Manifesto of the Disinvited
A feeling of now being uninvited to certain parties, or certain clubs.
Or even disinvited (as once happened to me for a high-flying academic conference). Clubs we (Cristina Álvarez & I) were once in, fleetingly. Clubs we, to some degree, help form. (I’m remembering how my friend Terence Blake was rudely thrown out of the online François Laruelle discussion group he founded.)
The ‘videographic’ club. The art-as-research club. The make-audiovisual-essays-scholarly club. As manifested and institutionalised, variously, in courses, conferences, workshops, festivals, exhibitions, polls, lists, ‘position papers’, etc.
I can resent this, perhaps partly because an old and anxious inner reflex thinks, maybe foolishly, that my capacity to earn some freelance money from what we (Cristina & I) do is bound up with public acceptance, honour, acknowledgement.
It’s even worse for those inside the belly of the academic beast: they must needs (lovely archaic turn of phrase) suck up to the boss who might one day employ them, or referee them, or vouch for them, or whatever. And Americans, especially, love to cite only their fellow Americans in the Great Career Hump-Along.
But there is a positive way to grasp it. For to be disinvited is to be free.
The clubs are going with the tide of fashion, into social documentary, the unkillable ‘desktop’ genre (‘so many media images all around us, what is real anymore?’: the familiar lament since 1950), the discourse of the archive, 3D run-throughs, trauma-replay, etc. Not much of interest to us, personally, there.
More than ever, Cristina and I find ourselves drifting to what has always been the niche of the homeless: the ‘cine-poem’. Call it what you will. Poetry, nobody knows what to do with it, how to classify it.
I think we have mainly done high-level scene analysis (another club from which we have been disinvited) in ‘explanatory’ ways, (eg., "Coming Apart"), and we have done poetic pieces. With our explanatory work always having a poetic edge. Remember Camille Paglia’s remark that the close-analytical New Criticism movement of the 1940s worked for literature only as long as it was poets (like T.S. Eliot) doing it.
It’s our most recent and most poetic work (for “The Thinking Machine” series) that has disappeared from the consensus, invited polls, and from all the burgeoning institutions of Digital Humanities videography. To hell with them.
We’ve thought and expressed at different times – when called upon to do so – that audiovisual essays can be defined in one way or another: as audiovisual montage; as thinking, writing and arguing in images and sounds.
I am thinking now, in the disinvited zone, that it is, above all, poetic gesture.
Cristina recently recalled how, reading out a passage from Raymond Bellour’s “Analysis in Flames” in her EQZE class, the idea came to her to use this as the basis for a video piece. It turned out to be the one with the fewest elements of any we’ve ever made: the quotation (written on screen), music and clip from The 400 Blues, clip from Le départ. A pure form.
Above all, it was the inspiration that – once (in Bellour’s mid 1980s reverie) scientific film analysis had entirely dissolved – there would be “only free gestures” (that’s the title of our video), artistic-poetic gestures in sight and sound.
Free gesture. Poetic gesture. Agamben once suggested that the third and highest level of criticism is to “resolve the work’s intention into a gesture (or into a constellation of gestures)”. He meant (I think) to grasp the gesture of a work and communicate it (in words). We, at yet another level (higher or lower, I can’t say), aim to resolve our own intuitions about cinema into gestures.
I recall what the artist Marcus Bergner once said to me, in some exasperation, against the critical doxa: “Now I could talk about a film by doing a painting, or making a gesture with my hand in space …” (he had just seen Carax’s Les Amants du Pont-neuf).
I am writing this after awaking from a dream which was a theory about artistic works as gestures. Perhaps the dream had painted canvases or coloured stones in it rather than videos, but that doesn’t literally matter.
The dream was a philosophy of, first, the gesture of selecting a fragment from elsewhere; and second, the gesture of placing it (editing it) alongside another well-chosen fragment. With (this was the dream’s contribution) a third element: initially it was ‘a community’ but that was revised, in the course of the dream, to something more ephemeral and provisional: a circle. Nothing so vulgar as an ‘audience’. Marcus and Marisa Stirpe (both from Arf Arf) were there in the dream-circle.
A circle of people who, for whatever reason in their lives, were in that moment, in a position to appreciate the gesture.
In some of our works, Cristina and I have gathered the motifs (often one, key motif) of a film director: confinement and liberatory movement in Marco Bellocchio, walkers in Philippe Garrel. Does one have to know their works already to like our videos? Maybe it helps, I don’t know. But, to be part of the fleeting circle, you have to appreciate the gesture. Sense it, feel it, take it in.
The gesture, “videographically”, is in the selecting, and the forming, the shaping. Bringing all the elements together into a firm (or gentle), legible gesture. The montage and everything else is just a part of that process.
We also (and increasingly) do comparisons: fragments from what are (on the face of it) two very different films. There is an ‘archaeological’ aspect to that – the subterranean history of cinematic forms, etc. – that may well be scholarly (if anyone’s looking for that), but it is, above all, a poetic juxtaposition.
Every now and then, when randomly reviewing our video works, I have felt the tender throb of a kind of breakthrough. In “Haunted Memory”; in the moments of “Impending” when there is murmur of poetic citation to replace the analysis proper: “Moon River, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style …”
I would like to go further and deeper in this direction.
This is no longer so much (for us) about ‘argument’, although there are also ideas and arguments in there, no doubt. About how films end, for instance, in “Impending” – the poetics of endings in cinema (just as we addressed starts in To Begin With …). But poetics must dare to jump the third rail and make it over to poetry. So few academics or philosophers do.
“The sense of these gestures”, long ago wrote Max Kommerell (as quoted by Agamben) in reference to lyric poetry, “is not exhausted in communication … Only insofar as it exists for itself can it be compelling for the Other”. The fragile circle of Others.
We are not so certain any longer about the mantra of ‘creating new knowledge’. It sounds a bit bureaucratic, universitarian. What knowledge is ever new? We rediscover fragments of old knowledge, each in our own time and along our own path, if we’re lucky.
© Adrian Martin 11am 28 January 2021