Friday, May 25, 2007


Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious
53-74 Gassner and Mesmer. Enlightenment rationalism emerging in challenge to Gassner's "preternaturalist" explanation of "possession"; Mesmer's "rational"explanation of "animal magnetism." Mesmer's obscure involvement in politics 1785-1815. The notion that slave rebellion and thus Haitian independence were inspired by a mesmeric fad.
(Curiously, I dreamt of Haiti last night before reading about this this morning:
I am sitting in on a class at the Corcoran. The instructor doesn't know I'm also an instructor, and I'm appalled by her behavior: She keeps the class waiting while she finishes a personal phone during class time; she seems unsure and unconcerned about requirements and due dates; she seems to have a superficial grasp of her subject. Cory Hixson, Bob Devers, and Richard Wilkerson are sitting there, too, and all sort of acknowledge this isn't good but also "what can you do?" The instructor switches on a television for us to watch a video. On the screen I see a report about poverty, hunger, and political unrest in Haiti. There is an image of a kind of sculpture: a wooden board that has a largish metal bomb mounted on it pointing downwards, a bullet-shaped bomb with a tail, like a cartoon bomb dropped by a plane, very rusty, surmounted by a smaller bomb of the same shape, also pointing downwards. Mounted above the bomb are some leaves and vines, other things like twine, making a pattern that suggests a loincloth, like the bombs represent a cache-sexe holding a very large penis. The title is "Il met son front sur le fronton," and I understand that this means that the sculpture is a daring political joke about the military dictator, who has a phallic idea of power.
BTW, I immediately associate the loincloth with watching Walkabout last night, and the dictator (partly through the leaves and vines) with Bush, and my feeling that he is all balls, all nerve, with nothing else to back it up.
After I wake up, I don't know what the French phrase means. I have to look it up to get the sense it could mean "He puts his face (forehead) on a monument."
77-101 German Romantics - Clemens Brentano's book of the visions of Katharina Emmerich - The Seeress of Prevorst (von Eschenmayer?) - Kerner's inkblots (which could be a key precursor of the uncanny use of photography) - spiritualism - Bernheim against Charcot
Chapter 3 110-174 Multiple personalities, doubles (dipsychism)
Chapter 4 The philosophical and ideological background

The point of this is to depict the growth of cinema and psychoanalysis not just as coincident and changing the cultural conception and place of images in similar and related ways, but to see both as growing out of changing assumptions in the previous centuries--about the nature of perception, imagination, ansd representation--and particularly to emphasize the contribution of "fringe" phenomena - hypnotism, spiritualism, secret societies, esoteric knowledge, the faddish ideas both Freud and Jung took up - as a kind of popular avant-garde in signifying and even bring about change.
(It's just because of the failure to recognize the significance of such movements that liberal democrats and academics failed to understand the power of Christian fundamentalism, or that a fathead like Fukuyama was able to declare history done with even as Islamic fundamentalism was gathering momentum. The issue is a continuing profound inability to appreciate the role of the irrational in political and cultural life, and thus to understand cultural change in terms of the role of the unconscious. What is usually done is [still] hand-wringing over reason confronting unreason, as if one side were more reasonable than the other, as if one side was not subject to unconscious motivation, as if [with Freud] the id could be replaced by ego.)
As with politics and culture generally, a real appreciation of the unconscious changes understanding of the nature of cinema fundamentally, and not according to the specious models of Metz, Baudry, or Eberwein.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm Marrying Lana Turner

I'm marrying Lana Turner as some kind of publicity stunt, as part of her planned comeback. The wedding is going to also be a press conference, but it's on the stage of a high-school auditorium, which makes it sems chintzy. It seems the reason they want me to marry Lana Turner is that I'm big and strong and this will somehow make her look good. (Lana Turner is wearing a modish white dress and a white turban.) It goes without saying that I see this marriage as a practical arrangement; it'll be nice to be rich, but mostly I'm doing it to help her out, because they asked me to. The thing is, I'm already married, to some other Hollywood star, and I can't remember the details so it'll be difficult to find the papers etc and find out if I'm still married to her; it sems like it was a long time ago, like as long as as from now back to the '40s, when my first wife's films appeared. At this point, it seems, as it didn't before, very much like an old movie. Still in color, though.

Special Pleading

I'm thinking about the rhetoric (the spin, really, the marketing) among artists and critics. The declaration that art is "conceptual" usually means that it is just that kind of art not likely to engender new concepts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I dream about . . .

Sitting in a Metro car--which doesn't seem to be moving. Someone, I don't know who, is sitting to my right; the two people in front are turned around to talk to us. They're a young, college-ageish couple; the girl is like the ingenue in a European movie, although she speaks unnacented English, the boy is blond with fair skin. She's telling us that she's noticed that since he's Jewish, his skin is sticky, she always has to wash her hands after touching him. This is clearly intended to embarrass him. He looks perplexed. I'm surprised he's Jewish, and also surprised that she apparently doesn't know that I am. I say, "You know, we're not so much sticky as greasy."

* * * * * *

An open-air tent in which some kind of catered lunch is being served. Each tent holds about eight people. The caterers come to each tent and describe the choices, but only half the people in the tent can hear. It's like ordering in a restaurant in which there's no printed menu, the waiter has to tell you everything verbally, and only half the table can hear at a time. Then the caterers have to go back and get the sandwiches etc. for the first four people before serving the rest. It takes forever and we feel we can't talk until they're done or we'll miss the part where they tell us what's available. When they come back, I'm extremely irritated but try to just hang on and listen carefully to what's offered, but before they can start, one of the people from the first half asks if he can get a beer, and the caterer regards him with suspicion and asks him to stand up. He won't. I can see from my angle that he has a beer behind him (some bad American beer in a can); he's trying to get an extra beer. I am supposed to understand that the caterers think that's why there's this complicated, difficult, frustrating system: because the customers break the rules, hoard stuff, like sneaking stuff off from the buffet to take home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What I Do All Day, It Seems

From the IASD group on Dreams, Creativity and the Arts:

I mostly haven't answered on this stuff, because I'm not sure what Juan is asking about. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the fact that Juan is asking a question from the standpoint of critical scholarship on the analysis of film, while most of the users of this list are practicing artists. If critical theory bores you, p l e a s e skip this message.
Another issue may be that Juan is, I think, in South America, where the critical discourse in humanities scholarship has a very powerful influence from Lacan, whereas in the United States, while that influence has been very significant in film theory, it has also much abated in recent years. I also hesitate to start recommending books etc. when I have no idea whether Juan is already thoroughly familiar with them. I can't tell whether he is starting out in this topic or already steeped in it.
Juan speaks of the interpretations of psychoanalysts, and that can mean a lot of things. I suspect he means the interpretations offered by psychoanalytically-oriented critics of fictional dreams in artworks, and of the artworks themselves as wholes. In South America particularly, these are likely to be the statements of Lacanians, which may be very different from what a traditional Freudian would say--and on top of that there's the fact that it is entirely legitimate and may even be clarifying to refer to Jungians and objects-relations therapists as "psychoanalysts," as it is not a proprietary term.
As for actual psychoanalysts' interpretations of actual dreams, most of us simply have no experience of them at all--very few people inthe United States see a psychoanalyst, and you are much more likely to encounter a Jungian than a Freudian, and almost never encounter a Lacanian, whereas there are many Lacanians in practice in Central and South America. I wonder if what Juan means by psychoanalytic interpretations, then, are those offered in books, and especially by Freud himself. I have been considering the relation between psychoanalytic theory, dreaming, and film for a long time now, and I have almost never encountered anyone who uses, or feels content with, the projection of any orthodox psychoanalytic theory on to real people's actual dreams. I think there is a consensus among therapists in the US that into the 1960s, the use of dreams in classic Freudian therapy was a means to convert the analysand to the Freudian system rather than a helpful means of addressing the analysand's issues, and thus dream analysis was to a large extent abandoned in actual psychoanalytic practice.
The use of psychoanalytic theory as a tool to explore a fictional dream--as Juan says, either a dream sequence, or an entire film or novel that structures or portrays itself as a dream--is almost always, in something like the same way, simply a use of the artwork as rhetorical support (illegitimately, pretty obviously) for a concept in psychoanalytic theory. A good example is Zizek's use of Hitchcock movies to make a claim for Lacan's theories; I'm not sure even Zizek would insist that they teach us something about the films and how they work, as opposed to making clever illustrations of theoretical points which are actually about the culture that produces and consumes films, rather than the films themselves.
Again, I'm only guessing and I'm not sure what he is asking about, but academic film theory in the United States, Europe, and I suspect elsewhere, has been very much influenced by two authors, Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, who take a very narrowly Freudian/Lacanian approach to art. What is interesting is that they do not offer "interpretations" of fictional dreams, or films, at all; they offer a whole view of cinema that is based on Freud's dream theory. I'm kind of partisan about this, but I certainly think many, many film theorists would agree with me: the application of Freud's theory of dreams to art has been very misguided, and Metz and Baudry, though influential, are just wrong in a variety of ways. (For example, they are mistaken about the empirically verifiable responses cinema audiences have to being in a darkened theater--as Freud is mistaken about patterns of dreaming.) The classic objections to Metz and Baudry are in Noel Carroll's book, Mystifying Movies. Another book very much influenced by them is Roger Eberwein's Film and the Dream Screen, a fascinating curiosity which summarizes a lot of psychoanalytic theory about film, and which I also happen to think is very mistaken. I emphasize though that Eberwein does not offer "interpretations" of either dreams or films; he writes about the phenomenon of cinema.
My feeling is that Juan wants to explore further the phenomenology of dreams, but I am not sure what exactly, in his view, this has to do with the phenomenology of cinema. For what is "dreamlike" in cinema, generally, the first classic statement was by Suzanne Langer in "Feeling and Form," but it's pretty rudimentary. Filmmakers like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage have written about how their work tries to approximate or learn from the dream state; Parker Tyler's writings on experimental cinema are very smart about the same topic. Gaston Bachelard's book, "The Poetics of Reverie," is a good guide; as is, as Richard W. might have mentioned, Bert States' book, The Rhetoric of Dreams. (Richard, by the way, put together a formidable introduction to a lot of relevant matters at the Postmodern Dreaming site.) I think Gestalt psychology and object-relations theory still have a whole lot to teach us about what happens when we experience a film and enter a state much like dreaming, reverie, or fantasy (and understanding this better might undermine a tremendous amount of sloppy politically or morally-oriented criticism). I do not know ifJuan has mentioned or is familiar with Medard Boss and existential psychiatry's view of dreaming; George Devereux kind of applies it toGreek tragedy in "Dreams and Greek Tragedy," and more centrally, Ludwig Binswanger does in "Dream and Existence." Finally, Michel Foucault's introduction to Binswanger, "Dream, Imagination, andExistence," is something I think Juan would enjoy if he's not already thoroughly familar with it. I apologize if I am rehearsing material that is already familiar.
By the way: I also think Wittgenstein's criticism of Freud's theory is very much to the point, and his general comments on Freud are witty and insightful. Interestingly, Jung's criticisms of Freud are very similar to Wittgenstein's. I think people may overlook this because they do not expect Jung to so rational.
And I think Mario Levrero has not been translated into English.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Phrases I Haven't Had a Chance to Use Yet

