On Research as Practice

In another jag of (finally) finding myself inspired by film; was in a bit of a dry spell for a while. Picked back up Paul Sharits's issue of FILM CULTURE which I've had a photocopy of for years but never read in its entirety. I finally digitized it which is making it easy to read. An article by Sharits that I expected to be somewhat of a drag ended up being quite inspiring, "A CINEMATICS MODEL FOR FILM STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION."

It's perhaps worth remembering that the academic environments of some of these universities in the 70s were not as toxic and careerist as they are now—I forget that higher education actually grew out of a desire to pass on knowledge. The way Sharits describes a film studies program is admirable but, I expect even at the time, somewhat impossible. Beyond just exploring an outline for a successful program, he also manages to articulate several things about the work (across medium) that speaks most loudly to me. Things that I perhaps once recognized but need to remind myself of. An idea as simple as the form should follow the intention of the work, not vice versa (as so often I am stimulated by form I hit an impasse when a desired form cannot be filled).

Some quotations here, so as not to forget them:

"I personally feel that phenomenological research should be clearly distinguished from the sort of psycho-analytical interpretation of 'meaning' of content which is so typical in literature courses and in courses dealing with narrative cinema; naturally some surrealist and psychodramatic works can be interpreted as dream-like but I would suggest that these films do not constitute the most appropriate kind of work for phenomenological analysis because while they 'picture' the dream state and invite viewers to participate in dream logic, they do not induce a dream state in an individual viewer. Some 'minimal' films, which do not guide the viewer along a narrative or a directive formal development, provide viewers with an open field within which the individual viewer can enter 'dream-like' states of consciousness; these 'synchonic' films may be most appropriate to phenomenological analysis."

"...This humor may or may not be a laughing matter but it certainly can be used to generate a speculative subject matter. The problem which presents itself is: how does one tell what is humorous, in distinction to what is serious but idiotic, or what is absurd but which 'feels' utterly pedestrian, or what is substructurally humorous but masks itself in an attempt to remove itself from the level of joking, or what is joking without being funny? Fortunately, one is not called upon, in speculating, to be sternly comic; the alternative to rigid humor is not crystalline seriousness but an outlook aimed at what lies beyond both humor and seriousness—the unthought, the undone, the unfelt."

But beyond noting these necessary ideas for future reference, what the article ultimately reminded me of was the importance of research to the work that I find myself most fascinated by. This returns to a literalization of "experimental" art—art that sets out to experiment with an idea. Robert Fulton, during an episode of Screening Room in 1973 speaks to this, noting that it doesn't matter what the outcome is. You can always move forward. But it is research, this desire to find something new, that ultimately guides the best experimental films, guides the most rewarding art. Sharits is an obvious example (as is Fulton) in film; Gregor Schneider, John Duncan, Eric Orr & the Vienna Actionists in the realm of what most people consider 'the plastic arts' (installation, painting); John Duncan (again), the recording artists discussed in Thomas Bey William Bailey's Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century, & even more contemporaneously the work being put out by labels like Vitrine, iDeal and Recital does this with/in/for sound; in poetry we have the poets Paul Buck was working with in Curtains and Adam McKeown in Intimacy, the French writers (I've recently translated a short text on Bernard Noël's work that speaks of the physical effects that read the texts can have upon the body), Guyotat & and the Tel Quel writers, Bataille and Blanchot themselves of course in writing...more than any sort of genre descriptors it's the most coherent way to consider, really, my tastes, my interests.

This is not necessarily a shocking revelation by any means, but rather it's an important thing to remember (that I think I often forget). For me for the work to truly take hold there must be a push toward something beyond pure aesthetics or pure desire to narrate... Robert Fulton uses "cadences" as a term to speak of the sort of psychical matter, the energy of a film, the unifying factor. Maybe this is a term that I should adapt (similar to Sharits' preference for "cinematics" over "films" or "movies"). Interested as I am in limits, my work should be in some way interested in exploring the limits, or providing ways for the viewer/reader/listener to explore these limits. Ideally, both.

Material Evidence from the Outside

A friend of mine recently commented, regarding a grip of 12 inches he was posting photos of on Instagram, that he loves the cover art for Italo Disco singles because there's something slightly off about them, something that reminds him of the bizarre record stores that pop up in his dream, with titles and covers impossibly absent from the real world. As someone with a consistently over-active dream life, there's something so necessarily true about this that I can't help but return to the idea regularly. For me the recurring temple of capitalism is a bookstore (never a library, but I can't be surprised about that considering the world as it stands), never architecturally the same, but always with an impossible swathe of books and journals and ephemera that I'm utterly thrilled by, absent from the waking world, and also sad to lose upon entering morning light.

