Friday, 25 July 2008

Necklaces and Attentive Recognition 2 (a): House M.D. Season 4 Finale

I have been busy moving office and am about to go on a film-free vacation, so my next proper post on attentive recognition will sadly have to wait until my return in a few weeks. I thought, in the meantime, I'd embed the sequence -- taken from the finale to House M.D. Season 4. (Episode 15: 'House's Head'; Fox Television: USA, 2007-8) -- that I will be discussing in that post (see below), which is also available on YouTube HERE (Note: there are some Spanish subtitles).

As you will see, if you watch it, it is a supremely-constructed, but also fairly graphic and disturbing piece of television narrative, at least from just before two minutes, forty seconds into the clip when we see a bus crash. So, please be warned. Highly impressive storytelling in any case.

Here's a short synopsis of the episode, taken from House: Guide to the TV Show, which has lots of information about the episode generally:

House has suffered a concussion in a bus accident and about the only thing he remembers is that before the crash he disagnosed someone with a life threatening medical problem. So he thinks it is the bus driver, who has some problems. But there are many people on the bus with not just damage from the accident but other things House observes. Only at the end do we discover who the real patient is!

Thanks very much to my (just) former Kent colleague Sergio Dias Branco, a thoughtful and talented writer on television and film, who posted some appreciative comments on my first 'Necklaces and Attentive Recognition' effort in his 'Uses of Philosophy' posting on his very stimulating blog.

Hasta luego, queridos lectores. And happy holidays, if you're having any.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Déjà vu again: Adolfo Bioy Casares's La invención de Morel/The Invention of Morel

A while back I posted a blog entry that referred to Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares's 1940 novella La invención de Morel/The Invention of Morel (see Déjà vu: 'uncanny recognition' or 'perpetual return'?). I wanted to post a link to a really interesting article about this novella that I have come across since which appears on the senses of cinema site. The article -- 'Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation' -- is by Thomas Beltzer; you can access it HERE.

The article deals with issues of literary and filmic recognition in the context of intertextuality and allusion (see also another blog post of mine on Pleasurable recognition in film adaptation). It examines how Alain Resnais's 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année Dernière à Marienbad) 'more than secretly allude[s] to The Invention of Morel' (Beltzer), but it also examines some of Bioy Casares's own inspiration for his novella (Louise Brooks, H.G.Wells). The allusions to The Invention of Morel performed by Eliseo Subiela's 1986 film Hombre mirando al sudeste/Man Facing Southeast (see also HERE) are also compellingly explored.

Beltzer concludes his fascinating essay thus: 'This basic feeling with which many of us live daily is expressed in the increasing catalogue of ontological vertigo films of which Last Year at Marienbad may be the first in line because of its now-revealed relationship with The Invention of Morel.'

P.S. While I'm on the subject of Bioy Casares's novella, fans of Lost may like to know that the character of Sawyer is seen reading The Invention of Morel in an episode in Season 5. See a nice blog entry on the relevance of this novella for Sawyer's own predicament, at that point in the series (with some very good pictures of Sawyer), at SOME OTHER LOST SCREENS. And, finally, there's a funny little video on Sawyer's general passion for reading ('Reading is Sexy') by LilianaMW at YouTube, though it doesn't include the Bioy Casares episode. OK. Enough Déjà vu already...

Monday, 7 July 2008

Necklaces and Attentive Recognition 1: Hitchcock's Vertigo

A soon-to-be-forthcoming blog post will reveal the real reason for my rapidly developing interest in necklaces and attentive recognition in audiovisual culture. But, partly in order to pave the way for that discussion, I wanted to post this classic example of a Hitchcockian anagnorisis from his 1958 masterpiece Vertigo. Please forgive the Spanish dubbing (and the obvious plot spoilers if you haven't seen the film - for a full synopsis, click HERE), but this YouTube video clip shows the exact moment -- in a film in which recognition scenes of many kinds abound -- when Detective John "Scottie" Ferguson, played by James Stewart, sees in the mirror the necklace put on by Judy Barton, played by Kim Novak (here "imitating" Madeleine Elster), and then attentively recognises it (i.e. he recalls a virtual image of the necklace that Judy's necklace calls to mind, and then compares the virtual object with the one before him).

What is particularly interesting to me about this example of an attentive recognition scene is how underplayed it is, relatively at least. Vertigo is a film which doesn't otherwise shrink from highly expressive storytelling techniques; indeed, it is known for inventing some, such as the famous Vertigo shot. One of the reasons for the film's greater subtlety here is that, at this point, Scottie is choosing not to give away yet to Judy/Madeleine that he knows her secret; thus he contains his reaction to his memory of Carlotta's necklace.

