sex workers are a safer bet, Vincent no longer has any illusions about romantic love, about anyone owing, about anyone being owed, and least of all concerning personal salvation by means of coupling. Still, part of what Dutronc’s Vincent is telling me is that living beyond the illusions cannot guard you against the fission of contact. You can see the trap you are walking into, and, in seeing it, be absolved of nothing. The lover who has lived sufficiently to attain sapience is Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist automaton, aware of walking the plank, even if certain death is itself never certain, what is ahead established only by arriving there. The cold and ruthless world is both beauty and internment. The world is your true beloved, whether you accept it as such or not. The world also happens to be something you are imposing on the phenomena you encounter, though God save you if you imagine you are wholly in control. Ecstasy is not properly ecstasy if it is not conscious that it can be ruthlessly ripped to shreds. A wary smile is the only honest smile, because it carries a little of the hurt it has earned honestly. Were you to ask me this week how I am doing, I might simply answer: “van Gogh…at a low ebb…”


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_019

19.1. Le général Yamamoto a été mis à pied. Nine eleven. Ground zero. The sky changes. Nobody was on the street thinking about summer. It is not, after all, that kind of holiday. Tomorrow I saw them dismantle a van. Summer shadow is cast by limber arbor lover, trees smell like being a child in place of actual childhood, childerhood, rabbithole. Dead when born and born when dead and without resistance to the touch of women who are…on that watch. You got that watch. That compass-watch. Keep on that watch, hon. Count me down. Tie me off, count me off. Keep time hereabouts. Don’t rush it. Tomorrow I saw them dismantle a van. Hereabouts. A tactical unit. Pressurized spectator. A man against the chassis handcuffed, waiting for the light to turn green. They have begun to ask questions, honey, about the stain that umbrellas us here and encases us with our planet in tandem, in tatters, asking me just why it is that I happen to choose…one word…where another would have done just as well in its place. Or what is meant by joy for example. Okay, okay. The whole ides, the whole pone, hon, is I’ve to reach this…this fever pitch. Keep on that watch. Approaching me at all hours with loose women, a bottle with my name on it, narcotics of weakness and discipline to cancel one another out. Frenzy. I in turn grow to worry of the lungs and heart, matter cut up and disjoined…remnants of _____, conceived on the baseboards, blind birth, keeping the heat in the basements of my ________, not to spill out into the garbage and stone. Honey, I need you to pay attention. No, not to me. Tomorrow I saw them dismantle a van. Saw and absorbed. No doubt I have no hope for the homes of my children and their children in tatters in tandem with bells and whistles burning lights lit up in their accidental Occidental sockets. Hardly even able to light up the night without drowning it out. Another Scotch in paper cup with tap water, no visitors this Sunday, nothing calling down nor to task, neither voices nor their trolley cars of anticipation ringing in the kitchen on the phone left by the…the cable cut off yesterday to clamp down on my drinking partners, and no doubt to make me…squirm. There is a thunder in our collective underpant. They name her Act of God. I will show them, pants around ankles, ankles signing their own checks, two or three things about the colour red, in full dynamic and innovative expansion. And a safety pin thru my prick hangin’ out my shorts is what they see. When I open the robe daddy handed down, all expansive red around the rosie. They ask and don’t get it. Make the beast with two back, mattressback. The Baroness. Barking in her lorry. Barbarossa. Esperanto. Afternoons reduced to fancies abandoned in adolescence or great fields of lazy excess dreamt there on cartoon bedspread, a relapse in the family tree, adapted vices and vases, on the mantelpieces in pieces, dredged up in the attics of elsewhere. Forever I am lost in the mazes of inheritance. Honey? Yes, hon. Surely I do not go wayward in crediting to you the ability to mind the compass-watch, to count me down, count me off, eyeball with your own eyeball the necessary adjustments. Surely, hon. Godforsaken. Folded rolls and rows of folderol. My Lucretia. Night, its not masking the thing. The stain. My left headlight cutting in and out. I see in the reflections of grocery stores and their windows my hair has grown down past the concrete, how dirty am I, reflected in groinlocked gridlock. They have cut off the