Camus looked out into the void and there sensed man’s infinite vulnerability. In this knowledge, he sought to save us from harm, to protect us, to rescue us from being’s fragility. Sisyphus is the indestructible man, the man who would endure the impossible weight of absent night; he is all of us, Camus claims. Yet it is clear above all that none of us are Sisyphus. Our arms weaken, our knees buckle, we will not walk, we cannot.
This is a melancholy work.
The meaningful gaze, the meaningful voice, the meaningful touch of the Other, the Other’s presence, opens for me the abyss, the absence at the core of my being - a meaninglessness that belongs entirely to the Other, that can properly be said to be the Other’s absence.
This is lonesome work, an impossible work.
And yet to say “impossible” is never an abdication, for the impossible already signifies that which must be done, even if it cannot be done; if “impossible” issued only as a description (as a meaning) and not as a demand, it already enters the realm of possibility, of language through which all things are possible. What exists alongside the meaning of the impossible is its demand, a meaningless demand which we cannot but answer, and which we cannot answer.
Thus to say “impossible” is to begin the unbearable work, which has always already begun, of answering impossibility’s call.
The voice of the Other is cold to the touch.
Is it possible for one to feel, or to have, solidarity with these people who are queuing outside ULU, before the bar even opens, queuing outside this most horrible and most indecent of places, waiting to have their horrible and indecent night? No, Z. thinks, it is surely not possible. Yet, their patience, their tenacity - their coming together with a common purpose - their Saturday night outfits so bravely unsuited to the London winter - is this absurd endurance not the very essence of the revolutionary spirit? Does not their shivering resemble precisely the fear and trembling that necessarily precedes utopia? And does not ULU, a horrible and indecent space, resemble utopia, which only manifests itself in this world as a break, a rupture, that is, as horrible and indecent trauma?
Z. is not eating, because, as Kafka’s hunger artist says, I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you, or like anyone else.
What is the meaning of fidelity? Is it possible in the now?
Z. is at a party, thinking, it is strange that no one else thinks, or at least, no one thinks like one thinks, and one is forever thinking, thinking about fidelity:
What does it mean to be fidelitous? Here at this party?
What is love? Perhaps the vulture, which, Kafka writes, understands everything, takes wing, leans far back to gain impetus, and then, like a javelin thrower, thrusts its beak through my mouth, deep into me. Falling back, I am relieved to feel him drowning irretrievably in my blood, which is filling every depth, flooding every shore.
More important than simply being silent: how one is silent, how one keeps one’s peace.
I’m Still Here…
dancing with my laptop
trill and swag
Even suicide would be futile; that is the great tragedy, that death, even if it means an end, does not redeem the suffering and transgressions of one’s past, does not expiate the nausea, wretchedness, anxiety, misery, panic, pain, disgust, anguish, trauma, and despair of having lived. What is desired, Z. tells me, is never to have been born, so that one would never have had to be so afraid of everything, so that one would never have had to be choking constantly on one’s own bile, and grow thus thoroughly to despise the world and one’s own self; if this is life, and this is to live, then much better, too much better, to never have existed, to never have been drawn so violently into this world of beings. Never have had, the antithesis of that favourite phrase of certain philosophers, the always already. This is what I want, Z. goes on, above all, this dissolution, this emptiness, to be always already vanished, receded, to never have been, to never have had to be anything but an absence, less than an absence, nothing, nothing at all, nothing but nothing at all; for this, my friend, I would give anything.
For all its emphasis on metaphysical/spiritual connections which elide distance, Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth) is a film about touch. Constant non-diegetic music (an ambient score composed by Carruth), the use of prelaps, minimal dialogue, elusive plot and hypnotic editing stretch the film’s visual and aural aspects. Vision and sound, already so weightless, in this film reach out towards an ethereality that recalls Malick’s more metaphysical moments. Yet this works paradoxically to make the film into a tactile experience, a film experienced tactually. A film that touches.
A major motif in the film is the dissipation, the breaking down, the overlapping of identities. But watch for the moments in the film when a person touches an object, an animal, another person, or withdraws from touch. In these moments suddenly the abstractness grounds itself, spirals into tangibility. To know not even one’s own self, but only that which one can touch, whom one can touch. Underwater, a hand grasps flowers, over and over again, each time followed by a visionary flash. But the grasping isn’t subservient to the vision, as a means to an end. The flash follows the touch, which is both more immediate and more inarticulate than the vision, a mysterious sensation on mysterious skin. Nothing certain except for touch, but also nothing stranger than to touch, than to be touched.
