Posts Tagged ‘punctum’
Wayne Koestenbaum, The Queen’s Throat
Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice
“I spent much of my childhood trying to distinguish identification from desire…” Koestenbaum confesses, speaking of his adoration for opera divas. Woven in with this reference to his budding consciousness of queerness is a realization of the affect particular to the (singing, musical) voice. Following Barthes, we can consider the affect of the musical body as a potency latent in music in general, so far as it is born from a composer’s/performer’s body and enters the body of another in the act of listening. Music is then, in a concrete sense, voice – the whisper of one subjectivity into the ear of another, but also subjectivity detached from the body of a subject, sent out into the world as a thing to be handed over, contemplated, enjoyed. The voice is also object of desire. This dual proximity and distance of the voice is the measure of its power (an affection rather than an expression), its presence a troubling one because it signifies an otherness that invites itself into my body, passing through a hole in this skin that is supposed to separate myself from what I am not, in the process of my listening, in my act of attention, becoming me. And the idea of queerness Koestenbaum extends to us is by no means simply tangential to this affectionate haunting, the desire for a self / oneself that is not me but could be me, that maybe is me. Identifying myself with another and as another: a space within myself carved out by longing, by a dream of proximity. The queerness of the voice goes deep.
Koestenbaum’s wonderful book brought to mind my own relationships with my diva(s) and their voices. If diva is an attitude more than an attribute, a mask of fearlessness always trying to become a truth, a fierce truth, then the gender of the diva matters little. I remember discovering Iggy Pop as an exemplar of this type of stridently embodied, inimitable subjectivity. My means of contact with the diva were purely digital: first clips of performances, songs and interviews on Youtube and then his albums, illegally BitTorrented, only later purchased as CDs. To this day I have not seen him perform. My fanhood is also, like Koestenbaum’s, nostalgia for an era I never knew: the heyday of the Stooges in the early 70s. Raking the Internet for remains of Iggy, most often period broadcasts or amateur film poorly transcribed into digital form, the resolution atrocious, colors washed out or too contrasted.
Flickering in and out of this (visual) noise is Iggy’s body and Iggy’s voice, his small, electric shape in contortions at the sound of himself, gesticulating towards some impossible gesture. The footage suddenly cuts, I have been deprived of the finish of his movement, an end, that, I am sure – had I actually seen it – would have revealed the totality of his meaning, the “Iggyness” (as if he could be re-produced for me, as me) that squares a square, closing a circle. And his body existing through his voice: a nasty crooning that leaps into a screech, an exuberance that distorts syllables and seesaws the idea of pitch. A voice whose music always threatens to fall apart into noise, an exploration of enunciation whose achievement is the release of that mystery of affect that lies beyond language (the body?).
The queerness of Iggy Pop. 1977 – after the disbanding of the Stooges, Iggy is living with David Bowie in Berlin, who is producing his first solo album. Promoting his album in France, Iggy appears on a French talk show in a dandified outfit: leather pants molding skeletal legs, a tucked-in blue button-down dress shirt, fake large black glasses framing round blue eyes, black hair plastered on his head like a mime, lips painted to grotesque, decadent proportion. I watch Iggy chat vivaciously in German, French and English with the talk show host, who tries to negotiate his non-sequiturs and appear to be “in the know”. And then: the diva moment, the flashing of Iggyness. The talk show host inquires as to why Iggy always performs with his shirt off. Iggy: “May I show you?”. And then he starts to unbutton his shirt cuffs, worldlessly handing over his wrist to the host for his assistance. The host, flustered, begins unbuttoning:“it’s important to be naked?”. Iggy, peeling off his shirt: “Here, I’ll show you what’s important”. Finally shirtless, he stretches out both arms to the audience, asking “C’est joli, non?” (It’s pretty, isn’t?”). I was seized over not so much by the spectacle of a body, but by that mad leap into nakedness, the disrobing of his soul that he masked with a nonchalant invitation of the audience’s judgment – an act that, in the end, seemed to clothe him in something invincible.
