Carta Branca a Diogo Tudela
Programa da sessão
1 - EXPERIMENTS IN THE REVIVAL OF ORGANISMS de INSTITUTO DE FISIOLOGIA E TERAPIA EXPERIMENTAL
2 - ONCE REMOVED de LAWRENCE ABY HAMDAM
3 - SCROOGE, OR, MARLEY'S GHOST de WALTER R. BOOTH
“Unmaking the Metaphor / Remaking the Dead”
by Diogo Tudela
In every circumstance, the aural-visual act of watching a film is an act of sociality. One of the aspects of such sociality, and arguably one of its core manifestations, is that what is being watched is being co-produced by being watched, by being continuously brought into being through an hermeneutic circle founded in an intelligible metastable space of recognitive-cognitive agents. By spiraling, by tracing a rhizomatic succession of circles as a multidimensional field of actualizations, a film is repeatedly reconfigured and its original context (world) of deployment — who, when, where, how and what — potentially unlearned. Such dynamic stands as an active protocol of mutual interference that modulates, mobilizes and affects both watched and watchers.
In being an act of sociality, watching a film is inherently a political action barred from any form of neutrality. Even if a just watching was ever possible — which is seriously doubtful —, it would already configure a trivial and bound to failure decision of self-exclusion, an invariantly botched hermiting practice. As such, in watching, as the activation of a circularity in which a film returns, in its own terms, what has been deposited into it by being actively watched, the what is being and the how is being of the deposited constitutes a political positioning.
The three films chosen for this session, which should be regarded primarily as a film based thought experiment, or as an exercise of suspension and unlearning, address, through different claims, scales, plasticities and consequences, circumscriptions of death as an unnegotiable terminus. The proposed exercise is to watch the first two films and to try to unwatch the third one.
The proposal is grounded in what is perceived to be the political urgency of halting a world that has granted itself the right to assimilate all other worlds, by presenting itself as exclusive (1). To proceed with such a task, we will apply a toy model of Nelson Goodman’s worldmaking and pluriworldism theory, and to do so an initial effort should be made to, at the very least, accommodate two basic claims.
The first, that a world is a constructive practice, and that in order to know a world, one has to build it (2). Such construction process is to be found in the most mundane of tasks like measuring or weighing an object. By measuring or weighing an object one does not discover the properties of such object; instead, one deposits such properties in that object, rendering it intelligible and bringing it constructively — as an interference — into a world where such properties enjoy intelligibility; thus, gradually making a world in which that and other objects are dynamically such and such. In that, by being of a world, whatever that world might be or entail, a film is in itself a worldmaking tool harnessing the potential of constructing and being constructed.
The second, that there exists a multiplicity of actual worlds. Such worlds are not multiple possible alternatives to or indexes of a single world, of an all encompassing and totalitarian reality, as reality, as such, should be suspended as an inoperative conception beyond the human asymptote. These worlds configure a synchronic nesting of actual worlds produced by truthful and incompatible versions that cannot be accommodated into a single world. At this point, any evasion or reduction to physics, which seem to hold an upper hand in an hegemonic claim to truth and reality, is futile, as even scientists and engineers are unable to establish unifying protocols between macro, micro and atomic scales (3). The evidence for such reducibility is negligible, and even the claim is nebulous since physics itself is fragmentary and unstable and the kind and consequences of reduction envisaged are vague — how do you go about reducing Constable’s or James Joyce’s worldview to physics? (4) If such reduction would turn out to be possible, should Joyce’s or any other proposition be discarded? If so, on what grounds? Aren’t such renderings pivotal and constitutive of this or that world? And, subsequently, wouldn’t a one-world world be a world not worth fighting for or against? (5)
As such, the session’s departing point is precisely to address the proposed films — or any other film — as worldmaking procedures and to discuss on what grounds they can eventually be relayed into actual worlds. The first two films can arguably be correlated in the following manner: the first, constitutes a hoax built upon Western scientific predicates; the second, a research whose methodology would be considered invalid — laughable perhaps — from a Western perspective.
Experiments in the Revival of Organisms is a 1940 medical cult film exhibiting trials on the resuscitation of clinically death organisms by Sergei Brukhonenko and Boris Levinskovsky from the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, in Moscow. Despite the depicted technologies employed in the procedures being proto-versions of modern ECMO machines and dialysis equipment, the film is shrouded in suspicion as the veracity of the results of some of the experiments carried out are brought into questioning and to a consensual disavow.
Beyond the purely medical and biological based criticism directed at the film as a report on scientific evidence, some protests are actually aimed at the entanglements of science and filmmaking — as both are rendered simultaneously by their respective counterpart. Namely, at the ambiguity of the filmic time frame in which the severed dog head managed to survive when connected to the autojektor — the film states hours, witnesses say minutes, the film depicts seconds; at the angle in which the camera approaches the severed dog head, veiling the actual connections between autojektor and neck; at the close shots of the dog’s severed head during the procedure. Was the dog’s head really cut off or was the beheading actually being performed by camerawork and mise-en-scène? In any case, as an anecdotal episode, and as an admittedly biased starting point, the film brings forward the impossibility of a scientific purity, as science — and film — conjoin a series of other-than-scientific vectors.
