•April 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Ethan Spigland

A symphony in three movements, Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film meditates on the sweeping mutations wrought by new digital technologies, globalization, and the monetization of more and more aspects of human life. A reflection on Europe’s past, present, and future, it’s a compendium of familiar Godardian tropes and themes. Astonishingly for a filmmaker who just turned eighty, Godard also explores new ground. Though he was one of the first major directors to work on video, Film Socialisme marks Godard’s first film shot entirely in digital video in the 16 by 9 aspect ratio, which he cynically compares to the dimensions of a dollar bill.

The first movement takes place aboard a vast ocean liner touring the Mediterranean, with ports of call at the mythic foundational sites of Western civilization: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas (Greece), Naples, and Barcelona. The mostly white, middle-class pleasure-seekers aboard the SS Concordia play bingo and slot machines, swim in the pool, attend mass in a chapel that doubles as a bar, and do aerobics before the large ubiquitous screens. Impossibly sharp high definition images of the deck and the churning sea jut up against lower resolution images shot in an array of video formats. At times, Godard saturates the colors and cranks up the volume, so that the pixelated images and distorted sounds become both terrifying and strangely beautiful. A shot of revelers in the ship’s discotheque comes to feel like an air raid. Wind buffets the passengers and Godard transforms the noise of wind against microphones into a recurring motif.

However, despite the vessel’s name, which evokes the goddess of harmony and peace, the notion of a unified Europe emerges as an unattainable dream. The passengers include an old war criminal, possibly a former Nazi, his daughter, a lovely Russian detective, a former UN official on the trail of the war criminal, and an ambassador to Palestine. Conversations abound, or rather fragments of quotations in a babel of tongues, mostly about the crimes and atrocities committed by Europe’s cultural elite during the 20th Century. There are numerous references to a conspiracy involving gold stolen from the Bank of Spain after the Spanish Civil War; to the exodus and crusades; to AIDS as a strategy to kill black Africans. However, these fragments of dialogue become mere “things like this.” Mere noise. No Noah’s ark, the Concordia harbors online animals. As Amy Taubin has suggested, a YouTube clip of a pair of uncannily expressive cats, suggests a level of communication lacking among the passengers.

The disenfranchised–a lonely troubadour, an African woman, a Palestinian intellectual–roam the decks like lost souls, reciting gnomic phrases: “Poor Europe,” the woman exclaims, leaning on the rail as she gazes off at the horizon. The ship is a floating hell masquerading as a postmodern utopia. Money and gold coins constantly exchange hands: “Money was invented so that people wouldn’t have to look each other in the eye,” a character declares. Perhaps, cameras as well, we wonder. The retired tourists and vacationers constantly, mindlessly, snap photographs of one another, yet take little notice of the war images from Afghanistan on TV. The French philosopher, Alain Badiou, delivers a lecture on the origins of geometry to an empty auditorium, literally speaking into the void. At the New York Film Festival screenings last fall, Godard included the already notorious “Navajo” subtitles, in which entire stretches of dialogue are condensed into several words suitable for imperialist American consumption: “Aids tool to kill blacks,” etc. Portmanteau words (“nocrimes noblood”) evoke Joyce and Becket, yet the sparse subtitles comment on the impoverishment of language in the age of Twitter.

“QUO VADIS EUROPE,” reads the intertitle at the beginning of the second movement. The tempo slows down and the mood lightens. We find ourselves in the French countryside, bathed in incandescent sunshine. From the global we turn to the local, to a gas station and adjoining house, where the Martin family resides. Florine and her younger brother Lucien, have summoned their parents before the “tribunal of their childhood” to interrogate them about liberté, egalité, and fraternité. Their mother has decided to run for local office, yet Flo and Lucien wonder whether they themselves should run, since they will ultimately end up paying 30% of France’s debt. A TV camera team harasses the Martins; they need to have their piece ready for the evening news. The father swats one of them away with a rolled up newspaper like a fly. With its saturated primary colors and bits of slapstick, this section calls to mind Godard’s early films. Yet he intentionally nips any semblance of a narrative in the bud. The actors remain mouthpieces rather than three-dimensional characters, resulting in an off-putting viewing experience. Interviewed by one of the reporters, Flo discuses the need to redistribute the family’s property, quoting the French revolutionary Saint Just (one of the film’s numerous references to revolution). The children evoke the early French New Wave: Flo reads Balzac as did Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows; Lucien ogles woman’s asses and paints Renoirs from memory. Numerous hints suggest that Godard views the mischievous, classical music-loving boy as an alter-ego. He’s also the only character to utter the film’s final intertitle: “No Comment.”

The short coda returns to the ports of call of the Part 1’s odyssey, birthplace of our humanities, using mostly pilfered footage from films and newsreels. Reminiscent of Godard’s magnum opus, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, we revisit the wars and atrocities of the 20th Century, but also its revolutionary upheavals. Significantly, Godard presents cities that were sites of spontaneous uprisings: Odessa, Barcelona, and most recently, Athens. In the Odessa section Godard intercuts images of contemporary tourists with footage from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. An owl in front of the famous steps, references Hegel’s owl of Minerva, “which only spreads its wings once dusk starts to fall.” This allegory implies that philosophy comes to understand a historical condition only in retrospect.

Yet Godard has always maintained that cinema, unlike philosophy, has the power to foretell historical events. Godard demonstrates this in Film Socialisme by anticipating the civil unrest in Greece, which only reached a flashpoint after Godard began shooting. He reminds us that tragedy and democracy were both born in Athens. Throughout the film, Godard returns to his often-expressed notion that America liberated Europe only to make her more dependent, economically and culturally. He has referred to the landing on the beaches of Normandy as a second invasion, which led to the American “occupation” of cinema, to a uniform way of making films and the rise of television. Godard’s practice, especially his use of montage, offers a “resistance” to this occupation. The Martin family’s refusal to be captured by television proves significant. An intertitle later informs us that “Famille Martin” was the name of a group that formed part on the French Resistance during World War II, and that their motto was “liberate and federate.”

