Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble”

1990

1999 PREFACE:

It is in sexual practice that gender is destabilized because “policing gender is sometimes used as a way of securing heterosexuality” xii [Foucauldian?].

“The sexist claims that a woman only exhibits her womannes in the act of heterosexual coitus in which her subordination becomes her pleasure… a feminist view argues that gender should be overthrown, eliminated, or rendered fatally ambiguous precisely because it is always a sign of subordination for women” xiv.

While we assume that gender is “an interior essence that might be disclosed,” this is “an expectation that ends up producing the very phenomenon that it anticipates” xv. This Butler stages as “metalepsis, the way in which the anticipation of a gendered essence produces that which it posits as outside itself” xv. The notion of performativity Butler advances is “a repetition and a ritual… a culturally sustained temporal duration… the gendered stylization of the body” and “an hallucinatory effect of naturalized gestures” xv. This narrativization of performance also interests me in terms of duree. (Interestingly, Butler also asks us not to transpose the theory onto race unproblematically, but to consider what happens when it performativity tries to come to grips with race.)

In a way, this is an advocation of surface reading, for if we see a person in drag and take their assumed gender as the opposite of their performed one, we give the first one priority and call the second one “mere artifice, play, falsehood, and illusion” xxiii [Blade Runner]. Butler’s goal is to explore the vacillation of reading between categories as “the experience of the body in question” xxiv.

“To the extent that gender norms (ideal dimorphism, heterosexual complementarity of bodies, ideals and rule of proper and improper masculinity and femininity, many of which are underwritten by racial codes of purity and taboos against miscegenation) establish what will and will not be intelligibly human, what will and will not be considered to be ‘real,’ they establish the ontological field in which bodies may be given legitimate expression. If there is a positive normative task in Gender Trouble, it is to insist upon the extension of this legitimacy to bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal, and unintelligible. Drag is an example that is meant to establish that ‘reality’ is not as fixed as we generally assume it to be” xxv.

While this implies a history of symptomatic reading (the surface belies depth), it also values surface. It is neither pure surface, self-invention, language, or theatricality xxvi. “Those who are deemed ‘unreal’ nevertheless lay hold of the real” xxviii.

1990 PREFACE:

If woman is mystery for de Beauvoir, it might stem from the “trouble” Sartre locates in her ability to return the gaze xxx. For Butler, “power appeared to operate in the production of that very binary frame for thinking about gender” xxx. In a Foucauldian genaeological approach, Butler will look at gender as a set of effects, rather than causes.

“Gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real. His/her performance destabilizes the very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates” xxxi.

1: SUBJECTS OF SEX/GENDER/DESIRE

Rather than feminism based in identity politics, which glosses over issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and individuality, Butler invites us to consider a coalitional feminism (rather than a universal basis on identity politics, which, as bell hooks suggests, already confronts issues of race) that would undermine the term “woman” and upset the patriarchal linguistic binary. In fact, gender is multiple and unstable 4.

The split between sex and gender is false for Butler, since both, and not just gender, are constructed: “gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which ‘sexed nature’ or ‘a natural sex’ is produced and established as ‘prediscursive,’ prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts” 10. If de Beauvoir sees men constructing their gender against woman’s lack and Irigaray holds that it is One phallogocentric gender that cancels woman altogether, Butler questions the idea of “being” a gender at all, as well as the necessity of being represented as such.

“Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure” 22 [Foucauldian, Deleuze & Guattari]

Gender, instead, is performative. “Intelligible” genders uphold “coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire 23.

“The identification of women with ‘sex,’ for Beauvoir as for Wittig, is a conflation of the category of women with the ostensibly sexualized features of their bodies and hence, a refusal to grant freedom and autonomy to women as it is purportedly enjoyed by men. Thus, the destruction of the category of sex would be the destruction of an attribute, sex, that has, through a misogynist gesture of synecdoche, come to take the place of the person, the self-determining cogito” 27 [Isherwood!]

Institutional heterosexuality has created this, since “gender can denote a unity of experience, of sex, gender, and desire, only when sex can be understood in some sense to necessitate gender” 30. [But where does that leave us now, since we can’t all drag and still get laid?] Another issue is language – Wittig claims it is only problematic in its applications, Irigaray in its content. Wittig ends up making polymorphous perversity a “telos” of human sexuality rather than its former state, however. “Woman itself is a term in process” 45.

 

Gender’s acts of “expression” constitute, rather than reflect, gender [vs. symptomatic reading! Here surface is content.] Both genders are open to resignification. This is where she calls for “gender trouble,” performance that troubles the binary: “a proliferation of precisely those constitutive categories that seek to keep gender in its place by posturing as the foundational illusions of identity” 46.

2: PROHIBITION, PSYCHOANALYSIS, AND THE PRODUCTION OF THE HETEROSEXUAL MATRIX

In this section, Butler challenges a utopian “pre-patriarchal” ideal as it appears in much feminist literature. Structuralist accounts, such as that of Levi-Strauss, depend on an idea of the transformation of sex into gender by means of the incest taboo, which creates a kinship structure around the exchange of women. Joan Riviere’s psychoanalytic approach claims femininity is a masquerade to hide masculine identification and lesbian desire. Finally, Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia posits cathexis as identification, as the traits of a lost loved one are incorporated.

Butler challenges all three. In the case of incest, she argues that it is the presence of the taboo that incites incestuous desire. In Riviere, mimicry are the essence of gender, not an outward concealment of it. In Freud, we actually internalize the prohibited object via melancholia as we construct our own gender. This involves homosexual cathexis, but “heterosexual melancholy is culturally instituted as the price of stable gender identities.” Heterosexuality depends on homosexuality for its existence (is it Sontag who says this?). Approved heterosexuality and subversive homosexuality only exist after the law, which is generated and regulated via the incest taboo [Foucauldian]. “Not only does the taboo forbid and dictate sexuality in certain forms, but it inadvertently produces a variety of substitute desires and identities that are in no sense constrained in advance, except insofar as they are ‘substitutes’ in some sense” 103. Incest incites desire for the mother or father but also displaces that desire: “the notion of an ‘original’ sexuality forever repressed and forbidden thus becomes a production of the law which subsequently functions as its prohibition” 104.

3: SUBVERSIVE BODILY ACTS

In this section, Butler addresses Kristeva, Foucault, and Wittig. Recalling Kristeva’s argument that the feminine surfaces in language via the semiotic (vs the symbolic), Butler challenges the notion of writing and womanhood as reclamations of the body, but not homosexuality: “the unmediated cathexis of female homosexual desire leads unequivocally to psychosis” 117. On motherhood: “Kristeva conceptualizes this maternal instinct as having an ontological status prior to the paternal law, but she fails to consider the way in which that very law might well be the cause of the very desire it is said to repress.” In a Foucauldian argument, she claims that ideas of maternity themselves are products of discourse and power. “The female body that is freed from the shackles of the paternal law may well prove to be yet another incarnation of that law, posing as subversive but operating in the service of that law’s self-amplification and proliferation… If subversion is possible, it will be a subversion from within the terms of the law, through the possibilities that emerge when the law turns against itself and spawns unexpected permutations of itself” 127 [faceting!].

Butler examines the journals of the hermaphrodite Herculine who committed suicide when forced to live as a man. Prior to this, Herculine lived in “nonidentity.” Butler sees this idealism as a sort of “confessional” on Foucault’s part of his own (silent) homosexuality, since the idea contradicts what he argues for in History of Sexuality: namely, that there is no sex “prior” to power, and that sex is not a solution to discourse but part of it. “S/he is ‘outside’ the law, but the law maintains this ‘outside’ within itself… the law’s uncanny capacity to produce only those rebellions that it can guarantee will… defeat themselves” 144.

Sex is produced by compulsory heterosexuality – compulsory reproduction. Therefore, the binary of gender only exists in “the heterosexual matrix” and are naturalized there to conceal and reproduce it 150. Butler examines and agrees with Wittig’s formulation of lesbian sexuality. Wittig argues that women carry the burden of sex because they are always identified with/as sex. Thus sex is a way to designate the non-male by absence, and the synecdochic division of the body into parts (which we now feel is fact) fragments what is really a whole. “The body is itself a consequence of taboos that render that body discrete by virtue of its stable boundaries.” In lesbian sexuality, partners might multiply and proliferate signifying parts of the body. Lesbian sexuality must not posit itself all too radically outside heterosexuality, lest it consolidate that hegemony 174.

In the last part of the chapter, Butler asks why bodies are the surfaces on which gender is written. We enforce the boundaries of the body as a means of establishing taboo (thus AIDS being equated with anal sex – a threshold being crossed). Drag is a way to playfully exaggerate and undercut “original” gender.

“If gender attributes, however, are not expressive but performative, then these attributes effectively constitute the identity they are said to express or reveal. The distinction between expression and performativeness is crucial [since the former implies truth, but the latter implies there is no prior truth]… Genders can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived. As credible bearers of those attributes, however, genders can also be rendered thoroughly and radically incredible” 193.

It’s interesting to use the word incredible – unbelievable – here. It ties this to fiction and narrativization, which she has done all along. )It is also, again, a form of surface reading, at least insofar as it makes surfaces count.)

