SPEAKER 1: College University of London. She's currently developing a book-length study entitled "Arab Cinema Travels," which grows out of previous research published in the journals Screen and Camera Obscura, as well as her co-edited anthology, The Arab Avante-garde, forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press. She's also the author of Off Key-- When Film and Music Won't Work Together, and the editor or Movie Music, the film reader, and with Glen Davis Team TV.
I've discovered Kay's work relatively recently and I found it absolutely invaluable for rethinking the ways in which we imagine cinema within the context of cinema media studies and broader conversations about globalization. So I'm very much looking forward to her talk today. The title is "Red and Green Stars in Broad Daylight-- Syrian, Soviet Journeys Through Cinema."
KAY DICKINSON: I can't live up to that piece. A word on the title thing first. Stars in Broad Daylight is one of Syria's better known films, although you'll easily be forgiven if you've never heard of it, an issue I want to talk about today. The phrase also means seeing stars in the cartoonish post-accident sense, or more generally when experiencing a shock or a blow. Seeing actual stars in broad daylight is largely impossible without metaphors, leaps of faith, or special equipment. A return to Harry might manage this towards the end of today's paper.
One day about four years ago in the Syrian National Library, dead beat from leaping through so many bureaucratic hurdles to actually watch some Syrian cinema, I experience a similar jolt if now of an intellectual order. An [? OBI ?] redeemed that this institution lies directly on the road to Damascus. Trolling through the card indexes, a certain word insistently cropped up in relation to Syrian cinema-- [? sufiati. ?]
I admit that despite myself, I might have been on the lookout for some undiscovered local theoretical booty to drag back as a trophy to English language academia. I say this because I made a very telling amateur translators mistakes in presuming that [? sufiati ?] might have something to do with Sufism, that most philosophical of Islam's branches. [? Sufiati ?] is actually the abject poor Soviet and Arabic.
What emerged very rapidly and was logical, had I given it proper, less pre-disposed attention was a story of fast film friendship between former Soviet states and Syria, whose emblem is the green star. Scholarship to film schools in Moscow, Kiev and Prague were extended to Syrians throughout the late 1960s until, well, things changed over that.
These were just one outcome of a plethora of routinely re-negotiated agreements signed by Syria and the Warsaw Pact states. The 1980 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR, which largely deals with matters of military and diplomatic even especially mentions cinema as a low caliber exchange. So it's no wonder then that in the decade or so before hand, the extensive overseas education program provided for Syria, and other left-leaning newly post-Colonial parts of the world would incorporate film training.
Syria, with it's defiantly non-Communist form of outer capitalism was always much more independent than a textbook client state. However at the cinema, ideological sentiments happily overlapped. The Ba'ath party constitution explicitly links education and revolution to the industrialization process, including to [? better ?] film. This is one of the few political manifestos that actually mentions movie culture, probably the only one that has laterally become a foundational instrument of government.
Briefly put, the Ba'ath party-- so the Ba'athist logic that enveloped these film workers within their national context promoted what its creators dubbed Arab socialism, state ownership and planned production, 3/4 of the GDP eventually being nationalized, limited private land holding with little scope for turning profit, state provision, health care, education, and the like, that aimed to level out the inequities of wealth and a Pan-Arab nationalism that was strongly anti-Colonial in flavor.
By 1969, cinematic output was state run under the auspices of the National Film Organization, which also guaranteed jobs for those graduates returning from Eastern Europe. Without so strong a need to compete with market forces, this is a group of films that is ponderous, politicized, subtle and often highly critical of the regime that funds it.
It's crucial to acknowledge the [? ostensible ?] and time limits of discussing these bonds now. We know the fate of the Soviet Union, yet the Syrian framing of cinema has remained largely as is, albeit with encroachment from a local private sector and a strong national TV industry. What does it mean for Syrian cinema to have taken a particular socialist path and to still be on it.
Working chronologically, or rather with chronology, my first time focus will be on moments when this crowd was crowded with traffic and skills and ideas. I want to think about how we can understand influence here. Now it isn't always the case, but Syrian cinema can look a little bit like this. This is from a 1970 by Omar Amiralay and it's a short documentary called "Film Essay on the Euphrates Dam." And hopefully--
SPEAKER 2: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].
KAY DICKINSON: And Amiralay is probably the only major Syrian director not to have been trained in Eastern Europe. But nonetheless, his self-proclaimed quote, "Hymn to the Crane"--
[LAUGHTER] Is rife with both political and stylistic montage. Financing for the dam, a major development the provides irrigation as well as hydro-electricity, was green-lit by the Soviet Union within one short month of the 1966 leftist Ba'ath coup. Further [INAUDIBLE] machinery and sculpturally noble Bedouin folly and later more forthright collision editing splices local children to ancient Assyrian statues. Montage of this order is no stranger to connecting aesthetics with-- or rather, as-- political economy, or aspiring to bounce it into new realms.
The rationale prompting the of the clip, though, was my need to register the only portions of silence and the only portion of dialogue that's actually in the whole movie. So the rest of the movie looks like it did at the beginning really. So the hunt for analogous technique might also track the [INAUDIBLE], the extras, with it's affinity for Czech new wave, or the official language, and narrative pre-occupation.
Or Night of the Jackals quotation of the Soviet co-production I am Cuba. A particular geography of education, cultural production, and it's dissemination emerges, one that might better help us in understanding the complexities of arty capitalist forms of creativity. But what I'm cautious of here is how to [INAUDIBLE] a forging of a chain of influence, would adjust towards a client state model of innovation and imitation, one that restricts us from reading movies like Film Essay. And so then as an initiative to share in beliefs and struggle in human rights.
Reading it as imitation would also imply a politics of ownership, which the daily curtails the political potential of analysis. What instead then? How to tread surely through the littered minefield of designation, solidarity, degraded copy, always [INAUDIBLE] hybridity, compliance, theft, or happenstance. The Moroccan philosopher [? Abir ?] [? Kabirtebe. ?] offers some sage advice here.
He advocates a very [INAUDIBLE] dialecticism that foregoes the more linear chuggings of developmental history, concentrating as an alternative on such charged, largely asymmetrical interactions between geopolitical units that are proclaimed to be distinct. Let's leave for a moment what his thinking has to offer a reading of influence.
First, I want to concentrate on how his double critique models the impossible divided positions of the oppressor and the oppressed, colonizer and colonized, as they scarify the interpolated subject of the acknowledged latter. To confound and denounce the epistemologies of divorce signifies that each can be pushed to their limits, iron eyes roughly restitched together, bringing about the sorts of revealing ruptures evident in film essay.
More still when its watched alongside its companion film, 2003's A Flood in Ba'ath Country, which charts Amiralay's return to this locale, now victim to widespread environmental authoritarian damage. This critical venture is also picked up by [? Mohamed ?] [? Al Nabut's ?] poem, "An Arab Traveler in the Space Station." I'll read it now. And I'm not very good at reading poetry, but I'll give it a shot, safe in the knowledge that you probably don't need Gil Scott Heron to tell you who paid for Syria's first forays beyond the ozone layer. So this is his poem.
"Scientists and technicians, give me a ticket to the sky. I come on behalf of my grieved country, her aged, her widows, her children. Give me a ticket to the sky. I've no money, only tears. No place for me. Let me stand in the hold or on the deck. I'm a peasant. I'm used to it. I won't hurt a star. I won't be rude to a cloud. All I want to do is reach the sky as soon as I can, to put the whip in God's hand. He may stir us to revolution." So religion again.
Though [? Al Nabut ?] blasts the tightly writing conventions of Arabic poetry away with free verse and was also the screen writer for The Boarders, Syria's best-loved comedy film, however is meat enough for another paper. Let's return to [? Kabirtebe. ?] As these interplays have asserted, and as [? Kabirtebe's ?] notion of double critique insists, colonial, near colonial, or outside stimulus is always jointly concocted and can therefore be rightfully wielded as political arsenal by one presumed side just as much as another, As long as the critical and [INAUDIBLE] is maintained and the brutal actions of these histories remains evident.
Damned technology, an aesthetic register, common aspirations for nationalization, education, or social betterment of a particular ideological persuasion, the logics of their development, the casting of various roles in these tasks hold up for scrutiny the investments and influence with dubious notions of cultural or intellectual property.
