Thoughts On: June 2019

28/06/2019

I Am Mother - Sci-Fi Ltd.

Quick Thoughts: I Am Mother (2019)

A sentient robot mother is tasked with the re-population of Earth.


Fascinating not necessarily as a story or character study, I Am Mother is inquisitive as it is dramatically limited. Sci-fi has one major thematic convention that is almost universal; the genre consistently questions humanity via the non-human (most often, technology or aliens). The questioning of humanity is primarily ethical and/or psycho-biological. One may then draw up a vast list of sci-fi films and find that they all ask how 'human' robots, aliens or even humans are or who has spiritual and bodily superiority (often in an evolutionary or Darwinian context). Sci-fi is rather unique as it is one of the only major genres that has such explicit thematic conventions that are so consistently investigated. Such places a limiting factor on the genre; despite its diversity of character, and world, narrow ranges of plot and theme catalyse the boiling of narratives down to highly familiar elements. So, though sci-fi fascinates me incredibly, it is rather easy to become jaded when immersed in the genre. Sci-fi thrives of touches of originality in character, world, and--hopefully--theme. I Am Mother lacks such a touch. The conceptual underpinnings of the story are its selling point. Though the brink of a post-human world has been explored much by dystopian sci-fi, few deal with robots repopulating the world. This is touched upon in a film such as WALL-E, but I Am Mother stands as a mix between Dogtooth and 2001. It therefore explores both the common human-robot evolutionary race alongside themes of conditioning and social engineering. There is something fleeting original about this, but I Am Mother doesn't do much of particular coherence beyond re-assert a humanist conception of human being. That is to say that it degrades pure logic in the realm of ethics. Its answer to a question of one life against five is to seek a third option: courage, heroism, the stuff of humanity. This is said, but one does not feel it to the degree that they hear it. Such is I Am Mother's limitation.

There are some interesting parts of this film that, given slightly more complex characterisation and a more singular focus on character psychology as opposed to a spectacle of winding plots, could have been emphasised as a means of complexifying the subtextual discourse. What jumps out at me is then the mother-daughter relationship. This sits in the centre of the narrative's symbology. Technological mother births human child; the individuation of the child requires the destruction of the tyrannically rational mother imago and an aspiration of motherhood bound by Anima-tic sense as opposed to digital logic. There isn't much feeling places into this archetypal drama. This has much to do with the slight ignorance the camera's eye has to the femininity of its space. That it is to say that this narrative has clearly been construed to eliminate male figures capable of particular impact. Why is not made clear as the theme unfolds. The introduction of a third female between the mother and daughter then feels like something of a loose end - a meandering and unengaging strand of the narrative that has some importance, but not enough. That is to say that Swank's character felt like an agent of the plot, less an addition to the film's discourse. In the end, a little more could be spoken of I Am Mother. It was interesting to see the manipulation of subjective impressionism do its work in this film; the rendering of an object (robot) with subjectivity as a means of unstable character development and ambiguity revealing, albeit common. And the referencing to Blade Runner with origami was, potentially meaningful, maybe just cute. Beyond this, I can't regard this with much acclaim, but may recommend it to sci-fi fans.






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Fight Club - Archetypes Stupid, Consciousness Evil

26/06/2019

Fight Club - Archetypes Stupid, Consciousness Evil

Thoughts On: Fight Club (1999)

A return to that thing we all know about but can't talk about... can't talk about.


Having found myself increasingly lost in very many respects of late, rewatching Fight Club was a somewhat uncanny experience. I did not experience the narrative and its symbolic-semantic structures shift or reveal themselves in a new light. Rather, the pneumantic strains of the narrative felt more personally relevant. Therefore, I cannot provide a particularly new articulation of the film's discourse on apathy, nihilism and the self. I can again present an outline of these thematic notes, but what I'd like to attempt today is to describe Fight Club's narrative structure as similar to a psychological and cosmological structure pertaining to an archetype-ego, unconscious-conscious dichotomy.

