Posts Tagged ‘deleuze’

Interface and Indetermination

Interface. Or perhaps, as a prompt or proposition, interfaces? Ever since Manovich described (perhaps too quickly) as fundamental the deep difference between database and narrative, the plasticity of the gap between database, content, and interface has found itself married to the immaterial through a moment of slippage. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the disjuncture between database and interface became a lazy intellectual moment where the variable mutability of database and interface (where database in the same indolent sleight of hand becomes commensurate with content), depth and surface, slid into an assumption of impermanence and variability, so that the lack of fixity between the interface as surface and the database as something below became equated to the immaterial. A category error, Bateson might say. Or “what’s wrong with surface?” as Gibson recently wondered.

However, while we can rehabilitate the immateriality of the interface through a variety of material measures and indices — including those provided by usability testing, computer human interaction, and interaction design — there is an alternative epistemology of the interface that I want to explore that concentrates on indeterminacy as an idea and experience. In this conception an interface, Janus like, faces simultaneously toward the database and an interacting audience. This bidirectional glance becomes an epistemological problem as the malleability of what is revealed, and able to be acted upon, and the making of this explicit (enough) is the prospective dispotif of the interface. This dispotif is framed as a technical response to the epistemological problem of indeterminacy. What can be performed? What should be shown? What can be enacted? What affordances are to be realised? Withheld? Concealed? Why? This is the problem of needing to understand what is being viewed, and more importantly being able to enable an instrumental decision about how to act felicitously within any interface.

It is that minor, tripartite series of terms in the last sentence that I want to concentrate on. Understanding — or more particularly noticing as the passage to understanding — deciding, and then acting. These are the terms I intend to expand upon. This sequence of noticing, deciding, and doing, is synonymous with Deleuze’s definition of the perception, affect, and action images within Bergson’s sensory motor schema. For Deleuze, this accounts for cinema as a cognitive perceptual assemblage that operates as an economy of actions in response to situations. In this schema indeterminacy is an inevitable consequence of any perceptual system that introduces an interval, or gap, between noticing and doing (perception and action), and is described by Deleuze as a ‘zone of indetermination’. This provides us, at least speculatively, with a way to think about interfaces as such ‘zones of indetermination’ and also then a site of a shimmering frisson and tension between the immateriality of affect and the materiality of interface.

Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Hampton Press, 2002.
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema One: The Movement–Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
Gibson, Ross. “Description and Narrative.” presented at the Placing Nonfiction, RMIT University, Melbourne, December 2013.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. The MIT Press, 2002.

Visual Map

Interactive Documentary and Digital Poetics version 0.4

In Australia the peak research funding body is the Australian Research Council (the ARC). Getting ARC money is a big deal. Highly competitive and as they always tell you, the money runs out well before the good projects. For most academics this is the royal road in Australia to fame and fortune.

A simple indication of how competitive they are is that for the dedicated early career researcher funds (DECRA) my university wants preliminary drafts of key parts of the application this week, though they do not get submitted until April of 2014. This is so we can spend four months workshopping them, with numerous internal and external experts being used to examine, critique, pick at, prod, and so on all the applications.

So, I’m having a go. Below is the preliminary draft of the project proposal. I foolishly thought that if were interested in funding beginning in 2015 then I could spend my summer thinking about what I’d like to work on, then write it up. It was quite a shock to find I had about 10 days to get this draft, a relevant CV, and my Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) document together.

My immediate anxieties about this are that rather than describe what I will do it often begins to try to do what it should describe. I’ve found it a challenge to write a proposal, rather than ‘begin’ the research. The second is that it sounds like two projects, one using what I’m characterising as materialist media studies, the other Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. I want to bring them together, I think this is useful, but, well, part of me isn’t really convinced that it matters.

The bits in italic are thinking out loud bits. They’re not in what has gone through. As ever, let me know what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been told to be clear, but parts of this are, as is my style, too fucking dense. (I’ve probably breached some employee contractual IP agreement sharing this, no idea, but it’s ARC, public money, public gets to see it.)

