the distance between countries and the closeness of time
August 24, 2009, 12:59 am
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“L’Éloignement des pays répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps.”

(The distance between countries compensates somewhat for the excessive closeness of time.)

-Jean Racine from Bajazet

between two handclaps
September 10, 2008, 1:52 am
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[cries and whispers – persona – bergman]

Here is Godard’s article on the filmmaker Bergman’s techniques, particularly his manipulation of time.  Bergman isolates moments in which his protagonists make significant decisions and then expands them to film length.  In his films, flashbacks begin and end at specific points that help to reveal the thinking of the hero.  In each case, time is expanded or collapsed to reveal the heart of a person.

Godard’s image of the space between two handclaps is beautiful!  Similarly compelling is Bergman’s insistence that we must leave time, at least our normative understanding of it, in order to see the turmoil in the minds of his characters.

Eternity at the Service of the Instantaneous
At the precise instant. Bergman, in effect, is the film-maker of the instant. Each of his films is born of the hero’s reflection on the present moment, and deepens that reflection by a sort of dislocation of time—rather in the manner of Proust but more powerfully, as though Proust were multiplied by both Joyce and Rousseau—to become a vast, limitless meditation upon the instantaneous. An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heart-beats, the gaiety between two handclaps.

Hence the prime importance of the flashback in these reveries of solitary Scandinavian wanderers. In Summer Interlude, a glance in her mirror is enough to send Maj-Britt Nilsson off like Orpheus and Lancelot in quest of paradise lost and time regained. Employed almost systematically by Bergman in most of his films, the flashback ceases to be what Orson Welles called one of those ‘poor tricks’ to become, if not the theme of the film, at least its sine qua non. In addition, this figure of style, even if employed as such, acquires the enormous advantage that it considerably enriches the scenario since it constitutes its internal rhythm and dramatic framework. One need only have seen any one of Bergman’s films to realize that each flashback invariably begins or ends in the right place; in two right places, I should say, because the remarkable thing is that, as with Hitchcock at his best, this sequence change always corresponds to the hero’s inner feeling, provoking in other words a renewal of the action – which is an attribute of the truly great. What one mistook for facility was simply a greater rigour. Ingmar Bergman, the intuitive artist decried by the ‘craftsmen’, here gives a lesson to the best of our scriptwriters. Not for the first time, as we shall see.

Bergmanorama, Jean Luc Godard

curiously reversed
March 17, 2008, 4:42 am
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(Cemetery, Enric Miralles)

Here is a description, by Juhani Pallasmaa, of how one thing, in this case a building, has to do two things at the same time if it is going to be good.  Architecture, he says, needs to relate us to space and time.  Space makes sense, but we, at least most of us, rarely think that a building or place relates us to time as well.

Contemporary architectural settings are usually experienced as having their origin in singular moments of time. They evoke an experience of flattened or rejected temporality. Yet, the existential task of architecture is to relate us to time as much as to space… The mental roles of these two fundamental existential dimensions are curiously reversed. In terms of space, we yearn for specificity, whereas in our temporal experience we desire a sense of continuity. Consequently, architecture has to create a specificity of space and place, and at the same time, evoke the experience of temporal continuum.

~Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Space of Time. Oz. v.20 1998, pp54-57

ceaseless pollulation, perpetual innovation
March 5, 2008, 11:37 pm
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It is a fundamentally hopeful act to challenge the reductive instruments of our established institutions, and their intended roles of measure, management and mastery.  Our instrumental culture routinely exits nature, which is relentlessly innovative, indifferent and changing, to define, master and ultimately neuter its volatile and contingent character.

“But Western Being,” the voices of our institutions will protest, “is time, and has been so since the very dawn of modernity” – since the advent of rationalized accounting practices, the discovery of universal mechanical laws and constants, the application of systematic techniques for governing populations, the rise of humanistic disciplines and experimental method, the birth of the Cartesian or modern ‘self.’  But the forms of time expressed in these seemingly disparate historical developments are not, strictly speaking, ‘real’ at all, but only chimeras of an emerging and very specific instrumental culture; they are, in a word, abstractions – ingenious tools contrived to distribute the senseless procession of events in nature within an external, thinkable space of measure, management, and mastery.