I've been thinking of this in a way of sort of manifesting a material object that crosses the border from this impossible "outside" into ours... for me, lately, the 'discovery' of Adam McKeown's journal in the 90s, Intimacy has been tantamount. Modeled after and dedicated to Paul Buck's Curtains (which in itself has been infinitely important to me), the journal, at least the 2 issues I've read so far of the 3 I've managed to track down, is consistently fantastic. Some minor work from authors I'm familiar with (translations of Bataille's & Artaud's poetry that are fantastic and rarely discussed, among other things) along with amazing and often sexually transgressive works from authors completely unfamiliar to me, often writers that went on to write little else (at least, little else that's been published). This invisibility plays into this imagined idea that these are transmissions from the outside... Materially, the journal itself is somewhere between Mimeograph, Digital printing, Xerox, and "professional," but often in strange formats and with fading text. Materially interesting in its imperfections, makes me wish I had never tried to pretend that Solar Luxuriance needed to make perfect objects (when interesting objects should have actually been the goal).

But I'm losing focus--I don't want to wander into a discussion of publishing right now.

I've been enjoying, recently, somewhat of a return to form in my reading, predicated upon my encounters with Curtains and Intimacy -- my route into experimental literature actually came from just being a young curious pervert, and it feels good to return to that. I've always been primarily interested in experimental narrative forms -- even in film and "poetry" (or more precisely, écriture), the work I enjoy most has some sort of "narrative movement," even in the most loosely defined manner. But the narrative can't just be whatever for me to really care. I'm a horror movie fan true and true, I "like" perversion, sex, transgression, violence. At an entirely base level. To be more accurate, I gravitate towards limit experiences -- both within the text, and in life (though in life my aim towards that quest is accomplished in a way different than perhaps expected, but that's an exploration for another day). I was reminded a few days ago that I started reading French literature almost exclusively due to Georges Bataille and Alain Robbe-Grillet, both capital P Perverts if there ever were any, and I'm 100% fine with this. I've read fairly widely (though away from the dominant paradigm) over the last 10 years, but my explorations that are more directed have been the most fruitful. It has felt nice to just be ok with indulging in my preferences, no pretense given that I have to be well rounded or anything.

The Castle of Communion (Bernard Noël, 1969)


During an interview in EXIT 10/11 (Winter 1976/77), translated by Glenda George in Spectacular Diseases No. 5, Bernard Noël articulates that the job of criticism "should be explaining the functioning, the necessary [of the work]." This is perhaps the most sound and succinct description of what criticism should do that I've encountered (at least as a description that I agree with), and as such I've internalized it, I hope, as a guiding light to re-engage with criticism. However, in addressing The Castle of Communion I can't entirely abandon the "I" of the text. Perhaps I need this pronominal marker of the self right now to lead myself into why exactly The Castle of Communion is necessary, and how it functions, despite half my frustration with contemporary literary "criticism" boiling down to the critic's incapacity to move beyond herself. Hopefully this insistence will allow me to move from this "necessary" subjectivity toward a larger, less subjective consideration of the text in the world.

I've been conscious of, and even actively pointed out the influence of Noël's work upon my own before, but I hadn't realized this specific novel articulates so well what it is that I'm often attempting. There are narrative elements, of course, that I remembered, that have stuck with me for their base nature, the nature of the Image; but what is most shocking is how much of the text--beyond the base violence and sexual subjugation--seems to have planted itself firmly in my headspace, repeatedly mined for details borrowed for own work over the last few years. Beyond this, being so absorbed in Noël's work, I find echoes in other texts of the poetic/narrative movement toward a mysticism developed here: it's in "White Love" more succinctly (and perhaps the effusion here makes it more direct, albeit less thorough), it's in "The Game of You I Us" (seemingly written at the same time as the definitive version of the novel's text--there are lines that show up in both the poem and the novel), it's elsewhere in the exposition on "poetry and experience" that Noël develops in interviews well into the early 90s:
"The unexpected always happens incidentally, unless I provoke it math-em-at-ic-ally. It's enough to reckon with the imaginary. And for the rest to obey such a strict code that only the unexpected can intrude upon it, as is right. Create a void somewhere, it immediately invokes its opposite. Create something unalterable, it will do the same. I love theatre. There is nothing more rule-bound that the theatre, but every rule is a labyrinth which leads to the minotaur at the same time as holding it captive. The head invents the rule in order to protect itself from the darkness of the belly, but the more it constructs meanders, the less it knows behind which of them the night lies in ambush. So the rule which was made to confine the monster in truth provides it with a hiding place, so well that it can surprise us at any moment. This contradiction in our defence system is tragedy. Here, I've seen to it that the system is so perfect that the contradiction is keener than ever. It's necessary to be tragically conscious of what lies in wait for us..." (63, my emphasis)
And then, from L'Espace du poème: entretiens avec Dominique Sampiero:
Writing means creating a void. Particularly writing poems, I think. A void which makes possible a precipitation.
And in La Face du silence:
You are hollow. But the void generates its opposite: a word wells up, another...
What is fascinating here is how Noël transmits his own--for want of a better word--metaphysics, philosophy perhaps, on the writing of the poem, into the narrative of the sexual initiate. There's more to this. Twice in the novel the protagonist is reminded of a yogic exercise to push through pain, difficulty. "Whatever happens, she said, tighten your belly, breathe deeply, compose your breath" (31). Pranayama is the yogic exercise of regulating the breath, especially in order to moderate or maintain tension or stress upon the body. In the practice of yoga it is breath the dominates the asanas (the physical postures) and the practice as a whole. Without breath, the asanas are considered useless, as they become mere spectacles of corporeal physicality instead of openings toward inner experience. Elsewhere the protagonist speaks three phrases which echo both Beckett and the yoga sutras: "I tried to understand. I was understanding. I saw myself understanding" (15). In literalizing this, Noël is clearly locking the narrative into a route toward inner experience (both the "inner experience" of Bataille and the "inner experience" of yoga). Or, the term that Noël prefers over "inner experience," which Bataille himself uses at the end of his trilogy, a route toward the stake.
* * *

