Friday, November 6, 2009

Jacques Rancière Day 4

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Jacques Rancière taught a class entitled: POLITICS OF AESTHETICS wherein we discuss the relationship between what is allowed to be seen and the dominant political regime.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

Today we will first discuss democracy and equality and then to what montage means.

Let's redefine the reality effect of Barthes.
  • The point is not knowing why this object is here but rather the political effect. 
  • The reality effect, according to Barthes is a tautological proposition: this object affirms the Real. 
  • But for me it is an equality effect - any object is equally capable of being an art object and thus the expansion of the sensible. 
  • Our capacity for the aesthetic effect is similar and politically it allows for the possibility of a community gathered in its ability to communicate these experiences.

There is something in action, though. In The Red and the Black we see equality is questioned; also in Leaves of Grass (1855) which had the same democratic effect as Madame Bovary (1856).

The extract "Song of Myself" has the perfect quality of all characters and activities (see page 40 from 1882 edition, right):

All of this becomes a quaint symphony of the city. What interests me is this infinite inclusion where everything is both material and spiritual. All things are equivalent, given by the voice which absorbs all of these.

This is the first time where writing is being extended into something beyond writing through a device, a new construction of totality. Plotinus was a big influence, so there is this procession of the world. The "Song of Myself" is the voice of multiplicity with its equivalence of all things. But it seems impossible to have stable political entities in this because there is political subjectivization when there is a section of society which is not allowed to have a voice.

Here we have, in section 26 (see image on left from 1882 manuscript) the tension between aesthetic democracy and political democracy. On the other hand we have the aesthetic democracy is not so different from the Communist Revolution - look to young Marx: The task of critique is to reveal the world as it is, so the world can do its work; an act of confession, revolution is an act of confession. **

This was 1843; in 1842 Emerson wrote to Whitman something similar. Aesthetic equality goes beyond politics because we can't compose political subjects, it is more than just revolution and politics.
The spiritual link for Emerson and Whitman, as well as the German Idealists (of which we must include "Young Marx") is that the material world is spiritual, a collapsing of the transcendental principle and a lowering of the metaphysical horizon to an immanence. The point here is not to discuss the distinction but to show the two poles from which we can come to this aesthetic revolution.

**NOTE: It seems that Rancière is paraphrasing Marx here, I'm not sure if this is an artifact of translation or his interpretation. The closest I can find to what Rancière says Marx said is from the Introduction to Marx's A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843):
It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics. (itals. original)
Democracy is always an excessive presentation, aesthetic democracy is the equal capacity to live any kind of life or the community to act the enactment of a shared capacity to experience and communicate, to be a member of the sensorium, where we can share that experience in communicating to anyone else.
In a world of economic domination there is no ability to interact with the world (alienation); the fear that Bovary introduced was that everyone suddenly was allowed to question their ability to participate.

It's true: Deleuze is a Whitamanian, a unanimist - this "Song of Myself" is a logic of "&...&...&..." He was concerned with a certain form of Anglo-Saxon thinking.

The issue of montage is more than form, the importance of montage beyond cinema in its crossing-over into the arts is that montage explodes the limit of arts: it deals with the effects of aesthetic equality and of political equality.

How can aesthetic equality be enacted as a new form of political struggle, of organizing life?

In Schillerian terms we must be outside the schema (Letter XXII) of intentionality; this is expressed in the 1920s by the Soviet artist El Lissitzky: the artist is not political to the extent that he is trying to educate, but rather is political to the extent she is concerned with construction. Montage is this. It means the artistic practice that represents organic totality as an assemblage of heterogeneous elements. It is the form in which possibly aesthetic equality might express a political equality.

There are two forms of montage:
  1. Lyrical - "Song of Myself": infinite multiplicity within the same stream of energy, procession of the sensible. This requires Modern life to be understood as a pluralistic way of life that is available to all, of movement and acceleration being taken in the stream of Modern life. Communism is exactly this.
  2. Dialectical - (neither Hegel nor Marx): constructed as an opposition, a tension between two elements in the assemblage
This means there are two attempts, two streams, in Modern life. We look to Madame Bovary (1853), who had two lovers and attempted to live a new kind of life. If we look at pages 169 and 168 we see that there are two levels in this montage:
  1. the deal-making of the delegates and their political rhetoric and then also the private speech used by Lieuvain for seducing
  2. and then there is the second level of montage where there is the question of the performativity of that which is spoken
They are successful because their wards are not moving:
Tuvache by his side listened to him with staring eyes. Monsieur Derozerays from time to time softly closed his eyelids, and farther on the chemist, with his son Napoleon between his knees, put his hand behind his ear in order not to lose a syllable. The chins of the other members of the jury went slowly up and down in their waistcoats in sign of approval. The firemen at the foot of the platform rested on their bayonets; and Binet, motionless....(168)
But, nobody gets speech:
In spite of the silence Monsieur Lieuvain's voice was lost in the air. It reached you in fragments of phrases, and interrupted here and there by the creaking of chairs in the crowd....(168)
Rodolphe's discourse of love becomes silent and successful:
His arms were folded across his knees, and thus lifting his face towards Emma, close by her, he looked fixedly at her. She noticed in his eyes small golden lines radiating from black pupils; she even smelt the perfume of the pomade that made his hair glossy.
Then a faintness came over her....(169)
These microsensory elements win over because the narrator wants nothing in its telling, the cliches disappear as the world comes in and we see something more. Perhaps a nihilistic use of montage - opposing language by putting forward these thing, facts, and images.

