In The Baroque Night, authorial idiosyncrasy hybridizes the concepts of "baroque" and "noir" across the fields of film, theater, literature, and philosophy, arguing for mental function as form, as an impossible object, a container in which the container itself is the thing contained. The book is an experiment in thinking difference and thinking differently, an ethics of otherness and the abstract. Spencer Golub inverts the unreality of the real and the reality of fiction, exposing the tropes of memory, identity, and authenticity as a scenic route through life that ultimately blocks the view.The Baroque Night draws upon materials that have not previously been included in studies of either the baroque or film noir, while offering new perspectives on other, more familiar sources. Leibniz's concepts of the monad and compossibility provide organizing thought models, and death, fear, and mental illness cast their anamorphic images across surfaces that are deeper and closer than they at first appear. Key characters and situations in the book derive from the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clozot, Jean-Pierre Melville, Oscar Wilde, Georges Perec, Patricia Highsmith, William Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Pierre Corneille, and Arthur Conan Doyle, among many others. This is virtuality and reality for the phobic, making it a fascinating and viable document of and episteme for the anxious age in which we (always) find ourselves living, though not yet fully alive. This performance of suspect evidence speaks to and in the ways we are organically inauthentic, the cause of our own causality and our own worst eyewitnesses to all that appears and disappears in space and time.
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About the Author
SPENCER GOLUB is a professor of theater arts and performance studies, Slavic languages, and comparative literature at Brown University. He is the author of Incapacity: Wittgenstein, Anxiety, and Performance Behavior; Infinity (Stage); The Recurrence of Fate: Theatre and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia; and Evreinov: The Theatre of Paradox and Transformation.
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I could not find sleep.
— Maurice Blanchot, Aminadab
Following a blackout in André de Toth's 1954 film noir Crime Wave, three police detectives break down the door to an apartment and plunge into the darkness of a room we are already in. We "know" this now owing to the intrusion of light and shadow. If movies in general are, as the filmmaker Raúl Ruiz contends, "really just special shadows that give out light," shadows in film noir alert us to the manifestness of unseen, "nocturnal light." The three detectives are Plato's ghosts breaking down the nominal frame to set the scene as an equally unreal "scene." The prior (a priori) darkness is an anticipatory presence already in place but not yet as place. I don't really know if I am inside (or) out. "A guy with imagination gets pictures in his head, he gets scared," some noir-guy (maybe myself) cautions me, and I realize that I am awake inside my sleep body.
In the pre-life of film, Leibniz marked down "the things that are thought to come into being and perish" to appearance and disappearance, similar to flashes on a screen, a simile he did not, however, use. Nevertheless, the baroque as analog noir is where we enter, how we break down the door so as to illuminate the darkness of un/reality that confuses inside and outside. What follows is a baroque mise-en-scène lying anamorphically in the surface of my nighttime mental theater. I extend and distend scenic images and linguistic ideas to suffer constraint, so as better to see the model, the game, the puzzle. I am attempting a baroque "artificialization" that captures the semantic unease of parts of speech, sentence and syntax, words and ghost words — in short, of language with its true and false etymologies, neologisms and hyperbole. I see waking life better in the figurative dark where abstractions come more often to mind and whisper that they are part of a larger plan. For the narrators of films noir, the narration says "I can" only in relation to the past tense and as a means of clarifying why the subject cannot even contemplate a future. Death haunts the subject's narration like a shadow, which is why the narration is performed in the spectral mode of the voice-over. The noir voice-over articulates being's intrinsic other-than-self-ness, ventriloquizing a death that is a priori and yet unreal, the affect of "an inauthentic cogito," like the one that is writing this book.
In lieu of offering the reader a working definition of film noir, I offer here a brief synopsis. In a famous essay, Paul Schrader argues for the tonal (dark, sardonic, fatalist) rather than the genre identification of film noir, which he says is a production of post–World War II disillusionment and the desire to present American culture with stark realism, the influence of 1920s and 1930s German expressionism which landed in Hollywood with German émigré filmmakers fleeing fascism at home, and the tradition of hard-boiled American detective fiction. Although the history of film noir is generally dated from The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Touch of Evil (1958), it has many predecessors and successors with which it shares characteristics. Even in its heyday, the formula for producing a film noir was not exact. They were not all set in cities or mostly at night, nor did they all (although many of them did) feature oblique camera angles, continuous cigarette smoking, femme fatales, flashbacks, or voice-over narration. There were noir westerns, country noirs, and even melodramas that featured qualified happy endings. The films that I discuss (not all of which would be classified by others as being films noir) mostly share what Schrader calls "a complex chronological order" delineating a furtive rather than an ostensible temporal logic. These films are informed by and infused with a dread upon which is imprinted a "fear of the future," whenever that is, cultivated and accentuated by memories of the past, whatever that was as recalled by the narrator-protagonist, whoever he might be. You cannot trust a film noir to tell the truth, which is why it speaks to me.
