Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Looking Glass"

Cornell’s Boxes as
Alice’s “The Looking Glass”


and curiouser!”
—Lewis Carroll,
Alice in Wonderland

“Now it happens that in this
country (Japan) the empire
of signifiers is so immense,
so in excess of speech, that
the exchange of signs remains
of a fascinating richness,
mobility, and subtlety, despite
the opacity of the language,
sometimes even as a
consequence of that opacity.”
—Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

Cornell’s boxes can be seen as looking thru windows or screens into living worlds of the surrealist imagination—counterfoils to the vague & excessively stupid juxtapositions commonly known as Hollywood movie “reality.”

William Carlos Williams zeroes in on Charles Henri Ford & Parker Tyler’s “The Young and Evil” very quickly—finding Ford’s poetics alluding to something very interesting in Breton’s First Manifesto.

Charles Henri Ford creates a “contractual” proposition outta the automatic imaging of Breton’s allegedly recounted isolated automatic experiences—and turns it into “The Garden of Disorder” & “A Boatload of Madmen.”

Parker Tyler gives it a filmic twist—as Cornell does with “Rose Hobart” (1936). The same with Kenneth Anger & Jack Smith continuing the automatic project— something like “worm-holing” deeper into the Black Hole of the surrealist imagination.

But for me—Cornell’s elegant “freeze-frame,” “stop-action” “readymade” boxes are along the same lines—a way of continuing the Surreal Group’s irrational enlargement research on a low-key “white magic” level there in his Flushing NYC basement studio.

As opposed to the political, more socially-engaged, supposedly “automatic” method of imaging & filmmaking—along the lines of Breton’s European “black magic” surrealist group aesthetic.

Joseph Cornell seems to me to be more down-to-earth, more introspective—and less radically committed to an agenda of social change/revolution coming out of Paris between wars & after WWII.

I do see a certain amount of social commitment to social change in the Third World by the surrealists other than Paris—like Buñuel in Mexico City with “Los Olvidados” (1950).

What could be more surrealistic than the tall unfinished skyscrapers as backdrops—to the squalor, poverty & death of the Mexican squalid ghetto. With Roberto Cobo as El Jaibo—the young gangster hood who barely survives, using, killing & intimidating those around him, only to finally get it in the end.

But the American surrealists like Jack Smith can be equally as revealing in regard to the denizens of New York City—with his flamboyantly kitschy camp automatic filmmaking like “Flaming Creatures” (1963).

Along with the other underground NYC cinema intelligentsia back then during the Midnight Movie Sixties—that still appeal to my somewhat perverted, transgressive, gay-noir sensibility; although Smith’s f flaming surreal filmmaking seems rather all-consuming, exhausting & self-destructive to me.

I think I prefer Cornell’s Flushing NYC Utopian Drive basement studio environment—with his readymade boxed “obtuse” filmic research going on down there into the surreal realm of images both stills & movies.


The Boxes

“The reason for this is that
in Japan the body exists,
acts, shows itself, gives itself,
without hysteria, without
narcissism, but according
to a pure—though subtly
discontinuous—erotic project.”
—Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

The boxes don’t “gloss” the filmic images—which illustrate the movie. There’s a visual uncertainty analogous to the “loss of meaning” that Zen calls “satori.”

The boxes full of images interlace with each other—seeking to ensure the circulation & exchange of different signifiers: body, face, expression. And I like the way Cornell uses readymade objects & images to read the retreat of signs into a filmic world.

If I want to imagine a filmic world—I could give it an invented name. And treat it declaratively as a cinematic project. I could create a new mise-en-scene—according to my fantasy. And let the surrealist imagination—take it from there.

My fantasy so-called surreal screenplay—gets compromised by certain signs of cinema. I can isolate them thru certain gestures in my discourse—a certain number of features out of a film repertoire. It is this system which I’ll call: my surreal Filmography.

Someday I’ll write the history of my own obscurity—manifest the queerness of my nelly narcissism, tally down thru the years the several appeals to butchy heterosexuality I’ve occasionally noticed about the world.

The ideological recuperations which could or would infallibly follow from such a project—consisting in always acclimating my incognizance of Straights by means of certain foreign gestures, attitudes, signs.

As strange to me as Japan was to Barthes—is how I’d approach and attempt to understand the haughty almost Asiatic Land of Heterosexuality. Such as “The Orient” of Voltaire, the Revue Asiatique of Pierre Loti or an Air France brochure.

Even today there are doubtless a thousand things to learn about the Straights: an enormous labor of sexual knowledge is & would be necessary—its delay has already resulted in a rather severe ideological occultation on my part.

But sometimes it’s necessary to leave aside vast regions of darkness (capitalist Straights, Straight entertainment, Straight acculturation, Straight Hollywood-Media-Netflix-YouTube technology)—in order to follow a slender thread of light searching out not arcane Straight symbols but the very fissure of Hollywood Straightdom Starlight Stardust itself.

This fissure appears on the level of the filmic—it pertains to gay urbanism, domestic things like gay cooking & controversial gay marriage issues. I’ve never been straight—I’ve always been just the surreal opposite. Although from my present-day POV—it increasingly seems like Straights have a monopoly on American surreal cosmopolitan society.

I’ve had a number of straight “flashes.” Or better yet Straightville has presented now & then, here & there—a certain level of primal straight cultural production that I detest. The Straights have afforded me many situations—for my own readymade tacky kitschy screenplays in boxes like Cornell’s basement factory of Pandora’s boxes.

All of Cornell’s boxes being closet-case memoirs & ticky-tack touchstones of fag nostalgia—according to many esteemed nincompoop art critics in the burgeoning cottage industry known as the Cornell Art School Racket.

