Monday, August 25, 2008

Blow Up: The Explosion of Meaning

by Katerina Tryfonidou

“They do not mean anything when I do them, just a mess… Afterwards, I find something to hang on to, like that leg today…” says the painter pointing at a part of the painting- a painting he did six years ago. “It’s like finding a clue in a detective story.”

Blow Up is a film by Michelangelo Antonioni that was screened in 1966. The film has a loose plot close to a detective story set in London in the contemporary at the time Swinging 60s. Almost at the same time when Blow Up was first shown, in the middle of the intellectual discourse about linguistics, French thinker Roland Barthes discusses about the imposition of meaning, and the distinction in works of art between what he calls Work and what he calls Text.

This text can be seen as an eclectic surgical section in time: it looks at the film and tries to understand it in the linguistic framework that was developing at the same time. It also goes on to argue that Antonioni was well aware of the ongoing semiotic discourse and that his film is a commentary about the creation of meaning, its imposition on art, and ultimately, the explosion of meaning.

1. Introduction

There is a scene in the beginning of the Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up, where Dave Hemmings, the photographer in the film and also the protagonist, asks a painter friend of his, Bill, what is there on one of his paintings. “They do not mean anything when I do them, just a mess… Afterwards, I find something to hang on to, like that leg today…” he says pointing a part of the painting- a painting he did six years ago. “It’s like finding a clue in a detective story,” he continues.

In this short monologue Antonioni briefly throws some light on the problematics about the representation of reality or the message of an image. In a very clever way, he also forshadows the detective story that is to be unfolded later on in the film. The issue of the construction of a narrative will be the main idea of the paper -either this is done by a sequence of photos or a sequence of shots- . Questions like “How do we impose meaning?”, “What is the relation between the signifier and the signified?” or “Can reality be reconstructed in a work of art?” will be haunting us throughout this short text.

2. Roland Barthes’ “From Work to Text

Roland Barthes writes the paper From Work to Text in 1971[i], five years after Blow Up’s first screening. He uses the terms Work and Text in the beginning referring to literary works but then expands the notions to painting, music and film. In this short paper Barthes introduces the idea of the Text and distincts it from Work, stating that Text is a broader idea, a more abstract one, a characterization that goes beyond the object. He goes on to define Text mainly by opposing it to Work, with an intention to define a new idea, thus being very explanatory, but without using any examples.

The research and literary work during that time forced the definition and articulation of text, as research was then talking about interdisciplinary-ity and fields sliding or blending in one another. In this frame of thinking, the Text is interdisciplinary because it emerges from the need to define notions with the tools of different disciplines[ii].

When Work is a fragment of substance, a material object, Text is a methodological field, a process and an activity. As Barthes says characteristically “Work can be held in the hand, Text is held in language.”[iii] That is, a work can be seen, exposed and demonstrated while a Text is the process of demonstration per se. A Work is meant to be consumed, it is an object or a product. Text, however, is the process of creating such an object, the process of breaking it, fragmenting it, superimposing it to others. In the notion of Text there is no focus on the subject and the object, this segregation does not exist, or better, it is not relevant, because it is the act and the process that the Text appeals to. Work can be seen as an organism that has certain characteristics, functions and potentials. The metaphor of the Text is that of a network, a combinatory system –to use, according to Barthes, a biological concept.- As a network it organizes different groups, ideas or works and subsequently redefines them. The metaphor of a network is also relevant to the etymology of the word text- textile, fabric, a woven material[iv]. The process of weaving together different elements approaches the idea of the Text as a process, a system and an activity, rather than a final outcome.

Blow Up has a lot of elements that makes one think that Michelangelo Antonioni was familiar with the semiotics and the linguistic research of the 60s. Although the latter cannot be proved, it is not impossible either: after all, Antonioni was known to follow closely the work of Adorno[v] and other philosophers. It can therefore be an anachronistic challenge to try to pursue an analysis of the movie in terms of whether it remains a Work or it can be seen as a Text.

Work

Text

one discipline

interdisciplinary

fragment of substance

methodological field

the object of demonstration

the process of demonstration

can be held in the hand

held in language

doxa

paradoxa

general sign

deferment of the signified

moderately symbolic

radically symbolic

interpretation

dissemination

father, auteur

no father, no auteur, author as a 'guest'

organism

network

object of consumption

activity, production, practice

pleasure of consumption

pleasure without separation

plaisir

jouissance

Copy of a diagram done in a seminar at Harvard University by Professor Michael Hays

2. Signification_ Meaning_ Signified

As we have mentioned before, the ‘vague’ plot of the movie looks at the life of a teddy-boy photographer in London during the swinging 60s and focuses on an incident where he takes some pictures of a couple in a park. As he processes the negatives, he realizes that he has shot evidence of a murder.

Let’s take a close look of the sequence where the photographer develops the photographs and starts to unravel the mystery. In the first shot he enters his lab, he takes his utensils in order to start the developing process. This is a long shot where he is shown to take all his tools and gadgets without any rush. In the next shot the door closes and there is the door and a red lit light covering the whole frame. The editing here is sudden and sharp, from a long continuous scene where the viewers control most of the space and the protagonist’s movements, to a close up of the door and the light next to it. The same double shots are shown in a slight variation, with the photographer holding the bands of negatives, and the door shutting again.

In the next shot, there is the man going over the negatives on a lit surface with the help of a lens, and then with the natural movements of a professional, he puts it in the projector and projects it on a vertical white paper on the wall to have the photo printed. The shot is long, the camera steady again. The director shows the exact process, exposes all the equipment, surfaces and materials needed in order to understand that the printed outcome is the result of a very real procedure. The sequence continues with him going several times from his lab to the lounge to pin up the wet, sleek pictures he just produced. There is a juxtaposition of long takes of the photographer working to develop the photos and moving back and forth, and of the photos themselves. There are shots where there is the man watching the photos and then on the next shot there is the object he is watching, the black and white photos. There are times when the camera moves from one photo to the other and other times when this is succeeded by the editing. In this way the narrative is constructed little by little: first there is the couple playing romantically in the park, in the next photo they are hugging and in the third the woman’s gaze is captured by something in the bushes.

In one of these shots where the photographer observes the images, he notices that something caused the girl to turn her face. From that point on, there starts a process of blowing up the photo, that is zooming in the image and printing one piece of it bigger and bigger. The sequence evolves as in the first half: lab work- pin up- observation- stills of the photos. In the last part of the sequence there is the narration of the story by the succession of the printed photos. Then, there is no photographer: the frames are composed of gros-plans of the photos in the order of the story which is unfolding, with partial ‘explanatory’ zoom- in. The scene is created with such dexterity that the spectators are driven with the same curiosity with the photographer to go from one blow up to the other in order to follow the story. Little by little the photos become hard to understand, as the resolution gets poor and the grain in the photos more evident. Yet the transition occurs in such a way that there is a perfect succession of the photos, the one photo poses a question that the next one answers; till we reach a point that more blow up does not bring us to a next step, because the photo becomes full of grains, like one of those paintings the photographer’s friend is painting.

The sequence with the blow ups can be seen as a commentary in the direction of the semiotic discussion in the 60s. In his article The Photographic Message, published in 1961[vi], Roland Barthes attempts an analysis of the impact of photography and in particular, of the press photograph. In this article he claims that from all the representational arts, photography is the one mostly linked with reality. Photography owns its credibility to the fact that, unlike painting or sculpture, “in order to move from reality to its photograph, it is in no way necessary to divide up this reality into units, and to constitute these units as signs, substantially different from the object they communicate”. A Photograph is of course not reality, it is reducted in many ways, but it stays a direct analogon of reality. Thus, for Barthes, the special status of the image can be seen: “it is a message without a code.”[vii] This statement regards the photograph as a mere signifier which does not incorporate in its identity a system of understanding it. It is the society, or the different cultures, Barthes will say later on in the article, that impose the signification and create the signified.

