Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Roumania
The Exo-postural Gaze:
A Way out of Representation and Visual Recollection
Abstract: This article aims to be a speculative and critical reflection on the notion of representation and its dialog with the gaze and the concept of Subject and subjectivity. It suggests that we can operate with the impossibility of visual representation by reconfiguring the language and the Real through cinema. It addresses the mechanism of gaze in relation to memory, self-representation, audience participation, etc. The arguments are built upon samples from Japanese cinema and they focus on the inner construction of image as ‘tangible invisible’. The issue of blindness is addressed as the starting point for rethinking the non-representable.
Keywords: Self-representation, Visual, Blindness, Blind Spot, Inhumanity, Perception, Sign, Memory, Ruin, Internalisation
what if what is ‘proper’ to humankind were to be inhabited by the inhuman?
Even if we choose to name it blind spot, as Nancy does, and we consider that to be the instance that makes an opening for the gazeor we decide to call it in Žižek’s term sublime materiality to refer to what we postulate as a “beyond” of our physical reality or we stick to Deleuze’s phrase (line of universe), which is a reference for the space in which the distances that cultivate perception are overcame, merged and crossed, we still have to face a referent that will always need a spiritual supplement. We must permanently rethink and conjure this operational “end of the gaze”, which though manifests itself as an “end of thought” or an “end of representation”, it continues to be the experimental relation we have to that element in sensation that precedes the self. Maybe it is the avant-garde that has reached the furthest spot in this “out of the self” adventure (at least at the level of form). That is why we will concern ourselves with two of the movies of the avant-garde Japanese filmmaker, Shūji Terayama: Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971) and Pastoral: to Die in the Country (1974) in trying to define the internalization of the viewless and its generative power over subjectivity, the visual and the perceptual.
In order to do so we will have to set a new concept for the type of gaze we will be following in Terayama’s movies and which will need to encompass a certain way of looking that no longer emerges from the corporality of a Subject and can no longer border the Other. Exo-postural gaze will refer to a certain gaze that works as a non-instrumental extension of the Subject and which implies crossing the dimensions and not perceiving them. It is a disjointed gaze, situated between bodies, dimensions and temporalities, like a pre-perceptual gaze that is being carried as the exoskeleton of an “invertebrate” visual. The exo-postural gaze allows the viewless to become a “blind expanse”, meaning that it turns the obscured into a space and thus the unseen is no longer a spot or a “limit”, but an expanse, an area. Because of its nonfigurative character, the exo-postural gaze is the gaze that carries within itself the memory of its own “undercover” inhumanity. Some of these aspects will be discussed further on and they will acquire a more stable ground in relation to the movies of Terayama.
The Gaze Can’t Walk the Streets
You don’t want your work to spring from art, you want it to commence from life and that’s in the street now.
The concept of “walking into the streets” has always had a powerful, revolutionary, counterculture, underground, “neo-existential”, hypnotizing meaning, but on the field of the visual we must notice that it has different implications, according to the movement it is attached to. With the French New Wave, cinematography has indeed “walked into the streets”, but in the sense of stepping into the traffic jam or landing into the civic ride and intercepting the specifically bus station faces or realistically observing the urban and depicting a certain humanity of the surroundings marked by the trace of those who inhabit them. For the French New Wave the street was becoming visible in its technically “less light” exigency, but was not yet a vision. The Japanese New Wave, mostly the films of Terayama “walk into the streets” for something else, something like an “exhaustion” of the eye leading to an “end” of the gaze. The gaze is drained, betrayed by the multiplicity of the visible and because of that the street becomes pure impression and it is no longer a space or a full length route. Terayama’s own statement seems to describe the act of “walking into the streets” as a sort of return to lyricism, but given the avant-garde, not an “innocent” lyricism, but a performative one:
When I threw away books and rallied in the streets, I was thinking of turning the city into a book… By abandoning printed books in my study and walking into the streets of this city, books paradoxically begin to have greater and wider meaning in my thought.
