Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Excerpt from Decapitating Cinema (the last)

Cinema is more than moving photography, more than motion picture. It is also and essentially a form of writing, a scripting of phantasmatic experience. To understand its decollative logic thus requires thinking the relation between beheading and script: a form of writing that is essentially non-inscriptional, that removes itself from the written, the extra-written filmic thing that is rather an object of writing beyond writing, a kind of unfinishing postscript. The relation between the two (beheading and script) is immediately obvious as a pure intersection of what is removed: the identity of head and script as something whose removal is at the center of cinematic event. Of course innumerable things are removed in the course of cinematic production. Most are of the order of scaffolding or worldly supports. Only head and script, I will posit, are essentially removed in cinema, removed at a profound level or intensive degree that only they can (and must) be removed in order for cinema to take place.
           The removal of head and script do not happen one after the other, but are operative as one continuous movement: a confiscation of script that sets in motion the beheaded cinematic subject as re-emergent scriptor. Script is not read or interpreted from or through a film. Rather it is written anew through the severing of the head of the one who witnesses it, who sees it with understanding, a severing whose efficient cause is the removal of script itself. Script corresponds, basically, to what is supposed to happen. That is what it encodes. But for it to happen in film, that is, for the movie to virtually event rather than only masqueradingly present its happening, script must be confiscated in a manner that seamlessly installs the viewer’s severed head (the post-capital perceptual center that is mobiley captured by the cameral effect) as its ‘intimate’ spontaneous speaker. It is the efficiency and cleanness of this confiscation that constitutes the cinematic art, a causing-by-stealing-to-more-impressively-reappear whose perfection equates to keeping our trunkless heads, like still spinning tops, speaking as long as possible. Good cinema is like a good beheading. The executioner decapitates the victim in one clean stroke and raises the head, liminally still living (enjoying the movie), for all to see. Bad cinema is like a bad beheading. The headsman botches the job, pathetically butchering the victim so that their head, when raised aloft, has already flown the realm of being theirs (not enjoying the movie) and is only part of a corpse. In one direction, cinema heads toward hagiographic cephalophory, the killing of someone who outlives their being beheaded in a dramatic, eternalizing way. In the other direction, cinema heads towards stillborn, merely staged execution, the beheading of someone who is already dead.           
         This is why, after the confiscation of Hallaj’s prayer for martyrdom, the Sufi’s severed head remains speaking for the duration of a feature-length film:

In his pocket they found a sheet of paper on which was written in his own hand the verse of the Throne (Qur’an 2:256), followed by this prayer (du’‑­a’): ‘O God, inure my heart to submit to You, cut away from my spirit all that is not You, teach me Your Supreme Name (ism a’zam), grant me whatever You permit and deprive me of whatever You forbid, give me what no one cares about, through the truth of H.M.S.’.Q. [Sura 42 initials], and make me die a martyr of K.H.I.’.S [Sura 19 initials].’ They confiscated this paper, and then he was beheaded. The trunk remained erect for two hours and the head fell between his two legs, repeating a single phrase ‘Only One! O Only One!’ And when people drew near him, they saw that his blood spilling on the ground had written ‘God! God! God!’ in thirty-five places.[1]

As the number of times the martyr’s body bloodily exscribes the name of God corresponds to the conventional maximum number of sequences in a modern sound film,[2] so the scene allegorizes the maximal production of cinematic script as an effective martyrdom, the killing of someone whose dying gives witness, in the mode of spiritual birth, to what is never born and never dies. The fate of place in this scenario is fantastic, occupying an indescribable third zone between the singular topical stillness of the beheaded trunk and the multiplication of sites for the divine name that become legible in nearness. This zone could be called nearness itself, or the nearness of nearness – only the word would appear to locate it on a spectrum between presence and remoteness, losing sight of the fact that for this kind of nearness, both the absolutely here and the infinitely remote are equally proximate. What gives or grounds this ‘nearness’ (which might be written nearness in order distinguish it from ordinary spatial nearness and address its sonic quality: the auricular hyper-intimacy of a musical becoming-immanent of the visible) is screen, khoric placeless place identified by Lovecraft as “neither wall nor absence of wall,” the barrier behind everything that all vision sees through without passage. Screen is the immediate material analog of the substantial invisible unity of all things, the unity that consists, not in their being-one, but in their being ‘on screen’ or com-positionally with the only One, the one-without-number which is thinkable solely through topological error, for instance, by conceiving the One as either ‘behind’ the screen, beyond it, or as screen ‘itself’. As intimated in Polanski’s parting shot-gaze of Macbeth’s head (see note 6), the martyric vision of the beheaded constitutes a simultaneous being-seen and becoming-eye of the screen of the real. The simultaneity of this being-becoming signals the fulfillment of script-to-screen transition, the arrival of the eye into radical theory or realization of vision as very root of the seen. As Eckhart says, “the eye in which I see God is the same eye in which God sees me.”[3] Here, in a vision whose eye is the organ of a radically singular non-individuated identity, Dionysius’s “being neither oneself nor someone else” (Mystical Theology, 1001A), one – whoever that is – wholly and really is the writing of the name of the invisible. Joining camera and projector in the single unitive eye of a severed body, the beheaded mystic prophesies cinema, without reference, by being it, by incarnating in the dilated space of its scission “a certain type of filming capable of . . . letting us travel to the confines of creation through the simple juxtaposition of a small number of trembling images [i.e. thirty-five signatures of God]. In this radical impressionism, the never-seen would be within our grasp. The cinema would become the perfect instrument for the revelation of possible worlds which coexist right alongside our own.”[4] That is, an instrument of revelation re-lying on nothing other than being what it reveals (re-veils), a scaffold built on the nothingness of life itself or its being-cinema. Shutter of the world. “Something had happened to the lighting, there was something wrong with the sun, and a section of the sky was shaking.”[5]

[1] Louis Massignon, The Passsion of Al-Hallaj, trans. Herbert Mason, 4 vols., Bollingen XCVIII (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 2.18.1
[2] “A sound film would most commonly contain between fourteen and thirty-five sequences” (David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema [New York: Columbia University Press, 1985], 62). Many of Stanley Kubrick’s films, for example, have “the same number of narrative units: thirty-five” (Mario Falsetto, Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis, 2nd ed. [Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001], 8).
[3] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 57.
[4] Raúl Ruiz, Poetics of Cinema, trans. Brian Holmes (Paris: Dis Voir, 2005), 90.
[5] Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, trans. Dmitri Nabokov (New York: Capricorn, 1959), 219.