Towards the end of the film, we see an image of the FBI warning against copyright infringement, over which Godard superimposes an inter-title purloined from Pascal: “If the law is unjust, justice must bypass the law.” The socialism invoked is primarily the undermining of intellectual property. Godard has spoken about how the artist “doesn’t have rights but only obligations.” And indeed, in Film Socialisme he freely appropriates images from John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Jean-Daniel Pollet’s Méditerranée, and even recycles sections of his own Histoires Du Cinéma. Yet, amid the stream of secondhand images of war, Godard also offers us a startling vision of peace. Over images borrowed from Agnes Varda of trapeze artists performing on a beach, we hear the voice of a girl reading the Torah in Hebrew merge with the voice of a girl reading the Koran in Arabic. Here Godard, alluding to Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history,” presents history not as it was, but as it could have been, or might still yet be.

According to Godard, the history of cinema is thoroughly intertwined with what he calls “big history.” It’s the only art form, which in recounting its own stories, also tells us something about history itself. Profoundly tied to documentation, cinema forms a material archive of the 20th Century. Therefore, to manipulate fragments of film is to manipulate history itself. Godard creates a surface where images, texts, and sounds coexist without hierarchy. Liberated from their original contexts, these elements freely enter what he calls “the fraternity of metaphors.” Images and sounds condense meaning, become emblematic, or form complex associative clusters.
In the last movement the images are no longer mere “things like this.” Godard invokes the possibility of redemption of the image through the power of montage to make us see the invisible: what lies between two images. The epilogue affirms that cultural history is alive, that through montage, we can tap into its unfulfilled potentials and abandoned dreams.

On Decisions: Whitehead, Privacy, Complexity

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Christopher Vitale

What follows is in my next post is admittedly a mix of Whitehead, contemporary quantum theory, and my own thoughts . . .

Each event/concresence, for Whitehead, is necessarily more than the sum of its parts. Granted, he argues that generally, events do what is expected of them. Two billiard balls, each made of inumerable events, hit each other (another, more macro event), and they tend to scatter in predictable ways. Quantum particles are less deterministic than the average billiard ball, however. While the most likely paths which quantum particles may take between any two events is generally the ones it does take, there is always a chance it takes a much more roundabout path. Why is it that quantum particles appear so much more random than billiard balls?

Scientists still debate where quantum ‘wierdness’ comes from, though there is a school of thought (ie: David Bohm), to which I am quite sympathetic, that argues that the influence of the whole of the context of a quantum particle ‘weighs in’ to the more immediate factors impacting a particle. The jury is not out on this, nor is it likely to be in the near future. But this remains one of the major schools of thought on the production of quantum wierdness.

Either way, no matter what the cause of quantum wierdness, it certainly seems, from the outside at least, that quantum particles make ‘decisions.’ In the manner that humans, animals, and physical systems like vortexes and ‘the wave’ do. That is, given a set of options, over many trials, they do not always make the same choice, or even the same predictable set of choices, due to factors which are unavailable to observers. This is what is meant by privacy. Quantum particles, humans, animals, vortexes, ‘the wave’, they all have privacy to them. And in fact, all matter, made up of quantum particles, has privacy. And yet it seems that some entities are more unpredictable than others. Why might that be?

When a quantum particle does something relatively unpredictable, there is little to support its deviation from script. It’s one simple particle out of place, so to speak. Complex systems in matter, however, are societies of events which are ordered. The more complex a system, the more it is structured so as to put macro and micro into communication. One tiny perturbation at the right place and time within a complex system, and that perturbation ‘gets to decide’ for the whole. To put it into systems language, micro disturbances have macroeffects which are greater than the sum of their parts. That is, one micro disturbance might be at the right point in the structure of the whole that its decision synechochally carries the weight of the whole. Similarly, Napoleon’s whims had a huge influence on Europe, but this is simply because he was in the right place at the right time to become the ‘world historical person’ he did. Was he born a few minutes later, he might’ve been a stable-boy, and some other douche’s whims would be ruling the French Empire. Which isn’t to say that Napoleon’s particular talents weren’t perhaps very important here. It’s always a multiple way street.

The point is, however, is that the more complex a material society, the more likely it is able to extend micro-events into macro-events. The human brain is a perfect example. It can retrieve exactly the right association to an experience so as to point out possibilities in response to that experience. I may have not thought of that particular associated content for years, and yet, my brain can grab info from a neuronal patch in its own backwaters rather quickly, and amplify its ability to grab my attention so that when I need it, that little neuronal patch is elevated to ‘decision maker’ in relation to the exigencies of the present.

The same it is, in fact, with democracy. We’ve seen that, even in our corrupt recent elections, a few precincts in Ohio or Florida can end up deciding the whole thing. If all the other votes are in, and we’re waiting in a tied race for one precint, it decides. If all precincts come in at the same time, and one candidate wins by one vote, everyone who voted for that candidate ‘got to decide.’ Granted, not every decision is this close, and not every decision made needs to seem unpredictable to the outside. But systems that can shift between these modes are perhaps the most complex out there.

Hopefully its obvious that when I ask the question ‘who decides’, I’m not merely emphasizing the human. With Whitehead, I believe that each event – from quantum particle to human decision to national election – takes in a series of data from all its inputs, and merges those with its own nature, its own limitations, preferences, blindspots, etc. This filtered data stream is then combined, yet always in a manner in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We don’t know if there are parts to some of the quantum particles out there (though it seems that there’s a fractality to the quantum world, for every time they find a final particle, at higher energy they then find it is made up of yet smaller parts), but we do know that quantum particles act as if they had parts, or, that they act as if they weighed the incoming data, their inputs, in a manner which combined them to produce results in excess of the sum of their parts. And this ripples up the chain, everything made of quantum events necessarily is composed of events that are more than the sum of their parts.