overhead. They have weakened in the knee. Having avoided my reflection it stuns me as it creeps up on me in the city at night driving alone. Clock it. Tomorrow I saw them dismantle a van. A quatrain of vein and muscle and a meal in the eye. Like celluloid in a fogged-out fever, but still looking and still laughing. Lunging, now, intent in there. Blue intent. Human imagination disposed all things in such a manner as would be most easy. Oh Christ, steady, girl. Lying on the floor with the bottle almost empty. They have begun to ask questions about the stain that umbrellas us again and in synchronous sputtering and exacting extractions and thrusts enter the sleep I have so far succeeded in keeping to myself, coming to at dawn sweating on the carpet and unsure of the lapses that alerted me to my life on the floor and in full view of the good goat god who shines down through the windows and hurts me. Tomorrow I dismantle a week for a week in van. It is not, after all, that kind of holiday. Steady, steady. Ugh. My eyes were harbingers of headache before they were even eyes and looking down I see myself lifeless yet all agitation and rubbing off dead skin all over me, eating it for breakfast, finishing off the bottle, and going to the store for more. Gracious. They visit me again at dusk and speak of stains. All right by me. Sometimes there is a caving in and I drink and listen to them and they are full of all the nonsense that keeps me buoyant, so there is nothing to do but squirm some more on the floor and finger the empty cup nervously once it gets that way. Again it is night and I transform the front room into a Cinematheque with my friends in the ceiling and two packs of cigarettes, one in each inner pocket of the sport coat. I begin to imagine that everything on earth could be translated into English and that this is the industrial magic of the cinema which has grown quite close to me like a brother or sister might, given the time to…adjust. I am too cocksure to fall under the Scotch to sleep. My car keys all jangling up the stairs to an early bed of nails, to lie awake and read revisions stacked like produce or legislatures in journals of vagary and pages of nothing but page. My darling. If you are not a book…nothing doing. My bed, my Lucretia, is a monocle. Bedecked painter syphilitic. I sleep on. Francis Bacon. I sleep on. Mona Lisa, for no reason save time. Loose lipid in bed awake, asymmetrical warfare on the radio. The president always sounds like he’s reading you a bedtime story. How appropriate in this case. Then the. Then the president. Then the president quotes Revelations and drops bombs. He appears not to stop. Nine eleven. Clock it. Here we are. Interrupted. Rod. In a gear. And another now. And another now in synch. I keep the radio on for possible sirens. I keep on. You. You with me? Hon? Honey? My bed is a harbour for those visitors with their talk of stains. I keep. I keep my floor. I keep my floor buckled to my belt loop until the good goat god shines. Use the empties as pillows and i-beams. I sleep beneath a sky. I sleep beneath a sky without the aerial ceiling fan of airplanes. No trouble with Port Authority. No worry of parking tickets. No need to move whatever. No money to drink down but all manner of ancillary surplus. To jam them. Gears, rods. All of them in tandem, in tatters on the transom. One must finance one’s revolution against surplus from the floor. Both possibilities. And, additionally, both possibilities. The paradoxical terminal at Port Authority. All possibilities on the road to becoming nothing doing. Getting there, Lucretia. Getting there not fast enough. No, no. Don’t rush, honey. But roughly visible beneath the stained blankets and speakers. Airborne daggers of juniper. A little to the right. Dogs mobilized down the street in the park. I am not driving, my car is not with me. A little to the left. I have come under attack in the parking garages: past, present, future. A little higher, honey. Where the history shell-be-written. Stored on bookshelves incommensurate. Lower, dear. A little lower. Draw this the fuck out. Ripped-up from binding. Dredge. Dredge. Torn from the binding. Blocking the pipes in the winter. Mmmmf. Mmmmm. Binding and blocking. Pipes. Oof. Heat blocked-out in the natal furnace, the navel burnished. The god cut out. Eternal December. Ugh. Mmmm. Fuck, yeah. Nothing to remember. Or not remember. Or spit. Blood. Jesus Fucking Christ. Welp and Warp. Goodness Gracious, thank you, hon.


Sows, one by one, slosh slosh
agrave in the beshat realm conversing
(one of them is belching)
varnished by pink frippery
meandering like words sloppily slipped into the margins
of the not-particularly-special day
(chickenscratch’d swatches) –
into the margins of stupid bloody tomes
maneuvering for slop.



Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_018

18.1. The Loop, Jacques Roubaud’s follow-up to The Great Fire of London, second of the three branches constituting the mathematician-poet’s triptych of experimental Oulipo autofictions—and again consisting of a main body and two sections of “insertions,” these the “interpolations” and “bifurcations” to which the reader is regularly directed by typographic prompts in the main body—conceives of itself, in complement to its predecessor’s configuration of the Project of which it is but one branch as a work in which remembering becomes orderly destruction, as centrally concerned with the Fore-Project, or the prehistory of the Project, its dormancy and slumber, and therefore the phenomenology of its emanation. That so many of the passages early in The Loop—in the first chapter of the main body, the corresponding interpolations, and the first lengthy bifurcation—fixate on the physical space of the childhood home, both rigorously schematized and “webbed with imprecision,” means that it is difficult not to reflect on Gaston Bachelard’s topoanalysis of the soul, setting out as it does in The Poetics of Space to catalogue the many ways physical spaces come to constellate the imaginations of poets. The Loop approaches these matters from the standpoint of three distinct temporalities (main body, both regimes of insertion). This past Monday, I introduced a Calgary Cinematheque screening of Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Krabi, 2562, a 2019 film that we had originally intended to be the final Contemporary World title of our previous season, though this screening was not to happen on account of COVID and the resultant municipal shutdown. The date in the title of Rivers and Suwichakornpong’s film is not that of a distant futurity, the stuff of science fiction or the speculative, but rather an alternative present date for its production, that of the Thai Buddhist Calendar, from the standpoint of which our screening of the film ultimately occurred the subsequent year, which is to say 2563. If the current year is both 2020 and 2563, this could already be said to represent a layering of coterminous temporalities and the coextention of distinct regimes or space-times. As with Roubaud’s The Loop, Krabi, 2562 presents us with the living spectre of a prehistory, manifest most unmistakably in the presence of caves occupied by actors made-up as primordial humanoids, and it could be suggested that an implicit question is raised regarding something like a Fore-Project, that which precedes recorded history containing within it the kernel of a future anterior tense. Krabi itself is a major tourist centre in Southern Thailand, as such a very particular social space intelligible both as a crossroads generally and as a crossroads for global capital specifically, its spectacle in large part a spectacle of leisure. It is as such a place where more than one calendar might be expected to obtain. The special attention to prehistoric man in the film is in part accounted for by a compulsion to satirize. In an interview with both filmmakers conducted by Jordan Cronk for MUBI, Rivers addresses this: “It was interesting: during our site visit the mayor gave this talk, and I couldn’t understand it—there was no translator. But I kept hearing at certain moments him saying the word ‘Africa.’ And afterwards I asked Anocha, ‘Why did he keep saying ‘Africa’?’ And she tells me that he’s saying that maybe the birthplace of humanity was actually Krabi, not Africa.” The mayor’s showmanship here is of course little more than that, a fatuous “pitch,” a conscious bit of fanciful spectacularization, finding in part a visual equivalence in Krabi, 2562 by way of a commercial being shot on the beach, the director of said commercial being the filmmaker Oliver Laxe, whose most recent feature, Fire Will Come, Calgary Cinematheque did manage to squeeze in last season, and who was seen not too terribly long ago filming his 2016 feature Mimosas on the periphery of the opening section of Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, another film we have had the opportunity to screen. The commercial shoot in Krabi, 2562 involves an actor dressed as a conspicuously well-put-together caveman. Off urinating in the trees, the actor will encounter a "real" prehistoric ancestor. Because we were not able to show Krabi, 2562 early in the year on account of COVID, we ended up showing it not terribly long after MUBI had made Ghost Strata available to Canadian subscribers. Ghost Strata is a short film Rivers shot over the course of a year, partially concurrent with Krabi. As its title suggests, Ghost Strata is, like Krabi, a geology of temporalities belonging to physical spaces, stacked strata, presentation of traces. Shot across the globe over the course of a year, Ghost Strata also in its own right rhymes with the comparative stationary Arboretum Cycle, a series of films Nathaniel Dorsky shot over the course of twelve months at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and which Kyle Whitehead’s MONOGRAPH screened on 16mm at Contemporary Calgary this past October. If they do indeed rhyme, what is ultimately most salient here is that Ghost Strata and Arboretum Cycle represent completely divergent modalities of doing, thinking, and being a calendrical year in space and time. What more might we say about prehistory and the dormant future anterior? Perhaps we go to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?),” third chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. What is it Deleuze and Guattari say about embryogenesis? Ah, yes, right here: “the embryo does not testify to an absolute form preestablished in a closed milieu; rather, the phylogenesis of populations has at its disposal, in an open milieu, an entire range of relative forms to choose from, none of which is preestablished.” And then at the bottom of the same paragraph: “Geographical areas can only harbor a sort of chaos, or, at best, extrinsic harmonies of an ecological order, temporary equilibriums between populations.”

