Thursday, April 13, 2006

ovo je tekst - ne bas do kraja sredjen sa muzikoloskog skupa u Beogradu "music and memory", 11-14.04.2006.


I would like to explore connection between memory and sound in Sokurov’s films – between spatial organization of gesture and sound in his films dealing with loss of power and its transition to disciplinary distribution of power. There is a sense of loss, of particular trait of remembering and forgetting, embodied in auxiliary figures in these movies – servants and helpers.

I would start my presentation with a matter that was for most of my life a personal issue, but that in recent time (months) became a matter with theoretical consequences. It was the question of my own name. Ksenija, Xenia. (However egotistical this may sound to you I will continue with this line of argument).

For most of my life, well ever since I have looked up in the ancient Greek Croat dictionary I was led to believe that my name means – foreign, stranger, alien, and therefore it is the basis for the words such as xenophobia (that I am mostly frightened of) and xenophilia (one sentiment that is disappearing rapidly). Only recently, I heard of disambiguation – of undecidedness of the meaning of xenia in the ancient Greek. Apparently it stems from phyloxenia – which is hospitality, kindness to others, but being unable to retain its original form it became xenia – the alienated, alien subject. Since, I have long decided that my name means stranger (as every good, existentialist girl would), I was unpleasantly struck by this « hospitality » situation, which in my opinion was doing no justness to my name, making it soft and ordinary.
In recent months I have read a essay that would change my mind – a study that would resurrect the term xenia as a term: not as a proper denomination as it was for me and that would inscribe it in currents of contemporary theoretical thought. I should point out that the term was used in its adjective form in Paolo Virno’s Grammar of the multitude, for describing the bios xenicos – alienated life. “The absence of a substantial community and of any connected "special places" makes it such that the life of the stranger, the not-feeling-at-home, the bios xenikos, are unavoidable and lasting experiences. The multitude of those "without a home" places its trust in the intellect, in the "common places:" in its own way, then, it is a multitude of thinkers (even if these thinkers have only an elementary school education and never read a book, not even under torture).”

The study, with which I would like to start my presentation, is entitled Economy of the Unlost: (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) by Canadian poet laureate and professor of literature at McGill’s Anne Carson.
Indeed, xenia was the essential trait of classical Greek society or better of Homeric Greece, where this term designated the specific gift economy of these times. To be more precise it has signified a special type of hospitality, of “home-offering” to a stranger, poet, bard, for which a return-gift was offered – the gift of poetic making and indeed of friendship.
With Simonides of Keos things have changed – the gift of poetic making, of friendship, of intellectual communion has been altered by use of a proxy i.e. money. In other words, Simonides asked to be paid for his poetic work and that was the first instance of “classical” economic relationship between producer and commissioner in history. It stayed since. In time xenia has changed from its hospitality connotation to the term signifying estrangement and a stranger, an alien itself.
What has Simonides done? He has inscribed in poetic making, in poesis the sign of economy – he has mediated the relationship between poesis and oikonomia as no longer ritual and present, as in world of xenia. He has created the poetic creation as recreation of the lost world, as an individual “salvation plan”. In this sense poetic experience becomes modern economy itself, and he becomes a witness, a stranger.

Economy had another interesting connection that with architecture which will bring us eventually to subject matter of Sokurov’s films.
I would like to clarify a bit connection between architecture and economy, between αρχι- "chief, leader" and τεκτων, "builder, carpenteand and oikonomia, coming from oikos – house and nomos – law - οίκος [oikos], 'family, household, estate', and νομος [nomos], nemein to manage, 'custom, law', hence "household management" . To specify – there are lot of different understandings of the word economy or better oikonomia, but here I am not referring to modern sense of economy altogether but to more ancient use of the word as house management, husbandry, and stewardship. Of course, there is very important meaning of oikonomia expressed in the theological discourse of Church fathers and presently incorporated in theological thought of Eastern Christianity – that of oikonomia as a “divine plane of salvation” stemming from St.Paul’s epistle to Ephesians. In context of Church fathers oikonomia is strongly connected to process of edification, construction, building, or foresight, and even pious deception – in building of the church.

In one work in particular, Vitruvius’s De Architecture (book1, chapter II, 1) it is statds: ARCHITECTURE depends on Order (in Greek taxis, Arrangement (in Greek diathesis), Eurythmy, Symmetry, Propriety, and Economy (in Greek oikonomia)

Architectura autem constat ex ordinatione, quae graece taxis dicitur, et ex dispositione, hanc autem Graeci diathesin vocitant, et eurythmia et symmetria et decore et distributione, quae graece oikonomia dicitur.