Think of language as a trick, but not as an illusion - the trick of reality itself. When the Thief (Thiago Martins) tells Kris (Amy Seimetz) that his head is made of the same material as the sun, it becomes so for her. Walden becomes crucial to the deconstruction of Kris’s identity - but also the reconstruction of it. A trick which precedes reality. So too the language of cinema - time passing with the montage, non-diegetic music arbitrarily determining mood. Cinema - an audio-visual language, functioning as ideology - all languages are ideologies. Trauma is at the site where the signification of ideology fails. Touch, which lies beside, but also outside, in excess of, cinema’s audio-visual language, is therefore also its traumatic aspect.
Usually in film, tactility is sacrificed, like the pigs are sacrificed, so that we can watch and listen, as the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) watches and listens in the film. A film that gestures at touch must gesture beyond itself, towards transcendence, a transcendence out of film but also through film, into corporeality. Beyond the subject-object dichotomies, the distance, of vision and hearing, and towards the vulnerability of touch. Consider that it is possible to see and not be seen, or hear and not be heard (like the Sampler in his visions/manifestations), but one can never touch without also being touched.
Yet, is it really possible that touch (to touch, to be touched, to be touchy, to be out of touch, to keep in touch) transcends cinema, transcends ideology? Perhaps not - the tactility of Upstream Color is sustained and limited by sound and vision. Yet, working through the raw materials of cinema, it also brushes up against a sensation usually beyond cinema’s grasp. In Upstream Color, touch is not Other to the cinematic medium but else. Else: difference (you’re thinking of someone else) but also in addition to (who else lives in this house?), not just dissimilarity but also withness. And not Heidegger’s mitsein - not an ontological but a proximal and communicative withness. Touching, both one and the Other are at once toucher and touched. Recalling Nietzsche’s lightning that does not strike (an impossibility), touching is its own being, which is necessarily a being-with. A being-with that is traumatic, though not inaccessible, constituting the realisation that I am otherwise than myself, and that the Other is otherwise than Otherness.
In a montage scene about an hour into Upstream Color, Kris and Jeff (Carruth) undergo exactly such a realisation, with and through each other. The camera flits between the various arguments they have over their apparently identical childhood memories, and close-up shots of where their bodies meet - his hand around her waist, hers caressing his coat, holding hands. What is implied is that touch is not tangential to the traumatic merging of their identities, but integral to it. Touch levels the Other and the Same, smoothing out the Other-Same dichotomy into withness. Thus it is at once the site of trauma and the possibility of trauma’s mutuality, the end of their previous selves (which are at once different and the same) and the beginning of a new identity founded on the fragile togetherness of touch. A trauma that can and must be lived in and lived through, with mutual vulnerability, skin on skin. In this way, Upstream Color constitutes a discourse on the else, the else as a phenomenology of touch, and therefore also of love.
All images are full-frame screen captures from Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth, 2013).
1. The question is, for Z., as usual, is it worth carrying on? And the answer, of course, is no, it is not worth carrying on nor has it ever been worth carrying on; even before one is born, it is already not worth it to be born. It is a truly horrible thing to be born, or even to be conceived. No wonder most people cannot bear to imagine their parents copulating - it is nauseating to witness that which is potentially the scene of one’s own creation, the moment of one’s own coming to be. Such disgust marks our inability, Z. thinks, to ever forgive our parents for the unspeakable crime of forcing us into being, and into a world of being(s).
2. Kierkegaard’s God is an unreachable God, a God of absolute otherness, a monstrous God, not simply an ineffable God but God as lack, who is only (and barely, almost not at all) glimpsed in those moments when one is afflicted with anxiety, nausea, disgust, insomnia, or despair. A traumatic God is (barely, almost not at all) the one true God, God of the inaccessible Real. “There is hope - infinite hope - but not for us,” Kafka writes, articulating perfectly the paradox of Kierkegaardian faith - a faith which springs (and can only spring) from an authentic nihilism, that is to say, a nihilism to believe in.