4: CONCLUSION: FROM PARODY TO POLITICS

Butler tries to imagine a feminism free of the binary – the us/them or object/subject divide, as many feminists have thought before, is itself problematic and hegemonic. The subject is formed by repetition as signification (think of Stein!) Drag and other forms of parody destabilize and make apparent hidden assumptions about the “ontological locales” of gender (like Adorno on Beckett!) Butler hopes to have demonstrated how “the signifying practices that enable this metaleptic misdescription remain outside the purview of a feminist critique of gender relations” 202. We have no choice but to repeat the terms – the question is how or “to repeat, and, through a radical proliferation of gender, to displace the very gender norms that enable the repetition itself” 203 [how multiple is gender already, before this, I wonder?] Feminism’s foundationalist frame “presumes, fixes, and constrains the very ‘subjects’ that it hopes to represent and liberate,” in an “internal paradox” 203. The task is to “redescribe those possibilities as they already exist,” but in “unintelligible and impossible domains” 203. Gender’s “present proliferation might then become articulable within the discourses that establish intelligible cultural life, confounding the very binarism of sex, and exposing its fundamental unnaturalness” 203.

Theodor Adorno, “Aesthetic Theory”

1970

Adorno’s approach to aesthetics eschews the division between philosophy, methodology, and the subdisciplines of the arts he studies. (This reminds me of Deleuze & Guattari’s open approach.) The text sets up a dialectic between modern art and philosophical aesthetics, using each to reconstruct the other synthetically and historically. He called this mode of “paratactical presentation” (recall Pound’s ‘paratactical’ concatenated poetics, versus Williams’ more subordinated, ‘hypostatic,’ and vertical poetics) a mode of “atonal philosophy.”

Adorno questions whether art can survive in late capitalism (following on Hegel) and whether it can transform that world if it does survive (following on Marx). Adorno insists that if it does, it must retain “formal autonomy,” which Kant also insists on. However, he combines this formal element with one of content – Hegel’s insistence on “intellectual import” and Marx’s notion that art is “embedded” in society. Thus, paradoxically, the artwork must be autonomous, but that autonomy is always somewhat illusory. Modern art seeks to synthesize this paradox: it is “the social antithesis of society” 8.

“Authentic” works of modern art are “social monads” whose tensions express conflicts in the sociohistory from which they emerge. (In Leibniz’s terms, the monads have a sort of fractal logic – they are all a whole, but they are all also independent down the scale.) Recall that Marx, Benjamin, and Jameson, of course, also identify art as conditioned by means of production, and that, in a more tempered vein, Raymond Williams claimed that it would be as foolish to assume that a work of art could be completely free of its economic base of production as it would be to assume the opposite (its complete dependence). The tensions of these “social monads” enter the work through the artist’s struggle with the conditions of production (as materially bound as they are to history). For Adorno, this often causes works to be ‘misread.’ Adorno seeks to resolve some of these tensions, though it would be impossible to resolve them all in our current situation.

Most of the resolution of these contradictions occurs through polarities or pairs, in the dialectical fashion. Whereas hermeneutics would emphasize the import (Gehalt) of a work’s cultural meaning and empiricism would emphasize the causal relations inherent to the function (Funktion) of a work’s political purpose, Adorno wants to understand how these two categories relate to one another. The two categories can be opposed, united, or mixed in a work, but they inform each other. He generally falls in favor of Gehalt, however, stating that “Insofar as a social function can be predicated for artworks, it is their functionlessness” 227. Thus, Adorno favors art that is socially meaningful and socially mediated, rather than that created expressly for political service (he dislikes positivism and instrumentalized reason). Something of this resonates with Kant’s free beauty – a “purposiveness without purpose,” a beauty that exceeds function.

Art should not be merely aesthetic, even if the structures of capitalism will only strangle purely resistant art. Art must be independent and beautiful, not didactic, but also politically engaged. Thus art must work out its own internal contradictions so that the viewer/reader cannot ignore the “hidden” contradictions of society. This is why Adorno loves Beckett, whose work he finds the quintessence of this aesthetic, and to whom he dedicates the volume.

Adorno’s main focus is ultimately on the dialectical and nonpropositional “truth content” of art, in which Gehalt (import) is itself a dialectic between content and form. One can judge art’s internal and external truth content – its own dynamics as well as those of the sociohistory in which it was produced. Art looks to change but does not enact it: “Art has truth as the semblance of the illusionless” 132. Thus truth content is

“Not a metaphysical idea or essence hovering outside the artwork. But neither is it a merely human construct. It is historical but not arbitrary; nonpropositional, yet calling for propositional claims to be made about it; utopian in its reach, yet firmly tied to specific societal conditions. Truth content is the way in which an artwork simultaneously challenges the way things are and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged” [SEP]

Like Virginia Woolf, Adorno holds 1910 as the year when art set out toward “the inconceivable.” Art has lost its naivete and should no longer seek to offer solace. It must “turn against itself” and be self conscious. It attacks what has seemed to be its foundation. Art is what it has become – like Benjamin, Adorno believes it is fruitless to argue, then whether film is art. Art is both a part of its historical moment and supersedes it (Madame Bovary). Here are a couple of quotes I’d like to remember from the first chapter:

“The unsolved antagonisms of reality return in artworks as immanent problems of form. This, not the insertion of objective elements, defines the relation of art to society. The complex of tensions in artworks crystallizes undisturbed in these problems of form and through emancipation from the external world’s factual facade converges with the real essence. Art… takes up a position to it in accord with Hegel’s argument against Kant: The moment a limit is posited, it is overstepped and that against which the limit was established is absorbed… Art is autonomous and it is not; without what is heterogenous to it, its autonomy eludes it” 6.

“Only dilettantes reduce everything in art to the unconscious, repeating cliches… the sharpest sense of reality was joined with estrangement from reality… If art has psychoanalytic roots, then they are the roots of fantasy in the fantasy of omnipotence” 9.

Where Freud sees art without distance, as wish fulfillment, Kant overstates this with distance, severing art from desire and fragmenting the subject 10.

 

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility”

1936

Marx’s analysis of capitalist production was prognostic: that it would exploit the proletariat in new and intense ways, and that it would create the conditions for its own undoing. We must theorize art as it is under the conditions of production today. The dilemma seems to be between aestheticizing politics (fascism) or politicizing art (communism), and clearly Benjamin favors the latter.

Works have art have always been reproducible, but now they are more technically and accurately so. From the woodcut to engraving, lithography to photography, this process has rapidly improved. Photography finally “freed the hand” from the task of reproduction. In Benjamin’s idea of history, “Just as the illustrated newspaper virtually lay hidden within lithography, so the sound film was latent in photography” 102. Benjamin therefore undertakes the study of art as reproduction and the art of film as the two greatest influences today on art in its traditional form.

“In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place” 103. Authenticity thus eludes the whole sphere of reproduction – it concerns the object as the very same one throughout time, including its wear, its history, its owners, etc. 103. But whereas the reproduction made by hand can be called a forgery, 1) a photo can be reproduced to trick the naked eye. It can even focus in slow motion or zoom on objects “natural optics” would miss in the first place 103. 2) “Reproduction can place the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain” 103. The work of art can meet the viewer halfway – music on a gramophone, a cathedral in a studio.

What is threatened here, for Benjamin, is the aura: the authenticity, the historical weight, the physical duration, the testimony of the object as it is here and now 103. (I have to say, this has always seemed like a bourgeois value to me!) “The technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition” – its aura “withers” 104. The most powerful “shattering of tradition” is film. Film is both positive and has a “destructive, cathartic side: the liquidation of the value of tradition in the cultural heritage” 104. (Abel Gance is cited – historical figures “await their celluloid resurrection,” he claimed.)

“The way in which human perception is organized – the medium in which it occurs – is conditioned not only by nature but by history… And if changes in the medium of present-day perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social detriments of that decay” 104.

“What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” 105. [this is the opposite of trace, which is the appearance of nearness, no matter how far]

Mountains have an aura on a summer’s day, but the aura’s decay now depends on 2 factors: 1) The masses desiring to ‘get closer’ to things and 2) the masses desiring to supersede the uniqueness of a thing “by assimilating it as a reproduction” 105.

“Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at close range in an image, or, better, in a facsimile, a reproduction. And the reproduction, as offered by illustrated magazines and newsreels, differs unmistakably from the image… The stripping of the veil from the object, the destruction of the aura, is the signature of a perception whose ‘sense for sameness in the world’ has so increased that, by means of reproduction, it extracts sameness even from what is unique” 105 [internet memes]

Benjamin provides the increasing use of statistics as an example of this, and demonstrates that the alignment of “reality” and “the masses” signals a change in perception.

The earliest artworks with aura had cult value, and “the artwork’s auratic mode of existence is never entirely severed from its ritual function” 105.  (This model of binaries opposes uniqueness to reproducibility, aura to mechanical reproduction, ritual to political, and cultural value to exhibition value.) Photography is the “approach of that crisis which a century later has become unmistakable,” which coincided with the rise of socialism 105. This crisis has given rise to “a negative theology, in the form of an idea of ‘pure’ art, which rejects not only any social function but any definition in terms of a representational content” 106. For Benjamin, however, this crisis need not entail a loss.

“For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual… the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility… As soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics” 106. [I might think here about faceting as camp and this together.]

The first technology versus second technology divide is of cult/exhibition, human sacrifice/remote control, serious/play, and master culture/interplay of human and nature. Cult objects are hidden – paintings on walls or large sculptures, versus canvas paintings or busts made for exhibition 106. Cult made use of human beings, whreas exhibition “reduces their use to the minimum” 107. The scope of reproduction has quantitatively shifted towards the pole of exhibition: the work of art is a construct with qualitatively different functions 107.

Film is the perfect medium to study the center of the second technology: the means by which “human beings first began to distance themselves from nature… in play” 107. [think camp!] “The first technology really sought to master nature, whereas the second aims rather at an interplay between nature and humanity” 107.

“The function of film is to train human beings in the apperceptions and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily… technology will release them from their enslavement to the powers of the apparatus only when humanity’s whole constitution has adapted itself to the new productive forces which the second technology has set free” 108.