So, Vitruvius translates the word oikonomia as distribution.

Let us now consider on other passage from the Vitruvius’ book – where he describes the origin of the living house.

THE men of old were born like the wild beasts, in woods, caves, and groves, and lived on savage fare. As time went on, the thickly crowded trees in a certain place, tossed by storms and winds, and rubbing their branches against one another, caught fire, and so the inhabitants of the place were put to flight, being terrified by the furious flame. After it subsided, they drew near, and observing that they were very comfortable standing before the warm fire, they put on logs and, while thus keeping it alive, brought up other people to it, showing them by signs how much comfort they got from it. In that gathering of men, at a time when utterance of sound was purely individual, from daily habits they fixed upon articulate words just as these had happened to come; then, from indicating by name things in common use, the result was that in this chance way they began to talk, and thus originated conversation with one another.
[2] 2. Therefore it was the discovery of fire that originally gave rise to the coming together of men, to the deliberative assembly, and to social intercourse. (And so, as they kept coming together in greater numbers into one place, finding themselves naturally gifted beyond the other animals in not being obliged to walk with faces to the ground, but upright and gazing upon the splendor of the starry firmament, and also in being able to do with ease whatever they chose with their hands and fingers, they began in that first assembly to construct shelters. Some made them of green boughs, others dug caves on mountain sides, and some, in imitation of the nests of swallows and the way they built, made places of refuge out of mud and twigs).

I am here interested to point out to the first passage. It includes that prequels to architecture (to building process) has something to do with creation of language, of “linguistic animal”, of poesis, incarnated in the voice (individual, which became collective) and with coming together, creating the community, creating the oikonomia environment.
In other words, voice (both as medium of logos and poesis) comes here as prerogative of the house-management and house building. The voice is this particular segment that puts together architecture and economy, more then the “house” itself. Indeed, poetic voice dealing with production of language teaches human beings that they are as much “technical” beings as simply natural (physical), to paraphrase Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthe and therefore opens up the possibility of technique, of construction, of fabrication, that both architecture and oiconomia indeed are.
Music, if we are to extend this argument further, having to do something with the voice, poetic voice, and with prosody, is, as Lacou-Labarthe says, “connected to the language, and its first instrument is the voice, wanting to sing the language, to make it resound”. In other words, music wants to imitate, to find that what was before – before the language was created exited the sound of the voice, its music. So any music in this sense is by definition an echo. Every sound is echo – every sound is trying to find itself again.

Of course, to manage the household, to perform the language, to build the dwelling we need people – we need helpers.

Let us pause here and qucikly point out to Sokurov’s films themsleves - Alexander Sokurov has been making, during past 5 years, a series of films dedicated to great dictator/political figures of 20th under the name “Man of Power”. This envisaged tetralogy has three completed parts – films dedicated to lives of Hitler (“Moloch”), Lenin (“Taurus/Telec”) and Japanese emperor Hirohito (“Sun”), while the last one will be dealing with Goethe’s and Mann’s Faust. In all of these works music-sonic component plays a significant role intertwined with visual and verbal part of the movie. Some interesting issues arise from this particular usage of sound-image-language structures namely the characteristic architectural notion of the memory explored in Sokurov’s tetralogy. And the answer is in all three films alienation serves as a driving force of film display. But, more importantly the situation of alienation shows how power structure disciplines the memory through the discipline of the physical body. Indeed, in all three films, even though dealing with particular political figures, are treating them as inmates of the asylum – and here let’s try to recall the notion of asylum as presented in Foucault’s lectures. Hitler in his summer retreat, Lenin in his dacha, Hirohito in the confines of his palace. Surrounded by their little armies of helpers – unnamed overseers of the power distribution.

