The Forest is a Devil

Nasreen Mohamedi, photography, media.

“What poet will give us the metaphors of this new language?”
Gaston Bachelard

“And what next? Armaments piling up like an accumulating catastrophe, mass neurosis, nations like mad dogs. All this seems gratuitous, horrible, cosmic to such people, unaware of the causes. How can the bourgeois still pretend to be free, to find salvation individually? Only by sinking himself in still cruder illusions, by denying art, science, emotion, even ultimately life itself. Humanism, the creation of bourgeois culture, finally separates from it. Against the sky stands Capitalism without a rag to cover it, naked in its terror.”
Christopher Caudwell

“My paintings are, in fact, a confrontation with Surrealism. Just as they are a confrontation with abstraction. “
Barnett Newman

“The most important ideas will be the most hidden.”
Robert Bresson

There is a new series this season called Wisdom of the Crowd. It is essentially a high tech fantasy in which lynch mob logic is valorized as progress. As a kind of Edenic brave new world of cyber snitching. I think is suggests a watershed moment in the new American imaginary of voyeuristic punishment porn. It is also profoundly white and affluent (and developed by the Keshet Media Group, an Israeli based creative team, and Adam Davidson, son of Gordan Davidson late of the Mark Taper Forum). Hollywood has also served up four different military dramas. Each more reactionary than the next. Couple this to the success of Designated Survivor and House of Cards and the entertainment landscape for television is one of an openly fascistic sensibility.

What lurks beneath this new glossy fascistic style? After the Vegas shootings I was reading a comment thread on social media. Someone suggested that hotels needed to add metal detectors and added security for the high floors. People WANT a police state. It’s this quality of living inside a movie. One has become a voyeur of oneself. It is also a kind of decades long conditioning that encourages people to feel empowered by identification with military figures.

Filip Dujardin, photography.

Samuel Weber wrote an entire book that examined the forces that shape interpretation and also the boundaries of contemporary thinking in relation to institutions. The jumping off place for this book (Institution and Interpretation) was Bachelard’s brilliant early work The New Scientific Spirit. For Bachelard was concerned with mathematics and chemistry, primarily, but his analysis of institutional influence was highly prescient. The sclerotic institutional structures of advanced capitalism and the authority bestowed upon traditional demarcations of study, problematizes not just a particular field of study, but also of study itself. Bachelard saw a dopplganger effect happening in contemporary science. That a quality of choice in intuition created an essential ambiguity at the base of scientific description. What concerns me here is how authority comes to be operational, as it were, and how the new desire to privilege the ‘other’ in much of today’s non traditional thought, has created its own inflexible and fossilized set of tendencies in thinking.

Gerard Duchene

Bachelard saw the need for a new metaphorical and figurative rethinking — rethinking that resisted what he saw in contemporary science of the last half of the 20th century…“time operates more by repetition than by duration”. The current animus toward Freud and Marx, let alone Lacan, is partly the predictable response of a bourgeoisie that more than ever in its history is operating from a position of panic. One of the results of this panic is both the authority and popularity of Hollywood product and also the content of this product. Bachelard suggested that there was an inevitable and irreducible ambiguity at the core of modern science, but also a core anxiety in its practitioners because of this. And by extension, I think, an anxiety, a deeper anxiety, in this new class of privileged voyeur of self.

Weber quotes Rene Lourau, who wrote: “The institution aspect (l’instituant)…has been increasingly obscured. The political implication of the sociological theories appear clearly here. By emptying the concept of institution of one of its primordial components (that of instituting, in the sense of founding, creating, breaking with an old order and creating a new one), sociology has finally come to identify the institution with the status quo.”

Francesco Del Cossa (15th century).