The Problem

This proposal describes research that desires to bring together materialist media studies with Deleuze’s cinema theory to provide a new framework to consider interactivity, narrative, and the computational within interactive documentary. This will allow for a consideration of interactive documentary that looks less to documentary and narrative traditions than toward recent scholarship that recognises the material agency of digital technologies in communicative systems. (At the moment interactive documentary, from the point of view of an ontology and epistemology of digital media, risks being a coloniser of the digital as it coerces the unruly severity of procedural digital logic into the cultural protocols and history of documentary film.)

There has been a recent dramatic rise in the production and subsequent theorisation of online, interactive documentary. These productions have been aided by new internet services and protocols in combination with developments in digital hardware and software. The combination of new internet services, hardware, and software has seen the diminution of production and distribution costs for documentary, with an increase in the capabilities and affordances of video online through new developments in protocols and infrastructure such as bandwidth.

In this environment a range of experimental online documentary practices and forms are emerging, each of which casts a different light upon makers, audiences, and the sorts of artefacts that constitute ‘documentary’. In the wake of this ‘new documentary’ a range of scholarly approaches are emerging. The most significant recent theoretical work is situated within documentary studies and builds upon existing documentary traditions to contextualise these new forms and practices.

Documentary has always had a close affinity to new technologies of production and distribution. However, the dramatic change in documentary making and form that networked media affords is a paradigm shift and new theoretical approaches are needed. These new approaches will help us understand these changes and can inform further research and the development of new documentary forms and systems.

One alternative theoretical approach to digital documentary proposed in this project is available through interactive literature and hypertext, and into more recent materialist media studies. This research has addressed key concerns that networked practices and technologies introduce to makers, audiences, narrative, and artefacts in themselves. This provides a ready vocabulary from which to investigate interactive documentary, building upon the definitional work already begun by Nash and others (Nash 2012, O’Flynn 2012, Aston and Gaudenzi 2012, Hight 2008), to engage with the questions that arise specifically from the point of view of a digital and network poetics, rather than documentary cinema. (Indeed, as my own earlier research argues, hypertext is easily considered a post–cinematic, rather than a literary, form with an isomorphic relation between the cinematic edit and the hypertextual link (Miles 1999).)

Digital documentary is well aware of changes to practice and form. It is less sure of the ways in which the materiality of the digital and the network disrupts what documentary is, and its possible future form and terms.

Why hypertext?

Hypertext research is deeply immersed in the materiality of the digital, and the procedural and programmatic qualities of the computer. It emerged within an interdisciplinary mix of computer scientists and literary humanists at a time when there were enormous constraints on computational processing and storage and when digital media and the internet were not ubiquitous. This research recognised that the computer was not a device to do what was already done more efficiently (faster, cheaper, with cut and paste nonlinear editing, universal distribution, and so on), but was the means to imagine a practice and form of media (in the case of hypertext literary and scribal media) differently.

Thinking about media forms differently allowed hypertext to be a liberatory and disruptive technology in relation to print. The strongest evidence of the liberation of print by hypertext is in the rise of the World Wide Web (which is indebted to early hypertext research and development) and the inversion of print’s authority predicated on an economy of scarcity. Similarly it has been disruptive in how it has changed the roles and authority of writer and reader, textual form and structure, and the erosion of the privilege of ‘fixed’ and ‘finished’ works.

Interactive documentary is at the cusp of its own moment of liberation and disruption as the rise of software, systems, and the internet offers unprecedented access to the tools of documentary making and distribution, while a new ecology of ‘apps’ and platforms offers a rethinking of documentary’s auteurist history of authored, ‘closed’ and finished artefacts.

(Much recent work and commentary can be seen as primarily a reactive engagement with the imperiousness of the network, and aside from a small number of significant experimental systems and projects, has done largely nothing in relation to rethinking digital documentary in terms of the particular materiality of the digital, networks, and the computer’s procedural and programmatic operations remains untheorised and poorly understood – this is not the same thing as ‘database narrative’ or ‘database aesthetics’.)