How is novelty valued as an operation of market place differentiation. That's too big to answer. Sorry. Or to the collaborative actions of creativity, now more nostalgically invoked in every interview I've conducted with this particular group of film-makers-- or should I say, film workers? Film workers deliberately here not only because labor is so central to their effort as an arty thing, something we already witnessed in Film Essay on a Euphrates Dam.
Decoupling stylistic concurrence from contentions over origins and possession also allows for more sustained investigation of how both spheres of the world aim to stigmatize culture outside a particular business model and create what they deem to be a fair working condition for its laborers. The Syrian National Film Organization resides in the not for profit sector, guarantees stable civil service jobs for all those it hires, and upholds a socialist commitment to full employment and principles which are enshrined within the very aesthetics of this output.
Syrian films, such as The Night or something as smouldering, typically engross themselves in difficult chiaroscuro, nocturnal set-ups, and complex tracking in crane shots that are in no way necessary to their plots and stretch the time frame for shooting well beyond those of the average film. There's an example from a film called Nights of the [INAUDIBLE], but could find this in almost any [INAUDIBLE] Syrian film, actually, a sort of set piece like this.
SPEAKER 3: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
KAY DICKINSON: And that's it, where they go off to work. It's OK. So intricate set pieces like these declare an ethos of time and manpower-rich resources for production, highlighting the interchange between aesthetic decision-making and support for the politics of a worker's vocation. Here, the stylistic imprint of modestly tenured public sector film-making contrasts sharply with the rationalized and pressurized schedules of most other post [INAUDIBLE] cinematic production.
Typically, drawn out manufacturing is considered the preserve of wealthier projects, yet this is not the case within the working practices of the Syrian film organization, where the high salaries of the freelance approach do not intervene with these stylistic desires. Seeing this is action during my research prompted more start in broad daylight.
The typical divisive hierarchies of movie production are softened by turn-taking. Directors become script writers, even actors, depending on the project and helping out whoever needs help. Moscow-trained Ossama Mohammed and served that, quote, "Syria might very well be the last place in this world where film-maker is given license to re-shoot a sequence until it is deemed right, where time and space for editing or sound mixing of an entire film can be redone without a reconfiguration of the film's overall budget.
Furthermore, Syria is perhaps the only place in the world where a young film-maker, without significant prior experience, is provided the opportunity to make a feature length film, regardless of the viability of the film once it is released." End quotation.
That's-- we'll talk about that in a minute. More sardonically, fellow VGIK graduate Mohammad Malas exclaimed, "Time, yes. We have all the time in the world. A series completion rate of one and a half films per year, folks of a certain get up and go temperament are inclined to grow twitchy." Conceding to this frustration a little, what's the best way I can approach some benefit from my sustained, lively, optimistic, nostalgic enthusiasm for the Syrian film industry? Compiled from only the briefest of lift experience.
I'm trying to find a fitting mode of writing about it that exposes my partiality, my inexperience, my misapprehensions, but also my amazement and conviction in the possibilities it presents. For this, I'm drawing on a particular convention of Arab travel writing called [? ajer ?] which translates as miracle or wonder.
My attraction to devices from this genre stems from this larger project that I'm working on while I'm at Cornell, and that's-- well, I'm hoping it would make sense in a larger sense. But for the purposes of the current presentation, I guess I should briefly state that I consider it vital to thoroughly explore the role of the visitor in academic research. And travel writing allows you to do that, as writing, rather than assuming an impossibly expert position in relation to the subject matter.
In the medieval period, [? ajer ?] which is the plural of wonder, prominently populate the conventions and expectations of travel writing. These are moments of awe-inspiring disparity, some since proven to be fact, others heavy clusters of hearsay-- still more, such as the dog-headed humans found in Europe by the Arabs and the Ottoman Islands by Marco Polo, a downright flight from fidelity. Probably.
[? ajer ?] function not only as an allegory for the delicate trust systems which power academic authority, but also spring from what Roxanne Euben calls the conditions of intelligibility. Such procedures for managing difference in command, which pop around quite noticeable within the tides of colonial expansion and mercantilism, are not exclusive to the medieval world.
Recognizing contemporary, as well as past [? ajer ?] allows us to interrogate believability and the realms of comprehension to see how the limits of what we understand affect us and to ponder what kinds of stories we tell when we cannot make sense of something. They can see the entertainment value of relief, and its what willful suspension, crucial also to how we make and watch films.
I'm keen to acknowledge how [? ajer ?] in all our writing work to feed off what is latent within them. [? Ajer ?] fantasize and might have been and possibly could be, conceding the wishfulness of their sentiments. They collected authored-- or at least much effort is exuded in giving that impression-- as could also be said of scholarly fact.
I find [? ajer ?] erupting out of my rhetoric for detail in Syrian cinema and not, of course, without aspirations for political violence. The [? ajer ?] here is the refusal of a capitalized economy of film-making, where-- in my experience of Europe at any rate-- free labor is an essential starting point. Workers are compelled to sign away their supposed legal rights to capped minimum working weeks, where every year, people in the film industry die in accidents called by extreme fatigue.
[? Ajer ?] promote comparison and assimilation, influence again. Another characteristic of [? ajer ?] is that they're rare or inaccessible. I don't hanker as most travel writing does to fetishize exceptionally for it's own sake or the market's sake, most probably. The atypical structure of Syrian cinema instead coaxes us towards another point of double critique.
It asks the left questions about continuity in a post Soviet age and no where more pressingly that around the topics of product or circulation. A scholar like Lisa Wedeen, together with many people I've talked to off the record in Syria, would have it that these movies are nothing but safety valves for letting off dissenting hot steam into unpopulated spaces.
Opinions like these sideline the politics of labor by concentrating myopically on representation. But it's true that these films are rarely screened outside the Damascus Film festival. Although never explicitly censored, the Syrian National Film Organization doesn't seek to dispatch them into the typical capitalist mechanisms for disseminating culture globally, nor does the internet fly freely in the country.
Bypassing these dominant networks of access in the name of socialism, this material-- and here's the bind for the sympathetic researcher-- becomes the property of everyone, but no one. That's an important dilemma, encouraging a continuation of double critique from another angle. What would it mean to reconfigure distribution so that it accommodates Syrian cinema, which at present can't be downloaded or bought on DVD, least of all in Syria.
We might not-- the Syrian government might not actually want that. What if the desperation for my distinctly post Cold War students to gain a foothold in the film industry was tempered by labor models that eschewed the practices of itinerant hiring? The Ba'ath Party Constitution, no less, and unsurprisingly, considering that it was conceived by three former school teachers pronounce that quote, "intellectual work is the most sacred"-- here we go again-- "type of work and this state must protect and encourage intellectuals."
I'm not hearing too much of this in our own sector, as it's increasingly casualized.
Conversely in the Syrian-- it's OK, two more sentences-- in the Syrian National Film Organization's output, this is articulated not only in relation to, but also as manual labor. If we could allow aesthetic analysis to take some of that-- no, continue some of that into current conceptions and double critiques of their material labor and its exploitative global trade, then perhaps wonders might never cease. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: It's my pleasure to also introduce Sharon Willis. Sharon is Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies and Director of the Film and Media Studies Program at the University of Rochester. A well-known figure on the Cornell campus, Sharon received her PhD in French here after having received her BA in History of Art.
An in influential in feminist theory, film theory and visual analysis, and modern French, she serves on the editorial board of Camera Obscura for which she has edited numerous special issues, such as "Fabulous!" with an exclamation point, "Divas" parts one and two. "Camera Obscura at 30, Archiving the Past, Imagining the Future," "New Women of the Silent Screen-- China, Japan, Hollywood" and "Todd Haynes-- a Magnificent Obsession."
Her books include Male Trouble, co-edited with Constance Henley, and High Contrast-- Race and Gender in Contemporary Cinema. Her current book project is Islands in the Sun-- the Civil Rights Movement and it's Legacies in Film, 1949 to 2003. I kept my introductions for both Sharon and Kay incredibly brief so that they could use the time rather than I, but I should indicate that that's in no way a reflection of the vast number of accomplishments and points of contact with the conference team that I could have cited.
Sharon Willis' work was incredibly important for me starting out and thinking about cinema studies and the switch from literary to cinema studies, so it's a pleasure to be able to introduce her. Her talk's title today is "Lost Objects-- the Museum of Cinema."
SHARON WILLIS: Thank you so much. And thank you, Tim, especially for inviting me. I should say that all those special issues, wonderful as they were, were edited by the entire collective. So take [INAUDIBLE] of that. No images and it will become clear why.