Exclusion is the organizing principle of contemporary science, but more, of the humanities and of art. It is ambivalent in its instituting, but persists in the creation of ever firmer borders and distance from the *real* (more on that below). The function of institutions today is both exclusion and containment, but also the imposition of a logic that infuses authority and protection — the rituals of admittance are now a given. Kafka certainly got that. The canary in the mine shaft for reconfiguring metaphor and institution in the 20th century were the extensive writers and artists of mittle Europa — meaning the German language countries, but also Slovakia and the Czech Republic (once obviously a single country), Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Slovenia, Hungary, and really, Romania. It is fascinating that given the Western anti communism of the last half century, that denigrated anything geographically close to the Soviet Union or DPR, that so much actually survives. In fact there was a distinct style sensibility in both dress, and food, and of course art. In men’s shoes, for example, those slightly bulbous raised cap toe Budapester, or Theresianer shoe, with Goister construction, or double soles, hand made with, often, wood nails — these were what cultured men wore. Not necessarily upper class, but it spoke of a maturity that marked mittleuropa culture. The writers, perhaps even more acutely, the second tier writers, were expressing the deeply entrenched bureaucratic institutional philosophy of that epoch. George Konrad is one, Gregor Von Rezzori and Alfred Doblin perhaps. Rebecca West, the British author, captured something of this climate in her book Black Lamb, Grey Falcon. I mention all this because the force of anti communist propaganda has been and continues to be wildly understated. And that near hysterical fixation on anti communist rhetoric is a foundational element in bourgeois institutions today.

Hans Thoma

The eastern bloc writers one hears about in the U.S. and UK are largely those who early on expressed anti communist feelings. But there is another aspect to this, and that is how the culture industry works to appropriate and trivialize style codes and reproduce them as children’s books, or light comedy, or something of little consequence. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the perfect example, here. In fact, however, in German language writing, there was a clear alternative memory being manufactured after the second world war in writers like Peter Handke, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Danilo Kis. The southern border of this sensibility is Romania. And Romania remained forever a kind of anarchist outsider, both home to gifted folk cultures and to a palpable nostalgia for something remote that probably never existed. Hungary, and in particular Budapest, is a central Capital of this somewhat imaginary map. Prague would be the other capital. Vienna, of course, but Vienna was always too aware of itself, as was Switzerland. And the Swiss are never not deformed by virulent feelings of inadequacy and superiority simultaneously. The point of this digression is that style asserts its authority regardless, and that authority is then, finally, not the issue (well, it is, but more on that question below) but rather, as Weber writes: “Perhaps the question that needs to be explored is one that concerns not so much the survival of the *author function* as such, but rather the manner in which it lives on; not whether or not such an assumption must be made, but rather *how* it is performed and with what consequences”

Thomas Ruff, photography.

The machinery of Hollywood has changed greatly over the last couple decades. And it is not just the seemingly endless production of comic based super hero blockbusters, nor even the tens of millions spent on idiocy such as the various Transformer films. The key to deciphering the institutional grip of the U.S. imaginary is to be found in Hollywood prestige product. It is easy enough to see the fingerprints of the Pentagon on countless TV series and films, and to see the remarkably reactionary films of directors like Peter Berg. In fact Berg is becoming the Leni Reifenstahl of the 21 century Hollywood. Rather though, these examples obscure the deeper trends and forces — forces that are institutionalized and which are expressed in often subtle and disorienting ways. The institution is the protector of the status quo, and hence must exclude that which threatens real change or disruption. But it must also, to retain respectability, self advertise as an engine of change.

Looking at post war European cinema, especially Italian, the presence of fascism never fades. Rossellini, in his neo-realist triology of the late forties ( Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero) the *rubble* of fascism (to borrow S. Craig’s metaphor) is there as a kind of rear view mirror from which characters slowly emerge. This was the building of a language for cinema after fascism. Bertolucci certainly examined the fascist screen, much as Antonioni did – both with clear class awareness. But it was Fassbinder, more than any other director, who delved into the ways that authority unified the screen of post war cinema. Looking at Germany Year Zero, though, would be a useful exercise after watching the lastest Berg and Wahlberg film project (think Lone Survivor or The Kingdom). The screen for Berg is that which reflects the hysterical shine and depthless narcissism of Hollywood and the U.S. military. Nobody emerges, but rather they are *there*, eternal, and unchanging like the hard clean surface of hard cold steel. Such surfaces only heat up with discharging death. Speech is often uttered as command. Gesture is still born.

The more the story insists on the character’s change, the more completely the audience is reassured they have not. Rossellini throughout his career, but certainly in the post war neo realist phase, was creating something much closer to the hypnotic. A series of meditations on memory, built upon the blood soaked rubble of the second World War. A Rossellini version of Vietnam or Iraq, for example, is a fascinating thought experiment. What would that look like? There is no shortage today of sentimentalized narratives of immigrant families or children surviving the horrors of displacement etc etc. None of them, that I can think of, are close to that disquieting integrity of vision and image that Rossellini possessed. And the reason is that each is built upon an institutional set of aesthetic principles that privilege the individual’s story while erasing the social memory and history. This is the immigrant as the bourgeoisie likes him or her. The immigrant who wants to be like them.

Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, dr. 1948)

“In some of my films I’ve tried to follow a single character simply and honestly in an almost documentary manner, and I owe this method to Rossellini. Aside from Vigo, Rossellini is the only filmmaker who has filmed adolescence without sentimentality…”

Worth noting that Carol Reed’s The Third Man was shooting in Vienna at the exact time that Rossellini was filming in Berlin. While Reed was British, the film is American in its concerns with individualism, masculinity, and approach to the ruins of fascism. And it is the casting of Orson Welles as the quintessential profiteer and black marketeer, that infuses the film with an erotic resonance and one that elevated it from pulp novel (like the hero’s own Western novels) to something far more ambivalent. The film noirs of this period, the late forties, filmed in the U.S., remain the most perfectly expressed bits of hidden psychoanalytic performance in cinematic history.

But to return for a moment then to Fassbinder. For in Fassbinder that seemingly incidental eroticism of alienated masculinity is heightened and fetishized and made a part of something that foreshadows the coming eclipse of the screen, and destruction of reveries and memory in the American imagination.

Philip Harris

“Poetry is one of the earliest aesthetic activities of the human mind. When it cannot be found existing as a separate product in the early literary art of a people, it is because it is then coincident with literature as a whole; the common vehicle for history, religion, magic and even law. Where a civilised people’s early literature is preserved, it is found to be almost entirely poetical in form – “
Christopher Caudwell

One of the indelible characteristics of institutional pedagogy today, and of institutionally approved art of any kind, is the removal of poetics. Even poetry has looked to dampen the idea of poetics. But perhaps it is better to describe it another way. Or, to rethink what is meant by poetics. There is, additionally, the emphasis on repetition.

Fassbinder also loved to talk about film. His own favorites included Bresson’s The Devil Probably, Marco Bellochio’s Fists in the Pocket (speaking of post war Italian anti fascism) and Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and Hawks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and of course Written on the Wind, the Sirk masterpiece. Fassbinder had discovered Sirk somewhat late. But when he did, his own vision of screen language changed. The one surprise on this list was Emmano Olmi’s Il Posto. And yet, one can see the through line here. Sirk was much like Antonioni in a sense. This was a conscious deconstruction of the fascist author, father, patriarch. The voices of men in Sirk are soft. The sound track whispers nature, even as Nature reclaims man’s desire for permanence.

The Devil Probably (Robert Bresson, dr. 1977).

Like Antonioni, Sirk and Bresson both are almost monastic filmmakers. When I read of Tarkovsky, and often people describe Tarkovsky as monastic or religious or spiritual — I think perhaps, perhaps, but with Antonioni and Bresson there was another element. Antonioni was spiritual class awareness, and Bresson was close to someone like Dostoyevki. Sirk though, one always returns to Sirk. He is the great enigma. The great looming puzzle of post war screen expression. Fassbinder saw in Sirk something else, though. That all the beautiful and good and *normal* are always “weak, evil, and revolting”. For Sirk’s cinema was the one that indicted the institutions of bourgeois society; marriage, family, romantic love and career. And Fassbinder’s reaction to National Socialism was to demand the dissolution of all conventions of bourgeois life. And here that doppleganger effect is raised again.

“..every intuition will proceed from a choice; there will thus be a kind of essential ambiguity at the basis of scientific description…”

Weber asked in an earlier essay, “what is the place of theatricality in an age increasingly dominated by electronic media?” It is pointed out that for theatre, you need a place, and electronic media, rather obviously, has limited the role of place.

Plot, for Aristotle, has as its object no an imitation (sic) of men, but of life (biou). Aristotle links ‘action’ with ‘life’. For Aristotle, the concept of ‘media’ is inextricably tied to place and event. It is a much more complex discussion than I am sketching out here, but there are a couple other points worth noting. The City State, if examined etymologically and philologically, represents the *father* of theatre. And more interestingly, comedy is associated with extraterritoriality and with exile and wandering (per Weber). All of this is worth considering in relation to the evolution of property and with institutions. So — Weber notes that three millennia later Benjamin was discussing these elements, in relation to tragedy, and called it “the exposing of the present”. And this has always seemed to me the best one line description of theatre I know. And here the issue of the economic control of all media today must be looked at. “No single historical development is of greater importance than this shift of broadcast media from public service to that of private enterprise.”

