The Big Continent: Asian Cinema Challenge

terrorizes

from Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers (1989)

June 17, 2018

Last night, in the middle of my critical literature reviewing and catalog organizing for my thesis on Lav Diaz, I chanced upon a good film challenge in Letterboxd. It’s called The Big Continent: Asian Cinema Challenge. It requires one to watch one Asian film of a particular category (see categories below) per week. Each category corresponds to a list of films in Letterboxd.

I figure this Asian Cinema Challenge would be a great way  to generate more content for this blog and, given ample time and resources, this would encourage me to write more reviews for VCinema, provided that I will not review a film already listed in VCinema’s database.

Below is the list of categories per week and my selected films for viewing and/or review. I will start with Week 1 this week and will possibly jump to other categories, depending on the availability of the films.

Wish me luck!

 

A Note on ‘Film Challenges’ and the New Kind of Cinephilia

Film challenges are a form of cinephile’s game that usually forces one to watch films grouped in categories (by nation, by geography, by obscurity). It has an allotted time to finish (usually hosted in per annual basis) and requires the participant to log his progress . In online film websites like MUBI and Letterboxd, film challenges are usually staged to promote a certain genre or politics of films. The ones I appreciate are film challenges that champion underappreciated non-canonical films, especially films from the peripheries of the world. Have you seen a film from Bangladesh, or Bhutan, or Kazakhstan? Do you know auteurs from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon? from Colombia and Chile? from Finland and Iceland?

These film challenges are rallying for a new kind of inclusive cinephilia that does not focus entirely on filmic canons established by institutions. In an egalitarian sense, this new kind of cinephilia wants to circle the globe several times in search of the new: new alliances, new archives, new unknowns, new underdogs, new  forms and styles, regardless of nationality or spoken language. We might as well call it as exploratory cinephilia, a cinephilia driven by a continual sense of exploration, which can only happen in the digital era in which there seems to be a kind of geographical collapse in digitized commodities like films. File copies of films can be easily accessed in online digital archives. Peer-to-peer access has allowed fellow cinephiles to transfer file copies of films (usually ripped from DVD and BluRay copies) from one area of the globe to another with ease. The only factor would be internet accessibility. In today’s cinephilia, the space of the internet has constituted its global village, its space of existence. It has totally atomized and reterritorialized cinephilia in the privacy of one’s home. Spectatorship has indeed changed its face since the dawn of the internet. Digital exploratory cinephilia has continuously grew in the past decade in film sites like MUBI, Letterboxd and even in Facebook and has become, in itself, a captured audience to a new form of screen capitalism in the guise of Netflix, Hulu, MUBI, IFlix that offers a new experience of cinema in the small screens of LED TVs, laptops, and smartphones.

The problem is no one has problematized this form of digital capitalism yet. The political economy of such a screen culture has yet to be written as it involves a foray into digital humanities which is a very young discipline in the academe.

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Reading with Derrida: Specters of Marx (pp. xv – xx)

(Mis)Reading in Translation Series: Derrida

June 3, 2018

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A screen capture from the film Ghost Dance (Ken McMullen / USA / 1983)

Jacques Derrida’s critique of the metaphysics of presence is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and problematic, and also one of the most original philosophical assertions I have read in years. There is no direct way to learn about Derrida’s critique of the metaphysics of presence and deconstruction without falling into the abyss of circuitous language and playful questioning that demand from the reader to question oneself in process and in relation to the question-at-hand.

978-0-226-14326-2-frontcoverIn my years of philosophical research, Derrida’s essays proved to be a linguistic roadblock in my goal to fully understand his idea of time. I have tried reading his essay Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time from the book Margins of Philosophy where he first inscribed his idea of the critique of metaphysics of presence, yet I found myself thrown in a world of mixed neologisms and circuitous questioning that opened more questions resulting to a feeling of dread, alienation and incomprehension that I happily coined as theoretical shock. In the middle of the essay, there was no other way to go but to course through the text, without full comprehension.

In reading Of Grammatology, one also experiences a similar dread. Spivak made it sound urgent when she wrote the Preface. She laid out the political compass of the work. But when one gets into the main text, one 419Rmj1OdyL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_suddenly feels lost in abstruse language. One has to make a choice: either to quit reading and recover by reading a secondary text instead, or to plow through the dense passages that seemingly mocks the reader for having known so little. Differance is another essay that confuses me. It seems as though, to read Derrida, one has to read what he had read. All the magisterial and authoritative texts he particularly reference to in his texts are part of the labor of reading Derrida. This creates more complication because of the voluminous contextual layers and relations that exist between Derrida’s texts and the magisterial and authoritative text he cite and attribute. The reader of Derrida would have to choose whether to navigate his text alone or explore the complex web of relations and expanded politics of Derrida’s texts and his subjects.

In this series, I will attempt to read Derrida’s Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International (1994) page-by-page in order to extract a productive relation between Marx and Derrida and to flesh out one of the key concepts I want to develop in my thesis, the notion of aporetic limits that undermines both the metaphysics of presence and metaphysics of long duration.

Introduction. What is Specters of Marx?  

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The book Spectres of Marx was given as a two-part plenary speech in a multinational multidisciplinary conference titled “Whither Marxism? Global Crises in International Perspective” conducted in April 22-24, 1993 at the University of California, Riverside. The conference was organized by Bernd Magnus and Stephen Cullenberg, both UC Riverside professors of philosophy. The paper delivered by Derrida were re-edited, translated and repackaged and published in book form as a cultural product.

The book is also Derrida’s first sustained engagement with Marx and Marxism. It is also about ghosts, spectres and the untimely. It is also about justice and responsibility, of the future-to-come, and of the irretrievable past. My reading is not an attempt at mastering the text, but a matter of coursing through, a visitation to the text from the outside, for the spaces of its inscription. “What is Spectres of Marx?” is a also a question posted too soon, that this paragraph lends itself to its own deconstitution.

Part 1. A Dedication to a South African Communist

 

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Chris Hani. Image Source

Bibliographic Note: Derrida, J. (1994). Dedication. In P. Kamuf (Trans.), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (pp. xv–xvi). New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

Metonymy

One name for another, a part for the whole: the historic violence of the Apartheid can be treated as a metonymy’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xv). This is first line you will read in the book when you open Specters of Marx at its ‘Dedication’ page . Let me repeat again, ‘one name for another, a part for the whole’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xv). Have you notice Derrida’s mode of qualification? There is a particular element of measuring and partitioning (‘a part for the whole’), of substitution (‘one name for another’) and of putting something into order: to substitute and yet to put into order as if nothing has happened. The second phrase goes: ‘[the historical violence of the Apartheid can be treated as a metonymy’(Derrida, 1994, p. xv).  At its full stop, this phrase completes the sentence. We have a full picture of what Derrida is talking about.

Metonymy is an idiomatic expression operating by means of substitution: suits instead of business executives, pen instead of the written word, being a helping hand instead of being a helper. One word, replaced for another in a seemingly disproportionate operation of substitution and replacement. We glide further into the text only to reveal, in the process, that the metonymy Derrida wants us to understand is the on-going and countless crises in the world after the dissolution of socialists states in Soviet Union and other parts of the world, and the coming of the Gulf War in the Middle East. For Derrida, the crisis and historic violence of the Apartheid stands for all of the atrocities of happening in the world when Derrida was delivering this paper in April 22nd of 1993. Today, one could easily think of the violent Gaza protests in the Palestinian-Israeli border as a metonymy of the violent times. Derrida puts it in most urgent form, bearing a battle cry: ‘At once part, cause, effect, example, what is happening there translates what takes place here, always here, wherever one is and wherever one looks, closest to home. Infinite responsibility, therefore, no rest allowed for any form of good conscience’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xv). For Derrida, the metonymy is now a causal translational relation wherein what is substituted is now more or less felt, seen, re-experienced across different milieus. With this ontological reality unfolding, the stakes are higher, and therefore one must be vigilant at all times.

The Assassination of a Man, a Communist: Chris Hani

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Protester during the death of Chris Hani. source

Derrida proceeds: ‘But one should never speak of the assassination of a man as a figure, not even an exemplary figure in the logic of an emblem, a rhetoric of a the flag of martyrdom’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xv). In this paragraph, Derrida first laid out his thesis of what a man’s worth is. He find it unpleasant to figure a man who has just been assassinated as an emblem, a hero. Derrida felt this is something impermissible in the face of justice.

Derrida’s thesis: ‘A man’s life, as unique as his death, will always be more than a paradigm and something other than a symbol. And this is precisely what a proper name should always name’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xv) presents a glaring warning to those who have always put forward the emblematic image of a man who has just died.

Afterwards, Derrida narrates a story from memory: ‘I recall that it is a communist as such, a communist as communist, whom a Police emigrant and his accomplices, all the assassins of Chris Hani, put to death a few days ago.’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xvi) Notice how he places Chris Hani in the middle of the sentence not as the main subject (‘a communist as such, a communist as communist’) but part of the clause supporting another object. In this instance, there is an attempt at redrawing the line of naming. Derrida was careful not to put Chris Hani’s proper name in vain, not to commemorate a figure, or constitute a paradigm on behalf of his life or death, but to name him in passing. In Derrida’s process of reaffirming an ethical way of naming, he is also, in relation to Marx, reconstituting the subjectivity of communism, the party (‘a minority Communist Party riddled with contradictions’ [Derrida, 1994, p. xvi]), and its othering during the democratization process of post-Apartheid Africa via Chris Hani’s reversal from a heroic figure to a figure of dissent, ‘dangerous and seemingly intolerable,’ which caused Chris Hani his own life.

Spectres of Marx pays tribute to Chris Hani, his memory, his ghost and the ghosts of other Marxists, Communists, of Marx, of communism, reaffirming again, yet indirectly, Marx’s untimely relevance not as a figure, or an emblem, but a specter.

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Part 2. An Exordium on the Untimeliness of Justice

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Bibliographic Note: Derrida, J. (1994). Exordium. In P. Kamuf (Trans.), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (pp. xvii–xx). New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

An exordium follows the dedication, as if, in the beginning, Derrida subjects us, the readers, to a complete rupture, showing us the real ethical stakes of the book, the people who died, assassinated, in the name of an ideological belief. He announces this before going in, before coming to terms with the complexity of the issue. Between the book’s exordium and its dedication page is a bridge of knowledge that one has to cross. There is a necessary adjustment, a necessary step-back, which can be both rattling and unsettling. From dedication to exordium, one leaps from reality to philosophy.

The word exordium is a lesser known term for introduction or opening chapter. It somehow positioned as an outside text, serving as both a preface and an introduction.

