Tag Archive: Bergson

the decay of images (& of bodies)

Catherine Grant’s wonderful Film Studies for Free has posted a great set of resources on film preservation as part of the Film Preservation Blogathon, which features blog posts, articles, images, videos, tweets, and rallying calls from distinguished cinephiles including Roger Ebert, David Bordwell, and others.

The video above (included there) is a Studio 360 piece on Bill Morrison’s found footage collage film Decasia, which is one of the best examples of film, or art, that comments on its own materiality, including its origins and, in this case, its inevitable demise. I’ve blogged about the ecologies and temporalities of images a few times here (with more to come), but thinking about Decasia makes me realize that my recent post on Bergson neglected to mention this materiality of the image.

It may be true, as I wrote there, that “the past is divisible into the era of reproducible images and the era that preceded it: BP (before photography) and AP (after),” or more generally, Before Recording and After Recording, with different extension and limit points for different types of recording — oral, literate, electromagnetic, et al. It may also be true that our technologies of archaeological retrieval, interpretation, and restoration are digging ever deeper into the materiality of the world, making more of it available virtually for new actualizations in the present and future. But it is also true that those materialities all have their half-lives, their temporalities of decay and disintegration, and that there won’t ever come a time when the past is rendered fully open, a pure and transparent archive in which nothing has been lost, nothing has slipped away or disappeared in an invisible stream off the edge of the universe. Things do slip away.

I’ve been thinking about this slippage of things since Graham Harman posted a note in reply to Steven Shaviro arguing that Bergson’s intuition about time “isn’t really grounded in reality”. The point of difference between relational and object-centered accounts, according to Harman, “is whether a thing’s process of genesis is inscribed in its current reality” or not, to which he says “no”: “Much of its genetic history does leave traces, but a great deal of history is forgotten by reality in every moment.” I had begun to respond to him, thinking to myself that this Bergsonian intuition is very much a matter of debate, and that it isn’t just relational and processual philosophers like Bergson and Whitehead who believe that everything at one moment of reality gets incorporated, in some form, into the next moment; that reality, in other words, moves forward — developing, evolving, changing, or enduring, as the case may be, rather than dropping off into an abyss. Where, after all, would it go?

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There’s something about our time that is very Bergsonian, in the sense that there’s a kind of simultaneous opening up of the past and the future, the former feeding the possibilities of the latter. At the same time as new technological tools propel us ever forward on trajectories of embodied interactivity (the internet, iPod-iPhone-iPad, YouTube, Facebook-Twitter, etc.), recording technologies (those that preserve something of the present for the future) combine with technologies of retrieval (those that unlock the past, from historical and archaeological tools to sampling technologies, about which see Copyright Criminals) to enable an ever deeper digging into and opening up of the past. In the process, the past becomes fuel for the reinvention of ourselves toward the future, this reinvention always taking the form of images — which, for Bergson, are central, the shimmering half-way point between mind and matter.

Let me explain. I get that feeling of simultaneously backward and forward glancing, pastwardness and futurity, when, browsing around on YouTube, I find things I never would have thought I’d be coming back to. It’s as if the past were an image archive that is being gradually dredged up, and its fossilized pieces are being liquefied and turned into blood flows that will revive and strengthen certain affective molecular currents, currents still in circulation in the collective social body of the present.

Here, for instance, is Magma, whose potent mix of late John Coltrane-style free-jazz intensity, Steve Reichian symphonic minimalism, Carl Orffian operaticism, and hard, driving rock, sent (mostly French) audiences into spells of ecstasy in the early 1970s. While that performance is from 2006 (old guys getting it together again), it would hardly have happened were it not for the redistribution of their records, archival recordings, and films as DVDs, MP3s, YouTube videos, and the like. Here’s the guitar solo from Kohntarkosz. And then there’s this bizarre film outtake from 1972, with Catholic priests grooving to the Kobaian rhythms. (Kobaia is the planet Magma presumably ‘channeled’ in a series of albums in the 1970s.)

