Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Soviets... Benjamin revisited

Was recently revisiting the excellent book "Noise, Water, Meat" and the Soviet Union's post-Futurist experiments in Avant Garde Cinema and came across Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. Besides being principle participants in early cinematic theorietical discourse about film's artistic potential, Vertov's 1925 essay contains some revealing remarks anticipating Benjamin's own intellectual coordinates. I quote from "Kinopravda and Radiopravda" with particular attention to the final sentence:

"If, with respenct to vision, our kinok-observers have recorded visible life phenomena with cameras, we must now talk about recording audible facts ... In the near future man will be able to broadcast to the entire world the visual and auditory phenomena recorded by the radio-movie camera. We must prepare to turn these inventions of the capitalist world to its own destruction."

Perhaps being to clouted with contemporary fantasies about historical cinema, I conveniently neglected the fact that the "sound-film" (which was only mastered late in the Soviet Union) was an important site of fantasy and re-imagination for the S.U. avant garde, who had to make do with silent film-recording and disorientingly inaccurate sound-reproductive technologies. Also, Vertov's intellectual agenda leaves trace of other ideological developments in 1920s SU where an interest in the aesthetic of the "eccentric" (which Benjamin also mentions with sympathy) began to displace the reigning doctrine of "Naturalism" of Stanislavsky, Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre. The precipitated "eccentric", part outcast, part chewn-over and abjected reject of the forces of capitalism (see, for example, Chaplain's famous early film "Modern Times" (1936) portrays the distraught proleteriat battered down by the reductive mechanicization of Taylorism).

More importantly, I think is the ideological dimension of the "eccentric" as a negative reaction to "naturalism" (remembering that the semantic field of the term tended to included a kaleidescope of interests ranging from popular culture, variety theatre and slapstick...) which began to accrete force in the 1920s, transformed into a punching-glove used to refute audio-visual "synchronization" techniques perfected in America. Eisenstein (perhaps oweing to preference for the subversive potentials of montage as seen in Dadaism, Cubism and Futurism) railed against this new instance of "technonaturalism" and "illusionism" that appeared to resuture these
fractured joints of technological re-presentation into a flawless fabric of mimesis. In his "statement on Sound" (August 1928):

"Only the contrapuntal use of sound vis-a-vis the visual fragment of montage will open up new possibilities for the development and perfection of montage."

It was montage as antidote to the suffocating views of "reality" (itself a veil) that propelled the creation of a Kantian community stitched together by the splintering apperception of the fractured, which thus suggested the possibility of short-circuiting the machinery of Capitalism through its own apparatus.

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