Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Meshes (notes, discursus)
Motor co-ordination (or lack thereof) of Deren's figure (in dream). This is a film abt. dream experiences, a descent into Bergson's virtual as it is made / becomes actual, as dream images become actualized, “triggered” or “thrown up” as such: "And it may occur that, of an afternoon, these restive captives of memory – refreshed by new contexts and released by the lax discipline of sleep – may triumphantly regain the province of actuality."*
It is also a Bardo (taking my lead from Toufic's work on film)... a film form for reincarnation, recurrent resurrection (eternal return), where through / upon / within dream Deren's figure is reborn (dream within dream within dream) and dies (or is, rather, ‘suicided’? / substituted by her lover)
So the end does not feel like an "end" proper, the one to which all good “psychological” dramas lead (and as much of Deren's writing shows (cf. "Magic is New") she was constantly struggling to describe an "experimental" cinema against "psychological," action-driven narrative film), but as Deren demonstrates by her bifurcating "narrative" structure only a possible end, one of many ends.
One can imagine the multiple lives / moments of Meshes’ protagonist through a continuous film sequence / montage -- both the life in which she commits suicide / is suicided and that of other percepts, movements, emotions etc. As in dream experience we should not assume any of these moments are of a continuous identity, life or body... but of an accreted body coherent only in multiplicity and discontinuity.
Deren's woman is a sleepwalker, a sonambulist for whom the (cinematic) world is an objective "people mover" conveying her up stairs, providing wind-sources, creating the illusion she is being thrown about by camera movement... Her movements become necessary, or necessity's opposite -- where the will / effort is not active but the person is acted upon.
Aleatory in resentiment? Reactive? Should one be said to be reactive in all dream states insofar as they are felt involuntarily and not ‘re-acted’? "As a result of his type the man of ressentiment does not 'react': his reaction is endless, it is felt instead of being acted."**
What may complicate a reading of Deren’s figure in Meshes of the Afternoon as a figure of ressentiment (among other things) is Deren’s own commitments to dance as well as her crucial move towards the “dance film” after Meshes. We might even say that Meshes is already a dance film, or at least a film about movement, insofar as it describes a woman moving as a body within spaces, and amidst objects and people by the particular “magic” of montage, camera work and special effects creative of “unreal” spatial and temporal configurations.
In lieu of Nietzsche’s privileging of dance as a “metaphor for thought” (Badiou)*** and as a primary image of “eternal return,” can we view Deren’s films after Meshes as a resurrection / reincarnation of the body ‘suicided’ in Meshes's final scene?
It is interesting to read Deren’s descriptions of her films as a series. Typically, the filmmaker reserves Meshes as a first effort nevertheless significant, but not as important to her as later films; she also reserves Meshes as a film about “emotional” complexity. Deren’s next film, At Land, she claims to be ostensibly “about” stable identity in changing environments, and the films afterward to address specific problems of dance: “Choreography for Camera” how camera / editing will be part of the dance; “Ritual in Transfigured Time” how a “widow” can become a “bride,” things their transfigured (substantiated?) inverses; Meditation on Violence presents a furthering of the problem of the camera person / editor / filmmaker participant in the dance, how camera itself dances, as well as the sense of dance coming from “unconstrained interiority” (Badiou); her last film before Divine Horsemen, The Very Eye of Night, I read as addressing a dance beyond interiority and intersubjectivity towards the cosmic (unconstrained exterior).
The last move of Deren’s shortlived career is obviously towards experimental and participatory ethnography, where the move towards exterior is thrown back on interior thru moments of possession, possession being a meeting between immortal exterior and interior human in the mortal body of the human being. Seeing Divine one is reminded, finally, that Deren’s main concern is with movement, and how the camera and editing can give appropriate form to the singular psychotic-hysterical moment of possession (the body “jerking” about, the wide eyes tending to roll back).