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My annotations on Specters of Marx (p. xvii)

Derrida’s exordium in Spectres of Marx is essentially an introduction to the untimeliness of justice. However, like most of his writings, he starts from the most unlikely beginnings, a question about living: ‘Someone, you or me, comes forward and says: I would like to learn to live finally. Finally but why?’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xvii). There is a seemingly vast distance between the idea of justice and the idea of living, but for Derrida there is a strange connection between the two.

Derrida further interrogates the question he posted:

‘To learn to live: a strange watchword. Who would learn? From whom? To teach to live, but to whom? Will we ever know? Will ever know how to live and first of all what “to learn to live” means? And why “finally”?’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xvii).

For some who are not familiar with Derrida’s writing, this linguistic convolutions are taxing, if not frustrating. Question after question, the reader and the author are engaged in an internal debate, that neither of them are willing to surmount. The purpose of Derrida’s circuitous questioning is actually simple. He posted a statement, not coming from him directly, but from ‘someone’ in order not to presuppose his subject. In asking questions, he does not foreclose the argument. A period closure would render an argument open to essentialist attack, and Derrida, being so careful, being true to the deconstructive forces already at work in the text, being so ethically conscious, opens the argument into an active site of questioning. A statement, a strange watchword ‘to learn to live’ is now being interrogated in several facets: the subject (‘who would learn?’), the origin of knowledge (‘from whom?’), the recipient of knowledge (‘to whom?’), an assurance of knowledge transfer (‘will we ever know how to live… what “learn to live” means’), and an element of time (‘why “finally”?’).

All these are further qualified in different scenarios in the course of the text. By paragraph, Derrida reifies different locutions of the watchword ‘to learn to live.’

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First Qualification: ‘To learn to live’ Without Context

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First qualification of ‘to learn to live’

In this passage, Derrida presented the nil condition of the watchword ‘to learn to live,’ that is, to view it without context, by itself, as self-positing. The watchword is more or less empty if viewed without context, or if viewed out of context. We are already hinted that this particular detour to context is entirely referenced to his old essay Signature Event Context: ‘a context, always, remains open, thus fallible and insufficient’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xvii). It goes without saying that context is insufficient in clarifying the meaning of ‘to learn to live’. Hence, this requires Derrida to move further, by placing the watchword beyond context and writing.

Second Qualification: ‘To Learn to Live’ from a Position of Authority

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Second Qualification of ‘to learn to live’

If uttered from the lips of the master, meaning from a position of authority, it becomes an asymmetrical address. It can only matter if uttered from a dominant perspective (a father, a teacher, a master) addressed to a point of subjugation (a son to a father, a student to a teacher, a slave to master). Derrida considers this relation as a form of violence. It comes in three forms: learning as imparting the logics of experience, learning as a form of education, or a learning as a form of taming or training. Derrida now qualifies to learn to live within the logistics of power, answering three of his questions: the subject, the origin of knowledge and recipient of knowledge. But this is not the final configuration that Derrida wants to bring to us.

Third Qualification: ‘To learn to live’ as a Border between Life and Death

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Third Qualification of ‘to learn to live’

Derrida further draws us to his circuitous method of investigating a phrasal remark, the watchword ‘to learn to live,’ to partially bring us to a definitive clarity. In this section, Derrida positions his qualificatory investigation, first, in terms knowing if one can learn to live ‘from oneself and by oneself’. The question of living by oneself sparks the Marxist idea of the importance of social relations in one’s life. Indeed, Derrida stresses: ‘To live, by definition, is not something one learns. Not from oneself, it is not learned from life, taught by life. Only from the other and by death.’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). Marx initially noted that human essence is not an abstraction, but rather ‘it is an ensemble of social relations’ (Marx, 2002, para. 10). Derrida is partially hinting on Marx’s notion of the necessity of social relations (‘only from the other’) in a Levinisian sense (‘the other’), before reinscribing the notion of ‘death,’ which is by part influenced by Heidegger.

Fourth Qualification: ‘To learn to live’ as a Category of Justice

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Fourth Qualification of ‘To learn to live’

This is where Derrida reorients the inquiry of ‘to learn to live’ within the category of justice. Derrida arrives at this momentous idea of justice from a series of paradoxical remarks. Earlier in the text, Derrida arrives at a point that ‘to live’ means one cannot learn it from oneself but only from other and by death. Now, Derrida points us to a paradoxical fact that ‘one does anything else but learn to live, alone, from oneself, by oneself’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). However, Derrida put this in a way that returns to the necessity for a just society to live for each other: that one can be alive for oneself in a just way ‘unless it comes to terms with death. Mine as (well as) that of the other’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). This is how Derrida sees justice: as an ethics in relation to censure of life, or death. Only in the absence of life can one think of justice.

Fifth Qualification: ‘To Learn to Live’ as Spectral Category (Between Life and Death) 

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Fifth qualification of ‘to learn to live’

We have come to the initial crystallization of Derrida’ notion of justice by coining the idea of the spectre. In this initial remark, Derrida interrogates the notion of learning just living as one that can only be situated between life and death. One must note that ‘to live’ is different from ‘learning to live.’ One is a productive activity, while the other involves a production of knowledge. ‘To live’ in itself is an activity that neither requires justice or ethics. But ‘learning to live’ is not a simple activity. What Derrida wants us to understand is that it is itself a form of ethical question that can only be answered if one comes to terms with death. Hence, Derrida places this ethical question between life and death, not only in terms of life, but of death, and hence, the appearance of the spectre.

The spectre is a powerful figure or metaphor or symbol in the book and has many meanings, many forms, and many temporalities. Its impermanency provides Derrida a pliant trope to reconfigure his arguments with spectrality. More or less we can describe Derrida’s method as one that possesses liquidity: the capacity for each argument to fit in different ‘containers’ or categories.

In this passage alone, spectre is defined and qualified in several ways, that is has (1) no substance, (2) no essence, (3) no existence, (4) is never present as such (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). If one is wondering about the temporality of our watchword ‘to learn to live,’ Derrida, in this part, has shown us that the question of time, since it bears the spectrality of ghosts, neither living nor dead, is ‘without a tutelary present,’ out of joint (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii).

Derrida leads us further to conclude that ‘to learn to live’ is actually to ‘to learn to live with ghosts, in the upkeep, the conversation, the company, or the companionship, in the commerce without commerce of ghosts’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). This is the just way of living: to live with them (ghosts). At this part, Derrida further moves towards an important remark: ‘No being-with the other, no socius without this with that makes being-with in general more enigmatic than ever for us’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii). The importance of ‘with’ and ‘with-ness’ or togetherness with the other is always underscored in ‘learning to live.’

Derrida also points out that ‘learning to live’ with spectres also involves ‘a politics of memory, of inheritance, and of generations’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xix). At the point, Derrida effaces history, which is important to Marx. Is being-with spectres also a coming to terms with the politics of history? Derrida steps back from the position of history to memory, inheritance and generations, as those which concern ethics.

Derrida on the Spectrality of Justice

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Derrida on the spectrality of justice

In this passage, Derrida reaches a culminating remark where he would eventually create a relation between spectres and justice. In some sense, we are also given a new subjectivity of spectres: ‘… certain others who are not present, not presently living, either to us, in us, or outside us…’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xix). The spectres that Derrida particular refer to now are others who are excluded in the metaphysics of presence, meaning, if we are allowed to extend this to the material conditions of society, those people excluded, erased, alienated from the ruling class discourse. In this sense, in a capitalist system, the proletariat is the specters of the ruling class, and they are not ghosts, but people absented from the ruling class discourse, yet they haunt the capitalists’ industrial complex precisely because of their potential to seize the means of production from the bourgeois enterprise.

Derrida also speaks of justice, but instead of coining justice from a definitive stance i.e. from its etymology and historical provenance, he reframes it in the face of its absence: ‘Of justice where it is not yet, not yet there, where it is no longer, let us understand where it is no longer present, and where it will never be, no more than the law, reducible to laws or rights’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xix). Derrida, at this point, insists on speaking about justice in the face of its absence, in the face of something beyond the idea of ‘justice’ enforced by laws and rights. He is spectralizing justice.

He goes further by spectralizing the notion of ‘speaking of ghosts’: to speak of ghosts ‘from the moment that no ethics, no politics…seem possible and thinkable and just that does not recognize in its principle the respect for those other who are no longer or for those who are not yet there, presently living, whether they are already dead or not yet born’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xix). Derrida, at the point, further clarifies the ethical significance of speaking of ghosts (or perhaps the untimely): that it can only be possible to speak of them, if there is a respect for those subjects that are not yet existing or has already ceased to exist.

This somehow points us to the importance of responsibility in relation to justice. Derrida finally culminates with his constitution of his concept of spectral justice:

‘No justice—let us not say no law and once again we are not speaking here of laws—seems possible or thinkable without the principle of some responsibility, beyond all living present, within that which disjoins the living present, before the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead, be they victims of wars, political or other kinds of violence, nationalist, racist, colonialist, sexist, or other kinds of exterminations, victims of the oppressions of capitalist imperialism or any of the forms of totalitarianism.’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xix)

Derrida’s notion of spectral justice is hinged on the notion of responsibility that goes beyond the constitutional justice enforced by law (‘we are not speaking here of laws’). Derrida therefore expands the idea of justice as encompassing infinitude of responsibility inclusive of those who are not outside the scope of the constitutional legitimacy. What is unique in Derrida’s idea of justice is it contains an untimely temporal signature (‘non-contemporaneity with itself of the living present’), an order of time that seem to disenfranchise the law’s constitutional metaphysics of presence.

The Inclusive Infinity of Spectral Justice

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Inclusive infinity of justice

In the next passages, Derrida further explores the temporality of this spectral justice. For there to be an inclusive justice, it must be conceived ‘beyond therefore the living present in general… and beyond its simple negative reversal’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xx). The time of justice is therefore a spectral moment, ‘furtive and untimely’, ‘no longer belongs to time’, ‘beyond the living present,’ or from a certain infinity outside of the present.

The Empirical or Ontological Actuality of Justice

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Epistemological or Ontological actuality of justice

In the concluding paragraph, Derrida inscribes his provisional notion of justice. But before that, Derrida asks two clarificatory questions. First concerns the persona who should commit to the obligation of justice. Derrida puts forward a spectral justice that answers to ghosts, but he also asks to whom is the commitment of the obligation of justice due. Derrida also asks in the second clarificatory question is a typological one: a justice that answers for itself other than life.