Fight Club is such a tremendous film precisely because it is a romance. It is a romance of a biting, self-reflexive and, for lack of a better word, teenage character, but, it is a romance nonetheless. Therefore, Fight Club presents a story about a man who is not just afraid to fall in love, but is afraid to experience a becoming of meaning via consciously traversing betwixt disparate ego planes. The Narrator is then a subject archetype trapped in a coming of age tale, one that challenges him to shed a symbolic virginity and manifest a hero of change from within. He enters the cinematic space about to destroy an anti-Christ and anti-hero of his unconsciousness' rendering. With the gun in his mouth, we (later) know that he learns that his journey, the meaning of this particular phase in his life, is encapsulated in a destruction of self (not of the world) and his union with an Other, a mirror, of feminine, Eros-tic character. Tyler is the part of himself he must destroy. He manifests as an anti-hero because the egoic reversal The Narrator assumes is so necessary is such a painful one. As he discovers in his innumerable help groups, he requires love to love, emotion to emote. Alas, he can only simulate this, thus stimulate his sense of life and being with a lie. Truth lies in a genuine relationship of earnest emotional and loving exchange. Marla is both that which makes The Narrator conscious of this and the opportunity to find fulfilment and to fulfil. Tyler emerges as an extension of The Narrator's yearning for simulation over experience. He simulates destruction, the destruction of his physical body, others, societal structures and manifests, not the destruction of that which is dead in his spirit and his world perception. These are all dramatisations of the struggle to traverse betwixt the ego planes, to shake ones depression, nihilism, apathy and become a minor hero of ones own writing by establishing a relationship with that which calls out the good in you and questions that which is not.

Much more could be said about Fight Club's thematic discourse, but I feel an adequate amount of discussion has been had. It is experiencing this breath of narrative and simultaneously reflecting upon those elements of dialogue and character that easily fall prey to derision - those aspects of narrative that one may understand as ideologically frank and teenage-esque - that I found myself somewhat embarrassed. How does one reconcile with the apparency that what they find meaning in is, under the eye of a critical mirror... stupid?

This is a question of rather piercing personal importance. I, like most I'm sure, struggle to act upon inspiration or to engage passion and drive for I am certain that what I wished I cared for so dearly is not worth much at all. There have been periods, interrupted now, in which I found myself blissfully dumb and naive, able, then, to engage passion without reserve or self-question. Consciousness invades, however, and the clichéd self-doubt manifests as a genuine wall, as paralysing as it is ominous. This wall is made of bricks of my own effort, laid by fruits of my own journey. Such, one may say, is life. Fight Club captures the essence of this manifest; the film is apathy, it frames social being on the one hand as repulsive and personal being on the other as embarrassment. It is The Narrator's consciousness that then does battle with his self, which is dramatised via archetypes.

Here is the key dichotomy of narrative that resonates outwardly in my opinion. Archetypes are manifests of the personal and the true; Marla and Tyler are embodiments of just this. One may point to Tyler as the Shadow, Marla as the Anima, but names are not particularly necessary - it is function that matters. As described, Tyler is The Narrator's Other side who primarily provides a simulation (partially an experience) of an alternative life of the monster within; Marla is The Narrator's supra-personal Other, a mirror that provides a tangible alternative life. Both confront apathy, both require destruction - Tyler more so of the world, Marla of the damaged self. This emphasis of the archetypes is somewhat fascinating, but it is not the point of note at present, rather, it is the intersection of the clichéd and teenagery elements of Fight Club's discourse and the apparent profundity provided by the archetypal underpinnings of the narrative.

The brooding, smart-ass, sometimes eye-roll-inducing components of Fight Club are often consequences of the bend in cinematic space that Tyler creates. Take, for instance, the many monologues, rants and asides he takes. As much as they formulate the style and feel of the film - are those elements which some may point to as entertaining - they are insipid. This is not due to bad writing, however. It is The Narrator (therefore Tyler) that is stupid. With earnesty--I believe--this is captured diegetically. One may also see weakness, in the writing of Marla's character. Indeed, she appears at passing moments to be a mere agent of sexual spectacle and crude humour. Is this bad or honest writing? My mind drifts to the egoic films of Woody Allen and Tarantino here. When is writing honest, and when is it terrible? This is a question I cannot answer at present, but may lay down some track with via Fight Club.

The honesty of Fight Club's narrative construction, its writing, is found in its ability to present the archetypes as stupid as they truly are. Revelations through a surface-reading of Jung may leave you to believe that the collective unconscious and the archetypes are mystical elements of cosmological profundity and unfathomable depth. In my view, the archetypes are and are not profound. Their profundity emerges from their simplicity, which, in a way, is to characterise them as... stupid. But the archetypes are only stupid because consciousness is evil.