With the two regimes of sensation we begin to see a new way of interaction. Montage as political tool.

Man with Movie Camera Vertov (1929):

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Vertov had made many films which concerned themselves with the kino-eye. So. At the time there were attempts to make films with Communist messages and narratives that taught the politics. Here we have the integration of many heterogeneous workers in a montage that represents equality.
  • Montage deals with fact, an operatino that is an instrument of social life and part of social life.
  • The cameraman is a worker, just like any other, a fact among many other facts.
  • Montage, in its assembly is the creation of new facts.
  • The task of montage is to link these facts - a language of images.
What does is mean to be an eye? It is an organ of transmission, we must be able to see but we must be trained on how to see images.
  • At the first level, film is a collective and it is through editing that we get the meaning of the acceleration of daily life. A new community of these millions of eyes. 
  • The eye is a form of connection, then. 
  • The problem is that the eye is more than connection: the lyrical montage, it absorbs all these gestures in the collective stream, all activities being constructed into something like a lyrical Communist voice.
Vertov insists on this point: it is creating a shared sensory experience and community. Everything can get in, every gesture and movement can be equivalated with any other and it is so indeterminate.

What is interesting is this attempt to describe Communism as this collection of shared gestures, a universal exchange of movement and intensity. The Communist sensorium is one of intensity, a general confession of general society where they are redeemed from the significance of class. What, rather, is important is this collection of gestural communication, sharing the same spectacle.

It is a form of impressionism according to Eisenstein. There is an inherent dialectic in art, a denial of realit in place of art and this Vertovian montage is a bourgeois painting style. Eisenstein says we must accept that cinema is art, but it is not art for the idle people.
Thus we are gradually coming to the most critical problem of the day: the script. The first thing to remember is that there is, or rather should be, no cinema other than agit-cinema. The method of agitation through spectacle consists in the creation of a new chain of conditioned reflexes by associating selected phenomena with the unconditioned reflexes the produce (through the appropriate methods). (40)
from "The Montage of Film Attractions" (1924) in The Eisenstein Reader. Richard Taylor, ed.

We must think of cinema as a form of art, meaning a requirement of skill that would create revolutionary imagery.

The plot is not substituted with the facts of montage, cinema does not deal with facts as it deals with images. Images are elements of a language that is destined for certain kinds of reception, ideogramatic language. This language is to produce different effects on the viewers' minds. The calculus of effects to be produced is at the core of cinema, then. We want to produce definite effective affects through this chain of images.
As far as the question of the necessity or otherwise of a script or of free montage of arbitrarily filmed material is concerned, we have to remember that a script, whether plot-based or not, is (as I wrote with reference to theatre...), in our view, a prescription (or, a list) of montage sequences and combinations by means of which the author intends to subject the audience to a definite series of shocks, a 'prescription' that summarises the general projected emotional effect on the audience and the pressure that will inevitably be exerted on the audience's psyche. (41)
 from "The Montage of Film Attractions" (1924), see above.

This is a language not of the image but opposed to the image and we must impose upon the viewer the meaning of the image: the striking workers on camera will only fall, we must juxtapose the slaughterhouse so that the audience understands that the striking workers were slaughtered.
The method of montage attractions is the comparison of subjects for thematic effect. I shall refer to the original version of the montage resolution in the finale of my film The Strike: the mass shooting where I employed the associational comparison with a slaughterhouse. I did this, on the one hand, to avoid overacting among the extras form the labour exchange 'in the business of dying' but mainly to excise from such a serious scene the falseness that the screen will not tolerate but that is unavoidable in even the most brilliant death scene and, on the other hand, to extract the maximum effect of bloody horror. The shooting is shown only in 'establishing' long and medium shots of 1,800 workers falling over a precipice, the crowd fleeing, gunfire, etc., and all the close-ups are provided by a demonstration of the real horrors of the slaughterhouse where cattle are slaughtered and skinned. (38)
 from "The Montage of Film Attractions" (1924), see above.

They develop a parascientific language to determine the calculus of the effective affective. This is certainly the opposite of what Schiller stated in his Twenty-Second Letter §5, "No less self-contradictory is the notion of a fine art which teaches (didactic) or improves (moral); for nothing is more at variance with the concept of beauty than the notion of giving the psyche any definite bias."

The question between Vertov and Eisenstein is this: with a class purpose there is a split between the arts and politics. Eisenstein restores art as a production of bias for dictators - montage as pure manipulation, that would produce a definite series of responses ("of course this is fancy and only imagined...")

We can see this most directly in Eisenstein's The General Line (also known as The Old and the New):

A film of propaganda and also a series of sensory propositions. What can be deduced from this sequence? A traditional effect is thwarted: we wait for the bride but we get cows, a gag.

I can't help but think of Flaubert: these beasts absorbing the meaning of Soviet life:
(here Rancière is referring back to that moment in Bovary where)
Monsieur Lieuvain's voice was lost in the air. It reached you in fragments of phrases, and interrupted here and there by the creaking of chairs in the crowd; then you suddenly heard the long bellowing of an ox, or else the bleating of the lambs, who answered one another at street corners. In fact, the cowherds and shepherds had driven their beasts thus far, and these lowed from time to time, while with their tongues they tore down some scrap of foliage that hung above their mouths. (168-9)
Eisenstein is negotiating this epic construction of Soviet life and also this Dionysian view of life attuned to ceremonial life. There is no connection of montage to a particular  bias. He was criticized for his formalized use of this abstract montage.

The problem of aesthetic revolution. We will look to transformation and self-denial in the next class with Brecht, Lyotard, and Baudrillard.




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