21 juin 2007

Wittgenstein and Oliveira 2

"If the human artifice par excellence is language, if that is our true nature, then the word constitutes the weave of existence itself."

[...]

"If the migrations of the soul are unutterable, if the possible transgressions seem too autistic, then the other is nothing more than a pretext for complaint or for one’s reasoning; meanwhile, life escapes us inexorably, as fleeting as the water of that river which flows on the other side of the train’s window, as the film shows us again and again. In the end, of these many forms of existence, no one is able to capture more than some vague explanations offered to the wind, whose secret seems to safeguard some sort of original sin of impossible redemption, lost in the darkness of time."

- from On the Uncertain Nature of Cinema (By Way of the Work of Manoel de Oliveira) by Victor Erice

I was going to write an in-depth piece on the significance of Wittgenstein's early work in establishing language as the only way to engage meaningfully with the world, yet still entirely lacking as a tool for engagement with certain meaningful things. Instead, I stumbled across a piece that cites all the passages I had intended and then some, and makes my case as effectively as I could have hoped for. So, with my endorsement, I point you to paragraphs 2 through 7 of Wittgenstein, Hofstadter, Varela by Matthew Segall. The rest of the piece goes in directions I don't agree with - the section on Hofstadter is especially disconcerting, as I think it misunderstands some main arguments from Gödel, Escher, Bach. Though I can't speak to his thoughts on Varela's idea of autopoesis, I do find his approach to Wittgenstein very much in line with my own. On the assumption that you've read the Wittgenstein section of the piece, I will now speak of Manoel de Oliveira.

I would say that Oliveira's work rests on the supposition that by speaking, we falsely believe that language contains the whole of truth (thus falling into the trap of Logical Positivism). What Oliveira does is perhaps to add the "that which cannot be spoken of," by way of hinting at it through rhythym, through observation, and through the image. Oliveira's camera, through its steadiness, subverts the passionate assertions of truth on the part of his characters (the 'objective' camera puts 'subjective' speech in context). By letting his characters carry through their arguments to their logical possible ends, we see the limits of argument - which is to say, language. It is as if Oliveira's work is the Tractatus in its complete form, without the Logical Positivist misinterpretation, where the emphasis has been re-placed on the final sentence. Oliveira, like Wittgenstein, explores language as a possibly complete system for engaging with the world; like Wittgenstein, he gives language a full chance and still finds it lacking. Oliveira's work fully explores that which can be spoken of to give a sense of that which lies beyond the posssibilities of speech.

3 commentaires:

Daniel a dit…

Wow I really think you are onto something here...and after only how many Oliveiras? One? This goes a long way to help me engage rather than combat his signature talkativeness. You really should see A TALKING PICTURE, not because it is so wonderful, but because it is using what you talk about to try and explain history (specifically the meeting of East and West in the Mediterranean), as well as somewhat more obliquely to engage contemporary fears arising from this mix (as in THE FIFTH EMPIRE).

dave a dit…

Danny, it was out conversation about Oliveira - and your description of A Talking Picture - that led me to see this as a philosophical project on Oliveira's part. In a larger piece I could cite his own comments on the role of speech in the cinema, where I see this project lurking around the edges: "Language is a precious element of cinema because it is a privileged element of mankind." Or, "If I affirm that cinema does not exist, I do it in the same way that one might affirm that life does not exist. Because life leaves us at every instant, and hence what is left of it for us is its theatre" (cited also in the Victor Erice piece).

I did see I'm Going Home on TV a few years ago, but I don't think I gave it the necessary attention... I am very excited to see A Talking Picture.

dave a dit…

Also, Randal Johnson's book on Oliveira is soon to come out; I'm thinking about pre-ordering it.
His Senses of Cinema article on Oliveira is very good (though a few years old).