Rene -- A free replay (notes on Vertigo) by Chris Marker
A free replay (notes on Vertigo) by Chris Marker
‘Power and freedom’. Coupled together, these two words are repeated three times in Vertigo. First, at the twelfth minute by Gavin Elster (’freedom’ under lined by a move to close-up) who, looking at a picture of Old San Francisco, expresses his nostalgia to Scottie (’San Francisco has changed. The things that spelled San Francisco to me are disappearing fast’), a nostalgia for a time when men - some men at least - had ‘power and freedom’. Second, at the thirty-fifth minute, in the bookstore, where ‘Pop’ Liebel explains how Carlotta Valdes’s rich lover threw her out yet kept her child: ‘Men could do that in those days. They had the power and the freedom … ‘ And finally at the hundred and twenty-fifth minute - and fifty-first second to be precise - but in reverse order (which is logical, given we are now in the second part, on the other side of the mirror) by Scottie himself when, realizing the workings of the trap laid by the now free and powerful Elster, he says, a few seconds before Judy’s fall - which, for him, will be Madeleine’s second death - ‘with all his wife’s money and all that freedom and power … ‘.Just try telling me these are coincidences.
Such precise signs must have a meaning. Could it be psychological, an explanation of the criminal’s motives? If so, the effort seems a little wasted on what is, after all, a secondary character. This strategic triad gave me the first inkling of a possible reading of Vertigo. The vertigo the film deals with isn’t to do with space and falling; it is a clear, understandable and spectacular metaphor for yet another kind of vertigo, much more difficult to represent – the vertigo of time. Elster’s ‘perfect’ crime almost achieves the impossible: rein venting a time when men and women and San Francisco were different to what they are now. And its perfection, as with all perfection in Hitchcock, exists in duality. Scottie will absorb the folly of time with which Elster infuses him through Madeleine/Judy. But where Elster reduces the fantasy to mediocre manifestations (wealth, power, etc), Scottie transmutes it into its most utopian form: he overcomes the most irreparable damage caused by time and resurrects a love that is dead. The entire second part of the film, on the other side of the mirror, is nothing but a mad, maniacal attempt to deny time, to recreate through trivial yet necessary signs (like the signs of a litur gy: clothes, make-up, hair) the woman whose loss he has never been able to accept. His own feelings of responsibility and guilt for this loss are mere Christian Band-Aids dressing a metaphysical wound of much greater depth. Were one to quote the Scriptures, Corinthians I (an epistle one of Bergman’s characters uses to define love) would apply: ‘Death, where is your victory?’
So Elster infuses Scottie with the madness of time. It’s interesting to see how this is done. As ever with Alfred, stratagems merely serve to hold up a mirror (and there are many mirrors in this story) to the hero and bring out his repressed desires. In Strangers on a Train, Bruno offers Guy the crime he doesn’t dare desire. In Vertigo, Scottie, although overtly reluctant, is always willing, always the one taking the first step. Once in Gavin’s office and again in front of his own house, (the morning after the fake drowning), the manip ulators pretend to give up: Gavin sits down and apologizes for having asked the impossible; Madeleine gets back in the car and gets ready to leave. Everything could stop there. But, on both occasions, Scottie takes the initiative and restarts the machine. Gavin hardly has to persuade Scottie to undertake his search: he simply suggests that he see Madeleine, knowing full well that a glimpse of her will be enough to set the supreme manipulator, Destiny, in motion. After a shot of Madeleine, glimpsed at Ernie’s, there follows a shot of Scottie beginning his stake-out of the Elster house. Acceptance (bewitchment) needs no scene of its own; it is contained in the fade to black between the two scenes. This is the first of three ellipses of essential moments, all avoided, which another director would have felt obliged to show. The second ellipse is in the first scene of physical love between Judy and Scottie, which clearly takes place in the hotel room after the last transformation (the hair-do corrected in the bathroom). How is it possible, after such a fabulous, hallucinatory moment, to sustain such intensity?