But there lies a paradox: although photograph is on the one hand a denoted message, a message without a code, nevertheless there is also a connoted message underlining in this sign. It is the result of the action of the creator, the style with which the photograph was taken, that refers to a certain culture and a certain historic time. Hence, the photograph comprises of two messages, the analogon of reality (denoted message) and the ideological or aesthetic message (connoted)[viii]. The paradox lies on the fact that it is culture and society that imposes signification on a photograph but nevertheless the photograph per se carries in its creation an amount of this cultural meaning.

To return to the film, when the photographer develops the first photographs, before the blow ups, he is able to see the photographs- signs as signifiers that bare a connoted message: there is a photo of a couple hugging in the park, flirting and playing. [Due to the connoted message of the society he lives in,] it is easy to impose a signified on the image that is in front of him. However, after he starts blowing up the photographs and putting them in order, a totally different meaning is revealed. He starts seeing another version of reality or –in the semiotic terms- he imposes another signified to each photograph. Eventually he creates a series of photos that narrate a very different version of reality: the couple in the park was being watched by a man with a gun who finally shoots the man of the couple. The photographer constructs this different narration by looking at the photos in a different way and by extracting from them some parts of their signifier.

The narration is constructed by looking at the photographs in the right order. The one photo leads to the other, and with every next blow up, another clue contributes to the unfolding of the narration. Therefore the photographs constitute a system where, each one of them is needed in the right place in the sequence in order for the story to be revealed. Antonioni wants to make this very clear and he does that by showing the opposite; what if some of the photos would be taken away? Later on in the story Vanessa Redgraves, who plays the woman of the couple, steals all the photos and leaves just one. However, the one left behind is useless as a proof of the crime. As Sarah Mayers- comments “It looks like one of Pete’s paintings.” The photo remains as a signifier, emptied by the signified it used to have when being part of a system. Exactly like Bill’s paintings: he first draws them and then as he observes them, he gives them a signified. Antonioni literary puts Bill’s character to say that: “They do not mean anything when I do them, just a mess… Afterwards, I find something to hang on to, like that leg today…” The fact that there is this commentary on paintings in the film is to strengthen the point Antonioni wants to make on imposing signification and on the creation of the narration.

When this point has been made about painting and photography, it is easy for someone to go one step further and make the same correlations about film. Indeed, Antonioni makes a commentary on semiotics in relation to painting and photography to connote the same about film. After all, the character of the photographer- creator bares many similarities with the role of the director- also creator of a narrative. In this movie, more than in any other one of his films, Antonioni talks about the art of film making and the construction of a narrative.

Throughout film theory, many theorists have approached cinema through the evolution of photography[ix]. Bazin talks about the proximity of photography to reality to go on and claim the same documentary function for the cinema[x]. In Antonioni, the bond between photography and film is more than evident: he handles the composition of the shots with an extraordinary attention on the mis-en-scene; every single shot can be isolated and treated as a photograph. The framing, the angle, the elements that constitute each shot are parameters that both a photographer and the director have to deal with. In both cases likewise, there are stills put in order to generate a sequence. As the character of Dave Hemmings isolates some parts of reality manipulates and reorganizes them so as they make a narrative, respectively the director selects fragments of reality and constructs his own version of it. With the metaphor of a photographer constructing a narration by revealing a different version of reality , Michelangelo Antonioni discusses the role of the director in the film.

3. The process of Photography, The Materiality of the Photograph

In the previous paragraph we discussed how the director makes a commentary on the process of film making. Antonioni films a man that constructs a narrative by focusing on un-seen parts of reality and by organizing them together. Apart from the use of the story in this direction, Antonioni uses other methods as well in order to make the connection of Blow Up to the making of a film. One of the techniques that he uses is his persistence in the process of developing photos.

In the film, there are many sequences, the most characteristic of which is the one of the blow up of photos, where the process of developing and printing photos is presented. All the different equipment is introduced, as well as the dark rooms with their special furnishing, lighting, etc. For the spectators, it is as if we experience a course of developing photos: the director analytically shows every stage of the process, from the developing of the film, to the projection of the negatives, to the manipulation with the chemicals for the printing. Going through the process, we understand that the photographs are the outcome of a very material, articulated, ‘hand-made’ process. The reference on different lens and lighting, as well as the shot where the photographer takes a picture of a picture are direct comments on the parallel between film making and photography.

Furthermore, Michelangelo Antonioni insists on showing the materiality of the photographs and of the process of developing photos. For Antonioni, the photograph is a sign that communicates a message. A part of this message, as in Barthes, exists in the signifier and another part of it is imposed on the signifier by a person, a group of people, or society. However, apart from these different messages, Antonioni reminds us that a photograph is also an object generated through a process and that it has certain material characteristics. When Dave Hemmings holds the photograph and goes to hang it on the wall, the paper is wet and slippery, water dripping from it. In other shots, the reflections on the glossy paper do not allow the image to be fully presented on the screen. Furthermore, the fact that the image has certain capacities in terms of resolution, and that the image has grains after the several zoom- in, also give hints about the materiality of the analogic photograph.

In Blow Up, a thorough study of the photograph is presented. We explore the different messages of the photographic image, the photograph as a sign that functions as a signifier and has various signified(s) imposed on it. At the same time, however, we are constantly reminded of the object of the photograph with its material qualities and limits, as well as of the process that led to its production. Through the exposure to the process of the development, Antonioni introduces what happens behind the screen of the film, and takes the discussion of the photographic message a step further: he thinks about the message of the film, what it can or cannot communicate, and how transparent the process of film- making can be.

4. Work _Text

In Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni presents a line of thoughts about the photographer and his relation to the photograph in order to make the transition to the auteur and his relation to film. The two dualities, one exposed and one connoted, is the one as the alter ego of the other. The first one is evident in the film by means of the plot, the second one by means of the framing, the angles, the camera movements, the composition of the shots. We could in the pursuit to understand the two pairs of interactions, the film is trying to transform from a Work to a Text, the way Barthes defined the terms.

A film is a priori a work, an object of consumption, in Barthes’ words[xi]. In order for it to function as a Text, it has to turn from a fragment of construction into a methodological tool. To do that, a work or film should generate a new approach, or suggest the tools for a new reading of the work. In this way, Blow Up can be considered a text, because it introduces a way of filming where the director makes his presence evident, and the relationship of the film maker and the film is explored. It can be seen as one of the films that fold into themselves, and which phrase the question of what film is about. Therefore Blow Up introduces a new way for the viewers of experiencing a film, not just to accept what is on the screen but to try to get a hint about the process of making the work of art.

Process, activity and practice were some key words for the notion of Text. Barthes stated that “the Text is experienced only in an activity of production.”[xii] In Blow Up this activity of production is presented in different levels: first –and superficial- the developing of the photos in the plot, with the hand made process and the use of the equipment; second, the process of film making as a metaphor of photography; and third, the more general idea of reconstructing reality and imposing new meaning by means of film and photography. In various levels and readings in the film, certain parts of reality are chosen, blown up or manipulated and then put together again to construct a version of reality- a representation or a new text. The process of working in several layers –the plot, the role and presence of the director, the semiotics analysis- constitute a plurality that according to Barthes differentiates a Text from Work. Of course there are many works that function in different levels of meaning, and that does not turn them into Texts; however, Blow Up has the ability to suggest a tool, a mechanism or a network in order to weave the different threads of thought together. The activity of production or representation is studied in many different aspects: photography as production and representation, film as production or representation, and therefore it constitutes a passage from one meaning to the other.

Another of Barthes’ main arguments in the definition of a Text addresses the relation of the subject to the object. Barthes believes that in art there should be no distinction between reading and writing, playing music and listening to music, creating and experiencing. The two activities should be merged into one, the way children play a game or the way pagan rituals were held. Hence when talking about a Text, there is no respect for the author, because the Text is open to be broken, understood or changed by everyone. It does not belong to the author, the author can return to the Text as a guest, no longer privileged or authoritative. To better understand this point, he gives the two examples- the only ones that exist in the paper: Aristotle and the Holy Scripture are Texts that have been read, interpreted and changed without any attention to the authors. For Barthes, the Text should ask the question of who is producing it, so that audience and creator blend the one in the other[xiii].

