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ontologia del cinema

The Para-Indexicality of the Cinematic Image

Seung-hoon Jeong
p. 75-101

Abstract

This paper aims at a semio-epistemological revisit of Peircean/Bazinian indexicality. On the level of diegesis, an image takes on indexicality as physical causality, the succession of causes and effects. What matters in our cinematic experience is then less medium-specificity than reference-recognition, i.e. whether or not we know what a visual sign refers to within diegesis. The problematic case is that in which an image is not a clear index to something visually given, but it appears and functions like a “para-index” that only partially, impossibly indicates the unthinkable, a sort of “digit” that fingers what Lacan or Deleuze calls the absent but immanent Real or Virtual. In fact Bazin’s interest in adventure films facing this unrepresentable realm especially inspires us to revamp indexicality as para-indexicality. The paper elaborates on this notion through George Didi-Huberman and Jacques Rancière, as well as films by Michael Haneke, Ingrid Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard etc.

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  • 1  Peirce 1940: 114-119.
  • 2  Bazin 2009: 6. Although his famous essay Ontology of the Photographic Image neither has the term i (...)
  • 3  Peirce 1940: 106.

1Charles S. Peirce’s concept of indexicality, which has permeated film theory, is based on his most well known classification of signs – the trichotomy of icon, index, and symbol1. To put it briefly, the icon, like a portrait, resembles or imitates its object by an analogical quality of its own, whereas the index is based on physical causality, a real connection, as smoke is an index of a fire; and finally, the symbol consists in a interpretive rule or habit like the language system in which the word “dog” has a meaning not because of its analogical or physical relation to our animal friend but primarily because of its acoustic difference from other signs like “god”. While Saussurean linguistics was about this symbolic system and film semiology tried to build such a structure of convention and communication out of the screen, the genuine nature of the cinematic image, its photographic medium-specificity was believed to be indexical. Before structuralism took over film theory in 1960s, André Bazin declared that Western painting was freed from the obsession with mimesis since the utmost realism was simply achieved by photography; his point was, however, not this new medium’s apparent iconic capacity but its mechanical process of inscribing light from the object onto the chemical celluloid, which is compared to fingerprinting, that is, creating an index2. As Peirce himself said, a photograph thus differs from a painting despite its iconicity, because of its indexicality that proves its object having been actually there3 and this is why even a time-worn, black-and-white photograph can still be a better evidence of our identity usable in our driver’s licence than any colorful portrait which can be painted even without us in theory. By the same token, indexicality has nourished the Bazinian realism especially in documentary film whose value lies in its witness to real events instead of their representation, but the notion also concerns the cinematic experience of watching celluloid on a big screen that overwhelmes the spectator through the authentic, even auratic reality of every detail. And it is precisely this indexicality that digital media replace with the electronic binary code that can not only replicate and manipulate an object in its more enhanced iconicity without photo-synthetic connection to it, but also compose and create objects that don’t even exist in the actual world like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

  • 4  Cherchi Usai 2001.
  • 5  Manovich 2001.
  • 6  Rosen 2001: 305-309.
  • 7  Allen and Smith 1997.
  • 8  Buckland 1999.

2It would be, however, not productive to repeat the hot debate on the photographic vs. digital now. Despite their own appreciable aspects, the cinephiliac lament for “the death of cinema”4 or its hurried confiscation in “the language of new media”5 might have rigidified the ontological stalemate of film studies which is, at the same time, more and more subsumed under (comparative) media studies. Rather than this historical rupture, I note two alternative perspectives. First, technically, the fact is that digital image production also maintains the indexical processing of light-sensitive particles to some extent, and the difference between photographic and digital transparency may be less in essence than in degree6. Second, theoretically, such scholars as Gregory Currie and Richard Allen based on analytic philosophy have questioned if indexicality, i.e. the causal relation of object and image, is a sufficient condition for our transparent perception of “seeing” the world “through” photographs7. Drawing on the philosophy of possible worlds, Warren Buckland shifts this question from the material to diegetic level, embracing the digital’s non-indexical capacity for seamlessly presenting worlds that can be ontologically “non-actual” but psychologically more real than the actual world8. All these suggest that the genuine ontological issue is not the objective status of the image per se so much as our subjective experience of what it (re)presents. Bluntly put, we don’t care too much about whether what we see is photographic or digital, while in effect digitization enables more and more transparent fictionality.