This is what is meant by privacy, this ‘more than the sum of their parts’ that permeates the concresence of events at every level of scale.

Humans seem to have the most privacy of anything yet encountered, because our brains are the most complex material entities known to exist. Human brains are large resonance chambers, we amplify the privacy of micro-events so that they become macro-events. We extends and support the complexity of our mirco-parts so they have ever greater macro-effects in the world.

For Whitehead, privacy is the source of freedom. While quantum particles are incredibly free, in a sense, they are not free to extend their freedom in the world. Only complex physical systems do this. The human brain is much more free, in this sense, than a quantum particle, because it can influence the very situations in which quantum particles actualize. Quantum particles have more potential freedom than a chair, but a human brain has more actual freedom than both, because it has a body, which can extend its decisions into the alteration of the material environment in which that brain exists.


Porn Studies, Kink Studies, and the Politics of the Erotic Imaginary, Part I: From Linda Williams to

•October 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Christopher Vitale (crossposted at Networkologies)

Let’s face it. Most of us look at porn at some point or other. And most of us know very little about where it comes from, how it is made, who makes it, the lives of the people involved, the labor conditions, the safety issues involved, the political economy and power dynamics, etc.

What can be done about this? And what’s the stakes?

Porn Studies?

Porn studies is still a relatively young field. After the decline of influence of anti-pornography feminists like Dworkin and McKinnon, and largely in response to the reevaluation of porn prompted by queer studies, the pathbreaking work of Linda Williams in her work Hardcore: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible (1991), and her more recent collection of essays Porn Studies (2004), really set the agenda in this field. While Hardcore almost exclusively focuses on hetero porn, the second collection makes great strides in examining various forms of lgbtq porn, bdsm, cybersex, issues of race and class, etc. Williams also does a great job explaining the difficulties she personally went through teaching porn studies in her classes at UC Berkeley, and how after several years of having undergrads sign tons of legal forms and waivers, she just finally gave up on teaching porn film in class to undergrads.

As someone who teaches gender, sexuality, and queer studies on a semi-frequent basis, I often teach Williams work, as well as the essays in her very useful anthology. In particularly, I find two essays extremely useful: Heather Butler’s “What Do You Call A Lesbian With Long Fingers?: The Development of Lesbian and Dyke Pornography,” particularly for its discussion of genre conventions which help differentiate lesbian/dyke porn made for women-loving-women from that made for heterosexual men, and Nguyen Tan-Hoang’s “The Resurrection of Brandon Lee: The Making of a Gay Asian Porn Star,” for the way it shows the often overdetermined nature of race, class, language, sexuality, and economics at work in gay porn. I don’t, however, show porn film clips in class, nor assign them, for all the reasons Williams described. Williams essays do a pretty good job of getting the necessary issues into our discussion.

Despite the work done by Williams and a few others, the field of porn studies is still relatively new, and there’s still a degree of stigma attached to those who work in the field. Very often this stigma follows the logic most sex-panics: “If you teach this stuff, does that mean you’re into it?” As many critics have argued, this is the general logic of homo-panic or sex-panic, in this case, porn-panic.

Kink Studies? and Beyond

During the last year I’ve twice given a talk, once at NYU and once at Pratt, calledVisible Pleasure and Bodily Cinema: Queer Spectatorship and Femdom Internet Porn. In preparing for this set of presentations, I did a standard literature search to see what new scholarship there had been on BDSM related topics, particularly in a queer context and in relation to film/video/spectatorship, in the last few years. What I found really surprised me. While there was a lot written about these issues in the 1970’s, by the time queer studies came on the scene in the early 1990’s, it seemed new scholarship stopped being produced on these topics.

Which is odd. For what was originally just the leather community has now mutated into its more contemporary form, often simply called kink. People who are into kink often aren’t constrained by the identity based models of the first generation of lgbt advocates, there is much more of a queer, post-identity sensibility to things. But why hasn’t there been a new kink studies? If I wasn’t already working to get two book manuscripts to press, this is something I’d work on trying to deal with.

The Ambiguity of Address: Femdom Porn and ‘Men in Pain’

But it was with this in mind that I set to getting together my presentation on Femdom porn. I’ll perhaps explain much of what I found interesting on this topic in a post of its own. But a lot of it describes the relations between the website, its work to buy the Armory from the city of San Francisco for its new production studio, the discourse produced in public hearings about this transaction, theeducational goals and mission of, the archive of behind the scenes semi-educational materials produced by the site, and of course, the new approach to kink porn they produce.

Femdom in particular is a type of sexual practice in which women dominate men. In particular, I examined the site on in which women tied up men, engaged in various forms of bondage, and then the women fucked the men with strap-on dildos at the end of each video. That’s Femdom.

In relation to the pathbreaking work by Laura Mulvey on the notion of the ‘male gaze’ in film and spectatorship in general, these videos are particularly interesting. Very rarely in the history of film do you see a clothed female bossing around a naked male, the camera looking through her viewpoint at him as an object. The man is then penetrated by the woman’s phallus (if that is even the right name any more!), just as he has already been visually penetrated by the gaze of the woman, and indirectly, the viewer. While there are perhaps examples of some similar things in film (the particular scene in which a ‘female’ gaze emerges in Peter Greenaway’s masterful 1979 film The Draughtsman’s Contract stands out as one particular example), nowhere do we see anything of the power and consistency of these videos.

We are seeing a shift in the spectatorial politics of the gaze.  What’s more, there’s something polymorphously queer about these videos. For the videos posted at the site Men in Pain seem fundamentally ambiguous in their address. Are these videos intended for gay men, lesbians, hetero men, hetero women? Its hard to say, and in fact, all these different groups can find spectatorial positions from which it might be possible to ‘slot oneself’ into the fantasy scenario present in these videos. And the fact that none of these are specified as the intended audience leaves things up for grabs. always has ‘before’ and ‘after’ interviews, so that everyone knows that what they see is consensual, contractual, sane, safe, etc. And in none of these interviews in Men in Pain do either the male subs or the female doms say a word about how they relate to the issue of sexual orientation. Rather, this notion is left out, its moot.