Quote, "A civilization that's prayed to the nightmare of it's visual memory has no further need of cinema, for cinema is the art of destroying movie images." End quote. So writes Paolo Cherchi Usai, film historian and archivist, in his ominously titled book, The Death of Cinema. And still in the case of each projection within, it's coming into being actually promotes its destruction.
Film's very material nature makes it consume itself then. Left unprojected, acetate deteriorates chemically as does silver nitrate, which is also susceptible to explosive combustion. And the thresh-hold where indexicality gives way to information, where analog technologies give way to the digital ones that must rescue them in the apparently more durable form of electronic code, Cherchi Usai confronts the loss of his object.
His book turns on two questions-- what is, was, our object? What is, will be, our archive? These questions reflect preoccupations shared by film preservationists and scholars alike, and they remind us, especially in the digital age, that both the archive and the medium itself have always remained sites of transnational and global collaboration and exchange.
On what basis does one preserve an object? On the basis of losing others that the archive excludes, of course, but also by losing some of its texture. And not only the index-able traces of what it recorded, but the material traces of its own exhibition, like scratches that inscribe a memory within it. In another volume to whose tittle death is also central, Laura Mulvey recently writes that, quote, "Computer generated images create a technological uncanning, the sense of uncertainty and disorientation which has always accompanied a new technology that is not yet fully understood." End quote.
As does your Cherchi Usai's book, Death at 24 Frames a Second considers the cinemas intimate bond to mortality in its recording of time's passage, it's inscription of the index-able trace of what was once there. Like the field of film studies itself, these writers turn from however melancholy a perspective back to cinema's births.
Film seems poised to pass permanently into the archive, especially through new DVD releases that, as Mulvey points out, quote, "provide extra diegetic elements that enhance understanding of the movies of the past, shifting them from pure entertainment into a quasi museum-like status." End quote.
At the same time, Mary Ann Doane contends that, quote, "Because it seems to function first and foremost as a record of whatever happens in front of the camera, the cinema emerges from and contributes to the archival impulse of the 19th century. In it, images are stored. Time itself is stored." End quote.
But she goes on to ask, "what is it that is being archived?" Among the things cinema archives, she indicates, following Kracauer, are contingency and past-ness. Quote, "A certain passing temporal configuration." End quote. As fiction film enters the archive and shades into documentary, in as much as it registers traces of the past that exceed its own narrative product. For Kracauer, quote, "the confrontation with objects which are familiar to us for having been part and parcel of our early life is particularly stirring. Hence the peculiar, often traumatic, effect of film's resuscitating that period."
"In a flash, he writes, "the camera exposes the paraphernalia of our former existence, stripping them of the significance which originally transfigured them so that they are changed from things in their own right into invisible conduits." Digital form emphasizes the optical unconscious that emerges in the cinema as archive or archival cinema.
Since we can still a reverse movement and segment or interrupt a films original linear unfolding, the spectator becomes an editor effectively and drawn toward cinema-philia. For multi-digital technology allows us to break into the films formal structure, quote, "so that symmetry or pattern can be detached from the narrative whole or privileged moment-- from the narrative whole or a privileged moment can suddenly take on the heightened quality of a tableau."
"And then," she continues, "some detail or previously unnoticed moment can become at least as significant of the chain of meaning invested in cause and effect." End quote. Our digital strategies then encourage cinephilia. In his recent reflections on film theory's historical urge to repress cinephilia, Thomas Elsaesser connects it to disenchantment, disappointment, and ambivalence. Cine-philia, quote, "love tainted by doubt and ambivalence, ambivalence turning into disappointment," end quote, he suggests became the repressed of 1970s film theory.
For him, its tonality has to do, quote, "with the time-shifting inherent to the very feelings of cinephilia, which needs the ever-present possibility of disappointment in order to exist at all, but which only becomes culturally productive against the knowledge of such possible disenchantment, disgust, even self-loathing." End quote.
A cinephilia spectator then remains in a state of displacement and deferral with respect to the object, working through, quote, "disenchantment and it's logic of retrospective revalorization." End quote. Video and digital technologies, Elsaesser argues, promote a new type of cinephilia that appears as, quote, "often undisguised and unapologetic fetishism of the technical prowess of the digital video disk, its sound and image and tactile sensations now associated with both." End quote.
"It's strategies," he continues, "are remastering repurposing, and re-framing." As cinema withdraws into the museum, the cinephile, formerly a pilgrim who would go to considerable length to gain access to that rare object available only through projection-- don't we all know it--
And thus remaining inevitable enthralled to film's aura as an object now returns in another mode. We face a paradox that the photographic mediums mechanical recording and reproduction, which [INAUDIBLE] identified as so crucial to the corrosion of the artwork's aura, develops its own oratic status for film scholars and cinephiles.
By the time filming had become video, according to DN Rodowick, the cinephile, quote, "a pursuer of imaginary experience no longer needs to frequent the cinema tech, but instead transforms into a collector or hoarder or home archivist." End quote. Trafficking now in material objects. As film moves through new channels, the cinephile no longer needs to travel. And previously unlikely trans-cultural encounters regularly occur, allowing us to exchange foreign [? bodies ?] all the time. And perhaps these will render the film object itself permanently foreign.
But of course, neither the film object's ontology nor the phenomenology of its performance, view experience, has ever remained stable. In a section of the Language of New Media, provocatively titled Georges Melies, the Father of Computer Graphics, Lev Manovich continues to develop one of his central themes, not to say obsessions, namely that in the visual transformations of digital media, cinemas origins return, or cinema returns to its origins.
Exploring Hollywood's full embrace of computer animation by the mid 1990s, he contends that, quote, "the 20th century's cinema's regime of visual realism, the result of automatically reporting visual reality, was only an exception, an isolated accident in the history of visual representation, which has always involved and now again involves the manual construction of images. Cinema becomes a particular branch of painting, painting in time." End quote.
And thus he may go on to argue that conceptual Melies is one of the inventors-- and he says this-- of 3D photo-realistic computer graphics. And that,quote, "computer media returned to us the repressed cinema. If digital technologies allow us to make a non-linear approach to our objects to resist film's irreversible forward movement and narrative, becoming montage artists ourselves, do we not reinvent the destruction of film on new terrain?
How do we think through the increasingly oratic status of indexicality-- as material to form, or as fantasy? How to entertain productively our own nostalgia for film, to admit and use our affective responses? How to keep up with the epistemological shifts imposed on our work by our objects ontological transformation? These are questions that increasingly I think link film scholarship to the preoccupations of contemporary film-makers, and across a pretty rough range.
In Histoires du Cinema, Histories of Cinema 2B, Godard asserts, quote, "all films are merchandise and films should be burned. I had said it to [INAUDIBLE], but take care with the fire inside. Art is like fire born out of what it consumes." Aside from the flammability that haunts the silver nitrate collections and the history of film's regular and deliberate destruction as ephemera, both by its owners as well as it's makers, spectators of a certain age can recall the shocking effects of the film catching fire during theatrical projection.
And of course, Bergman famously reproduced this effect in Persona in which he provides us with a violent reminder of the films material substrate, it's inevitable self-consumption. I want to come at Godard's project after a detour across two contemporary films that explore cinema as object and archive-- Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds from 2009 alongside James Cameron's much large Avatar, also 2009.
Tarantino, of course, has been much celebrated for this trans-cultural aesthetic, displayed in the trans-national archive that he deploys almost obsessively across his work. But like Cameron's film, Tarantino's latest effort for me, represents a form of globalism that has gone awry. Tarantino's latest work exhibits a toxically narcissistic attention to film's fascination with it's own destruction, as well as to its archival influences.
In the cinematic scene in this film's fantasy narrative-- for those of you who haven't seen it and those that remember-- a Jewish woman theater owner, Shosanna Dreyfus, and her Afro-French projectionist Marcel manage to incinerate the entire Nazi high command, whom they have locked in the auditorium where Goebbels latest production, Nation's Pride is screening. The source and medium of the conflagration is nothing more or less than this Parisian cinema's own archives, piled up behind the screen and ignited by Marcel on a cue that comes from within the projected film itself.
This cue emerges from a film that Shosanna has made and edited into Nation's Pride. The inter-cut footage shows her in close-up as she explains to the audience that they are beholding the face of Jewish vengeance. Spectacle jumps from projection into the auditorium as flames burn through the screen to engulf the space. While trapped spectators scramble in terrified frenzy, throwing themselves against the barred doors, Shosanna's ghostly faces hangs over them, flickering against the wall, a wall in the illuminated rectangle from which screen has disappeared.