In this case, the censorship of the time saved Hitchcock from a doubly impossible situation. Such a scene can only exist in the imagination (or in life). But when a film has referred to fantasy only in the highly-coded context of dreams and two lovers embrace in the realist set of the hotel room; when one of them, Scottie, thanks to the most magical camera movement in the history of cinema, discovers another set around him, that of the stable at the Dolores Mission where he last kissed a wife whose double he has now created; isn’t that scene the metaphor for the love scene Hitchcock cannot show? And if love is truly the only victor over time, isn’t this scene per se the love scene? The third ellipse, which has long been the joy of connoisseurs, I’ll mention for the sheer pleasure of it. It occurs much earlier, in the first part. We have just seen Scottie pull Madeleine unconscious out of San Francisco bay (at Fort Point). Fade to black. Scottie is at home, lighting a log fire. As he goes to sit down the camera follows - he looks straight ahead. The camera follows his look and ends on Madeleine, seen through the open bedroom door, asleep in bed with a sheet up to her neck. But as the camera travels towards her, it also registers her clothes and underclothes hanging on a drier in the kitchen. The telephone rings and wakes her up. Scottie, who’s come into the room, leaves, shutting the door. Madeleine reappears dressed in the red dressing-gown he happened to have draped across the bed. Neither of them alludes to the intervening period, apart from the double entendre in Scottie’s line the next day: ‘I enjoyed, er … talking to you … ‘ Three scenes, therefore, where imagination wins over rep resentation; three moments, three keys which become locks, but which no present-day director would think of leaving out. On the contrary, he’d make them heavily explicit and, of course, banal. As a result of saying it can show anything, cinema has abandoned its power over the imagination. And, like cinema, this century is perhaps starting to pay a high price for this betrayal of the imagination - or, more precisely, those who still have an imagination, albeit a poor one, are being made to pay that price.
Brian -- 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,
Or, let's find a completely new art criticism
For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the
previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of
rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it
brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre or
the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a
different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for the
aesthetic. Let's take it as axiomatic that all that has changed,
The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of
society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated
representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is
to mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws, the
customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational
devices that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each
other at a given time and in a given place. What you look for in art is
a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything less is
just the seduction of novelty - the hedonism of insignificance.
If that's the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of
fascinating questions arise - for the artist, of course, but also for
the critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this:
How do you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers
across the dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you
evaluate what counts as a positive or at least a promising change in the
existing balance of a foreign culture?
I'm sure you immediately see how difficult this is. Already in the past,
it was hard enough to say that a particular aesthetic tradition and a
particular state of the medium defined the leading edge, the point at
which a rupture became interesting. Yet still there were times when all
the painters seemed to flock to Rome, then later to Paris, then later to
New York City; and so through the sheer aggregation of techniques and
styles, the fiction of a leading edge could be maintained, at least by
some. But in the face of a simultaneous splintering and decline of what
used to be called "the West," and a correlative rise of some of "the
Rest," who could seriously say that certain local, national or regional
laws, customs, measures, mores and technical or organizational devices
are really the most interesting ones to transgress or even break into
pieces, in hopes of a better way of being? Or to be even cruder about
it, and closer to the actual state of things: Who can seriously claim
that the Euro-American forms of society are the benchmark against which
change must be measured - even if those societies are still the most
opulent and most developed and most heavily armed with all the nastiest
of technological weapons?
Anj -- Butler -- Sexual politics, torture, and secular time
The British Journal of Sociology
Volume 59 Issue 1 Page 1-23, March 2008
To cite this article: Judith Butler (2008) Sexual politics, torture, and secular time
The British Journal of Sociology 59 (1) , 1–23 doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2007.00176.x
Sexual politics, torture, and secular time
Department of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley
If one wants to begin with most common of beginnings, namely, with the claim that one would like to be able to consider sexual politics during this time, a certain problem arises. Since, it seems clear that one cannot reference `this time' without knowing which time, where that time takes hold, and for whom a certain consensus emerges on the issue of what time this is. So if it is not just a matter of differences of interpretation about what time it is, then it would seem that we have already more than one time at work in this time, and that the problem of time will afflict any effort I might make to try and consider some of these major issues now. It might seem odd to begin with a reflection on time when one is trying to speak about sexual politics and cultural politics more broadly. But my suggestion here is that the way in which debates within sexual politics are framed are already imbued with the problem of time, of progress in particular, and in certain notions of what it means to unfold a future of freedom in time. That there is no one time, that the question of what time this is, already divides us, has to do with which histories have turned out to be formative, how they intersect – or fail to intersect with other histories – and so with a question of the how temporality is organized along spatial lines. I'm not suggesting here that we return to a version of cultural difference that depends on cultural wholism. In fact, I oppose any such return. The problem is not that there are different cultures at war with one another, or that there are different modalities of time, each conceived as self-sufficient, that are articulated in different and differentiated cultural locations or that come into confused or brutal contact with one another. Of course, at some level, that could be a valid description, but it would miss an important point, namely, that hegemonic conceptions of progress define themselves over and against a pre-modern temporality that they produce for the purposes of their own self-legitimation. Politically, the questions, what time are we in? are all of us in the same time? and specifically, who has arrived in modernity and who has not? are all raised in the midst of very serious political contestations. The questions cannot be answered through recourse to a simple culturalism.
It's my view that sexual politics, rather than operating to the side of this contestation, is in the middle of it, and that very often claims to new or radical sexual freedoms are appropriated precisely by that point of view – usually enunciated from within state power – that would try to define Europe and the sphere of modernity as the privileged site where sexual radicalism can and does take place. Often, but not always, the further claim is made that such a privileged site of radical freedom must be protected against the putative orthodoxies associated with new immigrant communities. Let's let that claim stand for the moment, since it carries with it a host of presuppositions that I'll be trying to understand later in this paper. But let's remember from the outset that this is a suspect formulation, one that is regularly made by a state discourse that seeks to produce distinct notions of sexual minorities and distinct communities of new immigrants within a temporal trajectory that makes Europe and its state apparatus into the avatar of both freedom and modernity.
In my view, the problem is not that there are different temporalities in different cultural locations (and that, accordingly, we simply need to broaden our cultural frameworks to become more internally complicated and capacious). That form of pluralism accepts the distinct and wholistic framing for each of these so-called `communities' and then poses an artificial question about how they might overcome their tensions. Rather, the problem is that certain notions of relevant geopolitical space – including the spatial boundedness of minority communities – are circumscribed by this story of a progressive modernity; certain notions of what `this time' can and must be are similarly construed on the basis of circumscribing the `where' of its happening. I should make clear that I am not opposing all notions of `moving forward' and am certainly not against all versions of `progress' but only that I am profoundly influenced, if not dislocated, by Walter Benjamin's graphic means for rethinking progress and the time of the `now', and that that is part of what I am bringing to bear on a consideration of sexual politics. I want to say: a consideration of sexual politics now and, of course, that is true, but perhaps my thesis is simply that there can be no consideration of sexual politics without a critical consideration of the time of the now. My claim will be that thinking through the problem of temporality and politics in this way may well open up a different approach to cultural difference, one that eludes the claims of pluralism and intersectionality alike.
The point is not just to become mindful of the temporal and spatial presuppositions of some of our progressive narratives, the ones that inform various parochial, if not structurally racist, political optimisms of various kinds. But rather to show that our understanding of what is happening `now' is bound up with a certain geo-political restriction on imagining the relevant borders of the world and even a refusal to understand what happens to our notion of time if we take the problem of the border (what crosses the border, and what does not, and the means and mechanisms of that crossing or impasse) to be central to any understanding of contemporary political life. The contemporary map of sexual politics is crossed, I would say, with contentions and antagonisms, ones that define the time of sexual politics as a fractious constellation; the story of progress is but one strand within that constellation, and it is one that has, for good reason, come into crisis.
My interest is to focus on how certain secular conceptions of history and of what is meant by a `progressive' position within contemporary politics rely on a conception of freedom that is understood to emerge through time, and which is temporally progressive in its structure (Asad 2003; Connolly 2002; Jakobsen and Pellegrini 2004; Mahmood 2005). This link between freedom and temporal progress is often what is being indexed when pundits and public policy representatives refer to concepts like modernity or, indeed, secularism. I don't mean to that say this is all they mean, but I do want to say that a certain conception of freedom is invoked precisely as a rationale and instrument for certain practices of coercion, and this places those of us who have conventionally understood ourselves as advocating a progressive sexual politics in a rather serious bind.
In this context, I want to point to a few sites of political debate involving both sexual politics and anti-Islamic practice that suggest that certain ideas of the progress of `freedom' facilitate a political division between progressive sexual politics and the struggle against racism and the discrimination against religious minorities. One of the issues that follows from such a reconstellation is that a certain version and deployment of `freedom' can be used as an instrument of bigotry and coercion. This happens most frightfully when women's sexual freedom or the freedom of expression and association for lesbian and gay people is invoked instrumentally to wage cultural assaults on Islam that reaffirm US sovereign violence. Must we rethink freedom and its implication in the narrative of progress, or must we resituate? My point is surely not to abandon freedom as a norm, but to ask about its uses, and to consider how it must be rethought if it is to resist its coercive instrumentalization in the present and have another meaning that might remain useful for a radical democratic politics.
In the Netherlands, for instance, new applicants for immigration are asked to look at photos of two men kissing, and asked to report whether those photos are offensive, whether they are understood to express personal liberties, and whether the viewers are willing to live in a democracy that values the rights of gay people to open and free expression.