3To build on this turning point critically, I make two further points. First, what material indexicality proves is the actual state of profilmic objects like real human actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the future Govenor of California, which is hardly essential in our filmic cognition of the inhuman unreal character Terminator. When applied to fictional film, the rigorous sense of indexicality has little to do with what we get to know and should know from cinematic events. Second, the psychological turn of ontology mentioned above seems to still resonate with the old cognitive-psychoanalytic question that has haunted both analytic and continental theories, famously formulated in terms of the suspension of disbelief and fetishist disavowal, that is, how «I know (it’s just a film) but all the same (I believe it’s real)». The issue of knowledge is here limited to the illusion mechanism of mainly fictional film and its reality effect, which as I said turns out to be as little crucial as the difference between photographic and digital. That is, both the so-called “ideological apparatus” and what could be called the “indexical apparatus” determine our concrete cinematic experience much less than have been assumed. Then, is the idea of indexicality no longer meaningful or useful? One of my answers is to propose its new conceptualization in terms of para-index from the prespective of ontological epistemology. By epistemology I mean that what we want to know from an index is primarily what it refers to, whether ontologically present or absent, or phenomenologically clear or obscure, within the given diegesis whether documentary or fictional. What my consciousness does so constantly to the extent of being instantly unconscious is not to oscillate between belief and disbelief in true or fake imagery, but just to see images and know or sometimes don’t know what they indicate, or say, what they interface with, regardless of my absorption into or alienation from the screen world.

4The initial step can be taken in a way of revamping film semiotics. It starts with the cognition of an image as literally indicating its object assumed in the diegetic context. Basically, this indexical sign is given as the result of its referent that precedes or generates it, however close they may be in space and time. The point is that this indexicality of cause-and-effect concerns denotation before connotation, and metonymy based on contiguity rather than metaphor based on similarity that rather fits iconicity. But the degree of this indexical contiguity can vary along with connotation it can also include, and my task is to demonstrate, step by step, that seemingly metaphoric connotation may be fundamentally metonymic; in doing so I will try to enrich the connotation of the image through indexicality or even the connotation of indexicality itself that ultimately leads back to the ontology of the cinematic image and its retheorization.

  • 9  Deleuze 1986: 160-161.
  • 10Ivi: 161-162.

5First, the image below indicates Murnau’s Nosferatu without any ambiguity, while his gigantic shadow as his metonymical part refers to his invisible presence that is still in physical connection (fig. 1-2). But even his virtual grab of Nina’s heart causes her actual spasm, a fake indexicality (fig. 3-4). In more subtle cases we only see the effect of an off-screen event or situation that requires our rapid inference; in Citizen Kane, we take the bottle of drugs in the foreground as an index of Kane’s wife’s suicide attempt in this famous deep-focus shot (fig. 5). This is precisely what Deleuze calls “an index of lack” that implies a situation deduced from the action, a gap in the narrative, corresponding to the French word ellipse in the sense of ellipsis9. If this indexicality shows that the image is given as the effect of its cause which can be an object, event, or situation, the opposite case is that an image or its connection to other images can cause the change of the object, event, situation, even if this effect is not immediately or even ultimately given. “An index of equivocity” in Deleuze’s terms means such an image whose indexical result is undecidable10. Jane Campion’s Piano opens with a vague shot whose object turns out to be fingers in the following reverse shot (fig. 6). In the film Memento, the tattoo of «I’ve done it» provokes such a puzzle (fig. 7): What has he done? The murder of his wife who is fingering this index here or the vengeance on her fictive murderer? Then is this his memory or fantasy? An index can thus cause a sort of butterfly effect; «a very slight difference in the action, or between two actions, leads to a very great distance between two situations». Apposite here is the second sense of ellipse, a geometrical figure, since the distant situations are like a double center. Deleuze emphasizes this enigmatic quality of an index over its actual result, but it seems to me also important that equivocity disrupts and delays our reasoning, putting it in the connection of indices more radically than in the case of an index of lack. In essence the very lack can be perpetually put in différance.

  • 11  Barthes 1977: 96-97.

