Thoughts On: Measuring The Truth Of Drama


Measuring The Truth Of Drama

Thoughts On: Truth, Drama & Shades of Consciousness

A look into how we are presented truth through drama in the cinematic space.

For centuries upon centuries, there has been a strand of art criticism that assumes narrative and drama are mimetic; are imitative of life. If art, if drama, is imitative, if it yearns to represent human action and being, what can we suggest is drama's fundamental purpose?

In my best estimation, the fundamental drive for all human behaviour is 'optimal survival'. Herein lies the basic function of drama: to represent and imitate the human struggle for optimal survival. Alas, survival, optimal or not, is an uninteresting concept - possibly for the fact that it is so vague and ill-representative of the complexity in the humanity in 'human struggle'. What matters more than surviving is how optimal survival is gauged and set into hierarchy, which is to say, given value. The most interesting question we may then ask in regards to drama is how it defines and presents a question such as: What is optimal survival?

Drama's more profound purpose is found here. Imitative of known and unknown reasoning and paradigms in the universe of the human soul, drama is an evocation and question of value structures: orders of truth. Ideological film criticism is predicated upon the assumption that value structures are contrived by human hands alone; that value, meaning and desire are given, enforced and taught. Inherent to Marxist or feminist film criticism is then also this assumption that drama represents values. However, this philosophy is construed, in my opinion, in a rather distorted, unimaginative and half-truthful manner. In the same respect that a behaviourist theory of tabula rasa is devalued by biological psychology, social constructivist idioms of the social 'sciences' are undermined by social bios, life as it is evidently and implicitly laid out before the human psyche. That is to say that much social constructivist film criticism is founded upon, again, half-truth (a subject we can return to). By extension of the fact that life, I find, proves itself incongruous to ideological film criticism, drama, which is imitative of consciously and unconsciously recognisable truths of being, so often does too.

The social constructivist philosophy is not entirely valueless, for, as evident as it is that value is not just given, but felt, retrieved from the depths of genetic and biotic history, it is equally evident that humans have their effect on the shaping and distribution of truth. The issue implicit here is one that emerged when consciousness arose out of unconsciousness. Life, lying dormant, knows all; yet it cannot know this and speak it. To exist is to know. To become conscious of existence is to be put in a position where knowledge must be found again, so that truth can, at long last, be spoken. Night changes to day, but dare we assume the sun and the moon know one another? Dared we have, however, to begin to know the sun, the moon and our twirling earth. Dared we have to give those entities a name, to make gods out of them, to defy, to utilise and even to walk upon them.

As light emerges through the dark depths of the human psyche, it is crystallised and given a name. Alas, the truth of any package of light is rarely given a suitable name. The label, therefore, is not the truth, but merely that which tries to contain it. What we are dealing with on an individual and social level when truth is contained concerns an unresolvable quality assurance issue. If truth cannot be known in essence, how can we know one crystallised representation of truth is any more truthful than the next? Jean Epstein provides an answer to this question in the realm of film criticism via his theory of lyrosophy. Containers of truth - drama and narrative as examples - can be judged in regards to how their objective presence resonates with our subjective being; when truth is evoked in such a way that knowledge is felt, we may hazard to call it absolute. Such an assumption is predicated on the belief that truth 'lies within'. More than a cliche, this belief relays back to the assumption that life, lying dormant, knows all. Within every individual is dormant life; we call this unconsciousness, and consciousness holds within it truth.

Unconsciousness is far from the answer to the conundrum of quality assuring 'truth containers'. Jung, in understanding this, split unconsciousness into two categories: the personal and collective. Freud dealt with the personal unconscious in his most famous sexual and childhood-centric psychoanalytical theory. Jung dealt with the collective unconscious in his most famous theory of archetypes.