But nature itself is wild, indifferent and accidental; it is a ceaseless pollulation and unfolding, a dense evolutionary plasma of perpetual differentiation and innovation.  Each thing, it may be said, changes and arrives in time, yet the posture of externality that permits precise measure and perfect mastery can be struck and assumed only in space; one must first withdraw oneself from the profuse, organic flux in which things are given, isolate discrete instants as projected frozen sections, and then interpolate abstract laws like so much mortar to rejoin these sections from the new perspective.  But the very gesture that carries thought away from the ‘event’ and toward the ‘thing’ abstracts and spatializes time in the act of instrumentalizing it; it subjugates the contingency and volatility of time by reconstituting it external to phenomena as a finitude and a regularity: it becomes a technique of measurement embodied in economic axioms and algebraic laws.

~Sanford Kwinter, ‘The Complex and the Singular,’ Architectures of Time , The MIT Press

suddenly, literally, in the past: The Child In Time
February 3, 2008, 7:15 am
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Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child In Time, the protagonist Stephen loses his young daughter in a supermarket, and his response to this trauma is the content of the book.  In an astonishing passage, he finds himself in the past where he encounters his parents in a pub discussing whether or not to abort him.  It is described here by a journalist:

“In the midst of these memories comes the astonishment of chapter three in which Stephen journeys by train to visit Julie months after their separation (Stephen observes architectural styles during the trip from London to the suburbs that signal a movement from the past to the present). Having embarked some distance from her cottage, Stephen walks through a field of wheat, and while doing so, he loses his sense of time. He emerges from the field near a pub located in what he perceives to be an earlier, more rustic English landscape. Here he approaches the pub’s window and sees a young man and woman talking over their drinks. Slowly he realizes that he is looking at his parents at some point in time before his birth. He senses something else in their pantomime and recoils, fleeing from an “infant despondency” (McEwan 65). Later, as if awakening from a nightmare, Stephen arrives at Julie’s where she cares for him and where they later make love. However, the “moment of tenderness” eludes them again as unspoken sadness drives them apart at the chapter’s end”.

~Michael Byrne, Time and the Child in Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time

Non linear time and temporal displacement are used to problematize normal conceptions of time.  A man enters a moment between his conception and birth.  Time here is a dynamic social construction not an intractable reality, according to this quotation from another writer:

“In the chrontopes of postmodern novels, non-linear time and temporal displacement are often integral to the thematic structure and content of the novel:  they are not just stylistic elements of the novel.  Although there are sometimes rational explanations for the reversals of time and time slips in these chronotopes, they are designed to problematize scientific, social and cultural constructions of time, constuctions that are associated with western concepts of reality.  Non-linear time in particular has a number of political and ideological implications in the postmodern novel.  This is most clearly the case in Ian McEwan’s, The Child in Time, where the time of childhood is becoming re-institutionalized as a political act, where one man regresses into childhood, and another man is able to enter a moment of time between his conception and his birth.  This is a political novel, and one that recognizes time as a persuasive social construction rather than the hard-edged and incontrovertible reality that supports the tyranny of the clock.”

~The Postmodern Chronotope by Paul Smethurst

The protagonist is given proof that he had been there, and that his presence influenced his mother’s decision, as described by this writer:

“An even more dramatic result of time’s activity occurs when Stephen, on the way to visit his now-estranged wife (their old intimacy torn asunder by their shared loss), finds himself suddenly, literally, in the past, witnessing a conversation between his courting parents, during which they consider whether or not to abort him. And this experience is not presented as a figment of his torment. Quite the contrary, he is given outside corroboration that he had been, in some sense, there at that time, that his perceived presence was what determined his mother’s decision.

~He Turned Around and She Was Gone, Rebecca Goldstein, October 11, 1987, The New York Times