William Faulkner, “The Sound & the Fury”

1929

The Sound and the Fury unfolds in four parts – Benjy’s disjointed narrative (Holy Saturday – April 7th, 1928), Quentin’s last day before suicide (June 2, 1910), Jason’s clear and cruel tale (Good Friday – April 6th, 1928), and Dilsey’s focalized perspective (though not in first person – Easter Sunday – April 8th, 1928). The novel’s title comes from the final soliloquy in Macbeth – “the tale of sound and fury, told by an idiot and signifying nothing” (the “nothing” pun in Naiman’s terms would be interesting here, given the centrality of Caddy’s sexuality). Once again, you could consider these as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Mark being the oldest source material for the other two synoptic gospels and John (the Dilsey section) being that of revelation.

Faulkner originally proposed representing Benjy in different-colored fonts, and to be sure, both he and Quentin are synesthetes (Benjy’s “smelled cold,” etc). Benjy’s narrative is odd because he cannot speak (he repeats “I tried to say”), but we see the world through his eyes. He seems to believe he creates the very world around him “the fire disappeared,” “the bowl appeared.” Benjy’s narrative accumulates moments that conflate all chronology or clock time – a heap of duree in one dose. His obsession with mirrors and what enters and exits their frames is thus interesting: Benjy watches to see his own creation of life, and is upset when the mirror disappears. He listens at the fence for the golfers to say “caddie” to hear the name of his sister, which no one else speaks.

The incest trope (Caddy and Quentin) functions here not so much for the shock, but because the plot hinges on unspeakability. Incest mobilizes the problems of kinship and loyalty, the inability for the characters to communicate – they all suffer from versions of Benjy’s “I tried to say,” a modern condition, perhaps. Dilsey and the other black characters escape/are erased from even the narrative effort: “These others were not Compsons. They were black:… Dilsey. They endured” 427.

Ralph Ellison, “The Shadow & the Act

1964

In this short essay, Ellison considers several new films about Negroes. He compares the adaptation of Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust to the classic D.W. Griffith Birth of a Nation, the racist film of “predigested dramatic experience.” We talk about Griffith’s film as technical advancement, but like naval technology, it was used in the service of degrading Negro life. How did this country square democratic ideals and racism? First by denying the Negro humanity, and now it is by working out white questions about that humanity in films that are ostensibly “about” Negroes, but are not for them at all.

Hollywood is but “the shadow” of “the act” that is real racism. It manipulates what is already an extant cultural image. These recent films make explicit how Hollywood focuses on whether Negroes should ‘pass,’ whether they should intermarry, and whether they have ruined the south – white questions for a white audience which still do not afford black characters full human rights.

One of the special dramatizations is of ‘passing,’ which dramatizes how the black community rejects mulattoes, which is simply not true, Ellison argues. Furthermore, it paints the black community as a locus one is condemned to. It would seem in Hollywood that “only white Negroes suffer – or is it merely the white corpuscles of their blood?”

Ellison is particularly fascinated by how moving these pictures are, especially to whites – they are cathartic, they touch a deep nerve despite “their slickest devices.” As an antidote, Ellison suggests watching the films in Harlem, where audiences laugh with a disjointed experience of how far the characters on screen seem from themselves. “Each of us must become the keeper of his own,” Ellison concludes.

Flannery O’Connor: Stories

1953

Against the Romantic promise of the West, O’Connor’s stories paint a South that is always already lost, almost rotting in its baroque decline. Here, cliches turn on characters, rather than enabling nostalgia, as the titles of the stories show. The characters try to maintain metaphor in a literal landscape

“A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND”

A family is driving to Florida. The grandmother takes them on a back road to see an old house, but realizes that it is in another state. She says nothing. They get in an accident. She recognizes the car that pulls up to them as containing the Misfit, a criminal on the run. She tells him she recognizes him. They take first the man and boy, then the mother and girl, off to the woods to be shot. The distraught grandmother cries for “Bailey Boy”; we never once know his wife’s name since the focalization is largely through the grandmother as “the children’s mother.” “You’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” she says in a final act of grace, reaching out to the Misfit. “The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.”