Laurent Berges, photography.

Institutions shifted (they had already but now they shifted more, much more) in the first half of the 20th century. And there is a sub topic to be discussed that centers around electricity. For all of today’s media is electronic.

Prisoners are often referred to as *institutionalized*. Its curious that such a description is reserved for the bottom rung of society. The bourgeoisie are never so described, despite being far more influenced by the institutions of the West. And I cannot escape the sense that the shifts I’ve seen in film over the last forty years are deeply entangled with the psychology of those whose lives are virtually defined by their doppleganger in institutions.

Fassbinder’s favorite Bresson is The Devil Probably. In fact he threatened to quit as one of the judges for the Berlin Film Festival in 77 if the film did not receive an award. But I believe the most revelatory of Bresson’s late color films is Lancelot du Lac. Over at the Film Sufi…..there is this:

“Bresson’s presentation in Lancelot du Lac emphasizes the limited and constrained horizons of all the individuals. They are surrounded by dark forests, castle walls, and the small confines of rooms and huts. And they are further constrained by the physical burden of managing/manipulating their horses, their armor, their weapons, etc. These are isolated individuals, equipped with heavy weapons in order to fight their individual battles. When at the end they are confronted with an organized, semi-mechanized battle force of archers, they are no match for that kind of collective organization. So the individuals in the story are defeated by their isolation and their naive belief in their personal efficacy. Individual heroism is no match for cooperation.”

Howard Russell Butler

It is the great anti individualist film. And I remember when it first was screened in Los Angeles (that I knew of anyway) I went seven consecutive nights to watch it. I have rarely been as spellbound by any work of art. Many have pointed out that the repetitive cadences of the dialogue, the shots of arrows hitting trees (but never a person) are the fulfillment of a cinematic language that he had been developing for thirty years. He was in his seventies when he made the film. If one speaks of screen language, then Bresson is the final chapter. For here there is nothing that connects to the institutional logic of studios or capitalism. There is no intention to sell this film. For there is nothing to sell. The screen reflects nothing, in a sense, it is matte and absorbs one’s gaze. After the knights return, having wandered the forest in search of the grail, or of something, they are exhausted and despondent. Arthur proclaims “the forest is a devil”. There is no musical score to the film. There are only the sounds of daily life, of struggle and fatigue.

Guenièvre laments ; “Poor Lancelot, trying to stand his ground in a shrinking world.”

Aneta Bartos, photography.

Here Benjamin is important again, and his theory of *interruption*. He applied this idea to theatre, and he took it, in part, from Epic Theatre. It is a caesura. And the word caesura first was used in Benjamin’s essay on Holderlin’s poetry. Samuel Weber notes the link between caesura and sober or sobriety.“…the caesura marks a decisive interruption and limitation of exaltation and sublimity.” And let me quote Weber a bit more because its relevant if one thinks of today’s Hollywood films. “And it is precisely this, the production of the theatrical process in its distinctive mediality — *vorstellung* as representing before rather than simply as representation — that Benjamin associates with the *interruption* practiced by Brechtian theatre. When it is suspended, identity comes up short, and it does so through gesture. Gesture interrupts action, which, as a movement of meaning, constituted for Aristotle the primary object of tragic representation. By interrupting this movement of fulfillment — and action always connotes fulfillment — gesture allows the representing to emerge as a process of setting before.”

One of the themes in the cinema of what I guess I might call anti fascist (post WW2) is entrapment. For Sirk it was the trapped woman. A theme Fassbinder extended. Bertolucci too, and Antonioni were narrating stories of the bourgeoisie awaking to their lives as prisoners of conformity. And later (sort of) the cold war paranoia of 1950s B-films, such as Detour, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Kiss Me Deadly, were all visceral representations of, not just state repression, but of the psychological deterioration of the West. Films in which nobody is not hugely damaged. This links to Benjamin’s notes on Holderlin and Brecht. Representing rather than concrete representations. It implies the theatrical performance. For this is a truth in the performative, and that is something utterly gone today. One of the reasons so much mass entertainment today feels lifeless and moribund is that a presentation is constructed as a totality, conceived as a totality. What goes missing is the present. That quality of exposing; the placing before (vor-stelung) has been minimized, if not eradicated. So, one strategy of mass propagandistic entertainment is to erase memory and history, the other side of it is to erase presence — or performance. Again the not accidental (probably) irony of performance art, an art form that is mostly without actual performative presence. What is exposed? Nothing. Nothing except self identification, or identity. The fact that the entire idea of playing a character is to be able to be more yourself is lost, and the monologuist and performance artist play themselves. But nobody knows who they are, even a little bit, so you end up with a doubly duplicitious event on stage.