18.2. How would your average person tend to characterize my particular lunacy? I know I am mostly a pariah, people find me exhausting, et cetera. I have a tendency to prefer it that way. But why? I suppose there are a good number of ways to come at it. In Canada, especially in its arts communities, circumspection will tend to reign. Circumspection is always to one extent or another ashamed. I have known the deep shame of one who is too defective to live, and I have found in irony a way of inhabiting a performative shamelessness that, in sobriety, has become more than merely safe. Shame resents my shamelessness, and as such I often play Dan Ackroyd to the John Candy of my fellows in this national Great Outdoors. There is that to factor in. Still, sticking with the great outdoors, I am also odious from the positivist standpoint, which is to say the stultifying rationalist standpoint of the bark experts who scrupulously miss the trees, not to mention the forest. For me, the bark is already a solar system of mites. Since most everybody is currently apoplectic about harebrained conspiracy theorists and faulty pattern recognition, it is doubtlessly the case that many would find fault in my writing with what they might determine to be apophenia, or the tendency to perceive connections between unrelated things. Well, again, I am a reader of Gaston Bachelard and Gayatri Spivak. The imagination is a builder and what it builds is always real, if not always actual. It is built, you can demonstrate the thing, and you can demonstrate the uses to which the thing can be put. Was it apophenia when I watched Night of the Living Dead (1968) nearly contemporaneous with the global rollout of shutdowns in March, shortly after daylight savings kicked in, delighting in the matter of how, in the opening sequence of that film, Johnny and sister Barbara complain about the previous night’s sleep and losing an hour to daylight savings? So be it. Is it apophenia that causes me to believe that a large part of why Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela (2019) is one of the five greatest films of all time is because we managed to screen it literally the day before shutdowns ended our season prematurely? So be it. Is it apopehenia that causes me to get no end of pleasure out of the inconsequence of Vladimir Nabokov and Yasunari Kawabata having both been born in 1899? Yes. It is surely apopehenia. Ain’t it grand? Apopehenia isn’t just an alternative to positivism, but also to what Jacques Roubaud suggests is the looming threat operative in Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström.” Ergo: “that in leaning over the dark spiral of the staircase, my gaze had sunk into a whirlpool, the endless coils of a whirlpool, in which a proliferation of images was the rule. Impossible for me to separate, to distinguish, to organize. The images thus ‘compressed’ together, endlessly, one on top of the other, demonstrated another condition, another modality of past time, to me. I could hardly refuse it.”            