6If this indexicality is “disseminated” through syntax as Derrida would say, I briefly note the opposite case as well; in his seminal essay Structural Analysis of Narratives Roland Barthes also uses the term index, defining it as the paradigmatic reference to characters, their identity, atmosphere etc.; it shifts from the “syntactic” to “semantic” level, from metonymic succession to metaphoric association11. Thus, the age indicates one’s identity vertically detached from horizontal narrativity, and the dress in “costume film” Deleuze mentions indicates a mode of behavior as in Amadeus. But if this sort of habitus in Bourdieu’s sense results from a historical period in which it was actually produced, I argue that even semantic indexicality is basically metonymic rather than metaphoric as Barthes sees it. Barthes mentions mixed units like James Bond’s drinking a vodka martini just after getting the better of the enemy, as both a narrative function of “closing an action” and a non-narrative index of his charm, relaxation etc. but this indexical meaning is also connected to the action and the character (fig. 8-10). A more complex example: Jia Zhangke’s Still Life captures a miraculous moment when a twin building in the background suddenly collapses while the main characters are meeting after 16-years’ separation (fig. 10-11). That real fall of the old building indicating China’s restructuration on the semantic level, in turn, forms an index as the ominous climate of a yet unknown action that will fall on the poor couple on the syntactic level, like Deleuze’s index of equivocity. The fall and the following re-separation may have metaphoric, thus iconic similiarity as they have no actual connection, but in this case, which brings the most crucial point, I argue that this metaphoric iconicity can be created through the metonymic relation of images, the indexical connection of shots, namely montage. This implies that metonymic indexicality can be viewed as the fundamental, invisible condition of intervals through which any metaphor and metonymy, icon and index emerge onto the visual surface. Put in another way, index as opposed to icon is semiotic, whereas this system of different signs results from ontological indexicality in the most radical sense of différance. Conversely, we can follow the trajectory of Barthes in the way in which our structuralist attempt to elicit a semiotics of indexicality destructures itself into its ontological state.

7For this semio-ontological adventure, I propose to think about two types of montage building on Deleuze and Barthes. The first type shows the cause and effect without lack or equivocity throughout a shot, a scene, a sequence, or even a whole film. Jacques Tati’s Playtime, for instance, has a series of small actions each of which clearly embodies a physical effect, an indexical result mostly within a single shot. His slip proves the slickness of the floor, his touch reveals the elasticity of a chair, and his mistake of a glass reflection for a real person indicates the interface effect pervasive in modern architecture (fig. 12-14). Tati’s unique visual joke is indeed tactile, even creating a surreal indexicality like Nosferatu; when the window that a store person washes slightly tilts back and forth, the bus tourists reflected on it give such a joyful exclamation as would come out from a roller coaster (fig. 15). In the climax restaurant sequence, his touch of the ceiling and its collapse turns the pure audiovisual carnival into an enjoyable tactile catastrophe (fig. 16).

  • 12  Andrew 1992: 27.

8In the larger unit of scene or sequence, this indexicality is often found with tactile violence the spectator could embody even through vision. The battle scene in Chimes at Midnight by Orson Welles mingles every action and reaction, killing and death, as if all causes and effects were superimposed without gap within their short-circuit duration which thus appears rather detached from the movement of narrative (fig. 17-20). Dudley Andrew, his article on Merleau-Ponty, depicts it as follows: «Everything is destined to disintegrate into the mud or fog of formlessness […]. We close our eyes to experience the tactile effect created by an orgy of audio-visual movement»12. Film then, I say, indexicalizes the duration of causality that photography cannot capture, the mixture of sensations that language cannot deliver, and the spectator virtually mingles with the unfolding of not just audiovisual but tactile images. What works here is, I would say, the montage of amalgam. Its cinematic experience enables a shift of indexicality from the epistemological to phenomenological dimension, as we know every detail of causality and what matters now is to experience and live it as if we were situated in the same phenomenal world.

9And this indexicality is not denied but rather enhanced by the cutting-edge 3D digital technology. James Cameron’s Avatar is a sort of animation whose major parts are CGI and not taken on celluloid, but its totally non-actual world, the virtual reality it creates, still desperately desires to reembody indexicality we understand in the actual world and its phenomenological tactility we want to go through even under the weight of special 3D glasses. The battle scenes it unfolds brings us the entirety of indexical impacts like Chimes at Midnight, even through much clearer visuality that leaves nothing ambiguous for our immediate immersion into the causal succession of splendid shocks (fig. 21-24). By the same token, this sort of montage of amalgam especially in Hollywood action film leaves nothing unexplained and uncomfortable that might haunt our mind after leaving the theater. Our cinematic experience fully ends with the ending credits.