It is uncoincidental that film theorists have struggled to apply Jung to film theory whereas Freudian (and by extension, Lacanian) film theory has been rather dominant, that, as a consequence, film theory is not a very developed field. Feminist Freudian/Lacanian film criticism, as one example, assumes that truth is located in the personal unconscious whilst this is, arguably, the realm where truth is distorted most. If truth lies in the equivalent to Tao, an unknowable Way of the universe, then it must travel up into reality and up into the dormancy of humanity (the collective unconscious) before reaching the personal unconscious of the individual. The personal unconscious is a place, as Freud describes, profoundly shaped by past experience such as development in childhood. Truth related to the personal unconscious is personal truth, it is far from absolute truth. Humanity's closest station on route to absolute truth is in the collective unconscious; is in the unconscious components that every individual human mind has held. Drama and narrative represent these elements via archetypal characters, genres, tropes and structuring, via elements inherent to all stories (or at least, most stories of a kind). The exploration of just this is missing from film criticism. Such is represented by the struggle to apply a Jungian mode of theory to film and by the unsatisfactory reliance on Freud, which inherently formulates a philosophy of truth existing and emerging from the personal unconscious - which is a troubling presumption.

Of course, if truth is assumed to be held in the personal unconscious, one will be lead to assume that values are socially constructed, are insidious and corrupt even. Of course, if this philosophy is inherent to some of the most popular modes of academic filmic discourse, it will have the tone and appearance that it does: politically distracted and sometimes blindly ideological in its criticism. To confront all that is unsatisfactory about so much film criticism, drama must become the focus, drama as understood to be imitative of truth far deeper that what resides in the personal unconscious, but nonetheless an entity that interacts and must rise through, not just the personal unconscious, but also consciousness.

The truth about the truth in drama can then be accessed, I hypothesise, with a threefold analysis of a narrative's dramatic elements. What appears to be conscious, personally unconscious (what I would refer to as subconscious) and collectively unconscious (what can be called unconscious) can then be analysed simultaneously.

If we are to refer to the hierarchy of elements in the cinematic space, that which we have theorised and referenced before, we must make obvious the fact that we are about to build a theory of logic: (.

If drama is a pre-requisite of the cinematic space, is that which makes space move in a cinematic narrative, logic is concerned with the moulding and handling of the essence of cinema and is the key to bringing drama out of the abstract and towards reality (toward the rules or form of a film: its physical manifestation). The embodiment of logic is, most centrally, filmmakers, for drama is conceived of and managed by a screenwriter, director, actor, set-designer, etc. The logic of the collective filmmaking force becomes the logic of a cinematic space. We have spoken about this before in our exploration of expressionism, impressionism, surrealism and realism (the four main modes of cinematic narrative, which have their links to drama - thus in logic, too, is a theory of expressionist typhlodrama, realistic biodrama, etc). Alas, whilst we have spoken of the logic of a cinematic space before, we aim to do so in the most fundamental sense now.

The essence of the essence of cinema is truth; drama is the fundamental element of a cinematic space, truth (that of an absolute, universal and collectively unconscious character) is the fundamental element of drama. The deepest connection a filmmaker, or rather the logic of a cinematic space, has to this essence of essence concerns the path through which it is accessed. And thus we come back to consciousness, subconsciousness and unconsciousness. These are the three fundamental modes of a cinematic space and define how truth is accessed or cultivated.

The conscious mode of evoking truth via drama is well-represented by what you might call 'intellectualism' being put on screen. One can look to a New Wave filmmaker such as Godard and perceive his management of drama to be wholly conscious. Auteur theory rather conclusively shapes the way that he and his New Wave practitioners approached cinema. If they pen an entire narrative, then they get to dictate, personally, every element of its being. A cut and its purpose must then be pondered upon by the filmmaker, emphasised to be of personal choice - so must camera angles, character choices, even the existence of the film; all of these have conscious reason behind them, or at least, this is the illusion someone such as Godard wishes to conjure. He makes his cinema, he is his cinema; its truth is his truth.