As with the case of other artists who “died young” (on time?) one wonders where else there was for Deren to go, possession seeming a telos for the movements of her films about movement… or a coming full circle insofar as her primordial image, her primitive scene, may be the “signature” shot from Meshes of a woman’s leg stepping by means of cuts across four different terrains (beach, asphalt road, carpeted room, lawn with tall grass), and this movement by cut constitutes a movement across eternity to kill oneself the very inverse of genetic coming-to-be (where in genetic survival one has “beat the odds” to live, here one has beat the same odds to die).
The move that concerns me in the film, and that I imagine may trouble “feminist” film critics is that from the bedroom where the woman confronts her lover, to the objective shot where we find the woman dead, broken glass surrounding her on the floor. In the bedroom scene, Deren’s woman of course draws a knife on her male counterpart only to discover him an image (photogram), and to shatter the image as though it were a mirror. It is the glass of this broken photogram that we see collecting on the shores of a beach in the next scene, and in the scene after that piled at the feet of the dead woman. A psuedo-psychoanalytic reading of this scenario may have it that Deren has displaced the object of her murderous aggression / desire (her male counterpart) upon her self; in Nietzsche, such an interiorizing displacement of drives, may be read as an instance of ressentiment, where that which is re-feeling is that unwilling to “re-act,” to express feelings actively towards a present verticality of eternity, to express towards forgetting where forgetting is a means of “health” or joy, a moment decided and divided (bifurcating) in eternal return.
The final image of Meshes, I read as deeply ambivalent. It is an image that fortuitously presents itself to me as I have been reading about the situation of women “suicide bombers” / “martyrs” in Palestine and elsewhere. If journalist Barbara Victor is correct in her assessment of the four women martyrs she discusses in her book, Army of Roses, these women are the victims of a double-bind, whereby to not act as “martyrs” they forego the same rights / honors as their male counterparts in a society in which women struggle for gender equality; on the other hand, Victor makes the case that the women she discusses martyr themselves in last resort to find exonerated “ways out” from limited social roles. Are these women not “suicided” then in the sense that Artaud uses the term to discuss Van Gogh's death? The gramatically awkward term “suicided” presents an impasse: that what would seem to be an act committed by a self of agency is in fact committed by that self as the agent of larger social desires and mores. In this case, the general desire (or particular, insofar as it may be that of a privileged authoritative leadership or hierarchial belief-structure) both to defeat a collective enemy (Israel and collaborators / supporters) while also to maintain conservative social values. To suicide someone, as in the case of Van Gogh, is to direct the energies of self against the self, and for such a direction of energy – of drives and emotions – to end up destroying that self, "self-destructing". This suiciding direction of energy may describe the “emotional complex” of Deren’s protagonist in Meshes; it may also belong to the case of women not allowed to “re-act,” to “move,” or to “dance” insofar as they belong to a culture utterly humiliated by an enemy, and which would use this humiliation as a means of regulating desires and values.
An ambivalence about the position of Palestinian women lingers for me in Deren’s description of her own figure having to pass through all of time to kill herself: “What I meant when I planned that four stride sequence was that you have to come a long way – from the very beginning of time – to kill yourself, like the first life emerging from the primeval waters.”**** Such a suicide is a joy not the opposite but inverse of the joy to live. If Nietzchse’s ethics is founded on “dice throws” in eternal recurrence, that an individual should act as if that action should be committed for all time, and that to make decisions, as such, is to affirm aleatory-becoming as the only means of being; then can one not destroy themselves willfully as a dice throw, and therefore in ethical affirmation?… Such a view of suicide would seem to tread against the foundations of Western philosophy, where Spinoza’s notion of the “conative” as a being’s effort to prolong its existence indefinitely remains central, if not a priori.
*Maya Deren from a letter to James Card, April 19th, 1955
**from Deleuze's *Nietzsche & Philosophy*
***from Alain Badiou's "Dance as Metaphor for Thought" in *Handbook of Inaesthethics*
****Maya Deren, from 1960 “program notes”*