Archive for the ‘Sianne Ngai’ Category

Il fiore delle mille e una notte Hypothesis 1

If, unlike the other two films in Pasolini’s trilogy of life, Il fiore delle mille e una notte does not end with a scene in which an artist played by the director completes a work of art, perhaps the film’s complete diffusion of aesthetics in the plane of life motivates this difference. In Il fiore delle mille e una notte the shimmer of material culture creates sexual potentials, which, when actualized, lead Nuredin to the city ruled by his first love.

The shooting style of the film as well as the props, costumes and locations express the material culture of the world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. The shooting style mimics various forms of Islamic art through it’s framings and color palate in a clear example of what Pasolini called the pretextual indirect.  In his essay The Cinema of Poetry” Pasolini shows that the styles of certain films by Godard and Antonioni mix various modes of subjectivity with the highest level of the films narration. In Deserto Rosso (Antonioni, 1964) the camera sees in the same way as Giuliana throughout most of the film, even when the narrative positions certain shots as objective. The character’s eyes seem to determine the look of the film starting at a point before the text begins and they provide a pretext for certain visual effects that critics and other sales people sometimes call “painterly.” The pretextual free indirect functions somewhat differently in Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Visual tropes from the complex set of historical cultures woven into  كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ (Kitāb ‘alf layla wa-layla) or هزار و یک شب (Hezār-o yek šab) and many of it’s later presentations such as those by Burton and Berger, Powel Korda et al.

The folktales in A Thousand and One Nights were collected over a long historical period encompassing a variety of mentalities linked to a closely related but differentiated cluster of material cultures, all determined by variations on feudalism trapped in its moment of primitive accumulation in the Middle East, Asia and the Persian Gulf. As in the other films in the trilogy, Pasolini uses historical visual topes as traces of material cultures invoked in A Thousand And One Nights to open up a set of potential sexualities determined by the life-worlds of non-capitalist and pre-capitalist economies.

The props, costumes and other elements of the mise en scene play an important role in articulating the imagined economic base with the sexualities within the life world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Pasolini’s Marxist attention to modes of production and the economic base can be felt in the film’s use of goods and their circulation as causes of action and as a means of connecting the stories to one another. The film starts with Nuredin purchasing Zummurud as a slave and moves onto its next phase when he sells a tapestry she weaves. Later a demon will find his captive’s lover by asking if anyone recognizes the owner of his shoes. The film connects the story of Aziz and Azizi to the next tale via a scroll Azizi leaves Aziz. While many of these props might be considered works of art, the film prioritizes their economic circulation not so as to make economics dominant, but so as to make it impossible to disassociate sensation and affect from forces of production. An attentive viewer cannot watch these films and dream of aesthetics as an autonomous sphere of human activity; in them aesthetics becomes a thing of the past. Il fiore delle mille e una notte completes the anaesthetic work of the trilogy of life in the context of an imagined economy based on various features of the multiple historical circumstances in-forming it’s source text. Pasolini’s choice of a work marked as lacking a single author and his displacement of Sherazade from her common position as the teller of all the tales to that of a minor character, an extra, in one of the episodes complete the dissolution of art and aesthetics into immanence  of life-forms precisely by making it impossible for the film to end with an artist as figure of authorship in the film’s finale. The conclusion of Pasolini’s work on aesthetics ends the trilogy of life and includes it in a quartet of films opening onto the irremissible.

If Pasolini’s life/death quartet (Il Decameron (1971,) I racconti di Canterbury (1972,) Il fiore delle mille e una notte (1974) Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975)) rewrites aesthetics in the past tense, obviously, the films don’t consign attention to and pleasure in sensation to the dustbin of history. The traces of material culture that refer us to economies which produce sexualities and subjectivities solicit affects that include the quartet’s spectators, but those affects cannot be separated from historical potentials. The post recently brought me a letter from a friend articulating the link between materialized actuality and subjectivity — a letter which, without wanting to, describes the precise process at work in the Quartet:

If the subjective process is something like a new creation in the world, we have an infinity of consequences. In fact, there are no limits. There are potentially—virtually (to speak as Deleuze)—we have virtually an infinity of consequences. But this infinity is not a transcendent one; it’s an immanent infinity. It is the infinity of the body itself in relation to the trace. So we have to understand what is an immanent infinity and not a transcendent infinity.

How can we speak of the affects that traverse the infinity of consequences issuing from the traces of material culture?  A forthcoming book by another friend inadvertently rises to the challenge via a genealogical articulation of “pretty” as a concept. In Pretty: Film And The Decorative Image, Rosalind Galt transvalues the eponymous term so that it’s disparaging sense of  “cunning and art” becomes a virtue, a gesture which completely repositions decoration as decoration within our affective relations to cultural production. Her chapter on Soy Cuba (Kalatosov, 1964) clarifies the role of the film’s prettiness in producing a transnational revolutionary affect that cannot be separated from the historical specificity of Soy Cuba’s production or the culture it was released into. Unlike the quasi- autonomous aesthetic sphere, the pretty cannot be disassociated from gendered bodies and forces of production in the strictest sense. Galt allowed me to understand how forces of production generate affects and material simultaneously.

Galt’s uncompromising philology cites the difficulties encountered by Sianne Ngai in her re-articulation of cuteness as a “minor taste concept” particularly suited “for the analysis of art’s increasingly complex relation to market society in the twentieth century.” Ngai’s “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde” (Critical Inquiry 31 (2005): 811–12.) and Ugly Feelings work through a set of affects that, like “prettiness” cannot be disassociated from the material conditions giving rise to them and which have therefore been devalued in the atavistic aesthetic sphere. Although both authors seem committed to retaining some version of the concepts of “art” and “aesthetics” in relation to contemporary cultural practice, their deeply transvaluative approach harmonizes with Pasolini’s passage beyond them and into the lived. I have found no better term for Il fiore delle mille e una notte ‘s mise-en-scene than “pretty” and no better word for Ninetto Davoli’s performance as Aziz than cute.