10The opposite is the second type of montage that I would call the montage of ricochet in its analogy to the act of skipping stones across the pond. That is, what we see is a succession of the lack of a cause or effect, entailing the various degree of equivocity. The master of this montage is no doubt Robert Bresson: the ending of Mouchette shows the eponymous girl rolling down, twice, then not exactly her body falling into water but that sound and visual trace of waves, which lasts long time until the film’s closing, leaving us the psychological trail of this index (fig. 25-27); the opening of A Gentle Woman shows a falling chair, a falling veil, then a woman that is not falling but already fallen onto the ground (fig. 28-30). The omission of decisive, dramatic, and traumatic actions, in both of these cases embodied by the falling female body, does not just occur in certain scenes but forms Bresson’s rhetorical principle of montage consisting of gaps, skips, lapses that often thwart our epistemic process.

11Conversely, understanding film language often implies filling in the very indexical holes when watching films. Fritz Lang’s M stands for the Murderer of children who indexically lurks in the off-screen space during the most of the film. A child bounces a ball on the ground, then on the poster of calling attention to the very murderer who just casts his shadow on it; then he buys her a balloon (fig. 31-33). After her mother’s anxiety shown a while, we suddenly see her ball and balloon alone, i.e. her metonymic indexes which now indicate her death along with the following newspaper boys and the same poster with the prize money (fig. 34-37). Michael Haneke’s recent film The White Ribbon is more complex against the backdrop of a small town in Germany. A series of subtle but enigmatic events occur, only showing their effects as symptoms of educational, psychological, religious repressions, but without any clear representation of clues and motivations (fig. 38-45). This microscopic chaos goes on until the macroscopic catastrophe of the First World War is announced, which is also without visualization; it is as though those small-scale events in turn became a string of causes that suddenly provoke the global disaster with all the middle-level of links missing. And this loss of indexicality is never filled in.

  • 13  Jeong 2009a.

12Peter Greenaway’s fake documentary The Falls is another case that shows only a seemingly endless list of effects whose cause already belongs to the precinematic time. Without visually representing the “Violent Unknown Event” as the origin of all that is seen, the film presents 92 victims of that fallout-evoking catastrophe, whose surnames begin with the letters FALL; some really “fall” from buildings and Icarus-style homemade wings, others literally become “falls” such as a human waterfall and a man renamed Niagara, and others with various symptoms of man’s metamorphosis into bird (fig. 46-51). The attack of the Lacanian “Real”, like the birds’ attack in the Hitchcock film, is in any case the indexical cause within this non-actual, post-apocalyptic world which produces a rather jovial disorder of the system, drawing multiple “lines of flight”: diverse languages, changes of sex, identity, and skin, physical deformities, and even a dog’s becoming-bird. Such a collective schizophrenia would be nothing but a molecular deterritorialization of all boundaries into the immanence of Deleuzian “body without organs”, which only embodies the eternal return of becoming per se13. But again, the point is that all this is the trace that can draw our attention to the unseen global trauma, the ghostly event. For this reason, the phenomenological effect in the montage of amalgam is weakened, while our epistemological concern grows about what really happened; and the concern is more precisely ontological, given the posthuman effects of the unseen event.

  • 14  Bazin 2004: 2, 162.
  • 15Ivi: 2, 160-161.
  • 16  Didi-Huberman 1998: 15-20.
  • 17  Jeong 2009b.

13This shift back to ontology can be found in Bazin’s view of adventure film that is not the action adventure but the cinema of exploration. He particularly admires Thor Heyerdahl’s documentary Kon-Tiki, whose amateur filmmaking was an adventure that truly reenacts the hypothetic migration of ancient Peruvians to Polynesia. Far from grooming nature to play the background in a drama of human heroism, the 16mm camera serves as objective witness to danger in a way that is inseparable from the cameraman (and spectator’s) subjective participation in it. At the limit, recording this voyage is so difficult that final images show almost nothing. But according to Bazin, «its faults are equally witness to its authenticity. The missing documents are the negative imprints of the expedition – its inscription chiselled deep»14. Here, Bazin’s own photographic indexicality reframes itself in semiotic, epistemological, and ontological indexicality. For the cinema can be an index not only of a present reality, but of an absent reality, of what should have been represented but couldn’t. This index of its own failure, what I would call para-index, thus indicates the lack of something beside or beyond visualization. The animal appears on the threshold between the seen and unseen, between positive and negative imprints, between subjectivity and nothingness (fig. 52‑55). Bazin says: «when an exciting moment arrives, say a whale hurling itself at the raft, the footage is so short that you have to process it ten times over in the optical printer before you can even spot what is happening»15. This illegible image confirms its “para-indexicality”, which indicates the “para-ontological” state of the animal. The whale is part of the sea, apparent without appearing, like the “phasmid”, that stick insect Georges Didi-Huberman describes; its body perfectly resembles twigs or leaves so as to incorporate rather than imitate its environment, and its etymology implies “phantasm” and “apparition” which can in a trice mutate into a dangerous beast, sweeping us into the abyss that effaces all ontological boundaries16. “That obscure object of desire”, like Luis Buñuel’s film title, would evoke the Lacanian objet a which lurks below the Real and suddenly attacks, thwarting the subject’s mise en scène and drawing him into the mise en abyme of sublime depth and more sublime death. The ultimate difference is then no longer between two things within reality, but between this representable reality and the unrepresentable Real that could be at best barely indicated17.