Derrida resolves these questions by constituting the empirical or ontological actuality of justice:

‘this justice carries life beyond present life or its actual being-there, its empirical or ontological actuality: not toward death but toward a living-on [sur-vie], namely, a trace of which life and death would themselves be but trace and traces of traces, a survival whose possibility in advance comes to disjoin or dis-adjust the identity to itself of the living present as well as any effectivity.’ (Derrida, 1994, p. xx)

Derrida is now refiguring justice’s empirical or ontological actuality as a trace, a non-presence remainder, a surviving figment that disrupts the identity of the living present. Hence, Derrida insists that the actuality of justice requires one to reckon with the spirits.

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Conclusion: Is Spectral Justice Possible in Cinema?

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A screen capture from the film Ghost Dance (Ken McMullen / USA / 1983)

We ask therefore: is it spectral justice possible for cinema? If indeed cinema is marked by a ghostly apparition, according to Derrida’s interview with Cahiers du Cinema: 

‘The cinematic experience belongs thoroughly to spectrality, which I link to all that has been said about the specter in psychoanalysis—or to the very nature of the trace. The specter, which is neither living nor dead, is at the center of certain of my writings, and it’s in this connection that, for me, a thinking of cinema would perhaps be possible. What’s more, the links between spectrality and filmmaking occasion numerous reflections today. Cinema can stage phantomality almost head-on, to be sure, as in a tradition of fantasy film, vampire or ghost films, certain works of Hitchcock . . . This must be distinguished from the thoroughly spectral structure of the cinematic image. Every viewer, while watching a film, is in communication with some work of the unconscious that, by definition, can be compared with the work of haunting, according to Freud. He calls this the experience of what is “uncanny” (unheimlich). Psychoanalysis,  psychoanalytic reading, is at home at the movies. First of all, psychoanalysis and filmmaking are really contemporaries; numerous phenomena linked to projection, to spectacle, to the perception of this spectacle, have psychoanalytic equivalents. Walter Benjamin realized this very quickly when he connected almost straightaway the two processes: film analysis and psychoanalysis. Even the seeing and perception of detail in a film are in direct relation with psychoanalytic procedure. Enlargement does not only enlarge; the detail gives access to another scene, a heterogeneous scene. Cinematic perception has no equivalent; it is alone in being able to make one understand through experience what a psychoanalytic practice is: hypnosis, fascination, identification, all these terms and procedures are common to film and to psychoanalysis, and this
is the sign of a “thinking together” that seems primordial to me.’ (de Baecque, Jousse, & Kamuf, 2015, p. 26)

Can cinema allow us to inscribe a justice that particularly deals with ghosts: neither living nor dead, ‘without a tutelary present,’ out of joint (Derrida, 1994, p. xviii)? It seems that, in the purview of our (mis)reading of Derrida’s exordium in Specters of Marx, untimely justice is possible in cinema. It is one of the technological mediums (seance instruments of sorts) that is capable of conceiving representational forms of traces (traces of the past or the future), historical traces, monstrous traces, traces of the future, traces of the past, traces of the untimely, unknown, and most especially, if seized from its capitalist mode of production, cinema can conceive the subjectivity of the proletariat, the most revolutionary of all specters.

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References

de Baecque, A., Jousse, T., & Kamuf, P. (2015). Cinema and Its Ghosts: An Interview with Jacques Derrida. Discourse, 37(1–2), 22. https://doi.org/10.13110/discourse.37.1-2.0022

Derrida, J. (1994). Dedication. In P. Kamuf (Trans.), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (pp. xv–xvi). New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

Derrida, J. (1994). Exordium. In P. Kamuf (Trans.), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (pp. xvii–xx). New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

Marx, K. (2002). Theses On Feuerbach. Retrieved June 11, 2018, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

 

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Literature Review 2.0: The Long Take

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a GIF from Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012)


Announcement of a New Blog Series: In this new blog series called Critical Literature ReviewI will be featuring a series of annotated bibliographies grouped per topic. I have already posted a summary review of David A. Gerstner’s essay The Practices of Authorship. Each literature review piece or annotation will basically contain three parts. The first part provides a brief summary of the main arguments of the book. The second part evaluates the book’s strengths and weaknesses, method of presentation and other elements. The third part is the assessment of the usefulness of the book in relation to my research on Lav Diaz. The bibliographic format to be used is APA. For more information on the critical literature review, check a handout here. All my literature reviews can be found here.


 

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The Long Take: A Cinematic Style? Or an Aesthetic Condition of Contemporary Culture?

Majority of literature in cinema has generally viewed long take as a stylistic device. Andrei Bazin’s essays “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” (1960) and “Evolution of the Film Language” (1968) are two of the inaugural essays that problematize the aesthetic practice of long take in relation to realism. The aesthetic practice of long take, whether used in contemplative cinema to deploy affects of emptiness, ennui and languor or used as a means to orchestrate complex cinematography, constitutes a smaller subset of a bigger set of stylistic devices used predominantly in art cinema and commercial cinema for several reasons. In today’s media culture, the long take has been appropriated in different platforms, in particular, amateur instructional videos in Youtube, surveillance footages, pornographic video productions among others. The digital platform has rendered the long take as a new stylistics to deploy spectacle. Hence, in this series of text, we will see how the concept of the long take is deployed in several writings.

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The Intrasequence Cut: The Long Take Between Bazin and Eisenstein

Sunrise

Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927): Brian Henderson’s example of a film with intrasequence shot, where editing play no expressive role

Bibliographic Note: Henderson, B. (1980). The Long Take (1971). In A Critique of Film Theory (pp. 48–61). New York: E.P. Dutton.

 

In Brian Henderson’s essay titled The Long Take (1971), the idea of the long take is drawn from a classical film theory perspective. Henderson (1980) says

‘the true cultivation and expression of the image… requires the duration of the long take (a single piece of unedited film that may or may not constitute an entire sequence). [L]ong take… permits the director to vary and develop the image without switching to another image… Thus the long take makes mise-en-scene possible.’ (p. 49) [Emphasis mine]

A Question of Film trheoryHenderson wanted to create a film theory that does not exclusively privilege either Bazinian notion of long take, which is associated with his temporal realism, or Eisenteinian notion of montage. He wanted to create a theory that would deploy both principles halfway. However, Henderson’s idea is not the definitive long take we are after. For Henderson, the long take is not primarily the length of the shot. It interacts with the montage, but not in the way that it privileges the montage’s rhythm or the autonomy of the long take in itself.

Henderson (1980) defines this new idea as the selective cut, or the intrasequence cut, or the mise-en-scene cut, to distinguish it from the montage cut or the long take in a Bazinian sense. An intrasequence cut ‘does not relate, arrange, or govern the whole of the piece it joins; it merely has a local relationship to the beginnings and ends of the connecting shots…’ (p. 54).

Assessing the Intrasequence Cut

Henderson’s ideas are weakened by his incapacity to think beyond the stylistic dilemma of Bazinian-Eisensteinian aesthetic complex. Henderson is a typical film theorist caught in between a web of generalizations centering on aesthetic figure of the director-as-auteur and their corresponding styles on mise-en-scene and montage. Henderson flippantly weighs in on the lack of theoretical grounding of a set of films that falls between Bazin and Eisenstein. Henderson was not able to account, like many aesthetic theorists, the material dimension of the long take and its industrial relation to the whole production of the image. As a stylistic device, its capability to generate new theory of cinema is insufficient as it lacks a systematic distinction that would easily differentiate it from a rhythmic montage or a Bazinian long take. Henderson has not fully show its autonomy as a stylistic device nor its general relation to whole discourse of the production of cinema.

Usefulness in my Research

Lav Diaz’s style of editing may be something close to Henderson idea of the intrasequence cut: a paradoxical stylistic cut that is both autonomous and related to the other shots. However, due to Henderson’s delimitation that the long take as not necessarily related to the length of the shot, I am led to conclude that Diaz’s stylistic category is something more complex than the facile relationship between Bazinian and Eisensteinin categories. In Lav Diaz’ cinema, we also have to look at the technological aspect and the material conditions that allows for such a style to thrive.

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from Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (2013)

Since the research aims to unmask the metaphysics of long duration, one has to ask first how does style contributes to the formation of metaphysics of long duration. Long duration here constitutes the general artistico-politics of slow cinema, in particular, the cinema of Lav Diaz. Remember however that the project is a materialist critique of the metaphysics of long duration. It reassembles the old time debate between materialism and idealism that Marx deployed in his readings on Feuerback, Proudhorn, Max Stirner. The best way to approach this is to constitute first the process of mystification in slow cinema by analyzing aesthetics categories, styles, narrative structure, and political content of the films. The research questions should be:

  • How does the process of mystification of slow cinema occur?
  • What are the contradictions and limitations (the aporia?) of these metaphysics of long duration?
  • What is the dialectical materialist opposite of long duration?

The general framework, as I see it now, after writing my paper presentation on Marx contra Deleuze, is to extrapolate the debate of materialism vs. idealism and apply it within the framework of slow cinema.

 

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The Long Take as Effigy of the Wondrous

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Lutz Koepnick’s example of the long take as expression of the wondrous

Bibliographic Note: Koepnick, L. (2017). The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

 

In Lutz Koepnick’s recent book The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous (2017) takes on the notion of the long take closer to Lav Diaz’s approach. However, Koepnick’s notion of long take is still problematic.

For Koepnick, ‘that contemporary moving image practice often embraces long takes — extended shot durations and prolonged experiences of moving image environments — as a medium to reconstruct spaces for the possibility of wonder’(Koepnick, 2017, p. 1). Unlike Henderson who sees long take as a style situated between Bazin and Eisenstein, 978-0-8166-9588-1-frontcoverKoepnick constitutes the long take in a larger socio-historical fabric. For Koepnick, the long take is transmediatic, no longer local to cinema, but moves across various media platforms and spaces of spectacle. All these long takes share an ‘effort to rub against today’s frantic regimes of timeless time, against today’s agitated forms of viewership and 24/7 spectatorial self-management’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 1).

As cinematographic style, Koepnick traces the prominence of long take in the 1990s when international arthouse filmmakers like Lisandro Alonso, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Pedro Costa, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang and others were recognized in the global arthouse market as a new force of filmmaking (Koepnick, 2017, p. 2). One of the key words in Koepnick’s book is wonder or the wondrous. For Koepnick, the long take is the ‘effigy of wondrous, the focal point to rethink notions of art cinema today’ (Koepnick, 2017, p.3). His goal is to ‘emancipate the long take from the grip of recent cinephilia (Koepnick, 2017, p.3).