Clinging to cautionary brevity as we first start to define these modes, we will move on. Quentin Tarantino is a good example of a subconscious filmmaker. His cinema is, in essence, a bastardised version of New Wave, Godardian cinema; it is pseudo-intellectual and distracted to a far greater degree with masturbation. The truth present in Tarantino's cinema then seemingly emerges from his personal unconsciousness and the personal unconsciousness of his characters (who represent drama and truth). This characterlogical element of his cinema is descendent of the exploitation films his cinema is very clearly inspired by. Exploitation cinema is profoundly subconscious, revelling in sexuality and violence as part of a game that is only half-understood and never consciously confronted. We feel this in Tarantino's cinema, too; the drama clearly a construct of Tarantino, but the truth inherent to it not necessarily under his conscious control.

Spiritual cinemas, those of Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky, are prime examples of unconscious logic in the cinematic space. It is not that these filmmakers do not have a presence in their narratives, that they demonstrate no conscious control over drama. Rather, they consciously cultivate frames through which truth of an autonomous and free character can emerge. Whilst Tarkovsky may then consciously manipulate drama as to frame some commentary on a boy's relationship with his mother, Tarkovsky stakes no claim on the truth that emerges from his framing; truth be told, the truth in a Tarksovky film is in-incarcerable, cannot be attributed to anything material, let alone any foolhardy individual's consciousness. Tarkovsky's cinema, like Bresson's and Bergman's, then evokes some of the most tantalising lyrosophy any cinema ever has; truth that can only ever be felt.

It is common for these three modes to emerge in one film. It is important to be able to recognise them as they not only effect the way in which drama must be conceived of, but they speak volumes on the nature of the truth the drama is evoking. Anyone who is familiar with the cinemas of Tarkovsky, Tarantino and Godard knows already of the differing approaches one must take to access the drama. I will not delve into this subject. However, we can dwell briefly on a question of whose cinema is most truthful.

In my opinion, truthfully unconscious cinemas such as Tarkovsky's are most truthful; they reveal the most about human nature and have the highest mimetic qualities within them. Alas, our questioning is not helpful. It matters less how absolute the truth drama evokes is than how clear and lyrosohically affecting said truth is. If one cannot understand a Tarkovsky film, then its truth is wasted - a Godardian film may seem far more truthful. What matters most when it comes to truth and consciousnesses is tangibility; not only what truth is evoked, but how it is evoked as well as how accessible and affecting it is. These different qualities must always be considered. We will always have to find truth in a film first. Recognising if a narrative's logic is conscious, subconscious or unconscious can help with this; in a Godard film, we have to be able to recognise the self-reflexivity motivating formal choices; in a Tarantino film, we have to listen to what characters say (often about vulgar or inane things) to explore the narrative truth; in a Tarkovsky film, we have to feel time and the elements. After locating where truth is packaged in a cinematic space, we have to question the way in which it is packaged; how reliable of a source Godard is as an intellectual; how deep Tarantino's insight truly is; how spiritually aware Tarkovsky is. It is here where we can begin to apply psychoanalytical concepts to the creation of narrative: Godard's cinema, we could suggest, is very egoic; Tarantino's is immersed in the personal unconscious (his childish desires and, likely, fetishes); Tarkovsky's films float in some ethereal collective unconscious. From such an analysis, we can ask very simple questions; how truthful is the ego, is personal experience and desire, is one's connection to collective, universal being?

These major questions impact how we confront the specifics of truths that are instilled and recognised within us, the audience. That said, we must also question the manner in which our consciousness, subconsciousness and unconsciousness interacts with a cinematic space. Things then become very complicated at this point. But, all of these elements require analysis if one is to speak of the truth evoked by drama. One of the great weakness of Freudian film criticism is an inability to recognise consciousness and (collective) unconsciousness as an element that characterises and effects dramatic truth. A great weakness of Jungian film criticism is an inability to recognise consciousness and subconsciousness. And a great weakness of technical (formal) film criticism is its inability to judge subconscious and unconscious truth. If the essence of any diegesis is to be confronted, all three shades of consciousnesses must be analysed and questioned by a cautionary eye of sympathetic consciousness.

Far more could be explored on this topic, and indeed, an exemplar of the ideal criticism of logic and consciousness is required. Alas, I will end having outlined and introduced this topic. I then turn things over to you. What are your thoughts on everything we've covered today?

Previous post:

West Beirut - Divide

More from me:

No comments: