A Point of Clarification

May I say? I am always so thoroughly surprised that anyone reads this blog. As is obvious, I rarely post and what I do is usually an essay I've written offline. I am perplexed by the rhetorical complexity of blogging. This is not a critique of the medium just a statement of fact about the relationship between me and blogging.

So: it seems some bile drenched, uh, person has left a comment that is so rich and complex that rather than delete it, I will use it as fodder to explore this medium that so eludes me. This commenter stumbled on a blog written by a fictional character of mine, Henri—the central figure in my novel.

Yes, I said it: I am writing a novel. Man, it's fun! How liberating! I was becoming so fatigued with writing precious, tight, Deleuze-tinged essays. And fiction is so new to me, I am so thoroughly terrible at it, that every sentence I write is an education. First person or third and the complex play of voices in between and amongst; rhythm and flow; texture and tone; description: every piece is a challenge. Things that are obvious to writers are beguiling to me—and I love it.

So, yes, my novel and a chance to be free of academese once and for all. The goal of said novel? Well, to shed this voice of academic, philosophic preciousness. And to learn some things about how language and voice work. And, mostly, to be funny. I want to laugh at the things I write.

My Henri—poor Henri—is a terribly depressed, suicidal, sexually, uh, deprived and angry Jewish man. Think: Portnoy's Complaint meets Notes from the Underground. I started the novel in the first person but I think it was too much—this pissed off man screaming at you became tiring. So I shifted it to 3rd person to better frame him, give him some nuance through another voice.

And I tried an experiment: I started a blog written by Henri. My goals were to test a voice—his voice, not the voice of the book. And to see how people reacted to him as this is an essential part of the novel. What happens when this angry little man starts speaking his mind? He imagines he will be eviscerated—and, in many ways, he is during the course of his short, odd life.

The responses of this particular commenter—see the comments in some of my posts below—are so funny and interesting they even surprised Henri: "I was gonna post that on Ratemyprofessor and report you!," she writes.

What a strange instinct—to report someone, as if this were either 3rd grade or some fascist regime. And I love that the authority to which I will be reported is Ratemyprofessor.com. It's so odd and hilarious I'm not sure where to begin or even what to say. The best (or worst) part is that she's proved poor Henri's point—we do live in a sort of fascism where the crime of saying the wrong thing is met with anonymous reporting to higher authorities (Ratemyprofessor being a less potent 3rd Reich, but potent nonetheless in its own way, for sure). But she has provided priceless fodder for my book—so thanks!

The blog has other goals. One is shameless: to see if I could drudge up some controversy and create buzz for my book. In one fantasy scenario, I'd be fired from UC Berkeley. That would be too good, too perfect: to be fired by the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley for things I say or, even better, for things written in a blog under a different name. Man, if I were more opportunistic, more committed to my art, I would have tried harder to engineer that and turned it into a press and publishing opportunity. But I'm neither that brave nor that cunning—so I got laid off due to budget cuts. How terribly unglamorous. Foiled again.

And the other goal of that blog was to explore the oddity of voice in this blogosphere where, presumably, voice is untethered from identity, from humanity. This little hate filled commenter, of course, reveals that this untethering ain't so easy. And that, perhaps, the blog in its immediacy forges a peculiar intimacy between writer and words that somehow makes it seem more true, more honest when, in fact, it should be the exact opposite.

What attracts me most about blogging is the potential for a certain kind of freedom, a delirious proliferation of voices, where one man—or woman—can become 20 men or women—or 20 men and women. Doesn't the blogosphere promise the glory of the author's death and the birth of language?


The Moving Image

“In short,” Deleuze writes, “cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image." That is to say, the film camera does not capture stills to which movement is later added by the projector, by an external media; that would be to miss movement all together. “Movement,” Deleuze tells us via Bergson, “is distinct from the space covered." Movement is more or less continuous while the space covered is divisible. Hence, “you cannot reconstitute movement with positions in spaces or instants in time: that is, with immobile sections.”

It is not that cinema invents the movement-image; Bergson discovered the concept independently. But is cinema the only art to proffer the movement-image? Prior to cinema, or outside of cinema, are there examples of the movement-image? In what sense, if any, can we say that an ostensibly still image moves? Is this movement the same as a movement-image?

In The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan claims that “[v]isual space is uniform, continuous, and connected." But that doesn’t seem right to me at all. Take the painting above by Matthew Ritchie: Is this visual space uniform, continuous, connected? The work may not move in any linear fashion but it most certainly undulates: there is a distributing (and not just a distribution) of intensities, of speeds, of temperatures. The eye does not take in the work uniformly; consumption is not immediate. But nor is the painting: this will not have been a matter of the viewer making the work move. Rather, the viewer moves with the painting, with its flows and lines, its speeds and vibrations.