18.3. In furtherance of the consideration of complimentary or not-so-complimentary space-times, I have returned to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, just released on a Criterion Blu-ray which arrived here in a parcel one day in advance of the street date. This is a truly extraordinary popular movie that has only gown in my estimation in the aftermath of a second viewing. Compare it to David Fincher’s unbelievably bad Mank, which most folks will not be able to see until early December, and The Irishman cannot help but benefit, especially insofar as pertains to the sophisticated transtemproal schematic of Scorsese’s film, first a core business of Steven Zaillian’s screenplay, and then, on a whole additional level, Scorsese and co.’s cinematographic worlding. Many find fault with the infamous digital de-aging tech and its applications, a reservation I have not at any point shared, and I am happy to find Geoffrey O’Brien tackling this with intelligence in his very fine essay included in the booklet accompanying the Criterion release: “The effect is not exactly undetectable, at least at the outset; one is aware of variations in texture and sharpness, disparities between the apparent age of faces and bodies, odd distortions that can create a momentary masklike quality. But those anomalies become part of the film’s language, and what might have been a distraction serves an aesthetic purpose.” This is exactly right, and it begs the question: what aesthetic purpose, especially as pertains to the most glaring of these matters, that of the disparities between face and body? The film relates to or situates aging and death precisely from within a masquerade that cannot ultimately hold, that was always counterfeit, and that ultimately becomes the pathos of the patently pathetic Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). A masquerade, a mask. Right. A mask only covers a face. If it is clearly a geriatric Robert De Niro shit-kicking a grocer in front of his tween daughter in one notable sequence, the synthetic face therefore anachronistic, this is testament above all to an already faltering masquerade, and it immediately ought to evoke the opening vignette, the masquerade vignette, in Max Ophüls’s Le plaisir (1952), depicting as it does the physical collapse of an old man at a masquerade ball who has sought to relive his youth beyond his capacity to maintain the dissimulation. The masquerade vignette from Le plaisir is also quoted—with almost overwhelming beauty and power—at the very end of Jean-Luc Godard’s 2018 essayistic collage Le livre d'image, the scene from the Ophüls of the tragic old man from Maupassant accompanied by inveterate smoker JLG’s hacking cough. Crucially, the pitiful senescence and imminent death of the elderly Frank Sheeran belong in a sense to the futurity of a framing operation within The Irishman. Old man Sheeran’s narrational voice nominally comes to us from a retirement home in the future, but we begin “inside of” an experience of 1975, an early moment showing us Sheeran tracing in red ink on a map the prospective itinerary of a trip to a wedding in Detroit, though he does not actually know where he is headed, in two crucial ways: 1) doesn’t know the journey is one immediately toward a grievous betrayal; or 2) that this is an altogether more circuitous journey into memory and prophecy wherein the eponymous Irishman will wear various versions of his face on the same body (the younger digitized faces are much more the younger Sheeran than they are younger De Niro). If The Irishman ventures back and forth to and from and between years stretching from the immediate postwar to the dawn of the new millennium, 1975 is a grounding calendrical index. Revisiting the film, something leapt out at me concerning The Irishman’s 1975 that I had not consciously noted on a first viewing. Certainly when I had seen the film during its limited theatrical run, I had taken notice of a series of curious insert shots (almost like Ozu-esque “pillow” shots) of a suburban intersection, incorporated like repeated punctuation in the sequences surrounding the murder of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). On second viewing what was most distinctive about these shots was the prevalence of power lines and the angles of those power lines. In fact, power lines are ubiquitous in the 1975 sections of The Irishman in a way that they are not in the other sections. If we think of the 1975 locus as a grounding narrative narrated from the standpoint of a futurity, and of the film as a whole branching off from there into the past and the future, the power lines serving to indicate a transtemporality that is not only networked, but that is mobilized by the progressive construction of infrastructure, a whole new reading opens up. From here, we can insist that key historical events become themselves inherently infrastructural. The Second World War, the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, NATO’s intervention in the Balkans, the deaths of any number of major and minor players, and with the development of newfangled de-aging tech in some sense figuring into this schematic as well.                      