In this sense of the Text, Blow Up does not fit in the definition. Although it tries a lot to involve the audience into the discussion of the construction of a narrative or the representation of reality, by nature it cannot resist the gap between the audience and the work. Blow Up was a film in the theaters, and people watching it are used to face it as an object for consumption, even in the case it causes interesting discussions and problematics. Blow Up has not managed to cancel the distance between the audience and the work on the screen. This is a challenge that Blow Up, or film in general, hasn’t yet achieved.

We can say that Blow Up balances between being a Work or a Text, in the way that Barthes phrases the terms. It goes beyond a work as an object for consumption, but does not succeed to be characterized as a Text. After all, as its title suggests, Blow Up constitutes an explosion: an explosion of images, signified(s) and meanings. And as an explosion it can be a very strong dynamic starting point, but it needs more elements so that the explosion can signal a new era.



[i] Barthes Roland, From Work to Text” in Image-Music-Text, ed. by Stephen Heath, Noonday Press Ed., 1989.

[ii] Barthes Roland, “From Work to Text” in Image-Music-Text, ed. by Stephen Heath, Noonday Press Ed., 1989.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] In the movie La Notte, by M.Antonioni, one of the characters asks the other what did he think of the new book by Adorno.

[vi] Barthes Roland, “The Photographic Message” in Image-Music-Text, ed. by Stephen Heath, Noonday Press Ed., 1989.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] And others of course, see in other fields the precedents of film: Eisenstein believed that architecture is more than any other discipline related to film: When a person moves in a building or walks a certain path, his eyes create framings and editing in the same way that the camera and the director ‘see’, frame and edit sequences of images. (Eisenstein, Montage, October,)

[x] Bazin Andre, The Ontology of the Photographic Image, in Film theory and Criticism, ed. By L. Braudy and M. Cohen, Oxford University Press, 2004.

[xi] Barthes Roland, “From Work to Text” in Image-Music-Text, ed. by Stephen Heath, Noonday Press Ed., 1989.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Barthes Roland, “From Work to Text” in Image-Music-Text, ed. by Stephen Heath, Noonday Press Ed., 1989.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Space of Films, Space of Movie Theaters

by Katerina Tryfonidou


This paper is very special for me because it was my very first effort on critical discourse about space and film at a highly challenging -and therefore stressful- academic environment like that of Harvard University. It was written in January 2006 influenced to a certain extend by the inspiring conversations with Professor Giuliana Bruno. And as a very first effort it is enthusiastic and ambitious: I touched upon quite a lot of issues, always trying to stay under the discussion of physical spaces and spaces of the mind and body.

I study two different kinds of spaces: the physical space of the interior of a movie theater and the experiential space that a film creates when seen in a movie theater. Using two specific examples, the first movie theaters of the Western world in the beginning of the 20th century on the one hand, and a 2003 film by Tsai Ming Liang on the other hand, I argue that in both cases the notions of interiority and exteriority are challenged.


TRACK 1: Questions

I can’t say if it is an attempt to find my identity in a multi- ethnic environment like the academia in the United States, or a patriotic show- off, or maybe none of the two, but I would like to start this text with the Acropolis of Athens; and I would rather not consider this attempt of exposing my thoughts as a mere text, but more as a journey, a journey into thoughts of other people, thoughts of mine and a journey into time. As a vehicle for this journey, I will choose to use space.

Space is a notion with a variety of meanings, characteristics and qualities: space as an architectural expression where people live, drift into or out of, experience feelings and emotions, but also space that each one of us mentally creates, such as the social space of the city, the private space of our intimate thoughts, or the space formed on the screen when watching a film. All these spaces, so arbitrary defined and so unique for each one of us, usually have a three dimensional ‘representation’ in the city[i]. The merging of the architectural spaces like a street or the interior of a building with the mental spaces of individuals or of groups of individuals, particularly interest me in this journey I am about to expose. How different spaces are formed and the way they interact with one another is the kind of questions that will be traced throughout the way, sometimes with the illusion or confidence that they are led to an answer.

But let us start from scratch and stubbornly go back to the Acropolis of Athens, an architectural complex which reached its final form during the 5th century B.C., the Golden Age of democracy in ancient Athens. It is a religious group of buildings situated on a rock in the middle of the city, where the Athenians worshipped Goddess Athena, the protector of the city.

The way the buildings are situated on the Rock as seen on a plan or a bird’s eye view, do not follow any logic, they seem scattered randomly over the place. A visible geometry or any kind of rational spatial organization are absent, and one can question the presence of any logic or structure behind the design. It is only at the level of the walker that the Acropolis sense and structure is obvious. One understands the reason why each building is situated where it is only when taking the route that leads from the city up the Rock to the religious complex. The buildings are revealed one by one, and presented to the walker from a certain angle. Seen from a perfectly calculated point of view, the Acropolis creates the desired effect of harmony, balance, and ‘metron’.

Understanding a place by moving into it, or towards it, is an issue film is very much related to. In this very idea lays the notion of different spaces coexisting or being formed by the walker. When the physical body moves in space, and thus uses this movement to experience the space, to feel it and to understand it, then a narrative is created. The body creates its own ‘story’, a ‘story’ composed of views, and framings that the eye creates, but also composed of thoughts and emotions that the ambience evokes. All the senses play a role in this collage of experience, and the final result – if ever exists such a point as final point- is a spatial narration.

But isn’t film such a narration as well? An assemblage of views and frames that challenge the audience to feel not just with their visual sense but with the whole body. The result of this challenge might be called the film experience, and the creation that is being held on the screen is actually the creation of space where the audience is asked to enter.

Eisenstein argues that the only difference between a person moving into a space and a person watching a film is that in film the body movement is being replaced by the camera. Apart from that, the sequence of views, the control of the picture and the participation of the person , all lead us to talk about spaces in both cases, architectural spaces and film spaces. The sequence of images, the movement and the necessary presence of time define a very strong bond between cinema and architecture. In order to make this point, and also in an attempt to trace cinema’s ancestors, Eisenstein uses the example of the Acropolis of Athens:

The Greeks have left us the most perfect example of shot design, change of shot, and shot length (that is, the duration of a particular impression). Victor Hugo called the medieval cathedrals “books in stone” (see Notre Dame de Paris). The Acropolis of Athens has an equal right to be called the perfect example of one of the most ancient films.

And then goes on,

It is hard to imagine a montage sequence for an architectural ensemble more subtly composed, shot by shot, than the one that our legs create by walking among the buildings of the Acropolis.

Eisenstein, 1989[ii]

Architecture and film are both about space. Architecture uses the three dimensional space of the city as the platform for its expression, while film has the two dimensional screen as a means. Both of them however go far beyond the space of their ‘tools’ and both of them introduce the users or the audience in very different worlds and spaces. Having the participation of the person as an indispensable condition, new spaces take shape. Spaces that coexist, that are superimposed or intersected; spaces that fold into one another, thus creating others. This unique phenomenon caused by film or architecture and the human beings who experience them, can be considered as the spectacle. As it may seem obvious for the film, spectacle exists in many other cases, and among them, in architecture. The walk up the Acropolis is a spectacle per se, one that the body and the space create together. It is one of my goals in this journey to try to trace how these spectacles are formed and how the folding of spaces in the city and spaces in film fold to form the experience of the spectacle.

With this Ithaca in mind, and the journey always as the focus, I will examine spaces particularly designed to create a ‘film effect’, such as the first buildings designed to host films: the movie theaters of the 20s. And I will later reverse this condition to see what happens when such a place becomes the protagonist on the screen; in Tsai Ming Liang’s film “Dragon Inn” a movie theater is the heart of the film, its main essence, where everything starts from and where everything leads to. With the examination of these two interactions of film space and architectural space, I will try to see how spectacle is formed and how different spaces can fold into each other to cause the spectacle.

