Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Into Bride: Inventing a Resurrectional Cinema (Paper)
If I had the time here, I would like to provide a taxonomy of Maya Deren’s cinema – a cinema that for many of us who make and care for post-cinematic media may be said to be the mother of us all. Something that has seemed curious to me for a while now is that Deren’s work is not addressed by Gilles Deleuze’s *Cinema* books, those hieroglyphs the philosopher himself describes as “an attempt at the classification of images and signs.” The closest Deleuze may come to addressing Deren, arguably, is in his analyses of Beckett’s *Film*, in which Buster Keaton finds himself in an objective cinematic space that one might call Derenesque. Then again, we may also begin to imagine what Deleuze may have had to say about Deren when he discusses those inverse geniuses of the Hollywood musical: Kelly and Astaire.
This extraordinary exclusion (or occlusion) is surprising to the extent that Deren – as a critic, poet, and filmmaker – like Deleuze, privileged cinematic images *as* ideas and not merely as the expressions of a psychological content or data. Among the image-ideas Deren presents through her works, the most insistent of these seem the images of movements, movements eventually extensive with dance and ecstatic psychoses. This concern for movement – for movement *of* and *in* cinematic space – originates in Deren’s first mature work, a work the filmmaker herself describes as an “emotional complex”: her ’43 collaboration with Alexander Hammid, *Meshes of the Afternoon*.
One of the ostensible concerns of this symposium is for “gendered spatiality”. For the remainder of this presentation, I would like to briefly consider how space is gendered in Deren’s *Meshes of the Afternoon*, and how Deren’s film exceeds problems of gender as problems all too often of the merely identificatory and human.
--Meshes may very literally be said to be gendered insofar as the three figures we see in the film (excluding Deren’s shadow, which picks a flower off the road in the opening shot; and her multiple body doubles) are Deren herself, Hammid, and a cloaked figure who wears a mirror on its face or, as is more likely the case, with a mirror *for* a face. Beyond this enigmatic and foreboding third figure we are, then, dealing with a binary relation: man/woman, and man/woman specifically in erotic encounter.
--It does not become clear that this is an erotic encounter until we see the couple ascend a staircase to a bedroom where the two lie down on a bed, and where the man caresses the woman, and the woman responds, amorously at first, however eventually by drawing a knife murderously from under her pillow. What occurs after this is interesting: upon the drawing of the knife we see a photogramme of Hammid, his medium close-up double exposed with a shot of a mirror the knife appears to shatter. Cut to the mirror-shards falling into a tide, sticking to the sand, and finally a subjective shot from the man's perspective of the woman dead on a chair with the mirror shards covering her body and scattered around her feet.
How can we read what I can not help but read as a suicide?
In Artaud’s seminal work on Van Gogh he speaks of the artist ‘suicided by society’: that is, put into a situation where her own vitalities, forces, and desires are turned against her by the reactive forces of her society. The result of this inward turning we may consider a specific category of suicide itself, if not suicide’s essence, and the very opposite or inverse of Spinozan conativity -- that is, the costriving of beings towards production, reasonable discource, and joy.
Elsewhere, in terms of the situation of women “suicide bombers” or "Martyrs" (as they are called by their communities) I have wondered if the elusive “emotion complex” of Deren’s Meshes embodies what I will call, for lack of a better term, suicidal becoming or emergence in reverse.
--Thru Nietzsche’s Zarathustra we get the dice throw as an ethics of decision and consequence, where the thrower wills what she is and, perhaps more importantly, what she does, for all time, that is, for eternity. However this eternity is not Plato’s eternity of transcendental archetypes, but what Deleuze recognizes as the “disjunctive synthesis” of instances constitutive of Universal Becoming as Cosmic Duration.
--Like Nietzche, through his notion of “creative evolution,” Henri Bergson (one of the few philosophers to whom Deren refers in her published writings) imagines a similar eternity whereby life forms continually become actualized – invented or anewed -- within a duration both universal and heterogeneous.
Deren’s Meshes deals radically with gender insofar as it imagines radically the situation of a woman suicided. This woman I actually believe the filmmaker to repetedly resurrect thru the subsequent movements of her films, and most clearly in *Ritual in Transfigured Time*, where Deren presents the transformation of what she calls “widow into bride.” Is the widow of Transfigure not the widow of herself, the woman who dies, suicided in Meshes, and who remains at the close of Meshes to be resurrected: by movement, by dance, by spirit-possession, and, mainly, by cinematic space itself?
Meshes (and all of Deren’s films for that matter) finally present a beyond of gender as Deren posits that beyond in creative difference, and this is insofar as she imagines the suicide of her protagonist (and a possible being-suicided) as the very inverse of genetic coming-to-be. Deren herself expresses this wonderfully in a 1955 letter to James Card: “As the girl with the knife rises there is a close-up of her foot as she begins striding. The first step is in the sand (with suggestion of sea behind), the second stride (cut in) is in grass, third is on pavement, and the fourth is on the rug, and then the camera cuts up to her head with the hand with the knife descending towards the sleeping girl. What I meant when I planned that four stride sequence was that you have to come a long way – from the beginning of time – to kill yourself, like the first life emerging from the primeval waters.”
*Presented at "The Inventing Space of Cinema," curated by Caroline Koebel, March 1st 2006 @ SUNY-Buffalo.