Thus, we can see that for Terayama the move of cinema into the streets is not about a passage way of the image itself, but about an emergence of the eye in and from the street. Let us think about the non-realistic colours Terayama uses in his films to portray the streets and about the close relation of the railroad track and the street, both merged as suspended, purposeless directions. The street manifestation scene from Throw Away Your Books is depicted, at one point, from the subjective point of view of a camera that is shoved by the bodies that pass by it as if the act of walking the streets is reduced to the mere geometric condition of facing the crowd, the many. In this case, the street becomes the “pipeline” of a “post-perceptive” eye, for whom the visual is rendered as an unqualified debit. The gaze is like a “state of the runner” now, and we can call it exo-postural gaze, because the look no longer follows the line of the eye, but the line of the street. Consequently, it becomes exterior to itself and perception is no longer its goal; the gaze manifests itself as the pure act of walking, implying not the movement itself, but the “bare developing” of the walking body on the streets. The gaze’s “inappropriate” walk on the “high heels” of its inhumanity, of its raw artificiality in Terayama’s films, turns the act of “walking into the streets” into the horizon of an “end” of the gaze. The eye no longer captures images of the crowd, but rather non-figurative images of the life of the crowd.
The Image of the Inscribed
The image opens one look into the other: the picture’s and the onlooker’s.
The image of written words and quotes is very common in Throw Away Your Books, as if a new poetry of the visual can be acquired through the static poetry of the phrase. This word images are placed on the football field, on the street wall, on the prostitute’s bed sheet, in a dark place in the light of a match, on the closed front door, on the fix concrete or on the undressed body itself. This is why we will refer to this type of frames with the specific term: the image of the inscribed, because, although we are dealing with the image of an inscription, its essence dwells in the fact of it being registered, imprinted on a certain surface that supports its emptiness with its own nudity or vacancy.
Terayama talks about Throw Away Your Books as being a ‘film to read’, but isn’t this precisely an experiment, a game with “the word” understood as the “end” of gaze, rather than an expressionistic cinematographic gesture? The image of the inscribed is not about a gaze that reads the words, but a gaze that empties the words in order to regain its sensorial legitimacy, not its deciphering one. The written word imposes a certain closeness that erases the necessary distance for the gaze to “take place”. So far we’ve tried to talk about the image of the inscribed in itself, separating it from the rest of the movie frames and that is why the tension between the image of the inscribed steadiness and the movement image dynamics stayed out of sight. The moment the image of the writing becomes a presentation, an offering, showing, pointing towards a meaning, the movement image next to it turns into a shadow of the writing, “silencing” even the visual, as if the lack of words wouldn’t be just an echo of the previous image, but a “pain” of the movement itself. In this case, the eye is not a witness of the writing anymore, but a silencer of the visual.
In his absolutely beautiful book about Japan (Empire of Signs), Barthes talks about the fact that the Japanese sign is void, meaning that it stands for no deeper significance, manifesting itself at the level of pure gesture and mere presence and this is the position from which the Japanese sign acquires its strength and visual assertiveness, opening no ‘semiotic’ hole underneath itself, but inside its own mirage, thus undermining all the “challenges” of the hermeneutic mind. Taking into consideration Barthes’ analysis of the sign in the Japanese culture we could ask the following question: Does the void dare to have an image that would make it “open” as a permeable “blind expanse”? Is it not the actual ‘written sign’ the one that seems to be the “image of the void” in Terayama’s films? It is an image that delivers the abyss an architecture, restoring the gaze precisely when we thought it vanished along the optical nearness of the written word. If we consider “the word” along with the “reading eye” to be the “end” of the gaze, as we discussed, then we can state that the exo-postural gaze is the one that is able to assume and embrace its own “end”, through this “image of the void” mechanism. This prosthesis of “the void sign” allows the gaze to regain its “vital” distance inside the “blind expanse” opened up by the emptiness of the written word. In the dismembered “eyes” of the exo-postural gaze even the overflow of a blank space into another bareness is itself an accessible image and, in Terayama’s films, that image is precisely “the image of the inscribed” against the closed front door or the inexpressive concrete.
The “Consigned Glance” Is Not the Gaze of the Audience
The image of life puts the imaginary at a distance
Addressing the audience is certainly not an original Japanese New Wave rebelliousness, although it might seem to be originally part of the performance-like cinematography of Terayama’s Throw Away Your Books. In Godard’s films, staring at the camera and directly addressing the public already aimed at making the audience responsible for its own contemplative act. In 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her the characters sometimes stop from their illustrative everydayness to address the audience in a ‘documentary style’ manner, aiming rather at a political effect of audience judgemental self-awareness. With Throw Away Your Books things are different because the film opens up with a directly addressed speech which is very uncomfortable in its pursuit of bluntly laying bare, exposing the spectator. The addressability of the actor’s gaze unmasks the spectator’s gaze, pointing at its own consequential addressability and consignment. Being aware of itself and, thus, exterior to itself we can call it an exo-postural gaze of the audience that discovers itself to be a pure “consigned glance” and no longer the founder of an unrestrained spatiality. This kind of intentional eye-contact imposed by the actor functions as an unbearable immediate image of life and its pure addressability that suspends the imaginary and the negotiations of the Real. The gaze even loses its testimonial value in behalf of the immediacy of life, a life that is as much existential as it is cinematic.