In many ways, our second film, Once Removed, is a double-folded project. The piece depicts an interview conducted by Lawrence Abu Hamdan to Bassel Abi Chahine, a 30 year old historian and writer that is the reincarnation of Yousef Fouad Al Jawhary, a soldier killed in 1984, during the Lebanese Civil War. The interview is shot using Hamdan’s homonymous audiovisual installation — where he portrays Chahine’s research — as a background, revealing both interviewer and interviewee as spectral silhouettes contoured by the installation’s projected images.
Chahine’s long term investigation on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Progressive Social Party (PSP) militias during the conflict is inseparable from the Druzian belief in reincarnation. Both Hamdan, Chaihine and the researched political groups are Druze, a ethno-religious group found in primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Being an integral and structural part of a Druzian worldview, reincarnation stands as an everyday fact, as an operable truth. In fact, reincarnation is the key factor that allows Chahine to carry out his investigation, since there is a national interest in suppressing the dissemination of information and details regarding the conflict as a means to avoid the rekindling of old contentions. By sharing images, objects and stories with Chahine, ex-fighters are merely helping an old brother-in-arms to remember what he actually lived.
How can we shelter the two previous films into a single world? Surely we cannot undermine Chahine’s account as a metaphor, as an outherworldly curiosity read from the assimilating world. Druzian reincarnation is a constitutive actuality —remember, reality is off boundaries — within a world. Framing such element as a metaphor would be an insidious hegemonic manoeuvre ungrounding the validity of a culture’s claim to one of its structural components. By the same token, how to frame Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ghosts in 2010 Lung Boonmee raluek chat? What to make of the spirits in Mati Diop’s 2019 Atlantique? As Rachel Mueller states in The Spirits are My Neighbors, the spirit world is alive and real in Senegal (6), functioning as an integral part of the social and political spheres of the country, assuming a constitutional part of the act of being Senegalese, or being in Senegal.
Conversely, how can we re-address Yashin’s scientific farce? It seems that, for now, is more than established that the film is, for the most part, a hoax. However, although the film’s ambitions of pertaining to the world of modern Western science — could this be a world? — remain unmet, the same argument cannot be so easily articulated outside the boundaries of such world. A few decades after its release, the prosaic West and the Eastern Block dragged the planet into the Cold War. From both sides, paranormal and occult programs of warfare and intelligence like the Stargate Project — which was only terminated in 1991 — were deployed as integral elements of military and geo-political strategies. Infrastructures founded, people hired and trained, investments made, expectations inaugurated. Can it be argued that despite not being real, such superstitions were a functional part of how an actual world was played out during the Cold War regardless of their effectiveness?
Moving onto our third film, a short adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley’s ghost — or any ghost — should eventually strike as a less than consensual element. Scrooge’s behavioural change is grounded in his contact with an actual ghost; a ghost as a time travelling function. The ethics of empathy extracted from the tale rely on the actuality of Scrooge’s encounter and acceptance of the ghost as a ghost. If such ghost was to be undermined by Scrooge, arguably, the character’s modification wouldn’t take place, and the narrative would cease to exist as such. If we refuse to play along with Scrooge’s belief, the character will be reframed as a lunatic and the narrative ceases to echo as it does. Consequently, it seems that a ghost, this ghost, needs to be actually in place, at least tangentially, in order for the piece to work as it does, as a constructive element of a world.
Knowing the technicalities that allow for a ghost to be rendered through film doesn’t threat the actuality of such ghost. Unlike Casare’s The Invention of Morel, where, within a world’s boundaries, ghosts are revealed — and thus reconfigured — as outputs of technological apparatuses, thus shifting the narrative’s vector into technological–representational issues, Booth’s ghost, which is not necessarily Dickens’ ghost, conserves its ghostliness and acts — while being acted upon — as such. In being a fabrication, the technical forgery of Booth’s ghost, which curiously enough holds some formal similarities to the filmic renderings of Chahine’s reincarnated spirit, is inconsequential to the way in which that same forgery acts in a world, since, as previously mentioned, a world in which the ghost acts as a ghost circumscribes such ghost as a deceit. And, arguably, the world of such ghost as a ghost resonates to a greater extent than the world of such ghost as a deceit.
(1) Marisol de La Cadena and Mario Blaser (2018). A World of Many Worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
(2) Immanuel Kant (1993). Opus Postumum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(3) Reza Negarestani (2014). Frontiers of Manipulation.
(4) (5) Nelson Goodman (1978). Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
(6) Rachel Mueller (2013). The Spirits are My Neighbors: Women and the Rab Cult in Dakar, Senegal. Anthropology Honors Projects 18
(7) Nelson Goodman (1978). Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
(8) Anthony Nine (2019). Blood and Fire in AUDINT – Unsound:Undead. London: Urbanomic
1- EXPERIMENTS IN THE REVIVAL OF ORGANISMS de INSTITUTO DE FISIOLOGIA E TERAPIA EXPERIMENTAL
URSS, 1940, 20’
Filme documental sobre experiências na ressurreição de organismos, através de um aparelho denominado autojektor.
2- ONCE REMOVED de LAWRENCE ABY HAMDAM
Líbano, 2019, 29’
Bassel Abi Chahine é um historiador libanês, que afirma ter memórias anteriores ao seu nascimento. Chahine justifica esta capacidade extraordinária pelo facto de ser a reencarnação de um soldado morto.
3-SCROOGE, OR, MARLEY'S GHOST de WALTER R. BOOTH
Reino Unido, 1901, 3’