In Sokurov’s films we are invited into the world which is inhabited by helpers, populated by little sounds/noises and whose display is bound to strange architectural units – interiors of buildings. In all of three films – Moloch, Taurus and Sun we are peeking into the household units. In Taurus for example, we are seeing Lenin’s dacha. Except for Lenin, there is his wife and sister, his valet, and numerous servants/helpers, running around, doing almost nothing. In case of Hirohito’s war palace/bunker – there are huge amount of staff members, his personal valet, and other servants, and in every occasion – a scribe, to record god-emperor words. Hitler is surrounded by his entourage and of course, helpers.
Let us consider now the question of the voice. In Sokurov’s films there is always lot’s of murmuring. Indeed, main characters speak and murmur, the supporting staff only murmurs, and occasionally utter some words or they are simply silent.
The sonic world of Sokurov’s films is thus made of very slight sounds – sounds of body and occasional distorted music in the process.
But, the visual content of his films is developing under the sign of one specific sonic reality: the voice. And yet as I previously said these voices are not particular – they are mere body voices, voices of muttered speech, of certain musical quality, and usually no more then the vessels of little noise.
How can we understand this almost silent, duplicating, brutism of Sokurov’s films? As if we are dealing, by the way of the association, with squeaking singer Josephine from Kafka’s last short story Josephine the Singer or the Mouse Folk. Josephine, the singer-mouse, is claming to posses a singing voice – that is in the story the same as the other voice – indeed it has no quality whatsoever. But Josephine presents, places her voice as something special, something out of the ordinary. As Mladen Dolar argues is his recent study On Voice, this “artistic singing” is failing to reach the community because of its assumption of artistic sublime. What is interesting here is that Josephine has no “particular” voice, but rather the voice of everybody – and that she is in this respect strangely unindividual, even though she gestures “diva-like”, childish personality. She actually doesn’t sing – she squeaks, she pipes. Kafka:
Among intimates we admit freely to one another that Josephine's singing, as singing, is nothing out of the ordinary. 

Is it in fact singing at all? Although we are unmusical we have a tradition of singing; in the old days our people did sing; this is mentioned in legends and some songs have actually survived, which, it is true, no one can now sing. Thus we have an inkling of what singing is, and Josephine’s art does not really correspond to it. So is it singing at all? Is it not perhaps just a piping? And piping is something we all know about, it is the real artistic accomplishment of our people, or rather no mere accomplishment but a characteristic expression of our life. We all pipe, but of course no one dreams of making out that our piping is an art, we pipe without thinking of it, indeed without noticing it, and there are even many among us who are quite unaware that piping is one of our characteristics.

Narrator’s insight is voicing the very particular community within Kafka’s novels – that which Agamben calls aiutanti, helpers. Josephine is one of them – and the reason why she fails is that she is just one of them, not somebody special, but in the same time she succeeds by showing them that “piping is one of our characteristics” – somehow “subjectifying” them in the process.

So, who are helpers, aiutanti, gehilfen?

Agamben, in his small essay from Profanazioni – Profanations, describes them: they are everywhere, but it seams that they are particularly incapable to give any help. They do not know nothing, they do not posses any “apparels”, do not think of anything else but stupidities and infantile gestures, they are bullying and even lascivious.

So, how they help – they help in unnamed way, they give us the sense that they have helped and that we have in this process somehow failed them. From them we do not expect ”intelligibility”, but something else – we expect them to be translators, witnesses of the existence itself. In this sense we are delegating them a “musical” existence – the existence of an echo. The helper is in Agamben’s words figure which we loose, or better the figure of our relation with the lost. Helper is showing to us the fragility of our memory, of the mneme “to think of” (which is a root not only to memory but also to he mousike, to muses) something, to recall, indeed, they are showing us that that which we forget exceeds that which we remember in every instant of our lives.
In Sokurov’s films this is more then obvious. The troupes of helpers that inhabit space around the political figures are showing how little and how trifle is the memory itself. They are strategically placed, with their gestures and sounds as some points in the architecture, in the house-management, in the oikonomia of the memory. They are both the vertical and horizontal signs of memory lost/gain, they are distributed accordingly, within the memory-loss of the political and daily.
Or in Agamben’s words – Helper is one of the household. He finishes the work of that unlost, and unforgettable and translates it in the language of mutes. Because, that which is lost is in the same time unforgettable because it has to stay lost forever. Helper uses gestures, but it also uses sounds. Little sounds, sounds of the body, easiest to forget, and yet for that precious. If we recall the lost world of xenia, the gifts of “dwelling-place”, helpers are inhabitants of the house that have come down to us by this un-named, lost gift. They are the residues of something before modern economy, of something before modern architecture, of something before language. They are sounding gesture figures of reminiscence and of forgetting. They are figures of our contemporary desouvrement and disciplining. And they are showing us how power over archive of living is always sought through the state of exception, which existence in its undetermined, empty relation with law and violence indeed is.

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