Those who are in favour of the new policy claim that acceptance of homosexuality is the same as embracing modernity. We can see in such an instance how modernity is being defined as sexual freedom, and the particular sexual freedom of gay people is understood to exemplify a culturally advanced position as opposed to one that would be deemed pre-modern. It would seem that the Dutch government has made special arrangements for a class of people who are considered presumptively modern. The presumptively modern includes the following groups who are exempted from having to take the test: European Union nationals, asylum-seekers and skilled workers who earn more than €45,000 per year. Also exempt are citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland, where presumably homophobia is not to be found or where, rather, importing impressive income levels clearly preempts concerns over importing homophobia.
In the Netherlands, of course, this movement has been brewing for some time. The identification of gay politics with cultural and political modernity was effected within European politics by Pym Fortuyn, the gay and overtly anti-Islamic politician who was gunned down by a radical environmentalist in the winter of 2002. A similar conflict was also dramatized in the work and the death of Theo van Gogh, who came to stand not for sexual freedom, but for principles of political and artistic freedom. Of course, I am in favour of such freedoms, but it seems that I must also ask whether such freedoms for which I have struggled, and continue to struggle, are being instrumentalized to establish a specific cultural grounding, secular in a particular sense, that functions as a prerequisite for admission into the polity as an acceptable immigrant. In what follows, I will hope to elaborate further what this cultural grounding is, how it functions as both transcendental condition and teleological aim, and how it complicates any firm distinctions we might have between the secular and the religious. In this instance, a set of cultural norms are being articulated that are considered preconditions of citizenship. We might accept the view that there are always such norms, and even accept that full civic and cultural participation for anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, be included among such norms. But are such norms not only articulated differentially, but also instrumentally, in order to shore up particular religious and cultural preconditions that affect other sorts of exclusions? One is not free to reject this cultural grounding since it is the basis, even the presumptive prerequisite, of the operative notion of freedom, and freedom is articulated through a set of graphic images, figures that come to stand for what freedom can and must be. And so a certain paradox ensues in which the coerced adoption of certain cultural norms becomes a requisite for entry into a polity that defines itself as the avatar of freedom. Is the Dutch government engaging in civic pedagogy through its defense of lesbian and gay sexual freedom, and would it impose such a test on the right-wing white supremacists, such as Vlaams Blok, who are congregated on its border with Belgium and who have called for a cordon sanitaire around Europe to keep out the non-Europeans? Is it administering tests to lesbian and gay people to make sure they are not offended by the visible practices of Muslim minorities? If the civic integration exam were part of a larger effort to foster cultural understanding about religious and sexual norms for a diverse Dutch population, one that included new pedagogies and funding for public arts projects dedicated to this purpose, we might then understand cultural `integration' in a different sense, but certainly not if it is administered coercively. In this case, though, the question raised is: does the exam become the means for testing tolerance or does it carry out an assault against religious minorities, part of a broader effort on the part of the state to demand coercively that they rid themselves of their traditional religious beliefs and practices in order to gain entry into the Netherlands? Is this a liberal defense of my freedom for which I should be pleased, or is my `freedom' freedom, or is my freedom being used as an instrument of coercion, one that seeks to keep Europe white, pure, and `secular' in ways that do not interrogate the violence that underwrites that very project? Certainly, I want to be able to kiss in public – don't get me wrong. But do I want to require that everyone watch and approve before they acquire rights of citizenship? I think not.
If the prerequisites of the polity require either cultural homogeneity or a model of cultural pluralism, then either way, the solution is figured as assimilation to a set of cultural norms that are understood as internally self-sufficient and self-standing. These norms are not in conflict, open to dispute, in contact with other norms, contested or disrupted in a field in which a number of norms converge – or fail to converge – in an ongoing way. The presumption is that culture is a uniform and binding groundwork of norms, and not an open field of contestation, temporally dynamic; this groundwork only functions if it is uniform or integrated, and that desideratum is required, even forcibly, for something called modernity to emerge and take hold. Of course, we can already see that this very specific sense of modernity entails an immunization against contestation, that it is maintained through a dogmatic grounding, and that already we are introduced to a kind of dogmatism that belongs to a particular secular formation. Within this framework the freedom of personal expression, broadly construed, relies upon the suppression of a mobile and contestatory understanding of cultural difference, and that the issue makes clear how state violence invests in cultural homogeneity as it applies its exclusionary policies to rationalize state policies towards Islamic immigrants.