Thoughts On: The Narrative Singularity - Where Do Stories Come From?


The Narrative Singularity - Where Do Stories Come From?

Thoughts On: Cinema & Its Reflection

Today we'll take a minute to think about what film is and what its purpose may be.

Cinema means, and appears as, something quite distinct to each individual who engages it. Depending on where you live, when you live, the technology and films you have access to and how much you like cinema, the term 'film' can connote something quite simple or something profoundly complex. To the average viewer, cinema by and large means the movies that are shown on your T.V or appear on your Netflix page as well as the big (Hollywood) blockbusters that are advertised to you. To someone who went to a film school, is apart of the arts or is simply interested in the wider scope of cinema outside of the mainstream, world cinema, specimens of film history and the avant-garde shouldn't be too alien. However, if cinema itself could look into a mirror, what would it see?

The first thing that cinema would see is itself, and that means all moving pictures - which maybe includes its conjoined twin brother from another mother, T.V. In seeing itself, cinema would see what no human ever could. And because this image is so unreachable, I think it is fair to leave it in the hypothetical abstract. What intrigues me, however, is what would happen when cinema turns away from the mirror and to the other arts and sciences around it to ask: Why am I here?

Questioning what cinema would see if it turned back to the mirror after getting a substantial answer is a far more intriguing hypothetical to ponder upon than that pertaining to cinema's initial glance. And, that said, it is my belief that the other older, wiser arts that cinema turns and asks this question to would answer thusly: We are here so that humans can ask themselves where stories come from.

I think the other arts would say this because it seems that stories are one of the most complex entities that humans have contrived. Stories are the conceptualisation of the past, present and future in a sea of potential that swirls around the human psyche. We are always trying to tell stories. Stories can be found in mythological scrolls, they can be found in scientific text books, they can be found on digital spreadsheets, they can be found in abstract sculptures. Stories are sequences, are time and space as perceived, and there is no real non-narrative when the human mind is conscious. There is an allusion of the non-narrative, however, and this emerges when we are made to feel more than we are allowed to understand. However, everything can be understood - that is, at least through a story.

Stories are black holes. The most literal and direct stories, stories of the objective world told by science, exist on the event horizon. Objective truth is not free from questioning; this is why it exists within the inescapable pull of the black hole. That is not to say that 1+1=2 should be seen as a partial truth. We can, however, accept that 1+1=2 and still ask, why? What's more, we should ask what does 1 mean? What are numbers? What do they represent? Why do we use them? You can keep asking these questions until the they get so abstract that answers become unreachable. Why, in regards to the process of creation, is the human mind able and willing to quantify the natural world? Well... who knows?

Science has a singularity: Where does it all come from? This 'where?', if it is the true singularity, will also have an infinitely conclusive answer to 'why?' inherent to it. This singularity may be an impossibility and we may never witness it, but I believe it exists. However, whilst science asks where the objective world, the most complex manifestation of human perception, comes from, art asks about the inner world. The inner world is expressed through story; consciousness itself is a story. Have you ever tried to tell yourself to shut up? You can't stop telling tales. This is why art asks where stories come from.

Let us turn back to cinema and its reflection. When cinema looks at its mainstream, to Hollywood, for example, and its traditional stories, what does it now see? It would see tropes, conventions and archetypes that have existed and evolved over all of human history since the very first human started dreaming and started hearing a voice in their head. Mainstream cinema forms a band that exists in a place not too distant from the inner rims of the event horizon, but also not too close to the singularity.

What does cinema see when it looks to the avant-garde? Cinema would see the dislocation and the deconstruction of tropes, of convention and of form, it would see the bounds of cinema questioned and its limits pushed. The avant-garde exists much closer to the singularity than traditional cinema, and it wants to be closer.

In questioning the who, what, when, where, whyand how of cinema, the avant-garde brings us closer to what might be an improbable domain; the reason why we tell stories and the place from which they came.

I find the psychedelic and stone cold sober nature of the avant-garde to then be its most expressive attributes. Embracing the dream through surrealism, attempting to access the farthermost reaches of thought through abstraction, staring blankly at the black and white of cinema through flicker films, or projecting the pure quotidian through extreme realism, cinema tells an objective story of itself and a deeply subjective one. It thus has the ability to put the viewer in a psychological state that may be close to the psychological state of the first thinker in his/her first moment of thought.

What would this person, the first to have seen with his or her eyes closed, have seen? Would it look like a traditional Hollywood film...

... a Buñuel film...

... a Warhol film...

... a Brakhage film...

... a Kubelka film...

... or would it look like a piece of cinema we have not seen yet? Could it have been in colour? In 3D? Would it be like virtual reality? Animation? Would the story play out like a drama? A Bollywood musical? A Soviet historical epic? Could we know this singularity when we see it?

Maybe when the narrative singularity is reached, we will know. But, what seems to be true in the meanwhile is that narrative film and its avant-garde, 'non-narrative' counterparts are always asking this question, seeking where stories came from and why, what they first looked like and what we are to do about them. With those as my thoughts for today, I'll leave things with you. What would cinema see when if it looked in the mirror? What questions would it ask? What answers would it get?

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