We cannot say, then, that the movement of the work is the movement of the viewer, of his mind or even of his eyes (although it is both of those things as well). The painting takes the viewer on a journey, not to an imaginative place, not to concepts or ideas (at least not necessarily; there may very well be a conceptual speed and intensity as well, not to mention a speed of communication between and amongst concepts), but a perceptive journey. As Deleuze and Guattari maintain in What is Philosophy?, a percept is distinct from perception, from a perceiving subject. The movement at work in Matthew Ritchie’s painting is the movement of the image.

In his reading of the French artist Gérard Fromanger, Deleuze maps the distribution of temperature in Fromanger’s photographs/paintings. “[I]n each painting,” Deleuze writes, “there is a voyage, a circulation of tones." The image, then, is not still, not uniform or continuous. Indeed, “[a] circuit of exchange and communication begins to be established in the painting." That is, colors speak across the canvas to each other, lines criss-cross, they swerve and bend. There are points of inflection, moments at which things turn: yes, moments.

I can’t help but think of the so-called abstract paintings of Modernism. Pollock, like the roving camera of film, puts himself in motion, writhing over the canvas. Miró became obsessed with birds, with the possibility of a line that could take flight, unobstructed. Paul Klée’s line, like Miró’s, wiggles and prances and folds and bends; at times, there are arrows so we can keep track of all the movement. There’s a great Klée drawing I saw recently. It was not as rounded as I imagine Klée’s usual work; there was an odd geometry as the lines turned at sharp angles, forming a strange portrait. The title was, “Moderately Slow.” We call Calder’s work “mobile.” (The mobiles are 3D Miró’s; it is not, then, that movement is made explicit; it’s that movement shifts from two to three dimensions.)

This circulation of intensities, this communication of tones, these lines of flight: is this the movement-image of Deleuze and Bergson? How does this movement of the image relate to the moving image of cinema? What makes the cinematic image different from the painting or photograph? From Bazin to Deleuze, there seems to be agreement that movement is the distinguishing factor. But if we agree that images do move, what distinguishes the movement of cinema from the movement of a Klée drawing?

According to Deleuze, the movement-image of cinema involves the perpetual modulation of matter: “the movement-image is the object: the thing itself caught in movement as continuous function. The movement-image is the modulation of the object itself." The movement-image is not a representation, a capture, but “matter itself.” But this can certainly be said of a painting or photograph as well. As Merleau-Ponty suggests, Cézanne’s apples are not representations of apples at all: they are apples, again and anew. Great images do not refer, they do not point: they are matter, they are the world modulating itself before our very eyes.

Deleuze therefore seems to locate the point of distinction elsewhere. “Photography,” he writes, “is a kind of ‘moulding’: the mould organises the internal forces of the thing in such a way that they reach a state of equilibrium at a certain instant (immobile section). However, modulation does not stop when equilibrium is reached, and constantly modifies the mould, constitutes a variable, continuous, temporal mould.” The movement-image is “a transformation of the mould at each moment of the operation.”

This is deceptively complex so let me follow its different threads. Deleuze claims that the internal forces “reach a state of equilibrium” and then suggests that this is an “immobile section.” But is an equilibrium necessarily immobile? Kant claims that confronted with beauty, say a flower, the faculties of the viewer are set in a motion that will not resolve; he calls this “free play." And yet, unlike the sublimity of a storm, beauty affords a kind of harmony of the faculties: an equilibrium of sorts is reached and yet free play persists—a moving equilibrium. I might even say that there is only an equilibrium in and of the movement.

Of course, for Kant, this free play is a free play of the faculties; it refers to the motion of a mental state, not of the object. But if we assume the phenomenological perspective, the seer and the seen are intertwined: the motion of the mental state is continuous with the motion of the object without becoming the same movement. It is not a matter of pure reflection, of an unadulterated echo, but of repetition, a continuous bloc of becoming that includes object and viewer in a relentless conversation, a relentless and mutual touching that is neither determinative nor arbitrary but mutually constitutive. So while we may say that an image may or may not achieve a state of equilibrium, we have not said that this image does not move.

