Slowness as a Pure Form af Time: Tsai Ming-Liang’s Stray Dogs

In recent years, the term “slow cinema,” often circulated simply as a buzzword for a trend of global art cinema, has been theorised in more sophisticated ways. Despite the differences in their focuses, the recent theories of slow cinema have a common tendency to highlight how slow cinema, by slowing down the pace of life and restoring the supposedly insignificant details of life, challenges the accelerated pace of global capitalism and thereby renders the viewing subject more contemplative. While this form of challenge is significant, however, it runs the risk of endorsing the neoliberal packaging of slow life. Is slow cinema now subsumed under the economy of global cinema, albeit under its niche market? Would it be possible to rethink the notion of slow cinema in a way that undoes neoliberal economy and at the same time creates a new mode of affective life?

This paper retheorises slow cinema by resituating Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema in the context of his theory of the three syntheses of time, as well as in the historical context of neoliberalism. In this retheorisation, I show how the limitations of recent discourses on slow cinema can be attributed to their exclusive reliance on the Bergsonian second synthesis of time and how slow cinema at its most radical can be theorised as a type of time-image characterised by the Nietzschean third synthesis of time or its pure form of time. In this alternative theory of slow cinema, I would argue, slowness is no longer regarded as the degree to which the plenitude of life is restored, but rather as that to which time returns the power of becoming and dissolves the homeostasis of life. In this sense, slow cinema ceases to serve the neoliberal valorisation of affective life and instead produces, in Deleuze’s terms, a pure form of time that can bring affective life beyond (or below) this valorisation. From this perspective, I also argue how Malaysian Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s recent film Stray Dogs (2013) radicalises this power of slowness. By comparing an impoverished family’s and an upper-middle-class family’s slow life, the film debunks the packaged “mainstream” slow cinema and, instead, suggests alternative images of slowness in a way that resituates Glauber Rocha’s aesthetic of hunger in the context of neoliberalism. This alternative slowness is especially embodied in the impoverished family members’ instinctual bodily attitudes, such as those of sleeping, eating, urinating, and weeping, as they are shown in excessively extended durations. This excess enables slowness to break with the second synthesis of time and, instead, to constitute a pure form of time that forces the viewer to cross the limit of neoliberal governmentality against the now “mainstream” slow cinema’s tendency to compel the viewer to “contemplate” life in its economic sense.

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone.

—. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2015. Governing by Debt. Translated by Joshua David Jordan. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e).

Lim, Song Hwee. 2014. Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Rocha, Glauber. 1997. “An Aesthetic of Hunger.” In New Latin American Cinema, edited by Michael T. Martin, 2 vols., 1:59–61. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Schoonover, Karl. 2012. “Wastrels of Time: Slow Cinema’s Laboring Body, the Political Spectator, and the Queer.” Framework 53 (1): 65–78.

Blindness

In his lecture-performance titled “Blindness” Bill Balaskas will reflect on the ideological state of post-crisis Europe and the role of contemporary art as a communicator of the antagonisms and anxieties that still linger. Connecting Deleuze and Guattari’s aesthetic and political preoccupations, Balaskas will adopt (and adapt) the two thinkers’ “Body without Organs” (BwO), in dialogue with the model of the rhizome, in order to highlight the deep contradictions inherent in the domination of neo-liberal capital. On a formal level, the artist will employ the fluidity that characterises the BwO as the fabric of his lecture, thus producing a rhizomatic, non-hierarchical, and non-linear narrative reminiscent of the structure followed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. Blurring the boundaries between personal narration, scientific documentation, and poetic allegory, Balaskas will bring together a wide variety of seemingly unrelated sources and media, including re-edited extracts from his video works, graphs exemplifying economic theories, a literary analysis of José Saramago’s novel Blindness, a cover version of the song “Blindness” by U2, personal exhibition anecdotes, and extracts of works by Deleuze and Guattari. Through the amalgamation of these elements, Balaskas will aim further to explore one of the most prominent preoccupations in his artistic practice: “the fluid and petrified substance of money” that functions as the BwO of any capitalist being (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). For Deleuze and Guattari, capital’s distinctly schizophrenic character epitomises the nature of the BwO as “a body without an image” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 9). In a perverted and bewitched capitalist world, “capital increasingly plays the role of a recording surface that falls back on all of production” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). Through his lecture-performance, the artist will suggest that this “non-image”-surface is, in fact, produced through an unprecedented elevation of spectacle within the public sphere. For Balaskas, the totalitarian enactment of the image that we experience today should be understood as the last, “blinding” refuge of a socioeconomic model that is struggling to survive. In this context, “blindness” is not only a condition that emanates from a particular economic system (capitalism) but also a profound cultural choice that aims to deliver us from the need to face a new reality. This voluntary lack of vision affects not only the way we evaluate culture and aesthetics but also our very understanding of the societies within which art is called to perform its role.

References

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. London: Continuum.

Against Deleuze, Boulez (Music as Oracle)

In his book The Age of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm notices the curious way the arts and aesthetics demonstrate an uncanny aptitude for prophetic foresight. For Hobsbawm, the avant-garde revolution in the 1910s, for example, took place long before the world whose collapse it expressed actually fell apart. It is for this reason that the cultural historian should pay close attention to the evolving aesthetic modalities of art in the context of particular political conjunctures. What are we to make of Gilles Deleuze’s use of the music and writing of Pierre Boulez in service of a philosophy that reads like an oracle? Against his own philosophy of discipline and punishment, Michel Foucault prophetically suggested that the century to come would be known as Deleuzian. When it comes to the critical reception of Boulez’s compositional aesthetics, the fairly predictable association of serialism (via Webern) with a kind of hermetic totalitarianism (the music’s mathematics as antisocial hyperintegration, etc.) has given way in more recent times to a more empirically grounded critical association of serialism and dodecaphony with the cultural politics of the Cold War. What the latter critique misses (modernism as the false mask of capitalism) is the truly uncanny prophetic resonance (in Hobsbawm’s sense) of post-war radicality with the new modalities of social life produced by the neo-liberal digital information network that emerged at the end of the twentieth century.

The paper demonstrates the prophetic dimensions of Boulez’s oeuvre by way of the politico-musical philosophy of Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Boulez’s music and music theory claims residency in and serves as an important conduit for the writings of Deleuze and Guattari in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the philosophers creatively adopt serial musical structure as a philosophical trope for thinking identity across strata. The terms they employ are largely borrowed from Boulez’s technical writings on music written nearly twenty years earlier. By situating the philosophers’ engagement with music in the historical context of a romantic-modern tradition (which, broadly, emphasises the critical aspirations of music), the paper assesses the political valences of their central arguments in the current context of postmodern capitalism, to which their work is addressed. The paper demonstrates how the philosophers’ use of Boulezian aesthetics is ultimately prophetic of dominant modalities of techno-political praxis today.