Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eadward Muybridge, Zoopraxographer

Thom Anderson's film chronicles Muybridge's attempt to access Benjamin's optical unconscious, to make evident those movements that pass too quickly for us to perceive. The film also shows the espistimolgical drive which Muybridge followed in his invention. Muybridge photographed not only to reveal the movements that the mechanical camera/eye could see better than the human eye, but also to create an archive of the body (human and animal) and movement. Anderson is driven by a similar desire to archive; he archives Muybridge's archive, reflecting on the fact that that his (Anderson's) audience, through the "magic" of cinema to see Muybridge's images "better than he" himself could at the time of his invention. Perhaps this magic of cinema can be thought of as a manifestation of a drive to narrativize and historicize a medium. We would like to ask how this progressive model, which implies that seeing the frames (instead of elongated copies put through a visual compressor) is better than the zoopraxiscope, oversimplifies the differences between the mediums.

Anderson also highlights the "philosophical obstacle" that Muybridge was able to overcome through his photography and its transition to cinema. Let's recall the the final sequences in Anderson's film, which features two women approaching and embracing each other. As the scene begins, the gaps between frames are obvious; they appear as Muybridge's did, as Muybridge's sequences consisted (on average) of 24 images, which is the number of frames that modern cinema shows in a single second. The voiceover explains that with modern cinema, the infinite flux of time could in fact be reconstructed by a finite number of photos since the human eye is able to bridge the gap between the images ("the moments of darkness that alternate coequally with the light"). What we would like to ask, however, is how these gaps--the limitations of the method that reveal limitations of the project--(which can be overcome by human perception but always still exist) point to the futility of creating the complete archive of the human, of history, etc. What gaps exist in the epistemological project and how are they overcome by human perception? What is at stake in these gaps?


Wiseman's Primate

#1 In looking at the impulse to accumulate and organize knowledge through archival in
Primate, we would like to suggest a closer reading of one of the final scenes where the researchers are surrounding the conference table. The conversation centers on the value of basic research in the absence of practical or immediately applicable results. Following such reasoning, the testing/ biomedicalization of animal bodies can justifiably be performed to an extent which is only limited by the capacities of human labor in so far as it can possibly be supplemented in the future. The value of experimentation seems to be located not in a logical deduced use value, but in a potentiality value which only guarantees the placement of man at the center of his study and the pleasures that result from this focus. In turning to the scientia sexualis referenced in Prehistory: The Frenzy of the Visible, we can consider this sensualized power of sexual knowledge as the foundation and motivation of basic research.

#2 is posted below in comment

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Body and the Archive

Allan Sekula's "The Body and the Archive" positions the potentiality ascribed to the photographic medium within a historico-discursive moment, understanding the camera to be "a technological outpacing of already expanding cultural institutions" (4). A drive "to professionalize and standardize police and penal procedures" (4), he argues, played a crucial role in the development of material objects of a "truth apparatus", those technologies of "optical empiricism" (16).

Drawing upon Foucault's notions of a truth-power capable of producing subjects, Sekula investigates the perceived potential of photographs to play 'honorific' and 'repressive' functions, regulating the behavior of the masses.

He writes:

"The new [photographic] medium [did not simply inherit and 'democratize' the honorific functions of bourgeois portraiture. Nor did all police photography simply function repressively, although it is foolish to argue that the immediate function of police photographs was somehow more ideological or positively instrumental than negatively instrumental. But in a more general, dispersed fashion, in serving to introduce the panoptic principle into daily life, photography welded the honorific and repressive functions together. Every portrait implicitly took its place with a social and moral hierarchy." (10)

The fact that problematic experiments can be conducted to "characterize" and "categorize" the criminals and their bodies in the visuals speaks to the fact that we are attempting to put into order the physical traits of individuals in order to make an exposable pattern for the betterment of society. This apparatus, thus, seeks to accomplish the double task of producing subjects while adopting a visual means of establishing the truth about their 'invisible' nature through means of their visible physical traits.

Quote #2:

"The first rigorous system of archival cataloguing and retrieval of photographs was that invented by Bertillon. Bertillon's nominalist system of identification and Galton's essentialist system of typology constitute not only the two poles of positivist attempts to regulate social deviance by means of photography, but also the two poles of these attempts to regulate the semantic traffic in photographs. Bertillon sought to embed the photograph in the archive. Galton sought to embed the archive in the photograph" (pg.55 III)

Though Bertillon and Galton's archival practices differ, they both ultimately have the goals of preserving photographs for history, social truth and social control. Sekula remarks that while Bertillon tries to "tame" the photograph, Galton is ambitious and scientistic about the photograph in wanting it to do more. In his composite portraits, Galton manages to superimpose the faces of several criminals to produce what Sekula calls an "improved impression of l'homme moyen." (48). Galton's photographs, then, succeed in giving visual form to Quetelet's ideal average man.