"Mr. Ed, founded on a conceit worthy of Gogol . . ."

Winsor McCay

We decided this morning to shift some sessions around at the IASD conference in Sonoma in June and I won't do the paper on Dead of Night, etc. after all, though it's still the basic idea for a chapter in a book, and I might do it in Lincoln UK in September. Instead we're moving my Winsor McCay talk into that session. I don't think I posted my proposal for it here:

Winsor McCay: An American Artist in Slumberland

Winsor McCay (1867-1934) created not one but two of the most influential of all instances of dream art: Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo in Slumberland, which ran concurrently in American newspapers from approximately 1903 to 1914. Their astonishing and often radically anti-authoritarian celebration of the bizarre and grotesque, barely masking violent and sexual material beneath the surface, reflects the same cultural concerns we see in the contemporary rise of psychoanalysis and rapid growth of cinema as a popular art form. In this presentation, participants will analyze and discuss selected McCay strips to isolate the key stylistic features and psychological concerns characteristic of McCay’s cartoons and thus of his distinctive stance as an under-recognized American artist. For this purpose, we’ll focus on Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: each strip economically represents a single nightmare, so a dominant metaphor, anxiety, or theme may be identified in each one. On the basis of our analysis of these two influential strips, we’ll consider McCay’s early contributions to the American animated cartoon tradition, arguing one significant thesis: the comic cartoon tradition built on inspiration from McCay’s early work in taking mutability as its defining convention and metamorphosis as its outstanding trope. Although mutability of image seems an inherently available feature of animated drawing, the realist tradition rejected it, while cartoonists like Max Fleischer (Betty Boop) and Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny) took up the example of McCay’s authentic dream aesthetic.

So what I'll work on in St. Mary's while teaching the class May 14-June 1 is the chapter I have to do for the book on dreams and education, the McCay talk, which I'll supplement with work at the LoC when I get back, and randomly revising old poems.

Introducing Sandy Belle

It takes a minute for it to kick in.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I dream about . . .

A bust of Dvorak that talks and has really exaggerated facial expressions. It's in the same place as the statue of Dvorak in Prague, in front of the Rudolfinium, right by the river bank. Dvorak's head, or bust, is talking to me but also a crowd of onlookers, like he's partly a crazy person, partly a guy who does a spiel as street entertainment. He gets a queasy look on his face--his skin is like gray-green metal--and he says, "I don't feel so good."

This is a bit like the talking busts and portraits in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion. I was very disappointed to hear last week that the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean Rides were updated to shill for the movies.
My body is a temple. As a matter of fact, it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I Go Shopping

"Like it? I couldn't love that shirt more if it had a dick."

"What is this shit? Linen?"

"Can I show you something in men's underwear?"
"Men's underwear is half off today."

Art said in the car this morning--after I subjected him to a monologue on my planned courses for the next two years--that my business card should list my specialties:

the dreamy, the spooky, and the sexy

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Spring, Your Magic Spell is Everywhere"

This sentence appears in today's New York Times:

In the fall, the genitalia will disappear, only to reappear next spring.

In the article "In Ducks, War of the Sexes Plays Out in the Evolution of Genitalia" by Carl Zimmer