This sort of situation is the kind in which a certain disturbance of the film critic occurs—a subversion of earlier screenplays, a shock of gay meaning lacerated by homophobic moviegoers, extenuating circumstances to the point of expanding into a ridiculous, irreplaceable void—without the object’s ever ceasing to be significant, desirable, of course.

Screenwriting is after all, in its way, a “satori”—in the Zen sense of “occurrence” which can be more or less powerful, though in no way formal, causing knowledge or vacillation or running-away from something. Usually because it creates an emptiness of language—a void in terms of screenwriting. An empty box with frames inside—waiting for some idiot savant or child idiot to come along & cram everything including the kitchen sink into the sullen, empty box of dreams.


The Zen Box

It’s like a Cornell empty “box”—demonstrating its lack of features as its strength. An empty box full of Zen—which exempts itself from all narrative meaning, concentrates instead on objects, gestures, kitsch flower arrangements, faces, birds, momentary tidbits of the zeitgeist.

Automatic images happen in dreams—inside the empty box of our sleepy heads. What sometimes makes dreams so foreign & difficult to understand— is the lack of nexus, the crazy way dream scenes don’t form connecting filmic threads, the confusing lucidity of sometimes finding oneself in medias res nude or lost in a foreign city or confronted with hostile strangers.

Automatic images belong to an unknown language—to dream is to know a foreign (alien) language & yet not understand it. To perceive the difference between dreaming & waking consciousness—is to recuperate a different kind of the sociality of discourse, a communication with the vulgarity that so well portrays who we are in dreams.

Dreams seem to be like movies—but to know, positively refracting oneself in a new language, the impossibility of being who we are & learning the systematics of this inconceivable other world often seems beyond us.

To undo our own “reality” & place ourselves under the effects of other linguistic formulations, other syntaxes—is to descend into the untranslatable, to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance, to experience the shock value of sudden lucidity while fucking something up…

Until everything conscious in us seems to totter & the rights of the Queen’s English vacillate in some dark Congo River African night—only then does the tongue which comes to us thru society & supposedly helps us finding out how the world & ourselves tick fail.

As we find ourselves isolated in the natural/unnatural anti-social unconscious imagery of the living dead—we sense that the chief concepts of Aristotelian philosophy & Greek language no longer helps us to
“constrain” how we think & help us in what we say.

Often in dreams there is no speech or verbal communication going on “aloud” anywhere—but rather there’s an inner monologue with ourselves. And depending how supposedly “lucid” we are—sometimes there’s a telepathic sense going on with ourselves & others. A sense matching the whole oneiric silent-movie scenario that the dream experience portrays—that parlays itself beyond itself into our rather dull waking moments & semi-awake remembrance of that Other narrative.

Are the Sapir or Whorf discussions about Chinook, Nootka, Hopi languages or Granet on Chinese really any different—and intellectually as relevant in this Other automatic realm of dreaming where gestures & telepathy rule rather than simply verbal intercourse & gangster mobster bankster gestures by heavies like in film noir moves?

Does Other dreaming open up a filmic realm of surreal texts that permits us to read the filmscript & auteur screenplay directions like some Bijou inner landscape or boxed readymade reality principle? Who are these Other people, objects & scenes—that proliferate with a functionality & complexity that advances on its own Hidden Agenda without us?

Sometimes we’re aware of inner precautions, repetitions, delays and insistencies within this Otherness—other times for some reason or intuitively we seem to know this Otherness without the usual melodramatic or romantic Hollywood soundtrack on the screen.

Sometimes this Otherness—creates its own envelope empty of speech as we know it without that dense semantic kernel which is supposed to direct our sentences. From outside & from above—from inside & from below. So sometimes it seems to us—like an excess of subjectivity articulating our impressions, not “Just the facts, Madam” affidavits.

Our heads seem to be empty boxes when we go to bed & sleep for 8 hours. And then some kind of strange surreal brain activity happens—diluting, hemorrhaging our subjectivity into fragmented, disjunctive, perhaps even into some kind of kitschy film noir “Detour” or “Double Indemnity” postmodern emptiness?

We’re unable to distinguish human (human and/or alien) from animal behavior—notably on the level of the verbs “to be”—and the filmic production of characters introduced into the movie being assigned the form of people we know. While the rest of us struggles & tries to enforce a meaningful Aristotelian storyline on the Id mess—some kind of alibi for faking or finding ourselves in the middle of this theta wave Zen nothingness.

How can we imagine a verb which is simultaneously without knowing subject & without known objects?
How can we conceive without attribute & yet transitive verbs—an instance of radical reality without our language to guide us? Yet it’s this Other linguistic imagination that requires us—to face the Hindu “dhyana,” origin of the Chinese “ch’an” and the Japanese “zen” which we find ourselves in while in the empty box of our dreams. Can anything be learned about this Other—through Joseph Cornell’s surrealist imagination—and his readymade “boxes” down there in his Flushing NY basement studio?

If the surreal didn’t exist—then Cornell would have to invent it. Not that his boxes—are vast lordly Empires of Signs. But rather they’re of his devising—with an innerness that’s has no fate, no ego, no meaning, no grandeur, no metaphysics, no promotional fever. Cornell’s boxes are places where meaning is banished—at least momentarily.

He wanted to imagine a filmic fiction—an invented, novelistic cinema. Belonging to no real country—no fantasy based on literature. He didn’t claim the boxes represented or analyzed reality itself—none of the usual major gestures of Western discourse. He isolated something East of Borneo—a certain eclipsed room for Rose Hobart to silently be herself.

Thru the looking-glass—behind the screen. A different kind of surreal phantom audition existing with images—a surrealistic alibi for performing filmic fiction.

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