“In photography, exhibition value begins to drive back cult value on all fronts. But cult value does not give way without resistance…. In the fleeting expression of a human face, the aura beckons from early photographs for the last time” 108. [think Barthes, Camera Lucida]

But exhibition value wins out – it is superior, as photographs from which the human being withdraws will show. Captions direct our viewership in an ongoing evidence of history on trial, and in film, the sequence of images powerfully directs us as well 108.

The Greeks could not very well reproduce their art, so it had to produce eternal values 109.  “Film is the first art form whose artistic character is entirely determined by its reproducibility” 109 [not the novel?]. Unlike the singular artistic object, the film is amassed and asembled from a large number of image sequences edited and manipulated (a Chaplin film that is 3,000 meters but took 125,000 meters of film to make).

“Film is therefore the artwork most capable of improvement… linked to its radical renunciation of eternal value… the pinnacle of all the [Greek] arts was the form least capable of improvement – namely sculpture… all of a piece… the decline of sculpture is inevitable” 109. [again, literature?]

Early film and photography theories waste energy focusing on whether these media are art (Abel Gance called film ‘hieroglyphic’) 110. The focus should not be on whether they are, but how they are actually transforming art (the example of film that is marvelous or supernatural, rather than realist, is offered) 110. To photograph a painting or an actor acting is not art. Art is produced “only by means of montage,” says Benjamin 110. How does this occur, if the stuff of this art is not art? [faceting]. For Benjamin, it is in the repetitive takes, of which one is selected “as the record” 111.

“Film makes test performances capable of being exhibited, by turning that ability itself into a test. The film actor performs not in front of an audience but in fornt of an apparatus… Interest in this performance is widespread. For the majority of citydwellers, throughout the workday in offices and factories, have to relinquish their humanity in the face of an apparatus. In the evening these masses fill the cinemas, to witness the film actor taking revenge on their behalf not only by asserting his humanity (or what appears to them as such) against the apparatus, but by placing that apparatus in the service of his triumph” 111.

It would be interesting to compare this form of identification with Oudart’s suture or Mulvey’s gaze. The actor is a character to the audience, but he is himself to the camera. “For the first time – and this is the effect of film – the human being is placed in a position where he must operate with his whole living person, while forgoing its aura. For the aura is bound to his presence in the here and now. There is no facsimile of the aura” 112.  Unlike in the theater, where this can be sensed, “the camera is substituted for the audience” 112. The film actor must not overact, unlike the stage actor. “His performance is by no means a unified whole, but is assembled from many individual performances” 112. “Art has escaped the realm of ‘beautiful semblance,'” since the film actor can be startled by a gun and the sound edited out, or several shots of a jump out the window grafted to make the perfect scene 113. [pure artifice?]

“The representation of human beings by means of an apparatus has made possible a highly productive use of the human being’s self-alienation… the film actor’s estrangement in the face of the apparatus… is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s appearance in a mirror.. But now the mirror image has become detachable from the person mirrored, and is transportable… To a site in front of the masses… It is they who will control him” 113.

[Is faceting looking at a broken mirror, trying to cathect onto something so fragmented it has no sense or unity – but this is like us, too? We are fragmented?]

For Benjamin, capitalist (Hollywood) film supplants the commodity as the cult of the star (sex and surfaces), whereas fascist (Third Reich) film supplants class struggles with a fantasy of the cult of the audience:

“There can be no political advantage derived from this control until film has liberated itself from the fetters of capitalist exploitation. Film capital uses the revolutionary opportunities implied by this control for counterrevolutionary purposes. Not only does the cult of the movie star which it fosters preserve that magic of the personality which has long been no more than the putrid magic of its own commodity character, but its counterpart, the cult of the audience, reinforces the corruption by which fascism is seeking to supplant the class consciousness of the masses” 113.

[Eisenstein’s ‘dialectical collisions’ in his montages are a form of politicizing art against the unity of fascism. Nevertheless, Benjamin’s proposition here is more one of play – moving through pop culture rather than against it in the interplay of human and nature. For Benjamin, it is not so much about a worry over whether film can have aura as a distinction between cult value (embedded) and exhibition value (Chaplin)].

We have moved from a culture of readers to writers – from the few speaking to the many to the many engaging. Whereas Eisenstein and Vertov allow people to “portray themselves,” whereas “the capitalist exploitation of film obstructs the human being’s legitimate claim to being reproduced… to distort and corrupt the original and justified interest of the masses in film,” Hollywood manufactures the cult of the star 114-15.

“Thus, the same is true of film capital in particular as of fascism in general: a compelling urge toward new social opportunities is being clandestinely exploited in the interests of a property-owning minority… the expropriation of film capital is an urgent demand for the proletariat” 115.

“Film offers a hitherto unimaginable spectacle. It presents a process in which it is impossible to assign to the spectator a single viewpoint which would exclude from his or her field of vision the equipment not directly involved in the action being filmed – the camera, the lighting units, the technical crew (unless the alignment of the spectator’s pupil coincided with that of the camera)” 115 [suture]

“In the film studio the apparatus has penetrated so deeply into reality that a pure view of that reality free of the foreign body of equipment, is the result of a special procedure – namely, the shooting by the specially adjusted photographic device and the assembly of that shot with others of the same kind. The equipment-free aspect of reality has here become the height of artifice” 115.

The comparison here is of the distant magician (painter) to the penetrative surgeon (film) [think Lolita and penetration of her organs!] 115. The masses today are entitled to an “equipment-free aspect of reality… on the basis of the most intensive interpenetration of reality with equipment” – a paradox 116. The fusion of pleasure and expert appraisal in the masses is a progressive reaction to Chaplin; they have a backward attitude, on the other hand, to Picasso. Normally, the conventional is uncritically enjoyed, while the truly new is shunned. Cinema is an exception. Cinema can present to a large collective audience having individual reactions that swell to collectivity 116.

“The most important social function of film is to establish equilibrium between human beings and the apparatus” 117. Film shows us the microscopic and the macroscopic: “With the close-up, space expands; with slow-motion, movement is extended” 117. Both add new information as well – unseeable details in the former, a gliding or floating quality in the latter. “It is through the camera that we first discover the optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis” 117. Montage in cinema would create “figures of collective dream” 118.

Laughter is a medicine against psychosis that films exploit – if technology engenders a psychotic character in the masses, it can also inoculate them against the maturation of these disorders through catharsis [think Deleuze & Guattari: schizophrenia] 118.”Dadaism attempted to produce with the means of painting (or literature) the effects which the public today seeks in film” 118. The point of the dadaists was to explore “the uselessness of those works as objects of contemplative immersion… through degradation of their material… linguistic refuse… train tickets… a ruthless annihilation of the aura… which they branded as a reproduction through the very means of its production” [pop art] 119. Film has made this shock effect tactile and physical, rather than moral.

Masses create a different participation in art. They are accused of looking at art with distraction, absorbing it into themselves, (<) rather than concentration, or being absorbed (>). (Think about the gender/sexual difference dynamic here.) Architecture is an example of an art that, by necessity, has never not been 120. We approach buildings by use/habit (tactilely) and perception/contemplation (optically). Both are necessary. Film’s shock effects will mobilize the masses via reception in distraction 120.

Fascism wants to organize the masses without changing the material conditions of their existence. “The logical outcome of fascism is an aestheticizing of political life” 121. [We can think of the films of the Third Reich rallies; would Benjamin compare them to Busby Berkeley’s Hollywood?]

“All efforts to aestheticize politics culminate in one point. That one point is war. War, and only war, makes it possible to set a goal for mass movements on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations.” 121.

“Imperialist war is an uprising on the part of technology, which demands repayment in ‘human material’ for the natural material society has denied it” 121.

“Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art” 122.

Miriam Hansen picks up on this in analyzing Benjamin’s footnote as an aspirational form of play. Benjamin writes, “What is lost in the withering of semblance, or decay of the aura, in works of art is matched by a huge gain in room-for-play. This space for play is widest in film.” She highlights Mickey Mouse, the total disappearance of the human subject, as a kind of Chaplin: “a cheerful barbarian countering the violence unleashed by capitalist technology with games of innervation.” Though he lost faith in this by the time of “The Storyteller” and others, but “the degree to which such practices have become naturalized” should encourage us all to “wage an aesthetics of play, understood as a political ecology of the senses, on a par with the most advanced technologies.”

Julia Kristeva, “Desire in Language”

1980

In this text, Kristeva outlines the process of abjection, by which the child exits the feminine (semiotic, pre-Mirror) stage of language tied to the mother and rejects her, entering the masculine (symbolic, post-Mirror) stage of language involved in independence and the social. Unlike Lacan, Kristeva believes that the subject continues to oscillate between the two realms, especially women, who continue to identify with the mother and the semiotic realm.

1: THE ETHICS OF LINGUISTICS

“As soon as linguistics was established as a science (through Saussure, for all intents and purposes) its field of study was thus hemmed in (suture)’ the problem of truth in linguistic discourse became dissociated from any notion of the speaking subject” 24.

For Kristeva, a better model “would deflect linguistics toward a consideration of language as articulation of a heterogenous process, with the speaking subject leaving its imprint on the dialectic between the articulation and its process” 24-5.

2: THE BOUNDED TEXT

“Rather than a discourse, contemporary semiotics takes as its object several semiotic practices which it considers as translinguistic; that is, they operate through and across language, while remaining irreducible to its categories as they are presently assigned… in the space of a given text, several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another” 37 [Bakhtin].