Now, I almost said that the image must move, that movement is a condition of it being art. But seeing Andreas Gurky’s enormous photographs in person, I hesitate: his images are disquietingly still. Some clearly aim for stillness—an empty Prada shelf, for instance. But others, such as those of throngs at a rock concert or the Tokyo Stock exchange, objectively contain movement. There are all the tell-tale signs: blur, and sometimes there is what seems to be a double-shot, as if two photographs, taken moments apart, were layered on top of each other. And yet even these images do not move; they won’t budge. There is no depth perception; focus and blur have nothing to do with distance and proximity. There is no vantage point, as if a living moment were captured, as if motion begins the moment the shutter releases, or that the eye of the photographer is in motion, capturing this fleeting event. What McLuhan says of visual space in general can be said of Gursky’s photographs in particular: they are “uniform, continuous, and connected.” They are a parody of the visual. There may be internal differentiation, but there are no points of inflection; nothing happens here. Even in the soccer field, with a player down, there are no events. Indeed, I’d say that a color field painting enjoys more internal differentiation that Gursky’s photographs. It’s almost as if he works hard to still the movement of life: his image of Pollock’s image makes this explicit as Pollock’s lively drips come to a screeching halt under Gursky’s watch. And yet “watch” is not the right word for he is altogether absent. There is not vantage point to these images; there are not great shots that he captured. Neither the camera nor the cameraman are in motion: stillness is absolute. I might say that the movement of a Gursky photograph is its non-movement (for it is not a death or even a dearth; the photographs are affirmative.)

And so an equilibrium may or may not be achieved, an image may or may not move, but what is it that distinguishes the cinematic image from other moving images? Deleuze tells us that the terms of the “mould” are different. This notion of the mould comes from Bazin. But Bazin sees a very different cinema than Deleuze. For Bazin, cinema is fundamentally representational; hence, he begins with an analysis of the photograph and engages the notion of the mould, an impression of reality. But Deleuze’s cinema will never have been representational; as he says, the movement-image is matter, nor just a mould of matter.

I am not saying a painting and a film are the same; I am not trying to break down the boundaries between them, playing the skeptic, trying to force language to its limits. No, my point is this: the difference lies not in movement per se, not in duration, not in mobility but in the boundaries of movement. There is a difference between a film and a painting or photograph: the temporality of the frame. What Deleuze says of the respective statures of the moulds is true for the respective statures of the frames; in the cinematic image, there is “a transformation of the [frame] at each moment of the operation.” The frame of the cinematic image is in perpetual flux, dissolving, reforming, shifting without pause. The frame of a painting is more or less static. Even if we can say that the frame of a painting is in motion—say, Matthew Ritchie’s sprawling works that leave the wall, dripping, as it were, onto the floor—the open frame nevertheless enjoys a consistent trajectory: it may be in motion, it may be infinite, but it is one differential equation. A film, on the other hand, shifts equations as it will. Even Calder’s mobiles have a boundedness, a frame that is in motion but never dissolves: each mobile is one, albeit elaborate, differential equation.

At times, the frame of a painting next to the endless reframing of a film makes a painting seem stilted, claustrophobic—all the movement of Miró’s bird in that tiny space. And yet there is an odd exhilaration at the endless vibration, at the tightly wound flux of a Miró or Klee or Matthew Ritchie. At the zoo one day, I had a revelation while watching the big cats pace in their cramped cages. They were not bored; they were not looking for a way out; they were not frustrated. On the contrary, by moving steadily in their space, the cats transformed the 20-foot cage into a sprawling savannah of infinite horizons. Freedom, they seemed to say, cannot be quantified: this space is infinite because I occupy it, because I move in it. This is the thrill of a Klée sketch: within this bounded space, there is infinite movement.

But the swell and vibration of a Klée or Miró or Ritchie will never give way to the continuous modulation of the cinematic image. This is what Deleuze is after from cinema, from the movement-image: a pure becoming, every moment at the limit of its own dissolve, matter in a state of relentless transformation. The bounded, framed image will not know such dissolve; it will never give way to another state. On the contrary, it is this state of movement, this stipulated becoming, ad infinitum. It is at once condemned and liberated to repeat itself.

There is a strange of condensation to the framed image. I imagine a Matthew Ritchie as an entire film—all the dissolves and transformations—presented within one frame (albeit a frame that is always at its own limit rather than being the container of limits). In some sense, such a painting is film sped up, past the speed of light: his painting is the trace. On the other hand, his painting is a film slowed down so much that transformations endure, never quite come to a head, slur.

This moving framed image, then, is not sequential. It does not relate to a whole but is itself a whole (as Deleuze describes the movement-image: it has a local modulation as well as a modulation of the sequence or series itself.) Of course, there are framed images that are part of sequences, Robert Rauschenberg’s great set of zipper-attached prints, for example. But the movement or communication between the different images does not constitute the relentless dissolve of the frame as we see in cinema.