Her face, held in enormous close-up, floating amid the flames, surely recalls Dryer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928. In it's intense reliance on emotional sentimentalized facial detail, it is as if early cinema itself were under-writing Tarantino's vision. Film as political weapon, capable of immediate material effects in the world, intervening directly in history, that's an appealing fantasy perhaps.
But cast on the screen of the director's own phantasmatic play it with all history deployed across the jungle arsenal of film history he mobilizes to bring about and authorize, if ironically, this pyrotechnic display, it becomes somewhat lugubrious. Before cinema interrupts history in this fantasy, Inglourious Basterds follows the violent exploits of a team of Jewish guerrilla terrorists operating in occupied France and killing and mutilating as many Nazis as they can.
Led by them definitively non-Jewish Lieutenant Aldo Raine, Brad Pitt, this fan collectively embodies the energies that animated such films as The Dirty Dozen and popular action adventure 1960s revisions of World War II. But these images of the collective immolation of a trapped crowd coming after these incredibly graphic images of beating and mutilation, much less the unrelenting string of sadistic violence perpetrated by the terrorists, cannot be contained or screened by the memories of film history.
They resonate altogether too powerfully with memories of not-so distance as well as contemporary [INAUDIBLE]. Nor can the archival pleasures of the film presents us erase its aggressive alignment of the spectator with the Nazi audience. Discussing that scene with Cahiers du Cinema, Tarantino gleefully asserts, quote, "That's my sadistic side. In the theater, you are in the same situation as the Nazis before the film. I trap you in a cinema and I show you a theater on fire." End quote.
As for history, he announces that, quote, "My characters don't know they're participating in history, but once I plunge them into history, it is modified." And he concludes with the grandiose claim for his film. "What is history? Facts known through the writings of historians. The film shows that, in the end, history will only retain the hero of this adventure. And that's Hans Landa. It's his plan. He's the hero of it. All those who saw the film are dead. How many times in the course of history has it happened that the facts have been truncated, heroes forgotten." End quote.
In conferring the status of hero upon Landa, the Nazi officer whose specialty is hunting down Jews in hiding and who allows the theater incineration plan to proceed once he discovers it, Tarantino reminds us of his film's degraded and degrading reversal-- its nakedly brutal identification with the Nazis aggressors, a quintessential cinephile [INAUDIBLE] like Landa, Tarantino shapes and anchors his film through an encyclopedia of film-storical illusions, plastering them across the screen as posters and marques, elaborating lengthy pastiches that jumble together generic tropes.
In this cinephile world, films only reference is self, its own history, lots of history. In this case, the central reference seems to be the author's--
From Reservoir Dogs to the Kill Bill franchise with its transnational aesthetic strategies. The fantasy of film's intervention and material history also screens the director's fantasy of making his mark within film history.
If Tarantino makes of history a screen for our fantasies, James Cameron seeks to recapture us as a vast general audience by reconfiguring the big screen spectacle through enhanced 3D technology in Avatar. Now DN Rodowick has argued that quote, "Hollywood has always responded ideologically to the appearance of new technologies. Incorporated into the film at the levels of both it's technology of representation and it's narrative structure," he writes, "the new arrival is simultaneously demonized and deified, a strategy that lends itself well to marketing and spectacle."
Avatar perfectly fulfills these terms. Like his 1991 Terminator 2, which placed Cameron on the cutting edge of digital effects in film, Avatar aims, among other things, to reanimate Hollywood's allure at profits through the wonders of 3D animation. But it also carries out its agenda under the pretense of environmental concerns in the face of globalizations encroachments. Avatar hearkens back to the future, recalling Hollywood's 1950s bids to recapture audience from TV.
Once again, Cameron capitalizes on the seductive appeals of extravagant expenditure to complement the attractions of computer generated effects. And he differentiates his product through its skillful compositing of animation and live action motion capture, seamlessly woven together so that we are never sure where the actor ends and the Avatar begins-- a play between [INAUDIBLE] and death overlays and displaces this dizzying ontological question.
Thematically threadbare, recycling the warm cliches surrounding the white male adventurer, frontiersmen, or colonialist, as well as an endless replay of tropes from Cameron's own previous work, the film compensates richly with its dabbling illusions of visual depth. The film's phantasmatic lure lies in the protagonist ultimate merging into his Avatar, shedding his own disabled body for its perfection.
But within the exhaustive tropes of its narrative, the colonizing scientist gradually recognizes and embraces the cultural values of the indigenous others. And he redeems himself by teaching these primitives to defend their own Utopian culture. So he brings his timeless, ahistorical others into history in order to avert the very oppressive future the humans will impose upon them.
At Avatar's conclusion, the exploitative humans evicted, the heroes transcendence of his own body coincides with a fantasy of passing beyond history into the primitive idol of passing through technology into the film's very form. To enter Jean-Luc Godard's archive of the 20th century, which is what he believes it is, Histoire du Cinema, History of Cinema, is to become entranced and ensnared in the uneven flow of still and moving images.
A viewer breathlessly struggles to remember their sources, to anchor the visual in time as this unmanageable flow discloses cinephilia's embeddedness in disenchantment and disappoint. Amid the frictions and shocks of painterly and literary traditions rubbing against film sequences drawn from disparate European traditions and, of course, from Hollywood's polished machinery, emerge other collisions.
Into the archives melancholic evocations of long-deceased stars bodying forth luminously, other images more explicitly documentary intrude and erupt. Star bodies remembered brush up against the photographic record, horrific and obscene, of 20th century crimes against humanity.
What is the status of the documentary? Willed or not, named or not. Through the 4 and 1/2 hours of Godard's museum of the 20th century, he relentlessly erases any boundary between fiction and documentary, a distinction he has challenged throughout his career. This question asserts itself centrally in this moving archive that sets war and genocide alongside art and fiction, emphatically asserting film's status as historical document, just at the moment when digital technologies promise to erode the evidentiary claims we have traditionally made for and upon photographic media.
Godard continues to struggle with cinema, a form that thinks. In it's aggression towards the image and its spectator, his project echoes Derrida's reflections on the archive. Quote, "There would indeed be no archive desire," he writes, "without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness, which does not limit itself to repression. There is no archive fever without the threat of this death rod, this aggression and and disruptive drive."
But even as he struggles with the cinema, Godard wrestles with the video form intimately linked to the televisual frame through which he delivers his film. His voiceover discourse cast television as an enemy of both looking and seeing. Quote, "Those who just watch television have no tears left to weep. They have unlearned how to see."
Yet of course, this volatile subject could never emerge without video technology, the basis of its montage effects, after all. It is video technology that makes history's film possible, that allows Godard to work all these filmage over each other, to work upon them and within them and to work over the history of cinema, plundering it's archive.
Without electronic technologies the dream of cinema as it's own archive and the project of this film, constructed almost entirely of image citations, would remain unrealized. Extravagantly playing out Godard's obsession with quotation and theft, this film interrogates the relations of history to property, possession, and citation.
Our own Tim Murray has emphasized Godard's preoccupation throughout his work with questions of quote, "how his cinema thinks ontology as the unsettled relations of being in property, of [SPEAKING FRENCH]-- of being and having. It is such a conflation of cinema with the crisis of ontology," Murray writes, "That positions [SPEAKING FRENCH] at the threshold of cinema's future in relation to the material translations of digitality and the social slippage of cultural specificity in the numbing sameness of cultural globalism." End quote.
So whose history is this that Godard is capturing? Despite its grandiose seeming claims that film history is the history of the 20th century, Godard's Histoire resolutely insists on the hybridity of the form he relentlessly names. In this massive, unruly, unmanageable test, cinema remains porous, intertwined with and traversed as it is by the history of art, literature, photography, radio and television.
Histoire's internal volatility guarantees the impossibility of a strict repetition on successive viewings. More-so than any film in general, this shift the object endlessly differs from itself. Godard's opening voiceover enjoins, quote, "change nothing so that all can be different." And he continues, "histories of the sinema, with an s, all the histories that might have been, that were or might have been that there have been." End quote.
Virtual histories then that might erupt out of in the course of the steady collision of images, the relentless re-framing one by the other, the aggressive reworking and overlaying of shot upon shot through repetition difference. Before this exhaustive and exhaustive project, the spectator continually refines his objects lost in its flow and becomes lost, grasping for an anchor, clawing against the passage of images, time.