Tracing the film’s past, before it was even invented as film, will help our journey because it will give hints about the way this experience was formed and handled in the past, beginning from the Renaissance theaters.

TRACK 2: Metropolis and the Picture Palaces

The rise of the metropolis coincides the birth of film; that is, the moment the city changes its image, its rhythms and its population, is the moment that the moving pictures are invented. This is not merely a coincidence. Film appears into the metropolis as a product of the metropolis, as if the city needed it to represent itself. The first moving images are mere representations of the big cities or of the technological ‘deeds’ that changed the city’s paces. Indeed, the moving pictures showed panoramic views of the city, crowded streets, or the new means of transportation such as the underground an the trains. The thematic of the first films focus on the new image of the city. The camera depicts in a way the flaneur’s gaze. The people in the cities stand astounded in front of this brave new world that is being created and in an attempt to familiarize to it, they walk in the streets, use the public spaces, drift around as Benjamin’s flaneur does. The crowded public spaces, the new vitality that the trains and cars suggest, the tall buildings and the steel structures all seem amazingly new. This gaze of amazemement and excitement, this look towards a new condition is very accurately depicted in the films of this era. Film finds in the city its favorite subject, as if the metropolis is the protagonist in every shot. On one hand, it is the city that represents itself with a totally new means, and on the other hand it is film that does its first steps in creating images of space[iii]. Film is urban a priori.

It is very interesting to see where these very first films are being shown, the spaces that host them. At that time, the moving pictures were part of a stroll in the streets, as people would enter an arcade, or a small store just to see some minutes of moving images. Film was considered a quick entertainment, approachable to anyone. It had to do with the movement in the streets, and it was part of a peripatetic experience.

The moving image becomes a part of the public life. It takes place initially as apart of the events in the streets or in the arcades, and it follows the fluid movement of the city dweller as he walks in the city stopping to anything that attracts his attention.

With the broader impact film had to the people of the big cities, it starts to have buildings created to host it. Little by little a transformation of the places of the screenings is held: from the streets and the arcades to the shops, warehouses and deserted hotels, film in the 20s has found a place on its own, the movie theater, a building built especially to house film. The movie theaters are created following the typology of the theaters or the Vaudeville theater buildings, entering at the same time the category of entertainment targeted to the higher classes of the society. When film “leaves” the streets and enters new buildings, this is not without consequences. Film becomes a spectacle of the interior, rather than of the street.

The movie theaters are luxurious buildings, with an access on the interior decoration. The border between the outside and the inside space is strong, and thus the relation with the fluid movement in the city is lost. The film spectacle has less of the spontaneity of the first years’ panoramas, and comes closer to the theatrical experience.

If one takes a closer look at the architecture of the moving theaters, especially of the interior architecture of the hall were the screening takes place, one would be amazed to see the variety and the ‘bravety’ of decorations. Heavy ornaments frame the screen and the walls, and baroque style decorations are found where the walls meet the ceiling or on the columns. The most usual theme for those decorations is nature. Leafs, flowers and fruit, colorful and three dimensional, give to the halls an oneiric impression of nature. Tropical scenery was often one of the favorite subjects as well, thus implementing traveling. If the walls were in a picturesque manner representing nature, the ceiling was undoubtedly the representation of the sky. Its blue color and the drawing of stars suggested an ‘outdoor’ experience in an otherwise very enclosed space. The exaggerated effort in creating a space reminiscent of the outdoors natural landscapes calls for a need to create a space similar in effect as the space of the film on the screen.

Cracauer argues that the movie theaters of the 20s in Berlin succeed in distracting the audience to such an extend that the attention is no longer at the center, that is the screen, but rather on the periphery, on the hall. He calls these theaters picture palaces or palaces of distraction and comments on the effect these places have on the audience:

This total artwork of effects assaults all the senses using every possible means. Spotlights shower their beams into the auditorium, sprinkling across festive drapesory rippling through colourful, organic looking glass fixtures. The orchestra asserts itself as an independent power, its acoustic production buttressed by the responsory of the lighting. Every emotion is accorded its own acoustic expression and its colour value in the spectrum.

Cracauer, Cult of Distraction[iv]

Cracauer explains these delirium of colors, light and d├ęcor as a necessity so that the people in the audience find their own place in the spectacle, in order to identify their position in these two merging spaces: the space of narration on the screen and the space of illusion in the hall. As he clearly states “The interior design of movie theaters serves one sole purpose: to rivet the viewer’s attention to the peripheral, so that they will not sink into the abyss[v]

It is very interesting to notice the word abyss that Cracauer uses in order to describe the world on the screen. Falling into the abyss is an image that suggests a movement into space. Here the German thinker creates a very spatial image that implicates movement, entering and falling... in film. In a unique way this phrase talks about the creation of space in the film, and how the audience enters this space. In fear of being lost in the world of film, or falling into its abyss, one needs to have another space to stick on as a hint of where one previously was. In this case the heavy ornament of the movie theater creates the counter-balance of the interiority of the screen, thus suggesting a natural, sublime exteriority.

It seems as if the journey of the viewer into film should not be without a point of reference to where he started, and this is typical of many mythical dangerous journeys in unknown worlds.[vi] The entering into the unknown world of film, in order for it not to be without return, needed to be distracted by another space equally interesting and inviting. The idea of traveling is present in both worlds, both the interior world of the screen and the exterior one of the ‘exotic’ movie theater. One of the most pictorial cases that show the overlapping of those two spaces of travel is the case of the movie theaters in the States during the late twenties and thirties. There was at the time a trend of Egyptomania, and many movies were shot on the theme of the mysteries of the pyramids and the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt[vii]. The movie theaters therefore were decorated in an Egyptian-like manner, with golden colors and shapes reminding the Egyptian architecture[viii]. It would be as if the space depicted on the screen has passed that delicate border and invaded the space of the movie theater.

As we see from the Egyptian- like films and movie theaters, it is not easy to tell whether the creation of an exteriority helps the audience not to ‘fall into the abyss’ or whether this scenography merges so well with the film’s interiority that the audience is fatally doomed to travel into it. No matter what the case is, what is most interesting is the relation of the two spaces, and their interaction in provoquing the audience’s senses. There is no point in trying to compare them, but rather see them as a whole, as the intersections of different spaces that create the spectacle. Indeed, one can see these two spaces as two layers superimposed to cause an illusion, one that the film narrates.

The peripatetic experience that the film suggested in its first steps, when it was still part of the street’s life, is now transformed to a different type of movement. Although the spectator has lost his movement into the space of the city, yet in the movie theater of the 20s and the 30s another kind of traveling is implied. It is a mental, sensual travelogue that the space proposes, a transaction from the urban environment of the city streets, to an environment of exotism, sensation, and reverie. The illusion of the film blends with the illusion of the movie theater and together they suggest a voyage of distraction.

TRACK 3: Tsai Ming Liang, Goodbye Dragon Inn

Up to this point we have argued on the merging of the space of the movie theater and the space that the film creates, giving examples from the first days of cinema and from the early architecture of the movie theaters. Let’s make a big step into time now, and let’s travel to a movie theater in Taiwan of 2000, old and decaying.

In Tsai Ming Liang’s film Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) we watch the parallel lives of people that find themselves in an old movie theater on the day of its last screening. The people from the audience, the female ticket clerk and the projectionist, all trace different itineraries in the movie theater, which at times intersect with one another. Many of the characters, as the Japanese tourist or the old actor for instance, stay mostly in the cinema hall and watch a movie- others wander around lost in their thoughts.