A second theoretical approach in this project is to theorise digital documentary through Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. This is an innovative appropriation of Deleuze as the basic terms of Deleuze’s movement and time images will be shown to be synonymous with interactive documentary. The movement image’s large form of the perception, affect, and action image becomes interactive documentary’s model of notice, decide, do (Miles, 2013). An interactive documentary presents some smaller part of itself via an interface, this needs to be noticed by a user who then enacts a decision, usually through the motor action of clicking a mouse or swiping a screen. Notice, decide, do; perception, affect, action. This is the sensory motor schema described by Deleuze that is now distributed between a procedural system, a screen, and people.

This is a bold theoretical connection that offers a radically different understanding of interactivity than that which generally informs new media theory. It produces a framework for defining interactivity that has affiliations to cinema studies, arising as it does from Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy, and more importantly it arises from the materiality of digital media rather than the anthropomorphic filiation to documentary cinema that we risk relying upon. If, as Deleuze suggests, cinema thinks itself, then in concert with materialist media studies we have a way to investigate the specificity of interactive documentary from ‘within’, rather than assuming that digital documentary is already something engaged with representation and argument and that the digital offers only the substrate to enable or support this.

What I’m going to do.

By introducing theoretical concepts from hypertext, materialist media studies and Deleuze I will develop a robust theoretical base to build insights and arguments about digital documentary. This theoretical approach will emphasise the primacy of the digital as a qualitatively different mode of material and creative engagement when creating work than the avatars of more traditional documentary that we often rely upon in digital environments. This theoretical engagement will argue for a poetics of digital documentary that situates itself in the specificity of small screens, networks, and malleable and relational media. It will do so via materialist media studies and Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy.

Such a poetics helps us to understand the necessary shift in the authority and autonomy of makers in digital regimes — the move from an auteur centred culture of I/we make, you watch/consume — towards ‘writerly’ making, co–creation, participatory forms, and novel emerging distributed nonfiction platforms. This poetics begins from recognising that the screen is personal, ‘owned’ by its user (not the content creator), attention is scarce and distributed, and that network media is made up of structural (thematic, encyclopaedic, poetic) coalitions of small parts loosely and variably joined. Networked media is highly granular, and porous to the network, other media, and people.

This porous granularity makes digital documentary a ‘relational media’ (Dovey and Rose), and this relationality provides a way to investigate and define new social platforms (for instance the nonfiction story aggregation service that is Cowbird) as documentary. This has theoretical implications for documentary study as it significantly broadens what documentary becomes, while also providing avenues for the development of new platforms and services that let digital documentary spread from its auterist and ‘mastery’ based traditions.

Documentary studies largely follows cinema theory’s tripartite interest in audiences, texts, and institutions. While the nomenclature may vary, these approaches, as Parrika argues, reply upon varieties of interpretation to understand what media is.

Material Media Studies

The material specificity of media, evident in Parikka’s media archeology (with it’s influences from Kittler and Ernst), Bogost and Montfort’s platform studies, Fuller’s media ecologies, and Manovich’s software studies, provide a media framework by which to refashion earlier hypertext theory, in the light of video’s technicity.

It is significant that this current research, like hypertext thirty years before, is undertaken by people who understand code. Those who code recognise and experience its materiality and the network as a fundamental constraint to the possible. Media is no longer understood as a ‘surface’ to be recorded upon or interpreted, or a technology directed towards narrative, but involves continuous mutation because the computer is a machine that allows for the continuous transformation of content and form, even after ‘publication’. Code is fundamental to this.

Code is a highly constrained creative practice where the ambiguity of what is sought must be rendered into the absolute clarity of machine logic, a logic where ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘like’, and even ’similar’ cannot occur. For these researchers the constrained, material and procedural nature of hardware, software, code, system, and platform is a given and produces an understanding of media practice and form that is unlike that of other media.