Welcome to shift from leather to kink, from lgbt to queer.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this is part of a larger shift within culture. Then again, it sees that, at least in terms of, this shift was not to last. has always been a largely heterosexually oriented production company, and Men in Pain was their first and only site which had ‘ambiguous address’ in the manner described above. WhileMen in Pain lasted about two years, after this started a KinkMen division, which put out its own gay bondage sites, a naked gay wrestling site, etc. And immediately thereafter, they rebranded Men in Pain as Divine Bitches. They scaled back the emphasis on naked men in the previews, emphasized the women, and tried to use male models that fit the general gay porn stereotypes (boyish yet muscled, carefully groomed body hair, etc.) less well. The experiment in ambiguity had come to an end.

That said, there are other femdom sites that continue to have ambiguous address, just none with the high profile, production values, semi-educational mission/values, etc. In particular, the CFNM genre of porn, or Clothed Female Naked Male, really does turn the tables on the traditional male gaze. still remains extremely interesting, and its values are a large part of this. The site itself is a scholarly archive, and I highly recommend examining the ‘behind the scenes’ semi-educational videos that are available here for free. Many of the models, producers, and staff have really fascinating insights into why BDSM can be so liberating for so many, potentially therapeutic, and not something as threatening as many people may think. The interviews with Lorelei Lee’s views on third-wave feminism, Stigma’s views on how kink is less self-destructive than other ways he dealt with previous anger issues (its more productive to get erotically bound than breaking your hands hitting walls), or’s president’s mom’s sculptures when she visits her son’s company. The fact that full-time employees get health insurance is just a nice touch, not to mention the fact that models, at least it seems, get safe work conditions.

As anyone who has studied the field knows, removing the stigma from sex work always creates safer working conditions for all those involved. I think is trying to do its part.

More to come soon on this topic, because there’s a lot more to say. Needless to say, as a first step, it seems essential to me that we stop stigmatizing the safe and consensual.

Requiem for a Dreamer: Jean Rollin’s Vierges et Vampires

•October 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Ethan Spigland

Dredge a few images from deep within your unconscious: memories of your childhood, the first films you ever watched, the first comic books you ever read. Try not to censor your thoughts. Find a way to link these images into a story of some kind. Don’t worry too much about logic or a coherent plot. Then, without going back and revising your initial thoughts, shoot a film based on this narrative. If you follow this method, you just might end up with a film like Jean Rollin’s 1972 feature Requiem for a Vampire (Vierges et vampires).

Starting with just two images–two clowns fleeing in the countryside, and a woman playing piano in a graveyard—he sat down at his typewriter and began weaving a narrative, using a method akin to automatic writing. And so, two girls dressed as clowns shoot at a car pursuing them along a country road. They escape, but their male companion dies and they torch their car. The girls ditch their clown costumes and change into miniskirts and knee sox. They discover a motorcycle in a dilapidated barn and drive off until the bike runs out of gas. Hiding in a cemetery, one of the girls accidentally falls into an open grave and is almost buried alive by careless gravediggers. The girls explore the ruins of a nearby chateau, spending the night in the fur-covered bed. Awakened by strange noises, they come upon a woman playing the organ to an audience of skeletons in monk’s robes. The woman turns around and we see her fangs—she’s a vampire… And Rollin proceeded like this, with no clear end in mind.

Liberated from the rational chains of a constraining plot, the images in Jean Rollin’s films take on an independent existence. The story becomes a means to construct poetic bridges between autonomous images. This approach aligns him with early avant-garde filmmakers such as Jean Epstein who believed that cinema like life is not about stories, about actions oriented towards an end, but about situations open in every direction. In Rollin’s films one gets the sense that anything can happen at any given moment. Like the surrealists, he is less interested in the supernatural, than in the fantastic as it manifests itself in the everyday. Though not interested in horror per se, Rollin turned to the genre because it granted him the license to introduce elements of the irrational and poetic.

The resulting narrative is simple yet captivating: Michele and Marie, on the run from reform school, end up in a chateau where the last vampire resides along with his two female disciples, Erica and Louise, and their bestial lackeys. A melancholic figure more pathetic than frightening, he is searching for virgin blood to revive his waning energies and propagate his dying race. Rollin will return again and again to images and motifs expressed confidently here for the first time: the two girls, gothic castles, provincial graveyards, runaways, clowns. All that’s missing is the beach at Dieppe, with its haunting cliffs and twisted wooden poles, a crucial setting in almost all his films. There’s very little dialogue, and the first lines are only uttered 40 minutes into the film. This lends Requiem for a Vampire a purity and naiveté that evokes silent cinema, especially Louis Feuillade’s serials Fantômas and Les Vampires. Pierre Raph’s varied score, which incorporates free jazz, psychedelic rock, and classical guitar, virtually accompanies every scene, underscoring the silent film atmosphere. There’s something extremely organic about the film, even as it constantly shifts tone (from playful, to frightening, to moving). Rollin willfully rejects professionalism, preferring to make films with a group of friends in a spirit of adventure and play. Jean-Luc Godard often speaks about the “childhood” of cinema, before it became an industry, when filmmakers like Mack Sennett made films without a screenplay, freely improvising with small crews.