Film noir's shadows, along with their aural and visual correlates, voice-overs and flashbacks, constitute the currency (the walking-around money) of seeing the phenomenon of lived reality in aspects, from different points of view, which is what reality is. These devices are the phantom footsteps that engage with the rest of life which is rumored to be beyond our direct, perceptual experience, Schrödinger's cat in different modes of thought and fantasy that encapsulate Husserlian intentionality-defined consciousness. These performative modes of "walking around" project the "aboutness" of consciousness as regards something (and possibly, though not essentially, something). This is one philosophical way of accounting for the malaise that engorges noir, the sense of sensory perception being inadequate in all the ways that it is in real life, only more so. The conscious(ness) prompts, tics, and representations that one finds in noir speak as well to this inadequacy, or more damningly, to the adequacy of consciousness being only what it wants to do in the still shadowy face of possible self-transcendence, the breaking free (from and to what?).
Husserl conceived consciousness on a primary level that renders in/dependence in respect to the world irrelevant, which in turn renders subject and object abstract. One does not have to embrace Husserlian phenomenology to see the value in his bracketing the subjective in thinking through intentionality, even though Husserl kept his fair share of vagueness (his "blur") as regards this theme in play through considerations, for example, of the ego's relationship to consciousness. The protagonists in film noir seldom (but not never) ask, "Who am I?" asking instead "What have I done?" In this alternative question, the "I" is presupposed as a marker against which to judge action and intention. Additionally, the second question speaks to the something or someone that "got me into this," the "this" here being not just a particular situation but a performance mode and a world transcending the subject's personal experience (seeing oneself as if from the outside). It is why the protagonist's inner ear detects the sound of phantom footfalls that are now his own. Subjectivity, then, has not been negated so much as redefined (and unreified) as the achievement of an intentionality, which the mind could not previously fathom. A new attentiveness renders noir shadowing and foreshadowing intelligible to a consciousness that transcends even and especially the perception of self-knowing. I was my own double, but I no longer even am who my double thought he/I was.
I imbricate the baroque in film noir and its stages of performance in and through folds and overlays; voice-overs; semi-effacements and visible erasures; visual and verbal neologisms; correspondence and compression; suspension and syncope; transference and transformation; aporias; anamorphosis; and depth of surface. Each category extends its body of meaning (as Descartes might say) from an ostensibly limited idea into different modes of performance. Thus, waiting is a nonvisual anamorphosis, a hidden dimension of interior(ized) time within the subjective expectation of an objective end. Time in waiting is infinitely expandable within a real limit that is (finitely) the opposite. (This introductory chapter constitutes just such a waiting, bearing the weight of philosophical argument meant to prepare you for the arrival and landing of fully voiced, idiosyncratically synthesized cine-images that might otherwise miss seeing the runway.) Awareness of the aporia produces an astigmatism in the mind's eye that sees the end not as a destination but rather as a metastatic point, a (re)cycling of ending. Anamorphosis can in turn be seen not just in pictures but as eye floaters, brain floaters, as the idea of the aporia shedding (which is not to say losing) its malignant cells as a mode of presentation. Recall the mad Prince Prospero in Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" (1842), who brought death inside the palace walls as a masker, already eaten away internally like a living cancer. "The apparition is a mask behind which no one exists, behind which nothing really exists other than nothing. Nothing rather than something." (Leibniz had famously asked, "Why is there something rather than nothing?") So said Deleuze, at which point unspecified in historical time, the world passed, as it did in the baroque period, from reason into neurosis and began to fold in on itself. A world of appearance and disappearance, of fort/da, is a baroque world, wholly subjective and finite in an abstract way of knowing what is and is not here or there. The baroque, as I am employing it, asks "what," not "why," in a manner that is unscientific, undemanding of proofs. Its logic is contrived. Its contrivance is an article of faith in the doing of the thing, as per Wittgenstein's "doing philosophy," and not merely in accordance with a system that demands doing according to rule(s), which I cannot abide any more than I can "truth" and "reality," except in scare quotes.
This, then, is not a book about the baroque. It is, instead, a book made of what I consider to be baroque materials, themes, structures, and sources. It is a baroque tale of function determining form, "baroque" in my usage being synonymous with the very function of unreality's intervention to create a new real, if not a new reality, since the latter assumes a wider social acceptance or even determination than I am espousing here. The baroque that I have in mind is subjectivism in search of a self, solipsistic and yet at the same time theatrical, a performance misperceived by the one and the many. My baroque is not merely, as Deleuze might assume, "an order of thought." It is the disorderliness of an order of thought, its openness to new and even foundationless architectures of seeing through rooms that may be corridors that make it suspect. My baroque's being suspect is the source of its power. It measures what Georges Poulet called "the interior distance," which paradoxically resists being contained. It is the darkness (noir) of thought that brings the truth in all its nonabstract variations (in)to light. But "truth," according to Nietzsche, is "a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms." And "thinking," Deleuze asserts, "does not simply exist; it must be created." And this creation derives from the contrarian impulse, which says that thinking is thinking differently. I want to trouble thought where it throws off dark shadows, thought itself constituting a sort of baroque noir of disillusioned illusion that does violence to itself in the ways in which reality materializes itself and unreality dematerializes life itself.