This project intends to bring a hypertextual materialist media studies perspective to digital documentary via Deleuze’s cinematic sensory motor schema. This is to address the specificity of digital documentary as hardware, software, electronics, infrastructure and code. It intends to create critical work that offers an alternative approach to conceptualising digital documentary that places it outside of the reductionism of database, interactivity and narrative and to develop a digital poetics that offers novel understandings of digital documentary and new ways in which to conceive of how we might make digital documentary in the future.


Aston, Judith, and sandra Gaudenzi. “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 125–139. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.125_1.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012.

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. First Edition. The MIT Press, 2006.

Fuller, Matthew. Media Ecologies: Materialist Engeries in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005.

Gaver, William W., Andrew Boucher, Sarah Pennington, and Brendan Walker. “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty.” Interactions 11, no. 5 (September 2004): 53–56. doi:10.1145/1015530.1015555.

Hight, Craig. “The Field of Digital Documentary: A Challenge to Documentary Theorists.” Studies in Documentary Film 2, no. 1 (January 2008): 3–7. doi:10.1386/sdf.2.1.3_2.

Kittler, Friedrich A, and Anthony Enns. Optical media: Berlin lectures 1999. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2010.

Kittler, Friedrich A, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michael Wutz. Grammophon, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford university press, 1999.

Miles, Adrian. “Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 13, no. 2 July (1999): 217–226.

Miles, Adrian. “Click, Think, Link: Interval and Affective Narrative.” In Database | Narrative | Archive: Seven Interactive Essays on Digital Nonlinear Storytelling, edited by Matt Soar and Monika Gagnon, 2013.

Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies Series) by Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian (2009). MIT Press, n.d.

Nash, K. “Modes of Interactivity: Analysing the Webdoc.” Media, Culture & Society 34, no. 2 (April 19, 2012): 195–210. doi:10.1177/0163443711430758.

O’Flynn, Siobhan. “Documentary’s Metamorphic Form: Webdoc, Interactive, Transmedia, Participatory and beyond.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 141–157. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.141_1.

Parikka, Jussi. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2012): 95–100. doi:10.1080/14791420.2011.626252.

Parikka, Jussi. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 5 (September 1, 2011): 52–74. doi:10.1177/0263276411411496.

Affective Assemblages: Documentary Practice

My slides from the 2012 Visible Evidence conference held in Canberra in December. Arguing that network specific ‘aggregators’ such as Cowbird are documentaries, that such systems revolve around or respond to indeterminacy in particular ways and are therefore affective assemblages (affect engines) in the sense of affect provided by Deleuze in Cinema One.

Archives, Relations, the Sensory Motor Schema

An archive is a collection policed by archivists. An archive is a collection haunted by the rigours of integrity. An archive is, at heart, a closed institution.

An archive is usually thought to be made up of things, the objects that it is an archive of. It is the presence of these things that constitutes the archive as an archive. However, archives secretly aspire to be more than just this lump of things access and use come to matter. To be usable the things in an archive need to be thought of as empty or mute so that they can come to be used. That is, a minimal amount of constraining context is provided, always loosely, so that the things in the archive can more easily be placed in other contexts. This is not what has happened online.

Things in an archive could have any number of possible relations to other things and those that are deemed to matter (whether historical, political, social, cultural, contextual or merely contingent) will express a reduction or lessening of these relations amongst all those possible. This is Deleuze and Guattaris rhizomatic rule of n !1.

This means the attribution of relation to the things in an archive is always a reduction, not an addition, to what it could be.

Relations are of interest to archival thought because relations are, by definition, external to or outside of the things themselves. This means they are not properties of the thing, but are bought to bear upon the thing. This also suggests an archive can be thought to be less about the things it contains than about the possible relations that can be facilitated around these things.

Online the model that has developed is different to the usual conception of the archive because it is user, not artefact, centred (YouTube, Flickr, Cowbird). Here user centred means the archive is conceived of as a system to let individuals archive their practice (through their use of media which the vehicle to document practice, that it involves media is secondary not primary). This rapidly evolved into collecting, curating, cataloguing and collaborating content. Here the archive demonstrates the key networked attributes of granularity, porousness, and facets. So, can we conceive of the archive, in general, as consisting of open and flat things (a flat ontology) and the archive in itself as the system of relations it enables? Something like lego bricks? An archive as then an architecture for possible relations?