“The novel, seen as a text, is a semiotic practice in which the synthesized patterns of several utterances can be read. For me, the utterance specific to the novel is not a minimal sequence… It is an operation, a motion that links, and even more so, constitutes what might be called the arguments of the operation, which, in the study of a written text, are either words or word sequences (sentences, paragraphs) as sememes… Novelistic utterances, as they pertain to this suprasegmental level, are linked up within the totality of novelistic production… The ideologeme of the novel is precisely this intertextual function defined according to the [extra novelistic textual set] and having value within [the novelistic textual set]” 37.

“The modality of novelistic enunciation is inferential: it is a process within which the subject of the novelistic utterance affirms a sequence, as conclusion of the inference, based on other sequences (referential – hence narrative, or textual – hence citational), which are the premises of the inference, and, as such, considered to be true. The novelistic inference is exhausted through the naming process of the two premises… The function of the author/actor’s enunciation therefore consists in binding his discourse to his readings, his speech act to that of others” 45.

“The novelistic utterance conceives of the opposition of terms as a nonalternating and absolute opposition between two groupings that are competitive but never solidary… instead of an infinity complementary to bipartition… it introduces the figure of dissimulation, of ambivalence, of the double” 47. [vs multiplicity/ rhizome/ faceting]

“The novel’s nondisjunctive function is manifested, at the level of the concatenation of its constituent utterances, as an agreement of deviations” the two originally opposed arguments (forming the thematic loops life-death, good-evil, beginning-end, etc.) are connected and mediated by a series of utterances whose relation to the originally posited opposition is neither explicit nor logically necessary” 51-2.

“Writing is revealed… as a function that ossifies, petrifies, and blocks… an artificial limit, an arbitrary law, a subjective finitude… the entire history of the novel: the devalorization of writing, its categorization as pejorative, paralyzing, and deadly. This phenomenon is on a par with its other aspect: valorization of the oeuvre, the Author, and the literary artifact (discourse)… What opens it is speech” 59.

3: WORD, DIALOGUE, & NOVEL

Kristeva begins with Bakhtin,

“one of the first to replace the static hewing out of texts with a model where literary structure does not simply exist but is generated in relation to another structure. What allows a dynamic dimension to structuralism is his conception of the ‘literary word’ as an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context” 65.

In Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalesque,’ “the poetic word, polyvalent and multi-determined, adheres to a logic exceeding that of codified discourse and fully comes into being in the margins of recognized culture”: “Diachrony is transformed into synchrony, and in light of this transformation, linear history appears as abstraction” 65.

“The minimal unit of poetic language is at least double, not in the sense of the signifier/signified dyad, but rather, in terms of one and other… each ‘unit’… acts as a multi-determined peak” 69. [Irigaray on the vagina]

“The novel incorporating carnivalesque structure is called polyphonic. Bakhtin’s examples include Rabelais, Swift, and Dostoievski. We might also add the ‘modern’ novel of the 20th century – Joyce, Proust, Kafka – while specifying that the modern polyphonic novel, although analogous in its status, where monologism is concerned, to dialogical novels of the past, is clearly marked off from them… the problem of intertextuality (intertextual dialogue) appears as such” 71.

“Bakhtin’s term dialogism as a semic complex thus implies the double, language, and another logic… the logic of distance and relationship between the different units of a sentence or narrative structure, indicating a becoming – in opposition to the level of continuity and substance, both of which obey the logic of being and are thus monological” 71.

“According to Bakhtin, there are three categories of words within the narrative… the direct word, referring back to its object… denotative… the object-oriented word… the direct discourse of characters… oriented towards its object and is itself the object of the writer’s orientation… ambivalent [word]… the result of a joining of two sign systems… repetition… takes what is imitated (repeated) seriously, claiming and appropriating it without relativizing it… The novel is the only genre in which ambivalent words appear; that is the specific characteristic of its structure” 73.

7: THE NOVEL AS POLYLOGUE

“For a woman, generally speaking, the loss of identity in jouissance demands of her that she experience the phallus that she simply is; but this phallus must immediately be established somewhere; in narcissism, for instance, in children… narrowminded mastery, or in fetishism of one’s ‘work’… Otherwise, we have an underwater, undermaternal dive: oral regression, spasmodic but unspeakable and savage violence, and a denial of effective negativity” 164.

“The problem is to control this resurgence of phallic presence; to abolish it at first, to pierce through the paternal wall of the superego and afterwards, to reemerge still uneasy, split apart, asymmetrical, overwhelmed with a desire to know, but a desire to know more and differently than what is encoded-spoken-written” 165. [rich, moore, bishop, faceting]

“A text that exists only if it can find a reader who matches its rhythm – its sentential, biolgical, corporeal, and trans-familial rhythm, infinitely marked out within historical time… the explosion that surrounds us, moves through us, refashions us and that sooner or later we shall have to hear” 208.

Roland Barthes, “Mythologies”

1957

My readings of 10 of the sections of Mythologies:

“Blind & Dumb Criticism”: Barthes interrogates the false “inability to understand” of critics as a mode of being so sure of one’s own intelligence and so willing to downplay cultural products as “rhetorical effusion” that the work in question is revealed as abstruse or lacking, rather than the mind of the critic.

“Soap-powders & Detergents”: Barthes examines the advertisement of corrosive but purifying cleansing agents. The marketing of “deep and foamy” creates a paradox of how to make things white: by penetrating a depth fabrics do not seem to have with a proliferation of luxurious and airy foam. This builds trust in the consumer, argues Barthes.

“Novels & Children”: Here Barthes argues that women novelists are allowed to “play” at being writers as long as they maintain maternal and household duties – thus, they must pay for a dose of writerly “bohemianism” with that which will prevent it – conventionality. The world of “double parturition” – children and novels – is a “free space” circumscribed by the male gaze pressing in all around (a womb and prison).

“The Face of Garbo”: Garbo is part of a lost age of cinema when the spectator would lose himself inside a face. The thick, masklike plaster of makeup and unemotional black eyes are like Deleuze & Guattari’s “Faciality” argument. In Garbo’s face, “the clarity of the flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.” Garbo is an essence, an Idea, whereas Barthes says we are “now” (in the 50s) in the face of Audrey Hepburn – a specificity, an Event.

“Wine & Milk”: Barthes argues that wine is a social collective in France, a class equalizer, present at all social occasions, a sign of fire and vitality, too, though it also signifies expropriation and capitalist exploitation. Milk is its opposite – soothing, dense, strong, “the equal of reality” – it is America.

“Steak & Chips”: An odd sequel to “Wine & Milk,” here steak & chips are also put forth as quintessentially French, the rare steak being the sign of strength and maturity.

“The Nautilus & the Drunken Boat”: the boat, especially that of Jules Verne’s fiction, is a habitat, an enclosed space (relate this to public transport in Benjamin). The opposite of it would be an open boat, “freed from its concavity,” no longer a cave but a mode of true exploration.

“Ornamental Cookery”: The “smooth coating” and “glaze surfaces” of food in Elle magazine express the dialectical bourgeois conflict between “fleeing from Nature” (having ideas, making new) and artificially “reconstituting” the natural (bourgeois realism) in the presentation of food. Food is shot from overhead and eroticized as “at once near and inaccessible,” almost like women in the male gaze, or like Benjamin’s concept of the auratic – seeming distant, however near (vs. the trace – seeming near, however distant).

“Striptease”: The paradox of the striptease is that “Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.” Striptease negates the flesh and innoculates sexuality (much as the prostitute is sanctioned for the good of the family). The woman is an exoticized “object in disguise,” making her nudity the natural state to which she returns by stripping. The bedazzled underpants at the end of the striptease make woman a precious stone, surface, or jewel – “the absolute object, that which serves no purpose.” Only amateur stripteases are erotic; by making striptease public, household, and bourgeois, it is nationalized and sterilized.

“Plastic”: Plastics are alchemical, Barthes argues, turning “greenish crystals” into “fluted dressing-room tidies” by means of a tube. Plastic is among other “imitiation materials,” but the earlier ones sought to mimic cheaply diamonds, silk, “all the luxurious brilliance of the world,” whereas in plastic, “artifice aims at something common, not rare” that will take over the world and the body in its many forms. (Recall advice on “the future of plastics” in The Graduate!)

“More than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation… the trace of a movement… transforming the original crystals into a multitude of more and more startling objects… a spectacle to be deciphered… the quick-change artistry of plastic is absolute: it can become buckets as well as jewels… the singular of the origin and the plural of the effects.”

“But the price to be paid for this success is that plastic, sublimated as movement, hardly exists as substance. Its reality is a negative one: neither hard nor deep, it must be content with a ‘substantial’ attribute which is neutral in spite of its utilitarian advantages: resistance, a state which merely means an absence of yielding. In the hierarchy of the major poetic substances, it figures as a disgraced material, lost between the effusiveness of rubber and the flat hardness of metal… powerless ever to achieve the triumphant smoothness of Nature.”

“What best reveals it for what it is is the sound it gives, at once hollow and flat; its noise is its undoing, as are its colors, for it seems capable of retaining only the most chemical-looking ones… only concepts of colors.”

Walter Benjamin, “The Arcades Project”

1940

A massive, incomplete work also called Paris – Capital of the Nineteenth Century, which Benjamin worked on from 1927 until his death in 1940. I’d like to think of this text as the closest possible example we might hold up to Deleuze & Guattari’s model of the rhizome. It has many nodes and is made up of a number of points joined by innumerable, non-directive lines of connection. There is no linear order or structure to it, and the leaps the reader must make across facets and across sections are part of the interest of the work. Benjamin moves between historical facts, contemporary observations, quotations, references, interpretations, philosophical treatises, and so on. In “Fashion,” a typical juxtaposition:

“In fetishism, sex does away with the boundaries separating the organic world from the inorganic. Clothing and jewelry are its allies… Hair is a frontier region lying between the two kingdoms of sexus…

A caricaturist – circa 1867 – represents the frame of a hoop skirt as a cage in which a girl imprisons hens and a parrot…

Fashion consists only in extremes. Inasmuch as it seeks the extremes by nature, there remains for it nothing more, when it has abandoned some particular form, than to give itself to the opposite form. 70 Jahre deutsche Mode (1925), p. 51. Its uttermost extremes: frivolity and death.”