14Most fictional films do not hesitate to represent this para-ontological dimension, but modern auteurs often address it through para-indices. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona starts with a spasmic montage of violent and visceral, surreal and fantastic visceral images until the title shot with an instant insertion of a man who burns himself as a political act against American imperialism (fig. 56-63). This is only slightly mentioned through the TV narration later within the diegesis, with no connection to the diegesis. We can only grope for the dark similarity between that real political trauma and the heroines’ psychopathological trauma through this montage of ricochet. In a later scene, the heroine looks at a documentary photo of a Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto. This famous image then becomes detached from the narrative through a sort of self-differentiation; the camera successively cuts in to its details as if to tell the real story between the boy, people, and the Nazis at a micro-diegetic level. Again, we only see para-indexical links between the main diegesis and this micro-diegesis, and between these diegeses and the real catastrophe of Shoah (fig. 64-71).

  • 18  Rancière 2007: 51-55; Rancière 2006: 171-186.

15Godard uses the same Holocaust picture for an opposite type of montage in Histoire(s) du cinema. In its last part Les Signes parmi nous a still cut from The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945) is followed by the Jewish boy; Siodmak’s Hollywood thriller still retains German expressionist style with a candlelit dumb woman allegorizing a Jew-like minority, though he fled to America after making Nazi-foreshadowing Menschen am Sontag (fig. 72-73). Then a rapid juxtaposition of enigmatic images: traumatic director Fassbinder, who is haunted by riders of Siegfried (Lang), aphasic filmmaker Antonioni, whose gaze cuts to a bird-man in Judex (Franju) (fig. 74-77). This montage peaks in the connection of grotesque Nosferatu (Murnau), romantic Crowd (Vidor, 1927), and provocative subtitles: «L’ennemi du public / le public» (fig. 78-79). This way Nosferatu takes on a multiple symbol, not only representing Hitler the dictator, but Irving Thalberg the producer of The Crowd, Hollywood’s big brother who vampirized the public (which turned into the public enemy of film art), and Murnau himself (whose art was liquidated out by those political and industrial vampires). Offering all this information in his analysis of the film, Jacques Rancière affirms that decoding these figures is less important than the “surface effect” of this heterogeneous connection which nonetheless insinuates a common missing event: the Holocaust as the invisible kernel of all visual fragments. The traumatic catastrophe is thus, if not represented, still symptomatized in what Rancière names the “sentence-image”; an (indexical) chain of iconic images that hold both the singularity of each image and the discoursivity of a possible text18. But what counts seems that this cinematic parataxis moves us beyond phenomenological experience or semiotic interpretation, towards the unseen interstice, the non-image as the ontological other of the image itself. Each photogram is not divided into its inner subsets as in Persona, but (dis)joined with different others that emerge from and submerge into the unsutured, unsuturable Real in Lacan, the Virtual in Deleuze.

  • 19  Daney 2002: 34-35.
  • 20  Habib 2007.

16Let me go back to Bazin, but referring to Serge Daney’s reading of him through the psychoanalytic lens: «Whoever passes through the screen and meets reality on the other side has gone beyond jouissance […]. The screen, the skin, the celluloid, the surface of the pan, exposed to the fire of the real and on which is going to be inscribed – metaphorically and figuratively – everything that could burst them»19. He compares this flimsy screen to the Derridean “hymen”, the virgin’s membrane, which when ripped institutes marriage, the fusion of two others; thus, sexual orgasm stands as the little death of one’s unity. Para-index therefore takes as its referent what destroys it; my final example for this paradox is Bill Morrison. In the found footage tradition, Morrison clearly explores the so-called “cinema of ruins” that show how celluloid decays. His short films such as The Mesmerist and Light is Calling result from an optical reprinting of early half-decayed silent films as seen through the rolling emulsion of the nitrate cellulose itself – this material is no longer used because of the vinegar syndrome, which is the irreversible chemical process of decomposition20.

