That Moment Might Do: Videoblogs and the Any-Instant-Whatever

Original Citation:

Miles, Adrian. “That Moment Might Do: Videoblogs and the Any-Instant-Whatever.” Post Identity 5.1 (2007).

All following quotes from: Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema One: The Movement–Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

That Moment Might Do: Videoblogs and the Any-Instant-Whatever

“Movement, conceived in this way, will thus be the regulated transition from one form to another, that is, an order of poses or privileged instants, as in a dance.” (p.4)

“The modern scientific revolution has consisted in relating movement not to privileged instants, but to any-instant-whatever. Although movement was still recomposed, it was no longer recomposed from formal transcendental elements (poses), but from immanent material elements (sections). Instead of producing an intelligible synthesis of movement, a sensible analysis was derived from it.” (p.4)

“[Everywhere the mechanical succession of instants replaced the dialectical order of poses: "Modern science must be defined pre-eminently by its aspiration to take time as an independent variable.' [Bergson, Creative Evolution, cited in Deleuze]” (p.4)]

“It is in this sense that the cinema is the system which reproduces movement as a function of any-instant-whatever that is, as a function of equidistant instants, selected so as to create an impression of continuity.” (p.5)

“If the equidistant points are chosen well, one inevitably comes across remarkable occasions; that is the moments when the horse has one hoof on the ground, then three, two, one. These may be called privileged instants, but not in the sense of the poses or generalised postures which marked the gallop in the old forms. … If these are privileged instants, it is as remarkable or singular points which belong to movement, and not as the moments of actualisation of a transcendent form.” (pp.5-6)

THE WRITING

“conceived in this way”

Once upon a time it was thought that the world was a fallen place (indeed many still believe this) and that all of the earthly forms were only shadows of their possible true and ideal form. A circle, here in the world, could only ever be not quite perfect compared to the circle that I could imagine, describe mathematically, or expect to find in a promised land.

Now while in our vernacular existence such ideal forms may never be achieved (bracketing the problem of whether it is a legitimate problem), it has not meant that many art forms, for an awfully long time, aspired to the expression of such ideal forms. This is the art of the pose. Of the frozen gesture that is imagined to express the essence or quintessence of a moment, emotion, or event. Much Renaissance religious art springs to mind, as does courtly dance, and of course more recently the traditions of classical portraiture – which of course appear in some early photography.

In such a universe movement can only be understood as the interval (and a dangerous, potentially fallen interval at that) between one pose and the next. Or, as Deleuze suggests, one privileged instant and the next. In this conception movement is quantitative, as it is the distance between privileged instants (which in themselves would be qualitative moments, it is the difference between the Stations of the Cross and what falls between the stations) and as such is always secondary to that which they may progress between. Here movement is not a relation in itself, and is not even particularly that which relates one privileged instant to the next, all is invested into these instants–in–themselves so reifying an epistemic regime of essence, wholeness, and transcendental perfection.

Now, as Deleuze later notes, we still have the occurrence of privileged instants, the difference now, is that we no longer conceive of the world as being constituted by the attempt to unveil or achieve such moments, or that the everyday is the sum total of the distance between such inadequate moments and the poses available. In the secular world of narrative closure, for example, the denouement that facilitates the closing of all stories within popular media is the unveiling of just such a privileged instant. A moment that in the familiar formulaic of such storytelling is understood as having always been there, waiting.

(It is interesting to note, however, that in a modern literate and media dense world, it is possible to conceive of the privileged instant as that which cannot be seen, that refuses the pose. For example think of the sublime religious cinema of Robert Bresson where the conclusion of each film is an unveiling of the transcendent and sacred – which is why in fact it can never take the form of the pose – and so must happen off screen.)