For a book that became notorious for its battles against censorship, it's shocking that authorities were incapable of discerning that the sexual violence was only a route toward an end (I should note here that I want to mark down thoughts before before revisiting "THE OUTRAGE AGAINST WORDS," as I remember that text re-routing what currently strikes me about the novel itself into a realm where what's important is the ideological standpoint allowed to be highlighted). But, perhaps I should not be surprised about this, as I've needed to delve deep into Noël's work before reading the novel for a third time to remember anything other than the aforementioned images of violence. When speaking of the book to others who have read it, it is indeed the dog-rape that notoriously stands out.

In another short essay, "Poetry and Experience," Noël articulates the trajectory of poetry as experience, following on from the work of Le Grand Jeu and Georges Bataille. The Castle of Communion, as mentioned before, feels like an extension of this, only allowing minimal elements of the genre (the genre of the novel) to creep in, giving, perhaps, a more accessible shape to his exegesis. Elsewhere Jean Fremon rightly points out that The Castle of Communion is an "adult fairy tale," and this feels appropriate in identifying the "adult fairy tale" as a more accessible route for what it is that Noël wants to communicate. Poetry (especially poetry as experience) is beyond the grasp of most, especially now more than ever before--especially a poetry that aims at a something beyond mere description of experience. So while the novel might indeed be a mere a distillation of what Noël is after, it's an extremely well done distillation...

However, and it's here, having now re-read The Outrage Against Words, that we are forced to encounter Noël's own condemnation of this insistence, the danger of allowing The Castle of Communion to stand as an exemplary text of an initiation into inner experience:
Certainly one can make an initiatory reading of Le Château de Cène but if it's to lead to mysticism, one has it after all in the arse. In fact, where is the transcendence? Where the finality? The new initiate immediately plays politics and his experience falls back on itself: it has no other meaning outside of it.
This needs to be reckoned with. While this new wound upon the text, self-inflicted by its author, might refuse one trajectory (and lest we forget, it's the polysemia of the novel that Noël applauded til the end!) it clears up another. In the novel, during one of the initiatory sex scenes, the text speaks "No limit [...] No limit, except to enjoy it" (33). This is a trap. As Noël explains the opening chapters are a trap of one sort, what seems to be an authorial through-line here ("no limit except to enjoy it") is a subversive instruction, a condemnation. Echoed again when Mona explicates her desire not for love or sex, but only for excess, Noël approaches an idea of power through and through, and unless we let ourselves pay attention we, as readers, are bound to miss it. Should we not be troubled by the fact that all the servants throughout the novel are explicitly described as Black, or from "uncivilized" locales? Do we dismiss this simply as a lazy route for the author to further establish a sense of other-ness? At first this was what I let myself fall back into, and for this I, as a reader, am ashamed. For this is specifically what, when taken as a whole, the novel warns against. Again from The Outrage Against Words:
History is only the history of oppression. Revolutions, finally, have only ever served those who overthrow power in order to seize for themselves. We are duped in advance because the language is controlled. Language, like the State, has always served the same ends [...] The system is already a traitor, even if it has not yet betrayed.
Elsewhere in the same essay:
In what name am I pursuing my work? Towards what? Could it be that the abuse of language is tied to power? And could it be that there's only correct language to direct against power? Against what power? For power, which is central to everything, is first and necessarily a confiscation of meaning.
Language is a trap. As readers, it is our duty to refuse a passive acceptance of what it is we're reading, and I think Noël's text makes this abundantly clear. Chapter ten is the chapter most horrible, most inexcusable. And it is this chapter that cements the protagonist's initiation, in his "imaginative" telling, a sexual rite of pure colonization. Noël considered the novel a sort of emptying out of the violence he experienced during the Algerian War, and as such, the primary example of what is Not Right in the world, placed in the novel, must be the colonial impulse. Thus, the "civilized" nature of Mona versus the "brute primitivism" of her Black servants and the Orientalist fetishization of Black women as sexual play things. Thus, the protagonist initiate passing beyond himself and back into a self that can do nothing but abuse power. There is no escape from language in a world predicated upon the abuse of power.