Perhaps, then, the movement of the framed image is not the movement-image at all. It may not be an immobile section, its equilibrium may or may not move, but it does not become another image. There is no modulation: it is all bounded fray, a framed set of vibrations, communications, swells. Of course, there are different kinds of such framed movement. Just as Deleuze proffers a topology of cinematic images—the affect-image, the perception-image, the action-image—so there is a topology of framed images: the swell-image, the vibration-image, the hot-image, the cold-image, the wisp-image, etc. A whole set of images, then, each with a dominant mode of movement. There’s the fold-image and its subsets: the convex-image, the concave-image, the sharp turn-image, the micro-pleat-image, the broad turn-image, etc; the temperature-image, hot to cold; cold to hot; and everything in-between; the speed-image; the rhythm-image; etc. I imagine there are thousands of possible moving image types.

Becoming Stupid, Becoming Strange, Becoming Image: An Introduction to Joyful Seeing

“Carry on
Until the scene becomes improbable
until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavements….” Georges Perec

As the image goes, so go we. If the image is an aggregate of elements always on the go—concept, affect, emotion all awhirl—our engagements with images are aggregates on the go, moving between theory, personal impression, philosophy, even the occasional ethical demand. What we offer—perhaps too quickly, too densely, too obliquely—is an ontology and an ethics: this is the world of moving image and how to reckon it, how to see it: how to become image. A techne, then, of seeing difference.

Look at Perec. He sits down at a cafe, enjoys his coffee, a beer, a cigarette. And from this perspective, with such unabashed pleasure, begins to see differently. He does not stand apart from the world; he does not distance himself. On the contrary, he consumes the world with all his senses—watching, sipping, listening. He stands amidst the world’s great teeming and, shaking off the blinders that obscure, carries on until he begins to see the unfamiliar. What is this vision? What is this algorithm of the look that sees the unfamiliar, the strange, the different? What is this vision that sees what’s happening and not what’s already happened?

At first glance, we find the world glossed over, so thoroughly enmeshed in familiarity that it in fact eludes perception. And so Perec commands us to “carry on,” to keep looking, to look again. And again. And again. Our vision must be active, persistent, repetitive. If we’re to see the world, we must dispense with the grid of the familiar, the geometry of categories. We must not plug what we see into the matrix of the known; we must not interpret, say A=B. If we’re to see the world, our gaze must move with the world, see and sense where it takes us—and where we take it. Seeing becomes an encounter.

Why this active, persistent, repetitive looking? Because this act of looking puts vision in motion and thereby enacts the movement of the world. Entangled in this active gaze, the world itself gets taken up, comes to move, and begins to forge itself anew. And vice-versa: by looking again and again our vision is taken up by the world, succumbs to its movement, to its relentless inauguration of itself. By looking again and again, both the world and the viewer free themselves from the system of signs that point to the familiar, to the known. And the world becomes a creative venture. As Steve Zissou, negotiator of the life aquatic, declares, “This is an adventure.”

This moving-vision reckons a world that is always in motion, always morphing. This is the world of Henri Bergson, a world in which change is not exterior to matter. On the contrary, change is immanent to matter. Taking his cue from Bergson, Deleuze tells us that matter is the movement-image, the image in a perpetual state of modulation, even if that modulation is imperceptible, microcosmic. The temporal thoroughly infuses the spatial, relentlessly shifting the make-up of this and that, recasting its borders, its possibilities. Marc Lafia’s algorithmic films, Permutations, teach us that the image does not need to be run through a projector in order to move: the image is always already moving precisely because the world is always already moving. The image is a site of becoming; to see, we have to become as well.

To see, then, is not to penetrate but to move with. These eyes do not burrow beneath the surface of things to discover what lurks within or behind the world; they do not discover the essence of things. Perec’s command is not look deeply but keep looking. He remains joyfully at the surface of things. “See more flatly,” he writes, see without hierarchy, without categories that predetermine. For Perec, the world happens right there. Where? There. This look does not seek the idea behind the attribute, the truth behind the accident, the cause behind the effect. These eyes trace how things go, seeing discrete events and emerging networks, flux and flow, harmony, disharmony, synergy, chiasm, indifference.

These eyes do not penetrate; they entwine. They lead and are led, a creative surrender, at once active and passive, neither active nor passive. Neither here nor there, neither being one with the image nor standing at a remove: to see the new entails this in-between posture, an in-between that is not liminal per se but capable, ready: poised. "Time passes. Drink your beer. Wait." Poise allows us to see what’s happening, to be ready for what may come, for what might move us in strange directions, into uncharted territory. Poise: this is what allows us to trace the movements of the image and not the story, to move neither ahead of the image nor trail behind it: to move with the image without becoming one with the image.