What the film lacks in production value, it more than makes up for in style. The cinematography is often stunning, and Rollin has a real flair for filming the French countryside. In a beautiful long shot that evokes Murnau, the girls flee across a prairie pursued by the vampires. There’s something otherworldly about the light in this scene, as if it’s both dawn and dusk at the same time. Nobody films cemeteries like Rollin–in his films they become miniature cities, eerie colored light emanating from individual tombs. An extraordinary tracking shot at night finds Louise playing romantic piano by candlelight amidst the gravestones, the girls seated beside her. Rollin has a keen eye for color. Marie and Michele’s flame-red clown wigs pop out against the lush green surroundings. In one elliptical shot that Rollin holds for a long time, the surface of a pond gradually takes on various hues. It takes us a while to register that the girls are washing off their clown make-up, since we only glimpse their faces afterwards.

With their immaculate doll-like faces and impossibly huge eyes, the two leads, Mireille Dargent and Pony Castel, exude a haunting beauty. The fascinating Pony would appear in many of Rollins films, often with her twin sister, Marie-Pierre, most memorably in Rollins masterpiece, Lips of Blood (1976). The girl’s amoral innocence evokes the adolescent protagonists of Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye. Indeed Rollin’s films come closer than any I know to capturing the spirit of Bataille’s perverse fantasies and Sade’s gothic fairytales. Bataille himself, who had an affair with Rollins mother, would put little Jean to bed by telling him bedtime stories about a character named Monsieur le curé–a wolf dressed in priests robes.

Despite the gratuitous nudity and requisite sex associated with the genre (and often demanded by producers), Rollin’s films never come across as misogynistic. In Requiem for a Vampire, the men tend to be brutish, foolishly gullible, or impotent. The last vampire accepts his fate with quiet dignity, but possesses little sexual allure. Rollin’s female vampires, by contrast, convey an erotic power. Though women are associated with the chthonic, we never sense the fear of the castrating “phallic mother” encountered in such films as Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Rollin seems to be in thrall to their ecstatic jouissance. One thinks of Joelle Coeur as the sadistic and insatiable Tina, leader of a criminal gang in Demoniacs (1974) masturbating on the beach, while her flunkies rape and torture the shipwrecked survivors. Furthermore, women, usually two girls, are the protagonists of his films. Certainly Michele and Marie are objects of desire in the film, yet as spectators we clearly identify with them, as does Rollin. They represent an innocence, but also a resilience and passion for adventure.

We encounter an adventurous female duo of one sort or another in almost all his subsequent films and novels. At times they seem to share an imagination, even to be facets of the same being. In Requiem for a Vampire, Michele and Marie often appear to be under a spell of some kind—and not only in scenes where they’re actually hypnotized (as when they’re led to a torture-filled crypt by one of the vampire’s disciples). They seemingly spend the entire film in a trance–as if the escapades befalling them don’t quite concern them. The awkward, amateur performances only enhance this effect. Gilles Deleuze spoke about the emergence of a new type of actor with the French New Wave–a mutant who becomes a detached observer rather than an active agent in their own stories. For Deleuze this signals a breakdown of classic storytelling and action—a hallmark of the modern cinema. This leads to a new emphasis on time itself. Time and memory are indeed key themes in most of Rollin’s films, and he paces his scenes deliberately, often allowing them to play out in real time. One also thinks of his signature image: a vampire dwelling within or emerging from a grandfather clock. Marie and Michele remind me of the two protagonists of Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. Isn’t the vampire’s castle a kind of House of Fiction? Both Rivette and Rollin have a fascination for romantic literature and the Feuillade’s serials, yet Rollin’s films are far less self-conscious. His films merge the intellectual and sensual in a way that the nouvelle vague rarely achieved.

Rollin’s work has been misunderstood ever since Rape of the Vampire, his first completed feature, premiered in Paris during the riots of May 68. A fascinating film, it’s a disjointed jumble of violent and erotic images: a vampire queen emerging from the sea, a blind woman playing skittles, a woman drinking blood from a vat, a nude woman riding in a funeral procession. Midway through the film, the dead protagonists of the first part come back to life. Reviled by audiences and critics expecting a straight horror film in the Hammer mold, it touched a nerve and became a succès de scandale. While blood flowed in the gutters outside the theater, bewildered spectators howled and threw objects at the screen drenched in rivers of artificial blood. In some instinctive, affective way, Rape of the Vampire tapped into the rebellious zeitgeist. In hindsight, it can be considered a subversive, political film. Glauber Rocha talked about how the paroxystic performances of his actors in such films as Terre Em Transe viscerally embodied a kind of revolutionary politics.

His films have always been too arty to satisfy the horror crowd yet too exploitative and unprofessional to convince serious critics. Mistaken for camp, at their best they attain a delirious beauty. The time is ripe to elevate Rollin to the front ranks of postwar French filmmakers. He should be regarded as the rightful heir to the poetic surrealism of Jean Cocteau, Luis Buñuel, and Georges Franju. Make no mistake: Rollin is a bona fide auteur, compulsively returning again and again to the same images, themes, locations. He often speaks about how these obsessions can be traced back to childhood experiences. Although the exploitation market enabled him to keep making films, Rollin should be seen as a poète maudit obsessively searching for something in his past. Freud called it the uncanny. Tristan Corbière, the doomed romantic poet, called it “a homesickness for a land he’d never seen.”

Fractals and Time, Part 4: Light, Matter, and Memory

•October 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Christopher Vitale

So this is the fourth and final installment of a series on Fractals and Time. For Part I, see here, Part II is here, and Part III is here.

Light. Such a perspective can be more fully fleshed out if we examine the peculiar temporal state of light. Many researchers have argued that light exists in fact outside of time, and that what we see is simply the manner in which the interactions of light with matter keep dragging light into spacetime, and in the process, expanding one photon into what appears like many.

As an entity approaches the speed of light, all that which is around one seems to speed up in time, and all that is aligned with the movement approaching the speed of light increasing in length (giving rise to the lines of light which many sci-fi fictions imagine travellers would see instead of point-like stars). At its breaking point, as one hits the speed of light, all space going in the direction of one’s travel would become infinite, destroying any ability to see in front or behind one, as one’s sides literally swallow one’s front and back, all time outside one would become infinitely fast, and one’s own time would appear infinitely slow to those outside.