As we struggle to process this overlapping of image, text on screen, words spoken by Godard and others over words reported within film citations, we find our attention claimed by interference of this. We remain aware that just as the images in Histoire du Cinema return as different through its course, we could never experience this film in the same way on successive viewings. We could never see the same film.
With it's dizzying montage, collisions of images produce frictions as they work upon and wear away each other. Histoire continually punctuates a montage of citations by returning to the black screen, recalling for us the space between the photographs on the film strip that our [INAUDIBLE] lies.
In this rhythmic effect, it might seem as if the film itself were blinking as it pauses in it's assaults on the image and on it's own status as image. Now to conclude. In elaborating the co-implication of technology, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics perhaps this film hopes to suggest how we might handle our objects as the present passes into a past we can use.
Its archive becomes a sight for working through, and perhaps that is how we should imagine our own. Perhaps this archive establishes the permanent foreign-ness and perpetual exchange of film objects and images. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: See about 10 minutes remaining for questions for anyone who has questions for Kay or Sharon?
AUDIENCE: I have a question for Meg.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Yeah. The sequence that you showed us, the color scheme [INAUDIBLE], which is so gorgeous--
AUDIENCE: Can everybody hear in the back? Can you hear in the back?
AUDIENCE: You see [INAUDIBLE]? Kay showed us the second one, which is a long tracking shot and it's incredibly gorgeous and hard because you are aware that you're kind of probably looking for something or you're kind of gonna find something and the soundtrack abets that feeling. So and just the way it explores space and turns each kind of little figure or activity into its own little tableau almost right? That was reminding me--
And so I'm not asking a question about influence, but just what you make of this. That reminded me simultaneously of a favorite technique of [? Albus ?] [? Garosconi ?] as well as [? Santiago ?] [INAUDIBLE] from the [? Opu ?] trilogy sake. Could you speak to that at tall?
KAY DICKINSON: I don't know if I can. Apart from, I mean I think there's a similar investment in everyday life and the sort of preciousness of everyday life that is then kind of advanced through a lack of editing. This is a respect. But other than that, no, I think it's doing very similar work and [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Well, you may have to do technical constraints as well, right? Which the Syrians are making very good use of. And that might be the case for those two other production sites.
AUDIENCE: This is a question for Sharon. [INAUDIBLE] there's interesting tension and there's very sort of [INAUDIBLE] readings in the Tarantino encampment-- Cameron, the Tarantino, it seems to me that privilege access out of time or temporality. I mean, cinema history making a mark on history and so on. Whereas in Cameron, who makes movies exclusively about the application of prosthetics to dominate space from Sigourney Weaver's power lifter onward, and even before it ends with apotheosis of 3D technology itself as the prosthesis that let's you dominate space obviously has a different privilege access in that regard. I wonder if you could reflect a little bit on that distinction between those two modes?
SHARON WILLIS: Yeah. That is such an interesting observation. Yeah, let me say, throw out a couple of things. And I'm mindful that the time space is a really pronounced distinction between the two. But thinking about Cameron's obsession with prostheses and with technology and his sort of really, I mean, it's become almost delirious, or delusional in race of the technology with the since not only that he can reshape and drive the market and reshape the medium, but also that somehow he has the right to do that because he's on top of this.
So I think-- and then juxtapose that to Tarantino's fairly explicit or transparent ambivalence about technology or his nostalgic reference for old technologies, that I think has to figure in there somehow too. But I think what I really want to say is that based especially on this last Avatar, which my spectator experience was exactly what wasn't supposed to happen. I'm supposed to feel depth. I experience the film as utterly flat, suffocating flat.
At every level, at the cognitive and the intellectual and the aesthetic level. It's just flat. So and I feel like that has something to do with the two, that for Cameron, I don't think there's anything but a joyous future to be colonized by his technologies. And there's no past at all. It's how I feel. Except the past that's his own
archive of his own work, whereas Tarantino is much more-- well, I don't want to say self-conscious about history because he's not-- he's precisely not. But much more--
AUDIENCE: Conscious, but not self-conscious.
SHARON WILLIS: Yeah, yeah. So I think I'd want to put the emphasis there that Tarantino thinks there's something to be-- the poor man-- he thinks there's something to be known about history, but he's not going to be the one to know it.
And Cameron claims to know there isn't anything to be known, I believe.
AUDIENCE: Question for Kay. So my understanding of that is that something like wonders of [INAUDIBLE], right? So if you take the sense of [INAUDIBLE] edition to [INAUDIBLE] cinema, which is basically, I mean, mostly social at that kind of a social realism [INAUDIBLE], so I just wanted you to explore that tension [INAUDIBLE] see?
KAY DICKINSON: Sure. I mean, I'm not talking about it as--
AUDIENCE: And it is water.
AUDIENCE: Don't worry about it.
AUDIENCE: And it's also [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: So he runs away.
AUDIENCE: It's happening. It's happening.
KAY DICKINSON: Sorry. So I'll answer the question. I think that I need to work with that definitely, but I'm not trying to claim that these films are [INAUDIBLE] in their own planning of themselves. I'm saying my encounter with them is that of wonder. It's about my, as it were, the traveler encountering these things, which might be every day too, to all number of people. And that's the traveler to what [INAUDIBLE] difference the same as you compared [INAUDIBLE].
So it's about that. But I think you're right. It's funny that my sense of kind of miracle comes back to something so, you know, so much of that in that order.
AUDIENCE: And also I was wondering [INAUDIBLE] in today's age [INAUDIBLE]. And probably that [INAUDIBLE] usefully applied to all Tarantino [INAUDIBLE]. And [INAUDIBLE].
KAY DICKINSON: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Thank you for a really incredibly interesting panel from-- I never thought I'd sit in a room and go from Syria to James Cameron. So thank you. [INAUDIBLE]. Really interesting. Kay, I have a question for you, but I think it also applies to Sharon in your work on Inglourious Basterds and Avatar. You know, I'm really struck by how difficult it is to see Syrian cinema.
I've only been at one gathering where there was a Syrian film-maker. And they always make this point about you can't see the films and they don't circulate. I saw part of Inglourious Basterds at the Morelia Film Festival in Mexico to a packed house of 1,800 people going absolutely berserk over Quentin Tarantino and I actually walked out because the screening started at 10:30 and I was hungry.
So I just find it so interesting that Sharon, your works circulate globally and now we have these commercial products that are infiltrating every film festival, every part of the world. And then we have a cinema that is so confined. And so my question is actually a pretty simple one, which is Kay, you point out that movies in Syria function as a safety valve.
And I wonder if you could just explicate that with a little more detail for us? And for Sharon, it got me thinking, is our Inglourious Basterds and Avatar some kind of safety valves of some issues that are unresolved in either globalization or American society? So I wonder if you booth could share your thoughts?
KAY DICKINSON: I'm kind of mindful of time, so I'll try to do that quickly. But I don't really believe the safety valve. That's the common sort of myth is that it's a safety valve, that the government allows them to be made and then it represses them as an act of saying, well, we are open and we do let these things happen and we sort of take them away again. So I think that's to live within the realms of representation rather than manufacture and labor as political act itself.
SHARON WILLIS: I'm not sure about the safety valve, but I guess I want to say I think both films represent a certain relentless American triumphalism or a celebration of exceptional-ism so Tarantino can say I think basically the reason this film works at all is that a lot of people want to say, thank god World War II is finally dead, right? Thank god that generation is gone and now we can just laugh about it.
And I think Cameron is just-- I feel like he kind of, in that romantic, nostalgic, boyish way, wants to make a nice face for American culture to circulate as far and wide through every world market as possible. You know what I mean? And I think he thinks he deserves that and I think he thinks this is a better product, which kind of it is than some of the other crap we make.
You know what I mean, but on the other hand, I find it to be so hideously romantic about indigenous people primarily, but also about ecology and environmentalists. So I don't know [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE] these questions for the conference. Thanks so much to Kate and Sharon.
SPEAKER 4: So I need to tell you this, but we actually have a minor break. So relax, stretch your legs.
SPEAKER 4: Thank you for reconvening in such a deliberate and economical fashion. I just wanted to give you a little bit of a template for the rest the day's program. We have a wonderful session ahead of us that we've all been looking forward to very much.