In Lost Book Found the narrator walks his camera through the grittier streets of New York in an effort to remember the contents of a book he once almost purchased from a man who made a living “fishing” for objects dropped by passerby in sidewalk grates. This book contains lists of references, names of the things that populate the city, variously grouped under enigmatic headings. In trying to reconstruct the fantastical indexical system at work in this lost book, the narrator embarks on his own project to “fish for” the overlooked contents of New York – spatio-temporal items, the unique, accidental configurations of material being – and classify them according to his own cryptic logic of poetic association. At times another narrator interrupts the first to rattle off lists of concepts or things over a succession of captured scenes, indexing each image, each phenomenological encounter with a particular sign / clue: for example, a slow motion shot of an old woman riffling through a heap of discounted underwear will have a voice-over label of “museum”. At other times the narrator will “recall” a category from the lost book such as “raining coins” and show us successive shots of senior citizens stopping in the street to stare up meditatively at the sky.
The film as whole turns into an examination of the narrator’s own desire to scrutinize, stretching out the distance between subject and object (the interval of desire) by showing us scenes whose contents are arranged in layers or stacks, such as plastic toys displayed on shelves / shop windows or the electric interior of a subway train car seen through the windows of the train’s black shape melting in the night of a tunnel. In all cases vision encounters obstructions and so does the viewer in her attempt to grasp the meaning at work in each audiovisual association – the gaze butterflies over the surface of actuality, searching and never finding, but occasionally picking up on certain signifying symptoms that disappear with a second glance, like all the shots of street surfaces (walls, telephone booths) inscribed with decaying messages that can only be half-read, not so much partially decoded as more achingly mystified. In this sense, Cohen’s camera functions as a veil as much as a lense, an intermediary zone between passage and liminal space: to reprise De Certeau’s turn of phrase on the poetics of trajectories, a “fence that is an ensemble of interstices through which one’s glances pass.” The space of the frame mimics the three dimensional properties of real space, reproducing the pleasure we find in the vicissitudes of travel.
Lost Book Found directly evokes the experience of navigation that lies at the heart of any preoccupation to design for interactivity. The film functions as a compendium of the kind of micro-trajectories that the attentive or “detective” (to reference Cohen’s hand-held, belt-level cinematography) observer traces in traveling through the spatial texture of a place. In the narrator’s imagination, this place, the city, constitutes a monumental, un-chartered database organized according to a omniscient tagging system (the lost book) that indexes each existent referent to a particular sign. The baroque dream that a thorough search of worldly evidence will result in total epistemological fulfillment is originally a documentary impulse. It compels him to plunge into the hermeneutic game of searching and gazing, of relentlessly raking the database for objects of knowledge, steering a path through possible indexical channels according to minute intimations from this fluid environment. With visibility remaining a problem – the book, the map of the database that would allow him to look ahead, to know her way in advance is lost – viewing becomes a much more haptic exercise. The navigator feels her way around the contours of things, tracing signifying topologies with small gestures, instigating a hesitant succession of tiny contacts with the world. Here the clarity of scopic knowledge is abandoned in favor of a sort of blind proximity with the surface of life, an intimacy with the image that hugs the frustrating barrier that separates the (re) presentation of actuality from actuality itself.
At this level of documentary minutiae, the camera worries about (another excerpt from the narrator’s voice-over) puzzling out the supremely mundane fact of one building’s contiguousness with one gutter, framing actuality in its most obvious (and therefore semiotically opaque) manifestations. The navigator of an interactive documentary sets out on her epistemological journey not so much in order to find the primer that can decode the book – the totality of meaning embedded in the body of the database – but to put herself through the twists and turns of the search for signification, to loose assiduously oneself in the hermetic quality of the code.
still in the room. player squeezes a knob when he hears a prompted word (s) a voice speechifies on possibilities
determines which set of footage from the database will be edited into another set of footage (not completely haphazard) or running simultaneously on different screens??
editing algorithm, blackout, obeys a subterranean rhythm, cuts words in midstence, faces in mid-expression
cutting between this, this, and this ? CLOUD OR SHAPE, SPECTER OF SENSE – sampling of the cultural whirl – not quite arbitrary drops (it’s all water)
Peter Greenaway – Prospero’s Books ; David Bowie ; Jem Cohen: sea change, becoming, wishing, wish fulfillment, riffling through, collecting books, collecting memories, collecting personalities. databases all.