The film takes place internally into the movie theater. This mere fact consists a paradox. The situation with which the spectator is usually acquainted to is the screen- movie theater relation explained before. But in this film, a unique event takes place: the same situation is represented on the screen, with other spectators who watch a film inside the film. This self-referential condition creates a misoriented, dizzying effect. The spectator wonders of his role in the whole spectacle, which is the audience and which is the movie? Where are the limits of the screen’s space? If these questions were already difficult to be answered in the palaces of distraction of the 20s, Tsai Ming Liang puts the discourse one step closer to the abyss. The spectator can be drowned in the sea of the screen, ignorant of its limits. In Goodbye Dragon Inn there is the extreme condition of the blending of the space of narration and the space of the movie theater inside the film. There are several long shots of the spectators looking at the screen, or other shots of the movie theater taken with the camera ‘turning the back’ to the theater’s screen, reminding the paradox.

This choice is per se a comment on space and on the merging of spaces. Tsai Ming Liang wants the audience to think of its place in the movie theater. It is a case where the spectators find a space in the film where their participation is needed; the spectators are asked to add their thoughts, reveries, memories and emotions into the long stables takes. There are certain moments in the film that the action totally stops, and the image either almost freezes, or there is a periodical movement repeated continuously. Two such takes are the take of the empty movie theater that stays with the audience for quite some time, or the scenes where we watch the woman walking with the same rhythm and the limping movement, practically making a promenade in the building. The time where no action happens is actually the time where each one of the spectators is asked to participate in the film, and add his/her own thoughts and emotions, thus creating an intimate, private space. In the same way that the characters in the Taiwanese movie theater drift around carrying with them their memories, the spectators are asked to contribute as well. The mirror effect inside and outside of the screen implied with the long take of the empty movie theater could be another way of showing how the space in the film is a reflection of real space.

This notion is quite similar to the flaneur’s promenade in the city, or Eisenstein’s way of experiencing architecture through movement. The woman in the film has such a peripatetic experience when she wonders around the theater, with or without a reason – it doesn’t matter. She feels the space and mapping out her own itinerary, thus leaving a trace. Her physical movement is not only necessary but in a sense redeeming. The audience sympathizes with her effort and her pain when going up the stairs, so as the importance of the body experience is accentuated.

The film or the spectacle of Goodbye Dragon Inn could never be complete without the psychological landscapes of the spectators. The space is left for the people who watch the film to define and use, to move into it, as the characters do. It is a topos of privacy, but which is at the same time very public. It is where the movie theater of Tsai Ming Liang and our movie theater become one, blend into one another, and the two topoi create a single one.

TRACK 4: Interiority/ Exteriority

Tsai Ming Liang’s movie theater has a lot in common with the movie palaces of the first decades of the moving images. They are both very introvert spaces, very self –referential, but in an interesting way, controversial they open themselves to the outer world.

Talking in architectural terms, movie theaters do not have any windows or other kind of openings. When entering such a place, when crossing the border, the only window to the world is the screen and the interior space. The screen is some kind of an ‘eye’ that allows the spectators to look at another world, but also a ‘gate’ for the beginning of their travel. And the interior space, as we have already noticed in the movie palaces act reinforcing the idea of movement and of traveling.

In Goodbye Dragon Inn the movie theater does not have any of the glory and luxury of the movie palaces in the 20s. It is a decaying building that is left to ‘die’ free of any attempt of embellishment of renovation. The feeling that it reflects is of a body dying, with merely any life left into it. The people that are in it adjust to this sense of lifeless-ness: at some points, as it is also stated by one of the characters, it is difficult to tell if they are alive humans or just ghosts, spirits from an other era. However, if we break the crust of the surfacial image of the movie theater, we will notice that some of the most important qualities that the idea of a movie theater stands for, are there in both cases.

The movie theater of Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a very introvert space, a place of total interiority that functions as a unique microcosmos. All the information that the film gives about the outside is that it rains, as if the outer world is nothing but water. An interior space like this movie theater surrounded by water seems a lot like an island. Indeed some characteristics of an island suit perfectly the conditions narrated in the film. The movie theater gives the impression of a place highly inaccessible for people who do not belong to its ‘microcosmos.’ It has very strong boundaries –water boundaries- and there is a feeling that the people in the movie theater are there forever, time functions in a different way in that world. Isolation is another characteristic of an island also present at the movie theater of Tsai Ming Liang. Not only nobody can enter it but it also seems very far away from ‘real world’ abandoned in its own state. The only element that can enter or exit is water: the element of fluidity and the means by which the theater becomes an ‘island’ is present in and out. It penetrates the building, and causes ‘catharsis’: there is a scene where the man takes buckets full of water and throws them out of a window. This is a relieving scene, as if much of the gathered tension, the anger, the unfulfilled desires and the unexpressed emotions are exiled out of the world of the movie theater with a strong, dynamic gesture. Seen as a beautiful metaphor, when the buckets are full, someone has to cross the boundary and throw the water into the outer world, so that the system can continue to exist.

In the case of the space Tsai Ming Liang narrates, water is the element of the exterior space that penetrates into the interior. In the case of the movie palaces, there are also elements of exteriority that are incorporated in the space. All the scenographic elements of nature and of the sky that are being used as decorations can be seen as a way that the enclosed space incorporates in itself elements from the exterior. The natural or tropical motifs, the design of the sky in detail, even the Egyptian decorations – all of these suggest that the enclosed space has selected certain elements of the outside to “open” its boundaries. The voyage is being done via the mind and the film on the screen, but the body also participates being in a space of in-between: an interior space that holds representations of the exterior- a place that prepares its inhabitants for the journey.

The movie palaces and the movie theater of Tsai Ming Liang’s are interior spaces that “open” themselves to the exterior not by conventional means, but rather with the use of iconography and the necessary participation of the user. Through the ambiance the space suggests, the mind travels and the enclosed space gets more open than any other. Spaces as such existed in the past and represented the need of narrating and of traveling –in a way forshadowing film. Such places existed in the Renaissance, usually related with the need of the Renaissance thinkers to depict the whole world in one single room or surface.

TRACK 6: Epilogue

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has worked a lot on the notion of interiority and exteriority. For him, the words ‘interiority’ and ‘exteriority’ go beyond their spatial signifier. He describes as interiority a system that is defined by some kind of order or structure, a system with hierarchies, one of stability. For Deleuze, interiorities do not exist without exteriorities, that is some elements outside the structure of the system, that have the tendency either to resist the existence of the interiority, or try to destroy its structure.

When elements of the exterior manage to intrude an interiority, then happens the fold. That is the interiority is forced to move, to change form, to fold. And this state of movement, of unstability, of constant redefining – the folding- is the cause that creates everything new. A new quality is being born only by “creating an interior space absolutely coexisting with the outside on the line of fold[ix].

The spaces of spectacles represented on this journey, starting from the Acropolis, to the movie palaces and Tsai Ming Liang’s movie theater are in a sense folded spaces. For they are spaces that give to the interior a whole new meaning, opening it to exterior worlds of memory, emotions and thoughts. Such places make us think about spectacle not just in terms of what one sees on a stage or a screen, but as a collective experience created with the participation of everyone in the room… and the room itself!



[i] I use the urban condition as the setting of my research.

[ii] Eisenstein S., Montage and Architecture, in Assemblage, v.10, 1980.

[iii] Bruno G., Atlas of Emotions, Verso, NY, 2002, pp.21.

[iv] Cracauer S., Cult of Distraction in The Movies, President and Fellows of Harvard College, USA,1995, pp.324.

[v]Cracauer S., Cult of Distraction in The Movies, President and Fellows of Harvard College, USA,1995, pp.326.

[vi] I cannot help but think of the mythos of the Minotaur: the mission of Theseas was to enter the labyrinth in order to kill the beast Minotaur. Theseas was given the edge of a clew of string to hold, when entering the labyrinth. His girlfriend, waiting in agony at the entrance of the labyrinth would hold the one edge, and Theseas would unfold the clew in his way inside so as not to lose his way. The reference of taking a hint of the exterior world when entering an unknown space is evident in many stories and myths.

[vii] Lant A., Haptical Cinema in October, v.74, fall 1995, pp 51-52.

