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The Night of Counting The Years

28. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

In her after talk, Maha Maamoun mentioned the Egyptian film The Night of Counting the Years (a.k.a. The Mummy) by Shadi Abdel Salam. This is a film I have never seen and there is always something striking in how fascinated I am by certain films I’ve never seen. (I found clips of it here and here.) Wikipedia says its based on the true story of the Abd el-Rasuls, an Upper-Egyptian clan that had been robbing a cache of mummies […] and selling the artifacts on the illicit antiquities black market. Already my mind rushes towards the politics of stealing, how stealing may or may not be political, how smashing things may or may not be political depending on your intentions and context. For me, for example, if you systematically have no food, and you steal food, or money for food, we are in the realm of pure politics. But things are rarely so pure.

I recently read M. Kitchell’s short story Paul Garrior in Jacques Riverruns The Abyss Is The Foundation of the Possible. Its about a lost experimental pornography film of which only fragments remain, and which the narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with. Fragments are the gateway to obsession. The above fragments from The Night of Counting the Years begin to form a completely different film in my head, perhaps a bit too obviously, a film about the revolution currently taking place in Egypt.

The after talk emerged from a screening of Maamouns Domestic Tourism II, a compilation of scenes from Egyptian films that, in one way or another, all feature the pyramids. Watching this shorthand history of over fifty years of Egyptian cinema, all works I had never seen or heard of before (am I too forthcoming with my ignorance?), I felt a kind of overwhelming nostalgia for cinema as an international art form, for internationalism as a more positive, more potential, precursor to the brutalities of globalization. (A few days later, watching an Apichatpong Weerasethakul video, my nostalgia eases. Maybe cinema is more alive than ever.)

Another video by Maha Maamoun, Night Visitor, shares part of its title with Shadi Abdel Salams film. Night Visitor is a compilation of YouTube clips of citizens breaking into Egyptian sites of power, searching for evidence that official files and records are being destroyed, evidence of the shredding and burning of recent history, and, in the process, documenting government wealth. The act of breaking in and filming, wanting to see how the other half lives and works, what has been hidden, if suspicions prove correct, and also the desire to put it on the internet, to build communities around these moments of transgression. The videos show many small nights of counting the years, years that are hopefully now coming to an end, and YouTube videos are often also fragments, suggestive glimpses of something larger.

This post took me a few days to write because, against my better judgment, I somehow wanted to write something about Egypt. Ive been traveling for the past seven weeks and everywhere Ive gone there is still such an excitement when conversation turns to Tahir Square. I have no idea what will happen in Egypt now, or next, but I know that for the rest of the world what happened back in the spring, or more specifically the images of it, were such a striking symbol. The symbol of something previously thought impossible that suddenly became possible again. And perhaps also a symbol of ebbing American power. During that time I discovered the track Egypt Strut by Salah Ragab and The Cairo Jazz Band. I could listen to it for the rest of my life. Its a bit cheap to take someone elses struggle as a symbol for ones own sense of possibility. But I suppose we take our moments of hope where we can find them, as in New York they continue to occupy Wall Street.

In this photo the second moon was removed

27. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

In one of Marko Tadićs moon-obsessed postcards I read: In this photo the second moon was removed and I instantly think about communism and capitalism. There used to be two moons in the sky and now one of them has been removed. And the sky now looks unbalanced. I found Tadićs drawings almost endlessly moving. Humanity used to be obsessed with the moon. It was a place in the sky, in the night, we could never go. Then, allegedly, we went there. We all saw it like some ancient fragment of cinema. We dreamed of going to the moon, we went, and now the dream is gone. I dont know why, but I was convinced that Tadićs drawings were mainly about the future. Time to come up with new dreams.

Scan+2b

The year when it disintegrates

27. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

In his essay about Speculative Realism, a new branch of contemporary philosophy, Marc Fischer quotes the philosopher Ray Brassier from his book Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction:

Sooner or later both life and mind will have to reckon with the disintegration of the ultimate horizon when, roughly one trillion, trillion, trillion (101728) years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment. Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free mater, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based in protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience irrespective of its physical basis. Finally, in a state cosmologists call asymptopia, the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary gravitational particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called dark energy, which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness.

Fischer goes on to write:

Think of your own response to Brassiers description of cosmic asymptopia. You know that it is overwhelmingly likely that science is correct, and that the universe is tending towards a state of non-being, yet at the same time, you continue to act as if this doesnt matter.

However, this is definitely not my response to Brassiers description. I know a megalomaniac power fantasy when I read one. Nothing is more mythologically attractive or potent than a vision of apocalypse.