It would be interesting to compare Benjamin’s salient image of the arcade – a glass and steel wonder with many entrances and exits that you can see into and out of – to Jameson’s ideas about the Westin Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles. The arcades provide the “dialectical fairytale” image most central to the project, and Benjamin ties them to utopian socialist Charles Fourier. Benjamin performs a dialectical engagement of “then” and “now” as history – understanding history through the lens of his current experience of Paris (I’d like to think about how Pynchon and others do this – not dialectically, but more rhizomically). For Benjamin, capitalist modernity is “a crisis of experience,” and “in classically ‘modern’ terms, the present is defined as a time of crisis and transition, and philosophical experience (truth) is associated with the glimpse within the present, via the past, of a utopian political future that would bring history to an end” (SEP).

A 2010 meditation on the “Flaneur” convolute in conversation with a number of other texts as an example for the readership the text invites:

Barthes sets up a contrast between the Nautilus and the Drunken Boat that encapsulates Benjamin’s relation of the flaneur to the rider of public transport:

–       The Nautilus – an enclosed space that yet has a destination in mind as it moves, Barthes posits it as a snug place, the fantasy of travel.

–       the Nautilus is therefore like public transport, especially modern forms that don’t have you in/just above/ in contact with crowd like a horse-drawn omnibus where you get rained on, but instead SEPARATE you from the street, place you in a crowded, protected, static moment, crushed in a compact space against strangers, but all moving toward a common goal.

–       This is like the bus driver in Gig, who is then also meant to not just drive, but operate, and in fact order, this moving space.

–       On the other hand, in Barthes, you have the Drunken Boat, which is unmanned, wild, and wandering, its very apellative suggesting the kind of intoxication, the dizzying, opiate-like high of the wandering gesture of flanerie.

–       Silliman’s poem, Skies has this element of linguistic flanerie here, wandering the city, looking at crowds of clouds, writing one sentence each day for a year (he said in an interview), the poem is a kind of flanerie in that it takes right and left turns, but has no particular trajectory or destination.

Thrilled at the convolute’s focus on London – as a city that industrialized earlier and grew faster than Paris, and one that was never Haussmannized – perfect both for explorations of flanerie and public transport – nowhere is there a greater number of wandering, tiny streets OR a bigger, more packed public transport system characterized by a stiff and gracious ignorance of others in crowded spaces than in London.

The conflict between organic and schematized motion, between nature and urbanity, is summed up in Pound’s famous “In a Station of the Metro” – “the apparition of these faces in the crowd; petals on a wet, black bough.”

Pound’s look at the urban landscape, as embodied by the metro, works also through ideas of mapping. When you walk through a city, you confront its topography organically; when you travel through it on something like the tube, you not only can’t see where you are, but the schematic map given to you is utterly distortional, because schematic: Tube map now // Original London // Harry Beck 1918-1922 // modern organic map.

This also hits on the ideas of landscape that surface in both Benjamin and Lefebvre, and ties in with the presence of Native Americans in the reading, which is another topic I’m really interested in.

The sort of fresh, virgin, colonial space of Native America is fetishized as both space of noble hunter in the land of plenty and home of the violent savage – thanks James Fenimore Cooper.

This gets linked a lot in the Benjamin to the urban space and its dangers, but this is problematized by the fact that you cannot wander aimlessly in the woods and know you can go home. The delirious high of walking in the city as flaneur IS akin to the rush of the unknown in the wilderness in the sensation of a thrilling LOSS of control.

But o n page 453 of the Benjamin, he says the basis of flanerie is that the “fruits of idleness more precious than fruits of labor” 453 – this is the luxurious assertion of modernity and urbanity. So in claiming that the flaneur is exposed to dangers – it’s true, but to pretend they are totally comparable is romanticizing. The flaneur feels thrilled because he has had to exert effort to lose that control; it is a cultivated rush because he is choosing the concept of adventure, but he knows that he can wander because he can return to a home, whereas the hunter has to walk with the purpose of hunting, of feeding and clothing himself.

On 447, Benjamin says that “There is an effort to master the new experiences of the city within the framework of the old traditional experiences of nature.” But then you also have the guy in Benjamin who addresses the holy architecture of the mountains.

So you have this mutual exchange of fetishization, whereby the wilderness is cathedral for in America and the avenue is a wilderness in Paris, what Lefebvre calls the imago mundi, where “urban space is reflected in the rural space that it possesses and indeed in a sense contains,” for the town “comtemplates itself in the countryside that it has shaped.” 235.

Love the idea that America is always deeply affected, then by the presence of the Indian – Benjamin 440 – “endurance, tenacity, concentration” all come from the tradition of that hunter (“the reader is the hunter in the forest of the text,” writes Benjamin).

You can see this in Gig, in the language of the Traveling Salesman is like the ruthless hunter, the man of the crowd who moves through it with direction and purpose, the game he pursues is unpredictable – thousands of dollars one day, a hundred the next, he is nomadic, in his travels through the countryside, and though Benjamin links the sandwich man is compared to the flaneur, this guy is more like the sandwich man – because they both have a distinct purpose in mind.

We might also look at this language in Silliman. The Native American language comes out in images of clouds as  “herds of wild stratus” and the black smoke signals of structural fires, gunmetal sky, white valleys in which a large cloud is the “mother of the sky,” a matrilineal observation in contrast with what Lefebvre points out is the ordering, imposing, constructive-destructive force of  patriarchal architecture.

So if Trace is the appearance of a nearness, however far removed – that’s what’s being searched for in the wilderness in the city. In America, however it’s Aura – the appearance of a distance, however close the thing – NA memory.

Lefebvre kind of explains this on 229-231 by saying that “In space, what came earlier continues to underpin what follows” so that space, for Lefebvre, is “qualified” by “sediments left behind by history,” this “repose{s} upon specific spatial bases (site, church, temple, fortress, etc.) without which they would have disappeared – and the ultimate root of this is Nature (230-1).

Because the Native Americans were pushed into reservations, otherwise unpopulated territories, and because they left behind, at least in North America, very few actual monuments, it is the natural landscape itself and the NAMES it has been given which manifest these spatial bases, so that America accesses Nature as a root in a special way:

The temples formed by the mountains and the sacred, auratic quality of their fetishized Native American nomenclature preserve the Hudson River ideal of Nature as temple.

So when we name lakes like Sunapee, Winnipesaukee, Minnetonka, place names for the Dakotas, Manhattan, Milwaukee, Michigan, Texas, Wyoming, everyday language takes on a mantric and auratic recitation of the loss, mourning, and survival of that space.

I’m using haunted in the sense Lefebvre uses it – if a cemetery is absolute space of “formal beauty and terrifying content,” “haunted places, places peopled by the living dead,” then surely the cemetery of the American landscape has this quality.

SO then Native Americans DO affect the American consciousness, or ARE maybe reflected in the land, in our values – how we float this notion of a kind of nobility over the map of America to conceal a genocide (Thanksgiving, Sacajaweia, Pocahontas, etc.).  Lends a kind of nobility to the American intrepidity and exploration w/o acknowledging the violation.

Silko and Alexie play with this. As much as maps schematize things, cover topography, erase Native American history, they also kind of can’t help but preserve it, and there are a number of Native American writers, like Leslie Marmon Silko, who are interested in reinscribing their presence on the maps of the Americas, or Sherman Alexie, who want to kind of play with the use/abuse of benevolent or malevolent stereotyping of NAs, or throw the city/ capitalism back onto a lost Native American wilderness to reapprop. it.

Which is all a really long way of getting to these questions: How is the American landscape is a sort of repository for the mythic? How do remaining open, natural spaces though the original inhabitants have been killed or removed, still hold a sacrosanct presence in the auratic and linguistic qualities of that landscape? How much have we “schematized the map” like the London tube map, and how much does the true, organic form of the land still HAVE A VOICE AND SPEAK? And therefore, is American culture’s speaking history fundamentally different from that of a European city?

 

dir. Ridley Scott, “Blade Runner”

1982

Ridley Scott’s futuristic post-human adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is set in 2019 in Los Angeles. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner,” an assasin who is neither exactly vigilante nor part of the legal institutional framework, hired to kill “replicants” who have tried to return to Earth to live from the planet where they are slaves. As he falls in love with Rachel and tries to teach (program?) her about love even though he is supposed to kill her, the film leads us to question whether Deck himself, like Rachel, Pris, Zora, and Roy, is himself a replicant. The mixture of film noir and 1980s corporate culture with an imagined ‘future’ another 40 years hence (now almost the present!) suggests a concern not so much with the traditional noir anxiety about gender (though that is present as well), but humanity itself.