The Wondrous

Koepnick defines the wondrous ‘as experience of something that defies expectation but need not to be encountered with fear, restless action or speechless defensiveness’ (Koepnick, 2017, pp. 1-2). The wondrous commands ‘a certain absence of expectation and a deliberate postponement of reaction, activity and interpretation…existing outside the realm of the will, defers any demand for instant reply and communication, and defies impatient efforts of narrative integration’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 8). The wondrous, for Koepnick, is a perceptual event: ‘Wonder happens suddenly. It ruptures the fabric of time, yet unlike the traumatic experiences of shock, the wondrous neither overwhelms nor petrifies the senses’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9). Although a wondrous event ‘disrupts temporal continuity, it requires time and duration’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9).

In introducing the idea of the wondrous, the goal of Koepnick is not to reduce long take ‘as a palliative to the ills of contemporary speed’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 4). He does not look at long take as a candidate to promote slow life agenda, nor does it physically slow down the speeds of the twenty-first century. Instead, Koepnick looks at the long take as one that ‘distends time, derails the drives of narrative and desire, and hovers above the border between film and photography’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 4). Koepnick seems to zero-in on the politics of the long take in relation to contemporary notions of attention. However, Koenpick delimits his notion of the long take as not related to extended-shot durations intended for choreography of complex actions, or intended as performative space, or a space for deployment of special effects (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9).

Assessment of the Long Take and the Wondrous

While it prods on a new idea of the wondrous, Koepnick’s notion of the long take is a step back in terms of inclusiveness. It has identified its class position by privileging the wondrous as exclusively identifiable with art cinema. He outwardly declares it in one paragraph, and let me quote in length:

My interest, in other words, is in long takes that result not in spectators shouting, “Wow, how the heck did they do that!,” but in viewers who may find themselves investigating possible relations among the different temporalities on screen, the temporal orders of the projection situation, and the rhythms of their own physical and mental worlds. My interest is in moving image work that embraces extended- shot durations as a medium to provide a space not for mere spectacle and astonishment but for reconstructing spaces for wondrous looking in the face of its ever- increasing disappearance.

(Koepnick, 2017, p. 10)

In this passage, Koenpick’s bourgeois position as a writer becomes clear. While he is critical of the ever disappearing spaces of contemporary culture, he still does not overcome his own class contradiction. Consistent to our materialist stance on art cinema, Koenpick is guilty of concealing the role of the proletariat in the production of the long take and its spectatorship. He effaces the proletarian subjectivity by jumping over them with his words ‘not in spectators shouting, “Wow, how the heck did they do that!”’. The exclusion of mainstream cinema is a major loophole in Koenpick’s privileging of the wondrous in art cinema. While no true opposition exists between art and mainstream cinema, Koenpick has not fully looked into the problematic category of the wondrous in relation to its complicity with class ideology.

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The wondrous, if we are to put Koenpick’s politics in the context of cultural markets, is close to the affect produced by commodity fetishism. The exacting materiality of the wondrous, as only limited to art cinema’s deployment of the long take, tells us that it is nothing different to the affect associated with media fetishism. I therefore argue that Koenpick’s idea of the long take is a form of art cinema fetishism. However, I will suspend for a moment this assessment as I will have to read the rest of the work and see if this position is held throughout the work.

Usefulness in My Research

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Koepnick’s notion of long take has overlaps in Diaz’s aesthetics. Diaz’s aesthetics fits in the mold of Koepnick’s privileging of art cinema. Diaz’s cinema has never been fully integrated in the proletarian struggle of Filipinos. His cinema has gained recognition in Europe, in arthouse film festivals like in France, Berlin, Venice, Fribourg among others. Diaz’s orientation towards the art market, which reached its peak when he collaborated with bourgeois elite producers of Manila in 2012 for his film Norte, the End of History (2013), recently opened many doors to Diaz in a financial sense. However, unlike Koepnick, Diaz’s long take is built on a theological position of temporarility that he rigorously sought throughout his career: a liberation theology that instrumentalizes technology and long duration as both emancipatory forms of pedagogy for the spectator.

Koepnick has focused his profiling of the long take in relation to the economy of attention from the perspective of the art cinema spectator. It is a phenomenological rendering of the long take. However, Diaz’s long take is positioned from an aesthetic-political sense, not in a phenomenological sense, as in Koepnick’s the notion of the wondrous.

In order to calibrate our critique for Diaz’s long take and long duration metaphysics, the positionality of our approach would comprise constituting first the material base of the long take: its mode and means of production. To establish this, we have to constitute the political economy of long take in the Philippines and how films like Lav Diaz’s oeuvre are marketed by cultural agents in the West.

Clarification of Position: Subjecting Auteurism to Dialectical Materialist Critique

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Jean-Luc Godard on the set of Made in USA., photographed by Bruno Barbey, 1966 (From here)

In my earlier post regarding theories of authorship in film, I mentioned that Lav Diaz’s authorship must be constituted within an expanded framework beyond the politics of representation. The framework that I’m referring to is the dialectical and historical materialist framework which looks beyond the politics of representation by reconsidering the importance of material conditions, the distribution of capital, and the intensity of market exchange, in the production of a cinematic product. Aside from the political economic consideration, dialectics of history is important in looking at auteurism in relation to the works of Lav Diaz. What are the historical forces that constituted the cultural status of Lav Diaz as an auteur? And, in the process of questioning, we must also look into the larger social fabric that constitute the conditions of the long take and auteurism. We must look at the long take in a dialectical and historical materialist manner, and this can only matter, in a dialectical sense, if we reify the metaphysics of long duration of Diaz and a negation of such metaphysics. The negation of such metaphysics is a materialist form of duration – time as material.

 

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Literature Review 1.0: Authorship in Cinema

June 2, 2018

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from JLG’s Histoire(s) Du Cinema

One of the major theories in cinema that underpins my research on Lav Diaz is the theory of authorship. It is impossible to think systematically of Lav Diaz and his metaphysics without acknowledging the role of practices of authorship that predominantly crafted his subjectivity. Hence, in relation to what I presented last May 26, 2018 during the Marx @ 200 Conference titled Marx contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign, the importance of reactivating the debate on the validity of auteurism concerns the following arguments:

  • Auteurism as a form of aesthetic concealment that masks the industrial nature of cinema
  • Auteurism as suspect to the ideological agenda of the film industry
  • Auteur as a cultural capital

I will be reviewing and summarizing a set of books and essays that explore the relationship of authorship and film. To start with, I will be reviewing a set of essays from the book Authorship and Film (Routledge, New York and London, 2003) edited by David Gestner & Janet Staiger.

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Gerstner, D. A. (2003). The Practices of Authorship. In D. A. Gerstner & J. Staiger (Eds.), Authorship and Film (pp. 3–25). New York and London: Routledge.

Authorship and Film

In his introductory essay titled The Practices of Authorship, David A. Gerstner sets the direction for this important book collection of essays. He puts out several valid questions in relation to authorship. I shall enumerate them:

  • What possibilities exist for the cultural producer (adapting Walter Benjamin’s concept of author-as-producer) to intervene or to resist the larger institutional framework?
  • Is it critically true to say that when a director “offends against the tricks of the trade,” he or she is simply affirming the “validity of the system”?
  • In what ways might the filmmaker-as-film author challenge rather than submit to the ideological saturation of Hollywood production?
  • Is the film author merely an ideological tool or a corporatized, homogeneous culture?
  • What critical purpose might the function of the author serve in critical theory against, on the one hand, theories that support a culture of containment or, on the other hand, the bourgeois enterprise that reifies the author position?

Gerstner’s essay as well as the book interrogates various positionalities of film studies and film practice in relation to the author or authorsip. He begins by dispensing the idea that the author is not exclusive to cinema studies alone, but the discourse ‘has evolved for centuries and can be traced from the arts’ relationship to the sacral through our contemporary period of late capitalism’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 4). Gerstner (2003) points out that capitalism has created the ‘illusion of artist and masterpiece’ (p. 5) due to the alliance of art and the market. Gerstner also draws the complicity of the development of film theory and criticism with artist-and-masterpiece theories. The main agenda for consecrating the film-as-author in the early days of the film studies was to raise the level of cinema as an artform equivalent to painting, music and theater.

Parts of the Book

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from Histoire(s) Du Cinema

 

Gerstner and Staiger divide the book into four parts. The first part is the introductory essays of Gerstner and Staiger mapping the terrain of authorship and film. The second part, comprising of three essays, is the about the ‘ongoing fascination of the auteur in film studies’. Essays on the second part look into the idea of Dana Polan called Auteur Desire and its relation to the countless studies on cinema that directly addressed the filmmaker as the sole author of the film even though film is a collaborative form of authorship. The third part of the book, comprising of six essays, looks into the poststructuralist idea of the author in which film authorship is related to how ‘a text is consumed, appropriated and reproduced given the complicated relationships of production, reception, and spectatorship’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 5). It looks into the complex relationship of the reader/consumer as the author of the text (see Barthe’s concept death of the author). The fourth part concerns the concept of authorship in the intersectional field of cultural studies deploying strands of political and ideological import repositing the author in a new light.

 

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Theories of Authorship in Cinema Studies

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Antoine Doinel

In the next sections of the introductory essay of Gerstner, he dispensed a narrative of the transformation of the concept of the author during the twentieth century. Gerstner (2003) posited that auteur theory in cinema ‘is rooted in the theatrics of a political gesture’ (p. 6) during the postwar cinema in France. From here, we enumerate the theories of authorship that emerged after World War II. The format will be as follows concept name, the proponent, the particular essay or book where the concept is formalized and constituted, the basic elements of the concept, and, if possible, the differences with other concepts and criticisms of the main concept by other thinkers/theorists/academics.

1. La Camera Stylo

Alexander AstrucImage result for Alexandre Astruc
“The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera Stylo” (1948)

  • Directly translates as the camera-as-pen
  • Crafted by Astruc to criticizes the current model (or a certain
  • tendency) of French cinema to overuse literary adaptation in the production of their films
  • Highlights cinema as a “means of expression just as all the other arts have been before it”
  • Indicates the director’s ability to translate his obsessions and ideas in film
  • Argues that cinema, like other arts, is a creative medium of its own with discrete creative ways

2. La Politiques des Auteurs

Francois TruffautImage result for françois truffaut
‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’ (1953)

  • Also criticizes certain tendency of postwar French Cinema that favors literary adaptation than to craft their own stories
  • Truffaut called filmmakers to ‘strip away their literary sensibilities’, or the bondage with the literary word (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Insists filmmakers to develop their films from scenario (script) to mise-en-scene (production design)
  • Asserts ‘the cinematic is expressed by the visual (mise-en-scene) not the literary word’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)

Criticisms:

Jim Hillier

Truffaut’s auteur theory is ‘an essentially romantic conception of art and the artist’, as if ‘art transcended history’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7).