Both the grandmother and the Misfit demonstrate a false consciousness seeking order. Her fear is the loss of the past, which he embodies.”She would of been a good woman… if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” says the Misfit. The tension here between cinematic “shooting,” the endless grace of a life under threat, and the misogynistic tone of a silently subjugated woman without agency are copresent in this line.

“THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN”

An old woman convinces her tenant Mr. Shiftlet to marry her disabled daughter Lucynell, who she passes off as 16, though she is nearly 30. “Because of her innocence it was impossible to guess.” Like Faulkner’s Benjy, Lucynell literalizes the muteness of Philomel. We are invited to consider that Mr. Shiftlet rapes Lucynell before the wedding – as he fixes the car, “terrible noises issued from the shed and the old woman rushed out of the house, thinking Lucynell was somewhere having a fit. Lucynell was sitting on a chicken crate, stamping her feet and screaming… but her fuss was drowned out by the car.” He stops at a diner with her on his honeymoon night, where Lucynell falls asleep at the table. He ditches her there, telling the waiter she’s a hitchhiker. On the road, he sees a sign that reads, “Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own.” He picks up a boy who is rude and jumps out of the moving car. “Oh Lord!… Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!” wishes Mr. Shiftlet. At that moment, it begins to rain heavily.

1965

“EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE”

An obnoxious old woman and her theoretical son Julian, who is taking her to the YMCA, disagree about matters of race. While the old woman is a racist who thinks black children are cute, her son overcompensates by trying to befriend every black person on the bus by staring at them. In a twist of irony, a black mother is wearing the same hat his mother is so proud to have bought. “He felt completely detached from her. At that moment he could with pleasure have slapped her as he would have slapped a particularly obnoxious child in his charge.” The old woman tries to give a little colored child a penny after getting off the bus with her son. The child’s mother hits the white woman across the face with her purse. “‘Don’t think that was just an uppity Negro woman,’ he said. ‘That was the whole colored race which will no longer take your condescending pennies. That was your black double. She can wear the same hat as you… it looked better on her than it did on you… the old world is gone.'” At the last moment he feels bad and runs after her: “The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”

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.

Jonathan Crary, “Techniques of the Observer”

1990

Chapter 1: Modernity & the Problem of the Observer

Crary identifies the medieval/Renaissance split, the mid-19th century, and the present as moments of “a transformation in the nature of visuality” 1. The first improves mimesis, the second perfects it, and the third surpasses it. The focus of the book is on the “reorganization of vision” that created “a new kind of observer” in the first half of the 19th century, vis a vis new relations between the body and institutional/discursive power (re: Foucault) 3. Crary calls “the myth of the modernist rupture” the narrative that aligns Manet and the “end of perspectival space” with what would become modernist art, severing it from visual technologies like photography that are considered as a “continuous unfolding of a Renaissance-based mode of vision” 4. For Crary, however, a fundamental shift in modes of vision took place before these changes in art or technology, so that the two realms are “overlapping components of a single social surface” 5. The observing subject is “both the historical product and the site of certain practices, techniques, institutions, and procedures of subjectification” 5.

It’s useful to consider that Crary deliberately uses “observer,” rather than “spectator,” emphasizing the individual’s role in “complying” with certain codes of seeing, whereas the latter is more commonly used to emphasize the passivity of “looking” on as the passive recipient of the mass spectacle 5. In terms of faceting,

“What determines vision at any given historical moment is not some deep structure, economic base, or world view, but rather the functioning of a collective assemblage of disparate parts on a single social surface. It may even be necessary to consider the observer as a distribution of events located in many different places” 6. (Note: read Paul Feyerabend, Problems of Empiricism, vol 2 p 5).

Crary’s mode seeks to outline the “hegemonic” transformation of how the “observer was figured” in the nineteenth century, largely from the shift from the camera obscura of the 17th and 18th centuries to the stereoscope of the 19th century 7-8. Oddly enough, the “realism” created by the stereoscope and similar instruments is constituted from “a radical abstraction and reconstruction of optical experience, thus demanding a reconsideration of what ‘realism’ means in the nineteenth century” 9. Further, Crary maps a development of the “subjective vision… the productivity of the observer,” which was suppressed by the 17th and 18th centuries, brought to light by visionary Romantics (see M.H. Abrams – “The Mirror & the Lamp), and brought to bear on the potential for individual “seeing” in the 19th century, making that subject both “a product of and at the same time constitutive of modernity” 9.