As a system of relations, and even possibly systems of systems of relations, online archives as web services are less an archive of what was than a performing of the everyday through their media traces. This also means they have qualities of the factual and the nonfiction as informal documentary trails.

For example, a system such as Cowbird offers nonfiction tableau. When each is machine connected they enter into emerging, variable and fuzzy series. These series are not intentional in an authorial sense, at best it is a programmatic intentioning.

Platforms such as these (and they offer a compelling template for the sorts of archives that are network based) let small pieces be crafted into other things. These series that they form are not stories. At best they can be a constellation of stories, though I think that is being generous there is nothing intrinsic to these procedures to mean that they are first of all narrative. Instead, narrative is a consequence of programmatic procedures, not the other way round (so small parts can be collected from people and these can be assembled into stories, but the small parts themselves do not need to be narrative)

They are then ergodic and cybertextual assemblages. As Anderson and McFarlane argue:

Assemblage is a term often used to emphasise emergence, multiplicity and indeterminancy, and connects to a wider redefinition of the sociospatial in terms of the composition of diverse elements into varieties of provisional sociospatial formation. To be more specific, assemblages are composed of hetergeneous elements that may be human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic, technical and natural. (Anderson and McFarlane)

How can we think critically and theoretically about these sorts of things? By going sideways. Deleuze describes the cinema as a particular system of archival assemblage enginesthinking. This system of thought relies on Bergsons sensory motor schema where some things are understood to perceive, decide, and act. These perceiving things constitute themselves as a centre from which some things get noticed, and others dont, and what gets noticed becomes the source of what is decided to be acted upon, what is decided to be done. There is a gap, or interval, between what is noticed and what is decided to be done in response to this noticing, and this gap, because it introduces variability and choice in relation to what could be done, is thought of as a centre of indetermination.

In the case of the cinema this gives rise to the perception, affect, and action images. These three terms provide an elegant framework by which to understand online works as you and/or the system notices, decides, and then does. Even more so, online projects such as the living archive demand this, as what is presented on screen is literally a centre of indetermination in terms of what is to be noticed and then done.

From this we can see that narrative, interactivity, and database aesthetics are a consequence of the sensory motor schema, not its cause. Furthermore, noticing and doing fall within the realm of experience and interaction design, and as Deleuzes schema indicates, it is the distance between these terms, of noticing and doing, that comes to matter. The more closely aligned they are, the more instrumentalised the interface and the experience. The further apart they are, the greater the centre of indetermination, then the more affective the work becomes.

Affect is then about indetermination, uncertainty, and interruption, and from this we can see that systems such as the living archive aspire to be affective assemblages, and it is this that constitutes them as living systems constituted by their ability to allow new varieties and densities of relations to be formed amongst its parts.

Anderson, Ben, and Colin McFarlane. Assemblage and Geography. Area 43.2 (2011): 124 127.

Wholes and Parts, or Shots, Edits and Sequences

Draft Extract of Some Current Work:

The problem of wholes and parts, lets us see that film and video are about the qualities of things, not their quantity. This is a classical distinction which I take from Peirce, via Deleuze (in particular Cinema One) for quality is an attribute that is independent of its quantity, that is its scale. As Peirce illustrates, the quality of a particular red, its ‘redness’, is the same whether it is a small patch or an entire wall. Similarly a paddock, defined by a fence that forms its boundary and separates out the paddock from the open plain, has the quality of being a paddock anywhere within the paddock, it is not more ‘like’ a paddock nearer the fence than in the middle. With quality scale does not matter, intensity does. Quantity on the other hand is about mass, number and scale. Here more matters and it is number that makes a meaningful difference. In the realm of quantity I can have half of something. However, as qualities are intensive, not extensive, I cannot have half of an intensity.