What would it be like for an entity moving at the speed of light when it ‘encounters’ matter? When a photon hits matter, it may bounce off at a different angle, or may be absorbed, such as what happens when a photon makes an electron jump in level to excited state. When the electron falls back down to its original state, it releases a photon, and this also travels, as do all photons, at the speed of light. What would a photon, if it could experience, experience of these interactions? Photons would continually jump between timelessness and moments where they are jerked back into time.

From the perspective of a timeless, moving photon, these moments in time could not be said to be before or after each other, for these terms become meaningless when one hits the speed of light and is truly outside time. So all the separate moments within time can be thought of as existing ‘at the same time’, or ‘smeared across spacetime’, within the timeless existence of a single, undivided photon, which then appears in many spacetimes at once across the universe. It is for this reason that famed physicist John Wheeler suggested that it may be possible that all photons in our universe are actually multiple appearances of one photon, refracted into many by the process of being ‘expanded’ into spacetime by means of interaction with extended matter.

But what about matter? Why does matter experience time? One phenomenon which may shed some light on this is that of gravitational lensing, in which the image of one stellar body appears multiple times due to the way in which a massive body’s gravitational pull distorts the light coming towards earth. Gravitational lensing explains the way in which one image can become several due to the effects of gravity on light. If gravity can multiply the images of matter due to the interaction of matter with light, it would seem that truly extreme gravity, like that of the Big Bang, would infinitely multiply the image of matter, till it was in fact everywhere, holographically projected.

Conversely, what if the matter we observe is simply the unfolding of what was originally distributed throughout an early, compacted quantum state? If the original matter were ‘smeared’ across space in a quantum state, the its unfolding may give rise to something like the extended state we observe today. From such a perspective, matter and light begin to seem like two sides of the same coin, with matter dividing light from itself, just as matter increasingly localizes as gravity decreases. And since the emission of photons from matter gives rise to the energy that powers, producing the energy that gives rise to all the rhythmic mechanical and biological processes which allow organisms to gain a sense of the flow of time, might it not be the intersection of matter and light, rhythmically pulsing between time and timelessness, which gives rise to the flow of time?

Layering. Can memory be accounted for by fractal processes? Some theorists have argued that just as time can be concieved as the expansion of a fractal space, such an expansion would be percieved by an observer as not an outfolding but an infolding. This would only be furthered by the flow of energy which is layered on top of the expansion of what is, giving rise to a second level echo of this infolding.

It is in this manner that even though the expansion of the universe is proceeding rather slowly relative to our present state, the flow of energy which emerged therefrom is not. These energetic processes give rise to the material clocks which found the biological clocks whose cojoined rhythms give rise to the experience of lived time. Humans live within a constant influx of energy from the sun, and yet that influx is continually fighting against the general tendency of all that is to disintegrate due to the collective forces of entropy. Only the constant influx of energy keeps complex systems in a state which maintains and/or increases in complexity. The forward pulse of material and biological evolution, which produce the clocks which produce our sense of time, have been themselves put in motion precisely by the energetic flows of energy from the sun which counter the continual pull of entropy.

Such a movement of time could occur in this way no matter if energy is flowing into or out of a system, so long as the general direction of the system as a whole which sets the clocks, so to speak, follows one direction at a time. Memory occurs when experiences which have occurred are layered into those which continue to unfold.

If we conceive of a local experience of time as the progress of a line which is zooming into a larger three dimensional fractal, and energetic flow as echoing these processes, we can imagine memory as the layering of a primary set of experiences into those which follow, in the manner in which a prime layers into itself in a fractal. Primary experiences describe the general shape of not zooming into a fractal, but rather, zooming out of a fractal, with original experiences feeling more distant, yet ever layered into the wider and wider experiences which come.

Memory in this sense can be concieved of as an inside out mirror image, like a Klein bottle, of the fractal model of spacetime which we have previously described. While such a fractal would have a start, as these memories continue to enfold themselves, they give rise to echoes in a wide variety of permutations, each refractions of the original. If each of these primaries are nevertheless refractions of an aspect of a fractal, holographic whole, then in a sense all the memories that ever existed could be produced by the complex infolding of an incredibly complex yet ultimately timeless pattern. From such an experience, the repetition of primaries in memory would give rise to cycles in memory whereby recognition could develop, and from this it would be possible to establish relations to objects, cycles within objects, and ultimately time metrics.

Lived time, however, would feel more dense or less dense depending on the degree to which recalled memories were enfolded into a present moment, or the present were experienced relatively free of such detailing. The experience of images fading and arising from memory may then be more an effect of the limited resolution of the human brain, even though all experience is laden through and through with memory, if in differing degree. Such memory can be thought of simply as an enfolding of the past in the present, and anticipation within the present as the fantasized projected mixture of such memories to imagine possible future states. And if, as some researchers have argued, the looping of dopmaine around certain circular channels in the brain provides us with a basic internal clock, then the ratio of the density of memory compared to this internal cycle could give rise to the sensation of the stretching or condensing of time experienced by humans in a wide variety of situations.

Fractals and Time, Part III: Unfolding, Timeless Time, and Holography

•October 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment


by Christopher Vitale

What follows is Part III of a series on Fractals and Time. Part I is here, and Part II is here.

Unfolding. Building on the work of Laurent Nottale, Susie Vrobel, and Roger Penrose, theorist Keri Welch has recently proposed a fractal model of time which integrates a wide series of sources to produce a unified account of how “time emerges from timelessness.” The hypotheses which follow build upon what has just been presented to describe, explain, and at times elaborate upon Welch’s notion of a fractal model of time, the ramifications of which sync in many senses with the networkological project. Under unusual conditions, such as the curved space present at the imagined start of the universe, or within a black hole, a quantum potential would not necessarily advance, and in this manner, we can imagine a state which is truly static yet distributed in terms of space and time. Many have argued that our universe emerged from a state precisely like this, a crack which opened in the crystal, so to speak. What’s more, there is currently no way to know whether our entire universe exists within a massive black hole, and some researchers have argued that black holes in our universe each lead to other universes ‘inside’ them.