Crary cites Baudrillard (“measurable in terms of objects and signs”) and Benjamin (“the phantasmagoria of equality”) on the need to measure and quantify the happiness capitalism was meant to guarantee in visual terms (what Adorno calls “Anschaulichkeit,” the reification of the visible 139 AT) 11. For Baudrillard (like Benjamin in “Mechanical Reproduction”), the serial production of objects creates a world in which there is no longer original and counterfeit, analogy, or reflection, but sheer equivalence 12. Crary goes so far as to make photography and money equivalent as well, in that they “are equally totalizing systems for binding and unifying all subjects within a single global network of valuation and desire. As Marx said of money, photography is also a great leveler, a democratizer, a ‘mere symbol,’ a fiction ‘sanctioned by the so-called universal consent of mankind'” 13.

Crary’s book, however, precedes photography itself, contending that the stereoscope and phenakistiscope entail “an uprooting of vision from the stable and fixed relations incarnated in the camera obscura” 14 (shift from geometrical to physiological optics 16). He cites Foucault on how “dispersed mechanisms of power coincide with new modes of subjectivity” in the 19th century to emphasize the importance of “normality” and “codes of behavior” 15-16. The limits of such “norms” were tested with “retinal afterimages, peripheral vision, binocular vision, and thresholds of attention… imposing a normative vision on the observer” 16. (See Foucault: “Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance… we are neither in the amphitheatre nor on the stage but in the Panoptic machine” D&P 217, as well as Deleuze’s Foucault 46 and Rajchman’s “Foucault’s Art of Seeing” 1988.) For Crary, “spectacle” and “surveillance” can coincide before the full emergence of the 20th century spectacle, namely in the “discipline or mode of work” that visual consumption itself becomes in the early 19th century 18.

If, for Debord (18), visuality, the most easily deceived sense, severs itself from touch, once the most precious of senses, this autonomizes sight, isolating vision and giving its objects “a mystified and abstract identity” 19. In The Arcades Project, we see Benjamin, a 20th century observer mapping 19th century developments, observe

“a convergence of new urban spaces, technologies, and new economic and symbolic functions of images and products – forms of artificial lighting, new use of mirrors, glass and steel architecture, railroads, museums, gardens, photography, fashion, crowds. Perception for Benjamin was acutely temporal and kinetic; he makes clear how modernity subverts even the possibility of a contemplative beholder. There is never a pure access to a single object; vision is always multiple, adjacent to and overlapping with other objects, desires, and vectors” 20.

In this world, modernity “coincides with the collapse of classical models of vision and their stable space of representations… observation is increasingly a question of equivalent sensations and stimuli that have no reference to a spatial location” 24. (Think about how this would relate to Jameson & postmodernism.) At the same time, situating visuality in the individual body opens it up for training, control, and prevention from distraction – “disciplinary techniques” through which capitalism resorts vision to “time, to flux, to death” 24.

Chapter 2: The Camera Obscura & Its Subject

“It has been known for at least two thousand years that when light passes through a small hole into a dark, enclosed interior, an inverted image will appear on the wall opposite the hole” 27. But from the 1500s to the 1700s, the artifact itself of the camera obscura “coalesced into a dominant paradigm through which was described the status and possibilities of an observer” 27 – “in both rationalist and empiricist thought, of how observation leads to truthful inferences about the world” 29. (Think about how this relates to Kant’s idealism and the essential unknowability of the object, versus the potential universality of the comprehending subject.)