This film opens up a world, another level of “reality” that is more than the sum of its parts. Emerging out of a vision of other time – time mechanized, measured, dislocated, arrested, superimposed – is the vision of a other way of life, a life energized by the fullness of the juxtaposed moment, a society aligned with Vertov’s and the communist project’s ideal of a union of the activity of communal / industrial daily life and the vital élan, the joyful exercise of each individual’s humanity. The world invented / discovered by Vertov’s camera erases the division between labor and “one’s own time”, between citizens and the city, between the producers and the technological means of production, between products and their consumers. Every element that is captured by the apparatus meshes with a multiplicity of analogous moments or rather analogous vectors, snippets of temporal trajectories in which the world and all its inhabitants seem to freely throw themselves into each others’ paths.
Brecht-like, Vertov pulls down the wall between the screen and the audience, allowing the subjects-spectators possession of their photographed selves, assigning the camera (and the filmmaker) to be as much a participant in the buzz as its privileged observer. This move is incredibly satisfying and startling at the same time: I do not feel I am presented with an object, a result, a work out of or beyond actuality for me to consume but that the windows of actuality have been blasted open all around me and that I find myself almost on the same ontological plane as the (human, technological) population of the film. Rather than bringing the world to me, it brings me into the world – as a spectator I feel simultaneously transformed into an actor, an agent, part and parcel of the aliveness of the kino-eye. It’s the first time I’ve seen “Man with a Movie Camera” . I cannot remember having ever been so engaged (as opposed to engulfed, enchanted, immersed) by a work of art.
How is “Man with a Movie Camera” a documentary? Grierson’s “the creative treatment of actuality” seems too indeterminate a definition to characterize Vertov’s utopian project. Actuality here is certainly treated, openly, visibly mediated by a community of agents : by the apparatus (which eerily and comically becomes an animate character of its own)_ by the camera operator, the camera’s appendage or transport device whose main task seems to be to enable the camera’s heroic phenomenological agency_by the editor, who, in a sequence showing shots of frames on a film strip followed by shots of the same frames projected at their proper speed, finalizes the machine’s God-like powers to set time in motion. This candid mediation takes the sting out of “creative treatment of actuality”: we are informed as to the “how” and encouraged to jump into the project ourselves.
The filmmaker does cease to be a conjuror and becomes an epistemologist – rather than doling out a spectacle (even a spectacle structured by an argumentative, informative or ideological purpose, on the non-fiction side like Grierson or on the fiction side like Eisenstein) the kino-glaz (a gaze that is simultaneously the filmmaker’s, the spectator’s and the camera’s) inscribes a map of actuality, in fact writing by the exercise of looking / scoping /projecting.
Argumentation becomes problematic at such a level of investigation into the actual, not least because we are placed in a realm beyond language or discourse into something that is purely cinematic – if we are mobilized politically it is on a poetic level, where social issues cannot be divorced from their embededness in an entirety of human meaning.
Another epistemologist – phenomenological camera in Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil”. “Sans Soleil” also takes actuality as its material, but is it a documentary? When does not the poetic treatment of actuality but the poetic purposes of the filmmaker diverge from a “documentarian” purpose. “Sans Soleil” is about actuality, although a highly subjective one. Does it count? Or must a documentary necessarily address some form of consensus reality – must it necessarily inform in addition to express?
Playing with the idea of a haunted portrait _ the ghost appears like the absconded presence of the camera, staring out from the double mirror of the photograph. The idea of the dead coyly sitting in on the poised, posed family pictures of the living – unheimlich at it’s most potent, what is buried won’t stay buried but leaves secondary evidence, leaves tangible traces of doubt.
The inappropriate sneaks up behind your back, the camera becomes the eye in the back of your head: new weapon against the uncanny or projector of hidden horrors?
The fake spirits accusing the photographer of fraud – first betrayal of the photographed image’s promise to reproduce reality. William Mumler in the 1860s already destroying the metaphysically automatic/newly automated line between reality and metaphor, conjecture, phantasie. The sought for and unwelcome guests usher these bourgeois families into modernity.
Don’t these apparitions look TRAPPED? Their imprint gelled, their first effort at substantiation caught in the middle. Nothing left to do but appear, put on an appearance without the evidential accoutrement of an indexical relationship…ontologically exiled, phenomenologically virulent. First clue that the photographic apparatus is a creative as well as a reproductive machine: “documentary is the creative treatment of actuality”, according to Grierson and these spirits are products of an indexicality machine, they document the ghostliness of the apparatus, they rise out of the machine, immanent smoke that manufactures a referant for the new photographic sign…