3. Reading over what he has written for this third section, Z. feels sick to his stomach, is indeed overcome with anguish; what he has written is at once too true and too much of a lie, too much and too little, too pained and too removed. He has tried to revise it perhaps a hundred times, but there is no saving such excremental writing and, after all, no saving the writer of such excrement. So Z. deletes it all (how anticlimactic the backspace is, when compared with a fire, which gives off at least a little smoke, but then even a little smoke is too much, much more than Z. deserves) except for the following fragments which, despite himself, tonight, on Bonfire Night, because of himself, Z. cannot be rid of:
Z. sees [ ]
like Athena who sprung fully armed from Zeus’s head
but of course [ ] has not come, it is not [ ], it could not have been [ ], it is impossible that [ ] should have come
it is all a mistake, a ridiculous mistake of catastrophic proportions
as if from a great distance
but I have to leave, I must leave, at once, I have to be leaving.
Top: Huang Wei, Untitled (c. 1950). Bottom: Emma Hauck, Untitled (1909).
That which needs to be written, which one needs to write, is precisely that which cannot and should not be written, not because of its ineffability, its resistance to signification (and so on), but precisely because it is too easy to write, flowing, as it were, like blood onto the page. No, blood is too noble, such writing is more like a mixture of piss and shit, acrid, moist, coagulated, so that one is utterly disgusted at oneself for having written it, and for the urgency with which one has written it, and because of the implication of such urgency - that such prurience springs from the most natural and spontaneous part of one’s soul, and that one’s soul thus possesses, elementarily as it were, the texture of shit.
new video dir. Vae Lee
There is a scene in the documentary triptych Sickfuckpeople (dir. Juri Rechinsky) in which a woman berates her younger sister for being a drug addict who has achieved nothing. She has no one to blame but herself, her other sister graduated from medical school, she had run away from home when they tried to put her in rehab at their expense. At one point, this older sister says:
To me, she is not a human being.
One cannot help but agree. She and most of the other drug addicts in Sickfuckpeople can barely be considered human with their blank stares, dirty and crooked teeth, their speech and movement retarded by years of heavy drug use, and their putrid living conditions. As if to emphasise this, the camera often lingers on some animal or animals - a puppy and a kitten getting to know each other, a large pig snorting in the back of a pick-up - and these creatures are far more attractive than any of the drug addicts in the film (one responds to them with more affection than the addicts). Then, of course, the title of the film dehumanises rather than humanises these people.
The first part of Sickfuckpeople features a group of homeless teenagers who live together in the basement of an abandoned building. The camera follows them as they search for scrap metal and beg during the day, and then inject heroin at night. One of them is epileptic. It is not a life anyone would want and, yet, there is something utopian about the community they have formed. These children selflessly share everything of what little they have - food, cigarettes, needles, drugs. There is a gesture repeated among them, in which one of them lights a cigarette while another shoots up, and once the injection is complete, the former immediately gives the latter that cigarette - the cigarette was not for herself after all. It is a surprising gesture of pure love - nothing more or less than a response to the desire of the other. This love is enacted once again when, two years later, one of the boys refuses to blame his former roommates for having given him up to the police - “anyone who lives on the street would have done the same - the police beat you so hard”. Prison is preferable to denying the call of the other; he would sacrifice his liberty to protect the other from harm. It is nothing less than the utmost utopian gesture.
The proper response to this film, then, is not to say that the sister is wrong, that these drug addicts are really human beings, that we should not exclude them from “humanity” and so on. On the contrary, the sister is completely right. The drug addicts are not human. Being human is being the sister, an attractive, intelligent med school graduate, who would trick her sister into getting an abortion and defend this by claiming the child would have a terrible life, since her parents are jobless former drug addicts - an abortion would be the humane thing to do. The definition of humanity, then, is to be responsible the idea of “humanity” rather than to one’s ethical responsibility to the other. We respond only to what is human (that is to say, the same) in the other, instead of to the other qua other, to precisely what we find most monstrous in the other. This vast and intractable cruelty is the meaning of “humanity” today.
What Sickfuckpeople teaches us, then, is that if we are to move towards a truly utopian society, we have to abandon our humanity and become less than human. The real meaning of the title is not that these drug addicts are sick, fucked up people. Rather, it is people, who insist on our people-ness, our humanity, who are the sick fucks. Then, it is only these subhuman addicts who are not good enough to be people who are able to gesture towards something better than what “humanity” (and its corollaries like “human rights” etc.) has offered and can offer us.