The “simulation city” of Scott’s imagination also has the dark, steamy fog and cramping light and space effects of film noir, where Rachel plays Joan Crawford to Dex’s Humphrey Bogart. It is carceral, hierarchized, and Foucauldian in its ‘futurism’ (not only in its surveillance, but in the brief lifespans of the “lower class” of replicants, which reminds me of what Foucault says about the bourgeois “cult of life” and trying to live forever). While the machines breathe and flicker like humans, naturalized, the humans are mechanical, robotic, unrecognizable in their humanity. The presentation of space renders the horizontality of LA as verticality, but often flatly – the opening scenes present the buildings as cutouts against the smog, the flying craft move in gridlike patterns (think of Deleuze & Guattari’s “striated space”), and the advertisements playing on the sides of high-rises are like the opening credits of Mad Men – massive plays on surface and the Jamesonian sublime (many of the products are real, too – like Coke). This LA has illegible foods and surfaces, saturated as it is with a melange of “Asian” cultures – bicycles, noodles, and characters from numerous Oriental languages.

The film engages intertextually with a wide range of other materials. As a reworking of Shelley’s Frankenstein, it at least materializes women (which that novel does not – Dr. Frankenstein throws the component female parts into the sea in a trunk). But it parallels the classic novel in presenting the rejected spawn of the scientist’s mind as “human” – returning in this case to beg for more life. His queer, campy brand of aestheticized violence and superhuman capabilities remind me of Omar in David Simon’s TV series The Wire, and like the gay murderer of Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, Scott provides another model for homosexual masculinity than effeteness. Many of the female characters are strikingly robotic and, in Pris’ case (Daryl Hannah as a sex slave), unintelligent, suggesting that men have “programmed” them that way, both literally and metaphorically. Like Pynchon’s Pierce Inverarity, who lives on “as a paranoia,” Tyrell’s death fails even to dent the monolith of social change is corporation has wrought.

It would be interesting to think about how the original ending of the film – with the unicorn sequence revealing Deck as a replicant and the fantasy of “driving away” into the country would act in conversation with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, an urban tale focused on the many nodes of city space, as well as its resistant fringes (the underbelly of the city, too). This “resolved” ending is more 50s, or 80s-conservativist, and the more ambiguous end of the origami unicorn and uncertain escape seem more 40s, or noir, in tone.

The film interests me in terms of surfaces in a number of ways. First, it challenges the status and even the value of memory as a source of depth, as it was in many modernist works. Like the “unicorn sequence” that suggests Deckard’s “memory” is false as well, all the replicants are “implanted” with memories from a computer database, which they believe to be their own, but which are fabrications. Deckard’s name also has the ring of Descartes, or “deck-of-cards” – you might connect this to the crisis of the cogito, ergo sum in the film or to Eliot’s The Waste Land and the shuffling of pieces in and out of persona. Pris and Roy’s insistence on styling themselves is a sort of queer-empowered surface rendering of Foucault’s ideas about self-fashioning. Roy speaks largely in song lyrics, and the cheesy, melodramatic flight of the dove at his death makes him (his body) into a work of art in a paradoxically humanizing mode. The replicants also squat in an empty building like artists as well. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go seems to have faith that art is redemptive, whereas that is a subject for contemplation and distress in Scott’s universe.

 

Helene Cixous: “The Laugh of the Medusa”

1976

“I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their  bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” 2039.

“There is, at this time, no general woman, no one typical woman… the infinite richness of their individual constitutions: you can’t talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogenous, classifiable into codes – any more than you can talk about one unconscious resembling another” 2040.

Cixous turns from the past to face the future, starting with the same concern as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own: why don’t women write? It is because they are discouraged and excluded from its ‘greatness’ 2041. “We have internalized this horror of the dark. Men have committed the greatest crime against women… led them… to be their own enemies… they have made for women an antinarcissism!” 2042.

“We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful” 2042.

This sets up the metaphorization of women, which is the issue at the heart of ecriture feminine. In Derrida’s terms, speech was immediacy and writing was absence or deferral. But both are structured through the difference between the signifier and the signified that make up the sign. Hegel’s binaries and dialectics, supposedly reversed by Marx, nevertheless do not account for language as something between the spiritual and the material. Male writers brought out the repressed or obscured in writing through the symbolic figure of the feminine. Cixous, on the contrary, wants to render those figures literal – as bodies. As a poststructuralist, she is also interested in what the binaries of structuralism have left to uncover in the gender dynamic.

“Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with phallocentric tradition. It is indeed that same self-admiring, self-stimulating, self-congratulatory phallocentrism” 2043.

“To write. An act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories… she has always occupied the space reserved for the guilty… she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter” 2044.

“It is by writing, from and toward women, and by taking up the challenge of speech which has been governed by the phallus, that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic, that is, in a place other than silence” 2044.

The network of giving between women is vital to Cixous’  mode. “It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing… which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But it will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system… by subjects of automatisms, by peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate” 2046. Cixous opposes to a “bisexuality” that would collapse difference and refuse to acknowledge gender the “multiplication of the effects of the inscription of desire” and both genders “over all parts of my body and the other body” 2047. We are not obligated to “deposit our lives in their banks of lack,” writes Cixous, simply because man “holds the rock” of castration’s lack over us 2048.

Ecriture feminine is the impossible paradox of the assertion of the female body in/as writing and the history and possibility of its being written by men. If man is A and woman is not-A, then one half is essentially destroyed or obscured so the other half makes sense. Therefore, Cixous does not write as “a feminist,” which would be to reproduce the structure of The One, based on a binary (Lacan says this makes One). She opposes this to heterogeneity and multiplicity instead. Though she has been accused of essentialism, she is also battling it here, in the limits of language itself.

“They riveted us between two horrifying myths: between the Medusa and the abyss” 2048. (Interesting that the Medusa myth involves a mirror… Lacanian?) “We’re going to show them our sexts!… Men say there are two unrepresentable things: death and the feminine sex… they need femininity to be associated with death; it’s the jitters taht gives them a hard-on! for themselves! They need to be afraid of us… a woman’s body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardor” 2048-9. The female body itself is diffuse, and has many centers – erotically and sensually, it is not focused genitally, as the man’s is 2052 (the rhizome).

“Begetting a child doesn’t mean that the woman or the man must fall ineluctably into patterns or must recharge the circuit of reproduction… Either you want a kid or you don’t – that’s your business… it’s up to you to break old circuits… defamilialization… Let us defetishize. Let’s get away from the dialectic which has it that the only good father is a dead one, or that the child is the death of his parents” 2053/

“Oral drive, anal drive, vocal drive – all these drives are our strengths, and among them is the gestation drive – just like the desire to write: a desire to live self from within, a desire for the swollen belly, for langauge, for blood… I want all of me with all of him… But not because [woman] is gelded; not because she’s deprived and needs to be filled out, like some wounded person who wants to console herself or seek vengeance: I don’t want a penis to decorate my body with. But I do desire the other for the other, whole and entire, male or female, because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive. Castration? Let others toy with it. What’s a desire originating from lack? A pretty meager desire” 2054.

There are few texts because few women have won back their bodies. But we are “more bodily” than men – it is how we have suffered, and we should use the body to learn a new speech – to make a new language for women that explodes and turns around phallic language 2050.

“A love that rejoices in the exchange that multiplies. Wherever history still unfolds as the history of death, she does not tread… She gives that there may be life, thought, transformation. This is an ‘economy’ that can no longer be put in economic terms… not her sum but her differences. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking” 2056.

 

 

dir. Mary Herron, “American Psycho”

2000

Mary Herron’s production of the 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel expertly nips and tucks the 400-page novel and makes of it a neat and resonant feature film. Starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, Jared Leto as Paul Allen (Owen), Chloe Sevigny as secretary Jean, Samantha Mathis as Courtney, and Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn. The way in which the film renders the flatness of the novel is partly by Patrick’s monotone voiceover, as well as a successful integration of the kinds of intermittent repetition that typify the novel’s prose: reworkings of the same bogus, overdone, expensive foods at the latest restaurant, Patrick’s dull informative lectures on the discographies of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston and the emptied-out lyrics of their meaningless love ballads, and, perhaps most insistently, Patrick’s “I have to go return some videotapes.” These are interspersed with routine depictions of extreme violence (Herron often cuts from the initial stab to the aftermath, with slightly more dramatic elisions than in the novel). As Namwali Serpell points out, these repetitions do not so much build to a cathartic climax as build to more repetition.

Patrick’s splitting of the world into atomized parts, places, and strata extends to his extreme splitting apart of female bodies, but this seems only the final and most perfect realization of the American cinema’s own desire to use the male gaze to synecdochize the female body beyond recognition into a series of disjointed fetishes (think of Deleuze & Guattari’s “Faciality”). It has been suggested that the film is a feminist reworking of the novel, but I think the novel is, in a sense, already feminist, at least in the sense that its baroque excess invites no other interpretation so much as parody. We are gagging with disgust, but probably also with laughter. The novel’s famous puns (“Mostly murders and executions” is heard as “Mostly mergers and acquisitions”) remind me of Nabokov’s misheard phrases as well (Quilty: “Where the devil’d you get her?… I said the weather’s getting better”). Herron plays these to great effect in a picture of American surface and corporate culture that is just overperformed enough (Evelyn’s party, where everyone says “Xmas” instead of “Christmas”)  to resonate as satire.

Her excision of certain key moments of violence is also a way of letting us feel our temptation to witness those missing reels of film – diegetically, too, since Bateman films all of his sexcapades and murders. In emptying out the film of portions of the sequences of gore, she also interrupts the suture of the horror film, and forces us to jump from one moment uncomfortably into another. Herron told Christian Bale to think of the character “not in terms of psychology, but rather as a collection of impulses and modes.” Like Foucault’s model of power, then, perhaps the best response to such horror is an art that is large and proliferative enough to respond in kind – a faceted one. She has said in an interview:

[Christian Bale and I] talked about how Martian-like Patrick Bateman was, how he was looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave. And then one day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.