Now, for video blogging I am going to take it as a given (you’re welcome to argue this with me) that it is currently defining itself against the mirror of contemporary popular television, and to a lesser extent various forms of independent film practice (documentary, essay films, travelogue, no budget cinema, home movies, and so on). Now, and I don’t know where this will lead (if anywhere), but it might be productive to recognise that we could characterise contemporary television (I have in mind in particular things like television news, current affairs and traditional television documentary) as a television of the pose, of a disciplined (in many senses) instant that always knows what is next (hence the popularity of the blooper) and always trys, and certainly accepts, the privilege of its instants. While much televisual news presentation may have moved from the gravitas of the 1960s, it retains its autonomy and authority as a series of known and repeatable poses (the desk, direct address to camera, the ‘call’ or segue to reporters on location, motion graphics, and their role as ‘anchor’) that, as poses, are transferable or exchangeable (between individuals, stations, even nations). In video blogging (remember, I suggested caution here, I really don’t know where this is going) the pose is evident in the rapid adoption of a novel form of direct address to camera where the speaker is the director/author of the blog post, but their direct address now aspires to the informality of the traditional blog. Hence it is usually hand held, improvised, and more often than not perambulatory. This a pose which has some of the qualities and all of the aspirations of the privileged instant, yet of course since it is a video blog (by definition the video of the very everyday) consists of any-instants-whatever.

Movement here is literally only internal, it is not between other video blog posts and other video blogs, even where they may be named, cited or called to.

“modern scientific”

Empirical procedure requires measurement to be indifferent to that which it measures. A metre is a metre, and each moment of time is evacuated of duration (of a lived or vital temporal change) so that it can become the measure of other activities. This is best rendered as the movement of objects in space, or the change in time of some thing. In other words movement is now made of up repeatable and measurable units and movement becomes equated to the reproduction of such movements, or simply the record of the passage between points (whether in space or time).

In this conception movement, that which relates the before and after, there to here, has the possibility of becoming or being indifferent to what lies between (it is after all sixty seconds, and sixty seconds is sixty seconds and will always be so). This separation of movement from the thing, and the separation of movement into a quantitative measure, is obviously essential for scientific procedure.

Imagine conceiving of the history of media (and here media refers to the use of substrates to narrate things that are not, in themselves, of that substrate) as the movement from the representation or production of privileged instants towards the dissemination and multiplication of any-instant-whatevers. Greek statuary, Renaissance tableaux, the rise of the novel (a literature of the common), industrialisation and modernism through to mass media and now blogging with its media rich avatars. This original pose was also a compressed form of information, where the pose, the privileged instant, contained within it megabytes of deep knowledge or at least its potential. With the move to the any-instant-whatever knowledge was divorced from the pose, which after all is what allowed Shannon’s breakthroughs in cybernetics.

Blogs as the media of the any instant whatevers. This is the basis of reactive criticism against them (are about anything, and so about nothing).

televisual flows?

“mechanical succession”

This mechanical succession was of course made literal with the rise of the movie camera. The same apparatus was transposed to the video camera, and even with the move to digital video the mechanical nature of recording is maintained through the succession of instants and their recording. Indeed, the sample rate has largely stayed constant, with cinema having standardised itself at a sample rate of 24 frames per second, PAL video at 25, and NTSC video at 30 frames per second.

In all of this the sample rate is independent, it bears absolutely no relationship to that which is being recorded, an obvious point, but aside from Bazin’s early insistence on the indifferent mechanical nature of the cinema one that we seem to have become acculturated to.

(By way of counter illustration, imagine strolling through a garden where the rate at which you could view each of the scenes that opened before you, from wide open vistas to the intense purple of an iris, was entirely arbitrary. Where to view was not determined by your interest, by the reverie of the stroll, but by frames per second or its equivalent.)

is this where we get televisual flow from. and then from here can i move from televisual flow to blog flow?

“equidistant instants”

The principle that informs the recording of time based media is very simple. Each instant sampled is, from the point of view of the recording machinery, equal. The first, the last, all that lies between, are the same. They are the same media, same amount of information, same size. Furthermore each sample point is equal in its relation to every other sample point. This is realised through the metronymic exactness of the recording apparatus where each sample point is equally distributed in time from the other.

As a consequence recording registers any-instant-whatevers. The recording apparatus is indifferent to what is being recorded, unlike the pre-scientific recording of the pose.

I have argued in other places about the relationship between cinema and hypertext (Miles, 1999). In many ways connections established via links are conterminous with film edits in that they are able to establish new relations between parts and that an edit, like a link, effects an incorporeal transformation of its parts, which is what enables individual parts to be ‘broken’ and distinct parts to be rejoined. As a consequence hypertextual writing systems, while clearly post literate, can also be considered as a post cinematic writing.