And then following this session, we're doing a shift of location partially so we can remobilize this building and, also, partially because of a cleaning crew. So we're going to walk down the hill to Goldwin Smith Hall to Lewis Auditorium where Bruno Bosteels is giving a plenary talk for our purposes.
So I think we'll be able to do all of that fairly easily and readily. I'm very, very thankful to another former member of our humanities council who served more time on the council than I think she ever would have imagined wanting to do, Viranjini Munasinghe, who is also a board member of the Institute for Comparative Modernities, for coming to join us.
Viranjini is in anthropology and Asian-American studies, a leading expert, actually, on so many of the issues that we've been discussing today, and is a leading figure in thinking about the anthropological crisis of globalization and the world situations. So thanks-- Viranjini.
VIRANJINI MUNASINGHE: Thank [? you, James ?] for that wonderful introduction. I didn't expect that. But, anyway, it's my great pleasure to introduce the two speakers for today, one who I only met, actually, just now, and the other who I've known for quite a while and really I'm quite fond of--
MAN: Oh, what a beginning.
VIRANJINI MUNASINGHE: OK, I'll stop there. OK. So I'm going to introduce both speakers right now, so the transition will be smoother. And then we'll take questions for 15 minutes. They speak, I think, for half an hour.
The first speaker on the panel is Professor Andrew McGraw, who is presently a fellow at the Society for the Humanities here at Cornell. Professor McGraw is an ethnomusicologist, composer, performer, and assistant professor in the music department at the University of Richmond.
He has published extensively on traditional and experimental music in Southeast Asia in various volumes, including Ethnomusicology, Asian Music, Asian Cinema, The Yearbook for Traditional Music, and [INAUDIBLE] Musicology, and Indonesia and the Malay World, among others.
He received his PhD in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in 2005. As a student and performer of Indonesian music, he has studied with the leading traditional performers of Bali and central Java during five years of research in Indonesia with funding from the Indonesian government, Darmasiswa, the Fulbright-Hays Program, ARTS International, the VFIC Foundation, and grants from the University of Richmond.
He directs Indonesian ensembles in New York City and Richmond, Virginia. As a performer and composer, he has appeared on-- I don't know how to pronounce this-- Tzadik?
ANDREW MCGRAW: Tzadik.
VIRANJINI MUNASINGHE: --and Porter record labels. Professor Andrew McGraw's paper is entitled Quasi-collaboration and the Poetics of Pedophilia in [INAUDIBLE] [? A ?] House in Bali, 2010.
Now for the second speaker. Professor Salah Hassan is a Goldwin Smith professor. He has appointments both in Africana Studies and Research Center, where he served for long as director.
And he's also a professor in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture, where he also served as chair. Professor Hassan is also a distinguished curator and art critic and founder and editor of Nka-- Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Professor Hassan has authored and edited several books, including Unpacking Europe, 2001, Authentic/Ex-Centric-- Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art, 2001, Gendered Visions-- The Art of Contemporary Africana Women Artists, 1997, and Art and Islamic Literacy among the Hausa of Northern Nigeria, 1992.
He has contributed, also, to several anthologies. Some of them include The Art of African Fashion and Reading the Contemporary:African Art from Theory to Marketplace, edited by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor. Sorry. He has-- it goes on.
VIRANJINI MUNASINGHE: And we have really edited this, too. He has also authored numerous articles on contemporary African art and culture published in professional art journals and magazines. He's currently working on a book manuscript entitled Khartoum School:The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan.
In [? action ?] to all this, Professor Hassan served as a guest curator of several exhibitions and authored and contributed to their companion catalogues and monographs, including Authentic/Ex-Centric-- Africa In and Out of Africa at the 49th Venice Biennale, and, most recently, Unpacking Europe in Rotterdam.
The list of exhibitions he has curated is astonishing, to say the least. He is also consultant to several museums, including The National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and is a member of The International Advisory Council of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Kumamoto, Japan.
Professor Hassan's accomplishments have been recognized by numerous prestigious awards and grants, including the Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Toyota Foundation Award, several Rockefeller and Ford Foundation grants, and Andy Warhol Foundation grants, and, most recently, the Prince Claus Fund award.
I'm going to stop here. And Professor Hassan will be speaking on the Contemporary 'Islamic' Art-- Western Curatorial Politics of Representation in Post 9/11. But first, please welcome Professor Andrew McGraw.
ANDREW MCGRAW: OK. 90 minutes. In his 1944 memoir, A House in Bali, the Canadian composer Colin McPhee recounts his experiences living on the island during the 1930s.
In 2009, the American composer Evan Ziporyn premiered in Bali, an opera of the same name, confusingly, to be performed in about four hours in New York as part of the band's next wave ensemble. Two ensembles performed the score, the Bang on a Can sextet, the contemporary music ensemble based in New York, and a traditional gamelan orchestra performed by 10 Balinese musicians.
The two ensembles appear on stage opposite each other, framing a space for the three Western operatic singers and four Balinese actors. The first act places McPhee in early 1930s Paris, where he decries the stuffiness of musical modernism and nostalgically recounts his first trip to the island.
A virtuosic pianist and composition student at [INAUDIBLE], McPhee left behind a burgeoning career as a composer in New york for the island, which he idolized as a premodern paradise overflowing with, what he called, absolute music.
He returned to build a home in Sayan just outside the village of Ubud, where he documented the music he believed would evaporate as modernity encroached. McPhee's lines in the opera, a pastiche of passages from his memoir developed by the Libretto's Paul Schick, sing of his patronizing hand-wringing over cultural loss. Here's his opening line.
In Bali, McPhee mixed in a milieu of elite expatriates, including the anthropologist Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, and the German primitivist painter Walter Spies. Ziporyn, with theater director Jay Scheib and Libretto's Paul Schick, have amplified a long whispered rumor about McPhee's relationship with the boy dancer Sampih to become the crux and central metaphor of the narrative.
Since the 1970s, the Western avant-garde has been most spectacularly expressed in its intercultural celebrations, [INAUDIBLE] the concept of a universal, but implicitly Western-centered language of the avant-garde.
Grotowski, Brook, Barba, Schechner, Wilson, Sellers, and others express a Utopian one-world vision to the attempt to meld forms, or to identify pre-cultural, or pre-expressive, common ground in which one detects a self-congratulatory penance for colonization.
According to [? Bourne, ?] the implication is that these hybrid aesthetics and movements are free of the earlier hierarchical consciousness and practice, that there are no significant core-periphery structures at work, and, thus, that these aesthetics are free, also, of the asymmetrical relations of representation and the seductions of the exoticisms, primitivisms, and Orientalisms that parallel colonial and neocolonial relations.
In this view, then, all the differences are being leveled. Hybridity can rebound from its discursive origins in colonial fantasies, and impressions can become, instead, a practice and creative means of cultural rearticulation and resurgence form the margin.
Despite a rigorous critique aimed against this Utopian vision of the 1980s and 1990s, contemporary cultural productions continue to risk devolving into a simplistic theater of ethnographic display. In contradistinction, House in Bali, the opera, reminds us that cross-cultural encounters are not automatically positive beneficial experiences for all involved, but are often violent and shocking.
And this production stands apart for not appealing to a discourse of postcolonial reconciliation or liberal multiculturalism. Through various musical and narrative means, the audience is made uncomfortable as cultures clash and smash headlong into one another.
The opera lays bare the circuits of cultural imperialism that feed interculturalism and the global aesthetic movements that flow through them. The inequity inherent in the intercultural encounter's exposed both within the narrative of the music of the opera itself, but also, significantly, is evident in the processes of its own production.
The opera recalls the anti-imperialist ironies of Conrad through a simultaneously critiquing and reproducing imperial ideology. While appearing to be a balanced collaboration-- roughly half the performers are Balinese playing what appears to be traditional music while dressed in appropriately ethnic costumes-- in fact, the production is the imbalanced expression of a Western voice.
Libretto, [? when ?] staging, were determined by the American artist. And Ziporyn composed each note performed by both the Western and the Balinese ensembles. This staged clash of cultures is contrived. And the Balinese don't have their hands on the wheel, but are merely crash test dummies.
The misrepresentation of the various historical personages that populate the opera generated significant complaints from their Western apologists following the opera's first staging on the island.
Margaret Mead and her then husband Gregory Bateson arrived in Bali in the 1930s to conduct a study of the "Balinese" character. Over a period of two years, Bateson and Mead documented various aspects of Balinese behavior in over 25,000 stills and miles of film-- all shot without permission.
