Between the Images
Ulus Baker(B-zone: Becoming Europe And Beyond Anselm Franke (Editor), Actar/Kunst-Werke Berlin (August 15, 2006), sayfa 298-305)
Between the images of Vertov (or Eisenstein) and those of Tarkovsky or Sokurov there lies the entire history of the experimental Soviet Union, with the Muscovite Purgatory, the Second World War, Stalinism and Zhdanovism, the Khruschev Affair, and the Brezhnev's Era.... This is somehow a possible reading of recent history, quite difficult in terms of writing, since there are more people still alive, making the historiography the part of a collective memory. The first image was constructivist and constitutive, aiming at the continuation of a Revolution, that of the Great October, and the second was that of the anxiety, the reneval of the Chekhovian boredom, and of the Foucaldian disciplinary society.
The same was present in the case of Neorealismo, where the Citta Aperta was in fact not so much "open" , where the Pax Romana failed to preserve its own evergreen destination, with the domination of poverty, crime and purposelesness... And against the radical hopes of constructive cinema, in Hollywood or elsewhere, almost present in the revolutionary Soviet cinematography, Bazin comes and says that with less montage, there comes a supplement of reality, which tells us that action, individual or collective, is disabled in the post-war society, that we have to witness it, that we tend to become visionaries of what happens.
The Deleuzian perspective on the cinema gives the account: there is a missing, philosophical image in between these two historical images, or moments, and that this is a kind of passage, from movement to time, describing motion no longer as action but rather as its own impossibility, its own crisis, whereupon the duration, the Bergsonian "duree" rewrites itself.
That such a non-present image is fully philosophical and conceptual, is the Deleuzian thesis, contested by a figure like Godard, who believes that one has to do films before writing. We leave the debate alike, while some of the partenaries are dead, and try to orient ourselves towards the beyond of Deleuzi's time-image, probably that of videography.
Bonitzer and Godard, after those who were able to analyse and re-analyse his own films in the perspective of a conscientiouss cinematography, even within the blindness of the unconscious, that is, Eisenstein or Epstein, have been ones of cogitos who were aware of what they did in the cinema, that is, they engineered what they call the hors-champs, the off-screen. Or we know that between Vertov and Sokurov, there lies an off-screen which is the entire history of the Soviet Union and of its outside, the entire Universe...
The power to do something is not making the unmakeable, writing the unwritible, showing the unshowable -it is rather, like in the case of Maurice Blanchot, writing the thing which cannot be presented without absolutely being written. This is the writing of death, of its impossibility, or something which cannot be said as part of the empirical or visible experience. This was Blanchot's strive to redefine modern literature, after Kafka or Blanchot, paralleled with the cinematographico-literary experiment of the parlours of the nouveau roman, Duras and Robbe-Grillet.
Blanchot's motto, the "parler c'est pas voir", the "speaking is not seeing" has been encountered by the Foucaldian response: "voir, c'estpasparler", "seeing is not speaking"... This is the essential "reversion" of Blanchot's Kantian search for the "higher faculty of speaking". But Blanchot's search remains on the Cartesian, that is pre-Kantian moment: it doesn't ask for the reverse. One should ask "what is the higher faculty of seeing" together with the question "what is the higher faculty of speaking".
Is it possible, then, to approach the thing as Blanchot, seeking a non-empirical level of speech, where one can only say something which could never be seen, and its reverse? Blanchot worked for literature, searching for the Aufhebung of ordinary speech structures: We are noiw working for finding the conditions and possibilites of a "higher faculty of seeing", which is at the same time an ability to create visibilities, to make visible what is invisible...
Since Kant we live in a world where every idea has to have a spatio-temporal determination, and no idea is present without having its structures or institutions. This is the exact definition of our modernity. A spatio-temporal determination of an idea is its image, and depends on the faculty of imagination, which suffers from the idea of the sublime, if not of the idea of the beatiful. Nietzsche recalls that the Jesuit Order or the modern state organizations could be called as works of art, without any extremist sublimation. The idea in modernity is nothing without its institutions, or, in Kantian saying, its spatio-temporal determinations...