Theorists have largely been loathe to speculate how it might be that time could unfold, so to speak, from the timelessness of such a state. Since quantum potentials seem to exist in a manner in which each part is mediated by the whole, such that the intensity of the quantum potential at a given point depends on the whole of the potential in relation to its contexts, it would seem that the advance of a quantum particle comes about from the integration of new spacetime contexts into the whole of the potential even as this new whole is folded into each of its new parts, if more intensely at some parts than others.

Based on this, some researchers have argued that fractal shapes such as the Mandelbrot set can provide some clues. As one zooms into a given area of a two dimensional plot of a Mandelbrot set, each level of zoom leads to more detail, to an infinite degree as one continues to zoom. The layers of detail that one will encounter are all iterations and enfolding of the fundmental Mandelbrot pattern into itself, such that the whole is contained in an enfolded manner in all its parts, and yet depending on which area of the plot where one begins one’s zoom, the patterns one will see will be fundamentally different. Most Mandelbrot sets are color coded to describe degrees of inclusion/exclusion from the set, and here we see analogues to degrees of intensity, just as the zoom is analogous to the concept of advance, such that the zoom within the Mandelbrot set from any given point can be seen as analogous to the advance of the whole as percieved from one particular location within the whole as that whole advances. Because our eyes lack the resolution to distinguish incredibly small or large distances, it seems that new shapes appear and vanish as we zoom into the Madelbrot set, even though these shapes are always there, and merely unfold as our zoom proceeds.

All of this is generated from an equation, a relation which is itself static and outside of time, but one which iterates differently depending on how it enfolds within itself. If we imagine something like a Mandelbrot set in three dimensions, and imagine the zoom on a particular location as the movement of a location through time, we see the manner in which it may be possible for a static, timeless relation (the equation) to refract itself in a manner which is fractal and holographic in the manner of quantum potential, but in a manner which appears to be progressively unfold differently at each location even as the whole unfolds. This unfolding is nevertheless taking place within timelessness, for there is actually no progression within a Mandelbrot set, only an increase in resolution and zoom as produced by a computer program as we expand our resolution at one particular location. But in a perfect Mandelbrot set, one not iterated by a computer but existing fully formed in spacetime, this unfolding process does not produce anything new, but simply unfolds what is already there.

If a three dimensional Mandelbrot set were to expand in size dramatically, and a particular location were to stay where it is and have the folded Mandelbrot ‘matter’ expand unfold around it as the whole expanded it, it would likely ‘experience’ something like we experience zooming into a Mandelbrot set, if in four-dimensions. And if this location is occupied by a sentient observer with memory yet limited resolution, this observer would likely experience this expansion as something similar to moving in time. This is because the expansion of the Mandelbrot matter around it in all directions would be percieved as a the zooming we have described, but one which occurs from all sides.

A Mandelbrot Zoom Video

It is in this manner that a timeless relation, the Mandelbrot set, can give rise to what can only be described as change in four dimensions, or the experience of three dimensions of space and one unfolding dimension of time, in a manner which iterates differently depending on the location within this expansion, yet in a manner which always reflects the whole. And in fact, all fractals have a germ, which some researchers have called a fractal’s ‘prime.’ It is not unreasonable to say that The differential unfolding of a multi-dimensional prime could, in theory, give rise to spacetime in the manner described above, as both container and contained, giving rise to time in the process.

Refraction. Is there any evidence that our universe is something like this? Researchers have noticed that the visible universe expands relatively uniformly over time. This is both because space is expanding, but also because older light has more time to reach us. Because it takes time for light to reach us, not only are we looking out in space when we peer into space, but also in time. This has lead some to argue that we are surrounded by the past, enfolded in it, from all sides. For in fact, the most ancient light we can observe comes at us from all sides. For when we peer out at great distance in any direction from earth, we see quasars, young galaxies in the process of formation, relics from earlier times in our universe.

In addition to this, however, we also are bathed, as is every part of the universe, from what we can tell, with a semi-randomly dense energetic medium known as the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). The fact that it is basically uniform implies that all the universe was in fact originally at the center, a fact which would make sense if expansion from a Big Bang came from everywhere, leading to whatever is far away to seem distant in spacetime. The semi-uniformity would imply that small fluctuations in this expansion of the early universe lead to the clumping of matter and energy into galaxies, at least after a period of intense expansion which largely flattened space itself.

There therefore seems to be evidence to support the notion that our universe is expanding and expanded in a manner similar to what we have just described. If the universe is then fractal in the manner of a three dimensional Mandelbrot set, we might experience something like an unfolding of time from the expansion of a previously quantum state. That said, it does not seem that space is expanding around us in a visibly appreciable manner. Many have argued that the ‘arrow of time’ experienced by humans is the result of the flow of energy in the universe, from high concentrations to low concentrations, with all human processes moving along this flow like leaves floating on top of water moving along in a river. But what grounds the very flow of energy in anything like a flow, a movement in something we have called time, may be due to something like the expansion of a fractal quantum state of the sort we have just described. And since, as many researchers have argued, it seems that the most primordial stuff in our universe is in fact a sort of quantum foam, one which exhibits fractal levels of detail the further one zooms into it (which is equivalent to the degree of energy one uses, hence the need for massive excelerators to view smaller and smaller particles in order to see what particles may have existed in the extremely condensed conditions of the early post-Big Bang universe), it does not seem unreasonable to argue that our universe is in fact the result of a differential unfolding of interfolded forms of the same fundamentally fractal and holographic material.