Andre Bazin

  • ‘Genius-artist is no simple matter and should not and must not be hastily determined’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Truffaut and company’s polemic on the auteur ‘slid suspiciously into ‘an aesthetic personality cult’

3. Hollywood Studio Auteurs

Andrew Sarris
‘The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968’ (1968)
‘Towards a Theory of Film History’

  • Argued that directors (from 1929 to 1968) working in the American studio system can be auteurs too!
  • Uses the criteria (1) technical competence, (2) presence of distinct visual style, (3) emergence of ‘interior meaning’ to identify auteurs from metteurs-en-sceneAndrewSarris2
  • Provided possibility for Hollywood to constitute a creative agency amidst its industrial nature
  • Advocates critics to discern directors’ personal signature styles, scrutinize mise-en-scene and avoid Hollywood clichés

Criticisms

David Gerstner

‘Sarris’ methodology slipped dangerously into overly subjective analysis.’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 8)

V.F. Perkins

Ultimate unity of film as a coherent vision is a dubious proposition because distance between conception and delivery is great.

Pauline Kael
“Circles and Squares” (1963)

  • auteur theory is an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence
  • refusal to exercise taste and judgment in the area of study
  • Sarris is a bad critic, lacks rigor, and undisciplined
  • Sarris’ three circles of auteur theory (outer circle: technical competence; middle circle: distinguishable personality of the director; inner circle: mise-en-scene) has conflicting implications, formulaic rigidity, reduces all films to a privileged status of art.
  • Criticism is an art, not a science.
  • Auteur theory can nevertheless be a dangerous theory because it offer nothing but commercial goals to the young artists who may be trying to do something in film.

4. Structuralist Auteur Theory

Peter Wollen Image result for “Signs and Meanings in Cinema”
“Signs and Meanings in Cinema” (1972)

  • Auteur theory not limited to acclaiming director as author of the film
  • Requires an operation of decipherment and analysis to determine whether or not a director is the author of the film using structuralist methods (see Claude Levi-Strauss’s methods)
  • “Structuralist criticism cannot rest at the perception of resemblances or repetitions (redundancies, in fact), but must also comprehend a system of differences and oppositions.” (Wollen, 1998, p. 60)
  • Stylistic expressions is equivalent to music’s notion of artist’ interpretation: though many are involved in the constitution of the film, the transformation of the artwork

5. Alternatives to Romantic Auteur Theory

Ed Buscombe
“Ideas of Authorship” (1973)

  • ‘Squeeze out auteur from his position of prominence and transform the notion of him which remain’
  • Alternative to romantic auteur theory
  • Examines the effect of cinema in society
  • Consider the effect of society on cinema (operation of ideology, economics, and technology)
  • Study the effects of films on other films
  • Offers a culturally political critique

6. Ideological/Political Readings of Auteur

Writers of Cahiers du CinemaImage result for cahiers du cinema 1971
“Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” (1971)
“John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln” (1971)

  • Highlights questions of ideology, spectatorship, and modes of cultural production
  • Auteur status filtered through Marxist lens
  • Considers some of auteurs’ as ideological critiques of class and social structure

7. Expanded Readings of Ideological Auteurs

Stephen Heath
Comment on ‘The Idea of Authorship’’ (1973)

  • Emphasis on authorship per se to a textual, ideological, and theoretical analysis of the subject/spectator in relationship to text

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Theories of Authorship in Critical Theory

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French philosopher Michel Foucault

Theories of authorship are also problematized in the field of critical theory. For Gerstner, ‘critical distance allowed pure critical objectivity and a shield from contamination of “emotions”’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 11) In this way, one can critically interrogate authorship in relation to critiques of agency and intention.

1. Author-Function

Michel Foucault
‘What is the Author?’ (1975)

  • Constructed, secured and upheld by bourgeois sensibilities of art
  • Circulated as important operative of bourgeois ideology
  • Characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses in society
  • Marx and Freud are founders of discursivity – they established an endless possibility of discourse

2. Author-Creator

Mikhail BakhtinImage result for Dialogic imagination mikhail bakhtin
‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel’ (1981)

  • Different from the author as a human being
  • Not dead, but speaking, signifying in the work of art
  • In mutual interaction between the world represented in the work and the world outside the work
  • Has a dialogical character in relation to the work of art
  • Has a Presence that exist tangentially
  • Built on the idea the chronotopes of the author and the listener or reader as seated in intimate relationship with the work of art
  • Reader – active participant and producer of meaning (dialogical)
  • Reconception of the author in the multilayered dimension associated with the phenomenological experience of the work of art

3. Author as Producer

Walter Benjamin
‘The Author as Producer’ (1934)Image result for walter benjamin

  • Author’s productive activity and his or her demand to think, to reflect on his position in the process of production is the key to break the illusion of ideology in the reader’s mind, transforming the reader into producers themselves
  • Author as straddled between revolutionary activity and false consciousness (bourgeois ideology)
  • Author uses bourgeois apparatus of production to assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes in order for its readers to undergo functional transformation
  • Functional transformation is when the readers become producers and collaborators of the author
  • Similar to Brechtian conscious intervention in bourgeois theatrical narrative by counteracting the illusion of the audience

4. Reader as Author or Producer

Roland Barthes
Image result for the death of the author roland barthes

‘The Death of the Author’ (1968)
‘From Work to Text’ (1971)

    • Readerly act of consumption is production
    • Reader’s active role displaces the bourgeois privilege of the author
    • Text is eternally written here and now

Text yields ‘multiple writings’, resist foreclosed interpretation

  • Reader-as-producer makes meanings to secure it for the here-and-now

5. Author as Exploited Cultural Laborer

Pierre Bourdieu
‘The Production of Belief: Contribution to an Economy of Symbolic Goods’ (1986)

  • Ideology of creation conceals the exploitation of the labor of the author by cultural businessmen
  • Author is the first and last source of the value of work (as value is exchange by cultural capital by putting the work on the market)

6. Author Position

Michel de CerteauImage result for ‘Practice of Everyday Life
‘Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984)
‘Heterologies: Discourse on the Other’ (1986)

  • author position is the nominal center where the fictional unity of the work is produced
  • Symbiotic relationship between producer and work and text create dynamics between producer and consumer

7. Spectatorial Corporeality

Gilles Deleuze
‘Cinema 2: The Time-Image’ (1986)

  • Astruc’s camera-stylo is not a metaphor
  • Machine of the cinematic apparatus intermingles with the corporeality of the spectator

8. Unknowability of Author’s Intention

Jacques DerridaImage result for jacques derrida
‘Signature Event Context’ (1971)

  • The truth of intention is unknowable because meaning is context bound and context is boundless
  • Derrida: the category of intention will not disappear, it has its place, but from this place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and the entire system of utterances

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Theories on Authorship as Politics of Representation

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Theories on authorship also concerns the role of the laboring body of the author. What governs the cultural production of the text are parameters and limitations of this laboring bodies and their power relations with the means of production of the text. Here are some theories that explores the intentionality of the author in relation to his body.

1. Western Orientalizing Authors

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Edward Said
‘Orientalism’ (1979)

  • Occidental texts create authority by Orientalizing non-occidental phenomenon
  • Occidental text establishes the canons of taste and value

2. The Colonized Author

Abdul R. JanMohamedImage result for Abdul R. JanMohamed
‘The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature’ (1985)

  • An author who is inextricably enmeshed in the matrix of imperialist commodification
  • Can also be inducted to fulfill the author-function of the colonialist writer
  • In profound symbiotic relationship with imperialist practices
  • Impossible to determine which form of commodification takes precedence (colonized author or the colonialist author)

3. Author as Social or Political Representation

J. Ronald Green
‘The Cinema of Oscar Micheux’ (2001)

Pearl Bowser & Louise Pence
‘Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences’ (2000)

Jane Gaines
‘Fire and Desire: Mixed-Raced Movies in the Silent Era’ (2001)

Constance Penley
‘Introduction: The Lady Doesn’t Vanish: Feminism and Film Theory’ (1988)

  • Author as instigator and actualizer
  • Someone who not only designs the work but orchestrates its reception
  • Auteur studies remain vital to the politics of representation
  • Biography of the author overlaps with the body of work
  • Personal experience of the author is valid, grants author and spectator/reader a cultural space where they can convene
  • Resist liberal posture of nonrace in celebratory announcement that ‘we’re all the same’
  • A caution against hasty dismissal of authority of the author for the sake of critique of power relations

4. Feminist Critique of the Author-Function

Lauren Rabinowitz
‘Points of Resistance: Women, Power and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema 1943-71’ (1991)

  • Author-function is important in understanding cultural underpinnings and enunciation of any specifically female discourse

5. Queer Authorship

Judith Butler Image result for epistemology of the closet
‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’ (1990)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
‘Epistemology of the Closet’ (1990)

  • Critiques essentialist presumptions about gender
  • Figuring the role of the author within its reshaping by feminists and gay and lesbian scholars

6. Biographeme

Douglas CrimpImage result for fassbinder
‘Fassbinder, Franz, Fox, Elvira, Armin and All the Others’ (1993)

  • Privileges the “I” of the text as both reader and writer
  • Reader and writer are indissoluble figures who are not much distinct and separate as much as sensual inventions of one another
  • Intermingling of reader and writer in the text
  • Abolishes individuality while animating the pleasures
  • Similar to Bakhtin’s Author-creator and Bathes’ reader-as-author

7. Entanglement of Bodies of the Author and Reader with the Text

Michael Moon
‘Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass’ (1991)

  • Latches on queer theory
  • Author’s body can be successfully projected through, partially transformed into, his printed text
  • Author’s readers can engage in contact with the actual physical presence of the author

8. Authorial Suicide

Kaja SilvermanImage result for kaja silverman jlg
‘The Author as Receiver’ (2001)

  • Performative of the text in which the filmmaker erases himself as a bodily presence
  • A determination of author’s suicide within the work grants author a franchise on the claims for textual authority.
  • Death of Himself as the Author

 

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There are many theories of authorship in film. However, Diaz deploys a type of authorship that goes beyond its relation with a politics of representation. His politiques des auteurs may have intersected other expanded fields of inquiries. It is my goal to relate his auteurship to his own brand of cine-metaphysics.

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Research Log 2.0: Recap

Date: May 29, 2018

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A photo taken August 17, 2018 in my room at Quezon City showing newly bookaliked books of Karl Marx and Toni Negri.