  • 21  Habib 2004a; Habib 2004b.
  • 22  Jeong 2009a.

17The feature-length film Decasia (2004) exposes this poetic archeology of cinema from the title. It rediscovers and resurrects not just one short film, but a bunch of unidentified, forgotten films in the way that this redemption of dead celluloid only proves the real death of that chemical material. This paradox implies a double facet. First, Decasia itself is an impressive montage of ricochet that connects diverse and divergent images, going back and forth between diegetic and nondiegetic, fictional and documentary, concrete and abstract, realistic and surrealist. This chaotic but also synthetic combination partly revolves around the frequent image of turn and spin, which may symbolize the rotation of the film reel that unfolds an endless series of scenes, shots, and frames (fig. 80-82). In other words, it is the “mathematical sublime” that we could locate along this horizontal axis of the editing and montage in general, of the filmstrip itself and of its temporality on screen. The succession of images is thus quantitatively additive and theoretically infinite. Second, however, all these seemingly undead images cannot help but experience a kind of qualitative leap in its vertical temporality. The fundamental change of their ontological state from undead to rotten, then, expresses what the director calls “a non-human intervention”, “Higher Power”, namely, the “dynamic sublime” of death. When a boxer who was training in the source footage looks here desperate for untangling himself out of this sublime destiny, the original narration gives way to, or rather, takes afresh on ruination (fig. 83). All the “visual noise” that time has inscribed on the filmstrip, along with negative, flickering, or blurring effects, transforms the stable screen of the solid world into a liquid screen with ectoplasmic bubbling blobs21 (fig. 84-85). All that is organic melts into this inorganic body without organs, while the inorganic film turns out to have had a quasi-organic life that would dissolve into the same inorganic state along with what it would dissolve. The filmstrip might be a Möbius strip of organic and inorganic lives. In short, this is a post-index to the image as the effect of its own catastrophe, and a meta-index of time as the cause of the very catastrophe of the image-as-index. Furthermore, one may say: «every image is, always, simultaneously, an image of ruin, an image about the ruin of the image». Any catastrophe represented on screen may be nothing but a para-index of the potential catastrophe immanent in the organic life of the film22.

  • 23  Bazin 2009: 9-10.
  • 24  Barthes 1981.
  • 25  Shaviro 1993: 17. The Blanchot work at issue is When the Time Comes, a short narrative that tells (...)
  • 26  Bazin 2009: 12.
  • 27  Vries 2001.

18From all these cases, I theorize para-indexicality in its multiple dimensions. I started with photographic indexicality, which implies the image appears like nothing other than its object itself; that superb realism is, for Bazin, almost surrealism because of its hallucinatory power23. In Camera Lucida, Barthes suggests that what he sees in a photograph of his dead mother is just his living mother who is still present in her past24. Maurice Blanchot rather phrases this effect as the persistence of the object, which Steven Shaviro rephrases in this way: «an uncanny, excessive residue of being that subsists when all should be lacking. It is not the index of something that is missing, but the insistence of something that refuses to disappear»25. It is the ghost like trace of the profilmic real. Conversely, however, I would emphasize that the excessive denotation of a thing prior to any connotation paradoxically proves its persistence as ghostliness that is not representable so much as only sensed and barely indicated, which is thus a sort of para-indexical connotation of the image. Bazin compares photography to the Shroud of Turin, a centuries old linen cloth that is believed to bear the image of a crucified man, Jesus Christ26. The indexical question would be whether or not it’s a real proof that wrapped his body or a medieval forgery like digital composition that only proves a “religious miracle as special effects” as Hent de Vries would have it27. But the para-indexical point of view slightly shifts the question: whoever it may embody, this image, whose visuality itself has worn away, seems to struggle to represent that which is “apparent without appearing” like Didi-Huberman’s phasmid, or “more dead alive than post mortem” like the Freudian totemic father.

  • 28  Kristeva 1982: 1-31.
  • 29  Levinas 1979: 1187-1247.
  • 30  Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 185-211.