Hollywood is an institution, the spatio-temporal determination of the ideas of Thalberg, of Griffith, of Chaplin and of the American Dream and of what opposes it: it is "realism" finding its environment and its geographico-historical integrity. In the same manner, when Lenin declared cinema as the overall master of the new art, the proletarian one against the bourgeois, "realism" tended to become a relationship of the representation with a supposed reality, a reality which is a becoming, a nothing-yet-there...
The starting point of the second project seems to be already clear --it is part of the theme we have so much discussed above and lies at the origin of the history of the cinema (and Godard perhaps is right in defining this discussion as a "unique" one in the said history). And after all, whence Godard has engaged himself in making a history of cinema, this could mean that this history is accomplished and cinema has done what it is supposed to do. This is because from a Hegelian viewpoint, a history can be made only after the accomplishment, as the parable about the owl of Minerva would say. Interviewed by the film-philosopher and his friend Serge Daney, Godard maintains that there is truly an "end" of the cinema, which should not be conceived as an accomplishment, but rather as a kind of relative failure. This is why Godard seems to believe that a history (or, rather a "story") should be accounted when the thing is still alive, when it possesses still chances and paths of continuation and development --so, we are far from such positions of declaring "ends", or "deaths" --the death of the author, the end of history and the like...
We believe that the polemics between Vertov and Eisenstein are rightly concerned in the veritable discussion about the "essence" of the cinema (a "sane" discussion was saying Godard), just because it was about what is cinema, what it ought to be, and what it will become (or, more importantly, "what it could become"). Perhaps there is, from a retrospective viewpoint, a piece of naiveté in the positions of both of these authors, Vertov and Eisenstein, since they seem wholeheartedly believing to the absolute powers of cinematography. It was for them a completely new medium, capable to appeal existence, spirits, and souls, capable to destroy the being, or to reinvent it, and including language, it can reach horizons all beyond any superior literary arts.
Or, one should ask: why, while not denying to cinematography such a conviction of "absolute" power, Dziga Vertov has attempted to suppress an entire "dramatic" and "fictional" domain which was already established in those years in the art of cinema? This point is essential to understand not only the Vertovian point of view in these discussions, but also to grasp the essence of cinema. A possible answer to this question will provide an understanding of the subsequent re-definitions of cinema, and its multiple paths of evolution, and also why every cinematographic innovation had only two occasion to emerge: aesthetically, from avant-garde positions, and technologically, from grand industry. If avant-garde means the constructive destruction of older, traditional and routinized schemes of conservative art, Vertov's positions is there.
As we have already mentioned, cinematography offered a function of "documenting" in its earliest instance, in the hands of Lumière Brothers. Vertov, at first sight, belongs precisely to this wing of the development of cinematograhy. And when the idea of montage appeared (Méliès), film-editing and dramatic narration were almost naturally, and easily introduced, thus creating the fictional cinema. On the one side there was the fictional cinema, narrating stories, creating dreams, which theoretically seems to be limitless in creation, and on the other side, there was the "documentary" filmmaking, under the strict constraints of what is called as "reality". Actually, Eisenstein who seems to respect both sides (or wings) seems to have reason, in his polemics against Kino-Eyes. Or one should grasp also the Vertovian point of view, if one is not naive enough to believe that Vertov was not even aware of such a banal thing, and ask why he insistently and regularly denies in cinematography the fictional-dramatic element.
The issue can only be perceived when we understand exactly the points where Vertov has been criticized by Eisenstein and Esther Shub on the one hand, and the Soviet Comissary of Arts on the other, and later, by the doctrinaries of the "socialist realism", which, sooner or later will eliminate Vertov from his job. With regards to the existing documents, this appears to be a "secret history" and is expressed in general through films which were planned but not filmed, through those which were filmed and banned, but especially through those which were made by the orders of the regime. Hence, one should try to read the "intervals" of the images of these films.