Developments in string theory seem to provide a way to link quantum foam with particles, providing a mediating state, for string theory may explain the ways in which that of which the foam is composed could complexify into vibrating patterns which give rise to the particles encountered in the world. From such a perspective, the universe may in fact be simply a vibrational pattern which folds and unfolds within itself in a manner which is timeless in and of itself, yet gives rise to the experience of time for those within it.

Some Mandelbrot Fun: Another Video of a Mandelbrot Zoom, set to the song ‘Mandelbrot Set,’ by Jonathan Coulton

Fractals and Time, Part II: Spacetime Smearing and Crystalline Time

•October 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

by Christopher Vitale

What follows is Part II of series of posts on the relation between fractals and time. For the first post in this series, see here. [Note: Parts II, III, and IV were written separately from Part I, so there may be some overlap].

Before we get to the specifics of how time might be considered a fractal, we need to get a specific sense of how quantum phenomenon relate to time.

Smearing. In the time after a quantum particle vanishes from view and becomes a potential particle, the range in which this particle may appear expands, based on the speed of this particle, which is the speed of light for photons, slower for heavier particles. This range may be thought of as a sphere (which may be distorted by curvature in spacetime) which expands in size over time until that potential is localized by means of an interaction. If a test particle is shot into the spacetime area in which a potential is located, there are some sub-areas in which it is more likely that the original particle will emerge and actualize in relation to the test particle. Much of this is determined by the trajectory of that particle in relation to the event in which it last appeared. We cannot be sure that the particle which emerges on either side of a potential is the same particle, and in fact, if all potentials might not be in some sort of commuication. We do know, however, that the previous interaction impacts the forthcoming one. Furthermore, as quantum eraser experiments have now proven, fortcoming events also impact the ways in which a potential may actualize, for quantum potentials interfere with themselves differently over multiple trials depending on events which occur after both interactions on either side of a quantum potential have occurred. Quantum particles act as if causality not only flowed forward in time, from cause to effect, but also effect to cause. This is why they may be described to exist within a reversible sort of time, for there is no way to know if the particles are actually going backwards or forwards in time, particularly because the only way to distinguish quantum particles going forward in time from those going backwards would be a shift in spin.

In this sense, it is meaningless to say that quantum potentials exist in time in the manner that quantum particles do. Likewise, because quantum particles may actualize anywhere within a given spatial location, if in differing probabilities, we cannot say that these potentials are localized in any particular place within that given area. It is in this sense that we say that in a given spacetime area, determined by a spheroid shape and in relation to external measures of spacetime, that for a given quantum potential within that spacetime area and between quantum events, that spacetime in the traditional sense does not exist, but rather, is smeared, and that, furthermore, it is as if the particles themselves were, as in a sense, smeared across the spacetime area in question.

What is it that determines the probability to which a quantum potential might actualize within its relevant spacetime area? If we are dealing with a static particle detector, the more direct a path between the emission of a potential and the detector, the more likely the particle will actualize there. Quantum randomness, either caused by microinfluences from the potential’s context or some other unknown source, has manifested in these experiments such that over multiple trials, there is only probability, not certainty, as to where that particle will land. If we shoot a test particle into a spacetime area relevant to a quantum potential, there is a higher probability of the two potentials actualizing as an event on a path which is the most direct between the two potentials, as based on their trajectories when they were emitted.

For the reasons listed above, many have suggested that a quantum potential ‘explores’ all paths within its spacetime area, but explores with more strength those which are more direct. Were quantum potentials to exist in time, it would be as if the quantum potential would run through all paths, forewards and backwards in time at the same time, each path taking the same amount of time to traverse, and such that the potential would run through the most direct paths more frequently, making it more likely that if disturbed it would show up in the direct paths rather than others. If we can imagine this to occur, but not progressively in time but statically at the same time, we have a sense in which it seems quantum potentials exist.

Crystal. Such a state, while static and outside of time, nevertheless changes, and here we will employ the term used by Whitehead, ‘advance’, for this sort of development which occurs in states which seem to be outside of standard forms of time. Quantum potentials advance because the size of the spacetime area in which a particle may actualize increases over time. In this sense, the smeared area of spacetime, or the smearing of the particle as potential in spacetime, increases over time as percieved outside the potential in question. As a spacetime potential expands as it advances, each new added area, and the time associated with it, recalibrates the entire set of probabilities within the quantum potential, both forwards and backwards in time, and if we think of separate paths off the most direct ones as sideways, then we can say in many directions in spacetime at once.

This is why some researchers have referred to this sort of time as spatial, while others have put forth a fractal model to describe such phenomenon, and both describe aspect of what is at work in quantum potentials. We will describe this sort of spacetime, following Gilles Deleuze, as crystalline. For like a crystal, a quantum potential grows from a germ, namely, a quantum event which emits a potential. The potential then grows, in all spacetime directions, in a manner which is both determined by that germ and the medium, or context, within which that germ finds itself, as well as some degree of randomness.

As exponents of the fractal metaphor have argued, it seems that quantum potentials exhibit fractal properties at multiple levels of scale, similar to the manner in which cells of a crystal repeat at multiple levels of scale. As with crystals, as quantum potentials advance, they increase in spacetime area in a manner in which each new increment is mediated by the shape of the crystal as a whole, and this is due to the fractal iterative structure  at work in both part and whole. As with holographs, the whole is represented, if in mediated form, within each of the parts, in a manner similar to the iterative nature of crystals. And just as light is refracted when it enters a crystal according to the manner in which the whole is enfolded in its parts, so it is that the whole of a quantum potential is enfolded in all the parts (otherwise it could not advance at its edges), if differently and more intensely at some points than others, thereby leading to the refraction of probability states in a manner analogous to that of light. It is in this manner that quantum potentials advance in a crystalline manner, even if they do so in a manner which exceeds traditional definitions of space and time.