To be inspired is to rather freely engage with the (and one's own) archetypes. Bad writing and its demonstration of archetype possession are evidence for this. Bad writing, of many things, consists of a writer's own egoic, self-satisfying projections: the anima/animus they wish they had (and doesn't exist) under their own finger tips; the hero they think they are and will be; the utopia they believe should be, etc. These projections illuminate not just the writer's fickle consciousness (a defining point of 'bad writing'), but their--often blundering, overconfident and semi-conscious--archetypal obsession. What makes this writing bad is the spectator's unforgiving consciousness. Consciousness does not have a good relationship with the depths of unconsciousness. This appears to be an unspoken axiom of many schools of psychoanalysis, and it is particularly relevant in the field of film (art) criticism. When bad writers reveal their transparent selves, the conscious spectator reacts with repulsion; their honesty is repugnant, their writing bad. This same energy is that which, it seems to me, fuels apathy and a feeling of meaningless existence: an embarrassed, repellence of evidence of the archetypal.

There is a strong link between our assertion that melodrama positions art as embarrassment and this concept of the archetypes as stupid, consciousness as evil. What is true is embarrassing, therefore, certain modes of art are embarrassing. The difference between embarrassing and bad art is difficult to distinguish. And all because the conscious spectator is filled with the potential to repel--that furthermore the artist's own consciousness is often highly dubious and questionable--and that, lastly, the archetypes are stupid. They exist as a naive substrate of existence, profoundly true, but far from glamorous. They sit in the cosmos, a projection of Tao, bared and naked, a body in a war without a shield, without armour, without any action of self-defence. They press through narratives so often in such a way. Laden in consciousness, the archetype often perseveres as stupid. But, its stupidity is what gives it motion; its softness to consciousness' hardness. And it is the softness of water that erodes the hardness of rock.

Greater articulation is hard to come by--I may have to try this again elsewhere. Alas, I will attempt to surmise by suggesting that Fight Club dramatises the cosmological attrition; the softness of the archetype, its existential bared nakedness, and its silent battle against the evil of consciousness. The development and refining of The Narrator's character presents the acceptance of one's own stupidity, narrativises the lashes of consciousness and the fatigability of the archetype manifest, illuminates the embarrassing courage of an earnest and productive relationship with those organs of the collective unconscious.





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Camera Lucida - A Question Of Subjectivity

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12/06/2019

Camera Lucida - A Question Of Subjectivity

Thoughts On: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980)

A repsonse to Roland Barthes ontology of the photographic image.


When first reading Reflections on Photography, it appears that Barthes has an anxiety. He investigates, ontologically, the phenomena (not the art) of photography as an ego reflection - his perspective a loose derivation of Lacanian psychoanalysis, it appears. Photography, to Barthes, then forces the participant and persons involved with the taking of a picture to confront the mind-body dichotomy. Barthes cares not to question the dichotomy itself, merely spill anxiety about it. He then investigates the still camera's inability to capture subjectivity--or rather, laments the camera's objectifying stare. The techno-eye may see reality - its crucial saving grace - but it inherently severs a person from their life, capturing them in a state of existential diminuendo; spectre-like, they are dead. This appears to be the essential Lacanian touch of Barthes' ontology: reality and its reflections fail the self, and so the ego is lost. These pessimistically (realistically?) existential assertions hang over what builds into a fascinating body of theory as rather ill-defined axioms. As mentioned, the mind and body are assumed to be split by the photograph, but such definitive assumptions require at least some discourse.

What about the photograph destroys subjectivity? What about the process of shooting a subject reduces all photographic potential down to banal coding (studium) and occasional inexplicable stimulation (punctum)? With studium and punctum Barthes' captures two self-evidently inherent elements of any art form or communicative process centred on learning: there is the direct and indirect learning or communicative process. One may formulate these in a variety of ways. In the classroom, one may find themselves being tutored or inspired. To be tutored is to, in a way, be trained - to be directly walked through the learning process. To be inspired is to be tutored by the heavens, it can sometimes seem; where certain lessons emerge from, we do not know, but knowledge stands as evidence of the lesson. Studium defines almost all of the given parts of a photograph as cultural, ethical and political manifests. Therefore linguistic, the studium of a photograph speaks with classical, hegemonic coding. The punctum does not speak and it cannot be spoken of. It pricks the spectator, more than fascinating them. It is unclear exactly how the punctum affects the viewer, but it appears that it captures life, being, subjectivity or truth. With caution, I would not define Bathes' punctum as such, however. His theory, as said, is rather egoic. And so whilst photography is dealt with as a phenomena that does violence to subjectivity, it is confronted on an entirely subjective basis. That is to say that, whilst Barthes does not claim any scientific rigour or particular objectivity about his work, he does steep his assertions in profoundly allegorical evidence and personal rumination. Such is philosophy, and so the methodology does not do particular damage to the work. It does, however, characterise punctum in what I believe to be a rather limited capacity. One man's punctum could be another man's studium. This is why Barthes never reproduces one of his most personally affecting photographs (one of his mother as a child - the only one, he believes, to capture her). Does punctum really exist, then, as anything more than a word to describe a feeling. I do not believe so. And whilst there is a strength to this, the limitation lies in the fact that Barthes leaves no room to describe any work as punctual. A photograph may be brooding, melancholic, ecstatic, and the mood or emotion assigned may be argued. But, can it be punctual? How are we to have a discussion about punctum in photography? Would there even be a point?