To see the new is a matter of inserting oneself amidst the hustle of life and letting it take one’s eyes just as one’s eyes take the hustle: a mutual, if disproportionate, assumption—a becoming image. The image does not solely determine the looking. To see well means being a keen origamist able to fold, turn, spin the image this way and that; to see well means putting all of one’s senses out there, not just one’s eyes and ears. To see well, one must be ready to smell the image, to feel across one’s body, with knee and intuition and dreams and blood, to sense mood, ambience, speed, density. But of course the viewer does not solely determine this look, this folding. The image makes demands. It has a speed, a density, a distribution of affect; the image is an entire percept machine. It takes up the viewer just as the viewer takes up the image, what Deleuze calls a nuptial. To see—to see without the blinders of familiarity, without the structures of symbols and bathos—is a cooperative act as viewer and viewed find themselves led astray, led into new territory, a mutual looking that sets the world a go.

In this mutual becoming, artist and viewer do not discover each other in a seamless détente. There may be a hermeneutic circle but there are so many other shapes, so many other trajectories of this event, so many other distributions of force, affect, concept: the circle of understanding between artist, viewer, and image is one possibility amongst infinite possibilities. Sometimes, we don't understand the image at all but find ourselves weeping, laughing, reflecting, thinking. There are times the image is downright confounding; other times, the image just sits there, inert, and we have to pick it up, extend it, aggressively fold it into something spectacular. Which is all to say, the viewing event is a site of aparallel inflection of all the parties involved—image, artist, viewer. To see the new is not solely to seek recognition or even understanding. Here, artist and viewer seek the wonder of the image, however it may go.

This poised seeing, then, is not a natural vision: we must discipline ourselves to see what’s happening and not what’s already happened. There is of course a great history of artists employing techniques and tools to bring on the strange, the new, engaging modes of dispensing with habit and seeing anew: avoiding “e” one day, seeing nothing but “e” the next; seeing only blue, every impossible shade of blue and nothing else: all of a sudden, the world is organized by blue, Yves Klein as god; playing exquisite cadaver with friends, family, and strangers just to introduce the network into creation, to see what we couldn’t have alone; cutting up the written word only to put it back together in the a new order, to see what comes; leaving the director’s chair, handing the camera to the grip, the actor, to whomever is so inspired.

What we seek here is a bit different than a technology per se—it is a techne, an art of reckoning the image, a posture of standing towards this filmic life. There is no doubt a great book or series of books to be written on these diverse technologies of seeing: Foucault's rupture, event, dispersion; Lucretius' shape, speed, clinamen; Bergson's intuition. In these pages, however, we do not as much flush out a technology as engage diverse ruses as we try to shake off the old technology of narrative and identification and, holding ourselves differently, engage new modes of reading, or rather, modes of reading the new, of seeing the emergent and the different rather than the familiar. We don’t want to recognize; we want to see anew.

And so we stand towards the image differently, we look for different things, we ask different questions of the image. We put on a deadpan gaze that is nonetheless engaged, an indifference that remains passionate, a non-sentimental pathos. It is that look on Perec’s face—a smile at once stupid and clever, a vague sadness, readiness and composure impossibly intertwined. Perec is always ready to take leave of himself; his eyes and words scan the field for what’s different, for what might take him somewhere, move him. And all the while that smile, that smile from the prick of the new, the exhilaration of the world taking shape, the joy—the unabashed joy—of life affirming itself before our eyes. This is a techne of joy.

This poised looking entails an odd posture, at once a recline and a reach. It is that lean forward towards the screen without falling in. Which is to say, this is not about collapsing the line between the real and the image, even if such a collapse has always already happened; this is not Baudrillard’s hyperreal but something else entirely. It is a posture of productive consumption, a collapse into the chair to digest more fully, a slump of satiation not emotional confirmation or sublimity: a coup d’image, if you will. It is not a matter of feeling happiness or resolve, of identifying with the character, of discovering what we already know: the becoming-image is not a mnemonic. We don’t want to say, “Hey, I know just how he feels.” Rather, we want to say, “Wow! I didn’t know that was even a possibility; I didn’t know I could do that.” We do not become the image, as if there were a destination; nor can we do anything we’d like with this image. We move with the image and the image moves with us as image and viewer meet in a new territory, a territory made in this very act of seeing.

This looking, “carrying on,” is creative. It does not tear at the world. It does not break with how things go. On the contrary, this techne of vision joins the world in its flux of folds and pleats and cuts. In this active gaze, both world and viewer stop being recognized: they begin to emerge, shapes taking form, territories distinguishing themselves even as they intermingle, rhythms diverging and coalescing in impossible harmonies.