More to the point, the history of science is littered with examples where science thought things were one way before realizing they were completely wrong, that it was actually something very different. If the past five hundred years of science is full of examples of scientific blunder and misreading, how can we possibly pretend to know what might happen in a trillion much less a trillion, trillion, trillion years.

Predicting the future is a suckers game. Of course, scientists will say their predictions are based on hard scientific facts and calculations, which I am sure they are. But when the paradigm shifts, the facts are re-sorted, and a great number of paradigm shifts could very well occur in a trillion, trillion, trillion years. Humanity could disappear, and reappear, many times over such a period. As could much else.

In a more general sense, one might say this all has to end some time. If the lifespan of a living creature is the metaphor we are choosing as our baseline then of course everything comes to a close. But for me this is simply another example of wishful thinking. Perhaps the greatest example yet. A more powerful speculation might be to imagine the universe, in some form or other, continuing indefinitely. This would require a different sort of mythology. One that might, potentially, be more useful.

Cinema and Anxiety

26. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

At some point last night we were talking about cinema, and I mentioned Masha Tupitsyn’s book LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film and, since I am here in Graz to write, suggested I would blog about it today, which I am attempting to do now, albeit indirectly. I particularly liked the review of it on HTML Giant. But it was in a review from The Big Other that I came across this quote from an interview with the filmmaker Eugene Green:

In my conception of cinema, its impossible to make real cinema in digital because it doesnt capture any energy; it just gives an intellectual image of what the director wanted to put in the frame, it is not the reality, the real presence, the spiritual presence of what has been filmed; because in order to capture energy, the energy which is in matter, you need other matter, the matter of film, the chemistry of film which captures that energy. And digital image is a virtual image, there is nothing real there, so there cannot be any real spiritual presence either. Nevertheless, there is a sort of economic pressure to abolish film, to make it impossible to shoot in film.

(In my internet-denuded brain, when I was trying to find this quote again, I had originally thought it was by Tupitsyn, and it took a long search for me to realize it was not. These momentary slippages of the real, confusions of memory.)

When I make performance I am always acutely aware that I am making it in a world rife with cinema, video, the internet and a cacophony of reproduced images. (Perhaps I am too aware of this. I over-fetishize it.) However, increasing I am also aware that cinema, as we knew it, is also in crisis, and has been so for the entirety of my lifetime. I make performance in a world in which performance feels weak to me in comparison to the more potent verisimilitude of cinema, in comparison to the world seen through the cinematic eye of the camera, and yet, behind my back, as it were, cinema is also in a perpetual state of weakening.

This idea, or, I suppose, problematic, has been with me almost from the beginning. However, there were two moments in recent memory when it struck me anew.

The first was in Lisbon near the beginning of the year, when I was taken to a live football match for the first time. I had only seen football on television, and it was striking to me how different it was live, almost opposite. There was no camera to direct my eye towards the relevant action and so my eye wandered freely across the field. I almost never watched the ball, which seemed too small to see anyway, and instead followed the players almost at random. The play seemed calm to me, barely containing any drama at all in comparison to what I had seen on television. It was an experience of the way a close up artificially ramps up emotion, experienced through its opposite, through watching the full field with the close ups removed. The difference between television and theatre writ large.

The second moment was reading an article about Jim Henson and Sesame Street where I came across this passage:

The chief complaint about Sesame Street was the very thing that had captivated the attention of its target audience: the show’s breakneck pace. It was impossible to be bored watching Sesame Street: if you did not like one particular segment, another was on its way. Taking its cues from the theater, including the considerable influence of vaudeville, Sesame Street endeavored never to be boring. To some, that was what made it dangerous to traditional learning how could the classroom compare to an expensive television production?

But the quick cuts and location changes possible on television surpass anything possible in vaudeville. From my perspective, real life cant convincingly compete and neither can performance. Television took its cues from vaudeville but surpassed it. Vaudeville, for example, will now always feel old-fashioned, will never seem as enjoyable again. (Or only as nostalgia.)

I feel anxiety about performance in relation to our mediated world and Eugene Green feels anxiety about cinema against the rise of the digital. There is always something more authentic being surpassed by something less so. This is of course a script no one should believe. (It might be impossible to make real cinema in digital, but it is certainly possible to make something astonishing.) At any moment it is possible for artists to re-invent, to attack the current predicament, with energy, ingenuity and panache. But, then again, new things do replace old. And when the old things try to catch up they are at a considerable disadvantage. That is the shock. The true, enervating challenge.