There is an optimism and an elegance in Barthes studium-punctum dichotomy, but it never overcomes or matches the difficult mind-body dichotomy he establishes as to found these two concepts. One would hope to see the conflict between subjectivity and objectification produced by the slamming of a shutter to be resolved by the recognition of the inspirational--the autonomously profound and affecting--element of a work. One may be surprised to read through Barthes' existentialism a route towards finding subjectivity: the being, truth and life of an Other being photographed. Punctum does not provide photography this ability. Indeed, it separates it from the arts in doing so. Barthes does not care for photography's artistic capacities. Even though his point is made fleetingly, it is clear that he has very little faith in the professional (commercial) photographer. True photography comes from the hand of an amateur - and accidentally so. The lucky amateur does not make art out of the photograph, however. They capture madness. And by this it appears clear that Barthes directs us towards his existential outlook. Impossible it is in his softly solipsistic domain for one to find a true reflection, either of oneself or another. The punctum appears to merely be the fulfilment of an imago. Barthes then attributes the true image of his mother to realism, but true realism is not a personal creation (as is Barthes' punctum). Therefore, there is no reflection of a genuine self in reality (realism) for Barthes. The punctum of a photograph may, however, provide the illusion - as said, fulfil an imago. It is this uncanny and seemingly necessary lie that leaves the world mad. Photography, because of its queer ability to capture that which has been, can capture this true state of madness it can be mad in itself--to Barthes, photography is only true when it is mad.

My response, then, to Barthes work is one of minor repulsion. There is certainly an honesty about his work, and a courage about his subjective ontology of the photographic image - however pessimistic it appears. Alas, the egocentrism of his theory is slightly lost upon me. Hinging his work to its fundamental axioms is Barthes ambiguous definition of who his mother is, of what a body of true being looks like. Who, then, is Barthes to say what photograph truly captures his mother? How does he define her true being; her corporeal truth? I find myself presenting a very similar class of question to myself whenever I try to explore the ontological roots of the cinematic space. Who knows truth and how? Barthes has a difficult relationship with this question. At once he makes subjectivity sacred and relative. My reading of his work leads me to see his fundamental position on subjectivity to have its ties to illusory affect and unspeakable belief. Truth is then known to Barthes, but he dare not express why or how, the punctum an embodiment of personal fact, disavowed faith perhaps. One may then be well inclined to see his Camera Lucida as pseudo-structural posturing that, to borrow Frye's terminology, falls into a history of taste. That is to say that, Barthes structuralises the way in which one may personally (solipsistically) enjoy photography. This is the great strength - and indeed, possibly the key purpose - of his text. But, there appears to be something rather useless about it as a result. As said previously: How are we to have a discussion about punctum in photography? Would there even be a point?

Lacking in Camera Lucida, I find, is a coherent philosophy of truth. I haven't read much of Barthes work, and so cannot deduce a permeating philosophy. Alas, truth appears fluid and ultimately ineffectual in the body of Camera Lucida. Humble though this may make Barthes seem as there is no grand assertion of a dominant and known truth, the ambiguously corporeal conception of truth and realism leaves his work fickle. Photography is structuralised by him, for him; his maddening existentialism satisfied by his theorising of the photographic image as mad - and to the dismay of all those who consider the form art and a communicative process. Such reveals what may be my final position on Camera Lucida; art requires truth, reflections and subjectivity of a more tangible class; photography is an art that may speak in tongues unpolitical, supra-cultural.





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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu - What's The Point Of Live-Action?

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