On Narrativity and the Structure of the TemporalPosted: April 12, 2011
I’ve been thinking about my relationship to the narrative and what that structure means for temporal art. Before this, I had been pretty exclusively concerned with the idea of the medium specific in the digital realm but this concern with medium specificity qua itself resolves only into a formalism. An empty formalism is something that must be avoided in a medium that requires a temporal movement. Often, the formalist experiment exists empty of any other content and so the problem arises of engagement through time. What I mean by this is that when film or video engages in formalist experiments, in a way, they condense the idea of the medium into an instant thus producing something analogous to a painting or a sculpture, that is, something that exists in a realm outside time through its presentation of a stasis. The problem in temporal art of doing this is that the audience usually expects the work to be in a state of change and flux and hence the need for its temporal movement. The formalist experiment is thus important inasmuch as it teases out the possibilities of a medium qua itself in a sort of purity but this is only a first step that will, of necessity, be difficult to produce in a way that has broad appeal or engagement outside of its conceptual or static element. Of course, the subverting of the expectation of a medium can be seen as its own project, however, in my case, I am interested in preserving the temporal movement.
These novel processes of the digital must be made subservient to a greater idea. As I’ve mentioned before, these processes can be seen in the light of ways in which they make the digital representation present or perform disjunctions from an idea of a cohesive reality. There are older methods taken from film theory as far as how the sound and image relate to one another and theories of montage which can serve as important tools as well towards a greater idea. The important factor is that these methods are used for the goal of eliciting the complexities of reality as opposed to being used towards their simplification or homogenization. The use of compositing as it is used in Hollywood for instance is usually towards the goal of obscuring its presence and through this producing a reified product attempting to hide its process of production and presence as much as possible.
The media one uses always has implications that underly its being. In the case of the digital, you have the ability of an infinitely fungible and distributed text as never before that may potentially exist in a non-hierarchal structure and you have the flattening of an aesthetic plane so that many different types of art can now be, in a way, simulated in the digital or re-produced but in a way that opens them up to difference which does not end. In a way, the digital cannot be divorced from the context of the Internet where its form may slip into or meld with and the fact that the object of art is now no longer real or necessary in the realm of the digital.
I’ve gotten a bit off topic here, but the previous is all to say that a formalism can nevertheless take up specific questions about the role of a medium in modernity and make implications about this so with the digital, you already have a medium that through its being has implications of non-hierarchal structures and cooperative engagement with a text and the subversion of ideas of private property and ownership.
But to return to the idea of how to structure art that moves through a temporal field, I suppose I have become obsessed with this question because of something that I cannot let go of. I do not yet wish to engage in interactive art, static formal experiments, or installation type art; I want to preserve a temporal movement that I can control. In this sense, it may be said that I wish to preserve the power of the author and the audience as passive recipient but I consider this more as a desire for the construction of a text that can show to another the thought process of myself or lead into an area that opens certain questions. The text is there not to act as a unitary voice or to instruct you as teacher or guide but rather to take you on a journey filled with openings and sutures.
How does all of this relate back to narrativity. It has seemed to me for a while that the narrative dramatic film has often worked towards reactionary ends by constructing and preserving complete subjects and meta-narratives of our place in society which serve the rulers or that they serve as petty distractions. This can be true I suppose, but the text of the narrative or the story in cinema is, especially through the implications provided by the camera angle, psychoanalytic par excellence as it produces the conflict among relationships and this is why you see Zizek usually analyzing popular films for it is in these that you have the representation of the Subject. The narrative, keeping this in mind, can thus be structured towards a goal of incohesiveness and disjunction by using the same tropes of the standard narrative and this is what many of the great films of art cinema have done. Construct narratives that open rather than clamp down upon questions and show the complexity of reality. In this register, the film still appears subservient to the story which is subservient to whatever it is you are hoping to show via this story and so technique that engages with the medium also functions a subservient role to the representation of subjectivity and so on.
I, however, am not a collaborator or a story-writer and so I do not see myself as going forward into any narrative organization of my work except inasmuch as it may function as a temporal alibi but is this the only option for a temporal alibi that serves to move someone through time? That is the question that I am interested in. What are alternate methods of moving others through time in the mode of the moving image? In the documentary form, you see an alternate mode of movement though this is often done with a grand narrative that assumes the voice of knowing in the film and thus often functions through the preservation of a hierarchy between artist and audience and functions didactically and simplistically, often able to prescribe action or solutions at some point. The documentary that ends in this way ends analogously to a fiction film with the happy ending by resolving tension when the tension, in fact, cannot be resolved (at least not so easily as can be shown in a film). A voice can contextualize images into cohesion or it can act as just one of many elements pulsating together. Considering that my interest lies more firmly in the political, I am more interested in alternate modes of producing documentary that opens up questions without attempting to simplify or answer them.
So this ends with no real solutions or answers to anything but just my questions about them and the general direction in which I am curious about going into. I suppose I need to return to reading theory and watch more films and videos as I only encountered all this to a limited extent in my undergraduate experience. From there, the time will come for formalist aesthetic experiments and experiments in alternate documentary practice and who knows what else. I must keep in mind Godard (from Weekend to Je Vous Salue Marie especially) and Dusan Makavejev as always.