And nor is this joy-seeking vision an invocation of natural seeing over and against an encultured seeing, as if beckoning return to a vision bereft of culture and history. Perec does not disdain the categories of knowledge; in fact, he enjoys categories, playing with them, creating new ones. He doesn’t put aside the human to get in touch with his natural vision. Categories and knowledge don’t go away; they just don’t determine the looking beforehand. To see is to know: an active knowing, a gay science, a knowing that is not the mnemonics of Socrates but a knowing that happens in the very act of seeing. It is a knowing that is as sensual as it is conceptual, as speculative as it is experiential, as categorical as it is particular. We do not disdain the concept in search of a primitive vision but, on the contrary, we seek the concept amidst the fray. This strategy of looking, then, does not distinguish between the natural and the human, between the conceptual and the somatic. It distinguishes between the static look and the active look, a look that fixes and a look that cuts and folds, is cut and folded. This look is not a return but a relentless surging forward.

Poised at the juncture of the world's emergence, this strange techne of becoming image is not premised on knowing what this or that is but on introducing the unknown, on not knowing what something is. This not-knowing, however, is not a breaking down of the known world; it is not a tearing asunder. Nor is it a discovery of what really is. On the contrary, it is the inauguration of the new within the heart of the old, the perpetual birth of the uncanny.

As a kid, I was confounded by zucchini: Who could enjoy such things? And so I’d lie in bed at night and say the word zucchini to myself over and over until it was devoid of meaning, until it became this kind of monster in my mouth, a sense-event without concept, without signification. And I’d shutter with equal parts horror and delight, laughing with the best possible laugh, the laugh of the world making itself in all its absurd, gorgeous splendor, making itself new in my mouth: zucchini, zucchini, zucchinizucchinizucchini. Zucchini. Zucchini. I put the word in motion, quite literally, and kept it moving until it shed its referent and emerged anew, until I emerged anew. But do not misunderstand: this movement is not from sense to nonsense, from concept to body, from sign to pure mark. For just as uttering zucchini stripped it of its referent, the tender green squash returned, forever changed, its vertical trajectory turned 90 degrees, a phallus sprawling sideways in the stutter of my palate. This was my way of coming to know zucchini, coming to know different tastes, different possibilities of enjoyment. The uncanny is this movement from the familiar to the unfamiliar without shedding the familiar once and for all. The uncanny takes up the domestic and sends it on its way. But it is not an exile: it is the birth of the nomad, always home and never home. Zucchini and I, becoming together, partners in world making.

This moving world does not offer referential or mnemonic signs. The world does not point to its meaning; the accident does not signify its ontology. We must come to the world differently, without semiotics and its signifiers, its symbols; we must put aside these old techniques of recognition. The world is not already known precisely because it keeps happening, making itself on the fly, birthing itself before our very eyes. This moving world becomes a flux of bodies and light and force, a lava lamp life, the most kaleidoscopic film you’ve ever seen. In this teeming flow of images, bodies of every sort—human, animal, conceptual, inanimate—dissolve, resolve, and cohere in a relentless play. There is no familiar plot line, no characters with whom for sure we can identity, no reliable borders distinguishing the human from anything else. This is the life aquatic, punch-drunk driving down Mulholland Dr. What we begin to see are shapes in motion, a calculus of life, trajectories that morph and twist and pleat, that bend and distend and prehend, forces and rhythms and consistencies that create as much as they rupture and tear. Rather than knowing, understanding, identifying, we see and are seen. We don’t decode symbols; we engage the image and become the matter we are.

We do not abandon concepts to the ineffability of the singular and the somatic. We work with different concepts, strategies, and tactics, asking different questions and always expecting to be surprised. First, perhaps, we understand that when the concepts of unity are put aside, chaos does not ensue. Rather, unities form within, a unity that is immanent to this or that, a unity that may very well be a multiplicity. The world makes itself, a relentless and infinitely multifarious autopoetic territorialization. An image—and it’s all images, nothing but images—construes itself, gathering force here, stealing memes and possibilities and shapes there. Each image is an entire metabolic propensity, a mode of gathering the world’s forces and matters, its limits and ruptures. The image is a sense-event, an aggregate of percepts, concepts, affects. This aggregating is an action, a movement, that traverses space and time and in so doing forges a space and time, a trajectory of becoming, a curved limit that extends to infinity. Every image is a metabolic engine, digesting concepts and affects until it becomes its own site of concept and affect. Every image is an entire way of going. Images—forms—do not turn on concepts but on operations of assemblage.