What is at stake in the articulation of the individual and the mass body is that by processes of archiving photographs, we as humans are in control of now organizing the representations of the body and the experience into preservation for our disposals. Accordingly, as Sekula writes, Galton's project didn't merely produce an image that would be added to the archives of criminality: rather these composite photographs revealed "the vanished physiognomy of a higher race." (50)

How does the mass body here find its articulation in the index of the individual portrait? Could this composite portrait be thought of as indexical if it represents an almost transcendental subject? If the norms by which the individual and the mass are articulated find their expression in a ghostly physiognomy, then what can we say about the "positivities" produced by this optical apparatus?

Linda Williams Group

The apparatus of the camera of cinema and Muybridge's photographic method and zoopraxiscope open up a "frenzied" object of study through visuality. This is problematized by the notion that this visuality is subject to a double-bind of blindness. To make something visible is to create an epistemological desire to make it "known."
The category and object of "woman" stands at the point of this "blindness." The female body "confesses" itself to the male inquiry, or desire to see the pleasure of the woman that is ultimately impossible. Williams correctly identifies this move and production in hard-core cinema stating,
"The animating male fantasy of hard-core cinema might therefore be described as the (impossible) attempt to capture visually this frenzy of the visible in a female body whose orgasmic excitement can never be objectively measured." (pg 50).
This is also seen in the study and scrutiny to which the woman's body is subjected for a study of her presence (the phallus) that is always absent. This absence though is merely a reflection back upon itself.


Week 8 Synthesis Question

Q3: This week's texts are concerned with the apparatuses, processes, and epistemes by which knowledge about man (and animal) is constituted. Foucault suggests that since the 19th-century, the subject, the mode of investigation, and the object of the human sciences are held apart by increasingly unstable borders: in the case of sociology, for instance, representation as the object of its study is also the conditions of its existence, collapsing the strict separation between the subject and the object of investigation. The texts also seem to suggest that apparatuses themselves, and not solely epistemological configurations, are productive of knowledge. What is the relation between the apparatus and the knowledge of man produced by the investigation? We find instructive Sekula's notion of the "truth-apparatus," here: it cannot simply be explained by recourse to the optical objectivity of the camera in this case, but rather is situated in a "larger ensemble." (16) How are the effects of the apparatuses of knowledge represented in the texts and in the films? Is there a way to reconcile the concern for "surfaces" that motivated the archival photography of criminals with the surgical technologies that penetrate the bodies of the animals in Primate? Would Foucault challenge this notion of a bodily target of the apparatuses of the human sciences? How could we put Muybridge's interest in the physical human form in conversation with Foucault's argument that the human sciences operate at the level of representations and the unconscious?


Monday, March 22, 2010

Questions for Week 8: Apparatus and Epistemology

Q1: In the excerpt from The Order of Things, Foucault discusses the peculiar epistemological circularities that characterize the human sciences. For instance, he argues that though the human sciences operate at the level of representations, it is representations which provide "their condition of possibility." (364) This results in a conflation, or confusion, between the subject and object of knowledge. Foucault writes that the human sciences "are always animated, therefore, by a sort of transcendental mobility." (364) To what does this transcendence refer, and how is it related to the Anthropological Sleep, that folding over of the transcendental and the empirical? Is Foucault relating the transcendental to the unconscious, and the empirical to the conscious? Writing on psychoanalysis later, Foucault writes:
This means that, unlike the human sciences, which, even while turning back towards the unconscious, always remain within the space of the representable, psychoanalysis advances and leaps over representation, overflows it on the side of finitude...(374)
What does it mean to leap over representation? Is this simply a matter of revealing the "conditions of possibility of all knowledge of man," (375) and how does this relate to Foucault's larger project and the death of man?

Q2: In both Zoopraxographer and Primate, we encounter different apparatuses, technologies, and methods for producing objective or scientific knowledge. As the narrator of Zoopraxographer observed, most of the human models were photographed undressed. Interestingly, the narrator suggests that conjunction of the technical apparatus and the nude models in front of the homogeneous backgrounds produces a sensation of "naturalness." Indeed, in Muybridge's nude photographs, it is as though we are viewing the natural human body, even though he obtained models "from all classes." In what ways is the natural body articulated in Muybridge's photographs? How is this related to the objectivity of the camera lens? This can be compared to Primate, where an attempt at formalization and standardization does not suggest naturalness--we are thinking, for instance, of the images of the caged primates. How is apparatus represented in Primate? We suggest a close reading of the scene in which a blood sample is being processed and eventually visualized through the clear eyepiece of the microscope: what do we make of the rhythmic, almost musical, quality of the scene, in which the technologies for analyzing blood come to take on almost aesthetic value? What do we make of the resulting images of "nature"?

Q3 coming up


Thursday, March 11, 2010

group presentation

we'll be looking at imitation and violence, taking King Kong as our media object.


