On Research As Practice

In another jag of (finally) finding myself inspired by film; was in a bit of a dry spell for a while. Picked back up Paul Sharits’s issue of FILM CULTURE which I’ve had a photocopy of for years but never read in its entirety. I finally digitized it which is making it easy to read. An article by Sharits that I expected to be somewhat of a drag ended up being quite inspiring, “A CINEMATICS MODEL FOR FILM STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION.”

It’s perhaps worth remembering that the academic environments of some of these universities in the 70s were not as toxic and careerist as they are now—I forget that higher education actually grew out of a desire to pass on knowledge. The way Sharits describes a film studies program is admirable but, I expect even at the time, somewhat impossible. Beyond just exploring an outline for a successful program, he also manages to articulate several things about the work (across medium) that speaks most loudly to me. Things that I perhaps once recognized but need to remind myself of. An idea as simple as the form should follow the intention of the work, not vice versa (as so often I am stimulated by form I hit an impasse when a desired form cannot be filled).

Some quotations here, so as not to forget them:

“I personally feel that phenomenological research should be clearly distinguished from the sort of psycho-analytical interpretation of ‘meaning’ of content which is so typical in literature courses and in courses dealing with narrative cinema; naturally some surrealist and psychodramatic works can be interpreted as dream-like but I would suggest that these films do not constitute the most appropriate kind of work for phenomenological analysis because while they ‘picture’ the dream state and invite viewers to participate in dream logic, they do not induce a dream state in an individual viewer. Some ‘minimal’ films, which do not guide the viewer along a narrative or a directive formal development, provide viewers with an open field within which the individual viewer can enter ‘dream-like’ states of consciousness; these ‘synchonic’ films may be most appropriate to phenomenological analysis.”

“…This humor may or may not be a laughing matter but it certainly can be used to generate a speculative subject matter. The problem which presents itself is: how does one tell what is humorous, in distinction to what is serious but idiotic, or what is absurd but which ‘feels’ utterly pedestrian, or what is substructurally humorous but masks itself in an attempt to remove itself from the level of joking, or what is joking without being funny? Fortunately, one is not called upon, in speculating, to be sternly comic; the alternative to rigid humor is not crystalline seriousness but an outlook aimed at what lies beyond both humor and seriousness—the unthought, the undone, the unfelt.”

But beyond noting these necessary ideas for future reference, what the article ultimately reminded me of was the importance of research to the work that I find myself most fascinated by. This returns to a literalization of “experimental” art—art that sets out to experiment with an idea. Robert Fulton, during an episode of Screening Room in 1973 speaks to this, noting that it doesn’t matter what the outcome is. You can always move forward. But it is research, this desire to find something new, that ultimately guides the best experimental films, guides the most rewarding art. Sharits is an obvious example (as is Fulton) in film; Gregor Schneider, John Duncan, Eric Orr & the Vienna Actionists in the realm of what most people consider ‘the plastic arts’ (installation, painting); John Duncan (again), the recording artists discussed in Thomas Bey William Bailey’s Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century, & even more contemporaneously the work being put out by labels like Vitrine, iDeal and Recital does this with/in/for sound; in poetry we have the poets Paul Buck was working with in Curtains and Adam McKeown in Intimacy, the French writers (I’ve recently translated a short text on Bernard Noël’s work that speaks of the physical effects that read the texts can have upon the body), Guyotat & and the Tel Quel writers, Bataille and Blanchot themselves of course in writing…more than any sort of genre descriptors it’s the most coherent way to consider, really, my tastes, my interests.

This is not necessarily a shocking revelation by any means, but rather it’s an important thing to remember (that I think I often forget). For me for the work to truly take hold there must be a push toward something beyond pure aesthetics or pure desire to narrate… Robert Fulton uses “cadences” as a term to speak of the sort of psychical matter, the energy of a film, the unifying factor. Maybe this is a term that I should adapt (similar to Sharits’ preference for “cinematics” over “films” or “movies”). Interested as I am in limits, my work should be in some way interested in exploring the limits, or providing ways for the viewer/reader/listener to explore these limits. Ideally, both.