(In an interesting detail, in the novel, Patrick Bateman meets Tom Cruise in the elevator one day because he lives in the same building.) The eeriest aspect of both novel and film is not that Jason Bateman is secretly another person (one who either really kills people or really fantasizes about it all the time), but that he is openly so (at least in the imagined narrative he gives us), and that no one hears or sees him. Whether he has actually killed anyone or not, his thoughts irrupt the surface of his speech often enough to disturb. One of the cleverest shots of the film is the mid-range shot of Jason in the mirror after the opening sequence (knives and food), when he is detailing his morning cleansing routine to us. He describes his face mask and tells us that he is “simply not there.” As he says this, he peels a perfectly transparent mask from his face, encapsulating the way in which surface is content in this story.

The end of the film makes it even more tempting to see the murders as imaginary, perhaps because the special effects of the taxi murder scene are so familiar from Hollywood that we are prepared to read them immediately as false. As in Psycho, the facile psychological explanation at the end of the film does not ameliorate our horror in watching Mrs. Bates’ face dance over Norman’s and realizing that he killed those girls. In a similar way, the realization that Patrick Bateman (whose name carries the “Bate” of Bates and the “man” of Norman) may not have committed the crimes he describes is not enough to erase the ghastly experience of having imagined that he did  right alongside him. 

Deleuze & Guattari: from “One Thousand Plateaus”

1987

2: 1914: ONE OR SEVERAL WOLVES?

The chapter is a narrative of the Wolf-Man, who “knew that Freud knew nothing” and that his new name for himself would be “reinscribed as patronymic” 26. Speaking of the hysteric versus the neurotic, “Comparing a sock to a vagina is OK, it’s done all the time, but you’d have to be insane to compare a pure aggregate of stitches to a field of vaginas: that’s what Freud says” 27. (Think of how this compares to making the female body into synecdochic surfaces…)

“On the verge of discovering a rhizome, Freud always returns to mere roots” 27.

“The proper name can be nothing more than an extreme case of the common noun, containing its already domesticated multiplicity within itself and linking it to a being or object posited as unique” 27.

“For Freud, when the thing splinters and loses its identity, the word is still there to restore that identity or invent a new one. Freud counted on the word to reestablish a unity no longer found in things. Are we not witnessing the first stirrings of a subsequent adventure, that of the Signifier, the devious despotic agency that substitutes itself for asignifying proper names and replaces multiplicities with the dismal unity of an object declared lost?” 28.

“It was already decided from the very beginning that animals could serve only to represent coitus between parents, or, conversely, be represented by coitus between parents… [not the possibility of ] the call to become-wolf” 28.

“In becoming-wolf, the the important thing is the position of the mass, and above all the position of the subject itself in relation to the pack or wolf-multiplicity… I am on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery; but I belong to it, I am attached to it by one of my extremities, a hand or foot. I know that the periphery is the only place I can be, that I would die if I let myself be drawn into the center of the fray, but just as certainly if I let go of the crowd… difficult to hold… to take a walk like Viriginia Woolf (never again will I say, ‘I am this, I am that’)” 29.

“Freud tried to approach crowd phenomena from the point of view of the unconscious, but he did not see… the unconscious itself was fundamentally a crowd” 29.

“The body without organs is not a dead body but a living body all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organization” 30. (the novel?)

Why does Freud reduce all to the One, especially when he seems to see libidinal and other multiplicities? “Let us return to the story of multiplicity, for the creation of this substantive marks a very important moment. It was created precisely in order to escape the abstract opposition between the multiple and the one, to escape dialectics, to succeed in conceiving the multiple in the pure state, to cease treating it as a numerical fragment of a lost Unity or Totality… [or one] yet to come” 32. (Also thing about this in terms of fragmentation and the real!)

“There are no individual statements, only statement-producing machinic assemblages. We say that the assemblage is fundamentally libidinal and unconscious. It is the unconscious in person… types of interpenetrating multiplicities that at any given moment form a single machinic assemblage, the faceless figure of the libido” 36.

“Castration! Castration! cries the psychoanalytic scarecrow, who never saw more than a hold, a father, or a dog where wolves are, a domesticated individual where there are wild multiplicities” 38.

4: NOVEMBER 20, 1923: POSTULATES OF LINGUISTICS

In language, “the compulsory education machine does not communicate information; it imposes upon the child semiotic coordinates possessing all of the dual foundations of grammar (masculine-feminine, singular-plural, noun-verb, subject of the statement-subject of enunciation, etc.)” 75-6. “Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience” 76.

“Language does not operate between something seen (or felt) and something said, but always goes from saying to saying… Hearsay… the first determination of language is not the trope or metaphor but indirect discourse. The importance some have accorded metaphor and metonymy proves disastrous for the study of language… merely effects… a part of language only when they presuppose indirect discourse” 77.

“There is no individual enunciation. There is not even a subject of enunciation. Yet relatively few linguists have analyzed the necessarily social character of enunciation” 79-80.

“The major and minor mode are two different treatments of language, one of which consists in extracting constants from it, the other in placing it in continuous variation” 106.

“One should bring forth the order-word of the order-word… There are pass-words beneath order-words. Words that pass, words that are components of passage, whereas order-words mark stoppages or organized, stratified compositions. A single thing or word undoubtedly has this twofold nature: it is necessary to extract one from the other – to transform the compositions of order into components of passage” 110.

7: YEAR ZERO: FACIALITY

Deleuze & Guattari name two axes:

“Significance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies. Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundancies… A very special mechanism is situated at their intersection. Oddly enough, it is a face: the white wall/black hole system. A broad face with white cheeks, a chalk face with eyes cut in for a black hole… The face is not an envelope exterior to the person who speaks, thinks, or feels [because it helps us read speech]… Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability… In film, the close-up of the face can be said to have two poles: make the face reflect light or, on the contrary, emphasize its shadows… the face is a visual percept that crystallizes out of ‘different varieties of vague luminosity without form or dimension’ ” 168.

“The face is part of a surface-holes, holey surface, system… the face is a surface: facial traits, lines, wrinkles… the face is a map… The face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the body… when the body has been decoded and has to be overcoded by something we shall call the Face… the entire body can be facialized, comes to be facialized as part of an inevitable process… horrible and magnificent. Hand, breast, stomach, penis and vagina, thigh, leg and foot, all come to be facialized. Fetishism, erotomania… no anthropomorphism… not by resemblance but by order of reasons… Everything remains sexual; there is no sublimation, but there are new coordinates” 170.

“The inhuman in human beings: that is what the face is from the start… Sartre’s text on the look and Lacan’s on the mirror make the error of appealing to a form of subjectivity or humanity reflected in a phenomenological field or split in a structural field. The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality. The mirror is but secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality… [not] an approach based on part-objects… not fundamentally organs without bodies, or the fragmented body; it is the body without organs, animated” 171.

(It is interesting to compare the link between this and racism to Ngai’s chapter “Animatedness.”) “How do you get out of the black hole? How do you break through the wall? How do you dismantle the face?” Whereas the French novel is critical of life, the Anglo-American novel is creative of it 186.

“They know how difficult it is to get out of the black hole of subjectivity, of consciousness and memory, of the couple and conjugality. How tempting it is to let yourself get caught, to lull yourself into it, to latch back onto a face… the wall of a signifier… But art is never an end in itself; it is only a tool for blazing life lines… [not] taking refuge in art… but instead sweep[ing] it away with them toward the realms of the asignifying, asubjective, and faceless” 187.

“The white wall of the signifier, the black hole of subjectivity, and the facial machine are impasses, the measure of our submissions and subjections; but we are born into them, and it is there we must stand battle. Not in the sense of a necessary stage [Kant’s aesthetics?], but in the sense of a tool for which a new use must be invented. Only across the wall of the signifier can you run lines of asignificance that void all memory, all return, all possible signification and interpretation. Only in the black hole of subjective consciousness and passion do you discover the transformed, heated, captured particles you must relaunch for a nonsubjective, living love in which each party connects with unknown tracts in the other without entering or conquering them, in which the lines composed are broken lines” 189.

“Set faciality traits free like birds, not in order to return to a primitive head, but to invent the combinations by which those traits connect with landscapity traits that have themselves been freed from the landscape and with traits of picturality and musicality that have been freed from their respective codes… The uncertain moment at which the white wall/black hole black point/white shore system, as on a Japanese print, itself becomes one with the act of leaving it, breaking away from and crossing through it” 189.

“There are no more concentrically organized strata… no more face to be in redundancy with a landscape, painting, or little phrase of music, each perpetually bringing the other to mind, on the unified surface of the wall or the central swirl of the black hole. Each freed faciality trait forms a rhizome with a freed trait of landscapity, picturality, or musicality. This is not a collection of part-objects but a living block, a connection of stems by which the traits of a face enter a real multiplicity or diagram with a trait of an unknown landscape… Thus opens a rhizomatic realm of possibility effecting the potentialization of the possible, as opposed to arborescent possibility, which marks a closure, an impotence” 190.

“Beyond the face lies an altogether different inhumanity: no longer that of the primitive head, but of ‘probe heads’; here, cutting edges of deterritorialization become operative and lines of deterritorialization positive and absolute, forming strange new becomings, new polyvocalities. Become clandestine, make rhizome everywhere, for the wonder of a nonhuman life to be created” 191.

Compare all of this to hysterical realism, the postmodern novel, the jagged, “cutting” edges of faceting interspersed with ‘faces’ that may conceal but are part of the act of fiction (vs rhizome – only lines).