 

Updates from Previous Research Log 1.0 (July 9, 2017): As of this writing, not much has transpired in my research but a lot of things have happened. Although, a few of the major achievements in the past few months were the approval of my concept paper (August 31, 2017) and the constitution of my thesis panel (January 15, 2018), I have yet to work on a thesis proposal draft which I plan to write this coming June-July 2018 just in time for the start of the first semester of AY 2018-2019 in August. Below is the timeline of events and accomplishments that transpired for the last ten to twelve months of my life.

 

2017

  • Nang 2

    Photograph of my contribution in NANG 2.

  • June 2017: Publication of Plaridel Journal Article: Cinephiles! as Post-Zine: Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Networks.
  • June 13, 2017: Submitted a draft of a book chapter for an upcoming Philippine Independent Cinema Book Project of Roland Tolentino and Aristotle Atienza
  • July 8, 2017: Preparation and Submission of Checklist of Materials for Historical Research to Hazel Orencio
  • July 9, 2017: First visit at Lav Diaz’s Residential Place in Marikina with Jayson Fajardo as volunteer research assistant (link). Data gathered were primarily production notebooks and filmed and unfilmed scripts (for photocopy).
2017 07 09

Lav’s treat at Seafood Island, SM Marikina, after the first archival research in his home. In the photo: (L – R) Jayson Fajardo, me at 218 lbs, Hazel Orencio, and Lav Diaz

 

  • July 16, 2017: Second visit at Lav Diaz’s Residential Place in Marikina with political film archivist Rosemarie Roque and experimental filmmaker Epoy Deyto (link). Data gathered were primarily other production notebooks and Rose’s initial viewing of the collection. We also viewed raw footages of Melacholia which was shot in color!
2017 07 16 2nd visit

Date: July 16, 2017 (Photo c/o Rose Roque).
In the photo: (L-R) Me, Hazel Orencio, Epoy Deyto, Lav Diaz and Rose Roque

  • July 23, 2017: Meet-up with Hazel Orencio at Sta. Lucia Mall to scan some of Lav Diaz’s old family photographs. The photographs are meant to contextualize and triangulate Diaz’s personal accounts of his history.
  • July 29, 2017: Submitted article to Dr. Diosa Labiste on Benham Rise for publication in the journal on Asian Politics and Policy
  • August 11, 2017: Started reading Karl Marx’s Economic Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Started research on Dialectical Materialism, Marxist Philosophy.
  • August 21, 2017: Submitted Concept Paper to Patrick Campos, my adviser
  • August 31, 2017: Received comments regarding my thesis concept paper. Approval of my topic.
  • September 25, 2017: Withdrawn my contribution for an upcoming book project to be published by Edinburgh University Press
  • October 24, 2017: Publication of my journal article titled Deconstructing the Coverage of Benham Rise and the Territorialization of Conflict at Asian Politics and Policy Journal.
  • October 26, 2017: Started reading Hegel’s Science of Logic (A. V. Miller version). First venture into Marxist philosophy.

 

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UP Social Science Library’s copy of Hegel’s Science of Logic

  • November 18, 2017: Partially completed basic writings of Marx.
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    My collection of Marxist texts. Taken November 18, 2017.

  • December 30, 2017: In-Depth Reading of Hegel’s Science of Logic and Karl Marx’s German Ideology.

 

2018

  • January 01, 2018: Started reading Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1 Introduction By Ernest Mendel.
  • January 15, 2018: Submitted my proposed thesis panel to UP CMC GSD.
  • March 3, 2018: Devised an Work Card method to keep track of my tasks for thesis

 

  • March 07, 2018: Arranged printed files on Lav Diaz.
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Ekran Special Issue on Lav Diaz and some printed copies of Diaz’s interviews

  • March 29, 2018: Finished reading Ernest Mendel’s introduction to Capital: Volume 1.
  • May 26, 2018: Presented by paper for Marx @ 200 Conference (link)

 

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Upcoming Tasks. My target for June and July 2018 is the proper drafting of my thesis proposal and I want this blog to be part of the process. There are several tasks abound namely (1) building extensive annotated Review of Related Literature for my proposal, (2) build an effective methodology to consolidate extant materials I already have, and (3) to write a draft of the proposal that is readable and understandable with sound arguments.

 

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Marx Contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign


This paper was presented during the Marx @ 200 Conference on May 26, 2018 at Malcolm Hall, University of the Philippines Diliman under the Panel on ‘Issues in Marxist Philosophy.’


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Good Afternoon!

I will be presenting a paper titled Marx contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign. As a preliminary study, this paper will not delve into the details and intricacies of Deleuzian philosophy. My main purpose today is to show the general dialectical relationship between Deleuze and Marx. This paper generally argues that different philosophies of cinema must be liquidated and critique for their lack of historicity, attention to material conditions of filmmaking, and complicity to the fetishistic dimension of cinema.

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Discussion Guide

As a guide, my discussion will focus first on the general contradictions in Deleuze’s books on cinema, highlighting perhaps its metaphysics via Bergsonism. After which, we locate Deleuze’s project in the larger discourse on cinema-as-art and raise the stakes as to how Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema conceals a more important layer of cinematic mode of production. From there, we proceed in presenting a dialectical possibility of creating a materialist constitution of the cinematic sign.

03

 

 

Who is Gilles Deleuze?

Gilles Deleuze is one of the most celebrated French poststructuralist philosophers of the last century along with Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. He has written extensively on the works of philosophers like Nietzsche, Bergson, Hume, Kant; and on art forms like music, painting and cinema. Some of you might know him as the co-author of the book series Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in which, alongside Felix Guattari, they tried to sharpen Marx’s critique of capitalism through a radical re-appropriation of Spinoza, Lacan, Hume, and other philosophers. This resulted to a Deleuzian theory of the multiple, which today is popular among critical discourses in Western arts and humanities.

 

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Research Log 1.0: Ground Zero

This post is reposted from Correspondence N.1: On the Epistemology of Arrival, Lav Diaz, Argentina x Brazil. In order to systematize my writings in preparation for my thesis proposal, I will keep a regular log of my research on Lav Diaz.

A Sneak Peak on my Archival Research on Lav Diaz

Day 1: Ground Zero (July 9, 2017)

IMG_6717One of my book finds in Lav Diaz’s library- Kubler’s The Shape of Time. I wonder if he ever read this.

My archival research on Lav Diaz will not be possible without the big help of Hazel Orencio who first sent me a message inviting me for a Lav Diaz-related event in Singapore this coming August 2017. This prompted me to ask if she has some of Diaz’s primary documents to back-up my historical research on him. Two Sundays ago, we agreed to meet in Diaz’s apartment in Marikina, Metro Manila where Diaz is residing. He’s on a three-week break in the Philippines before heading back to the United States. Marikina is a suburban city adjacent to Quezon City where I live, just two jeepney rides away from my place.

Since my study is historiographic in nature I asked Lav Diaz if he could provide all the primary documents in my checklist. These include scripts, production notes, behind the scenes photographs and videos, rushes, cinematographic devices, lighting equipment, sound equipment, old photographs from childhood, school records, birth records, etc. So we initially level off in terms of conducting my research. We also run through my checklist to identify the documents’ location. Diaz is not fond of storing photographs. He said I should ask his regular film crew like Larry Manda, his cinematographer and collaborator since 1998, and Cesar Hernando, production designer of Batang West Side (2001), to locate some the production/behind the scenes photos of his films. Diaz also suggested to visit the archive of the comics publisher Altas Publishing to check on some of his works. Diaz mentioned that he did two graphic novels. One of which is titled Prinsipe Maru. He also suggested to check the archive of PTV4, a local government-owned TV channel, for his works in television during the late 1980s (post-EDSA People Power). If one of you is aware of Diaz’s history, the earliest version of Heremias (2006) was an educational video he did for the TV Program called Balintataw, which can be found in PTV4.

His personal archive in Marikina contains mostly old scripts, old but highly important miniDVs containing the raw files of his mid-2000s works. All digitized raw files of his post-Good Harvest works are there. His digital cameras are also there. His editing station is also there. Hazel told me that Diaz only edits his films in one area – his editing room, a small room with a Mac computer and a small single bed. Ever since they transferred in Marikina, he never edited outside the confines of this editing room. This must be a very special place.

 IMG_6518Diaz’s Panasonic DVX-100 camera he used in the mid-2000s.

Also, I was surprised to find that all his filmmaking equipment and all his awards fit into one bookshelf, no more and no less, although I haven’t seen the Golden Lion, the Silver Bear and Golden Leopard.  This includes his cameras, lighting equipment, sound equipment, tripods, and lenses. Diaz was also not fond of displaying his trophies in glitzy cabinets and display tables. Instead, he places his trophies alongside his equipment without any distinguishing space for both types of materials. One is mixed with the other. Some of the trophies even have missing pieces.This only shows that Diaz is not really much after the awards. Continue reading

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May 2018: Round-Up

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May is Marx’s Month. Labor organizations and people’s movement inaugurated the month-long celebration of Karl Marx’s 200th birth year during the Labor Day Protest in Mendiola Plaza last May 1 to denounce Duterte-US coalition and to protest for the lack of government action on the long overdue promise of the abolition of contractualization in the country. In the same day, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed EO 51 that prohibits Illegal Contracting or Sub-Contracting. In a statement of Kilusang Mayo Uno, the said:

The signed EO is based on the draft prepared by the labor sector over the past year, as ordered by Duterte, yet the language has been heavily watered down and rendered inutile. Virtually all references to contractualization have been stripped out of the government version. The EO 51 merely reiterates anti-worker provisions in the labor code that has in fact legalized contractualization and led to the prevalence of various contractual employment schemes.

EO 51 shows Duterte’s lack of regard to contractual workers of the country. As part of the thousands of contractual workers in the government, I heavily denounced EO 51 for obviously undermining our rights to access tenureship benefits.

 

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Readings. I’ve recently been reading Stavros Tombazos’ book Time in Marx: The Categories of Time in Marx’s Capital (Brill Publishing, Leiden & Boston, 2014) alongside several books namely Karl Marx’ Capital Volume 1 (Vintage Books, 1977), Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (Pinetreebooks2, UK, Essex, 2000) and Cinema 2: The Time-Image (University of Minnesota Press, 200X), David Couzens Hoy’s The Time of Our Lives: A Critical History of Temporality (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 2009) in preparation for my conference article to be presented during the Marx @ 200 Conference this coming May 26, 2018 at the College of Engineering.