This initiates a fundamentally different project, or rather, a project of difference, of differentiation: “One is lead therefore to the project of a pure description of discursive events as the horizon for the search for the unities that form within it.” Rather than look for what something means, one looks for how something distributes itself, a description and not an explanation or interpretation. This mode of engagement demands that we see, not explain; that we follow, not decode; that we trace the flux not unify the differences.

We stand towards the image with a different posture and ask different questions. It is not a matter of discovering what school or movement the image inhabits but what school or movement the image creates, inaugurates. We have to allow the image to extend us just as we must extend the image. Deleuze discovers Bacon’s image in the haptic territory of the Egyptians, moving between eyes and hands. It is not matter of fixing the image in place but of propelling it into new territory, discovering its networks, how its tendrils reach across time, place, discipline. William Burroughs does not break the laws of literature as if there the laws pre-existed; he invents the laws, an entire grammar of undulation, a most surprising ethics. As we look at the image, it looks back and asks: What will we become? By abandoning signifiers, we are not abandoning concepts, sense, and language. We are introducing new modes of making sense of things, new technologies of reading; these are modes of becoming image.

This becoming is a job for the amateur, not the expert. The expert operates within a staid environment of firm borders. The expert judges, condemns, polices, determining what can get in and what can’t: this is philosophy, this is philosophy, this is not. How can the expert make sense of an emerging world when he spends all his time plugging everything back into the system, when he’s so busy judging? Even if he’s open to the system shifting, these changes are so stultifying they come only with the death of the event. “We must be rigorous,” declares the expert, “we must know everything, test it again and again until we confirm the same result every time. Then, we can amend the law.” The expert seeks the same in order to create laws that legislate this sameness. How, then, can the expert ever become with the world? How can the expert see what’s happening?

The amateur, on the other hand, can become precisely because she doesn’t know how it all fits together. Oedipus is not the only familial possibility, difference can sometimes differentiate itself, the subject is not always hailed, power may very well come from the bottom, the narrative may not be a narrative at all. There may not even be a concept or idea. It may be a wash of mood and affect, a play of light, of color and shape and speed. Only the amateur can operate in the network where associations traverse discipline, time, and geography. We tend to have no problem thinking that a film talks with politics but then why can’t a film talk with literature or philosophy or physics? The Battle of Algiers, with a detour through Foucault, proffers an entire thermodynamics of power, a physics of flows and forces.

To be an amateur, however, takes enormous discipline. In Philip Rieff’s great lectures devoted to the art of reading (the title of his course is worth repeating here: "The Aesthetics of Authority"), we were shown movies we were to read. As the lights dimmed and the warmth of the projector shone forth, it was tempting to slouch down, kick one’s legs up and let the film do its thing. This would be a mistake: such trespassers would be singled out with a pointed beam of light and asked, with a tone of undeniable authority, to sit at attention. For that is what reading involves: keen attention. The image-world is a relentless proliferation of affects, forces, limits emerging and rupturing, the world taking shape and taking shape again. To sit as Perec does in the café and see the strange does not happen automatically, even if it seems to happen casually. It is a matter of paying keen attention to what’s happening while happening oneself, a collideo-scopic encounter that sees more than just the presumed significant:

Note down what you can see. Anything worthy of note going on. Do you know how to see what’s worthy of note? Is there anything that strikes you?
Nothing strikes you. You don’t know how to see.
You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.

To force oneself to see is exhausting. It means looking at the world differently, stupidly, without already knowing what everything is. This is what Bergson asks of us in the opening of Matter and Memory: forget what you “know” and see. Suddenly, the world explodes, multiplies itself towards infinity: Look out! There is no longer the significant and then the banality of everything else. All there is is the banal. We can no longer ignore the stream of images that surround us in order to focus solely on what’s important, on what really matters. The usual suspects don’t apply. Without the hierarchical grid of categorical knowledge, the world becomes splayed along varied planes as order emerges, morphs, dissipates, re-orders itself. Ever poised, and risking her own cohesions, the amateur participates in the acrobatic becoming-sense of the world. The image may not offer the hidden mystery of arcane cyphers but it does demand creative eyes to find shapes amidst the great teeming. The world is unmoored, the image is set loose: we must now be even more attentive as we’ve surrendered our clichés in favor of the strange. This technology of becoming may democratize as it announces the ascendancy of the amateur. But this does evacuate us of the admittedly trying demands of seeing what’s happening.