Much understanding of audiovisual media has relied upon mistranslating the qualitative nature of this media as quantity. The material substrate of media has quantity and this has been used to define it. A novel has dimensions and a certain number of pages, we refer to it as perhaps “long”. We routinely measure writing by word or page count. Films are measured in terms of gauge (8, 16, 35mm) and length, and there is a specialised vocabulary around shots and sequences that define them according to these quantitative attributes so that there are long takes and quick cuts, as well as wide shots, mid shots and several species of close up. Each of these conceals as much as they enable in that the key attribute of shots within the cinema is not in terms of their compositional scale (close up, etc), nor in how long they are (long takes versus short takes). It is, instead, in terms of what Deleuze has identified as Bergsonian duration, time as a quality, and this is what Kuleshov’s experiments show.

For example, imagine a book. Cut it in half. I now have, literally, half a book. This half a book no longer makes sense as a book for half of it is missing and this missing half makes a difference to the intelligibility of the story, the thing as a book. We can say the same about a painting, a sentence, word or a sculpture.

Imagine now a cinematic shot. It goes for thirty seconds, perhaps a couple walking along a busy street. I cut it in half, it now goes for fifteen seconds. Unlike the novel or painting the intelligibility of this shot remains. It is not ‘half’ a shot, and is still a couple walking along a busy street. It remains,, still an intelligible whole and so we can see that the the cinematic shot is firstly qualitative, precisely because it is qualities that do not have quantitative scale, that survive being ‘cut’. This is why we can cut up shots, why meaning does not disappear (meaning might change, but that is an entirely different proposition than the sorts of meaning that are possible or can be proposed about the half painting or half novel), as we have qualitative wholes, and this why half a shot is not the same thing as half a page.

The second implication of Kuleshov’s experiment is a consequence of this. To cut a shot turns a whole into other wholes and is an inward orientated series of subsidiary wholes within a shot, where any shot always carries within this possibility to be further cut. However, this is mirrored by an outward equivalent where any shot can also be joined to another, forming a new series outside of itself yet still whole. This is not a consequence of narrative as a sovereign metastructure, but is the ontological condition that allows for a shots ability to be cut in itself. As its basic unit is duration, a qualitative whole that is independent of quantitative scale, it always remains open to other series and so able to posit itself as a point of possible connection with other shots to form higher order series. Shots unfold onto the open which is an expanding series of relations to other shots. Here narrative does not create the capacity to join these otherwise different parts, but in fact domesticates and rehabilitates this radical open to a variety of normative discourses of closure.

Softvideo, Relations, Assemblages

Relations matter because they are always multiple. Things, whether they are ideas, video sequences, or sentences have an immensity of relations that they are situated within and by, and things only come to be known to the extent that they actualise these relations. (This is partly what Bergson’s sensory motor schema claims, and it also resonates with Bogost’s recent ‘tiny ontologies’.) In my video work relation and multiplicity is explored through small variations between video windows, for example through diptychs, triptychs, and in some cases ‘cutting’ up a video into nine or more separate tiles. These works are more interested in the simultaneous formal relations between coterminous video sequences than the ersatz multilinearity that results from serially arranged though varying sequences of this and then this. In the latter case a work remains formally close to the traditional cinematographic timeline where the task of the work is to assemble a story from its variety of parts, but the story remains a linear narrative. By pushing narrative aside and allowing videos to play together, relating to each other programmatically, thematically, associatively and even disjunctively, is to make more forceful propositions in relation to softvideo than simply trying to solve the false problem of narrative sequence. In softvideo and its relational poetics narrative is not a minimal condition but only one mode that could be performed. Narrative here is no longer sovereign, even though many ‘database’ defined projects privilege narrative as its given. This privileging of narrative risks being a critical and theoretical cul–de–sac as while narrative is the privileged term the database becomes merely a technical apparatus constructed around narrative as its problem. In my work I begin from different premises where simultaneity, rather than seriality, is used in an effort to make concrete how soft practices produce and require promiscuous relations, that these works are determined by relation and so soft systems are engines and assemblages that enable these multiple relations.