The “consigned glance” does not have that bliss and self-oblivion which allows it to build the required distance and, around it, the image. It only has the sense of its independent addressability which is the evident articulation of its resistant inhumanity. With the designated eyes of the actor upon it, the gaze cannot go beyond the interaction, because it is no longer the gaze of a Subject, but the gaze of a spectator sitting in the darkness of the cinema and the spectator will always be more inhuman than the Subject.
Self-Representation and Memory
Deep down, deep down inside, the eye would be destined not to see but to weep
Jacques Derrida (Memoirs of the Blind)
One draws only on the condition of not seeing, meaning that every act of representation is based on the resistance force of the “non-representable” or, in other words, the force of the invisible that commissions the visual. It is as if the visual would be a malleable arch drawn upon the invisible and this arch curves and shapes itself depending on the “elasticity of the non-representable”. Vision is founded on the fact that we are not transparent to ourselves, because of the existence of a “black box” where the dynamics between the accessible and the inaccessible can take place. Drawing the blind means figuring out this non-representable in silhouettes and images, with the processing of a “post-gaze” that can turn blindness into a “new” way of perceiving images that do not pertain to the eye anymore. Drawing the blindmeans trying to make visible this force of the non-representable. Derrida believes that it is the blurry view of the weeping eye that brings us close to, what he beautifully calls, the very truth of the eyes. It is the meeting with this impossibility of sight that makes us face a non-perceptive eye, which is, in fact, the eye that remembers the interiorised invisible and in order to make it present it starts drawing a “portrait of the non-representable”, which is actually a self-portrait. What does memory and remembrance have to do with all this? It might be that memory is just another form of a self-representation drive that struggles to give continuity to the inside relation we have to the visual. And in reaching this point we cannot avoid remembering the words of Terayama in Pastoral: To Die in the Country: As long as man cannot liberate himself from memory, he cannot gain freedom[…] Didn’t Borges say that the silver coin you lost five days ago is not the silver coin you’ve found today?.
In the following lines, we will try to prove that the autobiographical pursuit in Pastoral: To Die in the Country is just like the act of drawing the blind described by Derrida in his book. The movie opens up with the face of a boy turned towards the camera with his eyes covered because of his engagement in the “hide and sick” game, played in the cemetery. This image is a strong allusion to the fact that remembrance is an act of the blind, an act of covering your eyes and betraying the immediacy of the visible in order to rebuild it following the rules of the blind. Remembering is about distorting the visual to make room for a connection with the invisible, the sensation and the non-visual impression. That is why the surrealism of Pastoral: To Die in the Country is perfectly justified in the recollection mechanism. Remembering as a self-contradictory pursuit for representation is in its profound essence surreal. But how is this haunting surrealism justified in the meanderings of self-representation, in this movie? Let us just make some preliminary assertions before offering an answer. Derrida says one is on the lookout, one reflects upon what one sees, reflects what one sees by delaying the moment of conclusion. I think it also applies to hermeneutics, so let us reflect, in the sense of self-reflecting and dispersing this unanswered answer.
Maybe we can talk about a “blind remembering” that does not imply the visual representation of the remembered thing or state, but just a deterritorialization of a conjured presence. This kind of remembering in the absence of visual representation would pre-determine a different type of subjectivity, which, lacking a reflection, would actually produce its own surreal “manifestation” in the eyes of a dissymmetric, self-determining, external “blind gaze” that we have been calling exo-postural gaze. This “subjectivity-orchestration” distorted perception of being seen is present in the film in the position of the camera, which is, most of the times, an above, sky-like viewpoint that mimics a dismembered eye, not a transcendental one. Although the exo-postural gaze cannot border the Other in its non-perceptual lingering, it can still be a lacanian gaze that determines a type of subjectivity of the one who feels perceived by an incoherent gaze. We could discuss the further lacanian implications of the exo-postural gaze by talking about an “anamorphotic” subjectivity, which is not determined or defined by the particularization of the visual, but we would need some other instruments for this research. Let us return to the question of self-representation, which no longer requires the gaze of the Other, but the gaze of the self.