18.4. Geoffrey O’Brien writes of Anna Paquin’s almost-completely-silent character Peggy Sheeran in The Irishman that the clear-eyed and disapproving gaze she turns on her father represents “the power of refusal, for which Frank has never had the slightest capacity.” (Think again of Roubaud’s “I could hardly refuse it.”) What Geoffrey O’Brein insists of Peggy Sheeran rhymes with what the philosopher Jacques Rancière has written respective of Vitalina Varela in the Pedro Costa film named for her. “This leading role for a female accuser is what sets Vitalina Varela apart.” Aside from a gaze of sober judgement, Vitalina also has a voice. And a mode, a space-time in opposition to that against which she stands in accusation. “But here it is a well-individualized voice that takes charge of the accusation and asks all these fallen men the brutal question that no well-mannered left-wing filmmaker would dare to ask migrant workers, knowing the answer all too well: they are not the guilty ones, the system is. And it is the system that must be judged. But Vitalina does not know the ‘system.’ She only knows men who have made a promise and who have betrayed that promise; who have betrayed her for the very reason that they are men: beings who can always go away, leave their home, fields, wife and family behind because they are given the privilege of travelling, which is reserved for those who are in charge of preparing the future; beings who, once far away, can still use the solitude of exile, the gruelling labour, the exploitation and the wounds suffered for that famous future as an excuse for justifying this small, miserable and forgetful life these men have cobbled together.” The final shot of Costa’s film immediately evoked for me the cinema of John Ford. A tableau and a woman’s gesture turned toward distances. We are looking at an image produced through digital deception. It involves a home, a domicile, on a frontier, equivalent to so many in the films of John Ford and in American westerns more generally. It is a huge part of why Vitalina Varela, seen on the precipice of global shutdown, felt like a total culmination, the actual end of an epoch. This physical domestic structure is on a frontier. What frontier? If Rancière places Vitalina as a guarantor or possible guarantor of an actual future narcoleptic men have largely abnegated, the homestead at the end of Costa’s film exists at the edge of that future…the after that comes before what comes after…the future anterior proper…


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_017

Jacques Roubaud’s extraordinary 1989 novel The Great Fire of London pushes self-reflexivity awfully close to what we would have to imagine its limits, extrapolating to every coordinated extremity ways and means of producing a literary work that engineers itself in and through the description of itself. Map and territory, compass too. This may sound eminently “postmodern”—a word I am near incapable of using without confining it to the gulag of scare quotes—but, of course, Roubaud was a member of Oulipo, or the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, a transnational workshop largely kicked-off by renegade mathematician and Surrealist apostate Raymond Queneau, ongoing to this day, the primary conceit being that of a fellowship dedicated to the experimental research of generative constraints and formulae (often mathematical or crypto-mathematical) respective of the function they might be made to serve in the composition of literary works. We would likely be better served by calling this commitment to the conception and operational application of formal systems hypermodernist rather than postmodernist. Roubaud’s book also demands to be assessed as a critical and pathbreaking experiment in the field of autofiction. He is unambiguously the narrator, retaining his proper name as such. The novel would appear to pivot around his wife Alix, who had died in 1983 and who likewise retains her proper name. The genesis of the novel is first the genesis of a decision wrought by a dream, the decision leading to the Project, the Project already implicit in the original dream. The Project does not have anything like a proper sense until 1980, when the dream, the initial product of which had been, upon waking, merely the words “the great fire of London,” sits nineteen years in the past (belonging as such to a different reference frame to that of the novel, which occupies the non-time of a succession of early mornings, the milieu of its composition). Or something like that. “The outset, then, which I now find quite remote, is in the autumn (December) of 1961. The year 1961 surrounds the dream. Plus something I’m not going to tell, that there will be no end to my telling perhaps, or my not telling, I don’t know.” I am nearly finished reading The Great Fire of London, one branch of the Project, but a branch with many branches (“a story with interpolations and bifurcations”). Two subsequent autoficitions would appear to have emerged from the Project, and they are the next two books on my immediate itinerary. What Roubaud is not telling or will find no end to telling (or not telling) obviously has a great deal to do with grief, an occluded factor which might also help a person make sense of a project that tells us it is appropriating “elliptical deduction” and other elements of Nicolas Bourbaki’s Elements of Mathematics in order to to perform an act of destruction mimetic of what is announced in the book’s title, framed as an active alternative to passive forgetting. Of the 99 axioms from which the book generates its idiosyncratic mode, the 92nd has a special sting to it, hijacking