11: OF THE REFRAIN

The refrain is territorial: the bird song 312. “Sometimes one goes from chaos to the threshold of aterritorial assemblage: directional components, infra-assemblage. Sometimes one organizes the assemblage: dimensional components, intra-assemblage. Sometimes one leaves the territorial assemblage for other assemblages, or for somewhere else entirely: interassemblage, components of passage or even escape. And all three at once. Forces of chaos, terrestrial forces, cosmic forces: all of these confront each other and converge in the territorial refrain” 312.

“The T factor, the territorializing factor, must be sought elsewhere: precisely in the becoming-expressive of rhythm or melody, in other words, in the emergence or proper qualities (color, odor, sound, silhouette…). Can this becoming, this emergence, be called Art? That would make the territory a result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. Property is fundamentally artistic because art is fundamentally poster, placard… coral fish are posters… expressive qualities are necessarily appropriative and constitute a having more profound than being… not the indication of a person; it is the chancy formation of a domain” 316.

“The territorial assemblage continually passes into other assemblages…. In the intra-assemblage, sexuality may appear as a territorialized function, but it can just as easily draw a line of deterritorialization that describes another assemblage; there are therefore quite variable relations between sexuality and the territory, as if sexuality were keeping ‘its distance'” 325.

“The problem of consistency concerns the manner in which the components of a territorial assemblage hold together… different assemblages hold together [to each other], with components of passage and relay… the clearest, easiest answer seems to be provided by a formalizing, linear, hierarchized, centralized arborescent model… This kind of representation, however, is constructed of oversimplified binarities… in considering the system as a whole we should speak less of automatism of a higher center than of coordination between centers, and of the cellular groupings or molecular populations that perform these couplings: there is no form or correct structure imposed from without or above but rather an articulation from within” 327-8.

“There is no beginning from which a linear sequence would derive… ‘there is growth only by intercalation’… a distribution of inequalities… a superposition of disparate rhythms… with no imposition of meter or cadence” 329.

“Not only is concrete [literally the material] a heterogenous matter whose degree of consistency varies according to the elements in the mix, but iron is intercalated following a rhythm; moreover its self-supporting surfaces form a complex rhythmic personage whose ‘stems’ have different sections and variable intervals depending on the intensity and direction of the force to be tapped (armature instead of structure). In this sense, the literary or musical work has an architecture: ‘Saturate every atom,’ as Virginia Woolf said; or in the words of Henry James, it is necessary to ‘begin far away, as far away as possible,’ and to proceed by ‘blocks of wrought matter.’ It is no longer a question of imposing form upon a matter but of elaborating an increasingly rich and consistent material, the better to tap increasingly intense forces. What makes a material increasingly rich is the same as what holds heterogeneities together without their ceasing to be heterogeneities… intercalary oscillators, synthesizers with at least two heats… The territorial assemblage is a milieu consolidation, a space-time consolidation, of coexistence and succession. And the refrain operates with these three factors” 329.

“First, individual atoms can enter into probabilistic or statistical accumulations that tend to efface their individuality; this already happens on the level of the molecule, and then again in the molar aggregate. But they can become complicated in interactions and retain their individuality inside the molecule, then in the macromolecule, etc., setting up direct communications between individuals of different orders. Second, it is clear that the distinction to be made is… between two group movements… one group tends toward increasingly equilibrated, homogenous, and probable states… the other group tends toward les probable states of concentration… Third, the intramolecular forces that give an aggregate its molar form can be of two types: they are either covalent, arborescent, mechanical, linear, localizable relations subject to chemical conditions of action and reaction or to linked reactions, or they are indirect, noncovalent, machinic and nonmechanical, superlienar, nonlocalizable bonds operating by stereospecific discernment or discrimination rather than by linkage” 335 (FACETING)

The authors consider classicism (lacks a boundary between itself and the baroque), romanticism (lacks a people), and the modern (cosmic, disparate).

“This synthesis of disparate elements is not without ambiguity… Sometimes one overdoes it, puts too much in, works with a jumble of lines and sounds… back to a machine of reproduction that ends up reproducing nothing but a scribble effacing all lines, a scramble effacing all sounds. The claim is that one is opening music to all events, all irruptions, but one ends up reproducing a scrambling that prevents any event from happening… A material that is too rich remains too ‘territorialized’… one makes an aggregate fuzzy, instead of defining the fuzzy aggregate by the operations of consistency or consolidation… a fuzzy aggregate, a synthesis of disparate elements, is defined only by a degree of consistency that makes it possible to distinguish the disparate elements constituting that aggregae (discernibility). The material must be sufficiently deterritorialized to be molecularized and open onto something cosmic, instead of lapsing into a statistical heap. This condition is met only if there is a certain simplicity in the nonuniform material… sobriety” 344.

(The word choice of effacing is interesting here, as is heap – Jameson!). The authors emphasize that this is not teleological progress and

“should not be interpreted as an evolution, or a s structures separated by signifying breaks. They are assemblages enveloping different Machines, or different relations to the Machine. In a sense, everything we attribute to an age was already present in the preceding age… Fuzzy aggregates have been constituting themselves and inventing their processes of consolidation all along… The most we can say is that when forces appear as forces of the earth or of chaos, they are not grasped directly as forces but as reflected in relations between matter and form. Thus it is more a question of thresholds of perception, or thresholds of discernibility belonging to given assemblages” 346.

“So just what is a refrain? Glass harmonica: the refrain is a prism, a crystal of space-time. It acts upon that which surrounds it, sound or light, extracting from it various vibrations, or decompositions, projections, or transformations. The refrain also has a catalytic function: not only to increase the speed of the exchanges and reactions in that which surrounds it, but also to assure indirect interactions between elements devoid of so-called natural affinity, and thereby to form organized masses. The refrain is therefor of the crystal or protein type. The seed, or internal structure, then has two essential aspects: augmentations and diminutions, additions and withdrawals, amplifications and eliminations by unequal values, but also the presence of a retrograde motion running in both directions… from the extremes to  a center, or, on the contrary, to develop by additions, moving from a center to the extremes” 349.

14: THE SMOOTH & THE STRIATED

“Smooth space [felt] and striated space [fabric] – nomad space and sedentary space – the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus – are not of the same nature… the two spaces in fact only exist in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into a striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space” 474.

The authors give the example of felt, “an entanglement of fibers obtained by fulling (for example, by rolling the block of fibers back and forth)” rather than by a gridlike weaving or intersection, which “is nevertheless smooth, and contrasts point by point with the space of fabric” 475. Other textural oppositions: crochet/knitting, patchwork/embroidery (the patchwork in Faulkner’s Sartoris).  “An amorphous collection of juxtaposed pieces that can be joined together in an infinite number of ways: we see that patchwork is literally a Riemannian space, or vice versa… the quilting bee in America, and its role from the standpoint of women’s collectivity” 477. Here the authors are more explicit about the way in which the rhizome and its relatives are less phallogocentric and more gynocentric.

“In striated space, lines or trajectories tend to be subordinated to points: one goes from one point to another. In the smooth, it is the opposite: the points are subordinated to the journey; inside space conforms to outside space: tent, igloo, boat” 478 (FACETING!)

“This is where the very special problem of the sea enters in. For the sea is a smooth space par excellence, and yet was the first to encounter the demands of increasingly strict striation… [the first] of all smooth spaces… to undergo a gradual striation gridding it in one place, then another, on this side and that” 480. (Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce)

“It was a decisive event when the mathematician Riemann uprooted the multiple from its predicate state and made it a noun, ‘multiplicity.’ It marked the end of dialectics and the beginning of a typology and topology of multiplicities… unlike magnitutes, they cannot divide without changing in nature each time… [Bergson’s] duration is in no way indivisible, but is that which cannot be divided whtout changing in nature at each division [Xeno’s paradox]” 483.

“All progress is made by and in striated space, but all becoming occurs in smooth space. Is it possible to give a very general mathematical definition of smooth spaces? Benoit Mandelbrot’s ‘fractals’ seem to be on that path. Fractals are aggregates whose number of dimensions is fractional rather than whole, or else whole but with continuous variation in direction” 486.

I’d like to think about poetry and films as “more than a line, less than a surface” (Von Koch’s curve, made by “pointing” segments of a line ad infinitum) and novels and television series as “more than a surface, less than a volume” (Sierpensky’s sponge, successively and infinitely “hollow”) 487. The first has shape, but not dimension (time!), the latter has dimension, but not volume (actuality). This model renders smooth space as “a flat multiplicity” that “does not have a dimension higher than that which moves through it or is inscribed in it” 488. There are six features of this smooth space, of which the last is:

“A smooth, amorphous space of this kind is constituted by an accumulation of proximities, and each accumulation defines a zone of indiscernibility proper to ‘becoming’ (more than a line and less than a surface; less than a volume and more than a surface)” 488.

This is opposed to the ‘weave’ of striated space: ”

“the more regular the intersection, the tighter the striation, the more homogenous the space tends to become… homogeneity did not seem to us to be a characteristic of smooth space, but on the contrary, the extreme result of striation” 488.

“What interests us in the operations of striation and smoothing are precisely the passages or combinations: how the forces at work within space continually striate it, and how in the course of its striation it develops other forces and emits new smooth spaces. Even the most striated city gives rise to smooth spaces: to live in the city as a nomad, or as a cave dweller. Movements, speed and slowness, are sometimes enough to reconstruct a smooth space. Of course, smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries. Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us” 500. (Frost, ice.)

15: CONCLUSION: CONCRETE RULES & ABSTRACT MACHINES

The conclusion is structured as a short review of the previous sections, annotated with marginal numbers to reference the source sections for the ideas. “At the level of pathos, these multiplicities are expressed by psychosis and especially schizophrenia. At the level of pragmatics, they are utilized by sorcery” (fascination?) 506. “Mechanosphere” 514.