Another explanation, however, is that an "excessive" heightening of Scottie's reaction is formally unnecessary, because this scene precisely isn't designed to cue exactly the same, shared moment of dawning with the film's audience. Despite the fact that Scottie is a detective, the film doesn't straightforwardly, or solely, employ what David Bordwell and others have labelled "detective narration", at least not throughout its whole duration. A "detective structure" is one in which (using Murray Smith's terms from his 1995 book Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema: 152-154) the range of narration in a film is tightly restricted to the knowledge of an investigating character, so the audience doesn't generally know things in advance of, or long after, the protagonist but usually simultaneously with him/her. In the last part of Vertigo, following the sequence in which we see (and hear) Judy write a letter to Scottie -- torn up and thus unsent -- in which she sets out her deception, the storytelling resembles "melodramatic narration", a form characterised by "a high degree of subjective transparency across various characters": "[i]n a melodramatic alignment structure, the spectator knows much more than any individual character does" (Smith, 1995: 153).

In this case, the audience may or may not exactly remember Carlotta's necklace but, even if we do recall it, it will mean something different to us, compared with what it means to Scottie. This is because we know more -- about Madeleine's murder and Judy's motivation as an at least partially unwitting accomplice to it -- than what is revealed to Scottie by his recognition of the necklace. The particular composition of tragedy in Vertigo requires that Scottie remain ignorant of the "full facts", of which we are cognizant, at least until the very ending of the film. So, while Scottie is convinced at this "mirror stage" that he has fully recognised the necklace, the film's audience witnesses the scene as only a partial, characterological (not intersubjective) anagnorisis, and as an incomplete, if not exactly false, dawning.

© 2008 Catherine Grant

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Bergson, Deleuze, Lury (and Mead)

Bibliographic and 'cybergraphic' notes on Bergson and Matter and Memory, Gilles Deleuze on 'attentive recognition', Celia Lury on 'prosthetic memory' (and George Herbert Mead)

I just came across an online publication of Henri Bergson's Matter and Memory (originally published as: Henri Bergson. Matter and Memory, translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. London: George Allen and Unwin [1911]), courtesy of the Mead Project (see below). It can be accessed HERE. Direct access to chapter 2 ('Of the Recognition of Images. Memory and Brain'), wherein the concept of 'attentive recognition' is discussed, can be accessed HERE.

I also discovered that Celia Lury uses the concept, infused with Deleuze's reworking of it, in her book Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity (Routledge, 1998 - nicely reviewed by Jeffrey Pence at Film-Philosophy). HERE's a Google Book link to some of Lury's exploration of Bergson/Deleuze. And HERE's a link to Deleuze's discussion of attentive recognition in his book Cinema 2: The Time Image (Continuum, 2005). The concept of 'Prosthetic memory' is very nicely applied in a discussion of one of my favourite films - Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, USA, 2001) by Bjorn Ekeberg in the online peer-reviewed journal Image [&] Narrative: a direct link to Ekeberg's article can be found HERE .

Here's how Ekeberg defines 'prosthetic memory', following theorist Alison Landsberg:
In a seminal 1995 essay, Alison Landsberg [*] discusses the implications of what she calls 'prosthetic memory' - memories which do not come from a person's live experience in any strict sense. "Although memory might always have been prosthetic," she writes, "the mass media - technologies which structure and circumscribe experience - bring the texture and contours of prosthetic memory into dramatic relief." In particular, Landsberg contends, cinema has for roughly a century had the capacity to generate experiences and memories of its own - "memories which become experiences that film consumers both possess and feel possessed by." (191) The essential assumption of prosthetic memory as a theoretical construct is that reality always has been mediated, as a consensus upheld through narrative and information cultures - or indeed through the very structure of language itself. The concept of linear time is precisely such a cultural narrative, institutionalized in the grammar of Indo-European languages - a past, a present, a future - and perpetuated by film as a medium. In postmodern theory, the real as an unequivocal condition can be seen to have retreated from its previously uncontested inhabitation of grand structures and narratives, into the realm of the individual - effectively turning reality into a highly (and dangerously) relativistic enterprise. As such, the systematic and proliferated use of prosthetic memory leads to a conception of what we may call 'prosthetic culture' - roughly describing the ways in which culture, seamlessly or not, weaves together individual realities. From this point of view, culture is little more than the standardizing process of individual psychologies.

[* Landsberg, Alison. "Prosthetic Memory: Total Recall and Blade Runner" in David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy, The Cybercultures Reader . New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. 190-203.]

Obviously the notion of 'memories which do not come from a person's live experience in any strict sense' is a very useful one in considering questions of 'false recognition' and déjà vu, as this is blog is wont to do.

[As for the Mead Project, mentioned above, while I'm more interested in Bergsonianism at present, George Herbert Mead's work, and symbolic interactionism generally, is also fascinating, and relevant to explorations of recognition in culture and I hope to return to it in later.]