By the 19th century, for Marx, Bergson, and Freud, the camera obscura becomes a tool to conceal or disguise truth 29. What changed? Well, if the camera obscura defined hegemonic vision as individuation and askesis (isolated, witndrawn from the world into darkness), it is also a representation of a “metaphysic of interiority,” a “free sovereign individual” and a “decorporealize[d] vision” 39. How? As Nietzsche holds in The Will to Power, “the senses deceive, reason corrects the errors; consequently, one concluded, reason is the road to the constant; the least sensual ideas must be closest to the ‘true world.’ It is from the senses that most misfortunes com – they are deceivers, deluders, destroyers” 40. (Again, recall Kant’s disinterestedness.) Newton, Locke experience this, as Descartes does: “solely an inspection by the mind” in a dark, introspective space, for one knows the world “uniquely by perception of the mind” – one can see how this will lead to the cogito, also essentially idealist in nature 41.

Crary calls this “a radical disjunction of eye from observer,” not least because Descartes also advocates making a dead human or animal eye into the lens of a camera obscura through dissection and experimentation, what Crary calls “an infallible metaphysical eye more than… a ‘mechanical’ eye” 48. Knowing that the “cone” or “cylinder” of rays that allows vision fixes on a certain point to create harmony from chaos 51, the camera obscura offers a “monocular aperture,” a “perfect incarnation of a single point,” versus the “awkward binocular body of the human subject” 53.

“By insisting that knowledge… is built up out of an orderly accumulation and cross-referencing of perceptions on a plane independent of the viewer, 18th-century thought could know nothing of the ideas of pure visibility to arise in the 19th century. Nothing could be more removed from Berkeley’s theory of how distance is perceived than the science of the stereoscope. This quintessentially 19th-century device, with which tangibility (or relief) is constructed solely through an organization of optical cues (and the amalgamation of the observer into a componnt of the apparatus), eradicates the very field on which 18th-century knowledge arranged itself” 59.

Interestingly, for Crary, this is deeply tied to the idea of the senses not being severed from one another, but part of the same apparatus: “From Descartes to Berkeley to Diderot, vision is conceived in terms of analogies to the senses of touch” 59 – “the certainty of knoowledge did not depend solely on the eye but on a more general relation of a unified human ssensorium to a delimited space of order on which positions could be known and compared” 60. (Think of the ‘synesthesia’ of Faulkner’s Compsons – Benji smells cold, Quentin sees with his hands, etc.) Chardin’s still lifes, then, are “both the product of empirical knowledge about the contingent specificity of forms” and “an ideal structure founded on a deductive rational clarity” – they are “not about a surface design, but rather a permanent space across which are distributed ‘the non-quantitative identities and differences that separated and united things'” (in-qtd. Foucault The Order of Things 218) 62-3. Interestingly, for Crary this also confirms

“the 18th-century preoccupation with ensuring transparency over opacity… to confirm the unity of a single homogenous field in spite of the diversity of media and possibilities of refraction within it. Dioptrics (science of refraction) was of greater interest to the 18th century than catoptrics (science of reflection)… It was crucial that the distorting power of a medium, whether a lens, air, or liquid, be neutralized, and this could be done if the properties of that medium were mastered intellectually and thus rendered effectively transparent through the exercise of reason… vision and touch work cooperatively… the coidentity of idea and matter and their finely set positions within a unified field discloses a thought for which haptic and optic are not autonomous terms but together constitute an indivisible mode of knowledge… vision performs like the sense of touch, passing through a space of which no fraction is empty” 64.

Chapter 3: Subjective Vision & the Separation of the Senses

Crary begins by Goethe experimenting with retinal after-images in by staring at a bright circle of light allowed through a camera obscura, then sealing the hole and staring at the darkest part of the room for colored circles in a “post-Kantian” mode of experimentation that is both rationalist (empirical) and Romantic (autonomous) 69. Here, “the human body, in all its contingency and specificity, generates ‘the spectrum of another colour,’ and thus becomes the active producer of optical experience” 69. This is related to Kant in that representations do not conform to the things as they are, but to our perception of them as subjects (though it differs from Kant’s universality, as well as his emphasis on outline over color) 69-70. Thus vision itself becomes an object of knowledge rather than a form of knowing 70, and “the kind of separation between interior representation and exterior reality implicit in the camera obscura becomes in Goethe’s work a single surface of affect on which interior and exterior have few of their formare meanings and positions… color… [is] cut off from any spatial referent… the body itself produces phenomena that have no external correlate” 71.