Throughout the novel, the protagonist peppers the text with a refrain of "I remember." The trick here is that, clearly, he doesn't. He escapes one system only to replace that system with another that puts him hierarchically no closer to a true inner experience. I think, if we must insist there is a message to the novel, that this is it. One most not replace one form of power with another. This is not the experience of mysticism, this is not the experience of true revolution, this is not inner experience, the stake. This is only a reality that must be transcended.
I'm looking for a long, immense, reasoned disruption of reality, for what we believe in is only the paltry part that must be exploded. The surface. (55)

A Explanatory Note of Praxis

As I've abandoned Goodreads and am somewhat uncomfortable pouring real thought into Letterboxd any more, I find myself aiming for somewhere to organize thought on the texts I'm interfacing with. I'm shit at reflective writing in notebooks, to any coherence. I've had a desire for a Place again, a blog, a practice blog, an insistence upon thought instead of the casual approach... needed now I think. New directions further apart from the rest. Toward the outside.

As such, let me explain the tags--"godhead" refers to reflective writing on text created by authors whom I ascribe an almost religious importance: Georges Bataille, Marguerite Duras, Bernard Noël, Maurice Blanchot, Antonin Artaud. This could expand, occasionally. Other post-war French poets feel as if they belong their often... Anne-Marie Albiach certainly, Jacques Dupin perhaps, Claude Royet-Journaud, always more, always more. The "project" as it stands, right now (in the sense that is shaping this desire to Pay Attention to my reading at least), is two-fold: the first part involves a systematic investigation of the work addressed by Leslie Hill across three books--Marguerite Duras (particularly from Moderato Cantabile on), Maurice Blanchot, and Samuel Beckett (particularly post-1965, toward my own taste). It will be noticed that two of those three authors have already found their place within the fountain of the godhead, which is what gave me the idea to pay more attention to Beckett (of course, the other connecting thread was Danielle Collobert's insistence on his work... particularly Ping). The second part is a systematic (re-)reading of Georges Bataille's Somme Atheologique, mapped out chronologically and across volumes thanks to the introductory matter put forth by Stuart Kendall in his various brilliant translations.

I'm inherently not an academic, and also inherently more rhizomatic than systematic in my exploratory tendencies, so as long as I've had this desire (for systematic interrogation of above text-bodies) I've flailed somewhat. I've been successful in reading virtually all of Duras's post-Moderato Cantabile work over the last few years, and enjoyed the work immensely, but my reading has been--at best--casual. I don't find this inherently problematic until I want to invoke what it is about her work that carries my obsession, or when I want to recall a particular politic she invokes... It's work that deserves more attention, to say the least. All of the work mentioned deserves my closer attention, as for what it's given me, it's the least I can do in return. Aside from this, I've also missed a place to blog. After several attempts to set up a Wordpress blog that then ends up locking me out, after trying and failing to get re-energized by group blogs, I'm still after something else. So here we are.

Agatha and the Limitless Reading (Marguerite Duras, 1981)

"You're making it up."
"I don't know. I don't think so."

Going from the inside out: L'Homme Atlantique, a perfect film1, as microcosm of Agatha et les lectures illimitées, a near-perfect film, as microcosm of Agatha, the bare-bones structure, a theatre script by Duras. There's always a back and forth. But, the skeleton of the piece is not just the theatre script, but the obfuscation of biographical elements, whether or not those elements are "true to life"... The degree zero lies somewhere beyond, outside.

In reading Duras, her texts always carry a specific tenor: the text registers as being delivered in a hushed and urgent sense of desperation. But, simultaneously, this desperation feels defeated. As if the text knows that there's so little that can happen at the end. The narration in Duras's films always confirms what the text has already carried on the page alone. But if there's so little that can happen at the end, how can the reading here be "Limitless"?

It's easy. The text is without end. Desire is without end. The sea, above all, is without end. Limitless.

1 A film which I need to revisit in full, as the way it works is important both to film in general and my specific appreciation of the arts.