Who's miming who?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Midterm Project

We're going to work on presence and in some capacity Heredia's The Couple in the Cage.
Will elaborate later-

Week 6 Screening Question

How/can can we read the Peruvians filming their Western as an example of the combination of Frazer's Law of Similarity ("that like produces like"..."the notion of the copy, in magical practice, affecting the original to such a degree that the representation shares in or acquires properties of the represented" and Law of Contact or Contagion ("things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after physical contact has been severed") (Taussig 47)? How does the inclusion of Kansas in the Peruvian "film" and the fact that a lot of the "acting" is actually more real (consider the scene in which Kansas tries to teach the Peruvians the concept of faking a punch) than that which it imitates complicate this reading (or the Laws)? Also, how can we read the Peruvians' film as a parody "where mimicry exposes construction"? (Suggested consideration of the Josephine Baker anectode and its foreshadowing of a "new sort of anthropology...that defines its object of study not as Other but as the reflection of the West in the mimetic magic of its Others" (69).)


Monday, March 8, 2010

Hey guys,
Monica, Jesse and I are going to do captivation for our presentation. See you tomorrow.

Week 6: Mimesis and Alterity: Questions for March 9th

This week's reading dealt with a interesting tradition of the critique of modes of representation and an interrogation of representation as a practice. Taussig mentions that in Benjamin's work he "liken[s] the process of opening the optical unconscious to the surgeon's hand entering the body and cautiously feeling its way around the organs" (31). The "optical unconscious" which is acted upon through an "interpenetration" of body and image. In this sense its not only visual but also tactile, a synesthesia. Taussig notes that in the "penetration" there is also a "transgression" of the taboo: "the body is entered, the organs palpated" (ibid). If Taussig suggest through Bataille that the "function of the taboo is to hold back violence," and that "this tactile knowing of embodied is also the dangerous knowledge....damned by the taboo," then is this to say that the mimetic faculty either is a violent act or is that which enables violence? Can we read Derrida's notion of the arche-writing as a "violence" as a reading of the "mimetic faculty"? Is there a violence or penetration (in reference to Taussig's first chapter) in the magic of representation that gives power to the individual who represents over the represented?

One moment we would particularly like to interrogate comes from Benjamin's essay "On the Mimetic Faculty." Here Benjamin attributes a "history" to the "mimetic faculty" in two senses: "the phylogenetic" and "the ontogenetic." Benajmin states for the "ontogenetic sense" of the mimetic faculty's history that,
play is for many its school. Children's play is everywhere permeated by mimetic modes of behavior, and its realm is by no means limited to what one person can imitate in another. The child plays at being not only a shopkeeper or teacher but also a windmill and a train. (OMF, 160).
Benjamin thus sees an originary or development of the mimetic faculty from "play" and particularly exposes this in his example of the "child." Is this theoretical move a reduction of the mimetic faculty and mimesis to "nature," "the primitive," and "the child?" What then would be at stake in such a grouping? How does Taussig support or resist this grouping in his own writing?


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Midterm Preference

Hi yall,

Me and Sabrina will be taking "Fetishism" for the midterm project.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Week 5: Labor/Tool - Framing Questions and Screening Question

Framing Question
In what ways do Povinelli and Agamben approach their critiques? Can we think of Agamben as a critique from within? Is it a deconstruction of Western discourses on the human/animal dichotomy? Can Povinelli’s be seen as a type of comparative politics as a means to critique or deconstruct, through opposition, ontological assumptions of the political economy of value, practice and identity? As a critique from the outside or from the side? How do both show the incongruities between the binaries that they position and how does each writer deal with these spaces?

Can we think of dreaming as similar to Levi-Strauss’ construction of the bricoleur? Or in what ways does it offer a critique of such a conception? Can we see Povinelli’s text as complicating Levi-Strauss’s conception of mythical thought as bricolage?

Passage for close reading:
“Belyuen Aborigines play with the terms of economic, cultural, and historical arguments, but they are also cognizant of the multiple ways in which resistance is rearticulated into dominant relations of power. History, then, neither dictates cultural forms or is subsumed by them, but rather emerges in processes of social action and association” (Povinelli, 14).
What does Povinelli see as sites of potentiality? Povinelli’s seems very explicit on the importance of counter-hegemonic discourse in its resistance of the selective appropriation and ahistorically framed identity of the Belyuen Aborigines by the West. What is the importance of the “process of social action and association,” in her argument?

Film Question
How does the film imagine the community or space of the gleaner? Does their consumption serve to demystify the commodity? If they are consuming non-commodities to begin with, if we apply Marx’s text, then how can we think of their consumption as outside of capitalist modes of exchange?
Can we put pressure on this romanticization and in what ways does Varda address this in her project, the film is wrought with the idyllic representations of the gleaner through the Impressionist paintings?
What is the importance or significance of the medium of video in Varda’s project?  How is time is articulated in the film (the clock without hands, the the aging of Varda’s hands, the decay of the potatoes)? What is time’s relation to decay?
[Suggested close reading of the scene in which Varda drops the armful of wheat  in exchange for the videocamera.]

Jesse, Emmett, & Monica