Archive Relations

Abstract for a possible paper that is coming out of the Circus Oz Living Archive project:

Recent work in digital archival practice and theory has had two major trajectories. The first has emphasised the digitisation of existing physical collections and so has been concerned with the development and application of appropriate protocols, including technical standards, metadata schemas, and appropriate preservation regimes. More recently this has evolved into an interest in the archival problems posed by ‘born digital’ artefacts and the development of relevant protocols for the preservation of these things. However, broadly within the field of digital archiving theory the concept of the artefact as a relatively autonomous object remains paramount, archives are collections of things and it is their thingness which the archivist labours to preserve. Things in an archive though, are and must be mute. In an archive it is the brute thingness of the objects that are to be preserved above all else. What they might mean, one day, is kept as the promise for why these things need to be preserved as things, but as a promise this always lies as a future before an archives’ things. In this way an archive can be considered to be the virtual (in Lévy’s sense) and what its objects come to be as the actualisation of this virtual. This means that archives, unlike other collections, are flat, all objects being equal in their muteness and possible future significance. This change, from mute thing to significance, that is the actualisation of its virtual promise, is always and can only be the result of the thing entering into external relations with what lies outside of itself. They are simply put into different contexts. The terms of these relations, what these contexts are, are always outside of the object and effect what Deleuze and Guattari have characterised as an ‘incorporeal transformation’ where the thing has changed as a consequence of these relations, but the object in itself has not. This means that we can think about an archive as about not its objects but the relations that they come to exist within. This also means we can think of these relations as objects in their own right, and so pose the question and problem of what an archive of relations would be, and what is a relation, when considered as an archival object. Finally, this also means we can speculate about a new, virtual archive, which treats the relations that happen between its objects as the subject and object of its archival and curatorial practices and regime, and what, if anything, the implications of this are.

Draft: Korsakow and Affect (2)

Another section of a book chapter, this comes out of the earlier part I posted the other day on Bergson, Affect and Korsakow. Here I take the movement image and the sensory motor schema and use it to think about Korsakow films:

This tripartite series of noticing, deciding and doing is underwritten by an economy of movement and action that ranges from the purely autonomous (for example homeostasis) through to the relatively free (reading a menu to decide which meal to eat). There is a perception, then an action, which may be automatic or calculated. This economy of activity, of action and of doing, is Bergon’s sensory motor schema. In this system affect becomes the remainder where action is not adequate to a perception. For example, I see a snake and I jump in fear. While I am now away from the snake and understand that I am safe I still feel anxiety, stress, tension, fear and relief, all at once. The jump, even where it has happened without thought – and it might have been an impressively large jump too – is not adequate to my perception of the risk and danger, has not equalled it, and so this remainder with no where to go as an action resolves into affect.

We can see that a K–Film is even more strongly inscribed within this sensory motor schema than cinema because the structure of noticing, deciding, and doing is fundamental to the organisation of a Korsakow film and interactive work in general. This is literal, as in a Korsakow film a user views video and at some moment during this they make an explicit decision which requires the motor action of a mouse click on an icon or button within the interface which causes something to happen. They perceive, decide, and then act, and the system repeats.

In doing this we shift from being viewers or readers to users because we become Bergson’s ‘living image’, that is, literally the gap between action and reaction that forms the movement image via the sensory motor schema. In cinema this gap is overcome in movement through montage which corrals these varieties of images into relations that become fixed in their order and occurrence upon the screen. This indeterminacy is resolved in the movement image because the film will do something, itself. However, in a Korsakow film there is always this ongoing site of indetermination located in the user who necessarily becomes an affective relay between perception and action, watching and clicking.