There is no self-portrait without confession says Derrida and reflecting upon this cinematic technique of the viewpoint in Pastoral: To Die in the Country, we can better understand Derrida’s point concerning self-representation. The self-portrait does not imply the Subject’s own confession and movement towards the outside. Instead it presupposes the “confessions of the visual” and the visual can only acquire the structure of confession when it is turned into a standpoint. Confession means self-positioning (not only in Foucault’s sense) and, thus, self-representation is about drawing the “blind traces” of a spatial and genealogical position, rather than drawing the self. In representation we draw the ‘traces’ of a position and not the object itself. The word “genealogical” refers not only to the line of family descent, but it unfolds the genealogical and generative assertion of our temporal being. There is this line in Pastoral that seems to resume the whole “recollection experiment” of the film: If you go back to the past in a time-machine and kill your great-grandmother…would there still be your present self? Self-representation is, therefore, founded upon the untraceable, pulsating, genealogical force line that crosses and ties the being to representationas if this would be its ultimate source of existence.
Also at the iconographic level, Pastoral: To Die in the Country is a very good example for the optical translation of the “blind remembering” we have been talking about. Self-representation in the eyes of an intuited exo-postural gaze that deals with the Subject’s dissymmetric, inarticulate sensation of being seen by a dismembered eye constitutes a type of subjectivity that has to manufacture its own reflection and that reflection is nothing else but the white screen at the end of the movie, which is the equivalent of a cancelled self-representation desire. For Derrida the self-portrait remains a failure to recapture a presence, but in Pastoral: To Die in the Country the self-portrait is a failure of the Subject’s own desire for self-representation. Stepping outside the film, what kind of subjectivity would that be based on non-representation and “blind remembering”? Maybe in this case we would not be able to talk about subjectivity anymore, but, in Deleuze’s terms, about a pure singularity.
At the middle of the film, before stepping from fiction (the first part of the film) into the autobiographical experiment (the second part), there is this black membrane, abstract frame of a film ending cinema screen. This non-figurative membrane image is not just an accessory in the economy of the movie; it is the view of the exo-postural gaze that can see the ruin of the visual. Terayama and Derrida have such similar insights into this idea about a ruin of the visible. In Pastoral, Terayama says: It’s the same with the landscape. The more I describe it, the more vague it gets. In his book, Derrida points towards the same misty force of the evidence of the visible and the necessity to elaborate the visual on the ruin of this visible: In the beginning there is ruin. Ruin is what happens to the image from the moment of the first gaze.So what if cinema would be that medium which can make us see and perceive the ruin of the visible through the exo-postural gaze mechanism? What if cinema has been picturing the ruin of the visible all the way and we only have to invent a new way of looking in order to discover that? The avant-garde movement in cinema has already thought us a lot about a certain perceptual revisionism, but maybe not enough.
The ending scene of Pastoral: To Die in the Country is quite amazing, because it is like a visionary wake-up call. Nothing has anticipated this frame and nothing can erase its subtle inscription. It is the table scene of the reencounter between mother and son and suddenly the walls drop and they appear in a new light in the middle of a metropolis, revealed in the core of their undisturbed, continuous proceeding. It is like the absolute representation laid bare in the middle of the visual, isolated at the centre of the visual as if there is no possible communication between representation and the visual, because representation is no longer justified in a world where people are at ease with their past. All representational variations take place in the in-betweens of the possibilities of representing our past selves. When there is no distance between the subject and the self, representation becomes a stuffed motion at the centre of the circulated metropolis.
After all that has been told, it became clear that the exo-postural gaze is an endeavour to find a way out of representation and defined contours. The attempt to think the “non-representable” is an obvious fight against the ideological stipulation of forms of representation. Under the strong influence of system theory we nurture ourselves with the belief that everything can be represented inside a system consisting of interdependent units and we are no longer able to recall “the ungraspable” inside our way of reasoning. Thinking the non-representable can be just another trick of the representation founding mind or, reflecting on the non-representable can be, in the sense of Derrida, a way of emanating, dispersing and self-reflecting the non-representable. Just this second version would be politically effective in the sense of indirectly opposing the Subject that is the ultimate and most operative form of representation.
Let us recall a line from Pastoral: To Die in the Country: Don’t you think our lives are built upon the support of our first experience? If it is so, I wonder what would be the effect of us building this first experience inside non-representation and “blind remembering”.