19If we further the point, every index, including that of the image itself as in Decasia, is also basically para-indexical, since it is the Derridean trace of the object. Especially in the case of death that belongs to the unrepresentable, any excess of its representation bounces back to its own failure as Zeno’s two paradoxes: like the Racetrack Paradox, we can never reach the indexical fullness of death just because when we experience it, we are already dead and thus cannot represent it (Bazin also says we should excuse cameramen for returning from fatal adventures that thwart their full recoding, and this way Bazin moves from photographic indexicality to para-indexicality though he never used this terms); and like the Arrow Paradox, every moment of representing the death of the other is immobile and unable to capture the subjective moment of his or her shift from life to death. The most indexical moment is thus the most para-indexical, the image becoming like a corpse as Blonchot sees it, an “abject” that, for Kristeva, is neither flesh nor fleshless, absolute “thing-ness” then “no-thing-ness” indicating the Kantian or Lacanian “Thing” with the capital T28. And in this sense, para-indexicality may enable us to relocate iconicity from Peirce’s semiotics even to Lévinas’ ethics in which the icon is opposed to the idol; the idol reflects our subjective gaze as the face of the God in Western art resembles the white people’s face, which rather fits Peirce’s icon based on similarity, whereas the icon as opposed to idol leads us to the invisible, the infinite, whether God or not29. Your “beautiful” face I see is an icon, a para-index of this unfigured Sublime to which it connects immanently if not practically; that is, absolute untouchable otherness is immanent in your tactile face which is, for me, a quasi-interface. What Deleuze calls faciality would relate to this face becoming a para-indexical interface with its own resolution into an immanent state, and this is what I would rephrase in terms of interfaciality30.

20But before going further in the matrix of philosophy, let me conclude with just a few fomulas that I hope help you recapture my talk even schematically. First, in terms of a single image as I just talked about it, I wanted to demonstrate that it is an index indicating its referent like an arrow sign, which is also a Percean index; but it is fundamentally a para-index indicating its unrepresentable origin, immanence, even the impossibility of indication itself (Index: 1→1, para-index: 1→0). Second, I applied this notion to the cinematic montage whose principle is the indexical succession of (para-)indexical images. If the standard montage as in classical Hollywood cinema connects one shot to another to indicate a total situation as in the shot-reverse-shot mechanism (Standard montage: 1+1→2), Ejzenštejn’s montage of attraction, which I didn’t mention but has been important in film studies, seems to emphasize a chemistry of two colliding shots that elicits a new meaning from the spectator, whether political, psychological, intellectual, emotional etc. which is often iconic and symbolic in the sense of being metaphorical and allegorical (montage of attraction: 1+1→3). But I wanted to show two other montages that deal with indexicality more fundamentally. The montage of amalgam mingles images into their undifferentiated state in the way of phenomenologically visualizing the ontological “plane of immanence” (montage of amalgam: 1+1→1), whereas the montage of ricochet incites us to be epistemologically curious about that ontological kernel which is missing and even unrepresentable, but around which every shot revolves (montage of ricochet: 1+1→0). And this is a para-indexical montage par excellence in which every image can maximize its interfaciality, while it also implies that this para-indexicality is the very condition of every montage as an endless indexical succession, whose end does not reveal or represent but only lets us sense nothingness as its ontological interstice (Interfaciality: 1+1+1+…+n→0). As it is the very immanent plane, the virtual ground of all actual images, its topological figure could be like this irrational fraction with the denominator 0 (1+1+1+…+n / 0).

21Then, could we review Decasia as the case in which this degree 0 erupts onto the visual surface in the form of film’s own catastrophe that devastates every image? But then, doesn’t the digital restoration of this film to dvd in turn render the film really undead? Doesn’t this digital film splendidly redeem celluloid from its death because the “0” quality is now transformed or sutured into just part of the digital binary code that re-visualizes every image? Is that immaterial matrix of innumerable 0s and 1s, the immortal dream space for the postmortem life of cinema? These somewhat naïve questions lead back to the issue of materiality; but after passing through the complex web of para-indexicality, I find it to be not simple to answer them even at this moment my digits which will someday decayw are now putting digital codes into this antiseptic computer screen.

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Bibliografia

Allen, R. and Smith, M. (eds.)

–- 1997, Film Theory and Philosophy, Oxford, Clarendon Press Andrew, D.

– 1992, Merleau-Ponty and Cinema Studies: Sensation, Perception, Histoire, “Iconics”, n. 47, pp. 18-31.

Barthes, R.

– 1977, The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Some Eisenstein Stills, in Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath, New York, Hill and Wang, pp. 52-68

– 1981, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, 1st ed., New York, Hill and Wang Bazin, A.

– 2004, What Is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray, v. 2, Berkeley, University of California Press

– 2009, What Is Cinema?, trans. Timothy Barnard, Montréal, Caboose Buckland, W.

– 1999, Between Science Fact and Science Fiction: Spielberg’s Digital Dinosaurs, Possible Worlds, and the New Aesthetic Realism, “Screen”, v. 40, n. 2 (6), pp. 177-192

Cherchi Usai, P.