As a consequence systems such as Korsakow are strongly aligned to what I characterise as ‘affective narratives’. Stories that enlarge the moments and possibilities around a situation, event or milieu. Between a seemingly simple proposition or scenario and its implications and understanding. This ‘enlarging’ in a Korsakow film is achieved through including and allowing for multiple points of view, polyvocality and even simply because an affordance of online media is the ability, in concert with combinatory systems, to utilise as much footage as desired (since you are now liberated from having to choose amongst original footage to make your work fit a strict duration). The function of such a combinatory engine (in Korsakow’s case through the use of keywords) is to produce a multiplicity of relations between clips and sequences. For example, in Thalhofer’s documentary practice using his Korsakow system each film is orientated around a simple and open question or problem. In such cases the work is not didactic in the sense of making a specific or directed argument but offers up a field of views through interview, stories, asides and observations and through its use of keywords then constructs an architecture of associations that allows for the connections between its parts to remain loose and fluid. These associations are affective as there is always this interval or zone of indetermination between any current sequence and those that become available. In Thalhofer’s films, even though they are documentary, they align themselves towards the affective through the openness of their associative architecture and as a consequence of this the user must listen to the work rather than merely navigate.

Bergson, Affect, Korsakow

Extract from current work in progress that, I’m’, working on.

In Deleuze’s Bergsonian conceptual universe the world is constituted by images where “everything reacts on everything else” (Cinema One, p. 61). In this world there is no centre, no particular image that grounds all others. This is a Heraclitean vision of a world defined by the movement of action and reaction, where the stuff of the world always consists of multiple facets of action and reaction. For example, consider water and rock. The water erodes the rock while the rock interrupts the course and flow of the water. The compounds of the rock and their action and reaction with water become (the water and the rock) sediment, erosion, an alluvial plain, a stone to be skipped by a child over the surface of the river. These actions and reactions happen automatically. The rock doesn’t think its reaction with water, and in the language of Cinema One, these are ‘determined’ in the sense that they are subject to the laws of nature.

Within this medley of action and reaction a particular sort of image can arise, one where an interval or gap is introduced between action and reaction, where the relation between certain actions and reactions is no longer automatic or determined. These are what Bergson describes as “living images” (Cinema One, pp. 61-4 passim). A living image offers an orientation towards particular actions on the basis of perception, where of all the facets and images present only some are noticed, and so perception filters and pays attention to these things rather than others. Perception is then a reduction, not an addition of our relations to the world as all the facets of action and reaction happening become framed by the self interest of the perceiving body. For instance, a sunflower ‘notices’ sunlight and bows towards it during the day, I notice the itch on my elbow and scratch it. The sunflower does not notice the wind, and I don’t notice the exchange of gasses in my lungs and my blood stream, let alone those that occur at the cellular level within my muscles and organs. Perception as a ‘taking away’ or a ‘reducing’ of all the actions and reactions that are occurring is then an enframing of the world from the point of view of this living image which becomes a centre that orientates what becomes noticed and acted upon. This centre is constituted by a gap that is introduced between action and reaction as there is no longer an automatic relation between each. This gap makes the relation of action to reaction indeterminate, subject to decision, or as Deleuze rather delightfully argues indecision. Hence, Bergson’s living image becomes a centre of indetermination because the determined relation of action to reaction is now subject to a variety of possible reactions in relation to what has been perceived, and consequently introduces decision, indecision, change, and variability.

This system of perception and action is known as the ‘sensory motor schema’ and Deleuze applies it to the cinema to develop the three large forms of the movement image. These he labels as the perception, action and affect images. In classical cinema this is most simply realised as the canonical sequence of seeing something (for instance a gun), deciding what to do (trying to grab it) and witnessing the consequences (failing and finding it now pointed at me). Perception, decision, action. More significantly, while all films contain a mix of these three large forms Deleuze argues that: “a film, at least in its most simple characteristics, always has one type of image which is dominant: one can speak of an active, perceptive or affective montage, depending on the predominant type.” (Cinema One, p. 70.)

Deleuze’s use of the sensory motor schema and its devolution into the three varieties of the movement image provides an impressive heuristic for reconceiving Korsakow films and database cinema as the passage from Bergson’s sensory motor schema into the movement image offers a framework for interactive media that avoids framing its problem as one of narrative, audience or user.