In Foucault’s terms, this means that the body itself is the site of the structures of knowledge, not separate from it – in Maine de Biran’s work, the “immediate awareness of the presence of the body in perception… the simultaneity of a composite of impressions inhering in different parts of the organism” 72.

“Although formed by Kant’s aesthetics and epistemology in fundamental ways, Schopenhauer undertakes what he calls his ‘correction’ of Kant: to reverse Kant’s privileging of abstract thinking over perceptual knowledge, and to insist on the physiological makeup of the subject as the site on which the formation of representations occurs… what Kant called the synthetic unity of apperception, Schopenhauer unhesitatingly identifies as the cerebrum of the human brain” 77.

Adorno will critique this idea for its assumptions that such perceptions are authentic and its avoidance of the instrumentalization of the body, Nietzsche for retreating from the body’s sexual potential 77-8. Schopenhauer followed the scientist Bichat in atomizing the body and its life and death into separate parts and functions (faceting?) 78. This connects back to Foucault – when sovereignty fades in favor of discipline (biopower of populations to be controlled), life is the new object of power (re: History of Sexuality – also, the proliferation of scientific discourse and enumeration here81. The wave theory of light also challenged theological and scientific images of light as rays in earlier, more classical forms of optics, and stimulation of the eye demonstrated “false” reactions to “light,” making man the purveyor and victim of such knowledge 86. “The issue was not just how does one know what is real, but that new forms of the real were being fabricated, and a new truth about the capacities of a human subject was being articulated in these terms” 92.

This gets related to Marx (labor division akin to sense division), though “the problem for Marx under capitalism was not the separation of the senses but rather their estrangement by property relations; vision, for example, had been reduced to the sheer ‘sense of having'” 94. Marx actually anticipates a kind of modernist aesthetic of sheer separation and disinterested perception, where the eye revels in sight free of objects of exchange value 94. This appreciation is similar to Ruskin’s “innocence of the eye,” and Helmholtz holds that “Everything our eye sees it sees as an aggreate of coloured surfaces in the visual field – that is its form of visual intuition” 95. For Crary, this is not so much innocence as

“a vantage point [for the eye] uncluttered by the weight of historical codes and conventions of seeing, a position from which vision can function without the imperative of composing its contents into a reified ‘real’ world. It was a question of an eye that sought to avoid the repetitiveness of the formulaic and conventional, even as the effort time and again to  see afresha dn anew entailed its own pattern of repetition and conventions And thus the ‘pure perception,’ the sheer optical attentiveness of modernism increasingly had to exclude or submerge that which would obstruct its fucntioning: language, historical memory, and sexuality” 96.

The flip side of “liberating sensation from signification” is control:

“a comparable neutrality of the observer that was a precondition for the external mastery and annexing of the body’s capacities, for the perfection of technologies of attention, in which sequences of stimuli or images can produce the same effect repeatedly as if for the first time…”It was the remaking of the visual field not into a tabula rasa on which orderly representations could be arrayed, but into a surface of inscription on which a promiscuous range of effects could be produced” 96.

Chapter 4: Techniques of the Observer

While subjective retinal afterimages were classically reduced to “spectra” or “mere appearance,” Goethe and his generation make them appear less as deceptions than as constitutive of  human vision 97. The “presence of a sensation in the absence of a stimulus” cut sight from its external referent in vital ways, focusing on a process unfolding over itme 98. Schelling argued that “our knowledge is piecework, that is, it must be produced piece by piece in a fragmentary way… a series of processes following one another, in which the later always involves the earlier, brings each thing to maturity” 99. (This sounds a lot like Genette’s theory of narrative.)  Both Goethe and Hegel see perception dialectically, as the interaction of forces and relations, rather than contiguous and stable sensations a la Locke 100. For scientists like Hebart, “the mind does not reflect truth but rather extracts it from an ongoing process involving the collision and merging of ideas,” a concept deeply tied to his somewhat creepy interest in instilling moral ideology pedagogically 101-2. (Jan Purkinje’s drawings of afterimages are strikingly crystallographic 103.)