Mircea Suciu

Benjamin’s critique of Epic Theatre is interesting here, at least the discussion of acting. Weber writes… “On stage, no action is ever fully self present. As acting, such action is ex/posed in and through the iterations of a present participle that can never be totalized. Such acting is less like heroic action than the ‘strictly habitual course’ of instinctively performed repetitions that constitute conventional ‘behavior patterns’ or, rather, ways of behaving, *verhaltensweisen*. “ But acting is not identical repetition. It is a kind of recreation. And in that recreation is lodged something that Benjamin describes as the *trembling contours* of singular gestures. And such gestures are then a kind of laboratory of performance. Now Benjamin used the term *trembling contours* because of a tension he saw in this reiterative singularity that resists simple identification. An alterity is initiated.

“This is why the contours of such a gesture must be described as trembling: their location is always the result of a tension that is both in and extensive, affecting both internal composition and external situation.”
Samuel Weber

This is the laboratory aspect; for the actor cannot be reduced to the play, but is rather both in the play and practicing something else. It is ‘the work’– and there is a long tradition associated with this. From Noh drama to Attic tragedy, to Growtowski and Kantor. And as Weber notes, there is always an interruption this side of fulfillment. But more relevant is what Weber (and Benjamin) suggest later. And this has to do with the fact that theatre is never self contained. Other forms of art lend themselves far more readily to such an idea, but theatre was always suspect from the point of view of institutions. Theatre subordinates the play to the effects through which it constitutes itself (paraphrasing both Weber and Benjamin).

Mehdi Ghadyanloo

“In this way Epic Theatre distinguishes itself from the theatre of convention: it replaces education with schooling, distraction by grouping.”
Walter Benjamin

The education of knowledge is replaced by a schooling or training. A practice of judgement. This is about the audience then. Fast forwarding to contemporary electronic media and the production of an audience, or the definition of that audience. Today that process is bound up with institutional approval and with the surplus products of mass culture. Benjamin’s use of the word *grouping* has a complex history. And one that I think he probably altered as time went on, but it was an alternative to synthesis.

“Gesture, as Benjamin uses the term, defines itself at first through two traits. First, it interrupts. What does it interrupt? It interrupts that which ever since Aristotle has been considered to form the primary object of theater as a dramatic genre: namely, action. Or more precisely: plot. Ironic, perhaps, that precisely a theater designated as “epic” should be the occasion for a “Western” theory of theater to challenge its traditional subordination to plot and action.”
Samuel Weber

Without belaboring the entire critique of Epic Theatre, what is important I think is the manner in which acting has retreated to a kind of approved naturalism. Institutionally approved.

Michael Borreman

“Gesture is “form-giving,” shaping, insofar as it not only “interrupts” an ongoing sequence, but at the same time fixes it by enclosing it in a relatively determined space, one with a discernible “beginning” and “end.” But at the same time, the closure brought about by gesture remains caught up in that from which it has partially extricated itself: in the “living flux” of a certain temporality. The “strict, framelike closure” embodied in gesture is thus held together by a tension that Benjamin does not hesitate at times to designate as “dialectical.””
Samuel Weber