Dante and once again talking about the deceased Alix without talking about her: “Destruction was my Beatrice.” If that sounds terribly heavy, much of The Great Fire of London strives to be quite light, perhaps an extension of its not talking about what it is most deeply about, and the first four chapters take us on many genial diversions hither and yon, as far as the Mississippi and the Land of Twain. The Project is an abiding day to day, in a sense, a way of going on and getting on, but it is poetry first and math second in its strictest sense, while also somehow being a novel by default. It catalogues habits and personal connections, intimacies and amusing quandaries, its author a man who likes to walk and likes to count and likes to count whilst walking (“rhythmic algebra”)—who likes to swim, but only in the sea. For our interests here, it is my intention to zero in—not even a branch, call it a perch—on a wonderful consideration of shaving in section 45 of the forth chapter, which happens to be a chapter called “Portrait of the Absent Artist.” In the early morning hours of whatever date Roubaud happens to be writing about shaving, he shares with the future reader (of whom he can only have a cautiously optimistic hope of ever reaching), some of the quotidian shaving specifics, such as a current fondness for “Williams brushless shaving cream from a can” and a recent adoption of “disposable razors, single or twin-blade,” which have been “driving out both from supermarkets and drugstores white Gillette Stainless Steel long-lasting blades in packets of five or ten, themselves having once supplanted the individually paper-wrapped blue Gillette blades of my youth that now can be happened on only by chance at antique shops, strewn among 78s or Pathé-Marconi radio sets.” It is probably not surprising that Roubaud’s shaving rituals will come in short order to be established as uncommonly rhythmic/arithmetical. However, for me the first point of considerable interest here is how the author presents the mirror image encountered whilst shaving as the only time he ever sees himself, or rather his likeness. “I don’t see a self, nor Jacques Roubaud (my name).” If Roubaud is looking at his face he is largely missing his face as well, because what he is actually looking at are the various patches of his face as he shaves them in sequence: upper lip, lower lip, chin, right cheek, left cheek, neck. Reading this, I immediately thought of a scene from Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us in which the protagonist, played by non-professional actor Behzad Dorani, shaves in close-up, staring directly into the camera lens, which assumes the position of the mirror. It is a striking moment, probably in large part because it represents one of the most unambiguous interjections of artifice in a film where artifice is generally far more sly. A famous example of the sly approach in the film is an earlier shot which depicts an apple rolling across a balcony, into a gutter, and finally down into the street; this shot seems like an incidental documentary detail, but it took something close to an entire day to set up, this even involving the strategic laying of cement. The Behzad Dorani character, a cosmopolitan urban TV producer who finds himself in a remote Kurdish village under something close to false pretences, addresses, whilst shaving, a local woman intermittently visible in the background; a reverse shot from behind him shows the actual small mirror into which he is nominally directing his unbroken attention. The scholar Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa has claimed that Kiaorstami also put Behzad Dorani on a stool to achieve the precise composition he desired for the shaving close-up. In Kiarsostami, it would seem to be the case that there is always considerably more artifice at work than you would have ever imagined to be the case. In the first and then the second expanded edition of their dialogic study of Kiarostami, consisting of individual essays by each of the authors in addition to dialogues between the two of them as well as dialogues including the director, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa provide a comprehensive overview of Kiarosatami’s methods and themes. Among other things, it is established that The Wind Will Carry Us is named for a Forough Farrokhzad poem and contains a recitation of said poem during a key sequence. Saeed-Vafa informs us that “Iranian literature, culture, and language are full of multifaceted metaphors, symbols, allegories, and proverbs,” arguing that the preeminent text in this respect is One Thousand and One Nights. “Iranian culture and politics require a covert expression of subject and self,” and tactics are utilized to “conceal meaning and talk about larger issues—as in the poems of Hafiz—for sacred purposes, secret purposes, or both. That is to say, the mysteries of the system and the universe are understood and conveyed only through metaphor.” Aside from being a radical poet, Forough Farrokhzad was a pathbreaking filmmaker in her own right, 1962’s The House is Black having influenced a generation of Persian film directors. Kiarostami would certainly be among those influenced, and, already established as a filmmaker, he would himself become a poet of distinction. Kiarostmai’s cinematic metaphysics is largely a cosmology foregrounded by the “multifaceted metaphors” of the zigzag path and the peripheral detail. Behzad Dorani’s character in The Wind Will Carry Us is a man limited by his own tunnel vision, not especially awake to the excitation of incidental or peripheral details; in the recitation of the Forough