Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Singers, Psychos, and the Blues: Reading Affect and the Virtual beyond the Cinematic Subject

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Singers, Psychos, and the Blues: Reading Affect and the Virtual beyond the Cinematic Subject

Article excerpt

Abstract:

In this essay, Tavlin reads Brian Massumi's affect theory in order to extend Massumi's style of analysis to cinema, and attempts to rewrite the psychological terms typically used in film theory. By focusing on the relationship between affect and structure, he moves away from the traditional focus on cinemat- ic subjectivity and its corresponding subject-object relations in order to allow, instead, for a reading of film as a series of mem- branes that involve the auditory as well as the visual. By think- ing affectively, he argues, one can illuminate virtuality as it is performed in the signifying texture of the film, both in relation to one's body and to the social field. Further, it can help to isolate liberatory gender possibilities in film by moving away from the types of theories that replicate masculine visual structures. He focuses on David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Krzysztof Kieslows- ki's Blue, and looks briefly at the horror genre.

Keywords: Massumi, Deleuze, Lynch, Kieslowski, affect

With a short series of postmodern parables discussed in his Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi links a the- ory of affect to television, neurology, and politics. Each engagement serves to foreground an aspect of bodily existence that tends to be missed in temporally naïve, structuralist analyses. By reading Massumi with Gilles Deleuze, and extending Massumi's style of analysis to cinema, I will attempt to rewrite the terms typically used in psycho analytically oriented film the- ories. By focusing on the relationship between affect and structure, I believe that we can move away from a focus on cinematic subjectivity and its corresponding subject-object relations (an exemplary case being Slavoj Zizek's Lacanian film analyses] in order to allow, instead, for a reading of film as a series of interfaces and membranes that involve the auditory as well as the visual. By training our attention on the relationships between the sets of cinematic elements that occupy the positions of actuality and virtuality (that take on the status of the actual or virtual], we can begin to see film differently. Thinking affectively can illuminate virtuality as it's performed in the signifying texture of the film, both in relation to our bodies and to the structural field of the social.

In order to make this argument, I will first look at David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, mobilizing Deleuze's vocabulary in an analysis of a particular scene in the film where subjectivity is undermined as a way of motivating a transformation of affect through techniques of the close-up and aural-cinematographical dissociation. Then I will briefly consider Sianne Ngai's filmic analysis in Ugly Feelings, where she reads subject-object ambiguities in particular cinematic texts as exemplary in their ability to introduce minor (ugly] affects into the texture of the film, and transfer her analysis into the consideration of horror films. There I will show how the fluidity of the subject-object relation moves the viewer from one affective register to the next. Finally, I will contrast the relations between virtuality and actuality, affect and structure, among different cinematic styles by exploring sound and color in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue. There, affective metamorphoses are in the service of a final return to narrative and character associations. By reading the use of affective techniques as a way of re-establishing a psychological structure, I will argue that thinking cinematically requires thinking the oscillatory tension between virtual and actual, of finding the support for passage and transformation in intensities that nevertheless always teeter on the edge of re-capture. Ultimately, I will introduce the debate between Michel Chion and Kaja Silverman on gender in cinema in order to finally argue that a necessary component of this project involves a break with an implicitly masculine view of the medium - where psychoanalytic theories (represented here by Laura Mulvey) often find the filmic apparatus inherently masculine in its visual structure, drawing one's attention to the complex of cinematic fields beyond the mere visual, articulated as membranes and thresholds, can isolate liberatory gender possibilities in film, which goes hand in hand with a generally transformative approach to the interpretation of cinematic subjectivity. …

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