My choice of materials to discuss in this book is guided by personal idiosyncrasy and baroque irregularity, its fraternal twin. I construct the book's large puzzle from many different kinds and shapes of pieces, some of which contain recognizably useful details in helping to see the whole, while others show us only what appear to be pieces of the sky. I evolve an anamorphic isomorphism of thought looked at as personal design in order to reconstruct the unreality of our lives. As we age, memory grows problematic not because of all that has been forgotten but because misremembering reveals deeper truths about who we have always been, the thoughts and mental tendencies that shaped us. We come in time to realize that the scenic route which memory provides has, as often as not, blocked the view. We come instead to see people inverted by surfaces, animated pictures inside of frames, and to hear sudden laughter at life's hidden circumstances. One sees this in Ruiz's baroque multi-mystery cine-narratives of life lived as multiplicity, which I knew of but did not know until after I wrote this book — a sequencing of events of which he would no doubt have approved. What we share is a sense of the image(s) inside the image and the secret(s) inside the film, the sense of film as phantasm, the interpenetration of one film by another, and the interrogation of narrative by structure. Above all, I believe, as does Ruiz (whose films and critical works I now esteem), that "the world is nothing more than an image of the world." The spectator is to Ruiz what the reader is to me, the point at which the perspectival lines of the work meet outside the frame so that he or she is always on the inside of what is happening, "anamorphically reflected."
We experience the inside and outside of ourselves and/as the wor(l)d, which may be, says Nietzsche, as fictional as we. We are the very picture-text of self-containment while at the same time gaining passage through the world via metaphor, which, unlike simile, is an open container. That is, we are not so much actively "like" what we see, even while engaging the world with our and its own fictional likeness. I am my own model of the world (Husserl's "each appearance [that] contains the whole thing") and yet I am also "a body among bodies" that together constitute the world that either writes in or writes out the word "only," as in "only a body among [other] bodies" having no particular ownership of that world's creation nor even a possible "ownness" except to the subject's ear. A central question asked by philosophy is whether such ownness can be contained or even if it is a container in itself. Containment defines and embodies limit, and yet, Rémi Brague argues that "presence in the world is such that we find ourselves in an inside, whose threshold we have never crossed, an inside that has no outside. This is why this inside is defined by the continuity, the impossibility of reaching, starting from within, any sort of limit at all." William H. Gass calls placing consciousness inside a container, a box, "from which words might be taken in or out," "a crime against the mind." The way to prevent this crime (wave) from happening on our watch in our dark room is to employ metaphor in ways that allow us to think figuratively through words and their objects so that they float before our eyes as appearances that capture immanence and hidden intentionality.
I was walking along a beach in the daylight when a small airplane appeared at a relatively near distance in the sky. For some unknown reason, I assumed upon seeing the flying object that it was a model plane or some kind of drone made to look like a plane, and so I saw no need for a designated landing strip. As the plane headed toward a wooded area, a clearing appeared where it could land. I was convinced that before it could do so, however, the plane would crash into a tree in the wooded area and be destroyed. My concern quickly transformed into terrified confusion to see the plane land safely on the airstrip in the clearing. Why terror? Because the plane had miraculously become full-sized and fit the landing strip for which it was intended. It was no longer a model plane but had become some sort of impossible object that could be a smaller model when nearer and the full-size real thing when farther away from me as the viewing subject. How could my mind be so deceived? Then I thought, what if my mind was not so much deceived as bearing witness to some unreality that is in its own way as true or truer than what most normative perception would admit as being content without intent? Was I experiencing a "metaphysical certainty not yet defined in time" or experiencing horizons as "the intentionally predelineated potentialities" that Husserl said they are, but which experience teaches is "unsurpassable limit"? Was I looking not at a plane traversing the real sky but rather a plainisphere, a sky map on which were depicted the rotation of representations that subverted "habitual perceptions of space"? Perception speaks to something appearing in space while acknowledging that our attention is what makes it appear. We make the language that makes this metaphorically clear: "the plane from which things appear" reveals and is revealed by the appearance of a plane. Our intentionality renders the thing intelligible even as our attentiveness and our inattentiveness battle to keep it in and out of sight. Just how long have I been thinking, dreaming of this plane that I am on as one phantom being (or) another, and will the fullness of my consciousness appear to me in time?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Baroque Night"
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Table of Contents
6 Habeas Corpus,