The afterimage becomes key for the thaumatrope (“wonder turner” c.1825), a disk with an image on each side that is held on two strings and can be twirled to create a coherent picture 105 – a device that “made unequivocally clear both the fabricated and hallucinatory nature of its image and the rupture between perception and its object” 106. Roget demonstrated how this could lead to manipulations of temporal experience itself (train wheels seen moving through a fence) 106. This leads to the phenakistiscope (“deceptive view,” c. 1830),comprised of either one disk (facing a mirror) or two, and acting like a flip book, where the eye comprehends “continuous movement” through a series of slits in the turning viewing disc in the 8 or 16 pictures in the segments of the second disk 109. Horner’s zootrope (“wheel of life,” c. 1834) reproduces this effect in a cylinder, thus enabling multiple viewers (a precursor to spectacle?) 110. Crary would like to consider these not as “nascent forms of cinema” only, striving for “higher standards of verisimilitude,” but as devices with singular features 110. They at least created a feedback loop between entertainment and scientific knowledge-gathering: “This is where Foucault’s opposition between spectacle and surveillance becomes untenable; his two distinct models here collapse onto one another” 112.

Other examples include the kaleidoscope (1815), which for Baudelaire dissolved unitary subjectivity, as well as Daguerre’s diorama, which forced the reader to walk or at least turn her head to comprehend its whole 113. By the 1840s, “the multiplicity [of the kaleidoscope] that so seduced Baudelaire was for [Marx and Engels] a sham, a trick literally done with mirrors. Rather than producing something new the kaleidoscope simply repeated a single image… ‘composed entirely of reflections of itself’… symmetrical repetition” 114. Inventor Brewster saw the kaleidoscope as a means of producing natural symmetry for new art – “it will create in an hour, what a thousand artists could not invent in the course of a year… with a corresponding beauty and precision,” but for Marx and Engels it proves “the appearance of decomposition and proliferation,” and the appearance alone 116. The real focus of the chapter is in fact the stereoscope:

“a major mode of experiencing photographically produced images… its conceptual structure and the historical circumstances of its invention are throughly independent of photography. Although distinct from the optical devices that represented the illusion of movement, the stereoscope is nonetheless part of the same reorganization of the observer, the same relations of knowledge and power, that those devices implied” 118.

Again, Brewster helped invent it (also Wheatstone, c. 1830), though it was not popularized until the 1850s and after 118. It focuses on the synthesis in the optical chiasma, “the point behind the eyes where the nerve fibers leading from the retina to the brain cross each other, carrying half of the nerves from each retina to each side of the brain” 119. Thus he focused on an “object placed so near the eyes that to view it the optic axes must converge… a different perspective projection of it is seen by each eye, and these perspectives are more dissimilar as the convergence of the optic axes becomes greater” 120. Thus for Crary “its ‘realism’ presupposes perceptual experience to be essentially an apprehension of differences… the observer to the object… [as] disjunct or divergent images” 120. Again, the fusion takes place as process, over time 120.

More than a simple superimposition, the stereoscope relies on rapid alternation of the optic axes successively, so that there “never really is a stereoscopic image… it is a conjuration, an effect of the observer’s experience of the differential between two other images” 122 (dialectical?). This raised the image, for Brewster, to the level of tangibility – the eye produces depth out of 2 flat images (vs the 2 similar retinal images produced to view 1 flat image or the 2 dissimilar retinal images for 1 solid object) 124. For the full effect of 3D in the stereoscope, there must not be simply a view with natural perspectival recession, but

“objects or obtrusive forms in the near or middle ground; that is, there must be enough points in the image that require significant changes in the angle of convergence of the optical axes. Thus the most intense experience of the stereoscopic image coincides with an object-filled space, with a material plenitude that bespeaks a nineteenth-century horror of the void; and there are endless quantities of stereo cards showing interiors crammed with bric-a-brac, densely filled museum sculpture galleries, and congested city views” 125.