Meanwhile, new films are made from the images of the past. This documentary on “Krautrock,” the German progressive, avant and space rock movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, is quite good:


The music had its fans at the time (more in the UK than in North America), but the documentary does a great job putting it into the much broader context of post-war Germany, the 1960s, the psychedelic revolution, and all that. And yet somehow it doesn’t feel dated to me; on the contrary, it feels as fresh as tomorrow’s news, because I know there are fans out there, Radiohead generation kids and remixers and whoever else listening to these things and reviving them in ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible back in the days when the music industry seemed like one stifling oligopoly. (You can watch all of it on Coilhouse. Thanks to Mutate for the tip.)

None of these are standard History Channel fare. All are products of the internet and MP3-era explosion of musical tastes, one of the cultural victories of our day — the losers being the big music corporations, or at least what they stood for. The corporations themselves are still around, of course, doing the same thing corporations do, and even if they weren’t, they would simply have been replaced by others, made from the same movable parts of the corporate machine. But technology moves forward despite them.

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The objects versus relations debate has revved up again over at Larval Subjects, in the commentary responding to Levi Bryant’s Questions about the possibility of non-correlationist ethics.

The debate, as I would describe it, circles around the following question: If we agree that traditional philosophy has been too centrally premised on the relationship between humans and the world at the expense of the world itself (with all its other things, beings, entities, relations, and whatnot), then is it better to promote a philosophy that focuses on objects, that is, not just on human subjects/objects but all objects, or one that focuses on relations between things (subjects, objects, networks, processes, whatever)? The first approach is taken by object-oriented philosophers like Bryant, Graham Harman, and others; the second by relationists, such as those influenced by Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson, and Spinoza, among others (though the exact list depends on whom you ask; a few recent and recommendable books in this latter tradition are Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria, John Protevi’s Political Affect, and Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter).

Since I’ve responded to Levi’s points on his blog, I’ll restrict myself here to addressing in greater depth the question raised by Levi, Scu, and anxiousmodernman (in their comments) about the politics of relationalism.

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Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson

Keith Robinson’s introduction to the collection Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections, just published by Palgrave Macmillan, provides an excellent and much needed overview of the reception histories of these three thinkers. Robinson’s contextualization of them within the analytical and continental philosophical traditions makes clear why each has been marginalized or misunderstood to varying degrees in recent decades. Bergson had been extremely popular in the early years of the last century, but became almost a non-entity in the Anglo-American world until Deleuze revived him in the 1970s, while Whitehead, an acknowledged founding figure of twentieth-century analytical philosophy alongside Bertrand Russell, became an object of suspicion after his metaphysical ‘turn’ (represented in part by the mammoth Process and Reality).

Robinson argues that Russell played a key role in marginalizing both and, in the process, in reducing analytical philosophy to the logically and mathematically oriented philosophical style it has become. Deleuze, meanwhile, was welcomed as part of the wave of French poststructuralists and ‘postmodernists’ — not so much by Anglo-American philosophers as by social and cultural theorists — but, in the process, his thinking was misunderstood and caricatured as a form of psycho-political anarchism, and the nuanced thinking about science, time, metaphysics, life, organism, and all manner of other traditional philosophical themes was largely left aside.

Now, Robinson argues, as the distinction between the analytical and continental traditions is becoming increasingly irrelevant, with each caving in under the weight of its own limitations and of internal and external critiques, this threesome is finally being seen as representative of a process philosophical tradition that offers much-needed alternatives to some of the philosophical conundrums we’re facing (such as the mind-body problem, the relationship between philosophy and science/technology, life and the biopolitical, etc.). This shared focus on process — a term most closely associated with Whitehead, though it’s often taken by Whiteheadians in religious/theological directions that many would find less germane — is, according to Robinson, combined with a “methodological constructivism” that seeks to create concepts with which to think experience and life in novel ways.

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