Keep your eyes on Perec, that keen amateur, as he keeps his eyes on the world. His deadpan gaze may entail a certain kind of distancing from the world and yet it is precisely this deadpan gaze that allows him to take up the world, to touch it, to see it. His gaze gropes the world feelingly, as it is drenched in memory, the moment, imagination, possibility, the swirl of events:

Outside there's a bit of sunlight
the café is nearly empty
two renovators' men are having rum at the bar, the owner is
dozing behind his till. the waitress is cleaning the coffee machine

I am thinking of you
you are walking in your street, it's wintertime, you've turned up
your foxfur collar, you're smiling, and remote

Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls this the palpation of vision. Vision is only possible precisely because the eyes that see the world are part of that very same world: “The look…envelops, palpates, espouses visible things…[and] since vision is a palpation with the look, it must also be inscribed in the order of being that it discloses to us; he who looks must not himself be foreign to the world he looks at.” This feeling look does not meld one with the world. On the contrary, it is precisely this habitation, this worldly citizenship, that makes one a foreigner in one’s own land. It is precisely this odd proximity that allows the look to take up the world without already knowing it.

There is a friction in this vision, a heat that comes from closely following the contours of this or that. The chiasm sizzles. To Perec and Merleau-Ponty, one can only be intimate when one is rid of the familiar, when one allows the strange to speak, when one throws away the ready-mades and reaches for the world with a certain poise, with a dead-pan passion, with a surge that awaits and creates in the same gaze. It is a friction born of the question: How does this go? What does this do? Where can I take it? Where can it take me? It is a friction of becoming.

This viewing inaugurates the becoming of viewer and viewed alike as both take off, as both become images. Here, there is no anchored human presence that functions as a centered vanishing point. As McLuhan states, this is no longer the Renaissance where man is the measure of all things. The viewer and her human being is taken up by the image, is thrown into the flux, a force and shape among forces and shapes: an image amongst images (even if locally privileged). But this is not to evacuate the world of its pathos. On the contrary, the image is quite literally moving. Just look at the films of Wong Kar Wai—Chunking Express, 2046—or Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Marc Lafia’s Exploding Oedipus, John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence. They move us precisely because they never let us identify; they transport us, take us somewhere, lead us astray of ourselves. These images extend us towards the infinite limit we are always becoming.

The essays in this book do not identify with the artist or the characters or the story; they do not look for signs or culture or history, for anything that might preexist and determine what we see. What we seek is modes of world making, an array of concepts and affects, possibilities of life. Just as Cézanne would stand in the field, eyes wide, allowing the landscape to germinate within him, we try to let the various images germinate within these lines and words and gestures. More or less together, we create the world with the image, although not necessarily in synch or seamless harmony: they don’t form a march. Rather, each essay moves according to its own rhythm, its own immanent pace and punctuation of becoming. As we take up different kinds of images—cinema, photographs, words, design, drawing—these essays mark possibilities of the image, of how it can go, its modes of behavior. The result is that while each essay reckons a particular moment or work, this collection forges a constellation of the image. Call it a performative onto-ethology of the world-as-image.

These essays are amateur readings of the image, encounters. They do not seek to be definitive but to be exploratory. There are, for instance, three essays entitled, “This is Cinema.” They do not erase each other; they do not supersede each other; they do not conspire to form one master theory of film. Each sees from its perspective; each proffers its own world, its own logics. The essays in this collection therefore tend to be fast, often dense. They are spins, takes, perspectives that embrace their perspective. But that’s all there are—spins, takes, perspectives. These views inaugurate the becoming of world. They may be localized perspectives but they seek nothing less than the very making of this world. And the making of the world is inevitably strange precisely because it forges itself and its logic at the same time. There is no pre-existing structure: what we see is what we get.

There are as many ways to see the new as there are events. Perec sits in the café and with an allatonce focus attentively drinks the world. Nietzsche philosophizes with a hammer, at once demolishing ideals and tuning the world. Bergson discerns the flash of an image, the intuition of how a thing creatively evolves. Clarice Lispector splays herself along the unpredictable flows of an agua viva. William Burroughs cuts the world up and puts it back together, inventing new grammars along the way. Carlos Castaneda apprentices himself to an imaginary warrior, takes mushrooms and flies off the cliff along the winds of the nagual. Guattari follows the schizophrenic on a stroll through uncharted territory, beyond the pale of subjectivity. Deleuze crawls inside the skin of others only to perform impossible acrobatics. Every artist in this collection engages some tactic of the strange; they are all agents of the image.

Our goal is to become with these images. And in so doing to become more intimate with the world, more intimate with ourselves. This is our pleasure, this is our demand, this is our delight: to become with the world.

The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...