For Crary, the “planar” arrangement of these shapes like “flat cutouts” among one another creates “a vertiginous uncertainty about the distance separating forms… some superficial similarities between the stereoscope and classical stage design, which synthesizes flats and real extensive space into an illusory scene… but… the movement of actors… rationalizes the relation between points” 125.

“In the stereoscopic image there is a derangement of the conventional functioning of optical cues. Certain planes or surfaces, even though composed of indications of light or shade that normally designate volume, are perceived as flat; other planes that normally would be read as two-dimensional, such as a fence in a foreground, seem to occupy space aggressively. Thus stereoscopic relief or depth has no unifying logic or order…. a fundamentally disunified and aggregate field of disjunct elements… a localized experience of separate areas. When we look head-on at a photograph or painting our eyes remain at a single angle of convergence, thus endowing the image surface with an optical unity …[vs] an accumulation of differences in the degree of optical convergence… a patchwork of different intensities of relief within a single image…” 125-6

“…part of the fascination of these images is due to this immanent disorder, to the fissures that disrupt its coherence. The stereoscope could be said to constitute what Gilles Deleuze calls a ‘Riemann space,’ after the German mathematician… ‘Each vicinity in a Riemann space is like a shred of Euclidian space but the linkage between one vicinity and the next is not defined…. Riemann space at its most general thus presents itself as an amorphous collection of pieces that are juxtaposed but not attached to each other'” 126.

Overall, this demonstrates a reorganization of space therefore not unique to painting, though that medium also mixed flat and molded shapes (think Cezanne) 127. Crary calls this literally obscene – scene-shattering of the theatrical setup of the camera obscura, and indicative of Benjamin’s idea that the need to possess the object in the image and its reproduction was increasing all the time 127. “It is no coincidence that the stereoscope became increasingly synonymous with erotic and pornographic imagery… the very effects of tangibility that Wheatstone had sought from the beginning were quickly turned into a mass form of ocular possession… in part responsible for its social demise as a mode of visual consumption… it became linked with ‘indecent’ subject matter” 127. Crary aligns this, like 3D movies, with an uneasy limit of “acceptable verisimilitude,” since the stereoscope presents to each eye the projection on a plane surface of the object as it appears to that eye, rather than the object itself, or its holistic representation 127-8. It is “the technical reconstitution of an already reproduced world fragmented into two nonidentical models, models that preced any experience of their subsequent perception as unified or tangible” 128.

The Wheatstone model, with its mirrors and angles, laid bare the device of fragmentation, while later models enabled viewers to feel they were looking directly in 129. As Marx discusses with the tool, for Crary the new 19th century visual devices make man into a metonym of the machine. “The content of the images is far less important than the inexhaustible routine of moving from one card to the next and producing the same effect, repeatedly, mechanically… transubstantiated into a compulsory and seductive vision of the ‘real'” 132. The ‘real’ becomes nothing more than mechanical reproduction, then.

After 1850, “phantasmagoria” (Adorno, Benjamin) take over – the “magic lantern” shows that emphasize the sui generis mode of the image and efface the machine (suture?) 133. Spectacle and pure perception both entail “a fully embodied viewer,” but ultimately they triumph through the denial of the body “as the ground of vision,” Crary concludes 136.

Chapter 5: Visionary Abstraction

Turner’s paintings problematize the “loss of a fixed source of light, the dissolution of a cone of light rays, and the collapse of the distance separating an observer fromt he site of optical experience” 138. The scientist Fechner sought to quantify sensation and succeeded in measuring it via the external stimulus for the first time 145. Sensation proceeds at regular intervals, and stimulus at first exceeds its capacity. Psychophysics and other sciences “beginning with the prefix psycho are part of this strategic appropriation of subjectivity” 148. As money moved things from qualitative to quantitative, so the real is “less useful” than that produced by a “more adaptable, autonomous, and productive observer… to conform to new functions of the body and to a vast proliferation of indifferent and convertible signs and images” 149. The “immense legacy” of the 1830s and 40s is “all the industries of the image and the spectacle in the 20th century” 150. “What is important is how these paths continually intersect and often overlap on the same social terrain, amid the countless localities in which the diversity of concrete acts of vision occur” 150.