Tombazos’ book analyses the various categories of time in Marx’s magnum opus work Capital. It’s quite interesting to see how Tombazos stresses the importance of locating his arguments on a well-founded claim that “Capital, like any other economy, is a specific organisation of time obeying its own immanent criteria” (Tombazos, 2014, p. 3). Tombazos uses the concept of time as guiding principle in re-exploring the themes in Marx’s Capital. Written at the height of fall of socialist states in the late 1980s, the book’s re-exploration of Marx looks into the possibility of reconnecting the post-Cold War Marxist milieu back to the basic tenets of Marxism. There is a promise of reinvention in the way Tombazos divides his chapters. He clearly wants to follow Capital’s trajectory from Volume I to Volume III, with each volume corresponding to a concept of time he assigns. Volume 1 corresponds to ‘time of production’, which Tombazos describes as a ‘linear and abstract temporality, homogeneous, a time that is supposed to be calculable, measurable.’ Volume 2 corresponds to ‘time of circulation’ which concerns the turnover of value, while Volume 3 corresponds to ‘organic time’ where the time of production unites with the time of circulation.

 

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Last May 26, I presented my paper titled Marx Contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign at the MARX @200 Conference: The Continuing Relevance of Marx’s Thought to the Struggle of the Filipino People. My paper presentation for Marx @ 200 Conference can be downloaded here. The PowerPoint Presentation can be downloaded here.

 

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Histoire(s). I’ve recently rewatched Histoire(s) du Cinema for the 3rd time since 2010- 2011. It’s been 7 years. The first time I’ve watched it was through a direct download from SMZ. It seems like one of my first entry points in watching films circulated via online private trackers and websites like SMZ. Seven years after, it remains more than enigmatic, dense, and culturally alienating. I’m thinking of pursuing a film criticism project on Godard’s impenetrable histor(ies) of cinema written from the material conditions of the Third World.

 

 

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Deplorable, Disastrous, Politically Vacuous Hollywood. Ever since I watched the deplorable Avengers: Infinity War (2018), I have not recovered fully from a disappointing Hollywood mix of bad humor and lackadaisical depiction of heroism.  A group of Lyceum of the Philippines students, led by Nadine Alexi Visperas and Bren Allen Ginabo, approached me as resource person for their project on Hallyu or the South Korean Wave They asked me to comment on South Korean Cinema’s highest grossing film The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014). Of course, I’m more than willing to grant their request.

South Korean Cinema is not a foreign territory to me. I have watched South Korean films and series in the past. After watching the The Admiral: Roaring Currents, I can’t help but to compare it to the quality of superhero movies Hollywood’s been producing these years. As I mentioned in one of my FB mini-reviews: “This is not a superhero film, but it feels like this should be the standard of how superhero films are made: a film with an attempt to confront the impossible via effective deployment of strategies. The emergence of the heroic subjectivity is very clear. It is gained not by one’s extraordinary power alone, but one’s courage to face the impossible.”

 

 

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Radical Meme-tic Misappropriations. Epoy Deyto and Vic Teaño are cooking some good meme-inspired experimental films. I’ve previewed both their works and I’m excited for both of them.

 

 

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On Food Movies. Aside from The Admiral, my detour away from Hollywood is a set of films categorized in KissAsian.ch as ‘food movies‘. I had fun watching two gay-themed food films namely the Korean film Antique (2008) and the Japanese film Bitter Sweet (2016) not only because of the food depicted in the films, but also their unusual plot lines that are far more engaging than the usual American food movies like Burnt (2015). Meanwhile, Luca Guadagnino’s I am Love (2009) is a whole different film altogether as it explores the sensuousness and intensity of food and infatuation.

Is food movie a formalized genre? I think the bridge between culinary arts and the visual medium like cinema has been seamless and productive ever since. The culture of food in cinema, from the bourgeois plates of Luca Guadagnino’s I am Love (2009) to the street food obscurities in several films of Khavn Dela Cruz, expresses class, affluence and poverty. In cinema, food is a representation of class. In her 2015 study titled Dinner and a Movie: Analyzing Food and Film, Cynthia Baron concluded that:

“The scholarship on food in film has already shown that images of food and food behavior are woven into films’ mise en scène and narrative design in ways that shape viewers’ understanding and interpretation of characters and their interactions, the social dynamics explored in a narrative, and the ideological perspectives conveyed by a film. Studies have also started to examine food and film viewing. By exploring intersections between food, film, and culture in lived experience, research on food and film viewing should provide insights into the various social situations that can facilitate and/or diminish individual expression in contemporary mass culture.”

 

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As VCinema Contributor. I’ve recently taken up additional writing assignment as a contributor/film reviewer/film critic to VCinema, a Podcast and Web Blog specializing on Asian Film, alongside my thesis writing and my writing/AVP editing job at BFAR. So I’m pretty much occupied by writing on film in general. I’ve started contributing film review essays last month. My first published essay was on John Torres’ experimental feature People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose (John Torres / PH / 2016). I’ve also written on Never Not Love You (Antoinette Jadaone / PH / 2018), By the Time It Gets Dark (Anocha Suwichakornpong/ Thailand / 2016) and my latest review is on Ashley Duong’s documentary A Time to Swim (Ashley Duong / Canada/Malaysia / 2017).

 

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People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose (Philippines, 2016) [Aperture 2018]

Reposted from VCinema

In Philippine Cinema, rarely do we see a film as ambitious as People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose in terms of experimentation. Like many of John Torres’ works, it demands a lot from the audience. Unlike Lav Diaz’s long films, we are not enamoured in watching sustained long hours of contemplative ennui. Torres demands from us full the attention to the illogical, to the obscure, to images that no longer bear any grandstanding within contemporary film practice today. To put it simply, People Power Bombshell is Torres’ attempts on exhumation and reanimation of remains, of things lost and found: human remains, image remains, cultural remains… What resulted from Torres’ experimental reanimation of the dead – the dead Celso Ad Castillo and his multiplicities – are zombified images, or images that are already dead but resurrected through the material effects of digital conversion.

Aside from harbouring zombified images, People Power Bombshell is also populated by images that bear no proper address. For example, a shot snapped 1 hour and 13 minutes into the film shows a group of armed civilians holding the Vietnamese flag. This shot arguably does not belong to the film, yet it comes from there, from its interstice, possessing its own materiality as a moment of the film, as a slice of its filmic time, an intruder. And yet, in relation to the whole, one grapples at its relevance, its narrative importance, for most of these images fall of the grid.

People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose is filled with these non-images, images that resist to be understood in relation to the whole. It derives its visual power from the tactility of in-betweenness, of being in a state of geographical and temporal suspension. Torres’ images are shifters, interfacers, intertistial, in-betweens, always caught between two opposing forces and seemingly forcing two disjunct worlds into one.

One of the noticeable interstices in Torres’ film is the violence shift between two media. People Power Bombshell is a film that combines celluloid film (the unfinished film of Celso Ad Castillo titled A Diary of Vietnam Rose) and digital film (a recreated digital film made by Torres himself). In an attempt to bridge the two media, Torres aesthetically copies the rough celluloid scratches of Celso Ad Castillo’s unfinished film applying it as a stylistic layer to his digital shots. On the other hand, he maintains, in its poor state, the celluloid look of A Diary of Vietnam Rose to blend the visuality of the two media. The result is an abstruse flow of cinematic time in the film.

The redubbing of sound in the film also contributes in stitching the two media. Torres is infamous for his experimentation on sound and subtitling. In Torres’ earlier work Refrains Happen Revolutions in a Song (2010), we are led to believe that the subtitles deployed in the film are direct translations of the actual sound. However, Torres revealed afterwards that the subtitles were entirely made-up based what he apparently heard. In a similar fashion, People Power Bombshell is redubbed anew, without any reference to the old material. In redubbing the major scenes from the original film, Torres was able to create a new layer of auditory narrative, forcing the audience to compensate for the incongruous image-sound relation.

This complex film practice rallies towards abandoning pre-established narratological boundaries. Since the original film was shot in the 1980s, the obsolescence of celluloid medium prevents Torres to reshoot the film in its original form. There is also a conflict in the cast, crew and location of the original film. A three-decade gap between its production and Torres’ attempt to resurrect it from the dead would impossibly render some of its cast and crew to aged. Some have left the country, while some cast like Celso Ad Castillo, with a titular character in the film, have died. The location used in the film has also changed.

In some ways, this gives us a hint of another interstice present in the film – the interstice of time. The film achieves its rigour of creation and invention by reaffirming incommensurable flow of time itself. Torres’ principle of exhumation is therefore hemmed in the destruction of the ‘old’ in lieu of the ‘new.’

In People Power Bombshell, cinematic time approaches an enigmatic resolve, neither linear nor circular, with no beginning or end. Time is inexhaustibly caught in the interstice of the interval of its images. The film captivates its audience first with a new form of visuality, then leads its audience to linger in an enigmatic trap of being thrown in the middle of a waterspout with indiscernible dimension, offering no possibility of ejection or escape.

Although it is its most distinctive aesthetic feature, the stained and damaged look of the film is not reassuring. A layer of suspicion and pretension haunts Torres’ method while it attempts to question the very idea of anchoring or grounding. Much like the films of Stan Brakhage, People Power Bombshell refuses to be seen as a film. It refuses to be anchored on a conventionally logical grounding of what a film is, as it heaves, shifts and thugs the eyes while ornamentalizing what it supposed to show. The ornament and its shadow cast a dire external look of the film. As much as one can hate the film for its lack of transparency and clarity, for its ornamentation and pretension, this is the visual purpose of the film – to let images perform an archaic dance of light.

The ambiguity caused by splintering and fragmentation of the film’s images leads us to believe that the film lacks its sense of discernment for authenticity and clarity. For Torres, clarity and authenticity are the film’s last resort for wholeness. For him, collisions are more important.

Torres, in an attempt to remove the barrier between analog and digital, actuates a triple destruction of conventional filmmaking. First, he destroys the hierarchy of the celluloid and digital through his act of refusal to recreate the celluloid parts as celluloid. Second, he destroys the hierarchy of time by building upon the old narrative using new pathways and direction. And third, he denaturalizes the authorial command of film by disarming Celso Ad Castillo’s aesthetic control of the film. Through this triple destruction, the film’s intended meaning undergoes dynamic shifts.

This brings us to the question of wholeness. In making an effort to emulate the tactility of in-betweeness, Torres corrupts the metaphysical concept of wholeness. He announces, through his film, that cinema is incapable of coming to terms with a whole. What Torres introduces is the dialectical opposite of the Whole: the fragment – neither whole nor complete, always announcing itself in the film as the site of becoming-new.

People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose is showing as part of the Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival which is touring across the UK during spring/summer 2018. See the festival website for more details and screening dates.