This is where I personally find discussions of rehearsal and memorization become important. Bresson for example used non professional actors. Rossellini did too, at times, and Bresson, like Ozu, would rehearse scenes hundreds of times until actors were mentally worn down and physically exhausted. One of the effects of film on theatre has been to erode the sanctity of rehearsal. And the economic imperatives of theatre today, in the West, and certainly in the U.S. has meant limited rehearsal time and often incomplete attention to memorization. And where it does occur and ample time exists, the process is mediated anyway by the loss of a kind of monasticism to which the actor once had to submit. And while it may seem odd to use that word, I think its not inaccurate. The rise of entertainment has meant that acting became celebrity and impersonation of self. Stars are congratulated for starving themselves for roles, or gaining weight, or whatever…dying their skin, anything but actually participating in the group work of a performance. The reciting of text is, in theatre, never really a monologue. And only very rare exceptions exists, in my opinion, for single character plays to bridge that chasm and become something that counters the anticipatory demands of contemporary audiences. A writer once told me, a playwright, that a great actor could make an audience shut up. That is, if you had a laugher…someone in the audience who just laughed idiotically at every line, and everyone has experienced this I think, the superior actor could make them stop. How that happens is about gesture and interruption. But it is also a product of the group; that a play is group meditation, and group pedagogy in some sense. But the pedagogical is very rarified. And this is where memorization again is related. The actor speaks a text that he or she knows. They *know* their lines. That knowledge is exactly that. A kind of knowledge.

Mednick used to say theatre is a form of thinking.

Istvan Betuker

“what epic theater is about is easier to define with reference to the concept of the stage than to that of a new drama.”
Walter Benjamin

The point finally is that Benjamin’s prescience regarding media (even if he lived only to experience radio) was that situation and audience were being changed. Adorno’s spoke of a fallen world, and of the open prison of western capitalism. The institutional hegemony of contemporary thought is found in the saturated colors and surface gloss of the Las Vegas mass shooting. Those photos are a Peter Berg or Michael Bay movie. In fact Berg made a film about the cops and the Boston Marathon bombing (Patriot’s Day). But it’s not the obviously reactionary Berg that matters, because take any Ben Afflick film, or Speilberg, or etc. They are all about the Boston Marathon bombing. They are all about Independence Day.

Karoline Gritzner, writing of Adorno’s essay on Beckett….“In this timeless, a-historical ‘fallen world’ human agency has lost its impulse and purpose a long time ago – the catastrophe has already happened – and the endgame of the ‘dying ego’ seems like an endless rehearsal of the ‘complete dissolution of the act as a statement of will’.” There is a profound element in the very idea of rehearsal. And it exists in that ambivalent space that produces our dopplegangers.

Fox and His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dr. 1974).

The repetitions of rehearsal are inextricably bound up with death, finally. And it is that speaking aloud what has been repeated either silently, or in *rehearsal* that is strikes out against the inevitable. The films of Bresson are always about escape, I believe. And they late color films seem a final surrender to the fact one cannot escape. Redemption is perhaps in trying. But that is always the point of a practice, a work. Benjamin wrote modern existence took place in a constant state of emergency. The solemn reciting aloud of text, to an audience, from a stage, interrupts institutional authority. It has always been so, I believe. The repetitive non identical recreation of a text, that specific form of knowledge, is immune to commodification. That is not to say the knowledge itself may not be reactionary or institutionally vetted — only that the recapturing of the metaphysical is *possible* in such situations. Bachelard asked for rethinking metaphor. And this is crucial if one wants to make theatre, or make art today.

“The deterministic logic of the capitalist world, in itself a ‘tragic’ historical development of human civilisation, provokes gestures of resistance which are dependent on the recovery of a tragic worldview.”
Karoline Gritzner

Agnes Martin

Mass culture as personified by Hollywood film and TV today is one that encourages a kind of partial reflection back on ourselves, but of course that reflection is of an objectified frozen image of Nature. The acting of Hollywood film and TV is largely that which has discarded genuine gesture, because it is unnatural, and replaced it with naturalism, which is non organic, but which is given the institutional imprimatur of realness. It is approved institutional behavior *performed*. Institutions now protect and contain the frozen fascist vocabulary and they by default produce a look, a style, a kind of anti metaphor. One must manufacture group work in the sense that an audience is being schooled, is part of a schooling. I don’t believe this means anything like group consensus. People have lost that ability by and large. It means a theatre of reclamation is possible because theatre is always a secret knowledge of repair and resistance. And the rehearsals and repetitions and memory exercises all are both liberating, and about mortality. For one effect of Hollywood entertainment has been a false immortality that is painted over the commodity culture in endless shiny marketing schemes. Art is, and should be then, a sort of death work. And in that lies the potential for liberation.

My favorite Fassbinder, maybe, though probably not his greatest film, is Fox and His Friends (1974). And in part because it is among the finest last shots in cinema. Two young men, boys really, rifle the pockets of the dead (or dying) Fox on an empty subway platform. And in that I think of Agnes Martin and sense there is a spiritual similarity. Repetition is not just repetition.