[viii] It is very interesting to see how the Egyptian style has many similarities with the Art Deco movement of the time, but this is already another journey on its own…

[ix] Deleuze, Gilles Foucault Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, pp. 117

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

For the Love of the Multitude: A conversation with Michael Hardt

by Dimitris Gourdoukis

In 2000 Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s book “The Empire” was published to what proved to be a very warm welcome. Their analysis of the system of global domination, the ways that it functions and operates, was indeed an effort long anticipated and much needed. Four years later, in 2004, their second collaboration was published in the form of “The multitude”. This second book is standing in several ways at the opposite side of the Empire. Of course it continues from where the later stops while it shares the same principles. However, while the Empire was looking at the dominating system, trying to analyze it and understand it, the Multitude is looking at the alternatives that we can have, or we are already having, to that system. At the same time, the more academic style of the first book gives its place to a more ‘pop’ – in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms – approach. The Multitude moves from passages about the Golem or Dostoyevsky’s Demons to pages that could have been part of ‘city guerilla’ brochure. Being true to its Spinozian roots, it goes through war and the analysis of the Multitude itself to end in a very positive and optimistic way with democracy.

Here the t-machine is presenting a discussion that we had with Michael Hardt almost a year after the publication of the book, in the spring of 2006.


DG: To begin with, you have a new book, co-written with Antonio Negri, the Multitude, which, if I am not mistaken, is the first after the Empire, right?

MH: Yes, right.

DG: How is it situated in relation to the Empire?

MH: Well, while in the Empire we were relatively satisfied with how we treated the present global system, or the system of domination, it had relatively little to say about the possible alternatives to that. So we thought that this book should develop more the possibilities or the alternatives to the Empire. And not only the alternatives that we could imagine, but the alternatives that are already happening, like what are the movements today, what are their poles and directions and what kind of alternative global world today point to us. So that is generally the distinction between the two projects.

DG: So in relation to the Empire you are trying to take a step forward.

MH: Trying to take a step forward and rather than describing the system of domination, describing the alternatives to that. Even the title, in the Empire we talked a little about the Multitude, but we had to say little about the Multitude, so now we thought that the idea will be to articulate the Multitude philosophically and politically.

DG: And you begin your book with war.

MH: Yes.

DG: You dedicate one third of the book to describe what you call war in the society today. By ‘war’ I suppose you don’t mean only the armed combat, right?

MH: Yes.

DG: And you also inverse the Clausevich formula, which is interesting. I am wondering why you choose war to describe the situation today.

MH: Well, there is a first and maybe it is not a good reason, but it is an immediate reason, that is hard to think today, after September 11, or really after the US reaction to September 11, it became increasingly difficult to think about making for a better world. Because of the state of war, that the US declared on terror, and various other kinds of real military combats, in addition to the other things we are saying. Whereas it might have been difficult but it seemed easier in 1999 to think about how a better world could be, suddenly it seems like we are lost in the mist of a horrible situation, so war was like an obstacle that we had to deal with before we can actually talk about. Like I said, this might not be the best reason, but nonetheless I think is really true also, which is thinking of the reader who says “how we can even imagine a democratic world today when we face with Bush?” And so it seemed to us like what we had to talk about at first. Part of the effort of that third of the book is to try to articulate how the problem is not only Bush. And the problem is not only the US war on terror. That is much larger… one needs to think about war as a kind of obstacle that opposes to political projects or alternatives, as something that is much broader, that does unfortunately include military repression but also is a broader political and social obstacle. One of the things that we are trying to confront in that first chapter and then came back to it later and I think is one of those things that we don’t yet understand or have an answer to, is the problem of the relationship between force of violence and political activism. I mean, it seems to me at least, that it makes no sense today to talk about a war of liberation in the way we talked about it 20 or 30 years ago, that makes no sense to talk about it in that way today. But neither does it seems to me that political activism should exclude the use of force. I think that we have to rethink, and as I say I don't have a way of, and maybe the general way of saying this today, we have to think what the relation between force and the politics of liberation is. So in addition to thinking what war is, we start to think what war for liberation is today. And is not an easy answer it seems to me.

DG: And the actual wars or armed combats how are situated inside this idea? They are part of it.

MH: Yes, I mean this is like a sort of our way into the discussion for us, which is to try to understand in the various kinds of armed combats, I mean I am not sure which ones you mean, I am thinking of the obvious wars where both sides are bad in some way, like India-Pakistan, Sierra Leone-Haiti, you know, we have those ongoing wars throughout the world, and what seems to me as a first obligation or task for thinking about this is to recognize how each one has its own specific causes. They are also related to one another as a global system of warfare. Warfare that functions as a kind of social repression.

DG: Yes, because those wars seem like they are more like ‘traditional’ wars, with specific causes.

MH: They are but I think that in many ways there is a, not a danger, but there can be a miscomprehension when something that looks like it is repeating something old but in fact is masking its new relationships. Like for instance, and that's something different, outside Mexico, and I mean mainly in Europe and the US, when the Zapatistas started in 1994 the first reaction was “well that is just an old guerilla army, its just a repetition of the old” while in fact it was something new, it takes quite a while to recognize the novelty of that old form.

DG: This idea of war, its seems that there are other thinks interested in that too, for example Virilio… or Manuel DeLanda… There seems to be a certain proximity between those ideas and your ideas. Is there such a proximity or do you see those ideas as a different approach?

MH: Well both of those books, the Virilio book…

DG: Pure War…

MH: I was thinking of an earlier one, but things are also repeated in that one, and then the first DeLanda book. Yes there are a lot in common with those books. The one hesitation that I have is with the kind of statement that “war or the military drives history”. I think that this is a point which… I don’t know, I prefer to like machiavellian thinking, where force for Machiavelli is important of course, violence is important, but its really on its own the weakest form of power. And I think that's important to recognize today too. The US military is incredibly important and does horrible things, but on its own it’s really a weak form of power. I think what one has to recognize when trying to understand the global system of repression is how this military elements only function when being embedded within, and collaborating with, force of power in various other fields. And I think that even in the thinking of the US military, it can be very instructive to read the things produced by the advisors to the military instructors, a little bit like reading the diary of a psycho killer, you know, its disturbing but at the same time its interesting to see how they think. Well, I was thinking in this regard that what I find most interesting, and it’s not really new, movements within the military is this notion of a full spectrum dominance. I think that is interesting because what they mean by ‘full spectrum dominance’ is that the military has not only to dominate in terms of violence and force, it also has to affect all the other domains, so that's what the full spectrum is, it has to dominate also the economy, has to do it politically, culturally. The US military used to say, during the Vietnam era, that they have to win the hearts and minds, not just kill the Vietnamese, but also to defeat them culturally, or form them culturally. This is really an expansion of that, because now the US military has been involved in nation-building which is dominating them politically. So it’s dominating politically, culturally, economically, this all the charges of the US military, and in Iraq we’ve seen that task and the failures of that task. And one theoretical thing that interests me about this and which I was formulating wrong few minutes ago, because their charge is not so much to dominate them culturally, is to produce them culturally. The form of power is required to be productive rather than simply a kind of repression. Like in Iraq, is obscure when you see it because they recognize that this is a task that they are completely unprepared to do it. The military’s task is to produce an Iraqi political system. It turns out to be an incredible disaster. Nonetheless that's what they see as their charge. And I think in this sense they are lucid, recognizing that it is not just a matter of military power, as even being the foundation, it only functions when it is in coordination with this various other spectrums. All this because I was hesitating with the notion of military force guiding history. I think that it is easy to put too much weigh on the military power of the US today. And I don’t want to say… I mean in military I assume that it is far more powerful than any other military. But the military isolated is insufficient for its task.

DG: And then we have Deleuze and Guattari’s war machines. Could we say that what you are describing here is a war machine that became too big and too powerful, that finally is taking, or already took, the place of the state?

