A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. Jacques Derrida
I’ve been making experimental films since 1979, initially in super 8, more recently in 16mm. My approach has been, until lately, largely artisanal due to constraint of circumstances and financial considerations: that is, I had to use fairly primitive and inexpensive techniques (eg. front-projection refilming rather than optical printing) making use of what was to hand and taking advantage of the generosity of more experienced and better appointed filmmaking friends. From 1981 to 1984, I was programmer at Zone Centre for Experimental Cinema in Hamilton, and this gave me the opportunity both to see a vast range of contemporary work, Canadian and foreign, and to do a fair amount of thinking about where and how what I was doing would or could (or should) fit in. Earlier films such as Fusing Sequence or Read Memory Entire were concerned with themes of memory and loss, and attempted to address these in terms of notions surrounding the ontology of the photographic image (cf. B. Elder’s numerous excursions into this subject – at this stage my work was an unabashed effort to accommodate itself to an established tradition.) Hence my reluctance to screen these early films.
In Send:Parole:Legend I tried to move/extend these concerns in a more personal direction. Still preoccupied with absence and memory, this three-part film deals with familial relationships: the spouse, the father ad the mother are each addressed in a separate section in terms of both their mythic and personal/psychological implications. Although by this time my interests had moved fairly forcefully toward the personal and autobiographical (and touched on the problem of the “autobiographical” as such), I was concerned to conceal much of “merely personal” detail of my own life (or at least, to avoid inscribing it as mine) with the idea of thereby making the film more available/accessible to the viewer.
Alongside this (you might call it furtive) development in filmmaking practice, there continued an engagement (begun in college) with a certain theoretical “discourse” concerning “WRITING”, usually embraced under the name (for want of a better one and notwithstanding a host of reasons for resisting it) of Derrida. Leaping ahead now, in order to avoid for myself (and to spare the reader) an interminable account of the learning process, let me say that this “engagement” (which will never be consummated in a marriage) has brought me to a position from which I can establish two elements that seem crucial to my present thinking about my own film work (and to the work itself, I guess):
1. We live, you could say, in an age in which the dominant technologies of communication are undergoing a radical transformation. In a fashion analogous to the shift from the oral tradition to alphabetic/phonetic writing which occurred in ancient Greece, we are presenting witnessing the emergence of an electronic paradigm in communication which in many respects is supplanting the alphabetic one (especially inasmuch as the alphabetic paradigm resides within the print, literary or “book” media). The capacity to access knowledge, information and culture through written (and even spoken) discourse has declined (it could be argued) in favour of more passive and more audio-visually oriented modes. Granting this as a massively truncated account of what is probably a fairly contestable view, if we can accept it as plausible for the moment, it will be possible to see that the implications it raises for cultural practice are vast. What are the possibilities opened by these new and “popular” (in the sense of broad acceptability) electronic media? What sort of “writing” would be appropriate for an audio-visual culture? How would the transmission of ideas, information, emotions, aesthetic experiences, take place in this milieu? Is “transmission” the proper metaphor here: would “exchange”, or “engagement”, or “articulation” be more apt. What would be the most useful structural motifs for the production and circulation of “texts” within such a paradigm? These are only a few such questions which have only begun to be addressed.
2. In some of his later books (eg. Dissemination, Glas, Truth in Painting, and The Post Card – books which are altogether too widely ignored in North America, where their author is regarded simply (simplemindedly) as the chief proponent of “deconstruction”), Derrida elaborates a theory of “writing” proper to the practices of a number of (post-)modernist artistic (both literary and plastic) texts: a theory which finds inscribed in those texts manifold extensions of the author’s proper name, and obscure details of his/her life. These inscriptions or “signatures” becomes the clues both to the decipherment of the works (in the sense that phonetic renderings of foreign names on funerary monuments (cartouches) were crucial to Champollion’s eventual decipherment of hieroglyphic writing), and to the extensions of meaning beyond the texts and authors themselves. The central operating principle here is a kind of semiotic, homophonic, etymological and meta-mnemonic PLAY in which the proper name and its variants are subject to a massive dispersal across and beyond the textual field, opening pathways for the interminable (on the part of the reader/viewer) production of meaning and interpretation in opposition to any notion of consumption or closure. Whew! Texts, in this view, are precisely GAMES, and ones which are subject only to laws and rules of overflow, of slippage, of overdetermination and excess.
It’s from this perspective that I’ve come to address my earlier concerns regarding the details of my personal life: my extension of Derrida’s practice (or at least the practice of “writing” Derrida finds in the texts he “reads” in this manner) has been to situate those autobiographical details within a mythico/fictional frame. This allows for a certain distancing of the “merely personal” elements while still secreting them within the text, still marking them however as “personal”, as particular to the author/maker/”parent”. This “fictionalization” of the position of authorship calls into question in an (I hope) important way the many (to my mind) ludicrous notions concerning authorial mastery, “strong makers”, intention and control that seem to abound these days.
Look, I want to propose (in my work that is) a rubric for a (new) filmmaking practice, an audio-visual “writing” that would take as its emblem the ideogram or the hieroglyph. The chiasmatic “X” (see description of In the form of the letter “X”) would be an example of such a figure. This “writing” would operate its ruptures, slidings, fissures on the visual plane (as in “rebus” writing, logos, gestural expression or pictograms); on the audio-phonetic (as in homonymical or rhyming articulations); on the scriptive (as in mnemonics or textual spacing); on the bodily-material (as in rhythm, texture, motion). It would be a “writing” which carried its weight in an articulation (intersection?) of all of these elements, and one whose playful excess would provoke and engage a “popular” (though not necessarily large) audience. My (experimental) effort in this project would be to INVENT (not in the name of creation “ex nihilio”, but in the sense of tinkering with what is to hand, with a view to producing something more appropriate) the beginning of such a “writing.”
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I absolutely think that there’s no such thing as the individual.