“When the Eleatics denied motion, Diogenes, as everyone knows, came forward as an opponent. He literally did come forward because he didn’t say a word, he merely paced back and forward a few times, thereby assuming that he had sufficiently refuted them.”
Kierkegaard (Repetition)

Ann Edholm

This is how Kierkegaard begins his long essay on Repetition. And it in Kierkegaard early on points out the early Greek category of recollection. “Just as it used to be taught that all knowledge is a recollection so will modern philosophy teach that all of life is a repetition.” Repetition is a category of metaphysics. But it leads to return, eternal return, and for Kierkegaard, who often appears as among the modern of 19th century philosophers, it is about something that while ostensibly ethical and forward looking, still retains a quality of the morbid — for the story Kierkegaard tells is of a hopelessly lovesick young man, lonely and suffering. Freudian repetition is full realization of this (in a sense). The institutional domination of thinking, the shaping of opinion in marketing and PR firms, has killed off that which would naturally lead to collective cooperative work, creative radicalism. As individual as Agnes Martin’s work, or Fassbinder’s films, they still feel to be part of a collective heritage of knowledge and work. They also bear the imprint of repetitive rehearsals, or practice. Martin’s work cannot be viewed without the rather obvious sense of infinite practice and repetition. The films of ..pick any popular Hollywood director…simply do not feel that way. The doppleganger. Studio film and TV are hugely collaborative and yet are what arrives on screen is stripped of that collaboration. For it is alienated and it is institutional. The institute(s) create doubles. There are exceptions but they are rare. The sense of knowledge, of memory, is anti institutional. From the individual who is an individual comes the collective. Institutions are there to deny change and their servants are there to punish those who try.


  1. Great stuff.

    and re: “I mention all this because the force of anti communist propaganda has been and continues to be wildly understated. And that near hysterical fixation on anti communist rhetoric is a foundational element in bourgeois institutions today.” Check this out…even on the Opera! Gotta have lots of anticommunism.

    Lady MacBeth of Mtensk hasn’t exactly become rep in capital’s “free” world either. While in the USSR, it’s “repression” included making it into a feature film! Fact is, it’s a pretty serious and very boring and ugly opera.

  2. we watched the superb Rosselini public tv history things recently…the one about Louis XIV, and the one about the Medici. They’re just incredible. And fine examples of this ability to represent history and psychology within history. (Bertolucci’s 1900 as we were talking about elsewhere also achieves this — a perfect balance of the allegorical and the realist in characters and relationships.) About 10 years ago I noticed that old blog circle of ours included some posty types in the trot network taking aim at neorealism as sentimental! Because it is not misanthropic and sadistic and endlessly violent and manipulative. A decadence of avanguardia and its cooptation has thrown up this idea that misanthropy is more respectable, that one should enjoy disgust at and hatred for humanity.

  3. John Steppling says:

    Oh god, I could go on about Rossellini’s TV histories. They are so magnificent. The Louis XIV of course is the best known and had the largest budget….and is luxurious. But Pascal is quite remarkable too. I remember being just mesmerized.

  4. To erase presence… YES, YES. I have been thinking about this for years. I was most recently thinking about this in regards to sticking the word “post” in front of everything. I find “post colonialism” to be particularly irritating. It makes it sound like we live in the future. It is the pinnacle of hubris. And such terminology not only erases the present by putting us in the future, but it forgets our connection to the past—as though colonialism is a part of another era that we can look back (or down) on, like a scientist inspecting some bacteria in a petri dish. Such terminology forgets that colonialism is alive and well; it might look different than it did, but it still thrives.
    There are, however, lots of reasons why living in the future, rather than the present, is so much easier to do. We are trained, in the West, from a young age to live and think this way. It protects us from the truth, and from pain. Because the truth (at least initially), is painful and usually traumatic and involves having affects that are uncomfortable and that our culture does not seem to provide the skills to process and learn from. The truth is hard. But, like Iris Murdoch suggests in her philosophical writings, I also think that the truth is love. Love is connected to truth. Capitalism hates nothing more than it hates love. Truth, love, remembering…capitalism does all it can to stamp these out.

  5. David Comdico says:

    This is really exceptional. Bravo.

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