MH: Yes. Well, the way I see Deleuze and Guattaris’ war machines… you know the insistence that the war machines are exterior to the state. They are different things. But nonetheless the state always requires a war machine, and there is a support between the two. And it seems that what we are trying to do in way is to describe the war machine that coordinates its functions with the Empire. If someone thinks of the Empire as form of sovereignty, not really state, but nonetheless a new form of sovereignty, it too has a war machine. A war machine that is exterior to it. That might be a way to pose it in their terms. They say in the end of that chapter, now I am getting very academic about it, but the last pages of the chapter on nomadology, or the apparatus of capture, I am not sure, either 12 or 13 to get Deleuze and Guatarrian about this, the last pages almost seem to me as an exact proposition of our hypothesis of the empire, when they are talking about the war machine and the global integrating of capitalism, I thinks it’s Guattari’s turm.

DG: I think it's the nomadology chapter. What I was thinking is that they think of the war machine not only like something big, and they say that it can be a multinational company, but it can also be a small group of people, which in your idea comes to be the multitude, right?

MH: Right. And my question would be, and I don’t have a answer yet, is that if we agree, and I think that most of us agree, that there are times that the use of force is necessary in politics, so what is the appropriate use of force today, against the system that is repressing us? I think the answer is that what we had years ago are so clearly not appropriate today. Urban armed struggle, in the sense of taking weapons, like in the 70s, rural guerilla movements, and I am thinking of the 70’s in latin America mostly, these seem to me, on one sense counterproductive and suicidal, on the other sense seems to me like today they are martial fantasies. But once we recognize the difficulty, what is that kind of force that is useful today? And that is what I am not sure about. I said that because when you mentions Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine… you know a war machine can be a line of flight. They can be the band of outsides that become a war machine as a kind of escape. So it’s not clear for me what that could mean. It reminds me of another line, and I think it’s in the dialogues book, where he says, I think they were talking about the line of flight as an escape, and I think it sounded too pacific to him so he says something like “yes the line of flight always fly but as you are leaving, grab a gun”. Which is a nice line, I think is a reference to George Jackson actually, and you know, I too know that gesture, but I also know that for me if we were to think what we should do today, to think of ways employed in the 70’s, I don’t thinks that that is productive. Anyway, I shouldn’t go on with that, but for me, part of the question about war is this.

DG: In this work we have on one hand the Empire and on the other hand we have networks. You write somewhere that “it takes a network to fight a network”. Does it mean that the Empire might transform itself into a network and it might also get rid of its center or of its hierarchy?

MH: Well, not necessarily get rid of its hierarchy. Again, when you say that, it makes me think of these Hollywood movies like Terminator where the dominant thing is this network of machines, the imagination is something like that, but I think again if we read the literature within the US military about how their theorists think it needs to transform, they are arguing that it needs to become more like a network. Networks don’t yet say anything about hierarchy. Because what they argue for in the US military, by these reformers of the military, is not that it will lose its authority, but that it will not be structured as a traditional direct hierarchy, and in a way that there will be teams of soldiers that cooperate together. But they are still of course under a hierarchy. Networks of course, they don’t even have to have a center to have a hierarchy. To the extent at which the Empire doesn’t have a center, and I think there are some ways in which it does and some ways in which it doesn’t, to the extent that it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean at all that it doesn’t have a hierarchy. It's a hierarchy that functions in a different way. Like for instance: when we were talking, even in the initial part of our hypothesis, when we were saying that the Empire is form by a network of the dominant states plus the dominant capitalist corporations etc. Those dominant nation - states, there is already a strict hierarchy, for instance between the US and France. But they can still function as a network even with that hierarchy. And it does seem to me that the US military is recognizing the ways in which it has to become more like a network in order to combine the kinds of challenges that is facing.

DG: So, you are saying that despite this war and despite the Empire being so powerful, we have hope.

MH: Right.

DG: And we have hope not only because of the Multitude, but also because of the Empire itself, because it is the Empire that gives rise to various forms of resistance. And much like the Empire, the Multitude is also like a network. Which are the ways in which it gets organized or what are the reasons for which these singular units are coming together in order to form the Multitude?

MH: Well, someone will say “look, you say that the Empire is a network and then the Multitude is a network, so what is the difference?” So, one has to say that it is not the network form in itself, but the kind of network, the relations within the networks that define the difference. I would say that there are certain qualities of relationships that define the Multitude. The singularities are existing subjects so much as a political project. And it will be a political subject formed by the equality of the cooperating singularities, but they are different and they are remaining different. They‘re not merging into a single agenda, a single form of authority etc. They are rather a horizontal network. Then you say why or how do these singularities come together? Maybe there are two ways of approaching such questions. On the one hand one could, and I am sure that we do, try to address it theoretically, but sometimes its better to say “what is it that the people are doing?” “What are the people that are coming together, what are the kinds of projects in which this is happening” and look at that. Like I said before, rather than asking what is it to be done, start by asking the question “what the people are already doing?”. Because there is throughout the world a numerable amount of horizontal movements that are forming. Using them as a point of departure might be the easiest way of addressing these kinds of questions. Like movements in India or in Brazil, or like the assembly movements in Argentina. These are all, in their own ways, with their own peculiarities, they are different experiments in the formation of a local kind of Multitude. What’s interesting about those political reflection, is that it’s not really talking about a world that could be, it’s trying to give a name to what’s happening today. I will give you another example that is purely anecdotic or personal: I’ve been very involved, as I was coming to political consciousness, with the Italian notion of autonomy and that movements from the 70’s in Italy, and so I was interested during the last years that I was traveling in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and each time meeting with activists that their primary term is autonomy, I mean like the picateros in Brazil or the Zapatistas in Mexico, and each timed I asked them “where does this idea of autonomy come from?” and they said “it comes from our own experience, from what we doing”, and I believe them. And it is a interesting phenomenon, I don’t know the answer to why, but it is an interesting phenomenon that, first having the absolute coincidence of using the same word, but it is more general, why today throughout the world are there being form alternative movements that are working with this process, that are trying to experiments with the concepts of autonomy and independence, or a horizontal network formation. My initial assumption or reaction is that “is it throughout the world activism or reacting to similar kinds of situations and challenges and that this notion of autonomy comes from that” I don’t even know why I went into that… oh the formation of multitude and how those things come together, yes, maybe its not so much in theory, “why they should do this” but maybe trying to realize “why they are doing this”.

DG: Also, the way that you describe the Multitude, it brings in mind the idea of the rhizome, as described again by Deleuze and Guattari. What do you think about that?

MH: Yes, I think that it reminds of it. But then again, the further complexity that you are already pointing to is that, you know when you read the beginning of “A Thousand Plateaus” you can think “ok, rhizome is good, tree is bad” and then its turns out that there are good rhizomes and bad rhizomes and that's in essence what we were talking about here. You can say the US military might organize itself as a network but that is not going to make it good, in fact it’s going to make a more “evil” kind of enemy. And so someone has to look at the criteria. But yes, I think that the notion of the rhizome, or the line of flights. In fact one of the most important it seems to me Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that's central for us here is that, when we think of the multitude as formed by an assemblage of singularities, now I sound like Deleuze and Guattari, and the most important thing is that these singularities are not fixed identities, they are always and each becoming different. And they are always and each multiplicities. And that will be a different from, now in the US context, it might not make sense from the Greek point of view, a difference from a certain perspective of identity in politics in which the assumption of identity is fixed and stable. Where the notion of becoming different is already part of the Multitude.

DG: At the same time those singularities are without knowledge of the Multitude, right?

MH: Right, that's another difference with the national identity.

DG: So there is no model to explain how people come together; each time they come together in their own ways and they form the Multitude.