Farrokhzad poem from which the film takes its name, we watch as he fails to meaningfully assimilate the words or the predatory slant given to them by the context in which they are presented, such that it cannot only be a matter of his missing the reality of logistics, the lives and contexts of the Kurdish villagers with whom he interacts, always paternalistically, but of its being at the same time a matter of his not being in any way connected to the spiritual dimension. If we think of the shaving scene in light of the consideration of shaving in Roubaud, we can see how Behzad Dorani’s character, who many of the villagers call “the engineer,” is a man who gazes operationally, instrumentally, not even taking in the entirety of his own face, merely one patch at a time. This is a gaze, staring directly at us in that one shot, that doesn’t tell us the entire truth about what it omits, merely that it is a gaze that does omit, habitually, all the time, in order to perform the narrowing of a function. This in a film full of many characters we only hear as offscreen voices or who are only mentioned, neither seen nor heard. And there is yet another layer to consider here. Jonathan Rosenbaum rightly sees Behzad Dorani’s “engineer” as only the latest in a series of figures distributed throughout Kiarostami’s oeuvre who represent director surrogates in service to self-critique. Kiarostami perfected a playful sort of “pedagogical” cinema, often focused on the politics of the classroom, as such playing a large role in making films about children popular in Iran (something which would become a regular censor-deflecting ingredient as well). This all started because early on, beginning during the reign of the Shah, Kiarostami had worked under the auspices of Kanoon (the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). The limits of pedagogy become in Kiarostami the limits of the pedagogue, the fatuous paternalistic figure who presumes to know but always becomes a sort of foil, less crippled by that which he doesn’t know than by the hubristic presumption which cannot help but circumscribe his field. Kiarostami has said that the wizened older men in his films, for whom he feels a deep reverence while remaining critical, are inspired by his own father, but there can be no denying that he appears to go to certain pains to establish these figures as analogues for himself as well. The shaving shot in The Wind Will Carry Us expresses this, too. It is very often Kiarostami who is immediately off camera, feeding actors their lines or asking them questions intended to provoke unmediated extemporaneous rejoinders. A gaze turned on the camera in Kiarostami is uniquely a matter of the gaze turned on the director, and here we might benefit by tracing another connection to Jacques Roubaud and The Great Fire of London, turning now to an interpolation toward the back of the book that branches off section 61 of the fifth chapter, relating to the dissymmetrical palindrome by way of which a mirror confronts the W with its M in Geroges Perec’s Life A User's Manual. Might this not be the correspondence in that unusual and striking shot from The Wind Will Carry Us? The camera takes the place of the mirror and as such opens up the question of dissymmetrical optic circularity, Kiarostami M to Behzad Dorani’s W. The open question is the register in which Kiarostami operates. Jonathan Rosenbaum consistently returns to these matters: the philosophical wide shot that invites expansive meditation rather than allegorical pigeonholing, how this is an “incomplete” or “interactive cinema” full of calculated “narrative ellipses” intended to make the viewer perform the ultimate literally complete the film. Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa asserts that swindlers and liars often present themselves in Kiarostami as agents of greater truths, just as the cinema presents itself as a means to truth by way of deception. I sense that Kiarostami places his surrogates around him and inside of his mise-en-scène as a reminder both to look out for his own worst instincts, but also to help him forgive himself for any relapse. As for Jacques Roubaud, he tells us one more crucial thing about shaving. Writing in his early morning idyll, Roubaud remembers that he had written a poem nine years earlier that detailed the sequence of his shaving ritual, its mathematical order of operations. He consults the earlier poem and is aghast to discover that, unbeknownst to himself, unconsciously, the schematic has changed ever so slightly. He would have sworn the order had always remained perfectly routinized, “a fixed point in my life, assuring my continuity…”: upper lip, lower lip, chin, right cheek, left cheek, neck. Well, no, evidently not. Nine years earlier the sequence is recorded as having commenced with the chin and only gotten to the upper lip after both cheeks and the lower one. Can you not relate? This happens in certain pieces of minimalist music that modulate over time, just beneath the surface of the perceptible; minute twenty-five is very different from minute five, but you never really heard the progressive transition. And it is absolutely how we live and grow. Others who see us only irregularly will notice changes in us that have been gradual, that we perceive only faintly if at all. A landmark can help to place us with respect to how we differ from the version of the self that passed it by however far back. I hold the cinema to be especially salubrious here. I can come back to a movie I have not seen in many years and it can suddenly be a mirror capturing the realization of a change I was not properly conscious of having undergone.