In the Anglo-Saxon world, Vertov either appears as an avant-garde founder of cinematography, or as a simple propagandist of the Sovietic regime. He has even let himself biased by the Soviet propaganda, while using properly and ingeniously the possibilities of the cinematographic apparatus --the montage, and camera techniques. He is quite talented, but he sacrified his talents to the orders of the communist regime, and so goes on... Officially, such a point of view is erroneous and can be precisely refuted already at the level of official history --he is a filmmaker who was no longer capable, by 1930's to make his own films, just now working as an archive-worker in the State Film Archive. He might be one of the persons who have invented the idea of propaganda (agit-poiezds and the like), but what he has done in cinema goes far beyond this. I believe Vertov intended a domain which lies beyond simple "realism" in cinema (which is already there), trying to reach a fully and absolutely "poetic" values of which the newborn cinematography was capable --and this is the point which makes useless the wild criticisms of Esther Shub in this period. Eisenstein and Shub seem to share a common prejudice: that the "documentary" film, or a newsreel should not use the techniques of montage, that montage was allowed only in fictional films. Deleuze gives the best answer to such a critique: Vertov has been one, due to his cinematographic experiences and ideas, one of the people who best understood how human mind (or brains) operates and thereby, he profoundly understood that cinematography would not work merely at the level of the montage of images. The more important thing was the ensemble or the sum total of the relationships between all of the images, and Vertov was able to make his films in such an order. This order was not constituted by images themselves, but by the "intervals" between images --that is, in a space consisting in a complex set of relationships. This space is defined by Vertov through his doctrine of the "intervals". For instance, the figure of the cameramen in his "Chelovek s Kinoapparatom" (Man with the Movie-Camera), i.e. his brother Mikhail Kaufman appears as a float-in-being, to borrow Virilio's notion to designate the state of affairs in modern "dromologic" world --as "beings of speed", as industrial worker or urban dweller; on the other side, there is the figure of her Vertov's wive, Elizaveta Svilova in her editing-room, an attentive eye of "slowness", slowing down and envisaging the flux of images to find out there the appropriate "intervals", constitutive of the whole of the film. Kino-Glaz shows us how filmmaking is not simply for Vertov an act of seeing, but especially of constructing intervals and relationships, which justifies the intensive, rhythmic and poetic use of montage techniques. Thus Vertov's films appear as the articulation of the operations of human brain through the means of the visual world.
Eisenstein's position in the polemic is still more severe: one should not film through "eyes" (the Kino-Glaz) but through the mind (a cogito of the film). This argument is a singular, unique moment not only in the evolution of cinematography, but also in the history of civilization. Eisenstein believes that an art-work is the only supportable "violence" --it will directly strike the brain, creating in the mind a necessity of thinking (a Cine-Fist, instead of Cine-Eye). Moreover, this fist will strike not only individual minds, but the collective mind of the masses.
Or, is it possible to "strike the minds" without having mastered the powers of the eye? And if "Cine-Fist" today tended to become a major expressive tool in advertizing and clip aesthetics, Eisenstein is certainly not the main responsible of this, but the "societies of spectacle" and the capitalist regime of signifying through images --the television and video techniques alike...
Or Deleuze, thinking the cinema through the perspectives of the couple Vertov-Bergson, reveals at a moment just another regime of images, of which cinema has been capable in the long run, mastering it as a determinant factor in the transformation of cinematographic art: this is what he calls, after Bergson again, as the "time-image", which means to restore the relationships (intervals) that are beyond time. One can take simply an image from Vertov, and another one from Eisenstein (successively or in a more sophisticated manner, graphically, through different rhythms) --and this is the way in which Godard has established his great documentary Histoire(s) du cinéma-- up to the saturation of the entire screen. Evidently, the saturation of the screen (a plein body) is a quite complex phenomenon, and Deleuze already discusses it in the chapter concerning "framing" (cadrage). For instance, there can be an "overdose" of an image seen in projection on the screen --say a dramatic face-- and one feel, on the table of montage, the need to partly "avoid" the long tenure of exposure of this face. This face should then be "repeated" --as cut with other images, things, or sounds. Repetition is affectively the simplest way to avoit overdose of expression and of the culmination of a feeling. There are many other complex montage techniques, in fiction films as well as in documentaries, to avoid such an over-saturation of the image in cinema and video.