Now HyperText Transfer Protocol (the ubiquitous ‘http’ of the World Wide Web) is a stateless protocol, where stateless means that HTTP does not retain state information about the connections it services – at best it knows which page you may have just arrived from, but that is all, (which is why any part can be connected to any other part). As a consequence we can see that for blogging each post is equidistant from another from the point of view of linking. Indeed spatiality, such as it exists, is translated into time online as how long something may take is a much more significant question than where is it coming from, even though the two may be intimately related.

It is this equidistance between posts that has facilitated the development of the complex link ecologies that are the hallmark and innovation of blogging. Individual textual blog posts, while equidistant from each other, would not in themselves appear to be the product of equidistant instants, certainly not in the manner of contemporary mechanical recording. However, from the point of view of other media systems it is a small step to recognise that blogs are a movement (and I stress this as a general movement rather than the specific mechanical, scientific and equidistant sampling described by Deleuze) towards such equidistant instances. The difference however, is that the any-instant-whatever is realised not through a specific mechanical apparatus of recording but within the logic of blogging as a medium. Blog posts can be, and often are, the textual equivalent of an any-instant-whatever, whether this be via the dullest blog in the world (Walker, n.d), the various cheese-sandwich of the day efforts (Bernstein, 2006), or more commonly what an individual blogger chooses to write.

The distinction being drawn here is minor, but needs to be clear. From the prejudiced perspective of mass media (which has, in the Internet Age become more accurately “High Mass Media” as opposed to the net’s “Low Mass Media”) blogs are precisely about any-instant-whatevers. In this they are much like the personal diary, except now through the agency of the link forms of movement are created between parts that generate novel forms of continuity.

“singular points”

While the machinery for recording time based media is based on sampling equidistant and immanently equal moments, as a consequence privileged instants are revealed. These are those moments recorded, sometimes by accident other times by design, that would otherwise be unavailable. This could be because they happen too quickly and so reproduction allows temporal manipulation (think of the pattern of a drop of water in slow motion), or by happenstance. Such moments are remarkable not because they return us to the transcendental form of the pose, but because amongst the eventful change of the ordinary the exception is recorded.

Fundamental to this is that these moments, Deleuze’s ‘singular points’, are a product of movement, the consequence of movement, and are not derived from or the expression of the pose, of the idealised extraction of movement into a fixed form. Movement has priority, and as is clear throughout the first chapter of “The Movement Image” movement is not the quantitative travel of an object from one place to another, but is the qualitative change from one state to another through time:

“Thus in a sense movement has two aspects. On one hand, that which happens between objects or parts; on the other hand that which expresses the duration or the whole. . . We can therefore say that movement relates the objects of a closed system to open duration, and duration to the objects of the system which it forces to open up.” (p. 11.)

How can I have a blog post that stays, always, open to other relations (because it remains available to be linked in to)? Because the possible (in Deleuze’s terminology the virtual) sets that it has before it are part of a whole which is open, where the open is that which allows and is qualitative change, that is duration. If an individual blog post did form a set, that is a bounded group (whatever terms we may use for what constitutes membership of the set), including the set of possible future relations, what needs to be accounted for is, precisely, the post’s possible movements through these sets (as they will, of necessity, be plural). Now, as it finds itself, via links, amongst new sets of relations, it will find itself, in itself, altered. For example it is trivial to write something that criticises or recontextualises another blog post, and by linking to that post so changing that other post’s possible meanings. This is different, radically different, to simple hermeneutic claims about multiple interpretations – it is an act of incorporeal transformation where the object itself becomes something different to itself without transforming or changing the thing itself. (Exactly the same process happens in cinema as Kuleshov’s experiments showed.)

How can this be? And in spite of appearances that is not a naive question, rather it is one that we have forgotten how to ask precisely because we have become acculturated by such televisual economies (the instant connection that is the edit). Blogs slow this down, but it is the same activity, and it is enabled because these relations are about qualitative changes between parts, and such qualitative change is available because duration provides an always changing (and so open) whole upon which

This suggests that blogging, that is plain text blogging, is post televisual and that it is continuing a thinking of duration that the cinema inaugurated. It also suggests that video blogging is more conservative in relation to this post televisual economy to the extent that it remains entrhalled by the televisual as a reproduction of movement and not movement in itself (immobile section versus mobile duration).

video blogging, et al.