 

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Deleuze’s Ahistorical Conceptualism

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from here.

Part 1 of 13 of my comprehensive note-series on Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.


Bibliographic Note: Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: The Athlone Press, 1986), ix – xiv.


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This is my critical summary of the two prefaces and translator’s introduction of Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. This is an exercise in making reflective memos, a tip I got from Raul Pacheco-Vega’s blog.

Preliminary Notes

Before I start to lay down some of my thoughts on three interesting introductory pages that precede the main content of Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, let me first provide some context regarding this project. This project has been brewing in my mind since last year. My problem is actually simple to say: how does one crate a provisional link between Deleuze’s Cinema project, which dealt directly with time and movement, and Marx’s concept of time in his books Capital Vol 1 and German Ideology.

In reading side by side Deleuze and Marx, one can potential extract sites of crisis wherein we can enunciate a temporal/durational materialism. This may sound far flung and may perhaps been unoriginal as there might be several isolation of the concept elsewhere in various strands of thinking, but in my attempt, I shall try to bridge Deleuze’s transcendental method with Marx’s dialectical & historical materialist method to arrive at a provisionally new materialism that can materially account for the temporality of cinema, or of matter in general. This project is part of my research for the upcoming conferences I will be attending.

An Ahistorical Accounting of Cinematographic Concepts

In both Deleuze’s Preface for the English Edition and Preface for the French Edition of Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, there is obvious declaration of ahistoricism, a pivotal gesture that opens Deleuze’s two-volume book on cinema. Cinema 1 is about the production of the movement-image, while Cinema 2 is about the production of the time-image. Both of which are separated by ironically a historical juncture: the World War II. One can get easily entangled with Deleuze’s duality. Although Deleuze’s project can qualify as general philosophy, the specificity of Deleuze’s rupture can only be attributed to a cinematic production of continental Europe. Deleuze created a historical juncture between Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 without acknowledging the need to engage with the historical specificifity of his division. In comparison, between Deleuze film-philosophy and the neoformalist and historical poetics project of Bordwell and Thompson, the latter might give a more informative take on the changes of film aesthetics over a period of time albeit their lack of political inattention to issues of image production in general, while Deleuze’s work remains, at best, an attempt at a refusal to engaged in historicity and specificity of the film image.

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From Night and Fog (Alain Resnais / France / 1955)

Since it lacks a historic-material grounding, Deleuze’s historical division between pre-war (WWII) and post-war cinema (WWII) can be reinterpreted as form of aesthico-philosophical categorization to demarcate two modes of Bergsonian temporality responsive of pre-trauma and post-trauma events, or events of absolute deterritorialization (such as the World War) primarily caused by reorganization of ontological, political and cultural landscape.

While this duality provides Deleuze a rupture to rethink cinema in reference to time, it lacks the material anchor for a pure corporeal take on cinematic temporality. For once, Deleuze denies his project as historical one. In the first sentence of his Preface to the English Edition, he wrote: ‘This book does not set out to produce a history of the cinema but to isolate certain cinematographic concepts’ (p. ix). In writing this passage, Deleuze draws the line between philosophy and cinema studies, between idealism and materialism, and in the process, proceeds forth with a project that runs the risk of becoming an ahistorical accounting of cinematographic concepts that lead further to a mystification of cinema’s supposed temporal materiality.

What is a Cinematographic Concept?

He further obfuscates the matter by navigating through a series of categories that further veils cinematic temporality. Cinematographic concept, for Deleuze, is:

  • Non-Technical –Deleuze is not concerned with technical categorization of ‘various kinds of shots or the different camera movements.’ (p. ix) This is rather dubious since, at the latter part of the book, he will recast the shot, the cut, the camera movement from a technical vantage point but filtered through Bergsonian terminologies.
  • Non-Critical – Deleuze is also not concerned with a critical categorization of cinema in terms of various categories of values available in film studies such as genres, etc. (p. ix) Yet, Deleuze will also mention genre distinctions in some of his subsections. In Chapter 10, he titled a section The Western in Hawks: functionalism/the neo-Western and its type of space (Mann, Peckinpah).
  • Non-Linguistic – Nor is Deleuze concerned with the categorization of cinema as a universal language, transmediatic in all aspects (easily translatable from one medium to another).(p. ix)

In a definitive grasp, for Deleuze, a cinematographic concept is attributable to the following characteristics:

  • A Pre-Verbal Intelligible Content (Pure Semiotic) – Cinematic images neither reside in language nor in any ‘linguistically inspired semiology’. It is, as Deleuze posits, a pre-verbal sign that maintains its intelligible primacy. (p. ix)
  • An Automatic Image of Time (Movement-Image and Time-Image) – Deleuze also proffers that the cinematic image is directly or indirectly associated with the image of time.

This leads us to a further qualification of what a cinematographic concept is. From here on, Deleuze struggles to piece together a systematic, albeit limited, ahistorical accounting of what a cinematographic concept is via creating a bifurcation path between movement-image and time image.

From Movement-Image to Time-Image

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From Your Name (Makoto Shinkai / Japan / 2016)

Deleuze’s characterization of the cinematographic concept can be summarily put as his effort to grapple the relation of time and the cinematic image. He returns to Bergson to extract fundamental theses on the components of cinematographic concept. Deleuze seemed to be dissatisfied by how film theorists of his time think about the film image. In the 1970s, there is a strict compulsion of film studies to recast the film image in terms of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Althusserian Marxism and some strands of Saussurian semiotics. When Deleuze published Cinema 1: The Movement-Image in 1983, it was a pivotal polemic against the dominant strand of film theorizing popular at that time in Europe in similar trajectory that Bordwell and Thompson responded with their neoformalism and historical poetics.

What Deleuze reinjected in film studies is a path-breaking reconsideration of some of the basic tenets of the film image namely the unresolved and often veiled issue of the relation between film image and time and temporality. We can declare Deleuze’s books as the Bergsonian shift of film studies and the inaugural moment of a new inter-disciplinary field of film philosophy. But not much has progressed since this Bergsonian shift in film studies. Deleuze’s publication of the Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 gave rise to multitudes of secondary studies that apply, refute or extend Deleuze’s core theses on the cinematic image or movement. Notable studies such as Massumi’s Parables of the Virtual, Connolly’s Neuropolitics, Zourabichvili’s Deleuze: A Philosophy of the Event, and the works of speculative realists/materialists such as Meillassoux, Brassier, Land and Negarestani have long pushed the theoretical envelope beyond Bergsonian film philosophy into newer realms of ontology and epistemology.

One of the under-researched paths out of Bergsonian film philosophy is the relation of Marx and Deleuze in terms of temporality. There is a thin literature that problematizes this juncture, and in an attempt to reinstate a materialist theory of cinematic image, we go back to Deleuze’s inaugural book, Cinema 1, to retrace the steps and identify sites of contradictions that generate a crisis.

For one, movement-image and time-image are general concepts with sub-components called signs and typically occurs in various tendencies. The difference between movement-image and time-image can be elaborated below:

  • Movement-Image
    • Indirect representation of time
    • Schemata: Time is derived from movement
  • Time-Image
    • Direct image of time
    • Schemata: Movement is derived from time
    • Creates false movements
    • Made possible by War (World War II in particular)
    • Shatters the sensory-motor schema
    • Signifies that a ‘general regime of the image’ has been changed

Deleuze insists that, in terms of value, no hierarchy between time-image and movement-image exists. However, this is contradictory to Deleuze’s method of choosing his material. He insists that in using filmic masterpieces as exemplary material for enunciating his film philosophy, ‘no hierarchy of values applies.’ (p. x) This is problematic in a sense that in privileging auteurs and masterpieces, a large portion of the optical media will be ignored. In Deleuze’s time, there is an evident appearance of late capitalism’s market saturation of surplus image. Deleuze seemingly effaces the notion of canons and other forms of image production in this project rendering this inaugural work as incomplete, a product of idealism, which is evident in Deleuze’s optimistic remark: ‘The cinema is always as perfect as it can be, taking into accounts the images and signs which it invents and which it has at its disposal at a given moment.’ (p. x)

Cinema 1 as a Philosophical Work and a Work of Cinema Studies

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From All that Heaven Allows (Howard Hawks / USA / 1950)

In the Translator’s Introduction to the book written jointly by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, we get a clear dispensation of Deleuze’s work. They both argue that Deleuze’s Cinema project is both a work of philosophy and a work of cinema studies, and can be described, at best, as an exemplification of Deleuze’s radical view of philosophy.

For them, Cinema 1 is a work of philosophy along the lines of concept creation. They have highlighted two thinkers that influenced the work: Henri Bergson, whose radical view of the image helped Deleuze in reconceptualising his notion of the filmic image, and Charles Sander Peirce, which provided ‘a powerful typology with which to approach images of types’ (p. xi).

Cinema 1 can also be considered as a work of cinema studies in a sense that Deleuze discuss a large number of image and films, and ‘advances general views about the ‘types’ of films’ (p. xi). Tomlinson and Habberjam are, however, not convinced that Deleuze’s work produces a new type of film theory, but rather, it is a film philosophy classifiable by the following characteristic. Cinema 1 and 2 as a whole is a work of film philosophy because:

  • Philosophical concepts presented in the work are non-Hegelian dialectical constructs in a sense that they are not a reflection of an external object or reality,
  • Philosophical concepts in the book, in Deleuze’s purview, are intensities, direct mental impressions, which are impersonal.
  • Philosophical concepts in the book are images of thought.

For Tomlinson and Habberjam, the work is not a film theory for the following reasons:

  • The work particulates a creation and invention of concepts alongside cinema’s creation of new images.
  • Since film theory is concerned with phenomenological mapping of cinema, Deleuze insists for new method concept creation by way of decoupage (cut-&-paste) by grouping different things, wherein (a) boundaries an undermined and (b) new assemblages are created.

This led the two interlocutors to conclude that the book is an intercutting of cinema and philosophy: ‘As such, it brings together a whole range of terms from each sphere, many of which may be unfamiliar to readers more at home in the other’ (p. xii). This shows that the Deleuze’s Cinema project is far from the materialist paradigm of critique, but an exemplification of what Marx has feared: the return to idealism.

What is lacking in Deleuze’s project, in this initial reading of its introductory pages, is the engagement and entanglement with the material condition of cinema itself. Although one might argue that this conclusion was activated from a certain ‘biased’ (if there is such a word?) counter-ideology of Marxism, the necessity of entangling with the material is irrevocably linked to a recognized fact that there are larger forces at work beyond one’s solipsistic view: a recognition of a reality, a public, outside one’s subjectivity.

(2,033 words)

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