Later summarized in their 1942 Balinese Character-- A Photographic Analysis. Mead appears on stage without Bateson. And her lines, which are creative pastiche and riffing upon the Balinese character text, teeter on the edge between creative artistic license and irresponsible caricature.
Below Mead's lines we hear an uncertain spiraling tonality as a counterpoint questioning the supposed solid foundations upon which her theory is built. Here's an image of Bateson and Mead-- someone taking a picture of their taking a picture.
ANDREW MCGRAW: As all of her correspondence was bequeathed to us posthumously, it is certainly possible to formulate a more complex figure, although likely one too intricate to be formalized in performance. But this is an opera, and Ziporyn needed Mead to serve as McPhee's straight-laced self-critiquing superego to counter the seductive pull of Walter Spies, who functions as McPhee's hedonistic id.
Spies, a German painter, musician, and conductor was the grand master of Ubud, a sleepy village in the Balinese central plains, which he almost single-handedly helped to transform into a cosmopolitan arts colony that today attracts throngs of 30-something divorcees following the Eat, Pray, Love trend.
ANDREW MCGRAW: McPhee, himself, comes across as somewhat of a creep. And one wonders if the opera would have been possible at all if he had left any heirs to curate his image.
He was only able to fund his trips and lifestyle on the island with the help of his independently wealthy wife Jane Belo, herself a highly credentialed anthropologist who occasionally collaborated with Mead. Belo is absent in the opera and in McPhee's memoir--
ANDREW MCGRAW: -allowing us to focus more squarely on McPhee's interests in Balinese boys. In the opera, the rumored relationship between McPhee and Sampih becomes more than a suggestion. And the inherently unproductive act of pedophilia, more properly, pederasty, here is paradoxically mobilized to gestate the narrative's formative growth.
The parallels to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice are palpable. McPhee's attraction to Sampih suggest Aschenbach's doomed attraction to the young, exotic Tadzio. And actually, Mann's fable was later arranged into an opera by McPhee's former Brooklyn roommate Benjamin Britten.
The representation of pedophilia in the opera's first performances provoked, sometimes, bitter complaints from McPhee's defenders and awoke a long and knotted history of sexual relations between the Balinese and the West.
[INAUDIBLE] and Spies, of the coterie in Ubud, projected onto Balinese society the natural bi and homosexual tendencies that Freud had identified as latent in human psychology but repressed by modern civilization. The colonial Dutch believed that the Balinese practiced a kind of free love before marriage.
However, I Made Kaler, Mead's principal secretary, among others, would later express confusion and exasperation as to why both the Dutch administrators and the Western anthropologists believed that the Balinese had no codified customs regarding sex, shame, or nudity.
And Kaler describes being profoundly disturbed concerning the exploitation, in his words, of small boys by Dutch civil servants in the Ubud sect. During the 1930s, the [INAUDIBLE] dances, performed in drag by young men and boys who sometimes engaged in sexual relations with older male audience members, were still being performed, only later to be outlawed by the Indonesian state.
While rare, the sexual relationships that these events engendered did not typically provoke traditional censure, possibly because they were hidden and between men and boys as women. It appears that pedophilia, or pederasty, did not exist as an articulate field of discourse in 1930s Bali.
And we can identify its presence, then, only through retrospective hypothesis. However, pedophilia in contemporary Bali no longer seems to occupy a similar moment among stable conceptualists [? faced. ?] And now sexual relations other than those between the mature men and women are officially disallowed.
If taboos are broken and made public in traditional villages, the [INAUDIBLE] cleansing ceremonies must be performed, and the transgressor enters a period of ritual impurity. These ceremonies were not performed in Sayan during McPhee's stay, and so the question of his being a pedophile is, for some contemporary Balinese, moot.
I want to play a short video that McPhee shot of Sampih at this time. And towards the end of it he's dancing, at that time, a new avant-garde style. But towards the end, he starts dancing the [INAUDIBLE]. This style is a kind of pastiche of earlier forms.
This is, of course, a silent film. And it's kind of wonderful to watch a silent film of musicians. Let me get this right here. So remember, McPhee's holding the camera. And now this is [INAUDIBLE].
In defending the representation of pedophilia to his critics, Ziporyn suggested that it was a non-issue for Balinese audiences. Quote, "I'm struck by how difficult it's been to even discuss the issue rationally, as well as by how much easier it was for people to digest in Indonesia."
But in his casual response, Ziporyn repeats his colonial predecessors' self-serving misreading of Balinese sexuality. If McPhee indeed engaged in the acts suggested in the opera and the villagers of Sayan knowingly ignored it, this would not have been because of any supposed free sexual mores on their part, but as a function of the colonial power differential.
Under the correct global configuration, that differential is still in place to empower Ziporyn to indulge in whatever representation suits his narrative needs. The opera is thus a metarepresentation, a problematizing of McPhee's representation of Bali and the Balinese.
McPhee ogles the boy sexually as Western culture ogles the Balinese from within the teleological ideology of modernity. In Ziporyn's metarepresentation, to McPhee, the Balinese are his cherubs in a state of innocent premodernity, as sexually promiscuous and liberated as the Western infant before society intervenes.
Sampih stands for Bali, McPhee for the West, and their age differential as a metaphor for the then persistent theory of cultural evolutionism-- Bali is younger than the West. Their gender suggests that it will all end badly, or it's at least incapable of producing cultural fruit.
Through Spies, McPhee offers to take Sampih for a ride, as modernity, represented negatively as a swirl of dissonance, is about to take the entire island for a ride.
- (OPERA SINGING) Before you do, if I may, boy, little man, this man my good friend Colin has a motorcar with its own house called a garage.
--for him peeling onions and tending to the ducks. My good friend Colin might be persuaded to take you out of this village, to take you for a ride.
ANDREW MCGRAW: Sorry I'm not showing you video of the opera. But it was shot in Bali, and poorly, and it would make you sea sick. McPhee hopes communication has taken place between his and Balinese music between himself and Sampih, but Ziporyn tells us it was all miscommunication, suggesting that McPhee's was only a self-projection of his own deepest fantasies.
They reveal the interpreter rather than the interpreted and that all interpretations are, ultimately, autobiographical. McPhee listened to the other with the entirety of his being and heard in Bali a secret that began to separate him from himself, an abyss from which he was never able to cover, dying in Los Angeles in 1964 artistically blocked, financially destitute, in the closet, an alcoholic.
The plague of the oriental that threatens Europe in Mann's novel serves as a metaphor to suggest that the West is vulnerable to the combined dangers and possibilities of Eastern influence. McPhee becomes Ziporyn's anti-hero.
Like McPhee, Ziporyn has earned the distinction of fluency with the cultural capital of others whose expressions retain our inequalities. But this new information, which is like a [? solitary ?] manure for the catalyzing of expressions, leads to an identity crisis for the Western intercultural composer.
The opera channels the unsettling anxiety of Conrad, Forrester, TE Lawrence-- in which the triumphalist experience of imperialism is fragmented into the extremes of self-consciousness, discontinuity, and corrosive irony.
By allowing deep cultural fragmentation, the seductive sounds of Bali that both composers have breathed in have made Ziporyn skittish. And his opera appears as an autobiographical cautionary tale about his overcoming the black hole of aesthetic identity to which his predecessor fell victim.
His tactic is to claim that real connection is impossible. Art then functions only to attest to the immemorial alienation that pulverizes each Utopian possibility of emancipation and integration. Art answers in endless warning.
Here, sound stands as a metaphor of the impossible integration of the self and the other. Rather than attempting to resolve the inevitable collision between the fundamentally different international systems of Bali and the West, Ziporyn allows outright unresolved clash.
In a carnivalesque conflict in scene 3, in which the Balinese barricade McPhee in his house for transgressing traditional etiquette, voices and intonations speak past each other.
ANDREW MCGRAW: Later, we feel the incommensurable grooves of two ensembles unable or unwilling to lock in.
ANDREW MCGRAW: Bali's senses of musical time and intonation are not commensurable with Western's systems. They do not share a common measure and align only by coincidence.
We might read their clash as Ziporyn's hopeful identification of the possibility of truly singular difference in an era in which capital increasingly encloses the world within regions of commensurable difference to facilitate his penetration of virgin markets.
Further recalling capital's sprawl, the Western ensemble is far more stereophonically present in the mix, while the Balinese orchestra appears as a single point within the spreading three-dimensional space of Western modernism. If these sonic strategies are unintentional, than the opera embodies far more of our era than it knows.