MH: Yes… I think that's true, there is no original way of doing it and there is not only one way, but one shouldn’t discount how much communication has effect on these things. The old term in communist relations was about “a cycle of struggles”, that in a way the inspiration and translation of what is going on in St Petersburg for instance is translated in Shanghai in a different way and taken up etc. I think that today is not exactly the same thing but there is a kind of communication that does help in the formation of groups elsewhere. I mean that the recognition of how a community in Chiapas is formed does then help in Barcelona thinking in a very different context how these singularities might come together. I wish there were more communication… Let me give you an example: Toni and I were together in China last year and one of the things I was really interested in at the time and I kept talk about with people was the crisis in agriculture, the problem of the land and people having to move from the country to the city etc, and as I was talking to people, that were really intellectuals interested in agriculture, not the peasants themselves, but we kept saying “why don’t you start making contacts with the Lamas movement in Brazil, because it is different but they have a similar situation, especially when China enters into the WTO, and it was very hard for them to understand, we didn’t make much. And it seems very practical to me to seek for the translations of what is going on elsewhere to help in this formation of… I said all this because what I was trying to resist is the notion that it could sound spontaneous. Because I think that what is not spontaneous is in fact communication.

DG: You also write that the multitude has to be productive. It has to be productive in terms of labor, or in terms of politics or networks? Because it looks like this idea of productivity is important to you…

MH: It is. Now, stepping back a minute about this, it seems like there is for the last 30 or 50 years, there is a recognition of a problem, an obstacle, within a certain tradition of Marxism. That is productiveness. That puts such emphasis on the economic productivity, that in a way creates a new kind of prison, or even reinforces the same prison. The classic example of this is the notion of this guy in Soviet Union, (something between a myth and a real person) who was more productive than anybody else, and he was doing the work of ten so everybody should be like him. It seems to me that there two ways of responding to this: Because I too am reacting to this notion of communism as more work. There are two ways theoretically to react to this: one is to refuse the notion of productivity and therefore to seek liberation outside of it. As something that is outside of productivity, that has nothing to do with that. The other is, and this is the one that Toni and I are part of, is to work towards a better conception of productivity. That is not strictly economic, but its much better that what is considers a wage liver. I think that Deleuze and Guattari, since we are talking about them, are relevant to this. When they say at the begging of Antioedipus that everything is production, and when they are talking about all these machines, in a way I am trying to think of a very wide spectrum of productivity, it’s not just the productivity in the factory, but the productivity of desire, all of these things, so these are desiring machines, so all this productivity. That's a long explanation to get to the point where we were thinking… what’s really involved. What’s really requiring the production, and I think that's what politics are, is the production of society. It’s not society as a given formation but is something that is constantly produced or reproduced. So what it would mean for the proletarians to take power, for the Multitude to liberate itself? Would be autonomous to be able to produce society, I mean to produce society every day, to produce social relations. So it is a kind of an extension if you like of the notion that the communist revolution involves the ability of the proletarian to be able to produce without the capitalist class. It is a generalization of that to the entire society. And it is in away that seems to me to at least change that repressive notion of production as obligation. So in a way rather than creating a theory that moves away from labor, it transforms productivity and what it means. It's like Deleuze and Guattari which seems to me as a convenient example of that.

DG: And in the end you think that the Multitude can lead us into a democratic state, which means that it will give an end to the Empire and at the some time it will not give birth to something that will take the place of the Empire. And, I don't know but I keep thinking again of Deleuze and Guattari when they say that at the end of every revolution there is always betrayal and disappointment, and also that it doesn’t matter because what matters is the becoming of revolution… But you are actually saying something different, you are saying that the multitude can actually lead us to something that it will be better.

MH: Yes… I remember that in Marx’s 1844 manuscripts he says two things that are contradictory. In one point he says, and he is giving a dialectical formulation, and he talks about the way that communism will be the result of the contradictions within capitalist society, that will pose an end to history. And because it will resolve all the class conflicts etc, communism will be the end. And there is another point where he says thought, he describes that movement from capitalism to communism where he says communism which will be the next stage, the next step in human history, and then of course there will be something that comes after and something that comes after. So in a way you are asking me about this division here. Are we talking about revolution as the end of human history? And I agree with you: no we are not. It seems to me even undesirable. But also unreasonable. It doesn’t seem as the right way to think about it. That's not to say though that revolution involves just a repetition of the same. It would be in fact a better stage. I think there is not, and I don’t know if I should be critical of myself for this, but I can not think of those things without thinking in terms of progress. And why I say that I might need to be critical? Because I can recognize many critiques of progress scenarios. Which I think is justified. One that shows progress as an inevitable and even objectively proceeding course; and one that shows that progress has a telos and is leading history towards that. I think rather there is a telos, especially the way that Toni and I speak about it, there is a totally immanent telos that's guided by the desire of those who rebel. It is a peculiar kind of telos I think because it just means that we who struggle, want something different. So the construction of that, and the force of that desire, rebellion, etc. will be a better society. And even looking historically, we are reading history as a progression of progress that is the accumulation of the desires of the repressed or the struggles against repression. Which is another kind of progress. But I am ending one and one that's simple the continuing expression of the desire of those who struggle. At any case, I think you are right to point out that the project of the multitude isn’t a project for the end of history…

DG: Or one that will lead us to a stage where we can say “that's it!”

MH: Yes, right.

DG: Another question, that maybe goes back to what we were talking about before, is, since the Empire is a network and the Multitude is a network, how can we say which is which? I mean, aren’t there places where the limits are starting to blur and you can not really say where one ends and the other starts?

MH: Yes, I bet that there are many ways in which you can not tell which is which but that doesn’t mean that conceptually they are not different. Let me try to give an example of that: It’s not like everything in ones life in the whole world is easily categorisable. Like a Hollywood movie, you say that's an expression of the Empire, but there are also elements that pose an alternative to that and a possibility for other things, so I think that in most experiences the portions of repression and the possibilities of liberation can not always be disentangled or separated. But conceptually or in principle there is, you can not risk confusing authority and repression with equality and freedom. It sounds very old fashion but that what’s at stake here.

DG: You have this juxtaposition: transcendence and immanence. It seems important, right? So I was thinking if it is just a way to exclude any possible metaphysical explanation or if there is more into that, if there is another reason…

MH: I think there are several reasons. There is the philosophical perspective where like you say the reason is to avoid metaphysical explanations. Transcended power as a source. But politically, and there are many ways to pose it, transcendence means in many political frameworks the dictation of a central authority. So either in an old tradition of European, political philosophy, think of Hobbes for instance, that the power that stands above society, the state also the party, you know, various other institutional structures that stand above society, and then in a more basic, introductory kind of argument for immanence as part of the tradition of politics of the abolition of the state in its various forms. But also in a more immediate political organizational way. I think the importance for us arguing for immanence is against the politics of vanguardism. That the vanguard stands above. It's a kind of topology, if you know what I mean, because it’s metaphorical in the sense that the vanguard transcends, you know, stands above the political movement. But it is a way of linking in this way, an argument against a philosophy of metaphysics, of metaphysical explanations, of metaphysical powers and the politics of vanguardism and authority. So the proposition of absolute immanence for us tries to bridge those two and finally imagine a politics that doesn’t require hierarchy within a political formation.

DG: I was wondering how you write your books. I mean since you are two, what is the process that you are following?

MH: The process is this: First, after talking about things and feeling like we have something to say, we sit together and make outlines, usually for several days, weeks, until we work it out, at least the first version of what the argument will be, and then we divide up sections and each person writes a first draft of that section. But then we exchange the drafts and the other person rewrites what the first person wrote. Usually goes back again, rewrite again. Generally it ends up that we don’t remember who wrote what because it gets changed so much. And Toni writes in Italian and I write in English which also makes the things, you know, its gets translated and confused.

DG: So it is already something multiple…

MH: It’s already something multiple, yes. I love the first line of “A Thousand Plateaus”…

DG: That's exactly what I had in mind…

MH: I remember someone saying to me once “but don’t you sometimes disagree with what Toni says?” And I said “well, I often disagree with what I say”, which is like Deleuze and Guattari saying “we were each already many when we came together, so there was already a crowd”. It’s also true that sometimes Toni doesn’t understand what I am saying and sometimes I don’t understand what he is saying, but sometimes I realize I don’t understand what I am saying. You know when you try to work out an argument…

DG: Thank you very much.

MH: Thank you.

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