Or, already in the logic of repetition and difference (repetition cannot be maintained without making sense of differences) Vertov did so much things that from the standpoint of Deleuze's discussion on cinema, this early Soviet filmmaker appears as the summary total of the entire cinema, and beyond it, as the one anticipating more developed techniques, such as video and multimedia (digital images). Why? Just because it is a quite difficult idea to construct an identification of an organization of images with the topography of the brain. Even Spinoza was aware that "thinking" was nothing but the correspondence between the "order of ideas" and the "order of things". And just assume that the brain is not working, as a Hegelian would like it, in a dialectical manner. A non-dialectical function is the one in which every stimulation creates in the mind a topographic unit, which has a quite complex relationship with all other units, like memories, perceptions and ideas. Eisenstein too was aware of this possibility --but for him, just as in Hegelian dialectics, the film that remains as a topological ensemble of units works dialectically, moving from an idea to another, superior idea, from an inferior order of passion (pathos, he would say) to another, superior plane of passion, and than, to another, higher idea etc. Already at the Eisensteinian level of dialectics, the Whole in cinema can be conceived as the work of the automaton spiritiualis (the spiritual automate of Spinoza).
However, Eisenstein's conception can only be as a starting point. He believes that a film is a "totality", a whole --in other words, it is "given" to the spectator as a thing to be thought upon. In other words, a film is a "thought" to be thought once more by the spectator. This means that the film, before being seen by spectators is already a Cogito, though potentially. A film "thinks". In the same way, we can say that a book, before we read it, is already "thinking", while the same cannot be said for feeling or perceiving. Only with reference to Gabriel Tarde's idea of inter-cerebral machinery we can solve such a paradox: and we now ask the question "what is a film", as he asked "what is a book". It is not easy to say, when we are "reading" a book, we are just simply "thinking" it. We are simply "reading" it, and any hermeneutic understanding fails. And it is just the same for a scientific article, or a fiction...
We have not to make here the same error with hermeneutician philosophers. They are assuming that a book, or a film is something "understandable" only insofar as they assume behind it the existence of a mind or consciousness similar to ours. Thus, a book or a film (or any cultural, "meaningful" production) can only be grasped as an intended and conscious expression of a "subject" --who is the "author". What the hermeneutics fails to grasp is that one cannot "understand" Proust himself (this is just a way of speaking) but rather, and simply, the text effectively written by him. Structuralists were the ones who ever conceived such a necessary distinction --yet they grasped it in an insufficient way: I am watching a film and it creates in me a chain of thoughts, ideas and affects. This chain can be different in different individuals. But what is more important is that it always occurs. And when one perceives that there are many relative chains of the kind, changing from one person to another, one should also perceive that there is an immanent "variation" in the film itself (or in a book, or any other thing). One then assumes that this element in variation is nothing less but what the author intended to express in his or her work. It is the "intention" of the author. Or what materially happens is simply my body and mind are watching a film or reading a book. We can evidently develop a closer relationship with the author, to reach more depths in the understanding of a picture, of a film, of a novel. Yet there is something irreducible which remains: if I don't need to encounter the author, there is something "conserved" in a book, in a film or a painting, which is the element of "thinking" in the materiality of the object of work.
This viewpoint can reach even the level of Cézanne's experience, through which he was able to say that "the landscape I painted was perceiving before me..." One should note that the distinction (or even opposition) between "thinking" and "perceiving" comes from the everyday looseness of these notions. One should only consider the existence of active and passive perceptions, as well as active and passive ideas. This is why we have difficulties in discerning what is perceived by a landscape, and what is perceived by the landscape picture, there, painted by Cézanne. They cannot be evenly considered under the same heading. That a film is --potentially-- thinking seems to us as a childish thought, or merely as a metaphor, since we believe that only human beings can think. Or, if they are capable to create in us a series of thoughts, ideas and perceptions (including affects and emotions = Kant's "sublime") human artifacts as well as ordered and inordered rhythms of nature (respectively the mathematical and the dynamic "sublimes" of Kant) can be said to think. Homeros is in Iliada and Odysseia, not the inverse...
Some positions of thought can be easily clarified at this point: an Existentialist for instance would say that what we can perceive is already human; it is a subject, and it belongs to, or is produced by a human being, defined as a conscious subject. This is why a work do not think --only the Ego, the "I" can think, can imagine, can perceive...
Against such an ideology of “communication”, which brought us to a position where we have to force our thoughts to interfere with the objective realm of images, with the realm of the media, we may suggest again a Kantian determination: everything (for Kant) can an should be criticized by reason. We are not so much inclined towards such a determination which tries to legislate reason by reason itself. Or we may treat images and words as “institutions” and “buildings”. To become “critical” depends not only on thair jiustification but also on an awareness of a possibility of their sublimation, of their inflections, whatever small, which could give us something of a higher faculty of image-making.