– 2001, The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age, London, BFI Publishing

Daney, S.

– 2002, The Screen of Fantasy (Bazin and Animals), in Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema, ed. Ivone Margulies, trans. Mark A. Cohen, Durham, Duke University Press, pp. 32-41

Deleuze, G.

– 1986, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.

– 1987, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Didi-Huberman, G.

– 1998, Phasmes: essais sur l’apparition, Paris, Editions de Minuit Doane, M.A.

– 2007a, Indexicality: Trace and Sign: Introduction, “differences”, v. 18, n. 1 (January), pp. 1-6

– 2007b, The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity, “differences”, v. 18, n. 1 (January), pp. 128-152

Habib, A.

– 2004a, Thinking in the Ruins: Around the Films of Bill Morrison, “Offscreen”, November, http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/cinematic_ruins.html

– 2004b, Matter and Memory: A Conversation with Bill Morrison, “Offscreen”, November, http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/interview_morrison.html

– 2007, Le temps décomposé: ruines et cinéma, “Protée”, v. 35, n. 2 (Fall), pp. 15-26 Jeong, S.

– 2009a, André Bazin’s Ontological Other: The Animal in Adventure Films, “Senses of Cinema”, n. 51, http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/09/51/andre-bazin-animals-adventure-films.html

– 2009b, Postmortem Evolution of (In-) Organic Life: Peter Greenaway, Bill Morrison, and Film Biochemistry, “Offscreen”, v. 13, n. 6, http://www.offscreen.com/index.php/pages/essays/postmortem_evolution/

Kristeva, J.

– 1982, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York, Columbia University Press

Levinas, E.

– 1979, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis, Boston, M. Nijhoff Publishers

Manovich, L.

– 2001, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MIT Press Peirce, C. S.

– 1940, The Philosophy of Peirce: Selected Writings, Ed. Justus Buchler, London, K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. ltd

Rancière, J.

– 2006, Film Fables, Ed. Emiliano Battis, Oxford, Berg

– 2007, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott, London, Verso Rosen, P.

– 2001, Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Shaviro, S.

– 1993, The Cinematic Body, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press Vries, H. D.

– 2001, Of Miracles and Special Effects, “International Journal for Philosophy of Religion”, v. 50, n. 1 (December), pp. 41-56

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Note

1  Peirce 1940: 114-119.

2  Bazin 2009: 6. Although his famous essay Ontology of the Photographic Image neither has the term index nor refers to Peirce, Bazin became the representative of Peircean indexicality especially in the Anglophone film academia. Among many references are Philip Rogen’s lengthy reengagement with Bazin in Change Mummified – the title quoting Bazin (Rosen 2001) – and the special issue of differences 18, no. 1, “Indexicality: Trace and Sign”, edited by Mary Ann Doane and her articles (Doane 2007a; Doane 2007b).

3  Peirce 1940: 106.

4  Cherchi Usai 2001.

5  Manovich 2001.

6  Rosen 2001: 305-309.

7  Allen and Smith 1997.

8  Buckland 1999.

9  Deleuze 1986: 160-161.

10Ivi: 161-162.

11  Barthes 1977: 96-97.

12  Andrew 1992: 27.

13  Jeong 2009a.

14  Bazin 2004: 2, 162.

15Ivi: 2, 160-161.

16  Didi-Huberman 1998: 15-20.

17  Jeong 2009b.

18  Rancière 2007: 51-55; Rancière 2006: 171-186.

19  Daney 2002: 34-35.

20  Habib 2007.

21  Habib 2004a; Habib 2004b.

22  Jeong 2009a.

23  Bazin 2009: 9-10.

24  Barthes 1981.

25  Shaviro 1993: 17. The Blanchot work at issue is When the Time Comes, a short narrative that tells occult relations between two women and the narrator who invades their lives (Shaviro 1993).

26  Bazin 2009: 12.

27  Vries 2001.

28  Kristeva 1982: 1-31.

29  Levinas 1979: 1187-1247.

30  Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 185-211.

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Seung-hoon Jeong, « The Para-Indexicality of the Cinematic Image », Rivista di estetica, 46 | 2011, 75-101.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Seung-hoon Jeong, « The Para-Indexicality of the Cinematic Image », Rivista di estetica [Online], 46 | 2011, online dal 30 novembre 2015, consultato il 23 novembre 2017. URL : http://estetica.revues.org/1640 ; DOI : 10.4000/estetica.1640

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Seung-hoon Jeong

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