ANDREW MCGRAW: As McPhee encounters Sampih at the end of the first act, we are suddenly allowed to rest. But we have moved from hot post-minimalist clash to a Coltrane-Davis cool as McPhee expresses his longing for the boy.
It's a singular moment of consonance and pure pentatonic Orientalism as the Western instruments imitate and eviscerate the Balinese [INAUDIBLE] mode. Here, we seem to be offered the possibility of a true touching connection between McPhee and Sampih, the self and the other.
But in this [INAUDIBLE] moment, we realize that the consonance has occurred only because the other is inaudible, having been made mute. The [INAUDIBLE] is gone. McPhee is falling for his own projection. And this is is an aura of absence.
- (OPERA SINGING) [INAUDIBLE] my [INAUDIBLE]. Bring his parents to me.
ANDREW MCGRAW: So manipulative.
ANDREW MCGRAW: Although Ziporyn clearly anticipated the complex reactions he would evoke, he also knows that, as an author, he's already dead, and that the audience would misattribute material and make use of it that he did intend.
The wide interpretive gap opened through narrative ambiguity combined with an orientalist visual feast allows uncritical audience members to fall into the old grooves of what Rosaldo terms imperialist nostalgia, a desire to recover an imagined pre-colonial state.
Bali has long been a fool's paradise, fed by a discourse of anthropological pornography curated by the enlightened Western ethnographer, in which [INAUDIBLE] means concept of the aura is extended from objects onto the body of the Balinese themselves, gazed upon from the West.
In [INAUDIBLE] modernism that conditioned McPhee's encounter, does the opera not inevitably reinscribe the images it seeks to subvert. The premodern image of all Balinese continues to function as an icon of American liberal multicultural tolerance that, in actuality, conceals and presupposes new and more fundamental identity.
According to [? Bourne, ?] pluralism is central to the way that postmodern intellectuals experience the aesthetic imaginatively as progressive. Aesthetic pluralism is divorced from extent socioeconomic differences and held to be an autonomous and effective force for transforming those differences.
Can we hold Ziporyn responsible if audiences take his representation at face value, rather than as a metarepresentation? Should he be blamed if it works to reinforce stereotypes and reinscribe relations of [INAUDIBLE]?
Predictably, the Balinese audience walked away with something completely different. The opera was not about pedophilia or about McPhee's or Ziporyn's psychic trauma through their encounter with the other, but about Bali.
The primary [? parabole ?] most drew was of Bali's fall through mass tourism, the groundwork for which they saw as being laid by the coterie of expatriates living in Bali in the 1930s-- although it is more appropriately attributed to Javanese corruption in the 1970s. However, most of the Balinese involved in the production admitted to no understanding of the project at all.
Instead of understanding, the project was, for them, [? a sight of ?] tactical maneuver. Not empowered to produce and impose the space of the intercultural encounter, the Balinese moved to use, to manipulate, and divert energy within this space.
In the recent study of ethnicity, the Comaroffs propose the term ethnopreneurialism for the investment in ethnic identity as capital. Rather than bemoaning misrepresentation or exploitation, the musicians primarily used the project to [? sustain ?] to their own ethnopreneurial [? mures. ?]
Fully aware of the kinds of exoticizing expectations American audiences bring to such events, the musicians embrace the production as an opportunity to expand their reach within global aesthetic networks to sell their CDs, teach workshops in their down time, schmooze and extend their image.
Since the colonial encounter, Balinese performers have proved adept at manipulating their access and position within such networks. And the historical Sampih, capitalizing on McPhee's sponsorship, grew into one of the island's most celebrated dancers, extensively touring the West in 1952.
Ethnopreneurialism is a technique used by Balinese musicians within the corridors of global aesthetic movements. They, in turn, come to an understanding of the relative position within these spaces through what we might term "echolocation." Acoustic rather than ocular metaphor is more useful to describe the virtual space in musical interaction and influence.
In contrast to the primarily [INAUDIBLE] character of the visual, the sonorous is [INAUDIBLE]. It facilities participation, sharing, play, and, like sniffly children on a playground, contagion- remembering Mann's plague.
Balinese musicians and composers learn about their location within global aesthetic networks by the ways in which the sounds they make return, are modulated, reflected, distorted, and absorbed. Up until now, I've neglected the materialist [? base ?] that makes the opera possible and partly determines the conditions of its processes.
Intercultural projects often insulate themselves against accusations of exploitation by defending the meager wages they pay third-world musicians as a kind to charity, one that is no doubt deeply valuable to otherwise unemployed third-world musicians, but remains a lousy substitute for justice.
A complex system of geopolitical relations works against the Balinese and gives Ziporyn credit for, in his own words, just showing up. American interculturalists enter the nation of Indonesia with the $25 tourist visa, do not need to bother registering with any government agencies, can easily round up large groups of musicians, including children, pay them paltry wages.
When we invert the process, the Indonesian musicians have to go through a lengthy visa application process because they're "single men from an Islamic nation," pay to travel far from home for a visa interview on another island, pay the $320 fee for the P3 visa, pay another $125 simply to leave the country.
Indonesia is one of these nations that charges you a month's salary just to leave the nation. Of course, the Indonesian interculturalists do not have the means.
And so these fees and their substantial airfare covered by the American Institution, thus engendering a structure of indebtedness and sentiment of subservience to the American sponsor. And the P3 visa is also not bound by any labor law. [INAUDIBLE].
In his memoir, McPhee is primarily interested in the activities of boys music clubs in the Sayan area, some of which he established and personally funded. We're led to believe that the performers in Ziporyn's production play the boys of McPhee's memoir.
However, none of these performers are boys. Many are well into their 30s but have shaved their facial hair and appear in anachronistic dress, naked from the waist up. Is there not something humiliating about grown men playing boys in costumes that satisfy Western primitivist fantasies?
We might remember here, the colonial homology between political subjugation and child. Remembering that instead of collaborating with Balinese composers, Ziporyn scored the gamelan using himself, we are reminded of [INAUDIBLE] point, that the Orientalist works like a ventriloquist to make the Orient speak, rather than allowing it to speak freely.
While significantly more self aware, House in Bali, the opera, similarly fails [INAUDIBLE] requirement of ethical responding-- and the word "ethics" [INAUDIBLE] in not recognizing and engaging the Balinese as the producers of fully articulated text within the intercultural encounter.
Ethical responding recognizes and engages agency in the other and moves beyond the simple recognition of the other's otherness. In an ethical response, the other is not merely a voice or object of investigation, but an equitable, creative voice.
Through their appearance on the Western stage, under the direction of an American composer, lay audiences may be led to believe that the Balinese cannot yet make readable contemporary art inside global aesthetic networks without foreign direction.
And I'll conclude with this. As the narrative closes, the opera gets stuck in the mud. The Balinese orchestra is long since inaudible. And McPhee becomes increasingly nihilistic.
Spies remains exuberant and hedonistic until he is arrested by the Dutch for his own homosexuality. And we find out through the program that [INAUDIBLE] is killed when the Dutch prison ship transporting him to exile is sunk by the invading Japanese bombers. Nothing is resolved. And Mead is given the last words, with which she paints a totalizing system in which all are ensnared.
Mead identified awayness as a cultural mode of Balinese behavior, describing it as their habit of withdrawal into vacancy, letting themselves suddenly slip into a state of mind where they are, for the moment, no longer subject to the impact of interpersonal relations. There is her image to show you what Balinese awayness looks like.
It's ironic that Mead, turned here into the whipping boy for modernism, should identify the category that most succinctly captures the ethos of the production itself in which the actual Balinese playing McPhee's synthetic Balinese are held at arm's length as the West vacantly zones out on the idea that they exist for the West's self-recognition. Thank you.
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Cornell's Society for the Humanities hosted "Global Aesthetics: Intersecting Culture, Theory, Practice," a conference Oct. 15-16 at the A.D. White House.
Speakers in this session: Kay Dickinson (Fellow, Society for the Humanities/Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College, University of London), "Red and Green Stars in Broad Daylight: Syrian-Soviet Journeys Through Cinema"; Sharon Willis (Art History/Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester), "Lost Objects: The Museum of Cinema"; and Andrew McGraw (Fellow, Society for the Humanities/Music, University of Richmond), "Quasi-Collaboration and the Poetics of Pedophilia in Bang on a Can's 'House in Bali' (2010)."